Planning the Perfect Crime Scene Classroom

I know I’ve said it before, but I love hands-on events in a classroom. I love creating learning moments that students will talk about for months (or years) to come.  Last year, while studying inferencing in our reading curriculum my teaching partner and I decided to turn our classroom into an interactive crime scene to really dial up the excitement.  We had such a fun day and the kids were buzzing about it until they went home for summer break.

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We decided to set the classroom up as a crime scene to help explore how making inferences is a lot like being a ‘detective’ when you read.  When you read, you must use observations to draw a conclusion and read-between-the-lines of a story.   At a crime scene, detectives have to use clues to figure out what happened, there is no obvious sign explaining everything. 

Although we set the stage with a few inferencing lessons that introduced key vocabulary, the real highlight was our Crime Scene Classroom.  Here are my top 4 tips for planning your own Crime Scene Day. 

Tip 1:  Make a list, check it twice

Be prepared.  However you choose to set up the scenes in your classroom, have everything ready to go ahead of time.  I would suggest preparing materials for each scene in a large Ziplock bag or ice-cream pail so that it is quick and easy to set up.  If possible, choose Crime Scene scenarios that require very few additional supplies.  Try brainstorming ‘crimes’ that can be committed with things you already have in your classroom.  Are there any rules that you have in your classroom?  What if the criminal broke one or two of them?  I have also planned out 4 easy-to-assemble crime scenes in this packet.    Store your supplies away so that they can be quickly accessed during a prep or recess break.  I've laid out the supplies that I used in a convenient checklist in my Crime Scene Classroom packet

Organization is key!  The Crime Scene Class pack has detailed set-up instructions to make planning/set up so much easier. 

Organization is key!  The Crime Scene Class pack has detailed set-up instructions to make planning/set up so much easier. 

Tip 2:  Set it up in secret

I set up the crime scene during my prep time and made sure that none of my students knew about the activity before the walked through the door to begin solving crimes.  The surprise on their faces when they came into our classroom was so worth it!

Setting up the class while students were at recess allowed them to be really surprised when they walked in! Do we look sneaky?

Setting up the class while students were at recess allowed them to be really surprised when they walked in! Do we look sneaky?

Tip 3:  Set the stage

Instead of handing students a workbook and telling them to go solve each crime, I would suggest getting into character and really setting the scene.  This helps students to get excited about the event.

  “Grade Three! Something terrible has happened in our classroom.  Someone or many people have broken into our room and committed crimes.  The police need your help to solve them.  Will you be Junior Detectives for the day and help me to figure out what happened to our beloved classroom?”   

The more engaged you are, the more engaged they will be in return.

Tip 4:  Start together

After I invited students to become Jr. Detectives for the day, we all entered the Crime Scene Classroom together, as one group.  Then, we proceeded to the first scene together.  Here, made observations and inferences as a group so that all students understood how to participate in the activity. By modeling this, students had a good understanding of how to visit each crime scene and make observations without rushing.  (Well, most of them at least!)

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Tip 5:  Be prepared for early finishers

While most of my students moved carefully through each crime scene, one or two finished with lightning-speed.  And the worst part… their work was well done!  I quickly came up with a few tie-in activities to extend their learning. 

  • Write a timeline of the crime
  • Draw a map of how each crime was committed
  • Write a first-person story about one of the crimes

We had so much fun completing our Crime Scene Day, and it was a great way to help students understand what it means to make an inference. 

The plans for the complete Crime Scene Class (along with 2 scripted inferencing lessons, printable decor, planning pages and student workbooks) can be found here

Have you tried a day like this?  I’d love to hear your best tip in the comments below.

 

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NEW - Coffee & Kindness Teacher T-Shirts

If things have been a little quiet here at Poet Prints, it's because we have been launching something new behind the scenes.  I am so excited to announce our new line of Teacher T-Shirts!  We will be doing individual runs of soft, comfortable, and (most of all) cute tees for work or play.  

These shirts have been a labor of love and I am so excited to share them with the world.  They are made here in Canada and currently ship to all locations in Canada.  As a Canadian teacher, I was inspired to make these tees to have an option that didn't require USD/CAD exchange, duty, and super-expensive shipping.  

To celebrate...

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(This giveaway is now closed!  Thanks to all who entered and congratulations to our winner.)

Winner must be Canadian, over the age of majority in their province, and answer a skill testing question.  

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Rachel Poetker
Love Languages in the Classroom

Have you ever heard of Love Languages? I use them all of the time in my marriage and I try to show care and kindness to my friends in ways that speak to their love languages as well.  But have you ever thought about using them in the classroom to help your students interact with each other and show care in a more meaningful way? 

If you have never heard of love languages, the basic premise is that there are five basic ways that we all receive and give love: gifts, quality time, acts of service, physical touch, and words of affirmation. Through the love languages quiz, you can find out the primary and secondary way that you like to receive love. 

I wanted to try this out in my classroom because I had a group of kids who both loved to give physical touch and did not like to receive it.  It was a really weird contrast.  They were a very ‘touchy’ group without any sense that no one else wanted to be hugged/touched in return.  I thought that exploring Love Languages might give them other tools to show their care/concern in a way that could be better received. 

So we did the quiz individually, as a teacher-led activity.  You can find a kids’ version of the quiz right from the official Love Languages book website.  I walked my students through each question and we tallied up their primary and secondary love languages. Each student was given a post-it note and they charted their top two Love Languages.  

It was so interesting to see how my students like to receive love – it was definitely different than I would have expected. 

It was so interesting to see how my students like to receive love – it was definitely different than I would have expected. 

Then we met on the carpet to talk about it.  Of course, we all loved parts of all of the Love Languages, but after talking, most agreed that these were their favorite ways to receive love. Together, we brainstormed ways that we could show love to our friends that would match up with their Love Languages.  

  • Play a board game with someone who is quality time
  • Give a high-five to someone who is physical touch
  • Write a note to someone who is words of affirmation
  • Tidy a friend’s cubby if they are acts of service
  • Make a craft for someone who is gifts

It was so fun to brainstorm ways to show love to our friends in a way that they like to receive it.  We hung up our Love Languages chart in a clear spot in the classroom for the next couple of months so that the students could easily see it. As a teacher, I enjoyed watching my kids head back to that chart frequently to find a name on it to see a way they could ‘bless’ someone else.  It really helped to build character and empathy in my students and encouraged them to put the needs of their peers far above their own needs.

Have you ever used Love Languages in your classroom?  I’m already starting to plan ways to go ‘bigger’ with this in the future. I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below!

- Rachel

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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!

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!

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 uni 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?