Five for a Valentine Friday

It's finally Friday, and I'm celebrating by linking up with DoodleBugs Teaching for Five for Friday!

Have you ever all of a sudden had enough of student desks being total disaster areas?  That was me this week, realizing that I am making way too many extra copies of materials, due to the fact that students are perpetually losing them.  My students have folders for each subject (which are kept in cardboard file boxes) in addition to homework folders, so every paper has its place.  The problem is many papers are being shoved in the black hole that is their desk.  Ever help a student clean out their desk in February and find a paper from the first week of school?  Been there, done that!

So, one morning this week I told my students that every day before lunch I would be drawing five name sticks and inspecting those students' desks.  If the desk is free of any loose papers, the student gets a piece of gum.  Score!  On the other hand, if there is a single piece of paper loose in their desk, doom!  Recess spent cleaning and organizing their papers.  Eyes grew wide, and hands reached inside desks immediately until I said, "Nope!  You're not cleaning right now.  You will have to find time here and there in between subjects or on bathroom break."  

These are two of the desks I inspected that first day.  Amazing!

So far, so good!  No one has had to stay in and clean yet!

Alison at Rockin' and Lovin' Learnin' inspired me to have some Valentine fun with my kiddos, so we made Monkey Valentine's using the site ArtforKids! to teach my students how to draw monkeys.  (I certainly couldn't show them how!)  The picture below is Alison's. Click on it, and you can read her post "How to draw a Valentine's Monkey...Tried it Tuesday".  

These are some of the adorable Valentine's my students created!

My husband helped me come up with a bunch of Valentine puns, and I put together a bundle of Valentines you could do with your kids.  I included the links to the drawing lessons,too.  You can get it for free at my TPT Store!  

We had some more Valentine fun today doing Valentine's Day Sudoku!  Instead of finding the pattern in numbers, students figure out the pattern in the Valentine pictures.

You can check it out (for next year) at my TPT Store.

We decided to do a sundae bar for our Valentine's party.  Yum!  This is one of the delicious creations!

Yes, those are giant heart marshmallows!  It's enough to make my stomach hurt just looking at it.

For the last two years I have been teaching Social Studies using the Michigan Citizenship Curriculum and the free units offered by Oakland Schools.  I greatly enjoyed the lessons and activities but found that there was far too much there to cover in the school year.  So, I spent my whole summer going through all the units, picking and choosing what I thought were the best activities that could still fit within my school year.  I typed up new lesson plans only incorporating those activities and putting them into class period chunks.  I also created student packets for all the handouts and notetaking that goes with the units.  I have been using these materials this year, and they have made my Social Studies classes go so much more smoothly!  

Along with the student packet and lesson plans, I created a teacher resources set that includes vocabulary flashcards, vocabulary quizzes, games, and worksheets along with a study guide and test set.  All of my study guide and test sets are currently available at my TPT Store.  I am working to get my teacher resource sets ready for TPT whenever I get time.  (There's never enough!)  As of now, my Colonization & Settlement, The New England Resources Set is ready to go.  You can find it at my TPT Store.

If you would be interested in using the student packet and/or the adapted lesson plans I have created, contact me on my blog or at, and I will gladly send them to you for free! 

Make sure you check out everyone's Five for Friday at DoodleBugs Teaching!  Have a great weekend!


Monday Made It-A Leveled Library at Last!

I'm linking up today with Tara from 4th Grade Frolics for one of my favorites, Monday Made It!  My "Made It" today has been months in the "making", but I'm finally ready to share it.  

Last month I talked about being inspired by The Book Whisperer to motivate my students to set high reading goals and read more books than they ever have before.  You can read that post, Spark Student Motivation to Read, by clicking here.  As I embarked on this reading journey with my class this year it didn't take long to see that a handful of students were quickly getting behind in their reading goal progress.  Not surprisingly some of these students were behind grade level in reading.
I know that in order for a student to make reading progress, he/she needs to be reading "just right" books, so I teach my students to choose books that are appropriate for them. However, we all know that often times they don't.  Which is when you end up with professional pretend readers.  

So, I began thinking about leveling my classroom library.  One downside that I considered was that students may be embarrassed by having everyone else know the level of the book they are reading.  In the end I decided I had to give it a shot and see what happens. 

I used Scholastic Book Wizard and an app called Level It to begin leveling my books.

I have to be honest, I was a little frustrated with both of these leveling programs.  First of all, many books are nowhere to be found and often times the bar code scanner wouldn't work, and I would have to type in the books manually.  The other thing that frustrated me was how far off I felt like some of the levels were.  For instance, the Percy Jackson books were leveled as DRA 40.  I know that only my best readers can successfully read those books, making them at least a 50.  In the long run I ended up having to adjust some of the levels I was given and come up with some completely on my own.  If anyone knows of a better leveling app, I would love to hear about it!

As I leveled the books, I wrote it on the inside of the book cover, thinking that kids could just choose a book off the shelf and look inside to check the level.  But then I decided I wanted to group my books in the library according to level, so there would have to be some way of identifying them by their cover.  I bought four different colors of duct tape and decided to put my books in the following groups:  50 and above, 40, 34-38, 30 and below.  I cut strips of the duct tape and wrapped it around the bottom of the binding so that it would be visible when a book is on a shelf.

I was trying to cut the strips with scissors which was actually quite difficult as the tape would stick to the scissors.  My husband came up with the great idea of using a cutting board and razor.  This went much faster!  I could quickly cut numerous strips in just a few seconds.  

I discovered something once I had my books leveled...I didn't have nearly enough books in the 34-38 range.  Most of my books were 50 and above (makes sense) with the next highest group being the 40's.  The problem is my group of readers who were behind in their reading goals needed 34's and 38's.  So, I started shopping!  I love how you can go on and look for books by level.  Such a time saver!

Once I had my leveled library set up, I started pulling groups of students to the carpet to talk to them about what level they should be looking for and where they could find it in the library.  Nobody seemed embarrassed about what level they were.  In fact, I've had more difficulty with kids wanting to read the books that are too easy for them.  And all the new books pouring in from the book orders have been very motivating for those students reading at lower levels!  

It usually takes me a few days to get books ready for the library.  I glue a pocket in the back and make up a library card, put the level inside the book and the tape for the level on the binding, and then cover the whole book with clear contact paper.  (My mother has been working for weeks to get all of my older library books covered in contact paper!  Quite a task!)  Certain students would ask me several times a day, "Are the books ready to be checked out yet?".

Here are some pictures of my library once all the leveling was done.

It didn't take long to see the results of all this hard work.  Suddenly, several students began making progress on their reading goal, and I could tell they were proud of the fact that they had begun finishing books.  My DRA test results in January were encouraging, and I feel a big part of the students' success was putting "just right" books in their hands.  And then I had one of those great teacher moments that don't happen often enough.  

One girl in particular was in the group of students reading 38's.  When I tested her in January, she passed the 40 fiction, 40 nonfiction, and 50 fiction.  I hadn't had a chance yet to meet with my students to tell them what the new levels were that they should be looking for in the library, but this girl obviously knew she had made great progress.  She came up to me one day and said, "Do I still need to read 38's?".  I said, "No, you can read 50's now!".  She went running over to the library where a couple of her friends were shopping for books and announced excitedly, "I can read 50's now!".  Don't those moments just make all the work worth it?!

If you would like to try organizing your library by DRA levels or by genre, check out my Genre & DRA Library Labels Set at my TPT Store.

Check out all the other great Monday Made It projects at 4th Grade Frolics!

Using Historical Fiction to Jump Start Book Clubs

It's another snowy day in Michigan, which I really don't mind if I don't have anywhere far to go.  I just wish I could move my computer desk right in front of the fireplace!  I'm linking up a few days late for Workshop Wednesday by Ideas by Jivey.  Better late than never, right?

I was inspired by Jivey's Workshop Wednesday this week which is all about using historical fiction.  I'm getting ready to start our first book club of the year using The Hidden Girl. It's an autobiography written by Lola Rein Kaufman, a Jewish Holocaust survivor.  It's a fascinating and moving story, which makes for great book club discussions.  After reading Jivey's post I was motivated to try something new.  I got to school extra early Friday morning and dug out one of my favorite historical fiction books, Rose Blanche by Roberto Innocenti.

I love this book, because it requires a great deal of inferring.  The illustrations are beautiful and add a tremendous amount of meaning to the text.  I created a packet to go with the story along with a PowerPoint slide show of a few of the illustrations that I wanted the students to be able to look at closely.  

This is one of the pictures we looked at in the PowerPoint.

It's not the best picture, but you get the idea.  I loved the discussion that we had throughout the book!  It was interesting to hear who already had a lot of prior knowledge about the topic (one student brought up Jewish ghettos, wow!) and those who didn't have much at all (one student responded to another with, What's the Holocaust?).  But they totally figured out everything in the book!  They figured out it was about the Nazis in World War II, the Holocaust, the Jews in concentrations camps...all of it!  And by the end of the discussion, everyone had some prior knowledge about the subject. This is the class anchor chart we started together.

I'm hoping this activity will have really piqued their interest on the topic, so they will be raring to dive into The Hidden Girl next week!

If you would like to try this inferring lesson with your students, you can find it at my TPT Store.

You can also check out my book club unit based on The Hidden Girl by Lola Rein Kaufman.  

Make sure you check out other ways of using historical fiction in your classroom by stopping by Workshop Wednesday at Idea's by Jivey!