My Frontier Texas Notebook: Cowboys and Cattle Drives

Welcome back for the Annexation edition of a peek inside my Texas History INB. If you would like to check out previous entries on setting up your notebookmapsregions of TexasNative AmericansEuropean explorersSpanish MissionsColonization, the Texas RevolutionRepublic of TexasAnnexationStatehood, the Civil WarRailroads, or the Oil Boom just click on the title. 
My students always think that they already know everything there is to know about cattle drives and frontier Texas. To be honest, they do know a lot. I mean, it is a naturally attractive topic to kids. Cowboys are exciting and there is a ton of literature on them, BUT this also leads to some MAJOR misconceptions.

I like to start this unit off by giving this FREE CAUSE AND EFFECT QUIZ. It lets me see really quickly where the misconceptions are, and allows me to dig right in and explain them.
From there, my next go to is this dice simulation on cattle drives. Many of my students think that cattle dries are places where cowboys hung out, sang songs, and ate chili. While some of these things might be true, I also want them to understand the difficult time that they had as well. 

This simulation allows them to have a bit of an experience to lead into the rest of the unit, that will make the rest of our learning "stick."
Next, we get started on our notebook activities that include Impacts of the Railroad, Important People of the Texas Frontier, and learning about Buffalo Soldiers.

Along the way, I like to show some YouTube videos that give students a good reference point for what they are learning. Some of my favorites to include are this video on the Chisholm Trail:

And this version of "Home on the Range:"

Another fun topic is discussing the different language that cowboys used on the trail. My students' favorite is ALWAYS, "Get along little doggie." They think it is hilarious!

My Oil Boom Notebook

Welcome back for the Annexation edition of a peek inside my Texas History INB. If you would like to check out previous entries on setting up your notebookmapsregions of TexasNative AmericansEuropean explorersSpanish MissionsColonization, the Texas RevolutionRepublic of TexasAnnexationStatehood,  and the Civil War just click on the title. 
Oil has been big business in Texas since early in the 20th century, and has been a vital part of our economy. Ever since oil was discovered at Spindletop in 1901 it has been a part of how we live.

I like to start this unit with important vocabulary. Oil comes with a whole set of language all its own, and I think it is important for students to understand what they are reading about.
Another important aspect of oil is what it is used for. We complete a sort of petroleum and non-petroleum products. My students are always fascinated by the sheer amount of things that are made from oil, including items like guitar strings that they never would have thought.

Of course we love to read all about Spindletop and the birth of the oil industry, and there are some pretty good choices out there! The (affiliate) links below take you to some of our favorites.
Another important topic to consider is the changing landscape of transportation. It is important for students to understand the implications that the discovery of oil in Texas had on the population's ability to move around.
It really is truly amazing how quickly transportation changed from covered wagons to automobiles with combustion engines. 

Finally, I like to end the unit with a bit of an "experience," in the form of a dice simulation. My students LOVE these simulations, and I LOVE the narratives they create afterwards in addition to the conversations that they lead into. They get so excited about completing the simulation, and it really gives them an experience to remember. I have had students come back years later and tell me that what they remember most are completing these simulations. 
Of course, if you want to assess your students or complete other activities based on the Oil Boom then this bundle is a great place to start!

6 Ways to get Students EXCITED About Writing!

Writing is one of the toughest subjects to teach, and therefor it requires some excitement! Here are six sure fire ways to get your students pumped for writing time! 

1. YOU Need To Be Excited!

Students feed off of your energy. If you are not excited about writing then they won't be either. This is all about faking it until you make it! It doesn't matter if you absolutely hate writing yourself, don't let your students in on it. Instead, over do it. Get yourself worked up into a frenzy because they will grab just a little bit of excitement from you, and it will make a huge difference in their attitudes!  

Another important element of this is that when you ask your students to write, you should write too. They don't need to know that you are writing notes to them, or your grocery list, but they do need to see you writing. 

Of course there will be days that you will be conferencing, but especially in the beginning, just write! 

2. Make it Routine!

There should be a time for writing every day! I know that it is hard to fit it all in, and am well aware that writing is one of the first things to be shoved out the door when time gets squeezed, but don't let it be. You students need to know the value that you place on writing, and the number one way to do that is to make sure that you carve out time for it each and every day. 

3. But Don't Get Stuck!

Just because you do it every day does not mean that it needs to be the same every day. Mix up how you complete your writing workshop on a regular basis. Some of my favorite ways to bring novelty to the writing are:
  • Partner writing-allow students to work together to create a writing piece.
  • Writing dice (like these) that give students random ideas that they should incorporate into their stories.
  • Free choice day-usually we are writing in a particular genre, but to mix it up I allow students to write in a genre of their choice for the day.
  • Different materials-have a variety of writing materials available for students to use including crayons, markers, pens, and different patterned paper that you know your students will just love!

4. Integrate!

Remember all that talk about making sure that you write every day, and then thinking how in the world does it all fit? One way to take care of that is by integrating writing into the content areas. Sometimes if you are a little "writing weary" then this is just the trick. It allows you to continue writing every day, but also allows you to sneak it in all the while boosting up content knowledge. It really is win-win. 
These science quick writes are a perfect, no prep way to make sure that your students are using content vocabulary and keep writing! 

5. Make it Memorable!

Another way to cure the "writing weary" student is by providing an experience for them to write about. Even the most reluctant writer can't help but get sucked in when they are having fun! There are a few different types of experiences that are easy to provide for students including:
  • Going outside if you are writing about nature
  • Bring the topic into your class-For example, if you are writing an expository piece about rabbits, see if someone can bring a rabbit into your classroom
  • Complete a simulation:

Dice simulations are one of my favorite ways to give students an experience that will get them excited about writing.  They are easy for me because all I have to do is print, hang around the room, and add dice. It really doesn't get any more low prep than that! I have created dice simulations for historical, science, and seasonal topics.
Really, these are double whammies because they integrate content into the experience for a science and writing experience that students are sure to remember.  

6. Allow Time to Share! 

The most important thing about writing is allowing students time to share! They need to know that they are writing for an audience and not just writing for it to be put in a portfolio. This post has some great ways that you can provide authentic audiences for your students' writing.

I hope that you have been able to find at least one way that you can get your students pumped up about writing! 

My Civil War Notebook

Welcome back for the Annexation edition of a peek inside my Texas History INB. If you would like to check out previous entries on setting up your notebookmapsregions of TexasNative AmericansEuropean explorersSpanish MissionsColonization, the Texas RevolutionRepublic of Texas, Annexation, or Statehood just click on the title. 
Our Civil War unit is always a big hit in the classroom. I think it is because it is one of the points in history that students have heard of, and remember, so they have a connection with it. I can't be sure though. 
I always start our unit with vocabulary, because this era has some tough ones. I am a big fan of front-loading these tough words, so that when they come up later in the unit we can discuss them with meaning.
Next we move onto the causes of the Civil War. 99.9% of students think that slavery was the sole cause of the conflict and are shocked to find out that it was only one of many reasons. We take a couple of days to go through each of the causes and talk about what they really mean.
We also spend some time talking about the specific battles that were fought in Texas. My students are always fascinated to find out that the last battle was actually fought after the war was actually over. It is really interesting to talk about why it is that communication was so slow.
From there we move into comparisons. We first compare which states joined the north and the south as well as introduce the idea of the Union and Confederacy for different ways of referring to them.
One of my favorite things to discuss though is the inequities of the north and south. It is really eye opening to talk about the differences in the two groups. After discussing them, students often say no wonder the north won, they had better everything.
We finish up with a timeline of the Civil War. In Texas it is tough, because everything we learn is from the scope of how it affected Texas, but I think that it is important to have an overview of the war as a whole. 
While I have many activities that we complete during this unit to check for understanding and connect our learning, my absolute favorite is the Underground Railroad Dice Simulation. This activity allows students to "experience" the Underground Railroad and then connects their learning to a writing activity that always produces amazing ideas. This is one of those activities that your students talk about for the rest of the year.  

Another GREAT thing about this unit is the amazing read alouds that come with it. There are many, many fantastic books for this time of history, but my favorites are below. 

I hope that you and your students have just as much fun with this unit as our class has!

Vocabulary Games: The Last Installment

 If you missed the firstsecond, or third edition of my students' favorites then click on back and check them out.

Flashlight Fun

This is a great game to play whole class with the lights out, but everyone, or at least table groups need a flashlight each. The caller describes a word using the definition, synonyms, antonyms, or a sentence with the word left blank. Students then shine their flashlight on that word on the word wall without turning their flashlights on. When everyone is ready they turn on their flashlight and check their answers. 


This game is for two or more players and requires a bit more prep on your part. Using the words on the word wall, create a few BINGO cards. Students then take turns drawing a card and reading the definition and word if needed. From there the game is played exactly like BINGO with the goal being to get five words in a row. 
Materials Tip: I have had a couple of trustworthy students create the cards in advance for me in the past. They love it, and it saves me time!

Word Jar

This game can be played with two or more players and is essentially charades. Each word from he word wall should be written on a small piece of paper and placed in the jar. The first student pulls a word and then acts it out for the other students without using any words or noises. The other students try to guess the word. 
Management Tip: This game can get students rather excited and loud, but some deliberate modeling of examples and non-examples of proper play usually do the trick! 

My Statehood Notebook

Welcome back for the Annexation edition of a peek inside my Texas History INB. If you would like to check out previous entries on setting up your notebookmapsregions of TexasNative AmericansEuropean explorersSpanish MissionsColonization, the Texas Revolution, Republic of Texas, or Annexation just click on the title. 
Wow! You have made it through more than half of the Texas History curriculum, way to go you! This was always the point in the timeline that I started to breathe, because it becomes more familiar to students and I just get the sense that we are going to make it. 
One major misconception that many of my students had is that things were all rainbows and unicorns once Texas became a state in the United States. They are sometimes heartbroken to find out that the great state of Texas struggled for quite some time after joining the union. This first fold-up, shown above, details the four main challenges that Texas faced. I always love the discussion that these challenges lead us into, because they are still issues that plague the world today.
Texas did have some really great things going for it though! Possibly the most important was the availability of farm land that led to three valuable cash crops. After discussing what a cash crop is, I love to have students guess what the cash crops were. Usually they get corn pretty quickly and can be lead to wheat, but they never think of cotton as a crop, which I find fascinating.

I also really enjoy discussing all the things that can be made from cotton. They are always excited to make an anchor chart full of items, and are thrilled when they find out that they are actually wearing cotton. The big item, that they are always surprised about, is out paper currency!

Once we have established that cash crops were an important part of Texas gaining economic status in the union, we talk about the population boom and why people came to Texas. Students are usually familiar with these ideas since we also learned about them during our unit on the colonization of Texas.
We finish up the unit with some important dates to the new state. These dates are important to the formation of Texas, and lead into our next unit nicely. 

Favorite Read Alouds for 4th Grade

I love reading, and honestly, our read aloud is my favorite part of the day. I love to read to my students and see the wonder on their faces as the story unfolds before them. There is just something magical that takes place during this time, and I don’t know what I would do without it. Somehow during a read aloud all the behaviors go away, the worries of the world disappear, and we just read. Magic right?
I have a few characteristics that I look for in read alouds.
  1. Engagement-they have to hook my students from the very beginning
  2. Author-I love to stick to authors that have written multiple books, because I want students to want to read more by them when we are done, and that doesn’t work if there aren’t more. 
  3. A series-series are wonderful for the same reason mentioned above. Sometimes we might read several books in a series, but often I will just read the first one and then make sure that the rest are readily available for students to read themselves. 
  4. Relatable-I want students to have access to the characters and be able to connect in one way or another.

Without further adieu I bring you my list of absolute favorites. Now keep in mind that I can find redeeming qualities in just about any book, so these are truly my absolute favorites. I had to limit myself, because really I could go on for days!
Roald Dahl is a real crowd pleaser, and everyone can identify with a little boy with mean aunts. This story is so imaginative that students can’t help but get caught up in it from the very beginning. As a bonus, the chapters are very short, so it is easy to plan out time for reading. I especially love to work on visualizing and character traits with this book, but any reading skill is more fun with giant insects and James.This read aloud fits the bill for being engaging, an author with many books, and being relatable. A triple threat!

I read this one for the first time last year, and then consequently read the whole series. Homer the main character is so average, that students love him, and Dog his dog is perfect for comedic relief. This series is very relatable, and we had a hard time keeping the books in stock!

This is another series that my students became basically obsessed with. I have been reading them to my students for the last five years, and can’t imagine a year not. Pseudomonyous Bosch fascinates them as an author and it leads into a great discussion on pen names. The characters in this story have just enough of a touch of whimsy that they are relatable, but still fantastic! With this being said, the books in this series are a little on the longer side, so you have to be willing to go the distance, because once you start you won’t want to stop!

Neil Gaiman is amazing. His author’s craft is amazing. His word choice is amazing. Are you catching my drift?
This book about ghouls, ghosts, and murder is all in for instant engagement. It is a little high for students to read independently, but with the support of a read aloud I still think it is perfect for this age group, especially later in the year.

Kate DiCamillo is my hero. Seriously, not even kidding. I love everything that she has written, but Edward is my favorite of favorites. I have on multiple occasions sat down and read the book cover to cover in one sitting, I’m not ashamed. Kate DiCamillo has tons of awesome books, and my students always latch on to her as an author they love to read!

Judy Blume. Need I say more? I absolutely love all of the Fudge series, and my students think that they are laugh out loud funny. These books are also so relatable whether you are the older or younger sibling, or just a friend. This book always has my students rolling with laughter and ready to pick up the next one after we are done reading. My struggling readers always seem to have a particular attachment to this series as well which is another amazing aspect!

Barbara Park is another crowd pleaser and Skinny Bones is such a silly and relatable book that students are always hooked! Alex Frankovitch is the class clown that so many students want to be, or be friends with. His antics are believable too, so don’t be surprised when someone comes down with the Booga Boogas!

As I said before, these books are by no means a complete list, but they are my favorites!

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