Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Back to School Tips YouTube Party + GIVEAWAY!

This post has me SUPER EXCITED (with a dash of nervous and giddy)!
I have teamed up with my blogging friends at the Primary Chalkboard, and we wanted to do something BIG for back to school for you.
I'm talking, B.I.G.- BIG!!!!
We decided to throw you a party. (Need a hint?)
It is a YouTube Partaaaaay! Each of the amazing Chalkboard members are here sharing lots of tips -- organizational, DIY, helpful ideas-- lots of things you can do RIGHT NOW to make your back to school a little easier!
We are having a huge giveaway!

So...Would anyone like a:

$100 Amazon Gift Card
$100 TeachersPayTeachers Gift Card
A fabulous Michael Kors bag?

I thought so.
Then you need to head over to the Primary Chalkboard blog to enter!
You can EVEN gain EXTRA entries in the giveaway by watching each Chalkboard member's video and entering a SECRET WORD from each video into the Rafflecopter
(but I know you were going to do that anyway, so... 2 birds, 1 stone).

IMPORTANT NEWSFLASH: We will be linking up 5 new videos every day this week...
so you can come back, watch, and enter every day! WAHOO!

So, here is an easy recap:
SO. Let's get this party started!

MY TIP: How to organize all the papers you send home 

Now that you heard my SECRET WORD, head over to the Primary Chalkboard to watch more tip clips and gain more entries to enter our giveaway!

Remember to stop by the Primary Chalkboard Blog TOMORROW for more tips and MORE secret words for EXTRA entries in the giveaway! WAHOOO! You can ENTER my secret word in the Rafflecopter below:

Friday, August 1, 2014

Digging deeper with close reading

I remember the first time I saw the phrase "close reading". I wondered if it was something new or if it was a misspelling of "cloze reading" which is a method where students fill in the blanks to make meaning from the text. I also wondered if it was another passing fad in reading education. Either way, it didn't sound like something that would later dramatically affect how I teach reading.

Enter the Common Core standards. 

Three years ago, my school adopted the Common Core standards for ELA. Our first PLC task was to read and analyze the standards CLOSELY. I noticed the very first anchor standard for reading said "Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it."

Yep, "read closely" and "close reading" ave VERY related phrases. 

It was like a lightbulb went on in my head. Over the year, through a ton of PD and reflection, I realized that my past reading instruction had some elements of close reading but that more than anything, I had been teaching my students pretty basic comprehension techniques that did not have the depth needed for the heavy reading expectations they encounter just a few years after my 2nd grade class.

It was time to dig deep - in my learning, in my teaching, and in my students understanding. Here are some of the big ideas that have stuck with me.

There is no "formula" for close reading.

There is no rule that says students MUST read the text three times in three specific ways. There are recommended techniques for digging into those details and some of those methods follow a systematic approach. But in reality, close reading flows much more than that. The student is going to go back to the text multiple times to reflect in different ways. Why did the author write it this way? Is the author saying something more than just what is written in words? How does this text build upon what I have read elsewhere? These (and many more) are the close reading questions we want to teach our students to use NATURALLY. So sometimes, a structured "three readings" rule is too limiting.

Close reading is reading WITHIN the text and BEYOND the text.

When I think of the kinds of readers I want my students to be ten years from now, I hope they will be thoughtful readers who make connections and make sense of what they are reading. I don't want them to be stuck on reading something only in the literal sense. That means for the younger grades, we are teaching skills to be THOUGHTFUL and reflective while reading.

It is supposed to be challenging.

Close reading is not about quickly finding the "answer". The text should be complex enough that the students are working out their thinking as opposed to us spoon-feeding them. Remember, we are expecting them to be reading comprehending text independently and proficiently at a Lexile Level of 1,000 by the 5th grade. That means we have a lot of work to do before then! For my second graders, that means the text falls within the Lexile Level of 450-790 which are the same levels for a third grader. My guidance and teaching comes in when I am showing them the techniques of digging deeper vs. pointing them in the direction of the "answers" in an overly simplified text.

Close reading and class wide discussions go hand in hand.

When strong readers read, they are thinking. They are naturally making connections to, within, and beyond the text. Since we don't all do this in exactly the same way, there is usually some variation in how a text can be interpreted. A good close read discussion will have multiple ways of looking at a text.

What does close reading look like in my classroom?

I teach in a reading workshop format. We always start with an Interactive Read Aloud where I model a reading strategy. Oftentimes, these are close reading strategies. Following the read aloud, my students will either head to read independently or they will meet with me for Guided Reading or Strategy Groups. For two days of the week, I do not have Guided Reading groups because I am conferring with students independently. This is when I check in with them to see how they are applying the strategies we have learned (or are learning) in their independent reading (books they have chosen themselves). The other three days a week, I work at my group table. Occasionally, I will be teaching a straightforward Guided Reading lesson. But more often than not, this is the time I teach reading strategies in a smaller group. 

I discovered the best solution for teaching close reading in a small group! Well, by discovery, I mean I created something :) I had been looking for materials that aligned well with the Common Core standards because I believe they are right on track for teaching the right strategies for developing deep thinking readers. I could NOT find anything that had enough relevant text examples, enough opportunity for practice, or enough depth to really practice what is needed.

So I got busy writing! And I got help from more qualified writers when needed.

These are my new babies!



When I say "I worked on them", I mean I REALLY worked! These four products took me almost a year to complete!! But they are one of those products I had always dreamed of as a teacher. Here are some of the key features:
  • I took each of the Common Core standards (for each of the separate grade levels) and wrote FIVE original passages that could be used for that particular standard. I did this so my students could have plenty of practice applying close reading strategies to these standards they are expected to master. Then I gave plenty of opportunity for my students to practice reading closely and apply those Common Core standards on each of the texts.
  • I also included a spiral of other close reading strategies for each of these passages. That way, my students would have plenty of opportunities to practice past strategies all throughout the year - not just during a specific unit. I did this because these are the reading strategies that I want to become ingrained in my students so they can use them forever in their reading lives.
  • I included a variety of text levels. All of the passages included have been carefully leveled and labeled with a Lexile Level on the top of each page. They are sorted in order from the least complex level to the most complex level so that your students can continually be challenged. ALL of the passages fall within the 450-790 Common Core standards Lexile Level expectation (which is the expected 2nd and 3rd grade reading level range). 
  • Even the tricky standards get plenty of practice. In second grade, we have a standard where the students have to "describe how words and phrases (e.g., regular beats, alliteration, rhymes, repeated lines) supply rhythm and meaning in a story, poem, or song." This can be tricky to find text examples in your classroom library! It is even trickier to find multiple copies so that you can do this in a group setting. This product covers all the bases. Like the rest of the standards, there are five passages and activities that align perfectly with this standard.
  • Students must justify and PROVE their understanding and thinking with text evidence. Most of the activities in the packs are open ended BUT must be backed up with textual evidence. That means your students are highlighting in multiple colors or circling and underlining text to show you what part of the text influenced their response. 
  • A complete Answer Key/Guide is included. As I said above, in close reading most of the responses should have multiple interpretations. I still went through every question in these products and gave a possible response so that you can have a starting place. Sometimes, the "answers" I have provided are a great discussion starter!

Check out this video preview for a closer look at what is inside:

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Summer Vacay in Vegas Baby!

Happy summer everyone!
I am in THE Las Vegas for the 1st ever TeachersPayTeachers Conference! This place is amaaaaaazing! 
I am here meeting up with teachers and bloggers from around the WORLD. How cool is that?!
Not to mention, my girls (and Greg) from The Primary Chalkboard are here! 
If you can't be here with us, what better way to celebrate than with a SALE?!
We are hosting a *Las Vegas Style* Double or Nothing Sale!
20% off my whole store July 10th and 11th!

It is the perfect time to stock up on things for Back to School! Check out the stores of my buddies who are also participating...

Friday, April 25, 2014

GoNoodle! Awesome for Brain Breaks!

I am SO hooked on GoNoodle! Have you heard of it? Well, it is an awesome brain break website that is so easy to use in the classroom. There is a huge variety of games/videos to play which means no more searching Pinterest for your next brain break. I know that my kids and I will be able to happily use the breaks everyday from now until the end the year.

Now, I have to share how I am using it!

I have been dabbling in some of the Whole Brain Teaching methods. There are a few that REALLY click with my style. My favorite behavior motivator is the smiley face/sad face scoreboard.

I draw the "scoreboard" on my whiteboard before my trickiest (behavior-wise) class (my reading/writing block RIGHT before lunch). I put a tally in the smiley face column when I see procedures performed well and a tally in the sad face column when I see the opposite. It is a contest for if the smiley or the sad faces win before the end of the period. If there are more smiley faces, then we get a reward...a GoNoodle brain break! (Note: You should follow the +/- 3 rule, which means don't let the smileys or the frowns get ahead by anything greater than 3. This keeps the kids more engaged).

The variety of brain breaks on GoNoodle is huge! There are calming breaks and silly dance breaks. I let my students choose their breaks (and they are always so excited that there are NO arguments).

Did I mention how amazing the FREE version is of this site? There are a TON of fun activities like this!

The BEST part is that the games are aligned to Common Core standards. For example, on today's break, when the screen says "DANCE" it is a dance party until the screen says "FREEZE" and shows an analog clock. When they see this, the students freeze and yell out the time on the clock. They are totally engaged AND they are practicing telling time. LOVE.

Anytime I try a behavior management system, I find that it works for a few weeks, or even months, but then starts to fizzle. Right? With using GoNoodle, there is a built in fail safe plan for keeping the kids interested! The class chooses their own character or mascot. They love stuff like this.

This little guy roots them and keeps 'em going! There is also the "video game effect" in play here. You know how there is the perfect amount of challenge to get to the next level? Yep, it's here. And yep, it works :)
It's kind of awesome. You should definitely check it out. It is super easy to sign up for an awesome FREE version by following this link HERE. You can even submit your name into a giveaway raffle at The Primary Chalkboard to win a PREMIUM membership to GoNoodle! 

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...