Thursday, December 12, 2013

Organizing Literacy Center Materials



Yesterday I wrote about how I set up my Literacy Centers.  My school has been using Journeys for a few years now, and I'm more familiar with common core this year than I was at the beginning of last year, so I felt ready to really delve in.  You can see how I set up my rotation topics and schedule here.



Today I thought I'd share how I organize my materials.  Let's face it; the best instructional activities will not engage students if the organization behind them doesn't work!  And if it's too complicated for us to manage, we're not going to want to use it either.  There was some trial and error when it came to different locations in the room and moving desks, which the kids HATED.  Who knew how nervous they would get about other people sitting at their desk!  


So I scrapped that first idea and instead created a file folder system.  It worked for my math games, so I shouldn't be surprised that it turned out to be the best solution for my literacy activities.  They know where to access the folders, how to distribute materials, and they can stay at their own desk.  There is only one activity in the course of the week that requires a single group to move to a separate spot in the room, and fortunately I have the space to accommodate that.


I keep the bin with 3 file folders right in the middle of my leveled readers.  My rotations are right above this set of bins as well, so everything is within reach.  Other than "read with the teacher," each of the other stations has its own file folder of activities.





Inside each file folder I can "preload" the activities for the week.  The Mentor Sentences page has 3 different activities in one, so it keeps them occupied in the "Editing" station for 3 days, and I load the spelling in on the final day.  The Vocabulary pages look different enough from one day to the next, so the kids don't mix up which one to do first, second and so on.  I clip the "not yet" pages to the folder as a gentle reminder, and their current pages are loose in the folder for them to take.  And finally, the Independent Reading Response folder has 3 separate envelopes.  These are clearly labeled for each Close Read slip they need to do, in order.  The kids know they need to tape the first into their notebook and complete it before they take the second.  This is the most time consuming center, so often they come back to it when they finish a different literacy center early. 

Considering that this is my first year running Literacy Stations since moving to fourth grade (and since Common Core began) I think they are going pretty well!  I plan to offer my Close Reads in my TPT store this summer, so if you are thinking about trying stations next year, stay tuned!

[Edit:  I've started to post my Mentor Sentences products in my TPT store.  There are a few freebies in the section I've linked to if you want to give them a try!]

  

P.S.  Want more tips?  Follow me here:
 







Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Setting Up my Literacy Stations


This year I have started using Literacy Stations.  I used a variation of this system about a decade ago when I taught third grade using Trophies, then stopped when I moved to a new district that was using Reader's Workshop with one on one conferences.  Well, we've since switched to Journeys and the time felt right to reboot the stations system.  Obviously with common core and a different grade level those old stations would not work for my class, so here is the 2013 version!


Each day my reading groups work on the following stations:

1.  Read with the Teacher, which is basically my leveled reading groups.  

2.  Vocabulary:  Journeys does an AWESOME job with vocabulary.  I have the kids complete a preview page the first day, with a short text (from the TM on the back to give them practice using context clues).  The next day I use the vocabulary cards that come with the program for students to discuss.  Finally, I give them questions from the teacher's manual to complete (5 questions per day).  I blogged about these vocabulary questions here, and you can download my free template for Journey's vocabulary questions from that post.   

3.  Editing:  I have started using Mentor Sentences this year to help kids examine and learn good grammar habits in writing.  Some day I will make this available in my TPT store, but it's just not ready yet! I also include a spelling game once every 5 days.

4.  Independent Reading Responses:  We have started using Close Reads for reading responses because I felt that the worksheets with Journeys were just not cutting the muster.  I wanted to hone in more on common core skills and creating my own questions were the best way to do so.
 
Once I decided on the tasks involved, I needed a way to quickly change out the groups several times each day.  Last year I'd hung up file folders with reading materials inside for each group.  There were clips so the kids could be moved each week if needed.  After a lot of sketching of wheels and hanging groups off of station titles, I decided to keep the folders and move the center titles instead.   


And in order to move them quickly, without misplacing any titles (I'm kind of bad at that sort of rotation system) I put them all on sentence strips!  That's right, instead of moving around 4 different station tags, I just take the first strip down, and station number 2 is right there.  At the end of the day I just put strips 3, 2, and 1 back up and the system is ready for the next day. 

As you can see, each "rotation" period is color coded.  The kids in the reading group with the blue folder know that their first rotation every day is editing, followed by reading with me, then their written response, and finally vocabulary. 

It was NOT EASY setting up this system.  Some things can't be done out of order, such as reading with the teacher and the written response.  I really had to flesh out my 5 day schedule to be sure the kids could all work with automaticity when they got to their groups or else I would not be able to focus on my small group.  The key is to NOT schedule any groups on day 1.  My focus lesson for reading comprehension is a little longer, the kids get time to read their books before we meet, and I introduce the editing skill for the week. 

For my first year running these new Literacy Stations, it's going pretty well.  I'll feel even better next year when my Close Read questions and Mentor Sentences are completed.  If you're thinking of trying out Literacy Stations next year, you can download my Literacy Stations one week planning page here for free.  Then, check out my next blog post tomorrow and I'll show you how I organize the materials I use in the stations.




Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Cyber Monday TPT Sale



It's hard to believe December is almost here!  I was surprised to learn how many schools have Thanksgiving week off.  We had a field trip (in the snow, on a boat) yesterday, I'll still be picking up a few items for Thanksgiving after school today, and the day after Thanksgiving I'll be starting report cards.  It's a crazy-busy end to November, but my goal is to have them finished by Sunday night, because for me that's when the real fun begins:  Cyber Monday!  Forget about getting up early for Black Friday and braving the cold.  Not to mention the overseas postage to my husband's family over in England.  Shopping online is my kind of shopping. 

If you love online sales too, then you are in luck because Teachers Pay Teachers is once again having their Cyber Monday (plus Tuesday) sale!  You can save up to 28% off of your purchases by entering promo code CYBER at checkout.  My whole store will be a full 28% off as long as you remember the promo code! 



Some popular products this month have been my Long Division Games Bundle:


If you teach fourth grade, you'll most likely be teaching fractions pretty soon:



 

 Poetry Month is in April:


  
And finally, if you're looking for my best deal, you can save 28% on my largest bundle:  
Normally priced $25, it will cost just $18.75 for two days only! 

So start filling your wishlist, and come back Monday and Tuesday to save a bundle on some fun, engaging resources for your class. 

On the other hand, if you are pinching pennies this season and you would like a freebie instead of shopping the sales in my store, here's a seasonal one for your class.  It's designed to help target assistance for your lower income students if you have funds from the PTO to provide them with a little something for the holiday.  I'm lucky enough to work in a school where we give to the families in need every year, and this Holiday Aid for Low Income Students page will help you get started with that. 


Happy bargain hunting!




Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Making Long Division Interactive (and Dare I Say Fun!)



It's that time again.  One of my students several years ago called it "The Nightmare of Fourth Grade."  Fourth grade teachers know what math concept I'm talking about:  Long Division.

Nowadays there are different ways to approach teaching long division.  I've tried the partial quotient method and I find that it's great for some learners.  However I like to take a different approach.  Math in Focus puts a lot of emphasis on place value at the start of the year.  It's also very important in Chapter 2 when we estimate and in the first part of Chapter 3 when we multiply 2 digits by 2 digits.   

So in my mind the best way to tackle long division is to use what the kids have been learning about place value.  And the best way to do that is with money.

To start out, we break out the place value mats and write a dividend at the top.  Then I teach them that another way to think of the divisor is "the number of wallets" they are splitting the money into. 

 In the first example, I make sure that the numbers divide evenly which is a huge confidence booster for kids who have heard "horror stories" about long division form their older siblings.  They get a preview of a column of numbers underneath the numbers in the standard algorithm and shut down.  

We don't get into ANY of that on day one.  We stick with the manipulatives and it's as easy as dealing cards.

Split the hundreds, split the tens, and split the ones.  Count the total in a single wallet and you have your quotient.
 As an aside, I COULD use place value chips that come with Math in Focus, or I could use the base ten blocks.  But I like using money better because I feel like it's a "real world" manipulative that kids can relate to better.  Plus there's just something about the feeling of counting dollar bills that motivates a lot more people than plastic blocks!

 
I actually had a couple students call me out because this system seemed so simple.  One noticed how engineered the numbers were, which I coped to.  I told them, "This week you can see 862 can be divided by 2 easily because 8, 6 and 2 are all divisible by 2.  Tomorrow you'll have a number like 762 which is not as easy, but you'll be used to dividing the money so regrouping will just be one extra step.  However one student had an even more exciting doubt for me:

"What about remainders?"

Ooooh, that created a buzz.  Surely numbers with remainders in the quotient are REALLY HARD! 

But I was ready for them.  "I can show you how to do that right now; it's not a big deal."  And all I did was increase the ones place by 1 to create a new number, 863.  I went through the process again, only this time I wrote "r 1" at the end.   



"Ohhhhhhhh!"

Suddenly remainders are easy.  I changes a few of my original problems to have a remainder of 1 or 2 so the kids could practice the challenge they made for themselves, and they took it in stride with no issues.

Next time I'll show you how we regroup with the money in order to tackle those problems like 762 divided by 2.  If you can't wait, you can preview my long division task cards bundle product.  It has 3 different levels of difficulty so you can differentiate to different learners in your class.











Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"All New" Giveaway and a Sale



One of my blogging buddies, Meg from The Teacher Studio (formerly Fourth Grade Studio)  is celebrating a milestone: her blog is 1 year old.  It's hard to believe that she's only been at this for a year because I've learned SO much from her posts over the past year.  To commemorate her one year blogiversary her blog has a fresh new look which I'm a big fan of.  And even more exciting; this week she is holding a HUGE giveaway every day this week!   


Each of the 5 winners this week will each win over $100 worth of TPT products of their choice from the selected sellers who are participating!  Head over there now for a chance to win.  Then go back tomorrow for another giveaway, and again on Friday for yet another giveaway.  There is a different group of stores participating each day! 









To honor her "All New" blog theme, not only can you win $10 worth of products from my store (in addition to a handful of other bloggers' stores for a combined value of around $100) if you enter today's contest, I'm also putting my "All New" product on sale for 50% this week only.  






 I recently finished Math in Focus Chapter 2 with my fourth graders, and I always like to have some math review games at my disposal to help the kids retain their skills all year.  My

Prime or Composite Board Game and Least Common Multiple Dice Game have really helped since I created them last year, and this year I rounded out the set with my "All New" Greatest Common Factor Game.  So if you're looking for some fun review, check it out while it's still on sale!  














Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Reading Response Using 2 Column Notes

Because my anchor charts have been so popular, I wanted to do a quick post with one of my latest ones that I did for 2 column notes for responding to reading. 

I've been working on developing 3 levels of Close Reading questions for each Journeys lesson.  With Unit 1 in Journeys over with, I can safely say so far, so good!  I'm excited about the difference I'm seeing between my fourth graders' written responses to grade level text between last year and this year.  Of course no two groups are the same, but they are so much more focused and prolific, and their notebooks are much more organized.

The way I approach the progression of questions I create for each lesson, is I think of Close Reading as the next generation of QAR questions.  When I developed comprehension questions for each text, I started out with very basic questions about the text for the first Close Read that can really be answered in one word, such as the characters and the setting.  For the second Close Read, however, they need "reasons," "evidence to support their answer," "details from the text," or "proof."  Thus, they are seeing the language of the test every week.  The "question" in a second Close Read is more of a prompt, such as, "Use details from the text to prove that Miss Franny was lonely."  The answers to the question are "Right There" in the text, however I tell them the goal for answering is a paragraph (with a minimally accepted answer of 2 sentences). 

At this point in the year, we have started with the "Level 3 Close Read" questions.  These questions require some inferential thinking or an opinion in addition to evidence from the text.  Since this is a more complex answer than the other 2, I knew it was the perfect opportunity to merge the idea of Close Reads with the fabulous Keys to Literacy training I received on 2 column notes!  Here is one of the level 3 Close Reading questions I modeled for my class:


I used a text the kids had read earlier in the year as a model for teaching character traits.  We used a list of possible traits as a scaffold to answer this prompt with opinions before looking for proof in the story.  The result was kids were able to organize a variety of ideas about a character, as well as locate text based evidence to support their thinking!  


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Working on Automaticity of Math Facts


Nowadays we know that learning the times tables is not the be all and end all when it comes to math.  On the other hand, here we are nearing the end of Chapter 2 of Math in Focus.  My fourth graders been working on estimating to add, subtract, multiply (3 by 1 digit numbers) and divide (long division).  Yes, I allow students to use their facts charts so that they are able to implement the procedures they are learning.  But soon will come a point (such as in Chapter 3) when the computation steps will require too much attention to divert to a chart.  The bottom line is I'm still responsible for helping my students learn their facts with greater automaticity.

So how does one find the balance between the higher level thinking that goes with the rigorous Common Core State Standards and good old math fact memorization?  Part of the solution is of course homework.  Now, for the past couple years since we adopted Math in Focus I've given targeted worksheets to only the students who needed it, created incentives and monthly quizzes, checked those sheets daily and guess what?  There were no significant gains in math fact automaticity. 

I needed to make a change.  The math sheets were clearly not working out.  So I decided to make the practice itself more motivating than a worksheet.  I thought back to Gardner's Multiple Intelligences and the menus I created for some of my old units of study with younger students and thought, "there must be something out there that has choices for math fact practice."  And that's when I came upon Larkspur School's website.

These were just the types of activities I was thinking!  These are fun ways to practice math facts that can be done with simple resources or even no resources at all.  Since my school has a wide range of SES, I need to appeal to both ends of the spectrum in that regard.  With a little bit of tweaking I adapted this list to create a "menu" of options.  The result is students can choose games online or with physical materials.  They can study alone or with someone else.  They can choose a physical, musical, or visual means of studying.  And yes, if they would like a worksheet, that is an option too. 

I also found some free triangle flash cards and traditional flash cards to print and let students borrow a single set at a time (such as the nines facts or the 6s).  Each week they have the option of signing out a set of cards to study. 

The result?  It's too soon in the year to tell.  However I can say that the kids seem much more motivated to make their choices each week!  I had one student ask, "You mean I can choose to play (multiplication) video games every week?"  I told him, "If that's how you want to study, it's fine with me."  The look on his face was priceless!  Not to mention their excitement the day I surprised them by taking them to the gym to show them how to "dribble multiples."  Compare that to students who would not bother bring in their worksheets for the majority of the time in past years.  What a difference.  :)

If you'd like to check out my Math Facts Choice Menu, I have it available for download if you just click the link.  Also, I'd love to hear how you help your students develop automaticity with their math facts! 







Sunday, October 27, 2013

Flash Freebie to Celebrate the Fall Season

Just a quick flash freebie today, for a limited time only!

Although Halloween can often get our students crazy, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I love it anyway!  I love dressing up, I love pumpkin flavored everything, I love Reece's Peanut Butter cups (to me, those are the THE quintessential Halloween Candy) but the part I love most about fall is the fall colors.


http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Fall-Leaves-Bulletin-Board-Cutouts-53098You wouldn't know it to look at my blog or classroom, but those colors (my classroom color scheme takes its cues from the existing furniture) but reds, oranges and browns are the colors I use for my home.  And although I don't like getting up in the morning to a chill in the air, driving to work with the sun hitting the brilliant New England foliage is always a treat.





To celebrate fall, I'm offering my Fall Leaves Bulletin Board set for FREE for today only.  It's perfect for back to school (it includes coordinating letters that spell "Welcome") or of course the leaves can be used alone for a fall tree.








Also, come check out the giveaway going on at "my other blog," a collaboration of a group of upper elementary teachers at All Things Upper Elementary.  This time around we are giving away gift certificates to Teachers Pay Teachers, and there will be multiple winners!  Good luck!








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