Friday, March 29, 2013

A sale, an update and a freebie!

Are we ready for the weekend???  I have so many fun things planned for this weekend!  On Saturday, we are having my little gal's second birthday and on Sunday, we have an Easter play date at a bouncy house with my 4 year old's best pal from school!  And, to make life even better, it seems as though the weather might finally be getting warmer!  Hooray!

In honor of all these great things, I'm having a sale!  Everything will be 20% off this weekend, so check it out!

Since I've been off this week and busy planning for L's party, I haven't really done too much school stuff.  I did make a new set of math task cards for multiplying whole numbers and fractions:

I've also been working on this homework packet for my kids.  We we return from the break, I'm going to cycle back through the major works for fifth grade math.  This means we are going all the way back to decimal work from September.  My student have been using task cards all year to keep their skills sharp, but I think we need some serious, rigorous review before THE test at the end of April.

I wanted to share part of what I've created so far.  This is NOT a finished product and I haven't used it with my class yet.  I plan on expanding the packet and eventually adding answer keys.  I'd love some feedback from anyone who uses it with their class or has a minute to look through it.  Click the image (or HERE) to download 3 pages of practice aligned to 5.NBT.1, 5.NBT.2 and 5.NBT.3.

If you use this with your class, please please please come back and let me know what you think!

Have a BEAUTIFUL weekend!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tried It Tuesday!

I'm linking up with Fourth Grade Flipper for Tried It Tuesday!

Since we are in the midst of test prep, I thought I'd sharing a testing strategy that I've been working on with my class: justification.  Everything about multiple choice work has been about justifying answer choices and reasons for eliminating other choices.  Although I am definitely NOT a fan of the testing mania, I want to empower my students with as many strategies as possible so that they can be successful.  They are old enough to know and understand how tests are constructed, so I want them to be able to use the same vocabulary {process of elimination, distractor, text evidence} we do when we discuss tests.

I feel like I'm constantly apologizing for my sloppiness, and today is no exception!  Please excuse my scribbles on the SMARTboard!

What you see above is Grade 5 Daily Common Core Reading Practice Weeks 1-5 by Literacy and Math Ideas on TpT.  This product has short reading passages and Common Core aligned multiple choice questions.  If you are looking for some quick practice (as in less than 15 minutes) you may want to check this out.  I use it between read aloud and word study.  You can see the justification that my students gave for each answer choice {first sentence, no proof, not mentioned}.

On this student's work, you can see lots of great thinking next to the answer choices {not in the 1800s, doesn't answer the question, not important, doesn't say Europe}.  Rather than racing through the practice, this student did a great job showing all of this thinking, making it easier for me to figure out why students make mistakes!

 This was not an overnight process!  The first time I used the word "justify" with my class, we were working on finding word meaning in context.  The justification wasn't great and a lot of times, it was really off the mark.  You might notice while trying to determine the meaning of "bauble" this student wrote "not a gift" and "not a present" as reasons why he crossed out those choices.  Those aren't great reasons, because the bauble was a gift.  In this case, I wanted to see great reasoning for why jewelry is the BEST choice. 

Over the past few weeks, their reasoning has improved.  From time to time, I'll come across some lame justifications, and I'll need to remind my kids that they shouldn't write the same thing for all three incorrect choices, but overall, I'm really pleased with the thoughts I read!

Tell me, what are you trying to get your students ready for their tests?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Adios, Google Reader. Hello, BlogLovin!

You may have heard that Google is discontinuing Google Reader this summer.  That's a huge bummer for a lot of us who read our blogs that way.  When I log into my blogger account, I always click on "view in Google Reader" to see all of the blogs I've subscribed to all in one place.

If you do the same, you're going to need to find a new way to read your blogs!  There are a lot of options out there for reading blogs, but I thought one really stood out with an easy to use page and an attractive layout.   So I'm going to give you a mini tutorial about using BlogLovin' to do all of your BlogReadin!

So the first thing you need to do is head over to and click "Sign Up" in the upper right hand corner.  From there, you will have the option to sign up using Facebook or with your email.

I opted to sign up using Facebook.  It's easy, and I hate remembering usernames and passwords.

After creating an account, you will be able to sync all of your Google Reader blogs with BlogLovin'.  I am subscribed to over 200 blogs and the sync only took a few moments.  From what I can tell, the sync only includes the last 3 posts published for each blog, which is FINE with me.   I just like having all of my blogs in one place.

This is what the feed looks like:

Nice, clean interface.  Blogs in the feed are organized by most recent, or you can have them organized by blog.  Here is how my own blog looked when I clicked on it (why yes I do follow my own blog!).  I'm just guessing, but I THINK it displays the first image in the blog post, so if you are a blogger, that's definitely something to consider when you are choosing images for your posts!

When you click on the name of the blog, it will take you to that blog post.  If you click the image, you will go to the blog post, but there will be a cool little header on top of the blog.

See the cool header? From there, you can pull down the menu and navigate to other blogs you are subscribed to.  You can also share posts directly to Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

 Here's another reason why I really like BlogLovin':  I was able to manage the blogs I'm reading with just a few clicks.  To do that, click Following.

From that page, you'll see a list of all of the blogs you are following with three options: Private, Change Group and Unfollow.

I went through the list of blogs I'm following to be sure I really want all of these blogs showing up in my feed.
I "unfollowed" a few diet/recipe/fitness blogs that I haven't been reading, so that my feed is really just education blogs, plus a few running blogs that I LOVE.

I also created a group for the Fifth Grade blogs I'm following so I'd have all of those posts in the same place.  These steps are not necessary, but I thought a few minutes of organizing would make future blog reading easier.  To create the group, you click Create New Group and you will be prompted to name your group.
To add blogs to the group, you just pull down "change group" and click the name of the group you created.  Super easy.  Just one pull down and your blog is added!

I hope this post gives you some food for thought! 

Tell me, how do you read your blogs?


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Spring Break! Woo!

Spring break was never a thing for me when I was in college.  I would just go home and hang with my family.  And right now, I'm so happy to be spending the week with my two little ones!
This week, I really tried hard to keep my kids on track even though they definitely have spring fever.  It's been so long since we've had a decent break, and we've been really focused on testing.  Here are a couple of things we did to have fun and learn at the same time:
1.)  I introduced new math centers!

I can't tell you how happy I was to hear "oooh!" when I added these new centers to our math area!  There's something about colorful practice that really keeps my kids engaged.

With their math test coming up at the end of April, I really want to keep reviewing the strands my state considers to be areas of focus.
In this center, students interpret expressions to find the mystery number.

In this center, students solve operations using decimals and then compare the results.
 I just posted this product today!  I'm so proud of it!  If you are interested, it's a set of 6 cheerful, spring-y math centers: equivalent fractions matching, order of operations practice, multiplying and dividing fractions word problems, know that number (a decimal or whole number of the day style center), and place value riddles.  Check it out here: Spring Math Centers for Upper Grades.
  It's on sale from now until Tuesday night!
2.)  New books arrived!

Oof, sorry for the glare!  I was just SO excited to add these to our reading program.  My Tale Of Despereaux guided reading group just finished their book, so they are going to get The One and Only Ivan.  My literature circle reading the City of Ember really wanted to read the sequel, so they are getting The People of Sparks.  I LOVED The One and Only Ivan!  And I really eager to share this with my reading group!

3.)  I ordered more books!  One of my relucatant readers complained that we don't have enough graphic novels so I let him spend some time on Amazon reading reviews and selecting a few new hardy boys books.  I also ordered Shredderman for another reader to celebrate his recent running record!

4.)  We did an egg hunt!  Well, a math egg hunt!  With an hour to go until vacation began, I knew I needed to get these kids moving and having some fun.  So I hid eggs and math problems around the room for them to solve!

Inside each egg was a multi-step problem that teams worked together to solve.
There's nothing like a little movement and fun to get kids ready to practice!
If you are interested in checking out my Egg Hunt Cards, I'm taking $1 off from now until Easter for all of you hardworking teachers who are in session this week.  The package contains four different egg hunts: multi-step problems, fractions, operations and order of operations expressions.  For each set of cards there are six problems, an answer sheet and an answer key. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Oh, Fractions

Follow my blog with Bloglovin We just finished our unit on adding and subtracting, and now we are beginning the unit on multiplying and dividing fractions.  While my kids really showed amazing progress in the last topic, I can see that some of them are getting the steps confused.  When do I need common denominators?  When do I divide across?  How do I convert to a mixed number?  There really is so much for them to do and so many little spots they can make a mistake!

At the end of each math lesson, there is a "quick check" {usually 3 multiple choice and one extended response} to assess the student's mastery of the learning objective.  After reading Wild About Fifth Grade's post on All Things Upper Elementary about exit slips, I've cut back on the quick checks in favor of  exit slips.  Yesterday, I taught my kids to multiply fractions and required them to simplify their answers.  I gave them a two question exit slip and could immediately see that all of the students were able to multiply the fractions, but 6 of them were really confused about how to reduce fractions vs. improper fractions.

Luckily, twice a week, we have a tutoring period after the regular dismissal.  I used this time yesterday to address this confusion.  While the rest of my class worked on spring math centers (even though it's snowing here!) and ELA task cards, I worked with this group of six to get them back on track.

I quickly whipped up some cards for them to sort into piles of "fractions" and "improper fractions."

After they sorted the fractions, I modeled how to reduce regular fractions by dividing across by the greatest common factor.  Then I modeled how to reduce an improper fraction by dividing the numerator by the denominator.

Sloppy.  Sorry!

We worked through a few different examples together and then I had them work in pairs to reduce the fractions they had listed on their charts.

Great success!  My kids were able to simplify the fractions  by the end of the tutoring period and I saw them correctly reduce their fractions today during math workshop.  It's so satisfying to be able to immediately address an issue and see that progress right away!

If your students are having a similar issue with reducing fractions and improper fractions, click HERE to grab a copy of 8 fraction cards, a recording sheet and a "how to" chart for your kids to complete :-)


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Workshop Wednesday Link Up!

I'm so excited to link up with Jivey for Workshop Wednesday!  This week's topic is a big one: graphic organizers!  I use graphic organizers ALL the time in my read alouds to model  the great thinking kids should do in their independent reading.

Right now, I am focused on CCSS 5.5 (explain how a series of chapters, scenes, or stanzas fits together to provide the overall structure of a particular story, drama, or poem).  On our most recent practice test, this was a huge area of concern.  Can I be honest and say that I wasn't even really sure what they kids needed to do demonstrate mastery of this standard until I saw some of the prompts on this test?  The one that stands out to me was something like, "The first paragraph of this passage describes the setting.  Why did the author include the second paragraph?"  Once I saw that question, I realized that the students needed to be able to determine the purpose of different parts of a story.  They would need to explain WHY the author included different chapters and parts of a passage.

Keeping this goal in mind, I created this little organizer.

Click the image to download a pdf version.

I used this graphic organizer to model my thinking as we read Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting.  Please don't judge my chart!  I didn't really think I'd be sharing it!

Sloppiness aside, you can see from the chart that we looked at the first page and summarized.  Then we looked at the next page and summarized.  To fill in the connection, we asked why are these pages together?  Why did the author include them?  What's the connection?  We did the same for the next few pages and used that information to notice the author's emphasis on consequences for people who get caught in the airport.  After modeling my thinking about the pages and their purpose, I sent my kiddos off to do the same in their independent reading.

Right now, my guided reading group (The Tale of Despereaux) is working on the same chart, but instead of working with pages, they are working with the four books within the book.

Tell me, how do you use graphic organizers in your classroom?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Literature Circles: Part 2 Ditching the Role Sheets

In my last post, I told you all about how I got my literature circle started through guided reading.  In this post, I'm going to explain how and why I got rid of the role sheets they were using.

First, the role sheets serve an important purpose in the planning your students need to do in order to have conversation about their books.  This is the most important part of literature circles, in my opinion, and it's what makes them so rigorgous.  Students must read and think about what they'd like to discuss with their group.  In an adult book club, you would hope everyone would come to the book club with their own ideas and selections they'd like to discuss.  For our students, the role sheets are the proof that they did that thinking.

The pitfall with the role sheets is that you may have students just reading from their role sheets and not actually discussing any of the points other students are making.  This is a problem.  What I want to hear from my students is natural conversations.  Things like "oh!  That reminds me...."  or "Yeah, I wanted to talk about that too!"  And I don't think you get that when students just read their notes.

Another problem is that students may focus just on their role (summarizer, questioner, connector) and forget that good readers do ALL of those roles in concert.  It's important for good readers to do the work of predicting, questioning for comprehension and summarizing every time they read.

So when my groups began their literature circles, I told them that they role sheets were temporary.  After a few meetings, when they knew how the literature circle was suppose to work, I was going to take the role sheets away.  I met with the group and gave them a stack of sticky notes to mark their ideas.  I told them they would use these sticky notes in place of the role sheets.

From Tuck Everlasting

You can see that they were still doing the work of questioning (to probe and to comprehend) and they were also summarizing.

From The City of Ember
In these stickies, they did the work of connecting, predicting and questioning.  And for the most part, their conversations were productive and natural.  I just couldn't help but feeling that we went from a highly structured planning sheet to a completely unstructured plan.  It didn't feel right to just toss stickies at them and expect that they would come to their group well prepared for discussion.  I wanted some structure, but something that would encourage them to use all of their reading strategies.  So I made them book marks!

These are double sided bookmarks that I printed on card stock.  Each box is the perfect size for a sticky note.  I LOVE that they can have a place to keep their stickies, it reminds them to use their strategies as they read and they can write their assignment on the side!

Here are a couple of examples from The City of Ember. You can see that the kids used all of the boxes to prepare for their literature circle meeting.  On the bookmark on the right, you can see that this student used multiple sticky notes to record her ideas.  I've opted to give them new bookmarks for each meeting, but you could also laminate their bookmarks and then ask them to store their sticky notes in their reading notebooks.  These are great for spot checking that everyone is prepared for literature circles!

You should be able to run that page through your printer twice to get 2 double sided bookmarks every time you print. (Note:I changed illumination to illustration)

Let me know what you think!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Getting Started with Literature Circles: Part 1

A few weeks I posted about how much I love literature circles and gave a really quick overview of how they work in my classroom.  I'm going to take a few steps back to write a little bit about how that group got started.  I'm going to break this up into a few smaller posts

I have a very varied classroom. My readers range from level H to level Z.  I have students who have only lived in the U.S. for a few months to students who were born and raised in English speaking homes.  I'm sure you can imagine how important differentiation is in my classroom!  Especially for my small group of level V-Z readers, literature circles is a great option for differentiation.

To prepare for launching literature circles, I began by reading Harvey Daniels' book Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups.  This book is give great insight into several classrooms that use literature circles.  I HIGHLY recommend reading this book if you want to start some literature circles in your classroom.

  After I felt like I was pretty clear about what it is and what it isn't, I spent some time on YouTube. I wanted my students to be able to see a literature circle in action before we began.  

We watched a few minutes of this video (link, if it doesn't work) and we discussed what we saw.  I highlighted the social skills we thought were important when having discussions with our classmates.

We also watched this video (these girls are adorable!).  For this video, we talked about the preparation that the girls did before their literature circle started.

The videos really helped my students understand that they would be on their own and that I expected them to come to the group prepared to discuss and share their ideas without my assistance.  To guide them, I asked my students to set their homework for our guided reading book Tuck Everlasting.  I gave each student a role sheet that I took from Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups.  The roles were:
1.) Connector - text to self, text to text and text to world
2.) Questioner - writes the questions
3.) Illustrator - draws a picture to discuss
4.) Summarizer - leads the conversation by summarizing the selection
5.) Literary Luminary - select quotations and passages for us to discuss

These role sheets are pretty simple.  They include a space for the students name, the text they are reading and the section.  Then there is an outline of that student's role for the next literature circle meeting.  I highly recommend grabbing a copy of the book and using the "official" role sheets while you are getting your literature circles started.

From the first time I handed out the sheets, I told my students that I expect them to do all of this work every time they read, but to focus on their roles for the upcoming conversation.  More about that in the next post.

I wanted to share the calendar I made for my literature circle group.  It's pretty basic, but will do the job all year long for all of the groups. On the calendar, just ask your students to write in the chapters they plan to read on the date they select for their next meeting. You might want to "x" out any dates that you plan to meet with the group for Guided Reading.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Fraction Madness and Fraction Worksheet Freebie!

It feels like we've been working on fractions for ages!  But we've barely begun to scratch the surface of the Common Core Standards for fractions!

We began our fraction study a few weeks ago.  Our math program focuses on adding and subtracting fractions with unlike denominators in one unit and then focuses on adding and subtracting mixed numbers with unlike denominators in a second unit.  The first unit actually went pretty well!  I hate to sound surprised, but fractions really gave my class last year a tough time.

 So many steps!  So many skills!  So many spots for kids to make a mistake!

On Monday, we tackled subtracting mixed numbers with unlike denominators and this adds another step to the process: borrowing.  Yikes.

In teaching my class how to borrow from the whole number, it really became evident that there are a lot of students who do not understand how borrowing works with subtraction.  While they are successful and competent when it comes to borrowing, it's now obvious that they learned the how but not the WHY.   I was glad to see a few light bulbs starting to go off as we did some borrowing whole numbers and trading for fractions.

I should have taken an "after" picture!  

Luckily, my students are able to find the LCM and rewrite fractions with common denominators very quickly, so those steps were easy to teach.  The borrowing has really been giving them a tough time, so I'm definitely going to create some center work for the kiddos who need extra practice.

I've considered teaching kids to convert mixed numbers to improper fractions and then subtracting, but I'm worried that adds even more steps {convert both fractions to improper fractions, subtract and then divide to simplify}.  Any input would be appreciated!

 Anyway, while I mull that over, I wanted to offer this worksheet as a quick freebie.  Click here to download as a pdf.

Also, check out Hippo Hooray for Second Grade's 200 Follower Giveaway!  There are lots of great products up for grabs for grades K - 5 :) 

Tell me, what topic in math has really been a challenge for you this year?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Jamie O'Rourke and the Big Potato

I'm so excited for St.Patrick's Day!  Every year, I read Tomie dePaola's Irish folktale Jamie O'Rourke and the Big Potato.  It's been a tradition in my classroom for 10 years!  I love the character Jamie and I love all of the dialogue.  I read the book in my best Irish accent because I think the dialogue just begs for it!  Fun side note, I lived in Scotland for 6 months and spent St.Patrick's Day on the Isle of Skye. Sadly, this was before the days of digital cameras so I have no pictures to share :-(

Since this is my favorite St. Patrick's Day book, I created a bunch of fun activities aligned to Common Core Standards for Grades 3 to 5 to go along with it!

In our classroom this year, I'll spend two days reading Jamie O'Rourke.  Even though the story isn't terribly difficult to understand, I want to provide lots of time for my students to discuss how Jamie responds to the challenges he faces.

I made this graphic organizer for students to write how Jamie responds to challenges and then also write what they think about Jamie's choice.  For example, when Eileen wrenches her back and cannot tend to the garden, Jamie heads to the church to prepare for his death.  I can't wait to hear my kids' thoughts about that!  I'm sure they will have some judgments about Jamie!

 On the second day, we will spend time discussing the illustrations and how they deepen our understanding of the text.

We spent some time a few weeks ago analyzing the images from Dr.Seuss' The Lorax, so I'm looking for some deeper observations about the images and what they tell us about the characters and perhaps a hidden message from the author.  This is a common core standard my kiddos had some difficulty with when we took our practice ELA, so it's important that I keep hitting on this standard (RL5.7).  I made some discussion cards and a response sheet for my students to focus their thinking on images.

The actual product contains much more than I've outlined right here.  Check out the TpT listing for all of the details!  But please know, these activities are based on the book.  They aren't generic prompts that could work with any text.  The questions are all text dependent and aligned to Common Core Standards.

I love this little collection of activities so much that I'm going to giveaway two copies to the first two people who leave me a comment {please include your email address!}! 
Tell me, what do you have planned for your class to celebrate St. Patrick's Day?