Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Must Read (Super Fantastic Bubble Plastic) Mentor Text!


If you are using the Lucy Calkins Writing Workshop model like me, you know that mentor texts are the absolute heart-and-soul of the program.

My Sweet Thirdies and I have been writin' our little hearts out on everything from small moments narratives to informational/expert texts.

And then...cue the ominous music...we ran headfirst into...opinion essays!  

It's that bad.  'Nuff said.

The most frustrating part is that there just aren't that many really great mentor texts that are written in the "full-on, in your face" opinion essay style. 

And then the heavens opened up and a beam of light burst forth from the clouds...bearing...

A real opinion essay in an engaging book form!




Oh my stars!  A Pig Parade is a Terrible Idea is such a remarkable book in that is written in ACTUAL OPINION WRITING FORMAT!  It's true!  My kiddos could pick out everything from the thesis to the supporting details PLUS the author uses a generous sprinkling of great transitional words (which we have been having a heckuva time with!).  A strong grabbing lead and a terrific wrap-up closure make this book just that much more appealing!

It's about time.  That's all I'm sayin'.

The author of this remarkable specimen is none other than this guy...Michael Ian Black.  (You might recognize him from shows like "Ed.")  He's a pretty funny guy and this book is just great!


Anywho...Those Collaboration Cuties, Amanda and Stacia, have put out this great linky partay and I've decided to join in on the fun.  Go ahead...you know you want to go over there and get a little crazy!  Get ready to start pulling more books into your Amazon.com wish list!  It could get expensive!  



Happy Reading!

Nikki





Sunday, January 5, 2014

Monday Made It...January 2014 Edition


Wow!  I wasn't sure that I would be able to join in the fun at Tara's Monday Made It, but a cold Arctic blast has basically closed every school in the state of Wisconsin and Minnesota, so, I felt like I could splurge a bit and take a few moments to expand on my "Word Snow Globe" idea that I put together before the holidays hit like a ton of bricks!

In my last post, I shared some super cute and really fun snow globes that I made for word work in my holiday spelling unit.  I thought about trying these little honeys out with colored rice instead of water, and so this is what I came up with:



Have I told you how much I.  LOVE.  THESE.  Honestly...why haven't I made these sooner?

I started with these great little 6-packs of storage containers from Dollar Tree.



Dollar Tree also carries an 8-pack of these containers, but they are just a "skooosh" smaller than the 6-pack and I'm not convinced these would work quite as nice as their larger cousins.  The number on the back of these is 3927777607.  One thing that I'm not in love with about Dollar Tree is that not every locale carries the same product, so I thought I'd include the SKU number for you...just in case.

I substituted out the water for colored rice and added a couple little pony beads to help move things around a bit in the little containers.  (If you are ever wondering "why the pony beads?", put some of these together and see how much better stuff moves around with some heavier junk in the container!)

Each container includes one of this week's spelling words, spelled out in individual letter beads.  Your students search for all of the letters in the container, write them on my Snow Globe Sheet, and then unscramble their letters to arrive at one of this week's spelling words.  It's really pretty simple.

A simple number sticker or a reference number written in Sharpie marker makes for quick identification and corrections by the teacher or as a self-correct by your kiddos.  (I always love it when I can reach into my scrapbook stash and use up some of those number stickers that I NEVER use!)

My thirdies love this activity, but they did find it a bit challenging, so this is a really great Word Work station of intermediate grades (3-5).  I can't wait to try these out this week!


Remember, "sharing is caring," so why not make a second set for your partner-in-crime?  If you aren't feeling that lovey dovey, at least share my post with a colleague, a new teacher, or your grade level buddies...I'd love to have you stop by my blog sometime!

Stay warm!

Nikki



Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Last Post of 2013...Snow Globes Word Work!

I ran into my friend Kelly over the holidays and she told me that she wished like crazy that I would post again since it has really been ages since I've posted anything of substance on this blog.

She's right, of course.

The start of the school year really kicked my behind...new grade level, new partner, lots of changes at my school and in the district...I'm still not sure about my bearings, but I was able to pull myself together at least enough to fool the masses into believing that my head was screwed on straight.

So here's to 2013...and here's to Word Work and what you can do with your Word Work in 2014!

Enter...Snow Globes Word Work Stations!



These were super fun to make and share with my kiddos...and they turned out to be much tougher to work with than I thought.  (For the students that is.  For me, not so much!)

Finally, a Word Work station that can challenge your intermediates!  (Seriously, my kids had a great time with this, but they did find it challenging and it does require a medium-level attention span, so this would be a great station for your 3rd-5th graders.)

Dollar Tree had some of these great "craft organizers" hanging at the end of the craft aisle.  The larger containers have 6 in a package and the smaller ones have 8.  I purchased a gob of the 6-packs because I figured I might do something with these.  (After filling these up, I think that the smaller containers might not work well if you go the snow globe route...if you don't fill these with water, who knows?)


Anywho...I filled the containers with small letter beads that spelled out each word (i.e. r-e-i-n-d-e-e-r) and added some Dollar Tree Glitter and some holiday confetti that I picked up at Michaels.  Then I added water.  I numbered the top of the container so that I knew which word I had put in the Snow Globe so that I could create an answer key for the activity.

Storing the Snow Globes is really easy.  I picked up a small container (also at Dollar Tree) and was able to fit 12 Snow Globes in quite nicely.  (A little over $3.00 per kit.  Not a bad investment!)



I can totally see "pimping" these babies out to match your theme...winter...summer...spring...fall...holidays...ANY days!  There's always great metallic confetti, tons of different colors of glitter...lots of flotsam and jetsam...

I can also see possibilities for doing these with colored rice instead of water.  You'll just have to play with how much space you'll need in order to move the beads around in such tiny containers.

Baby food jars would also work, but I'm always a bit nervous when glass is handled by my kiddos.  Steve Spangler has these great little plastic test tubes (Baby Soda Bottles) that are a bit more spendy, but would also work well.  You can check these out on Steve's site by clicking here.  (Note:  I have a major "teacher crush" on Steve, so for me to even share him is, well, a little tough!  Be good to him...buy his stuff!)

I'm also including the Snow Globe Word Work sheet here.  Run copies for your kiddos and make sure to have them available at the station.  The kids can write the letters they find in the small snow globes on the page and then unscramble them to find the correct words.  (I use spelling words for this station.  You could use vocabulary from something you are reading, science words, math words, etc.)

I made two sets of the Snow Globes, one for me and one for my new partner, the Marvelous Megan.  Remember, sharing is caring, so why not make a set for you and one to share with your teaching partner, a new teacher, or someone who just needs a lift?  If you aren't feeling that lovey dovey, than why not send a link to this entry on to a colleague or friend and inspire them?  (I'd totally love you forever if you did that!)

Have fun playing in the "snow" with your kiddos and let me know how you plan to use these!  I love hearing from you!

Happy New Year to Kelly in Sheboygan and to all!

Nikki

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Favorite Winter Mentor Text Link Up



Oh...those Collaboration Cuties Amanda and Stacia don't disappoint, even over the holidays!  They are having a linky partay where everyone shares their favorite "winter book."



From the onset of my Readers Workshop, I share a book entitled Tracks in the Snow, by Wong Herbert Yee.  While this book isn't phenomenally engaging for my thirdies, it does serve as the foundation for my students to leave their own "tracks in the snow" while reading.

I teach my students how to question the text, make notes on unfamiliar words, and take general notes using sticky notes and placing these notes inside the text.  These "tracks" allow students to return back to important places in their reading and get the answers they need to make sense of the text.

We also use the "tracks in the snow" strategy with our Anchor Texts.  Each child receives a book that they can mark up by leaving their own tracks directly inside the text.  The "snow" is actually the white spaces on the pages.  We are currently reading Frindle by Andrew Clements and the kids are lovin' how many tracks they've made so far!

Why not check this book out and make your own "tracks?"

Nikki
uncommontothecore.blogspot.com

Gifts of Literature


Right before the holidays, my students and I had so much to celebrate...Christmas (of course!), the completion of our Writers Workshop Unit of Study (Informational Texts) and having four of my little honeys exiting their Tier Two intervention for reading.

Now, the exiting part might not seem really big to you, but to a kiddo who has always been considered "low" in terms of reading, this is a pretty ginormous thing!

So...when we return from the holidays, where do we go from here in terms of these readers who are finally considered "at level?"

We are continuing our journey together in the Readers Workshop, utilizing Anchor Texts, Mentor Texts, Mini Lessons, Into the Book Strategies and Independent Reading as the foundation of our reading program.  We are diligently adding to our BLBs (Book Lovers Books).  

It's time for the teacher to "up the ante" by pushing her readers towards more rigorous book choices for independent reading time.  No more gentle nudges and courteous nods for this girl...my strongest readers and my newly fluent "on level" kiddos deserve better.

It's time for...GIFTS OF LITERATURE!

I've been using this strategy in my classroom for quite some time actually.  

Call me what you will...Book Queen, Hoarder of All Things Bookish, Collector, Bibliophile...I LOVE BOOKS!  I have tons of them...much to the disappointment of my hubby and my librarian sister-in-law!

There's a part of me that enjoys sharing them immensely...and a part of me that gets pretty stinkin' ornery when they don't come back.

I have a smallish collection of my own personal books that never make it to my classroom library, but they are so good that I can't NOT share them.  So I've created a small book basket of personal loaners that are "by invite only."  These are the books that I "gift" my students with.

How do I do this?  

I start by writing out a short letter to the reader and then leaving the book on his/her table in the morning.  When they come into the room, they find the gift book and the note ( no pressure, just a vote of confidence that I have matched a good reader to a great book that will certainly challenge them and help them to grow!)  

If the student chooses to accept this gift, they keep it to put in their book baskets and read it during Independent Reading Time.  Since these are books I have personally read and enjoyed, the conversations we have in regards to these books are pretty great!   I'm better able to guide these readers through the challenges that each text presents to the individual and hopefully expose these readers to a higher level of quality in terms of text and book choices.  

Imagine the power this strategy has in terms of guiding your readers!  Think of the kids in your class who are strong and solid readers, but continuously go to the same "stuff."  In my room, kids have a difficult time moving away from Captain Underpants, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Goosebumps.  And while these three series are great for bringing reluctant readers to the Readers Table, they aren't enough to sustain a reader for long periods of time and move them forward in their reading.

One of my readers, Brody, is so stuck in Junie B. Jones books.  Again, great series and well written books, but not enough to feed the mind of a kiddo with a 600+ Lexile level.  Brody is definitely a candidate for my "gift" basket.  I have a book with his name on it too!  (Brody is going to get a big push from me...period!)

What about the student who brings the book back to me and says, "Not interested."?  That's ok.  I'll keep offering different choices.  Eventually, I'll come up with a winner.  (I'm an optimist!)

Another terrific byproduct of this strategy...once other kids see these books, they ask if they can be the next person on my list to get the book.  It's really pretty cool!  (Note:  For the students on the waiting list, the next time we go into the school library, I find the book and share it with them.)

I've just read three AMAZING books over the holidays that definitely fit the criteria of "gift" books.  They are as follows:

1.  Fortunately the Milk, by Neil Gaiman.  This quick read is one that your fantasy readers and "tellers of tall tales" will certainly embrace.  Enough pictures to provide a nice segue between the world of picture books and the intense world of chapter books, the text is rigorous and imaginative and would be a great fit for those creative readers and writers in your classroom.  (I have Olivia in mind...how about you?)



2.  The Year of Billy Miller, by Kevin Henkes.  This is a sweet little read that is split among the four individuals that are most important to Billy (Teacher, Mom, Dad and Little Sis).  Billy is a second grader with a ton of heart who is worried that he won't be successful in second grade.  This isn't a complicated text, but it is a bit beyond the world of leveled readers and it has a ton of HEART!  I think boys and girls would enjoy this read as it isn't overly "boyish."  (I'm thinking of Matthew who just exited from Tier 2.)


3.  Flora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo.  Ok...say what you will, but in my opinion, this is DiCamillo's BEST BY FAR!  She definitely has the "people and animal formula" down to a science, but each time, it's just a bit different...unpredictable...This book is a spectacular read!  Your animal book lovers will think it is terrific. and it has great dialogue between the characters with a little mix of comic book format.  I love, love, love it!  (Note that this would be a terrific classroom read aloud and it is certainly going to make its' way into my Mentor Texts in reading AND writing!  Yup...it's that good!)  I'm thinking of my friend Mallory and what a good match this book will be for her.


Using the "Gifts of Literature" strategy, I'm able to point kids out to books that have the potential to be award winners and that they will certainly be exposed to along the way.

Other books that are in my "gift" basket are:











I highly recommend each and every book on this list, although not every one of these is appropriate for every reader.  The books in my "gift" basket are thoroughly read by me so that I truly know what the readability is and what the reader needs to have "emotionally" in order to tackle the content.

Here's your challenge:  What books would you put in your "gift" basket?  Which students would be your first lucky recipients?  I challenge you to go through your personal stash of books and find those books that should be matched up with readers.  Maybe you've changed grades, like me, and found that the books you used to read aloud aren't a great fit for your current grade level, but maybe there is a student who could use a push and the confidence instilled by having a teacher recommend a great book for them...

Oh, the possibilities!

Have fun learning and laughing with your kiddos!

Nikki






Saturday, November 2, 2013

Code Squad


I'm always on the lookout for great apps...and great apps that allow four kiddos to play and learn at the same time...KILLER!

I've been a huge fan of Operation Math.  With a secret agent code-cracking format, Operation Math is an awesome and engaging place to practice math facts for students at the elementary level.



Just when it couldn't get any better, the same folks at Spinlight come out with a new app, Code Squad!



The format is a bit different.  We're still practicing our facts, but with four agents seated around a single iPad, more kids are touched and the practice becomes a bit more competitive...in an interesting way!

Each agent is allowed up to 5 errors in computation.  A fact is flashed in the center and each agent gets the opportunity to answer it.  All four agents are really working together to keep facts flying and crack the code, but agents are "cut off" of play when they reach those 5 errors.  If at least one agent can keep rolling with the facts, play continues and a round can still be won.

With 20 secret agents and only 5 iPads in my classroom, you'd be amazed at the level of engagement and excitement in my classroom! 

Differentiation, engagement, and hands-on play for everyone...even with a minimal amount of iPads!  

If you are a teacher with 1-to-1 mentality but a 1-to-5 reality, Code Squad is the game for you!

I'm so hoping more developers/designers jump on board with a similar format!

Check out Spinlight here.  This app is also available for purchase on Nook and Android devices, so it opens up a whole great world of high-quality learning beyond the iPad!  Spinlight's site has great info and is also a place to purchase these apps.  You can also purchase the apps at the App Store!

It's the best $2.99 I've ever forked over for an app.

Give it a try...and share your feedback!  I'd love to hear what you think!


Nikki

Friday, August 30, 2013

Got Levels? Try Level It!


Got levels?  For those of us who level books in our classrooms to best meet the needs of our readers at their independent and instructional levels, we tend to rely on a few sources to help us level the trade books found in our classrooms and school libraries.  As a fourth grade teacher, I was constantly running to www.lexile.com in order to find Lexile levels for the chapter books that I was using in my book clubs and guided reading groups.

Lucky for me (and for those of you who level), the Level It app has made a solid and very useful appearance!  This app was designed for the iPhone and iPod touch devices, but it also works pretty well on my iPad.  

Not only am I able to find Lexile levels for a book, but a simple scan of the barcode also allows me to get Guided Reading levels (GR), DRA, and Grade Level Equivalency (GLE) levels.

I can also maintain my classroom library collection digitally and also check books out to students.  

There is a teacher feature that also allows me to recommend books to my students and their parents.  Again...very cool!

The app retails at the App Store for $3.99.  More information can be found at http://levelitbooks.com




So what are you waiting for?  Try Level It for yourself today!  


Nikki