Saturday, April 12, 2014

Bright Ideas: Using Debates to Teach Opinion Writing (in the Primary Grades)

I am so excited to be a part of the Bright Ideas linky party again! This is where 150 AWESOME bloggers write a post about something that is REALLY working for them. There is NOTHING to buy in any of these blog posts. JUST GREAT IDEAS!

So for me, I am writing about how I use debates in my 2nd grade opinion writing unit. It is AWESOME and totally working for me. 

Four years ago when I started at my current school, I was new to opinion writing. I read I Wanna Iguana only to find out they read it the year before. And then to find out the 3rd grade teacher also uses it in her opinion writing unit. As well as the 4th grade teacher. And the 5th grade teacher... then when I looked closely at the standard, I noticed there is NOTHING about writing a persuasive essay. Persuasive seems more complex than writing opinions supported by reasons. And for a 2nd grader, maybe basic is better?

So I looked around for ideas of what kids could state their opinion about. I found PLENTY of boring suggestions. I tried to come up with three reasons of my own for why I like apples...and was stumped. 

But then I thought about how our kids are CONSTANTLY telling us their opinions about everything, i.e. "Miss Swanson, I liked it better when you had long hair." Thanks Jimmy.

So the question became, "WHY do you think that"? I figured out you need a deeper topic with room for strong opinions.

We started doing actual debates in our class and it was an instant success! When students feel passionate about something, they can think up tons of reasons! If they are really passionate, they will be happy to write their opinions and reasons until the sun comes up as long as they know their opinion will be heard.

For the past two years, I have started my opinion unit with a short scene from the Pixar movie "Up". On both years, my class has divided nearly evenly on the question: "Should Mr. Fredrickson go give at Shady Oaks retirement village, or should he live his life on his own". I have them separate themselves from what happens at the end of the movie and think about what is best for Mr. Fredrickson and the community. LOTS of opinions coming from 7 year olds!

I have started to find debate topics in nearly all of my fiction read alouds! Yesterday we debated whether or not The Little Red Hen should share her food. Then today, we read "The Ant and the Grasshopper" and the question came up, "should the ants help the Grasshopper?". I am AMAZED by the deep thinking!

This unit is SO perfect to use along with letter writing. Also, I teach formal vs. informal language because each letter is to a different person or character and in REAL LIFE, our language changes depending on who we are writing to. Since these letters are listing multiple reasons, it is also PERFECT for teaching transition words and varying sentence beginnings.

So when your opinion writing unit comes up and you are looking for ideas outside of "I Wanna Iguana" or "what is your favorite fruit and why?", you should try a debate!

There you have it! That is my bright idea blog post for today. I am hopeful that it is inspiring to someone out there.  You can also check out the rest of the Bright Ideas from 150 of the smartest education bloggers out there by visiting the Bright Ideas blog hop linky page...

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Bright Ideas Blog Hop! - Keeping Track of Student Conferring

I am now in my fifth year of teaching reading, writing, and math in a "workshop" format (mini lesson, gradual release to independent work, conferring, group share) and there are a lot of kinks I am still working out! The tip I have to share today is one that has made it so much easier for me to keep track of who is next on my conferring agenda.

When I am conferring, my clipboard is with me everywhere I go. It has all of my notes for each student regarding what they were working on the last time we met, what areas I hope to see improvement, reminders for compliments, etc. 

Since it is always with me, I keep my handy dandy clothespin organizational system on my clipboard. 

On the right side, I keep all of the names of the students who I have not conferred with in this "round". As I get to the student, I move their name to the top of my clipboard. Sometimes I will also put a student's name at the top of the clipboard if I KNOW that I want to meet with them in my next conferring session. 

After all of my conferences for the day, I move the names of the students I met with to a little sign at the front of my room near the sharing rug. Occasionally I will pull one of the names of the students I have conferred with already in this round and put their name back on the clipboard because I want to check in on them sooner. But in general, this keeps everything fair and lets the kids know about how much time they have left before meeting with me again. Super easy!

So there you have it! That is my bright idea blog post for today. I am hopeful that it is inspiring to someone out there. You should definitely continue the linky to find out some more awesome tips. The next place you should check out is Karen Jones's blog, at Mrs Jones's Kindergarten.

You can also check out the rest of the Bright Ideas from several of the smartest education bloggers out there by visiting the Bright Ideas blog hop linky page...

Monday, February 24, 2014

My latest baby!

Some teacher-authors have equated finishing a mondo project with giving birth. That is exactly how I feel after finishing my last projects!! These "babies" took me FOUR months to complete! So what are my Common Core Close Reading products all about?


Both the 2nd grade and the 3rd grade products include 52 original leveled reading passages. Each passage falls within the Lexile Level of 450-790, which is the Common Core State Standards expectation for 2nd and 3rd grade. The Lexile Level is marked at the top of each passage which makes it a breeze to find the right work for any student in your class.

Standards RI.1-RI.8 EACH have 5 passages and activities specifically dedicated to that standard. Standard RI.9 is extra special (you know, the one where you compare two texts on the same topic) because it has a total of 10 passages so that your students can compare away!

Each passage has two pages of carefully written and consistent close reading tasks and text dependent questions. The first page of tasks are specifically aligned to the standard identified at the top of the page. The first page also consistently includes tasks for standard RI.10 (By the end of the year, read and comprehend informational the grades 2-3 complexity band proficiency...).

The second page of activities is a  spiral of all the 2nd or 3rd Grade RI standards. This is perfect for holding those kids accountable for everything they have already learned! No skill slipping on your watch! 
Still unsure of whether or not this is the right close reading packet for you? Check out my freebie sample that includes TWO original 2nd/3rd grade leveled reading passages and close reading activities perfectly aligned to Common Core Standards RI.2.9 and RI.3.9 (Compare and contrast the most important points...presented in two texts on the same topic.) 

But if you know you want the real deal, you can find my 2nd Grade Close Reading or the 3rd Grade Close Reading in my tpt store. Enjoy! 


Sunday, February 2, 2014

Bright Ideas Blog Hop! Blurt Chart+Minute to Win It Fridays

I teach in Spain. Spaniards talk A LOT. I am dealing with a serious level of Chatty Cathys! Something had to give. So I created the perfect combination of a Blurt Chart with a Friday game of Minute To Win It. Here is how I do it...

I want to emphasize that this is VERY different than the olden-style writing a name on the board for a punishment. With a playful attitude and a kindly "oops" reminder, it really stays pretty sweet and is not meant to make anyone feel bad. Usually, the student covers their smile with their hand as they catch themselves.

Each year I make the first game of Minute to Win It irresistibly fun. One of my favorites is giving them a cookie that they put on their forehead and have to scoot down to their mouth using only gravity and facial muscles. No hands!

One note: The cookie example is not a typical minute to win it game for me because it is a big edible prize. I ALWAYS stick to skittles. One skittle if they made it through the week and were able to participate in the game and one skittle if they were able to "win" the game. Simple. Easy. Maximum of two small pieces of candy. No food schools could use stickers as an alternative.

I NEVER tell the kids what the upcoming game will be for the week. When they get chatty and we are really needing to reel things back in, I come up with a really fun, new game. But often I just think of a game a few minutes before we play. Here are a few ideas to help get you started...

I keep a handy tub of Minute to Win It supplies in my classroom. It is filled with odd items I have found up for grabs in the teacher room or from the Spanish version of the dollar store. (Yep, those are panty hose on top!). This tub is often my inspiration and it keeps me creative!

So there you have it! That is my bright idea blog post for today. I am hopeful that it is inspiring to someone out there. You should definitely continue the linky to find out some more awesome tips. The next place you should check out is Brenda Frady's blog, at Primary Inspired.

You can also check out the rest of the Bright Ideas from several of the smartest education bloggers out there by visiting the Bright Ideas blog hop linky page...

Sunday, December 8, 2013

AWESOME (FREE) Game for Mastering Math Facts!

This math game is exactly what the teacher wants:
1. Fun
2. Effective
3. Easy
4. Free

The purpose of the game is to help your students learn their math facts fluently. I always start my 2nd graders out memorizing their doubles (sums to 20) with this game and then it morphs easily into doubles plus one facts, and then onto the real toughies (7+9, 8+6, etc.).

Directions:1. Use masking tape to make a 3x4 box with the sums of problems you want them to memorize. This picture above shows the students working on their doubles facts.2. Make a set of flashcards with the problems you want them to practice.3. All students should sit in a line around the box (not shown here because of privacy issues).4. Choose two students to be "it". They stand on the number 0.5. Call out a math fact. The students hop to the correct answer.6. The first student to hop to the fact with their completely within in the lines stays in. The other student sits back down in exactly their same place. Keep it light-hearted and take away the competitive nature. To do this, I emphasize how much luck plays into it (i.e. "ooh, you had good luck being right by the six").6. Then the next student in line is in against the last rounds winner. Luck really does take a big part of this and you will see that one student will rarely last more than three rounds before someone else bumps them out. 7. We play this as a group for a few days. After that, I leave the cards and box out and let the students play if they ever have a free moment in class. After while, I change the numbers to more challenging problems. I have had my "game board" set up since September and they STILL are going crazy to play!

This game can be set up and implemented ANY time of year! Have fun!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Goodbye Messy Filing Cabinet! HELLO Organized Binders!

Messy filing cabinets are a very real part of my teaching past. I never had a really good system for organizing my teaching materials and so they ended up in a file that I always intended to refer back to, but...I swear that filing cabinet had it's own life! 

This year we have been kicked out of our classrooms during planning times/specials because we have other classes using our rooms for Spanish. That filing cabinet situation became an even bigger challenge with this development. My awesome colleague down the hall suggested I try out binders. She was totally right! These babies are awesome!  
I have only three binders. They are big. They are sturdy. Each binder contains all of my teaching materials (other than center activities) for each Trimester.  They are bulky, but definitely not too big to take one out of the classroom for my planning period or to take one home for some Netflix/couch inspired planning.

I have organized everything according to the standard. Each standard is printed on an Avery label and slapped onto a clear sheet protector. I have sorted each standard into the binder according to which Trimester it was to be taught.

One sheet protector for each standard. Simple.

Inside each sheet protector, I store all of my goodies related to that standard. This has made my planning a breeze!

I LOVE this system! Have you tried binders in your classroom? Do you have another organization tip?

Monday, December 2, 2013

How To Use a Math Word Wall

Math Word Walls can do so much more than just be a nice display! This is a lesson I wish I could give my younger teaching self. Over my career I have struggled with word walls in general. But since adopting Common Core, I have realized my students need to have and USE a common vocabulary that is mathematically specific. With a high ESL population in my classroom, I thought this would be the perfect time to figure this tool out! After researching and delving into this task, I can sum up my positive experience with these five tips:

Post words as you use them: In years past, I have put up all the words on the word wall ahead of time so that they could be in alphabetical order and my students can find the word alphabetically. People who are way more of an expert in this subject have suggested forgetting all about alphabetical order and instead replacing that with the order in which you are teaching the words. I tried it this year and LOVE IT! As you'll see below, I keep a limited number of words up at one time so they are not sorting through tons of words to find the one they need. 
Each day, I post the words I am introducing in their own special spot near my teaching area. I only add these words to our main word wall when the students have a pretty good grasp on them and I am ready to introduce some new words.

I suggest forgetting all about alphabetizing and instead organizing a word wall by unit. My huge stack of word wall words are color coded according to the math strand they are most closely aligned to. This makes it a breeze to gather the cards I need before starting my unit. Of course, I don't post a word until I have introduced it to the class. But I do keep that stack of words easily accessible throughout the unit.

Before my lesson, I try to be mindful of the words I want to emphasize throughout my lesson. I also encourage my students to use the words and I have a lot of praise when they use them correctly.

We are using interactive math notebooks this year and we simply put a tab in the notebook for vocabulary. Each student has their own visual dictionary of words that they can refer to! I always give them a definition to paste in their notebook but I also require them to create their own illustration or example of the definition to be included. If you don't use interactive math notebooks, then you might consider making a individual student vocabulary notebooks, especially if you have ESL/ELL learners in your class.

My students LOVE to play "Guess the Word" as an end of unit activity. Sometimes I say "I am thinking of a word that means...". Sometimes I draw a picture and point to something and they must guess the word. You can even let a student take a turn as the leader of the activity. Lots of fun and lots of learning!

I am working on creating word walls for K-5. But for now, I have 1st Grade, 2nd Grade, and 3rd Grade,  4th Grade, and 5th Grade word walls available. Each pack includes the word wall definitions in three different sizes. They are pretty awesome!
1st Grade Math Word Wall
2nd Grade Math Word Wall
3rd Grade Math Word Wall
4th Grade Math Word Wall
5th Grade Word Wall
A word wall is so much more than a visual display! If you have good words, then these words have deep meaning that can only increase the depth of understanding of your students. We need all the tools we can get to help our students succeed mathematically and a word wall is a great tool for this!