Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Friendly Letter Writing With RACK

We are enjoying our RACK Week this week and I'm taking the opportunity to throw in some Friendly Letter writing practice, which is always a good thing!

To read all about RACK Week, click HERE.

We first reviewed the parts of a Friendly Letter:

Our Anchor Chart was simple, but covered the necessary parts. Most of my students were familiar with the structure, but I am glad I made this for review and especially to help my strugglers with some sentence starters.

We then generated a list of school helpers who we thought would love a special delivery of RACK Letters at the end of the week. They came up with:
  • the principal
  • school nurse
  • custodians
  • office staff
  • lunch ladies
  • paras
  • specials teachers
  • librarian
  • bus drivers
  • and more!
We made a separate chart with all of their names, to help with spelling, and we began by choosing one and generating some descriptive words and phrases that told why we were so thankful for their help in our school.

They used the template from the Anchor Chart in their own Writer's Notebook to write a quick letter of thanks.

After they got an okay from me and some quick editing help, it was off to publish. I printed our RACK Letter two to a page so that I could save copies and have the blank illustrating page right nest to their letter. To learn more about how to do that, click HERE.

There letters are coming in now and they are so sweet! They have the parts of the letter down pat and they are able to develop their sentences much more, which is such a joy to read. I know that when we deliver these at the end of the week, the recipients will be so touched by the simple, yet sweet messages from the kids.

If you'd like to pick up the RACK Letter Freebie, click HERE.

Have fun using this additional tool with your RACK resources and enjoy this final week before break!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Technology Resources for The Polar Express

I am in love with the book, The Polar Express. To be honest, the movie didn't quite do it for me, but every.single.time I read the book, I get teary-eyed at the end. In fact, one of my most prized Christmas items is an autographed copy of the book from when I was living in NYC and met Chris Van Allsburg himself!

So many of you do special celebrations with this book (I'm envious!), but because it's so specifically Christmas, we're a bit limited at my school. No worries, though! I have compiled some nice resources you can use with your students this week, either whole-class or small-group, to incorporate this beautiful story in your day!

The Polar Express Audiobook, Read by Liam Neeson

I *love* Liam Neeson, so this find was an instant favorite! He narrates the entire book on this YouTube clip and the only image that shows is the cover of the book. It would be a great thing to download to have kids use for Listen to Reading. I would caution against handing over the direct YouTube link, as the comments are *not* teacher-approved, but use any resource like those given HERE to download it to your computer directly and you're good to go!

Find this narration HERE.

The Polar Express Audiobook Music Video

This is probably my most favorite find, since it follows the book exactly and incorporates scenes from the movie to align with the narration... perfect! Plus, it's only around 12 minutes long, so if you can't afford an entire afternoon to show the movie, this is a fantastic compromise. Again, there are some pop-up ads and the comments are not teacher-approved, so I highly recommend downloading this to your own computer using any of the free resources HERE.

To watch this book/movie combo, click HERE.

The Polar Express Book vs. Movie Webquest

If you are able to show the movie, you will *love* this Webquest that was developed by Amy Johns! There are clear steps provided down the sidebar that will walk your students through the assignment, links to helpful resources, and a rubric at the end. The website is clear and easy to navigate and gives an engaging spin on a traditional "compare and contrast" assignment!

Find this Webquest HERE.

The Polar Express Ticket Chase

Let's be honest, with hours left to go until Winter Break, a computer game may just be what the teacher needs ;) This is a great wrap-up, fun activity, as it has simple directions about trying to get the ticket as you run atop the Polar Express. You will get two "lives" and have to avoid ice, branches, and more. I didn't get very far, but I am sure some of the kiddos in my class will be able to beat this pretty quickly ;)

Find this game HERE.

Hopefully you're able to use some of these resources in the last few days before break! If you're looking for some standards-aligned activities, be sure to check out my Polar Express Word Work Centers that helps reinforce all of the fantastic vocabulary found in the book, along with some fun activities like Making Words and a Word Search.

Enjoy this week of winter festivities!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Student Goal Sticky Note Template

Since our goal-setting has developed over the past few months, our sticky notes have become jam-packed full of information. We use the sentence starters from our chart each week, which now also includes some partner accountability:

Read more about this chart HERE.
That's a little tricky for some of my kids and can defeat the purpose I want these sticky notes to have. For example, a kiddo with some fine motor skills shouldn't get caught up in trying to squeeze his/her ideas onto a 3x3" area and miss the actual goal-setting piece! So, I had to think quick this week and came up with one of my most go-to solutions: Printing on Sticky Notes!

If you haven't yet done this, I highly recommend this tutorial by my blogging friend, Kristen at Ladybug's Teacher Files! It is so simple and really allows my kids to fuss less over extraneous details and focus on the goal work at hand.

To print on sticky notes, you will first need to print out the template HERE. I printed five copies total to have enough for my class. (Tip: Be sure you are printing at "Actual Size"-- if you print at "Fit to Page" your squares will come out too big and it won't align with the sticky notes.)

Then, cover up each square with the sticky note and send it through the printer again. (Tip: I always use the bypass tray and feed them one at a time to avoid jams.)

Last, have kids peel off the sticky notes to write and you can reuse the template again next week! (Tip: Use the Super Sticky notes if you can, or just attach them to your chart with a small piece of clear tape. They get handled more this way, so the sticky is likely to fade faster.)

Your finished product will look like this:

 Wow! Did this help us or what?! My kids were able to generate their goals quickly and effectively and our chart went up in no time flat. Plus, my kids who struggled last week with copying the prompts from the chart didn't have to worry about that at all. Like I said, I want my focus to be on the goal itself, not getting caught up with tricky details.

You can see some of these goals and how nicely they look on the goal chart:

If you'd like to pick up a free copy of this template, click HERE. I hope this can help your kids as much as it helped mine and free up some precious time, which is always at a premium!

Find more Goal-Setting Posts here:

Have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Ways to Introduce Braille Word Work

If you're a fan of my Word Work Centers, you may already know about one of my newer products, Sign Language & Braille Word Work.

I love the opportunity to have kids engage in these alternative forms of communication to practice their spelling and vocabulary words, and these two often end up being the most popular centers in our room!

While many of my students have been exposed to sign language before (often with interpreters at church or events, or through their own experiences in preschool), many of them had never heard of Braille and what it was all about.

As a class, we began by reading this quick biography together about the story of Louis Braille and chatting about his life as a blind man in the early 19th century. I printed out a copy for each student so we could read along together and this also freed up our projector to show pictures to help with vocabulary and context along the way, like:

If you do have time to share a full-length biography, I highly recommend it! The story of Louis Braille is one of resilience and strength. He definitely had a Growth Mindset, so it's worth sharing or having his biography around during this time, as he is a truly inspirational figure.

There are several choices available on Amazon, and I love the "Who Was" series as well as the "Picture Book Of" series to address the variety of readers in your class.

After we had read a bit about Louis Braille, I was excited for the students to see this short YouTube video of real elementary school children who are visually impaired and go through their day using Braille to learn and grow just as any typical peer does:

Of course my kids and I were fascinated by the Perkins Brailler and how they used pushpins and dark lines to help them keep their place and make important notes along the way. I did pause it occasionally to point out certain things, especially the term "visually impaired" since that was new to many of them and changed some of their thinking about levels of sight that people may or may not have.

Finally it was time for the exciting hands-on resources! Not only did I introduce our Braille Word Work sheet, I actually had a copy of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, by Jon Scieszka in Braille!!

Because we don't have any visually impaired students currently in our school, and I was too impatient to try to track one down through the district, a quick Google search introduced me to Seedlings.org. This is a wonderful non-profit organization  that was set up to provide low-cost Braille books to young readers. Read more about them HERE and when you do, I know you'll fall in love with their mission as much as I did!

They have so many titles to choose from and I quickly decided that this perennial class favorite was a must-have. Sharing it with my students and having them touch a real-life Braille book was a wonderful experience and something that I know helped enlarge their perspective on our world and ways in which we all communicate.

I hope one (or all!) of these activities can help you start a meaningful conversation with your students about the Braille language and get them excited to use it in their own Word Work practice. Obviously, coloring in dots isn't quite the same as using a real-life Brailler, but I have found that my students have a deeper understanding and appreciation for this center now, especially after watching the YouTube video of such wonderful boys.

**Through Christmas, I will be donating 100% of the proceeds (from the day it posted on 10/15/14 until 12/25/14) from my Sign Language & Braille Word Work Center to Seedlings.org. I hope you will consider purchasing it (if you haven't already) and adding it to your collection, knowing that your purchase is not only helping your students, but helping other visually impaired children get access to high-quality Braille books to deepen their love of reading from a very early age. Thank you!!!**

Click HERE to purchase and have a wonderful start to this festive month!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Working With Our Goal Partners

We've been working on developing our weekly goals and using each other to stay accountable in the process. So far, we're working on small and manageable SMART Goals for our classwork.

  • To read more about SMART Goals in our class, click HERE.
  • To read about our WOW Goals and Weekly Reflections, click HERE.

I want my students to help each other along the way, since we all know having a cheerleader and someone to check in with can help immensely in our success of that goal. This Friday, before we began our weekly reflection, we gathered as a class, sitting next to our Goal Partner, to chat about what that looks like and sounds like to be effective and ineffective.

I had kids share a paper with their partner and fold it into fourths, using the creases to make four quadrants like my chart. In the middle, they wrote "Goal Partners" and I gave them brainstorming time as a partnership to come up with bullet points for each section.

After they had time to work on one section, I would bring them together and we would share out one idea from each partnership to build our classroom anchor chart:

I loved the parts the kids brought up about bragging versus being proud. We had a nice class discussion about how bragging puts people on unequal levels and I demonstrated by using hand gestures (of course!):

Border from Sonya DeHart, clip art from EduClips & font from KG Fonts

Bragging and inequality is definitely not the spirit we're looking to cultivate during these goal-setting exercises. Leaders show pride in a job well done (going back to the Growth Mindset work HERE) and therefore, create a more equal setup where your pride in yourself and your pride in others allows for all to succeed in their goals and celebrate a job well done!

We then ran through a few scenarios from our completed chart and I had kids show me what they thought the situation fell under: Bragging or Being Proud, using hand signals only. It was a quiet but meaningful activity and we could easily tell the difference between what built each other up and what divided us. Yay!

The last part of our exercise was to write our new weekly goals and add a small part about what they will do this week to support their partner. I also changed the second response to reflect the effort that they will show this week toward their goal, A small tweak, but something that is a bit more action-oriented and will give them one idea to run with this week as they work to meet their goal.

Now that we are almost through the different pieces and parts of a SMART Goal, reflection, partner accountability and support, and recognizing the Growth Mindset in us and others, my new plan is to start extending these goals to longer than one week. We've just started our second trimester, so I would love for them to think broader about their academic goals for the middle of the year and beyond.... more on this soon!

Find more Goal-Setting Posts here:

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Ho-Ho-Holiday Gifts for Your Students {2014 Link-Up}

Welcome back to another year of Ho-Ho-Holiday Gifts for Your Students Linky Party!

If you haven't had the chance, be sure to check out last year's linky HERE for 25 wonderful and easy gifts to make your students this holiday season. We'll be adding to that list this year to keep the great ideas flowing!!

As teachers, our time is short and our budget is small, so sharing what we've made for our class is a great way to get creative and save some cash and stress in the process!

All you'll need to do is grab the image at the bottom of this post (or the one above) to add to your post of the gift(s) you've made for your class. It doesn't have to be a new post or even a super-complex idea, we're just making the search for ideas get a lot easier!

Once you've added the image to your post, come back here to link up (being sure to choose your gift as the image on the linky), then share the word about this linky to all of your teacher friends! It's lots of fun and a great way to kick off the month of December. 

Not sure if you have the time to get this together before the holidays? No worries! This linky ends in January, so you have lots of time. 

And now, to share my gift to my kiddos: 

Rudolph Lollipops!

I saw this on Pinterest, but couldn't find the original source for a while. I'm happy to say I finally tracked it down and it belongs to Erin at Once Upon a Donkey. She actually has three different characters (Elf, Reindeer, and Santa), so be sure to head over to read all about them HERE.

For this project you will need:
  • Brown construction paper or cardstock. I used cardstock since I find it cuts cleaner on my Silhouette Cameo.
  • Cherry Tootsie Roll Pops, or a variety of flavors. I had tons left over from Halloween for this project, so I got lucky and used all red. 
  • Glue gun 
  • Sharpie

Because time is short, I decided to use my Cameo to cut out the reindeer heads. I also only did one side and hot glued it to the red lollipops (for the Studio file, click HERE). I glued the tag that says, "Your teacher 'nose' you are an awesome student! Happy Holidays!" to the bottom of the stick as well. You can pick up that freebie HERE

I used a black Sharpie for the eyes and mouth and it went pretty quickly once I had the routine in place. I am so excited to have these waiting for the kids when they come in the day before Winter Break starts! I am a stickler about healthy food in the classroom, so I am sure this will be a welcome surprise :)

Now, it's your turn to link up!

Image fonts from KG Fonts, images from JC Sweetpea

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Save Yourself Some Merry Little Minutes

It's that time of year when everything is rushed, there are at least a million things on the to-do list, and time just flies past at an alarming rate. I am absolutely in love with Thanksgiving through Christmas, but whew! It can be so stressful and jam-packed!

I am gathering with some of my upper-elementary blogging buddies to bring you some time-saving tips to hopefully keep you a bit more organized in your classroom during this busy season!

"Magic 3" Line Behavior

My tip is something many of you may already have in place, but it's worth emphasizing this time of year when there are special assemblies, more time indoors because of the winter weather, and just general holiday squirreliness!

When we line up in our class, we always line up by the door in number order (read more about that system HERE) with the exception of my Line Leader in the front and Caboose at the end. We have three expectations for our class line:

  1. Facing forward
  2. Zero voice level (Read more about Voice Levels HERE)
  3. Hands at your side or one hand holding up a "zero" as a visual reminder of Voice Level

We call this our "Magic 3" and if I ever need to remind anyone, I simply say, "Magic 3" and they can make the necessary adjustments. I will then have my Line Leader and Caboose give each other a thumbs up when they see the entire line showing Magic 3, and we can then leave to go to our specials, assembly, etc.

If I (or the Line Leader) notice that we are losing our Magic 3 focus in the hallway, I will have them stop at a certain spot and we can recommit to Magic 3. Again, all I have to say is, "Magic 3" and my Line Leader and Caboose will once again give the thumbs up when they see those behaviors up and down our class line.

This time-saving tip has helped in numerous ways!

  • First, I am not having to lecture over and over in the class, the hallway, and in between any transition. Nothing is less effective than me yammering on about the importance of quiet in the hallway!! 
  • Second, I am having kids take the lead with my Line Leader and Caboose so I am not the one determining when we leave. Sometimes I think they are more strict than I am! 
  • Last, we have built in some incentives (and consequences) for how well we can keep our Magic 3 in the hall as well as how quickly we can get into Magic 3 in our classroom. Anything from an extra minute or two of recess/free choice time/tech free choice time, to losing a minute can be the biggest motivator. I am all about extra time and not food or stickers or something tangible I'll have to remember to buy and distribute this time of year (Ain't nobody got time for that!!)! Just an extra minute or two? Now that I can handle!

I hope this gave you some ideas of a way to save time, energy and sanity this holiday season (and all year long!).

More Upper-Elementary Bloggers Share Their Tips

Be sure to visit your other favorite bloggers to read about their time-saving tips and enjoy this festive start to your holiday season! Happy tip-gathering!!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Technology Resources for Winter Holidays

I am excited today to share some of my favorite technology resources for the Winter Holidays!

BrainPOP & BrainPOP, Jr.

BrainPOP is always my first go-to for quick videos that are highly engaging, informative, and all-around fun! The advantage of teaching third grade is that both the BrainPOP and the BrainPOP, Jr. are age-appropriate and because our district has a subscription, I can show these whole-class on our projector or have kids watch them on our class iPads. There are quizzes at the end and also lessons and worksheets to help with vocabulary and more!

The holidays covered are Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year's. You can find BrainPOP HERE (Currently FREE!!) and BrainPOP, Jr. HERE.


Scholastic Winter Holidays page links to three separate pages for each of the three main winter holidays: Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. There are teacher resources, games, an interactive slideshow, book recommendations, and more! I would definitely recommend having your students clock through the postcards on the top to learn more about each holiday. This makes a wonderful Read with a Partner activity and will be a wonderful way to reinforce what was learned on BrainPOP.

You can find Scholastic Winter Holidays HERE.


Primary Games has links to Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa-specific pages that are full or facts, games, coloring pages, and more! This is a great spot for review or reinforcing lessons taught earlier and there are some links to publishing paper, book recommendations, and even jokes to keep kids excited and engaged this whole month.

Find PrimaryGames Christmas HERE, PrimaryGames Hanukkah HERE, and PrimaryGames Kwanzaa HERE.


I am a big fan of ReadWorks,org and use their leveled comprehension passages frequently with my students, especially when introducing any of my reading brochures throughout the year. Their passages come with comprehension questions and you can choose what to read based on Lexile levels, so there's something for everyone in your class!

This time of year, I love their Winter & Holiday Passages! Find the ReadWorks.org Reading Passages HERE.


With the increased amount of indoor recess, sometimes it's nice to have a computer game for kids to play that's nonacademic and just plain ol' fun! My kids *adore* making paper snowflakes, but sometimes our paper supply is low, so Make-a-Flake is a perfect (and eco-friendly!) alternative! Kids can virtually cut out a snowflake and preview it as they go along. They have the option to save it at the end or continue to cut, or start over. It's a great activity and a good intro into my How to Make a Paper Snowflake Writing Activity, too!

Find Make-a-Flake HERE.

For more Winter Holiday fun, be sure to check out my Winter World Holidays Word Work Centers HERE:

I also have Christmas and Hanukkah-specific Word Work Centers:

Enjoy these resources and I hope you're having a great start to the holiday season!