Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Learning about classifying!

If you teach "summarizing" in your classroom, you know that it is a REALLY tricky skill.  Students often struggle to know what the most important details are...sometimes write down every single thing that happens...and usually miss that "heart of the story" piece.  Because it is one of our assessed skills all year, I knew I wanted to do a better job modeling and scaffolding for my class this year.

To get started, we talked about summarizing, how it differs from retelling (which is oral and detailed), and how it not only has to capture the key elements of the story, but also that "theme" or big idea the author wants you to carry with you.  That's pretty complicated stuff!

I took some time and wrote 5 sample summaries for our most recent read aloud, Shredderman.  I asked the students to work in pairs to read them, discuss them, and then decide if they were "oh no!", "decent" or "wahoo!".  They had some great discussions...


...then we came back and each group placed their summaries where they felt they belonged.  We had a LOT of variation!  We read each one aloud and talked about the strengths and shortcomings of each (ex.  One was well written and many students gave it a "wahoo!" until I pointed out that it was an OPINION piece, not a summary!), and I think it set us up well for tomorrow's lesson where we are going to try to write our own summaries on some simplistic short texts.  Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Bright Ideas! Writing Manipulatives?

It's time once again to link up with the "Bright Ideas" link up, and today's post is about a great trick I tried with my class this week to try to make those writing lessons really stick!

We are working on realistic fiction and I have taught a number of lessons..."Showing not telling", infusing dialogue, using action words, and--this week--adding setting details.  As a part of my unit, my students are helping me write a story at the same pace they are going (modeled instruction), and I asked them to help me revisit the text we had written so far and to look for setting details.  I scrolled the text on the Smartboard as I read is part of the story.

As I read, I asked the students to keep track on their fingers each time they heard a setting detail or where they could really "see" the setting in their mind.  When they finished,
I sent them off with their writing partner to try the same thing with their story.  To keep track, I gave each team a stick of unifix cubes. Each time they heard a setting detail, they snapped one of their stick and added it to their pile.

When they finished, the partners decided if their pieces had enough setting details--and if they didn't, they used their "purple pen power" to go back an infuse some more details. The concrete manipulatives forced them to really take stock of the writing and was a great visual to see how well they had applied that skill.  I think there is a lot of potential for using counters or other "idea holders" to represent writing many times they see indenting, how many action verbs, how many descriptive phrases, and so on.  Give it a try--the students loved the visual impact!

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

October's LOVED that LESSON! Organizing our math work

It's time for October's "Loved That Lesson" linky and this month I am sharing a lesson we did last week that I am hoping is going to make a huge difference ALL year with my students!

This lesson started in my mind a few weeks ago when I realized just HOW much work we need to do with organizing our math work, working precisely, labeling our work, and so on.  I spent some time with my students brainstorming a list of what "quality" math work would look like--and what "precision" means.

We spent some time looking over our work and thinking about which of these are the trickiest--and each student set a goal for themselves to try to improve the level of precision of their math work.  We have been really digging into the Standards for Mathematical Practice, and it was time to raise the expectations a notch!

I knew that in order to really help them "see" what some of these components looked like, we would have to go on a hunt for samples, so over the next few days I kept my eyes open and asked my students to keep THEIR eyes open.  I started to find examples and made copies.  As I did, I started to hang them up to use as "mentor math".
I hung them up on one of our closet doors in clear view.
I LOVED watching my students start to take some of the ideas students used and apply them to their own work.
I asked students to help me identify what they saw that made the work "precise"
The students started really tuning in to work quality--and I heard them complimenting each other and DEFINITELY raising the bar for quality.  I LOVED it!  Make sure to stop by and check out the other links below for more lessons people loved!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Getting "unstuck" in problem solving

As my students are building their confidence and learning more and more daily routines, I am starting to push their thinking in math more each and every day.  Of course, with "pushing" comes resistance--and even complete standstills.

Many students are still at the very beginning level of understanding "perseverance" and have not developed a good sense of how to dig into a challenging situation.

Time to brainstorm!

As a class, we worked to create a chart that listed some suggestions for what to do to keep from getting STUCK when we work.  Here's what we came up with together!

Several students immediately suggested that a great tip is to look for important word hints like "take away" and "put together".  I agreed with them and said that those, indeed CAN be great hints as they work--and can help them VISUALIZE what is happening in a problem.  I did caution them that there are times these words can fool to be careful!

We were in full agreement that often you will need to read.  And reread.  And reread a problem.  I told them even I read through problems more than once to make sure I am crystal clear about what the problem includes.

One suggestion was to hunt for the question-and we agreed that the question tends to be toward the end.  I mentioned that some students in the past have actually found highlighting the question to be useful--and we made note that some problems may actually ask MORE than one question!

Similarly (and this took a little probing on my part!), we recognized that the FIRST part of a problem often gives very valuable information and data needed to solve the problem.  Sometimes circling that information can help them get started. One student mentioned that sometimes there is extra information in problems that can be tricky so we made note of that.

We also talked about how sometimes the process of taking information from the problem and putting it in our notebooks leads to inaccuracies, incorrectly copying, or mistakes.  We talked about how double checking all of that can keep us from getting stuck.

Finally, we agreed that trying to visualize a problem and, if helpful, to draw a picture or a diagram (like a number line or a chart) might make all the difference in the world.  Finding a way to represent a problem visually can often "unstick" a problem solver!

LAST but not least, we decided to leave a little space at the bottom of our chart in case we came up with any other brilliant ideas!  So what next?  Time to practice!  I saw lots of students reading and rereading...circling information...highlighting...and NO one gave up on our fun fall word problems!  

Have a happy Thursday!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Monday, October 6, 2014

Narrative Writing: Starting off a unit on the right foot!

As many of you might have seen either here or on Facebook, I am one of the twelve collaborators on a new blog called "Upper Elementary Snapshots".  Yesterday was my first official post over there, and I'd love to have you stop by and check it out!  Just click our great logo to take you right to the post.  While you are there, if you haven't followed us on Bloglovin' or Facebook, take some time to do that to make sure you don't miss a post!

It's all about how I dug into our realistic fiction writing unit--and made sure I really slowed down so we end up with a great project at the end!

As for me, I am getting ready for another busy week of school--and I am sure you are too.  We are wrapping our our huge mapping unit pretty soon, and I have started working on my MEGA mapping resource that is going to take me forever to make!  UGH!  Still, I think it will be unlike any resource you have ever seen, so I hope you will all like it when it's finished.  Stay tuned...and stop back often this week to check out the other goodies I have going on in my classroom!

Also, don't forget to check out YESTERDAY'S post about BizWorld--and your chance to win a kit of your own! 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Holy Great "Biz" Opportunity!

For those of you who have been following me for quite some time, you know that every spring I use a MOST AMAZING resource...a "real world" business simulation called "Biz World".  I happened across it a few years ago when a fellow teacher clued me in and I thought it might be a nice tie to our fourth grade curriculum.

By the second day--I was hooked.  I mean--REALLY hooked.  More importantly, my students were hooked too.  The gist of the program is simple; student learn the basics of starting and running a business--from job qualifications to interviewing to working as teams to marketing...the lessons are amazing.  As the unit progresses, students form "companies" which work to create a friendship bracelet company from the ground up.  They create business names, meet with a venture capitalist (ME!), sell shares of their company to get capital for supplies, they design marketing, they manufacture, and--at the end--they sell the bracelets they have made.  It's math.  It's literacy.  It's economics.  It's amazing.  Sound like it's a high school class?  Believe fourth graders not only handled it, they THRIVED with it.

I have linked to several posts from the last few years in case you want to learn more!

Why am I telling you this when I'm not teaching the unit until spring?  Let me tell you!!!

BizWorld has graciously offered to give away a FULL KIT of BizWorld or BizMovie (also looks amazing!) to one of my readers!  That's you!  Here's the deal...

To win, I am asking that you only enter if you can truly commit to teaching the unit.  You will really need 3-4 weeks to do the kit justice.  If you aren't sure you can do it, leave this one for someone else.  It' would be devastating to let a great resource like this sit on a shelf!

So how do you win?  See the details below:

Special giveaway ONLY for readers of The Teacher Studio

Dates: Sunday, October 5th - Friday, October 17th

Prize: BizWorld program (value $250) or BizMovie program (value $300)

What do I need to do?  Enter at this link by telling us a little about yourself and why you want to bring BizWorld or BizMovie to YOUR classroom.
Winner(s) will be announced here and on the BizWorld blog when the giveaway is over!

So what do you think?  Interested?  Make sure to click this link to enter.  I am so excited to offer this amazing opportunity for one of you!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Getting Ready for Word Work

For the last few weeks, I have been doing whole class word work lessons to try to give some foundations to get us started this year.  We have studied the number words, the days of the week, the months of the year, and now--finally--the idea that big words are composed of multiple syllables.  If we can HEAR the syllables and spell each one reasonably well, we will do a good job when we want to write big words.  Next week we start our small groups of word work that are geared toward "just right" level.  We use Words Their Way, but really these ideas could work for any spelling/word study program or curriculum.  I really believe in word STUDY because I thinks it's critical that we help students "unlock" this ridiculous language of ours!  Memorizing 15 words to spell on Friday simply isn't going to make a difference for most students.  I told my students that I have only two spelling rules:

1.  Spell all high frequency words correctly (I assessed these last week and sent a list of errors home for students to work on).

2.  Spell all other words with every syllable in order and with every sound in every syllable.  

This at least makes all words recognizable.  I'd rather have "fantastick" than "fatnsatic".  Know what I mean?

To get us ready, this week I introduced the practice menu I made and have been using for the last few years.  I wanted a way for students to have fun, low stress ways to practice and interact with their words--even if there was no adult to help them.

I pulled all the students together and we brought our word tubs (we use little plastic containers to house our words in our desk) which had the big words related to geography that we used for our syllables lesson.  NOTE:  These words are WAY above the level for many of my students...they were practice words and not assessed.  I went through each of the practice activities on the page and the students got the opportunity to TRY each one with those practice words.  I am hopeful that it will be better cemented in their minds because they tried it with me.  

Writing each syllable a different color...very visual and stresses hearing those sounds in order and reminds students to look for those vowel sounds.
This activity asks students to sort their words in order from most challenging for them to least challenging.  I love hos this one makes them really focus on the words they are struggling with the most.
Triangle spelling!  I have been doing this one for years and it's one of my students' favorites.  I love how it forces them to watch the sequence of the letters unfold.

Word study has always been an organizational nightmare for me, so I hope this year runs a little more smoothly!  I am hopeful that my two spelling "rules" will keep my students focused.  They were all super excited to practice spelling big words with me...the paying attention to syllables idea was VERY new to many of them.

Want a copy of my menu?  CLICK HERE to grab it.

Just wanted to let you know that I did finish a little something new that I am super proud of .  I'll blog about it later...but it's one sale through tonight so I thought I'd let you know.  I'd love for you to check out how we practiced "precision" this week in my class!

Click HERE to check it out in more detail!  

Have a great weekend...but MAKE SURE to stop back here tomorrow for an amazing opportunity for you!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Math Is Real Life: Cookies, cookies, cookies!

It's the first Wednesday of October which means it's time for our monthly linky - Math IS Real Life!!  If you want to see how the linky works, or just want other real world math ideas, check out our Pinterest Board of all the posts so that you can look back and find some great ideas and REAL pictures to use in your classroom!  
If you are linking up, please include the below picture AND a link back to all four of our blogs - feel free to use the 2nd image and the links listed below!

A monthly REAL WORLD math blog link-up hosted by

For those of you who have followed my blog for a while, you know that each year I do several projects sponsored by "Projects by Jen",  If you haven't been to her site, I am right now telling you to go check it out.  (Wait...finish my post first!)

Every fall I participate in her "Oreo Project", an international project where students stack Oreo cookies, collect class data, submit the data to the project, and can track the real time progress of the numbers as they roll in!  Here are the results as of last Friday: is GREAT fun to see the "Real World Numbers" roll in and know we are a part of the data!  Here's how it went down.
First we went over the rules and each child got their turn to stack during math workshop.
I had a Chromebook nearby and each student filled out a Google form to record their results.

At the end, I printed off the spreadsheet (without student names) and asked a small group of students to identify the highest number for each student and then to compute the average so we could submit it to the project.
BUT WAIT!  There is MORE real world math!  I wanted to really help students understand that we can collect data on countless things--and that certain data can be very useful!  Is the average number of Oreos that can be stacked critical in the world?  Maybe not...but there sure is a bunch of other Oreo data that might be interesting to people.

Oreo has a bazillion flavors now.  Did you know that?
Here are just a few. 
So I thought it would be fun to do some taste testing and data collection.  We started with the mint Oreos (I gave mine a "10") and moved to the watermelon Oreos (I gave mine a 3.)

Seriously.  Does this look like a good idea to you?
I wanted the students to see that we can collect data in a lot of we passed around a graph for students to fill in as they ranked their mint Oreo.

Is it beautiful?  No.  Can we tell something at a glance--YES.  We can tell that the mint Oreos were a big hit!  We also could tell that some other students had very strong negative feelings.  We also noted the "boo boo" tape and that hand making graphs is a dangerous business!
So we moved up in the world for the watermelon Oreos and used a Google form.

Now THAT'S a graph!  So neatly done...and we made some pretty astute observations.
So who cares?  Does Nabisco care about this kind of data!  You bet!  They need to judge the success of their different flavors.  Do stores care?  You bet!  They want to make educated decisions about how many of each kind of Oreo to buy.  We talked about how the ideas of 26 people might not matter to them...but if they could get information from hundreds or thousands--they really could use that information to make decisions.

It's a great kick off to our supplemental graphing unit, and I cannot WAIT to use my new "Great Graphs" resource to REALLY get my students thinking about the "real life" implications of data.  If you haven't checked out Projects by Jen...this would be the time to do it!

Don't forget to check out the other MIRL posts below!  Check back over the next few days - more will be added!!

Monday, September 29, 2014

What messages do we send our students as writers?

As I worked with my class today on "inventing characters", I stopped to look back at some of my anchor charts from last year.  I always save them for a year as a "bread trail" of what I did...I always remake them with my class each year but as I get older--it helps having a little visual reminder!

I happened across this one.
I remember the day we made this...I simply asked the students what I would see during writing time and they REALLY struggled to answer.  They were eventually able to tell me the first things on the list..that students would be writing (I prompted them to get the "entire time" part!), that they should spell carefully, and remember punctuation and capitals.

Was that all writing WAS to these students?  Writing down words with correct spelling and sentences?  Were we failing to communicate the important things about writing--like that writing is a creative process of sharing ideas, opinions, and dreams?  Are we not communicating that learning to write is about trying new thing and playing with words?  So...we had a great discussion and by the end, we were able to add the final three items...that we will take the lessons we are taught and apply them to our work, that we will "recursively revise" and know that good writers are always tweaking and cutting/pasting to their work, and that it's ok to TRY new things...even if they aren't perfect.  It was a GREAT discussion, and I think my students really better understood writing time as a place for experimenting with new learning--that not everything needs to be a perfect published work.

So...before we dig ANY deeper into our realistic fiction unit, I'm going to back up a step and "have the talk" with this year's group.  I wonder what they will say when I ask them, "What should I see during writing class?"  I'd love to hear your thoughts!