September 14, 2017

How to Talk to Your Students about Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Season is Here

Here in Port Orange, Florida, we have been out of school for over a week thanks to Hurricane Irma. Fortunately, my family is fine and  our little community fared pretty well, overall. But, it was still scary... really scary. The TV coverage, the pre-Irma buildup, the actual storm, the power outages, the clean up, and the pictures of the devastation across our beautiful state has been a lot to take in. I swear I gained like 8 pounds on hurricane food and drinks.

Grab this FREE
Hurricane Reflection Sheet
 So, how do we talk to our students about the hurricane? When we get back to school on Monday, the kids are going to want to talk. I'm guessing they are going to talk A LOT! I'm definitely going to allot time for them to just get it all out and share their experiences. I think it is important to repeatedly let them know that  they are safe and they are okay. Of course, if there are children for whom the event was traumatic, I will contact my school guidance counsellor.

Here are some post-hurricane days activities that will help kids after the storm.

  •  Hurricane Reflection Sheet
  •  Brainstorm all the places people evacuated to
  •  Brainstorm the ways that families and friends came together
  •  Create a cause and effect chart that details the many effects of Hurricane Irma
  •  Create a brochure of before, during, and after the storm
  •  Create "how to prepare for a hurricane" posters
  •  Brainstorm or create posters for "how to help after a storm"
  •  "Show Don't Tell" writing will help them to show emotion through writing
  •  Write Small - write about a small moment before, during, or after the hurricane. The small moment should only be about 5-10 minutes of time total but describe details and emotions.

Click the picture to get your Hurricane Reflection forms FREE!

August 5, 2017

First Day of School Ideas

I don't know about you but I think the first day of school is one of the hardest days of the year. From bell to bell, there are 40+ little eyes staring at you waiting to be entertained. With so many rules and procedures to cover and the lack of routines established the day can feel like it lags on forever. Here are some tips to help take away those first day jitters. 

 Fun and Engaging Morning Work

I always like to start the year on a positive note so I place some fun and engaging morning work on each desk for when they arrive. I also place crayons or skinny markers at their tables so those early finishers can decorate their papers.

Coloring Bookmarks

Supply Boxes

I did what teachers do best and stole this idea from a colleague. Before the kids come into the class, set out several boxes, crates, or paper bags labeled and ready to hold supplies. Your students can unpack their extra supplies into the box. This gives them something to do, organizes all the supplies, and parents will usually leave once that is finished.

First Day of School Read Aloud

I love reading picture books to my student! They bring everyone together and there is so much you can  do with them. The Brand New Kid by Katie Couric is perfect for the first day of school because it has a fun and whimsical poetic style with a serious message. The story is about a girl who notices that the new boy at school is weird and different.  He doesn't fit in and everyone laughs at  him. The boy gets made fun of and never has anyone to play with. She decides to change all that by saying hi and asking him to play. She realizes that he is a nice kid and they have a lot in common. This lends itself to great discussions about bullying and kindness. After the book, we usually make a brochure about how to make a new friend. 

Getting to Know you Icebreaker

Icebreaker Task Cards

When I first started teaching, I assumed everyone in the class already knew each other. Well, you know what happens when you assume. I was surprise to find out that I had 4 new kids to the school and even the returners didn't know everyone's name. That is why I do icebreakers on day one. It gives my students  a reason to talk to someone new and hopefully make it easier to talk to them again. I try to do a new activity each day of the first week. Have you seen the Solo Cup Stem Challenge? I'll write about that in my next blog. It is really fun. 

In this "Find Someone Who" ice breaker, each kid has a task card. they have to find a student who meets that card's requirements. Then, they can trade cards with other kids or exchange it with the extras on the table. For me, the cards added a bit more engagement and variety. 

Icebreaker Scavenger Hunt


Click here to go to
I think one of the reasons I don't particularly like the first day of school is because of all the procedures you have to go over. We talk about procedures, practice procedures, and talk about it some more. It can be exhausting and frankly boring. Last year, I implemented a procedures Kahoot game. It was so much fun!! The kids worked in pairs to answer questions like "After saying hello, what is the first thing you do when you come in the classroom in the morning?" It was a really fun way to review and talk about our classroom runs. If you have never used Kahoot, try it out. I use it all the time. 


   Good luck! I wish you an awesome first day of school!

I would LOVE to hear about your first day. What are your first day of school MUST DOs? Comment below!

Check out these fun and engaging activities at my TPT store.

Organizational forms and fun welcoming bookmarks for back to school.

July 20, 2017

Build Your Students' Vocabulary

If you're like me, you're always looking for ways to build your students' vocabulary. It's not as easy as it sounds. Vocabulary acquisition takes time and from the teacher's perspective there are so many words to choose from. How do I know if I'm choosing the right words? Should I choose the words or should students choose the words themselves? Yup, building vocabulary is one of the trickier aspects of teaching reading so, I've decided to gather some resources to take the fear out of teaching vocabulary. These are 6 steps from Robert Marzano's book Vocabulary for the Common Core

Description over Definition

Step 1: Provide a description, explanation, and example of the new word.
Think description over definition. Provide them with a story, scenario, video or experience that helps them to learn, understand, and remember the word.

  • ELA: If you want to teach your students about the word saunter, show them how to saunter into the classroom then encourage them to saunter.

  • Science: If you have to teach symbiosis, explain the relationship between the Egyptian alligator and the plover bird. The alligator gets his teeth cleaned while the plover bird gets to eat the food stuck in the alligator's teeth...eww...but they'll remember it!
Check it out:  Egyptian alligator and the plover bird video

Students Take the Lead

Step 2: Students restate the description, explanation, or examples in their own words.
A student creates a 3D model to represent the rotation and revolution of the Earth. He keeps referencing his book to make sure he has the definitions correct. He jots notes in his science notebook to help him remember the newly acquired words. 

Step 3: Students construct a graphic representation (picture) of the word.
A Frayer Model is a great way to tackle this step. The Frayer Model is a graphic organizer used for vocabulary building. With the Frayer Model, students write their own definition of the word, provide characteristic, examples, and non-examples. In using the Frayer Model, students need to apply what they know about a newly acquired word.

Grab your own FREE Frayer Model!

Word Work

Step 4: Engage students in activities that help them to add to the understanding of the terms in their notebook.
Synonyms, antonyms, affixes, oh my! In this step, students add to their understanding of the new words. Students may highlight the prefixes, suffixes or root words. They can create a word web of related words to list synonyms and antonyms. Here is a cute 2 minute video from The Teaching Channel of one teacher using paint chips to engage her students in this type of word work. She also uses incentives that encourage her students to use the words in oral discussions.

 Vocabulary Paint Chips on The Teaching Channel


Step 5: Students discuss the terms with one another.
One of my favorite teaching strategies is using task cards to get kids up and chatting with one another especially when it comes to content vocabulary. Here are a couple fun ways to use task cards:

  • SCOOT - Scatter task cards around the room. Students work in pairs or small groups and "scoot" around the room to solve each task card. When students are in groups, they discuss, debate, ok sometimes argue, over the correct answer. I encourage this debate because they are dying to know the answer to see who is right. 
  • Quiz-Quiz-Trade - This is a Kagan Structure that works AWESOME with task cards. Pass a task card out to each student. Play some fun music. Students need to move around the room "quizzing" one another with the task card. Typically, the answers are on the back so if  the partner struggles with the answer, the person quizzing becomes a coach. The coach guides them/teaches them in a kid-friendly way. After each student has answered the task card correctly, the trade cards and find a new partner. 



Step 6: Involve students in vocabulary games. 
#Truthtime: I really do not like Bingo! Yes, I will go with my grandma to Tuesday night bingo at the clubhouse, but I will not initiate it in my classroom. That being said, there are plenty of other vocabulary games that are a great substitute. 

  •        Headbandz - This game is so fun! Most students have this game at home. Ask a student to bring in their game. Use the headbands from the game to play. Stick a word in the headband so that the student wearing the headband can't see it. The students who can see the word have to give clues without saying what the word is. The headband wearer has to guess the mystery word. This game is engaging and fun... lots of giggles included.

  •       Kahoot! - We are a Kahoot-crazed classroom! Kahoot is an online quiz came where students can work in pairs or individually to answer questions shown on the screen. You can create your own Kahoot or use a FREE one already made. You can also download results for formative data purposes. 

click here to go to Kahoot!

Word Walls and Word Sorts

Ok, so I  didn't actually see anything in Marzano's book about word walls but I think they are a great way to reinforce vocabulary that you want students to use and remember. I love using synonym word walls especially after my students have sorted and manipulated the words in centers. I expect my students to use new and interesting words in their writing based on their experiences with them in the classroom.

Robert Marzano's Research

If you are interested in learning more about ways to teach vocabulary, you can check out Vocabulary for the Common Core by Robert Marzano.  I found this book really helpful in understanding how to teach students to acquire new vocabulary.

March 30, 2017

Morning Work Alternative: Task Cards

I needed an alternative to morning work. My students enter the classroom between 7:30 and 8:00. Having to find a worksheet or activity every morning that some kids finished and some kids didn't was driving me nuts! It wasn't until my friend Fishyrobb  suggested using task cards when my whole morning routine changed (check out her TPT store, she's amazing).

Why had I not thought of this before? Now, I use one math task card set for the week. I sort the cards out in the morning, put on some fun music, and get the kids up, moving, and learning. 
Students start the morning with task cards. 

Benefits of using task cards for morning work

1. Self-checking

Most of the task cards I make now are self-checking. I love this because it gives instant feedback and lets me know right away which students I need to help.  Of course, students are expected to show their work in their notebooks so just copying the answers isn't an option. I don't have to wait to grade papers to see who to pull into small groups. That makes me very happy. 

Fold back the answer tab, glue, and laminate for self checking.

2. Engagement

With morning work task cards, the vibe of room is just different. Like I said before, I put on some music, usually a pop instrumental, and the kids get out of their seat and move to the task cards. I encourage kids to work together and talk about their work. The engagement is so much higher and it sets the tone for the day. 
Engagement...with a bow.

3. Differentiation

Most task cards vary in difficulty. Higher achieving students can gravitate (usually with guidance) towards the more difficult problems. Students who need more support can work on easier problems which will scaffold them towards the harder problems. Knowing who my struggling students are, I can easily check in with them to see if they need help. If my higher achieving students get "finished" with the cards or do not seem engaged, I ask then to create some task cards that they feel would challenge other students. 

The Drawback?

The drawback of morning work task cards is that you have to have a collection of task cards to choose from. There are task cards kits you can buy from companies like Lakeshore that cost anywhere from $29.99 up to $85.00. Personally, I would start with There are free task cards or task card packs around $2.50 or $3.00 and they are made by teachers like you. 

Here are links to the task cards from this blog. Click on the image for more information:



March 15, 2017

How To Squeeze in a Read Aloud

As a teacher, I love the idea of engaging my fourth graders in a great chapter book. I can remember when my teachers read aloud Superfudge, Ramona Quimby, and Shiloh after recess. I fell in love with the characters and looked forward to that cool down, quiet time each day. I've tried year after year to jump into engaging stories like The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, The BFG, Sarah, Plain, and Tall, and even short chapter books like Freckle Juice, but every single time school life gets in the way! It takes me MONTHS to get through one book and then I end up giving up. I would love to give my students the same literary experiences that I had as a kid, but honestly, who has time for THAT?

This year I tried a different approach: PICTURE BOOKS.
Each day, I grabbed a new, high-interest picture book to read aloud to my students. At first, I just read the stories and placed them on a shelf for rereading access. As time passed, students started noticing "good writer skills" such as alliteration, onomatopoeia, similes, metaphors, and vivid language. With each page, students would put a thumb up if they heard a good writer skill worthy of comment (if I was really with it, we could have recorded these down but I'm not quite there yet). I started reading the picture books at the beginning of each writing lesson.

I know, you're probably thinking "What's the difference?" Reading a chapter in a chapter book should take about the same amount of time as a picture book. I can't exactly explain the difference. Maybe it is the feeling of accomplishment for reaching the end of a book or maybe it is short problem-solution pattern of a picture book. Whatever the reason, it worked for me. I went from not reading aloud to reading aloud every day. Sometimes you just gotta do what works.

Here are some of my favorite read aloud picture books:
Stellaluna by Janell Cannon
by Janell Cannon
(anything by Janell Cannon)

Owl Moon
by Jan Yolen

My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother
by Patricia Polacco
My Brother Martin
by Chritine King Faris

Henry's Freedom Box
by Ellen Levine
Mr. Peabody's Apples
by Madonna
The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles

January 8, 2017

Are QR codes worth the time?

Have you ever walked through another teacher's classroom and thought, "Dang, I need to step up my game?" That happened to me the other day when I visited my son's second grade teacher. All around the room she had super cool QR code activities for measurement and science. Granted, I had no idea what the activity was or where the QR code led to, but you better believe I felt much like the second graders wanting to find out. Yeah, I needed to step up my game.

Why use QR codes?

I have asked myself this very question. Are creating QR codes worth the time and energy to make or is it just gimmicky and trendy? I guess the best way to find out and jump in and see how it goes. In my opinion, here are the benefits to using QR codes:
Engagement – the students are intrigued to find out the mystery behind the code.
No Searching – Since the QR codes lead the students right to the website, they do not have to search the internet.
Online text – You can control which research sites your students are getting their information from. Since their seems to be a trend of leaving text books behind, this can provide a way for students to read grade appropriate text on a specific topic. Plus, you don’t need to make a million copies!

The future is online – We did not grow up with technology at our fingertips, but that is how our students are grow up so we need to adjust. We have to prepare our students for the world they will live in not the one we grew up in.

How to set up a QR code

Good news: The set up is super easy.

1. Choose your website.
 I decided to do my QR code activity on a virtual tour of the old fort in St. Augustine, Florida (this is part of our SS Florida history curriculum). I copied the website.

2. Choose your QR Generator.
I used and pasted the website into the URL box.
There are other QR generators. Most of them are free and simple to use. They instantly create your QR code.

3. Download or Print.
It is going to download as a long, random number. When you pull it up to look at it, you can click FILE and Rename it.  If you don't, you won't have any idea what it links to and you'll start to hate QR codes.

Make it kid-friendly

Paste the QR code into a kid-friendly directions sheet.

I added a response page to go with it. Personally, I wanted the response page to be more of an analysis of the virtual tour than a quiz so my response sheet was open ended.

Using the QR codes.

You do need to have  some sort of tablet to use QR codes.  You need to download a QR reader app on each device or tablet you have. These are free just find QRreader in your App Store. Once it's downloaded, open the app and aim your device at the QR code. You'll be amazed how it brings you right to the desired website! 

Technology Disadvantaged? I get it. 

 In my classroom, I have 2 Kindle Fires (I bought one each year  for $29.99 each during Black Friday), and one iPad. However, we are a BYOT school so kids can bring their own devices into class.  Once people know you want technology in your classroom, it becomes easier to find.  


The kids loved it, they stayed engaged and learned about Castillo die San Marcos. I guess it's time to step up my game.