We are working hard at our close reading in our room, and I truly see my students become better thinkers and "discussers" about the texts we are reading.  I have been looking for more and more short texts to use with them...even first pages of novels, articles, and so on.

This week we are going to use a short story by Cynthia Rylant called "Slower Than the Rest"--you may be familiar with it.  It's a meaty story but its central ideas are still really accessible to fourth graders.

To shake things up a little bit since we are still in school when all the neighboring districts are on break, I thought we'd put a little fun into it!  I divided the text into 7 sections, each one to three paragraphs long.  I generated a list of open ended questions that I thought would fit this (and other) texts--none of them are specific to this text because I want them to start to internalize these questions and to have them in the back of their mind ALL the time when they read.

I have one or two questions for each of the seven sections of text, and I then cut them into strips and stuffed them into plastic eggs.

I tossed them all into a spring-y basket and we are ready to roll!  I put the questions for section one in pink, two in orange, three in yellow (thanks, Roy G. Biv) so I know which eggs to grab for each section.  

I am going to have the students work in pairs to read each section, then I will pull out the egg(s) that match, have a student read the question, let the pairs discuss, share out a bit as a whole class, then move on to the next section.  After we work through the text, I am going to ask my students to do some reflective writing about the story so I can see what "deep thinking" stuck with them.  It's nothing elaborate--just a fun twist on close reading.    Hope you all have a great week...stop back Wednesday for Math is Real Life!

Today is my day to blog over at "Upper Elementary Snapshots", and I'm sharing a little bit about an alternative assessment method that really helped me see the depth of student understanding--and allowed for some creativity along the way!  Just click the logo below to check it out!

Here's a little "teaser" for you...

Ready to see more?  Just click below.
Have a great week!

Happy weekend!

I'm sure some of you are winding down your spring break, still others are just getting going, and some (LIKE ME!) have another week to navigate before getting a much-needed break.

I thought I'd share a few pics from my week...we were busy and had quite a bit of fun sprinkled in!
To cap off our immigration studies, we had an ethnic food tasting party!  We had everything from homemade egg rolls to kielbasa to kuchen to pork flautas!  Every single child tried at least ONE new food!
In math, fast finishers worked on "Marco's Money Problem" and had some great discussions about how he should get enough money for his new gaming system.  CLICK HERE to see the resource this comes from!
We have been doing some test prep (not much because I don't really believe in it--but our new tests are online so we HAD to give the students some experience) so we took a break and did some creativity exercises along the way.  Aren't some of these GREAT?!?!  These are from THIS RESOURCE.
We finished reading "Flutter", wrote summaries (more on that later!) and created these great butterflies to hang on our door.  
Up next week?  Geometry--and we kicked off with a review sort!  This is the first of five geometry sorts found HERE.

Now...just one more thing!  Don't forget that my entire store is on sale through tonight...so do a little spring cleaning of that wish list before it's over!  Have a great weekend, everyone!

As March comes to an end, spring is in the air.  The weather is getting warmer, the sun is out longer, and we are spending more and more time outside.

Wait.  Stop.

We are expected to get 2-4 inches of snow and ice tomorrow!  WHAT?!?!
One thing I know I SHOULD look forward to is spring cleaning!  I should change over my closet and put away the sweaters and see how many pair of capris I can squeeze into!  Maybe I'll wait a week or so and see what the snow does!  Good news for you--you DON'T have to wait!

The bloggers at Upper Elementary Snapshots have decided to let you all do a little spring cleaning, too - but without actually picking up cleaning supplies!  We want you to clean out those TpT wishlists!  The best part is that we are going to help you get started!

We are giving away six $20 TpT gift certificates.  Use the Rafflecopter below for chance to enter on March 25th and March 26th.

Then, on March 27th and March 28th, our individual TpT stores will be on sale.  This is the perfect time to grab some fantastic resources to finish up this school year!  Who knows--maybe you will be the lucky winner of a gift certificate to make your spring cleaning even MORE pleasant!

Today's "bright ideas" post is just to plant a seed in your mind...you know all those things you have told your students over and over?  The things they STILL aren't always remembering to do?  Try making a little mini chart about it and tuck it in an interesting place.  When the students notice it, TALK about it...and then talk about it all day.  Take the sign with you as you walk down the hall.  Take the sign with you to lunch.  Make a HUGE deal about it...then hang it in a prominent place in your room for a while.  It gets students talking, thinking, and noticing--and you just might see some changes.  Want to see what I mean?  Check out a few hanging in my room right now!

Here are a few pics to show you what I did!
One of my pet peeves is writing "a lot" as one word.  I made this mini poster and tucked it behind an anchor chart.  It only took a few minutes before the first student said, "Hey--what's that?"
'Why, I am so glad you asked!  Let me show you a little something I've been seeing in your writing!"
Or this one...after fourteen million mistakes in their assignment books, I posted this one right above our calendar a few weeks ago.  "Hey--it's not May!  Why is that there?"  Funny they should ask, right?  It became a perfect little mini lesson about where the commas go when writing a date.   It still "lives" there as a reminder.
Not sure if you can tell, but this sign is hanging in our doorway.   I left it there at eye level for the first few hours (not ours or ares--HA) and refused to answer questions about it.  It piqued their interest...then I took it down and taught the lesson--and then we carried that sign EVERYWHERE and every time I used the word "are" or "our" I pointed to the correct word.  I have actually seen improvement in this one ...and I had MANY students misusing the two words.
OK...one more.  We have a HUGE fragment problem in my classroom, so I have banned starting sentences with these connecting words.  I am quick to point out to students that you CAN have a good sentence that starts with them...but it's tricky and more times than not, these should be connecting words in the MIDDLE of a sentence.  Where is this sign?  Hanging right above the sink in my room.  I point to it often.  Really.  Really. Often.
So...if you want to make a point, consider shaking up the message!  Put it on a bright color.  Wear it around your next.  Dangle it from your ceiling.  Tape it on students' desks.  They will remember it--and, I can't lie, it's pretty fun too!

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Don't forget to check out all the other "Bright Ideas" posts listed below.  If you see something you like, please leave a comment.  We bloggers LOVE to hear from you!
The other day I just started wondering about how many teachers actually DO get a spring break...WHEN they have their break--and then how they are going to spend it!  I decided to take a little survey, and I thought you might like to see the results after the first 2 days!

I guess I wasn't too surprised by the results--but I did think more people would have break in April.  I also thought it would be interesting to see where people were replying from--looks like the midwest is SO looking forward to their break that they couldn't help but share!

I then left a blank spot for people to share any plans they might have...and there was a WHOLE range of plans--from not much at all to traveling the world.  Here are a few snippets taken from the comments section!

Hubby and I made a rag quilt for our bed and found out that Baby #2 is a girl! :)

Hanging with the family!

Nothing!!! Best plans ever.

Resting and reading by the pool at my neighbors' house. So excited!!

I'm going to Italy!

Hoping to relax but will probably work on misc. school projects.

I usually scrapbook, quilt, or work on other crafty projects to relax!

Spending time with my kiddos - and Brewers Opening Day! :)

It's interesting...even though I have never met any of you in "real life", the blogging world has enabled me to "meet" so many people...and I just love to hear about you, your classrooms, and exciting things in your lives!  Thanks for participating in my little survey--and if you DON'T get a spring break this year, I hope you find some way to rest and recharge so you can go in the trenches each day and do your best!  Didn't get a chance to take the survey?  Let me know in the comments what YOU are doing this spring to recharge!  Have a great day, everyone...
I was talking with some other teachers about "Spring Break"...this magical time that happens many weeks after winter break...and many weeks before summer vacation.  After listening to people from around the country, I realized that not EVERYONE even gets  a spring break.

I thought I'd ask the question... and see what people are doing this year.  I'd love for you to take the survey and share your thoughts!  I can't lie--I'm pretty excited to have a break--but I know I'll be cursing it when we are still in school in mid June when some others are already finished!

Want to put your "2 cents" in?  Just click the image below and take a few seconds to let me know your plans!

It's time to move past our historical fiction unit and on to new things!  Our next focus in writing is essays; we are quickly revisiting all that we learned this fall about writing opinion essays and now are going to move forward with "literary essays".  We will dig back into a familiar text (Tiger Rising) and write one together, then we will work in pairs to write one about the read aloud book we are about to finish (Flutter), and then they will write one on their own about a book of their choosing.  Whew!  At about an essay a week, this is going to be a busy time!

The great news is, we can use some of our new close reading strategies to dig back into Tiger Rising...last year I purchased 12 copies of the book for this very purpose.  We are going back to hunt for important events...evidence of character traits...glimpses of character struggles, and so on.  Looking more deeply at texts is new for fourth graders, so they are going to need a LOT of modeling.  Here's how things unfolded in our first few days.
Now...I am a firm believer in making most anchor charts WITH students...but this unit has a few charts that are totally teacher made--because they are geared toward helping students know where we are headed.  I spent some time last weekend getting some of my charts ready so the unit would be RELATIVELY organized to start!  
I wanted the key targets for our unit posted so I can refer to them often.  We are really working on PROVING our claim with this unit...when we wrote our opinion essays, our evidence was a little sketchy (often the reasons just weren't the most important reasons) and I really want the students to realize that we can do more than write an essay about our opinion...we can find what the author did to make the text "special" for the reader...
Although this was NOT new, my students seemed shockingly unaware of how we used these terms during our opinion writing unit.  Time to review....
So to kick things off, we started digging back into Tiger Rising, our mentor text for this unit.  I had the students work collaboratively to skim and hunt for interesting things in the text that COULD turn into a good "claim" or thesis next week.  This was pretty tough...I tried breaking the text into smaller sections to make it manageable, did some modeling--and it was still tough.  More work needed!
So we started to get a decent list of some of the important topics that showed up in the book...bullying...friendship...loss...the importance of family...freedom...and many more.  I want my students to deepen their understanding of what "theme" is--but I have really struggled in the past teaching this CRITICAL but very important skill.  I did some snooping online to try to boost my own understanding and came across a nifty video.  This is a video for teachers about how to teach theme...and I really thought it did a neat job.  If you feel you are a little lacking in this area like I was, CLICK HERE to view it!
So here is where we are headed next.  I want the students to see that there are ZILLIONS of things to write about in a  literary essay.  Some are better than others--but if they can state a clear thesis and support it with plenty of evidence, they may just be able to craft a decent essay!
I think we are ready to dig in next week.  I am going to actually DO the writing with input from the students so they can see how I work through the process. Then I am going to release them a little bit...as a class we are going to work with "Flutter" to do some brainstorming about possible essay "claims", and then partnerships will work together to craft their essays.  Finally...I am hopeful that they will be able to do the full process themselves in a few weeks!  Thanks for stopping by--and I hope you have a wonderful week!
One thing I know for sure is that students often need to see/"do" math in ways that aren't presented in a traditional text book.  Students also don't always learn math in a nice neat sequence--or in one or two lessons as allocated by a yearly plan or scope and sequence.  When we try to fit our students learning into OUR convenience, we start to run into trouble--with deep understanding, with attitudes about math, and with our own frustrations that they "just aren't learning it"!

Whenever I can, I try to immerse my students in a concept over time and in a variety of ways.  I want them to "do" the math and develop or construct their own understanding so when they GET to a fill in the blank, they actually understand what goes on the blank and why.

Area and perimeter studies are a perfect example of this.  We can teach them to "add up the sides" or tell them "All you have to do is multiply the base and height."  But is it enough?

Over the years I have worked to create some different "experiences" that I think can help students really learn the concepts of area and perimeter.  I spend some time with these activities before we tackle the material in our math series--and guess what happens when we do it?  That's right--we complete it in about half the time because it feel so easy for them...

I know the push in schools is to 'increase rigor" and to cut out art and projects and the tasks that some teachers and administrators might see as "fluff".  Are there plenty of activities out there like that?  Yes.  But I also challenge people to look closely at activities.  Just because something involves construction paper doesn't make it fluff.  Just because it uses a textbook doesn't make it good.  Just because it claims to be "Fully Aligned to the Common Core" doesn't guarantee quality.

So...I thought I'd share some of the things we did to set the stage for our area and perimeter unit over the last few days!
We had to review what a rectangle was...and even how we begin talking about "insides" and "outsides" of shapes.
On of the activities we did involved working collaboratively to create a shape with an area of 24 square inches.  There were some rules though--no two people in the group could have a shape with the same perimeter--and no one could use a rectangle as their shape!
Throughout these explorations I stressed PRECISION!  We wanted to work neatly and accurately--but a huge part of "precision" involves correctly using labels.  The difference between "units" and "square units" can be tricky!
I just loved watching students tackle THIS challenge...they needed to design 3 rectangles that fit certain rules with area and perimeter.  They then got to make  "math art" with their successful rectangles!
Eavesdropping on students working is my favorite!  These two were really trying to come up with a "Trick" or a rule that would help them solve the final rectangle.  
We use an area in the hallway to hang up some of our explorations.  The students love seeing all the different ways their classmates tackled the problems!
There are still a few more challenges we are going to do this week as a part of math workshop, but now we are digging into the work in the textbook as well.  I am pretty sure they will have no trouble with it now!  I have had requests for these projects to be put all together, so I have worked to do that.  I've even thrown in a few extra practice activities that are a little higher level than what textbooks often offer.  Hope you like it!

It's the second Sunday of the month--and that means it's time to link up with "Loved That Lesson"!  I hope you enjoy the posts that will be linking up over the next week.  My goal for this linky is to share some fun and successful lessons in the hopes that something will inspire you!

Today I am sharing a SEQUENCE of lessons that I do at the end of our big unit on immigration.  We read historical fiction set in the peak time of immigration.  We read informational text about immigration.  We study the reasons why people choose to leave their homelands--and why, over time, they have chosen the United States as their destination.

To really tie this to our literacy units, one of my favorite parts of this unit forces students to apply everything they have learned about the era, about "point of view", and about historical fiction writing.  To begin, I put the students in imaginary "families", and this begins a series of lessons that result in a huge simulation.  To kick this off, I talk about their families for WEEKS leading up to this to really build enthusiasm and excitement.  By the time the day arrives, they are so excited to get their families that many students literally hug their family members when I read them off their cards!

 After they find out their family, their homeland, and their age, the work begins.  They need to work together to craft their story...their reasons for leaving...what each person's role is...what their hopes and dreams are...
 We break out the atlases and start to learn a little more about our homelands--and how they will get from there to America!

 To make sure they stayed on track, I projected a few questions for their families to think about.
 Because we had worked extensively with "point of view" during our book clubs, I was hopeful that the students would be able to stay in role and would be able to write from their character's point of view.  We talked about how the adults might have a very different point of view than the children--and we talked about all the people that might have been left behind as well.
 After the families worked to get clear on their basics of their family story, they began doing some free writing on their own to really start to take on the role of their character.
So...after all this, it was time to begin their immigrant diaries.  I require a minimum of three entries...one before their journey that explains their reasons for immigrating and their thoughts and feelings.  They also need one entry about their journey on the ship.  We learned a ton about this by reading informational texts and using online resources.  Finally, they need to write at least one entry about their experience at Ellis Island.  How do they do THIS?  Well, first of all, we study all about Ellis Island--but the best part of all of this is that the entire fourth grade does a HUGE Ellis Island simulation.  The students come in costume, we have inspectors, a ferry, detainment, and the works!  The simulation takes about an hour and a half and is SO much fun!  The students DEFINITELY have something to write about in their immigrant journals as many get separated from their families, get confused (we tell them very little about this simulation so they can feel ALMOST as confused as an immigrant would have felt during their time at Ellis Island!).

Many students get SO caught up in their character's story that they write FAR more than three entries.  We write them on Google docs so they can continue to work on them at home if they like, and then we make 'leather-like" covers out of brown grocery bags that we crumple and soak in watered down black paint.  
As you can maybe tell, I LOVE this set of lessons...and the students do too--and that's what matters to me!  Thanks for stopping by...and check back all week to see if more bloggers link up!  Thanks!