Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Authentic Audiences for Student Writing

In every writing training I have ever attended, or presented at for that matter, there is talk about giving students authentic audience for their writing. This is sometimes easier said than done, and can leave us searching for more than just a time to share in class. 
Let me be honest here and say that sharing out in class is all that I did for years, and it is an extraordinarily effective way of getting student engagement when it comes to writing. Now though, it is easier than ever to go global with your students' audience, all while keeping them safely in your classroom. 


There is a hashtag for everything these days including sharing your students' writing. After your students have published their writing throw it up on Twitter with #commentsforkids. This is a hashtag devoted to people who want to read and give feedback on student writing. Instant writing community right? Check it out here.


Kidblog is exactly that, I blog for kids. It is amazing in that you can make it as private or public as you want, and also have the ability to moderate all comments. check out more about it here.

Writing Contests

Who doesn't love a contest? Students get just excited as we do to enter a contest, and a writing contest is no different. I have never seen a student more ready to take my feedback than one who is trying to win a contest. Our first writing contest was the first time that I didn't have students arguing with me over writing multiple drafts. Here is a site with several annual writing contests for kids. 

Buddy Class

This can mean another class within your school, a class in the same grade level within your district, or a class on the other side of the country. I have found that this method is most effective when you meet regularly rather in person, through Skype, using Google Docs, or email. Frequent feedback is the key! It also works extraordinarily well to have students buddy up with a writer of similar skill level to encourage one another and give feedback. When students meet with people that are too far above or below from their own skill level they can get easily frustrated.


Again, this one is up for interpretation. You may want to write letters to a local business owner asking them to donate to your school or to a veteran thanking them for their service. Either way, there is a defined audience, and it is instantly more meaningful and engaging. One of my favorite letter writing activities is to write to authors. Whenever one of my students is really enjoying a book I encourage them to write to the author, and you better believe that I send that letter off. Most of the time the author writes back, which is a HUGE boost for the student who receives it. 

What other ideas do you have for giving students an authentic audience?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

My Native Americans Notebook

Welcome back to check out my Texas History INB for Native Americans in Texas. For earlier editions on setting up your notebook, maps, and regions of Texas click on the title.

Our unit on Native Americans is one of my very favorites because of the museum that we use as our final assessment. If you would like to know more about the museum you can check it out in this post.
Back to the INB. I like to start out by discussing the different types of shelter that Native Americans live in, because let's be real, most of our students think that students live in teepees exclusively which just isn't the case. This gives me a good chance to check out what other misconceptions my students may have, and try to start unraveling them from the beginning. 
After that, we use this PowerPoint to get an overview of Native American groups that are or were found in Texas. We go over all of them, but really focus on five. Each year I allow my class to vote on which five they would like to focus on, so it can be different.

Once our five tribes have been chosen we dig a little deeper as a class to find out more about them and record our information on this fold-up.

Then begins the knitty-gritty. Students then rank the the groups they would like to study from one to five and are assigned a tribe to study by moi. (One year I let them choose with little interference from me, and I will never do that again.)
Once they have their group that's when they research their little hearts out. I usually give them a full social studies block to research without recording anything, then give them this fold-up to record their information. In order to help with finding suitable research sites we use these QR codes along with books from the school and local library and anything else we can get our hands on. Because it is so hard to find kid level research that doesn't dumb down the facts I usually print and keep anything that we find of value.

We also discuss a few important Native American leaders with this fold-up as well as compare Native American governments, and sort differences in Native American life before and after the European explorers came to Texas.
At the end of the unit we assess through our Native American Museum in which the whole school, our community, and district leaders attend. Everyone loves it!

Of course, students finish up their research and projects at all different times, so I also have these task cards and activities handy to keep everyone engaged!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Organizing Your Classroom On a Budget

If you are just starting out as a teacher, or even if you have been teaching for years, you know that being organized in the classroom is a vital aspect of achieving success. Now, I am borderline overboard when it comes to organization, and while I realized that not everyone has to be like me, I do know that at least a bit of organization it necessary. 
I am a sucker for a good container. They make my life as a teacher so much easier. I use them to hold supplies, organize lesson materials, house student work, hold station work, and about a million other things. I have a ton of containers, and not a single one of them goes unused throughout the year.

Unless you own stock in Rubbermaid or Sterlite I don't think you are going to be too comfortable with the price tag that goes along with these containers though. I however have perfected the art of obtaining them for next to nothing and this is how:

 Garage Sales:

Garage sales are a treasure trove just waiting to be picked over. Furniture and small containers are an easy find at almost every garage sale, along with books, games, and other decorative items. I love garage sales because by nature people are ready to get rid of the stuff out there. Also, most people like to help teachers, especially new teachers. I am certainly not above mentioning that I am a teacher and looking for organizational stuff for my classroom when looking around the sale. This often, but not always, ends with some kind of special deal on the items. Now, I am not saying that I am looking for a handout. I am more than happy to pay for the items that are almost always DEEPLY discounted from their original prices, but I am more than happy to accept donations too!

Ask Around

Along these same lines, don't be afraid to ask around with your friends, family, and neighbors. Do you know someone that is redecorating their home or is a new empty nester? These people are usually getting rid of furniture and are more than happy for you to take it off their hands and put it to use. If you know someone who is retiring from teaching make sure you talk to them too! Teachers, as a whole, love to help one another and this is no exception!

Thrift Shops

Thrift shops are similar to garage sales in that they are working to get rid of the items that they have. I have more than once been given a great deal when buying several items and mentioning that I was using them in my classroom. This is more effective when at a family owned business, and not so much at the larger chains. Either way, I have found many sets of the plastic drawers from Rubbermaid at thrift shops and Goodwills for only a couple of dollars a piece. That is a huge savings! Thrift shops almost always have tons of small containers and baskets as well. 

Shop With Coupons on Follow Sales

There might be an item that you are looking for that just has to be bought new, or is hard to find otherwise. This is where sales and coupons come in handy! Subscribe to a few email flyers like Michaels, Hobby Lobby, and Target. All three of these stores send out great coupons and have amazing sales. Michaels in particular has frequent sales and then sends out email coupons that you can usually use on top of a sale price. This is an amazing way to purchase some of the bigger ticket items that you may not be able to find elsewhere. 
One of my favorite coupons: Did you know that you can get a 40% off coupon for Hobby Lobby on your smartphone? Just look up Hobby Lobby coupon on your phone and show it to the cashier. This one can't be used on top of a sale, but 40% is still pretty amazing, and it is always there!

Do you have any other money saving ideas for getting your classroom organized? I would love to hear about them in the comments!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Vocabulary Games

We all have our word walls. Some use content word walls and others, like me, smack them all up there together. Do you use your word wall throughout the year though? This has been one of my biggest struggles throughout teaching. I know that I should be using it and reviewing it, but I just didn't know how.
So, what did I do? I made it a literacy station. The station met right in front of the word wall and started with some work on roots, prefixes, and suffixes each time. Once they had completed that work they were free to play the game of the week. We went through quite a few games in a year rotating them every week or so.

Over the next few weeks I will be sharing my students' favorite games with you. I am by no means claiming ownership of these games. They are games that my colleagues and I brainstormed together, based on what we had done in the past or read about elsewhere. I am simply compiling them together.

Along with the words on the word wall I also have an index card with each word that also has a definition, the word used in context, synonyms, and antonyms written on the back. Some games these cards are necessary for, and other they aren't, but some of my students use them even when they don't need to so I always leave them there.


OOPS! is a game for two or more players which involves a fair amount of chance. You will need the word cards as well as several cards with OOPS! written on them. Shuffle all the cards. In each turn a student will draw a card and read the word to the group then identify the characteristic you are looking for such as definition, using it in a sentence, or its synonyms and antonyms. Other students in the group check the student using the information on the back of the card. 
If they are correct they keep the card. If incorrect they must put it back. Play continues, but when an OOPS! card is drawn that player must return all their cards. The goal of the game is to have the most cards in the end. 


Splat! can be played by two or more players. One person is the caller and the others have fly swatters. The caller describes a word either by definition, prefix, suffix, context clues, synonyms or antonyms. The other players then try to be the first person to locate the word and Splat! it with their swatter. Then players trade roles. 
Management tip: I have to be very explicit with directions involving both the fly swatters and noise level. This game can easily get out of hand for obvious reasons, but can also be easily manageable.  


Stacks can be played by two or more players and requires a sleeve (or two depending on how many words you are using) of dixie cups with your words written on them. Students draw a cup and identify the word. I have had students play where they have to define the word, give a synonym or antonym, or use the word correctly in a sentence. The other players use our deck of word cards to check the first student. 
If they are correct they get to stack their cup. If incorrect they put the cup back in the center pile. Play continues through all players with the goal of building the highest stack out of cups. 
Materials tip: Store your cups in an empty Pringles can to keep them in their original shape. 


This one is the classic game that we all know. My students love it, but admittedly it requires a lot less knowledge of the word other than spelling which is not my goal usually. I will throw this one in there during short weeks and when we have had a bunch of assessments to give them a bit of a break.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

My Texas Regions Notebook

Glad to see you back for the next edition of Spy my Spiral, or notebook... urr it's a working title. This entry is all about the Regions of Texas. If  you would like to check out the previous entries on setting up your notebook and maps click on through the words.
Regions of Texas are always fun, but they are even more fun when your students have actually traveled to the different regions, which usually at lease one student has been to each region outside of our own. Our TEKS ask us to describe each of the regions in addition to compare them to the regions of the United States.
So, that's where we start is with the regions of the United Stated with this freebie. We describe each of the regions, locate it on a map, and name each of the states found in that region. If you are looking for a literature connection to the regions of the United States then the Travels with Charlie books are great!
From there, I split my students up into four groups and have them each research a region using these handy flip fold-ups. Once we have a group that is an expert on each region they present the information to the class including geographic location, landforms, major cities, vegetation, and local animals.

As each group presents we compile the information into this fold-up and color in the region. If any students have visited the region then they have a chance to share about what they did there.
After we have completed both fold-ups each student chooses a Texas region to compare to its geographic counterpart in the United States. This is usually done through a quick write in our INBs and then shared out as a class. I love to hear what they choose and how they compare and contrast the regions!

Of course, if you would like even more practice and activities for Regions of Texas, check out this bundle of activities complete with PowerPoint, Matching Puzzles, the above fold-ups, and task cards.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

50 Student Rewards That Don't Cost a Thing

The discussion has been had over and over again. Should students be rewarded for doing what they are supposed to do already?
I am not here to start a debate on this one, but I will say that I have had students who respond extraordinarily well to rewards, or reinforcers as some would prefer to call them. I don't think that they are the end all and be all of classroom management, but they can be an easy way of adding some positivity.
With that being said, I refuse to continue buying items for a treasure box, or something of that sort. Instead I have a list in my classroom of one hundred things that my students can choose from, all of which cost my exactly $0. Now, I share that list with you:

Don't get me wrong, none of these are groundbreaking, but they are here in one spot. I have these items hung up in my classroom as well as cut up on individual cards and placed in a small gift bag. When students have earned a reward they can draw a card from the bag as a "Mystery Reward." They absolutely love it!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Christmas in July Giveaway!

I thought it was time for a giveaway. This one is a super-easy and quick entry, so there is no excuse for not entering. The prize is a $25 gift card to TeachersPayTeachers just in time to stock up for the beginning of the school year! 

Check out the Rafflecopter below to enter! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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