February 26, 2017

7 Reading Lessons Using Mentor Texts



As a teacher, one of my favourite things to do is teach students how to read.  I use mentor texts to teach reading lessons because they can hook students into a lesson in such a genuine way.  Head on over to The Clever Classroom to see 7 Reading Lessons Using Mentor Texts.  

While you're there, take a look at her other early literacy ideas.  I love her lessons and ideas that combine digital content with literacy goals.  Technology is another great way to keep students engaged in reading and writing!

February 16, 2017

5 Writing Lessons Using Mentor Texts



Reading and Writing often go hand-in-hand. So what better way to teach a Writing lesson than by reading a book? Books offer a window into other people's writing styles. And having an example of how to write, makes it easier when it comes time for our students to put pencil to paper. Here are some awesome books for Writing lessons that will hopefully help to inspire your future authors, journalists, novelists, etc:

Lesson One: Finding an Idea for a Story

Ralph Tells a Story by Abby Hanlon


Ralph is a boy who just cannot find anything to write about. Boy, have I been there! There always seems to be someone in my classroom who is absolutely stumped during writing time. In the story, Ralph slowly discovers that stories are all around him! (He could write about the class goldfish or the inchworm he found in his backyard, or even the markers in his desk!) My reluctant writers get such a kick out of this book because it is both hilarious and gives actual solutions to their ‘writers block’.

I like to begin my ‘Ralph Tells a Story’ lesson by asking students the question, “Where do you find your Writing ideas?” Then, we write this on chart paper. As we read the story we pause to gather more ideas and add to our chart. I end the lesson by demonstrating that ideas can be found anywhere by writing a quick story as a group using something that has happened during our day. For example, “The Sweltering Classroom”, or “Mrs. Poetker’s Lost Keys”.

Then we are ready to write our own stories!  I already blogged about how we do narrative writing in third grade, check it out here!

Lesson Two: Writing With Juicy Details

Mole’s Sunrise by Jeanne Willis

This is a super descriptive story about two animals who embark on a journey to see the sunrise. One friend (Vole) describes the sunrise to the other (Mole) using vivid imagery. At the end of the book, we discover that Mole is blind, but because of his friend’s descriptions, he feels like he has seen a sunrise too.

With this book, I teach a lesson on using juicy details in writing. When I teach the lesson, I give students picture books (including this one) and strips of paper. They have to pick their favorite descriptive sentences for inspiration and write them down. We collect all these sentences on a flip chart. Then, I challenge my students to write their own descriptive sentences. And, as I’m sure you know, prompts are awesome ways to get students thinking about an idea. Try the prompt “My Imaginary Place” or “My Favorite Season”. You’ll be surprised at what your students come up with!

Later, this leads into a great sharing activity, where students share their sentences and give feedback to each other.

Lesson Three: Writing a Letter

Dear Teacher by Amy Husband

Letter writing is an art form that seems to be lost, but I think it’s still so important for students to learn how to write a proper letter. Dear Teacher naturally leads into a fun-filled lesson on how to write a letter.

This book is a collection of imaginative letters written by a student, named Michael, who does not want to go back to school. Michael comes up with the most elaborate and hilarious excuses, which he writes in letter form to his teacher.

After reading this story, my students write a letter to me in the same style as Michael. They must explain why they cannot return to school for the remainder of the year. This also serves as an awesome first day of school activity. Lots of giggles and smiles will happen during this lesson.

Lesson Four: Fractured Fairytales

The Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf by Mark Teague

I love a good fairy tale! Who doesn’t? And my all time favorite fairytale is “The Three Little Pigs”. My students are also obsessed with the story of the Three Little Pigs. This book, as you might be able to tell from the title, is a twist on the classic story. It’s also a book for kicking off lessons on fractured fairy tales.
After reading the original version of the Three Little Pigs, my students and I will read this version together. Then we compare the two stories and discuss what makes The Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf special. Through discussion, they will discover that a fractured fairytale takes the original story and changes an element or two. We then brainstorm how we could change other stories.

Later, I have them write their own fractured fairy tales. They love the challenge!

Lesson Five: Writing Stories With a ‘Hook’

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin

Doreen Cronin certainly has a way with words. I love her stories! She uses repetition, not only to make her stories hilarious but also give them character. In this story, the cows are airing their grievances with Farmer Brown by writing him letters on a typewriter. The key repetitive phrase is “Click, Clack, Moo!”

Click, Clack, Moo is great for teaching students the concept of story writing with repetitive phrases. These are the phrases that the reader can latch onto when reading. Try brainstorming some of your own phrases that would sound silly when repeated and try writing a group story using them as the ‘hook’!

As you can see, I have a lot of fun teaching my students how to write. I enjoy reading the things they come up with. And I love seeing how they develop as writers. Do you have a subject that you’re super passionate about teaching? Share what it is in the comments below!






February 06, 2017

Share the Love - A Sale and a Giveaway!

Have you heard?!  TeachersPayTeachers is having the first big sale of 2017!  Hallelujah!  February 7th and 8th the whole site should be up to 28% off.  This is good news for those of us on teachers' salaries!

I have my cart loaded, and I am ready to push "purchase" come midnight!  I am spending my spare moments today planning out my lessons/units for the rest of the year so that I am ready to grab everything I need at a deep discount.  Comon', who doesn't love a bargain?



To celebrate, some teacher-authors and I have gathered together to team up so you, my lovely reader, can win a Teachers Pay Teachers gift card to spend during the sale (or anytime afterwards).  For a chance to win, just complete as many of the options in the Rafflecopter below.


January 16, 2017

Anxiety at School

Four Strategies to Help Students Cope




I want my students to understand the importance of keeping their whole bodies healthy. That makes sense, right? Healthy eating, getting enough sleep (PLEASE!), exercise…. But what often gets forgotten is mental health. To help students cope with anxiety at school it is important for them to understand what they are feeling, why they are feeling it, and how to deal with it. Teaching about this can start at any age, and here are some practical ideas strategies.

Strategy One: Pre-Teach Feelings


The brain is a fascinating thing, and students LOVE to learn about how the brain works. Plus, the kids enjoy being able to throw big words around the classroom (and impress their parents at the dinner table). The Kindergarten teacher at school started the year by teaching her kids about how the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala work together. In simple terms, the prefrontal cortex is the decision maker, and when we are angry, frustrated, upset, etc., the amygdala is the switch that turns off the prefrontal cortex.  Thus, the brain is unable to make good decisions. When kids understand why they are feeling upset, they can begin to problem solve. (Some more kid-friendly explanations can be found here.)



Strategy Two: Create a Calming Tool Box


Teaching students strategies for how to deal with their emotions can be simple and effective. Some kids just need to hug a stuffed animal. Some kids need to read a book for a while, to help distract themselves. Some kids need something visual to watch. For example, this brain jar:



Students shake the jar and watch the sparkles swirl around, and then sink to the bottom. This is such a simple tool to make. You just need a mason jar, water and some pretty sparkles. Some websites say to use gel or glue mixed in with the sparkles, but I found that just using water was easiest. It’s amazing how this helps to calm students.

I have all of these 'tools' in my classroom Calming Tool Box. This is just a white tupperware bin.  My class knows that that they can go to this bin to get a “tool” when they need to calm their brain down. 



Strategy Three: Create a Safe Space for Feelings


Who enjoys being sad, upset or angry in front of other people? I know that I do not. Creating a safe place for emotions is an awesome idea for the classroom so that students have a place to go when they are feeling upset. This is a place where students can calm themselves down and then come back when they are ready. For some classrooms, you may have a corner for students to do this, or a more private cloakroom area. In other classrooms, like mine, the most practical location might be in the hallway, just outside the door. This is an area where you can put a stool or a chair, and a Calming Tool Box. 



Strategy Four: Teach Students About Whole Body Health


Sometimes students need to be explicitly taught what to do when they are feeling anxious and upset. Purposeful lessons on mental health, including how to ‘calm down’ when you are feeling overwhelmed can go a long way towards helping your students cope independently. In my classroom we have been learning how our physical and mental health work together to make our whole bodies healthy! 

We brainstormed situations that made us anxious and different ways we could calm down.  (Points for the student who wanted to use a Hot Tub!)  


We researched healthy eating ideas and ways that we could help our bodies feel calm in stressful situations. 


Combining physical and mental health into one unit helped my students to see that it is important to take care of their bodies and their minds. 


Students made these fun lapbooks that showcased their learning! 

Our Whole Body Health lapbook tied together all we had learned! (Check it out here!) 


The whole unit can be found in my Teachers Pay Teachers store, or by clicking HERE.

Now I want to know about you! We are heading into testing season in Canada and the US, (and abroad?) which can be an anxious time for many students. What are your best strategies for helping to calm anxious students, and for giving them the tools to calm on their own?


December 05, 2016

Christmas Gift Tags

December is a busy time at home and in the classroom.  In third grade we are busily creating small gifts (ornaments this year) for our parents, writing 'encouragement notes' for older students in the school, and trying madly to make a little gift for our first grade younger buddies.  It's a wonderful time of year, but oh boy is it exhausting!



To help remember who created each ornament, card, and gift, I have made gift tags for students to attach on each of their homemade presents.

Our presents home to our families will feature gift tags with Nativity scene:
Nativity Gift Tags - download here 


Our presents to our little buddies have gift these cute little Christmas figures and a few song lyrics:

Cute Student Gift Tags - download here


And I have special tags just for gifts that will go from staff to staff:

Watercolor gift cards - download here. 


I have all of these gift tags packaged together as a free download on my Teachers Pay Teachers page as a small Christmas present from me to you.  Thank you for reading my blog and visiting my little TpT shop.

Merry Christmas to you!


November 27, 2016

Getting Ready for Winter Break

The lead up to winter break can be a busy time in any elementary classroom.  Class parties, music concerts, special events, field trips... and actual academic work!  It's a miracle any teacher survives to mid-December.



As winter break approaches, there are so many things to be done.  Crafts to be made, art projects to complete, gifts to plan (depending on if your class celebrates Christmas), and more!  Planning in advance and having winter activities ready to go is key to 'surviving' the holiday hustle.  Here are a few things I like to have ready to go in advance. Remember, don't re-invent the wheel.

Winter in the Classroom Tip 1 - Have a craft ready to go!

Tea Light Snowmen Ornaments, a great winter craft. (Photo credit: One Little Project


I absolutely love this snowman ornament craft from One Little Project.  It's adorable and almost fool-proof. Check out her blog for step-by-step instructions and an easy shopping guide for activity prep.  It does take a significant amount of hot-glueing, so my third grade students completed theirs alongside their older buddies.  It could also be done with a few parent volunteers, or in a single-teacher classroom over a few days on a slower pace.

Winter in the Classroom Tip 2 - Be ready with a quick workbook!

The one thing that is certain about the pre-holiday season is that anything can happen.  Your much-anticipated guest speaker could cancel.  Your field trip bus could be two hours late.  The music concert may run way over.  There is always time to fill somewhere! I like to be prepared with some kind of quick winter themed workbook that keeps my students engaged and is available on the fly for any unplanned emergency.  

Winter and Christmas Themed Workbooks from Poet Prints


Winter in the Classroom Tip 3 - Elf Yourself


Elf Yourself is a web-based movie maker is a quick and fun option to add some holiday cheer to your classroom. It is a free platform from Office Depot and Office Max, so there are some links to both websites on the site, but they aren't too obtrusive.

Turn your students into animated and goofy elves in mini north pole themed movies.  (Note: some movies may be mildly inappropriate for younger audiences or conservatives schools, screen each movie first). 

Do you have any classroom routines or things you like to do before students head off for winter break? Let me know in the comments below!