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!
Those of you who have been following me for some time may recognize this project from last year.  I saw a version of it on Julie Ballew's website and adapted it to use with my fourth graders.  If you haven't snooped around her site, I highly recommend it!

We have been working hard at our reading behaviors and I felt my student were ready to get a little more personal--to take all the minilesssons we have been talking about  and set a personal reading goal.  We talked about the many different ways we can all get better at reading and we generated quite a list.  I forgot to take a picture of it but some of the students' ideas are below:

Read more "just right" books
Stay focused during reading
Keep up with home reading
"Fix it" when something doesn't make sense
Read a better variety of books
Make good choices about where to read
Read with expression
Get pictures in your mind as you read

We also reviewed our "minilesson miniposters" that I are a few

So...after having this discussion, we worked to turn our ideas into our "Me as a Reader" projects!  Check out the pics below!
I showed the students how to use their ruler to make a border for decorating.  I didn't give them much class time to decorate...I gave them that to do over the weekend.  Some spent a TON of time and others didn't...but I wasn't willing to take a bunch of class time for it. 
We then added our information...three cards, three prompts--"My reading goal is...", "When I read..." and "My favorite books are..."
I had some different head tracers I had made... 
And let them create their faces...
On Monday we put it all together... 
This fourth grader spent a ton of time on hers!

They were SO proud of them!  

UPDATE:  I have had a few questions about the mini posters listed above.  They are available as a part of this resource.  THANKS!

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That's right!  There's a new Upper Elementary blog in town--and I am collaborating with 11 other top elementary teachers to bring it to you!  This blog will be filled with exciting teaching ideas, posts, freebies, and more--all geared toward making your upper elementary classroom the best it can be.

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To celebrate our grand "reveal", we have a little something special for make sure to enter our first giveaway for the opportunity to win oodles of useful upper elementary resources!  Make sure to follow us to keep up to date on all the fun.

An adage is a form of figurative language that consists of a short phrase or proverb that teaches a life lesson or speaks a general “truth”.  It is a saying that has been passed down over time and is generally recognizable in meaning.  Students who have not been exposed to this type of language at home or school may not understand when they come across such phrases in their daily lives or in their reading.  This is a concept covered in the CCSS, and it is one that I didn't do justice last year.  I am not a huge believer in teaching skills out of context, so I tried to highlight adages whenever we encountered them, but I realized I simply didn't give my students enough exposure.

When I started to think about how I wanted to tackle it, I knew I wanted my students to try to use their inferring skills to really THINK and try to decide cooperatively what these phrases mean.  I though it might be fun to approach it much like the "sorts" I do in math, so I created a set of cards that have 32 different adages on them.  I passed out 5-6 to each desk group and asked them to discuss them and try to come to an agreement about what they mean.
I was SHOCKED to realize that very few of my students knew ANY of the adages in their groups!  I knew they wouldn't know some of the less common ones, but they really and truly were stumped.  After they talked for a few minutes, I gave them the matching "explanation" cards and asked them to work together to try to match them up based on their discussions.

After a few minutes, I then had them flip the explanation cards over in the middle of their desk group and then had each group rotate to a new desk group to work with a new set of cards.  We rotated around until students got to each set of cards and I started to hear things like, "OH!!! I HAVE heard of THAT one!" or "NOW I know what that means!"  I am hoping that students start to tune into these sayings now and that it helps them recognize that writers add in things like adages, idioms, similes, and metaphors to make their writing more interesting.  

I wanted the students to be able to interact with these new phrases a little bit more, so I hung up all the adage/explanation cards as a bulletin board right by our line up spot.  They have been reading them while they wait!
I also thought it might be important to really help the students think about contexts in the world where these adages might be used so we did some talking about times when they  might have been true.  I asked, "When might someone say, 'Birds of a feather flock together,' and "Why would someone say, "Curiosity killed the cat.'?

So...I think we made some progress!  You could try any of these activities on your own as well--they don't need to be fancy cards.  Just print them out on index cards or type them up.  If you want them already done, I did put it all together here.  Have a great week, everyone!

It's time for another "Bright Ideas" post-and this is a quick one but a good one.  If you are like me, you are trying to do more and more differentiation and working toward a more "math workshop" approach.  In my attempt to have students doing meaningful work, I have been working hard at creating games to build fluency in a number of areas.  Many of these are card game--and I have been having a hard time figuring out how to keep the pieces all together for each.  I have tried using soap dishes, I have tried envelopes, and I have tried little disposable plastic containers.  I still found myself spending too much time figuring out what card went with what game and so on.

I decided to streamline and tried making all the games of one variety (even if I had "tiered" the game at different levels) on ONE color of cardstock so I could recognized the cards as being from a certain game.  Then, instead of marking each card with a colored dot or some other system, before I cut the cards, I picked a color and a style of line to squiggle on the back like this.

I simply makes sure that the colored line falls somewhere on each row of cards (these sheets have two rows of 4 cards each) so that when I cut them, each card has that colored line on the back.

Like this!
I started putting directions sheets in gallon ziplock bags and then using sandwich sized bags for each individual "deck" so all the sets of each game had their own baggie within the big bag.  So far, my system seems to be working and we can quickly find where to put misplaced cards!  

I know it may not be rocket science, but for a disorganized soul like me, I'm hoping it makes a difference over time!  Make sure you check out all the other amazing "Bright Idea" posts below.  

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It's time again for "Loved That Lesson"...and today I thought I'd share a simple lesson I did last week that seemed to make things a little more clear for my students!

If your students are like mine, recognizing where to put periods and other end punctuation is really challenging.  I get a TON of run on sentences in my class..."I love to play football it is my favorite sport." seems to be one of the trickiest writing problems to fix.  They just don't seem to "hear" where one idea ends and another starts.  So...I set that as my goal--to help them "hear" where to end a sentence.  Here was the sequence I used.

First of all, I talked about wanting the students to really listen as I did our read aloud--and I really stressed those pausing points, the questions, and the exclamation points.
Then I wrote a simplistic paragraph and left out ALL punctuation.  We worked together to put it in where it belonged.
I then sent my students back to study their own writing and to hunt for places to put in missing punctuation.  I then asked them to highlight some of their "favorite" sentences...sentences that conveyed an idea very clearly or in a descriptive or interesting way.  They had to confirm with a partner that it WAS a full sentence.
I then gave each student a sentence strip to record or "publish" their best sentence.
They traced over it with thin marker to make it pop!
I can't wait to hang them all up in our "Sentence Museum"--it was a great way to "publish" work in one quick work time and to start to build our understanding of quality writing.  Want to check out more great ideas?  See what other lessons "link up" below!

Early in the year I like to give my students time to revisit some of the work quality expectations along with a little bit of fun, and using "puzzles" has been something I have done for years!

To begin, I teach a little lesson about what it means to do quality presentation-worthy work.  We brainstorm a list that includes everything from using pencil before you color, cut carefully, color in one direction, draw big and bold, print neatly, spell carefully, and so on.  I then explain the puzzle project--that each student will design a puzzle piece that represents them...their favorite things, and so on.  I explain that we will use these to get to know each other--AND to practice doing quality work!

They have a blast!

Ready to roll!
Getting started with our designing...
Cooperating to build the puzzle and find their "matches"!
Ta da!!!!
In addition to THIS project, I do another cooperative activity in the first few days related to puzzles--and then revisit the activity in January.  I put the students in teams of 3 to put together a 100 piece puzzle.  Before they begin I ask them to talk about what cooperation should look like and then send them off to work.  I am always FLOORED by how many students really struggle doing jigsaw puzzles.  I love walking around and observing the group dynamics.
This team worked SO well!  They immediately agreed upon a "complete the edges first" strategy and ended up being the first group to finish.  They made wonderful small talk and really seemed to enjoy the experience.
This group had a tough time getting started until one person suggested that they organize the pieces by color--and then they were on their way!
This was my "parallel play" group--they all grabbed a few pieces to try to put together but really didn't seem to have any "team strategies"
Some groups were starting to get frustrated so we had a class meeting to share some strategies and encouragement and then I sent them back to work.  It took different groups different amounts of time, but they all finished and it was SO much fun to hear the cheers from each group as they finished--and to see the other groups rush over to see what their finished picture was.  There are so many lessons to teach besides reading, writing, and arithmetic--aren't there? 

That's all I can say!  Today I had a discussion with my class about "precision" and what that means. (Kicking myself for forgetting to take pic of our anchor chart).  We talked about getting the right answer--but also getting efficient answers. We talked about getting a good plan and checking over our work.  We talked about neatness and labels and units.

Then I told them the truth.  That we were going to work on one math problem for an entire hour--maybe more.



"I hate math!"

"It's too hard."  (Really?  You haven't SEEN it.)

So...I introduced the situation by asking them about their back to school shopping...if they did it at one store.  If they did it at multiple stores.  If they shopped sales.  If they loved it...despised it...

And then I asked what they would do if their family simply gave them a list and $300.  They got pretty excited about the possibility...some were going to spend every last cent, others were going to buy cheap stuff so they have money left, and others seemed to not know which approach to take.

I showed them the problem, showed them the two levels of challenge available, discussed expectations--and reminded them to PERSEVERE and work with PRECISION.

The task?  Mila has $300 to spend on her back to school clothing and backpack.  I told them what needed to be purchased (ex. 5 pair of pants, 2 sweatshirts, etc), made sure they understood that there are three stores to shop at ("Wow...Fashion House is REALLY expensive!" and "Let's make sure to spend extra on a good backpack because it has to last all year!")

and off they went!
Our math data sheets...two price lists (differentiated numbers) and a locker decor price list to use as a "part 2" if groups got that far.
Partner problem solving at its finest!
One team asked if I had any "money" for them to use to help.  I showed them where to access it whenever needed.
Working on writing up our final recommendations.
After we finished the first stage, we processed on what went well and what improvements we could have made.  Long story short?  Everyone participated.  Everyone was focused.  Most teams felt like everyone was included equally.  Most teams finished the task and were moving on to extensions.  Improvements needed?  "Level 2" voices!  As the teams got deeper and deeper into the problem, the intensity level and THUS THE NOISE went up!  We set that as a goal for our work tomorrow.  We easily could extend this another day because we didn't even TOUCH the practice activities.  I'll use those here and there over the next few days.  

Mission accomplished!  I can't wait to continue working with my students on their problem solving, collaboration, and accountable math talk.  They couldn't believe they worked on ONE problem for an entire hour!  I loved listening to their mathematical discussions and being the "guide on the side".  

Want to see more of what we did?  Check it out.