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!