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! 

November 19, 2016

Writing Stories in Third Grade

Teaching students to write great narrative stories can be a daunting task. Characters?  Setting?  Plot?  Problem?  Solution?  Do it all at the same time?!  How can we, as teachers, make sure that students are understanding the complexities of narrative writing, using their new skills effectively and having fun?

As I have taught story writing to class after class of third grade students, I have found a few things to be most valuable year after year.  Take a peek at my 6 must-do strategies for teaching story writing!

Teaching Students to Write Stories Tip #1: Find good anchor books

Anchor books are key to kicking off a new unit and helping key concepts to really 'stick'.  This year, I have a class of kids who will do almost anything for "just one more story" and who am I to say no?

Ralph Tells a Story by Abby Hanlon -  This is one of my all time favourite Writing anchor books, especially for encouraging struggling writers.  In this story we follow the main character as he learns that anything can be the inspiration for a good story.  Great ideas for writing are all around us!

Chester's Masterpiece by Melanie Watt is a great story during the 'editing' stage of writing.  Chester, a precocious cat, playfully argues with the narrator about the best ways to write his own story.  It's a great way to introduce the need for students to edit and revise their work in order to produce quality writing.

Teaching Students to Write Stories Tip #2: Choose a theme for your stories

At times, broad writing topics such as "write a story about whatever you want" can be overwhelming for third grade students.  After a miserable failure with this my first year in third grade, I began narrowing-down the options and giving each class a theme.  This helps to guide our mini-lessons, and allows me to teach specific skills related to a particular genre of narrative story.  Here are a few of the themes that we have enjoyed:

  • Animal Stories
  • Who-done-it Stories
  • Time-Travel Stories (inspired by 'The Magic Treehouse')
  • Space Stories
  • Under-the-Sea stories

Teaching Students to Write Stories Tip #3: Model writing as a group

Throughout the story writing unit, I always take time to model the story-writing process through a collaborative class book.   We take an idea and explore it all the way from idea, to rough draft, and finally correct it and write a good copy as a group. I like to use chart paper so students can see me physically writing out the story in real-time, and modelling how to craft each aspect of the narrative story.  We add a little more onto our story each day!  Through practicing with whole-group writing, students are are able carry out each skill with greater confidence when they begin to write independently.

Teaching Students to Write Stories Tip #4: Teach an important skill each day

As students write their whole-class story, they are also introduced to a new writing skill daily.  It is during this short lesson that they are introduced to vital story writing techniques such as:

  • How to brainstorm ideas before you begin
  • Planning to have a beginning, middle, and end
  • Turning a plan into a creative story
  • Creating an engaging topic sentence
  • Using dialogue
  • Using punctuation
  • Crafting complex and compound sentences
  • Ending stories in a satisfying way
Detailed story planning pages, used to teach pre-writing skills via graphic organizers.  Part of this no-prep unit.  

Teaching Students to Write Stories Tip #5: Conference one-on-one

Once students have begun their independent writing time (immediately following the mini-lesson, and modelled whole-group write) I pull 3-4 students for one-on-one conferences.  Here I am quickly able to give personalized help. For my struggling students, we can work on adding capital letters and punctuation to their sentences.  For my advanced writers, we may be working towards developing a more complex plot line.  This one-on-one time is vital for developing differentiated instruction.

I help my students to self edit each page of their work as well as to do a final edit with a peer (if they are ready) or with me if they need more one-on-one assistance.

After students have completed a quick checklist on each written page, they do a larger edit using this page.  (Available in my story writing unit)

Teaching Students to Write Stories Tip #6: Share, Share, Share

Inspire students to keep on writing by allowing them to share their work out loud, even in very incomplete stages!  As often as I am able, I love to allow students to stand up (at their desks, or on the carpet), and share out loud their favorite 4-5 sentences from their current piece of writing.  It helps them to build confidence as authors.

As you continue I continue in this process I may also allow the rest of the class to offer up "Two Stars and a Wish".  The "stars" are things that they love about the piece of work, and the "wish" is something that they wish the piece would have.

We also love binding our work into final books to send home to our families. It gives students a sense of pride when their stories feel valued by their teacher.  I love creating class books featuring all 24 of my little authors!

Check out my Story Writing Unit on Teachers Pay Teachers to create easy all-in-one booklets for your students.  All of the pages and templates seen in this post can be found in that unit (along with many more!)

Do you have any tried-and-true tips for teaching story writing?  I'd love to hear them in the comments below.  Happy Writing!

November 03, 2016

DIY Classroom Crafts

Is it already NOVEMBER?  Where did the fall go?  I feel like I blinked and it was almost Christmas.  Before the new year begins, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite DIY projects for the classroom.   My husband and I didn't head out on any major vacations over the summer break, so I had plenty of time to spend on craft projects.  I had fun trying out many of the things I had seen on Pinterest and other teacher-blogs.

Some of these crafts were simple to do, and made a huge impact in my classroom.  Others were a total FLOP.

Classroom DIY Project One:  Chalkboard Sign (WIN)

This sign was super easy to make, and such a win on the first day of school.  I took a simple frame from the thrift store, painted over the glass with chalkboard paint, and used chalk markers to write the cute message.

Classroom DIY Project Two:  "Team Grade Three" Shirts(FAIL)

I had big plans to make matching tee shirts for my teaching partner and I.  Oh man, were these a lot of work.  I designed the logo quickly in PowerPoint (it's faster and easier than using InDesign for a quick job) then reversed the image and printed it onto iron-on paper.  But transferring it onto a tee shirt?  That was such a nightmare.  I think I wrecked two full shirts before I finally got the transfer to stick perfectly without any residue.  (Even then, I couldn't get it to work with a transparent background!)

When I finally tallied up all of the time I spent on those darn tee shirts I wish I had just bought some of the cute ones I saw online.  Next year I have a plan to buy one from The Essential Teacher, and save myself a lot of frustration and ruined tee shirts!

Classroom DIY Project Three:  Ribbon Banner (FAIL)

Oh man, I had seen these ribbon banners all over Pinterest, and they were so cute! I bought fabric, read tutorials... and just did not like the final product.  I think I could have used way more fabric to make a longer banner, but (to be honest) I just didn't like how it looked in the end. I love clean, neat, craft projects, and I wasn't a fan of the overall look!

Classroom DIY Project Four: Crate Seats (WIN)

After reading a number of tutorials (this one, and this one were best)  I finally set out to make flexible seating out of sturdy storage crates.  Thank goodness I had incredible help from colleague The Smurti Teacher.  These have been a total WIN in my classroom.  My students love them, and I love how they are the perfect storage for all of my blankets and pillows.   One piece of advice:  make sure you use very sturdy storage crates.  Some crates seem to be more 'flimsy' than others, so make sure you buy ones that are a little higher quality.

Classroom DIY Project Five: Pick Sticks (WIN, kind-of)

This project looks cute in my classroom, but took more time than it was worth (in my opinion).  I took standard large popsicle sticks and painted each side teal and white.  It just took time when it came to letting each part dry before turning the stick over and painting the next coat/color.  I love how they look, but I know that plain sticks would have been just as effective.

Did you make any great DIY projects this year?  What were your greatest successes?  Any major flops?  I'd love to hear them in the comments below!

October 16, 2016

Placing the Focus on Thankfulness this Thanksgiving

Taking the time to study and celebrate Thanksgiving in an elementary classroom is a great way to create an environment of thankfulness.  When students are lead to practice gratitude it can help to build a mindful classroom.

However, being thankful does not come easy for all.  Whenever I ask my students to brainstorm what they are thankful for, I inevidably get the same three things: my family, my home, food.

Let's be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with these three.  Those are absolutely things that we can, and should, be thankful for.  But I think it can go deeper.  Thankfulness can be more than the 'big three'. It can extend to specific characteristics, qualities, people and the 'little things' in life.  In every season there is always something to be thankful for.  I have taught in both high and low-income schools, and the practice of showing gratitude is not limited to any particular socioeconomic status.

This year, my grade three students were particularly thankful for their Grade Eight Buddies.  I teach in a K-12 school.  My class is both 'big' buddy to a class of Grade One students, and 'little' buddy for a class of Grade Eight students.  Their Grade Eight buddies visit them every second Friday during math, and it is just so welcomed.  Each of my littles gets one-on-one time with someone who can help to coach and encourage them through tricky concepts. It's also a great way to build multi-age friendships in such a diverse campus.

As part of our Thanksgiving unit we wrong Thankful Letters to our Grade Eight buddies.  We got the change to express gratitude for the way they show us patience, and how they faithfully encourage us to keep working hard even when we just don't get it. (Yet!)

In an already jam-packed curriculum, there is hardly any time for seasonal unit study... but I feel like a focus on thanksgiving is just so important.  I make sure that it integrates with my Language Arts outcomes so my students are still meeting provincial standards while also taking time to develop their character.

We follow my  "We Are Thankful" unit on Teachers Pay Teachers:

"We Are Thankful" - a Print-and-Go Unit  for First, Second, Third, and Fourth Grades
Available Here

You won't believe the stories my students come up with for the "How to Escape Thanksgiving" writing lesson:

How do you celebrate Thanksgiving in your classroom?  Have you ever practiced showing gratitude to another grade, or teacher in your school?  Let me know in the comments below!

October 04, 2016

ACSI Conference

Welcome ACSI Conference Attendees!

If you aren't already familiar, Teachers Pay Teachers is a website where you can buy affordable digital curriculum.  There are many quality Canadian teacher-authors on Teachers Pay Teachers, and a handful have offered ACSI conference attendees free lessons and units to try out in their classrooms!

To access your free resources follow the steps below:

1. CLICK HERE to be directed to our ACSI Dropbox containing all of the units.

2. Type in the password you received at the ACSI Conference. 

3. To download all resources click "Download" at the top of the page. 

4. OR download individual resources by clicking the resource title, and then clicking "Download" once the resource has loaded on your screen.  

Thanks also to Primary Teaching Resources, Fun in Fourth with Ms. Gatt, Sandra Farrell, A Grade One Nut, Diamond Mom, Grade One Snapshots, Proud to be Primary, and One Teacher's Adventures for their generous donations.

Wishing you all much success teaching the new BC Curriculum, and integrating a love and passion for Jesus above all!

Remember, you have been gifted a license for single-classroom use only.  Please respect the copyright of each document by not sharing files electronically or in-person.  Questions about this process or anything else related to the files?  Please e-mail Rachel at poetprints TPT (at) gmail (dot) com.  

September 25, 2016

Making Bible Stories Come Alive

I want my students to fall in love with Jesus.  That is always my number one goal each year.  Sure, I want them to meet and exceed government standards, and become confident and capable citizens... but top priority is to see my students live and thrive in their relationship with Christ.

I think that one of the most important ways to do this is through a knowledge of the  'stories' in the Bible.  All of the Bible is God's love letter to us, His children, and ultimately paints an amazing picture of grace and redemption.

I can remember my first year teaching.  I casually said something along the lines of...

"Wow! It is really raining outside!  This must be what Noah felt like on the Ark."

Only 2/3 of my class understood what I was talking about.  Two-thirds of my class of third-graders in a Christian school.  I investigated further.  At least seven of my precious little kiddos were unfamiliar with the story of Noah's Ark.  Or Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors.  Or Jonah and the Whale.  Or Daniel in the Lion's Den.   You get the idea.

I learned an important lesson that day - we just cannot assume that all of our students in Christian schools (or Sunday School) have basic Biblical background knowledge.  

I got to work right away making Bible plans to help fill in some of these 'gaps' to use during lunchtime with a group of students who were keen to learn more stories than I could fit during our regular lesson time.  Students wanted to spend their lunchtimes learning more about The Word, and I was more than happy to oblige.

We created books to go along with each story...

Garden of Eden - student reader mini-book

Noah's Ark - student readers, Bible verses, and quick worksheets for easy lesson planning

learned new story-specific vocabulary...

Noah's Ark - vocabulary cards

made crafts...
The Creation Story - spinning storyteller craft

Garden of Eden - retell the story puzzle activity

...and deepened our knowledge of God's word.

Through our Bible Story Small Group it was amazing to watch some of my students learn these stories for the first time, and watch others make deeper connections with stories they already knew and loved.

All of my Bible Story units are designed to be useful for a K-5 classroom in Christian School, homeschool, or Sunday School classroom.  These following units are currently available (more available every 2nd month!): 

How does your class, Sunday School class, or children, like to study the Bible?  What inspires you to learn more about Jesus? Share your best ideas in the comments below!

Garden of Eden - crafts, worksheets, and two 'dig deeper' lessons on sin and forgiveness

September 05, 2016

Back to School Butterflies

In British Columbia we head back to school tomorrow morning.  Where has the time gone?  Although this summer was full of ups and downs, and not all that restful, it is time to hit the ground running tomorrow morning.    I snuck into my class one more time this morning (on a holiday... gasp!)  to tie up any loose ends and make sure I was fully prepared to welcome my 24 brand new kiddos into my room tomorrow morning.

I think that even after four years of teaching in my 'own room' I still get the nervous butterflies before the first day of school.  A part of me misses the group that inhabited the room the year before, and another part of me is nervous about what is coming next.

I have to keep reminding myself of Philippians 4:6-7:  "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, and with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."   So I'm giving this year up to the One who holds forever in His hands.  I know that there will be more 'bumps' ahead, but I'm not in it alone.

Thank goodness!

Take a look at my classroom for the 2016/2017 school year:

My teacher desk - love this new print from Hobby Lobby! 

I do all of my read-alouds from my IKEA chair, and we start each carpet time with a reminder how to do  Whole Body Listening (from Especially Education)

Reading Corner - the book bins and storage may not match, but I love how many play-based learning option I have! 

Hand-In Buckets - I separate hand-in and classroom work storage by subject and project.  

View from the back of the classroom - check out my new crate seats!

Permanent whiteboard set-up.  I write my schedule up on the board so it can be specific, and kids help to assign a weekly classroom job rotation.  I love accountability in a primary classroom! 

I'm starting to feel ready for the year ahead.  How about you, is your classroom ready ? Or if you've been back for a while, how are you settling in?

September 03, 2016

I Love Target

I am Canadian.  Once upon a time we had Target, and it was glorious.  But only a few short years later our Targets closed, and I was once again left to venture down to the States for all of my Target purchases.

Luckily, I live in Vancouver, BC, so there is a Target Dollar Spot less than an hour away.  Phew!

This year I have made more than a few quick trips across the border to decorate my classroom and find budget-friendly teaching supplies.

One of the things I loved was my new target calendar.  It was a total winner. However, upon closer inspection, it had a problem.

The calendar started on Monday.

@the.traveling.teacher noticed the same problem!

When teaching students to chant, say, and count the days of the week we always start on Sunday.

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday

We were totally thrown off by this design.

So I had to make new labels:

New labels for my Target Calendar - print, laminate, and go! (click here

I tried to design complementary labels.  If you'd like them, they are available for free by clicking HERE.

In the comments below, let me know where your Target Calendar is located in your classroom.

Happy September, All!

August 19, 2016

Back to School Shopping

Back to School shopping is a necessary part of the school year.  Like report cards, full-moon-Fridays, and wiggly students... it just cannot be avoided!  I have love/hate relationship with back to school shopping.  I love the shiny new things:  the fresh notebooks, the reams of unused paper, the unused smelly markers...   But somehow I always come home with way more than I intended.

Please tell me I'm not alone here?!  Does anyone else frantically try to hide back-to-school items around there house in a way that makes it less obvious?  I feel like a small-scale hoarder of all things classroom related.  I have bulletin board borders under my couch, book bins in my closet, and new novel sets in my car.  (Shhh, don't tell my wonderful hubby!)

I got together with some of my favourite teacher-authors to brainstorm our favorite back-to-school purchases:

  • Smelly Markers (every anchor chart should smell like mint and lemon)
  • Chart paper with invisible lines (to make those anchor charts!)
  • A new teacher tote bag (you have to treat yourself)
  • Good quality pencils (the cheap ones just won't cut it!)

Even after a summer of planning and creating, there is always more curriculum to organize as well.  And that can get expensive.  Making sure that school works for a classroom filled with different kinds of learners does not come in a one-size-fits-all curriculum.

Thank goodness for Teachers Pay Teachers and it's endless supply of affordable curriculum.

But even "affordable" can add up.  So a few of us teacher-authors and bloggers have banded together to give away a $30 gift card to Teachers Pay Teachers.  We know teaching is a work of heart - and we want to help.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Let us know in the comments below what you would do with a $30 Teachers Pay Teachers Gift Card!

Genius Hour in Elementary

Last year, I did my very first Genius Hour in my third grade classroom.  For those who have never heard of Genius Hour, it is a student-directed hour of independent projects that was based on Google's 80/20 philosophy of work.  (More on that here, plus a great video to show parents and kids!).  It gives students a chance to explore their passions and interests and allows them to develop a lifelong love for learning.  It also helps to hone research and presentation skills in a way that is 'outside of the box' and creative.

Most of the blogs I had read ahead of time seemed to use Genius Hour in the upper elementary, middle, and high school grades.  Looking back, I wonder if I was crazy to try it with eight year olds.

Maybe I was.

At times, it was insanely chaotic.  I definitely 'bit off more than I could chew' and it was a lot more work than I anticipated. But it was such an overwhelming success with my students that I am set on doing it again this year, and learning from the parts that I was ill-prepared for.

Most of the work came from being under-prepared.  I hadn't fully thought through what it would take to prepare seven, eight, and nine year-olds for independent work.  Yes,  they are capable of it... but it takes scaffolding and intentional instruction to give them the tools to succeed!  

So, learning from my mistakes, here are four tips for a smoother, well-planned Genius Hour in Elementary!

Genius Hour in Elementary Tip One:  Model Everything

One of the most valuable things I learned in leading Genius Hour in third grade was to model all pieces of the process.  Instead of telling my students to come up with a topic, I participated in Genius Hour alongside them and verbalized my thinking process out loud.

"What kinds of things am I interested in, I'll write them down!  The ocean, hockey, running, cooking.  I love to build stuff.  When I was at the ocean I saw a family flying the most amazing kites, and they were doing loops.  It was so interesting."

I didn't just say "List the things you are interested in," I demonstrated how I would come up with some topics.

In future lessons, I explicitly taught how to turn my ideas into an essential question.

"I love kites and the ocean," became my Genius Hour question "How do you build a kite?"

Genius Hour is driven by an essential question that students work each week to solve through research and hands-on exploration.  (Each question cannot be solved by a simple Google search).

Eventually, I even gave a complete Genius Hour presentation.  This way, my students were not caught off-guard by what I expected from a presentation.  I built a simple kite in front of my students, and showed what I had learned on a step-by-step poster.

Genius Hour in Elementary Tip Two:  Narrow Down Presentation Options

I have found that in older grades, students are so excited by the idea that they can choose any way that they want to show what they have learned.  The world is their oyster!

However, when I tried this in Third Grade, most of my class looked at me like a group of deer caught in headlights.  They were absolutely overwhelmed by the number of possibilities.

Should I do a poster?
What about a movie too?
Is a poster better than a movie?
I don't want to do a movie.
What if I code a video game?  I don't know what that means. But maybe my brother does.
Do I have to do all of the options?

I was ready to pull my hair out.  So we had a class meeting.

In our classroom we decided that everyone would have a small poster (I bought the poster board) that showed what they learned, and then they could also have a small model or project if they wanted.

I would suggested narrowing down the options for how Genius Hour can be presented in lower elementary.  As always, allow some students to go 'above and beyond' as they are ready and feel prepared, but don't make this the standard for all students.

Genius Hour in Elementary Tip Three:  Simple Ways to Keep Students Accountable

Genius Hour is only one hour long. It seems like a lot but it will fly by.  To keep students accountable I used a very simple Work Log where students simply answered the question "What did you do today?"  At times, all they would write down was: I colored my poster.  And that was enough!  Don't waste valuable time filling in a work log when you could be working on Genius Hour.

Genius Hour in Elementary Tip Four: Check with Parents

This was one of the things that I learned in retrospect.  I allowed students to choose any project of their choice without checking-in at home that each project was o.k. with their families.

It didn't go well for us.

Students assumed that they had access to a computer when they didn't.  Or access to a poster board when they didn't.  Or even a ride to the public library when they didn't.

This year, when my students create their Genius Hour plan, they will also need to have a parent/guardian sign off to make sure that their plan is reasonable.  I don't want to put any undue stress on parents or families, and hope that each project is one that my students can do (mostly) independently.

This years' project plan has a parent approval and suggestion section!  Much needed after last year.  

I've taken all that I learned and created a completed guide for Genius Hour in lower elementary.  It has teaching guides, a day plan, a week-by-week timelines, student worksheets, and rubrics.  Check it out. Hopefully your Genius Hour can run smoothly right from the start!  

Have you ever done Genius Hour in your classroom?  Share your best tip below!