Friday, May 31, 2013

My Young Authors' Session: Heroes and Villains


Today is our school's Young Author's Day.  Since I regularly attend a writing conference each year, I am excited to present a session and share my love of writing with upper elementary students.

Here is a link to my free printable: Heroes and Villains.  I want to emphasize developing characters that each want something.  This creates conflict in the story.  If we have time, we will create a climactic scene with action, dialogue, and description.

I'll let you know how it goes.


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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Teaching Genre Series

When I moved from teaching primary to upper intermediate grades in 2001, I entered a class with a generous classroom library, but no reading or writing curriculum.  After reviewing the standards, I decided to organize my lessons across different genres.

The first lessons I created were book reports which eventually became the product 25 Book Reports.  Over time, I added non-fiction topics as well as fiction.

Over the last several years, I have completed nine writing units also organized by genre.  To see this list in my TPT store look for the Writing Genre series.

If I were suddenly dropped into another classroom without curriculum I could teach reading and writing for a couple of years without repeating units.

From now until Sunday evening, you can buy the whole series for $20.  Look for the four featured items in my TPT store. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Chains: Seeds of America – Laurie Halse Anderson

I have to be honest in this review and say how much I wished that this had been a stand alone book instead of a series.  My second choice was having the main character in the first book be the same in the second.  I learned so much about slavery during the Revolutionary War.  I wanted to keep following the main character Isabel and her sister Ruth and find out what happened to them.  Instead, the author chose to follow another character's story line for the next book leaving the reader hanging.

Synopsis: Isabel and Ruth are promised freedom when their owner dies, but another couple take them as slaves.  Isabel works for Loyalists, but realizes that the Patriots may be her way to ultimate freedom.

I recommend this book to mature middle school students and above.

For an explanation of my rating scale, click here.
Find me at Goodreads.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Please Don't Send Any More Cupcakes

Last Friday, a mom sent cupcakes to celebrate her son's birthday.  I have asked parents to send in healthier snacks, but I have had a difficult time enforcing that policy.  Did I mention that she sent 48 cupcakes for a class of 24?  Yes, each student felt entitled to two.  Yes, I was mean and told them they could only have one.

Frosting brings out a side of my students I would rather not experience.  This is not the first time we have had cupcakes and been reduced to chaos.  For some reason otherwise well-behaved students lose seven years of age. Several intentionally smear frosting on their faces.  (Yes, I was mean and took away their cupcakes.)

At one point I said, "I hate birthdays." 

They responded, "You hate kids."  (No, just cupcakes.)

I can top my own story.  The year I taught kindergarten I had a mom who brought an ice cream cake and no silverware.  She actually told me that she was glad she could have the "party" at school because she didn't want to have the students at her house.

I don't want to take away birthday celebrations entirely; I just don't want to be by myself in a room with twenty-four students hyped up on sugar.  So, I'm asking, please, for my more cupcakes at school.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Quote of the Week-- May 26, 2013

"The man who tried his best and failed is superior to the man who never tried." - Bud Wilkinson

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Friday, May 24, 2013

Seven Variations on the Higher or Lower Game

As you can probably tell by reading this blog, I like having sets of simple math games that I can play with my students with minimal supplies.  You have probably played the game Higher Lower.  I often play it as a sponge when we are lined up to go somewhere and the next teacher isn't ready for us.  I have found several variations to play this game.

1. If you have students that don't have the number system in their head, start with guessing a number 1-100 and have them use a 100 chart to eliminate possibilities. (Click here for a free 100 chart.)

2. Many teachers are using 120 charts and they can be used the same way.  (Click here for a free 120 chart.) This link is now fixed so anyone with this link can download.

3. Play teacher against the class with or without visuals.  Challenge the students to guess the number in 10 guesses.  (They have to listen to each other.)

4. Play the game completely silently except for the one person guessing the number.  Use the arrows on a piece of paper to record higher or lower answers. 

5. Play the game 1-1000.  Students who need the visual can imagine each box on the chart divided into 10 parts or they can add 0s to a row or two to visually multiply the chart by 10.

6. Play the game 1-10,000.  Students who need the chart can imagine each box divided into a hundred smaller boxes.  You can even model that on the first box.

7.  Use the 120 chart, but expand to 1200 and 12,000. 

My students can play this game to 1,000,000 now.  They efficiently work together to narrow the range.  (I also get to review the statistical term: range.)
Let me know in the comments if you have other variations on this game.

This year (July 2015) I enlarged the squares on my 100 chart so they will fit some of the math materials I have on hand.  Click here to download.

Happy Friday!

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

You Can't Read That...It's Dangerous!

This post isn't strictly a book review, but more of a ritual that I share with my students.  It began a few years ago when the Dangerous Book for Boys first arrived in book stores.  I bought a copy and put it on my shelf.  When someone asked about it, I would tell them they couldn't read it, because it was dangerous.  That made reading it more desirable.
When they begged to read it, I would finally give in but not before making them say the pledge:
"I solemnly promise not to do anything in this book without my parents' permission." (They would giggle.)
The Daring Book for Girls was given to me by a student that first year.  It joined the Boy's Book on the shelf and the ritual.
Learning should be fun. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

I AM a writer

Ever since I was able to hold a pen and create books out of stapled paper at the kitchen table, I have wanted to be a writer.  I spent the weekend at a writing conference and for the first time in my adult life, I feel successful as a writer.

I attend this conference every year and it's my version of a retreat.  I come back renewed and ready to be creative.  The first year I went just to remind myself of my writing dreams.  The next year I had just started blogging and posting on Teachers pay Teachers.  I felt brave enough to schedule appointments with a couple of editors.    This year I went to a business seminar with tax questions and people came to me for advice about blogging and networking.  I just emailed an editor I met so I can pitch some ideas.

We aren't supposed to compare ourselves with others, because focusing on others' opportunities causes us to miss our own.  I'm glad I have this opportunity to reflect each year on the progress I am making toward my own creative goals.

I can't wait to share this with my students.  They need to see adults continuing to learn and work toward their goals.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Quote of the Week -- May 19, 2013

"A revolution starts with a clear vision of a world different than the one we live in today."

Simon Sinek

Have a good week,


Friday, May 17, 2013

Talk Like Yoda Day -- May 21

I don't know why, but May 21 is known as "Talk Like Yoda Day", so I wanted to share with you the lesson I plan to teach that day.  I think it will be a great opportunity to slip in a little grammar lesson and have fun with my fourth graders.

We typically speak and write in a pattern subject, verb, object.  Yoda speaks in an object, subject, verb pattern. The poetry printable below shows students how to write like Yoda and has a sample poem.

I hope you enjoy this activity with your students.
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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Second Trial by Rosemarie Boll

The Second Trial's main character Danny reminds me of some students who have appeared in my class angry at everyone.  Danny's father has abused his mother so much, that Danny, his mother and his little sister enter a witness protection program.  Danny cannot believe his father is so terrible and rebels.

I read this book to understand.  I grew up with two parents in the same community I teach in now.  I work with some students who want good relationships with their parents even when their parents' actions show lack of care and concern.

As the story progresses, Danny's character changes.  Here is a graphic organizer for readers to track their changes in thinking about the book.

For an explanation of my rating scale, click here.
Find me at Goodreads.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Quote of the Week -- May 13, 2012

“Education without values, as useful as it is,
seems rather to make man a more clever devil.”

C. S. Lewis

(I know some brilliant people who are scary.)

Have a good week,


Sunday, May 12, 2013

My First Teacher -- My Mom

I was blessed to be raised by a kindergarten teacher who stayed home with my brother and I until we were in school.  I watched her go back to school to get her certification in Washington.  (She originally worked in Oregon.)  She was a substitute teacher for a while and then taught first and second grade for many years.

She has been retired for several years and now I am blessed to have her volunteer in my classroom one afternoon a week.  She reads with students and coaches them to be better.  If they start messing around, she sends them back to me with the words, "I'm sorry I'm wasting your time."  That usually stops the misbehavior.  No one messes with Mrs. Miller.

I just wanted to say a public thank you to my mom and first teacher.

Happy Mothers Day

Friday, May 10, 2013

Fractions, Decimals, and Percent on the 100 Chart

Last week I officially started a series of math activities on the 100 chart.  The free printables I used for this lesson are available in a Google Doc here.  This week I want to share how I show the relationships between fractions, decimals and percent on the 100 chart.

I have a set of full color charts in my Teachers Pay Teachers and Teacher's Notebook store.

Update July 2015: this year I made the squares on the 100 chart larger to fit the cubic math materials I have.

To teach the lesson, I print up several 100 charts and have students color halves, fourths, and fifths.  (I don't have everyone color every chart.  This could be a good jigsaw lesson, or strictly with a small group of students who didn't get it the first time.)  We talk about the numbers where one color ends and the next begins.  I show them with a calculator what happens when I convert the fraction to a decimal and point out the relationship if they don't see it for themselves.

Next I introduce thirds, sixths, and eighths.  We talk about how we have to divide up some of the individual squares to make equal parts of the whole.  Once again, I show them on the calculator what it looks like when I divide the numerator by the denominator. I explain (or remind) that the patterns in thirds and sixths go on forever.  By comparing charts, they can also see some equivalent fractions.

Here is the link to my Fraction, Decimal, Percent Bundle of activities and materials on TPT.  The Fraction, Decimal, Percent Bundle is also available on TN.

Important note: I once spent a bunch of time reteaching a student who filled in a chart converting fractions to decimals.  Her teacher required the class to use long division to complete the table.  Any pattern that this student might have noticed was lost in the long division process.  I might add, this student hates math.  I'm sure this is one of the events that contributed to this.  Please allow your students to use multiplication tables or calculators if they are already struggling with basic facts.  Thank you.

I know how important it is for students to see a math concept multiple ways before it sinks in.  I hope this activity is helpful in your classroom.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Secret School by Avi

I just finished reading The Secret School by Avi to my fourth graders.  Ida Bidson must pass eighth grade so she can go to high school and become a teacher.  When her teacher leaves the one room school house to take care of her critically ill mother, the school board decides to close school for the remainder of the school year.
 Ida and her friend Tom decide to keep the school open secretly with Ida as the teacher.  Will she be able to teach her students as well as pass her own exit exams?
I chose this book, because I wanted students to compare and contrast their own experience in school with this in 1925 rural Colorado.  We enjoyed reading this together and I see several of my students are reading it again on their own.

Here is a free printable compare and contrast graphic organizer.

For an explanation of my rating scale, click here.
Find me at Goodreads.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Seeking Balance

I have a confession to make.

Every year I hit a cycle in teaching where I start reading my career change books.  I have quite a growing collection of them.

A few weeks ago I started the cycle again.  I started off with Dan Miller's 48 Days.  I have read the section about The Wheel of Life before but this time it really hit me of how I lack balance in my life.
(For this and other worksheets that go with the book, visit

This is where I am now:

This is where I would like to be:

I think I would enjoy teaching more, if it didn't take over so much of my life.  I'll keep you posted on my progress.  I just hope it doesn't take until summer to do it.

Which graphic describes you?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Quote of the Week -- May 5, 2013

"It may be that those who do most, dream most." 
Stephen Leacock
Have a good week,

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Teacher Appreciation Sale 2013

Next week May 6-9, both of my stores will be 20% off.

In addition, Teachers Notebook will take an additional 10% off everything that is on sale.

Tuesday and Wednesday, Teachers Pay Teachers will take an additional 10% off with the promo code TAD13 at check out.

Other sellers are running their own deals, so it is worth checking out.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Factor and Multiple Game on the 100 Chart

Today I am starting a series of posts about using 100 Charts for teaching different math concepts.  I posted Rounding on the 100 Chart about six months ago, but I didn't realize then how many levels of math I could teach with this tool.
Rules for Factors and Multiples
1. The first player chooses an even number less than 50 and marks it with initials or a marker.  Pinto beans are a good size for this game board.
2. The second player chooses a number that is either a factor or a multiple of the first number and places his/her mark on that square.
3. Players continue to take turns covering squares that are a factor or a multiple of the previous square.
4. When a player cannot find a factor or multiple of the last number played, he/she loses the game.
After introducing this game, and playing a round of teacher against the class, I thought my fourth graders were ready to play in pairs.  I could tell by the questions they were asking and how quickly they got stuck, that their ideas of factors and multiples didn't extend beyond the math facts they memorized. 
I made double-sided copies of the six 100 charts on a page and showed them how to make the multiple patterns for 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12.  I told them they could use the charts they created to find factors and multiples.
The third day we played the game I reviewed factor trees.  I told them this was another strategy they could use for finding factors of large numbers.
I hope you enjoy this activity with your class.

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