It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

And I don't mean Thanksgiving and Christmas season, though that's all good too.  I mean, you've got to love that point in the year when you and your class have well and truly gelled.  They know your expectations, they feel like this is their class, and you can just get down to business.  Not to mention have some serious LAUGHS.  Because both students and teacher know the other well enough to truly appreciate what we each bring to the group.

Today, mid-lesson I got a phone call from my principal about a serious issue and had to step outside of my classroom. When this happens I have the door open a crack because of the phone cord.  There's also a window so I can see most of the kids as well as hear them well enough. So I can see that as usual, kids will be kids, they get all chatty and silly as I'm on the phone.

The call put things in perspective for me, so really all I was thinking as I re-entered the classroom wasn't, "how dare you get off task," but, "yeah, they were noisy but no one's hurting anyone," so I was probably only about to say something like, "okay kids, back to work," but before I could, my resident wise-guy calls out from the back of the room with a manic grin:

"We were SO good when you were gone. Really quiet, too."

I paused a moment, just appreciating the kid's sense of humor while fighting back a smile, as he and I made mental notes of the reactions of his peers.  Who stood up for him and laughingly agreed, who betrayed him and said, "yeah right."  And I also took a moment share a knowing look with that patient, watchful student who said nothing, imitated my wait time and half-smile, and made me think not for the first time this year, "this one is definite teacher material if she chooses that path."  

If it was September, I wouldn't have the luxury of enjoying that moment.  And if it was September, I certainly wouldn't have told him, "Yes, I thought I saw your halos shining from the window over there."

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Immigration Unit: Liberty Island Discussion

There's nothing like GENUINE interest from your students when you're a teacher.  :)

We are wrapping up our unit on immigration, and we've been reading Coming to America:  The Study of Immigration by Betsy Maestro.  We got to the section in that talks about Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty.  The kids had SO many questions and fun facts about it!

"What is it made of?"
"Did you know it's from France?"
"What do you mean the Statue of Liberty is not on Ellis Island?"
"How tall is it?  Bigger than an SUV?"

But even more interesting was our debate on the regulation of immigration.  A line in the book says that at one point, people from some countries were not allowed in, at the same time that people from other countries were.  When I asked why the United States would pass this regulation, a lot of misconceptions came up.  Similarly, when I asked why they thought inspectors would need to check people who were coming in, I got a lot more "grown up" answers than I was anticipating:

"To make sure people didn't have guns?"

I wouldn't be the one to bring up those sort of topics with 10 year olds, but my philosophy is, once the cat is out of the bag, acknowledge it, but in a way that makes kids feel safe.  So I answered, "I feel like it's a sad sign of the times that those are the sort of things that you kids, and, well, we all have to worry about when we travel.  So nowadays we do have people who work in the airports airports to make sure those things don't come in to the country.  But back then, before airplanes, none of those things were their main worry.  What they were checking for was...symptoms of contagious diseases!" kids still had trouble wrapping their head around that.

"So they wouldn't check them for guns?  They'd just let them through!?"
"I'm not saying that.  I'm saying, back then not as many people HAD guns."
"So they wouldn't let you in if you had cancer?"
"Cancer isn't contagious.  Contagious means you can catch it from someone.  If you are around someone with cancer, you won't get cancer.  Most of the contagious diseases they were worrying about then are not around anymore because they have vaccines and medicines that got rid of them."

So to get a feel for life back then, we ended with plays (semi-improv by the kids) that acted out different scenarios on Ellis Island, and went to lunch on a high note.  Even though I feel like I have less and less time for Social Studies every year, it's a really fun unit.  I have my materials for it available in my Immigration Unit product, and you can find Coming to America:  The Story of Immigration, on Amazon:


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Cyber Monday TPT Sale

Is it me, or has November flown by?  I don't think I'm ready for December yet!  Report cards are coming, I'm starting to think about the teachers' Secret Santa, Cookie Swap, Yankee Swap, Holiday Party, gifts for volunteers, the children's gifts, the children's "Yankee Swap," and you know, actual teaching, planning, intervention, and, you know, enjoying the season with my family!

The good news is, now that I have a fridge full of Thanksgiving leftovers for dinner tonight, I can also start filling my shopping cart over at Teachers Pay Teachers.  They are participating in Cyber Monday (a holiday I can really get behind, because waking up for Black Friday when overdosed on tryptophan is the worst idea ever).

Like many sellers there, I'm having a 20% off sale on all my products over $1, so combine that with the site-wide sale and you will save 28% on your purchases!  Just use promo code CMT12 when you checkout. 

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

But if you are pinching pennies this season and 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!

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Teaching Cause and Effect

Our reading comprehension skill this week was recognizing cause and effect in stories.  Once again, it was Pintrest to the rescue when I went to make my anchor chart!  I got my cause and effect inspiration here.  I really wanted to change it up a bit, however.  Notice the "effect and cause" on the bottom half:

I don't know why we English-speakers do that more often than not!  But I think a lot of kids get confused about cause and effect relationships for that very reason. 

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Adding Dialogue to Personal Narratives

One of the kids favorite personal narrative lessons (and therefore, one of my favorites, too, haha) is adding dialog.  This skill used to be difficult for a lot of kids.  It's hard know where to put quotation marks.

That is, it was until I started teaching dialogue using comics! give the kids a template with the boxes, and I model the kind of drawing I expect (no coloring in yet, stick figures, just faces are okay).  I also require that every panel must have at least one character talking.

Once the comic is complete and the kids have had some time to share them with each other and enjoy them, that's when they're ready to learn the mechanics. it's really very simple.  Instead of the bubble drawn around the character's words, the start and end of their speech just goes instead quotation marks.  There's no "He said" in a comic, and there's no "My mom told me" in a comic.  Kids seem to understand speech bubbles a lot more naturally than quotation marks, so the transfer process is easy once they have the visual. 

This is one of the lessons I have included in my personal narratives unit, but if you'd like to try a FREE revising dialogue homework page, it's a great little preview to what I'll be discussing next week.  I will be teaching about shades of meaning as well as choosing more precise language for the word "said." 

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P.S., I'm linking up with Jivey for more Writer's Workshop mini-lessons.  Check it out here:


How to Teach Mood: Writing Personal Narratives

Some of you already know that narrative writing is HUGE in fourth grade so it's a good thing it's my favorite writing unit.  Well, it just got even better because I found a great sensory details anchor chart on Pinterest!  Our school accidentally over-ordered huge poster paper, so I've been making the most of it this year.  This one outlined another writing lesson on creating mood in a personal narrative.

Exemplars for Sensory Details

The mood anchor chart on ChartChums has a pig, which I changed to a child, but otherwise it worked for my needs.  I hung the poster as a visual, and played, well, basically charades with my class.  I wrote 5 different emotions on cards from my narratives writing unit.  Then I pulled names "out of a hat."  They got to come up and choose a card with an emotion written on it.  By giving them the detail and allowing them to practice it in a context, they can learn from all the examples they see.
Once everyone had a card, I had one student at a time come up with volunteers from their group to act out their emotion.  We already practiced dialogue as well as shades of meaning with words that indicate speaking.  So I gave them each a simple phrase to say for "voice" and cued one person at a time to say it.  I also sometimes "paused" the kids and cued the rest of the class to look at just facial expression since body language involves movement, like we practiced last time that can distract from the nuances on their faces.

The kids really got into it, and by the end of the activity, kids had many examples of sensory details in mind.  Of course not every detail fits everyone's story, but hopefully they had one or two that were applicable to their stories.  When you do this activity make sure you plan for time for them to revise their writing soon after (immediately after, if possible). 

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