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Saturday, 7 November 2015

Bring in the Magic - Dead Word Cemetery


I have been looking for ways to bring MAGIC into my classroom! Every week I am trying to find a new way to SPICE IT UP!
This week, we created a dead word cemetery :)

I started the event a few days in advance by creating some anticipation. I sent the kids home with a simple invitation. It read: "Wear Black on Tuesday for a special surprise!" The kids were so excited. Everyday last week they were trying to guess what we could possibly be doing!

Next, I did a little mini room transformation. I only had around $15 to spend but I went to Dollarama and made it work :)

My shopping list:
  • 5 foam tombstones
  • 26 mini spider webs and spider rings
  • caution tape

I started by putting a small spider web and spider ring on each students' desk. The kids were thrilled that they would be able to take home a small souvenir of our day :)

Next I set up some tombstones around the room. The kids were so excited to see the "spooky" atmosphere!

When the kids came into the room, I had them all sit down and play with their spiders. Once everyone was ready, we started using this crazy eye ball!



I simply tossed this crazy bouncy ball around the room. Whoever caught the ball got to come up and choose their "Dead Word" from the basket. Each student picked a different word.

Once everyone had their word, we recorded our terms on our organizers and had an elbow partner conversation about what our "dead words" mean. You can find the organizer that we used here.

This activity is super easy to differentiate! Simply let your lower learners switch their words for easier ones. For example, one of my English Language Learners originally chose the word "answered". I simply switched it out for the word "big".

Once everyone has a word, it is time to get to work! My students used an online thesaurus for this activity, however it could also easily be done with a hard copy thesaurus.

I had my students complete the organizer by writing down 15-20 synonyms for their "dead" word. Once they were finished with the organizer, we got artsy :)



Each student got a tombstone and on it they wrote "Here lies the dead word _______". Then students wrote all of the synonyms for that word. Finally, we glued our tombstones onto black construction paper and added some spooky elements like spiders.

This activity took us around two hours to do. I have a really low group of grade 4/5 students this year so we took our time and really tried to solidify the learning.



Update:
The best part of this activity is that it has transferred to their writing! During writing workshop today, I had many students go up to the "Dead Word Cemetery" and take a peek.






Quick, Easy, Sight Word Storage


If your classroom is anything like mine, you have kids at all different levels! I teach grade 4/5 combined but I have kids working at a grade 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 level in English Language Arts. As you know, that can sometimes become slightly overwhelming!

Here is a quick trick to help you differentiate for your lowest students.


Each of my English Language Learners, working at a grade 1 level, has their own command hook stuck to their desk. This acts as storage for their sight words! I usually give them each around five words at a time. 

Anytime they want to do anything, they have to read me their sight words first. Want to go to the bathroom? Read me your sight words! Want to go get a drink of water? Read me your sight words!

It is working like a charm! Plus, when you add new words to the binder ring, the old ones are still there, which means constant revision!!

The best part is that they are easily accessible, but not stored in a spot where everyone can see. My students sometimes feel self conscious that they are working at a lower level. This helps them to learn at their level, without making them feel embarrassed. 

You can find a variety of Command Hooks on Amazon.




How do you differentiate your classroom to help all students learn? I would love to hear your ideas in the comments :)


Monday, 2 November 2015

Using Music to Energize, Engage, and get kids Excited about School!

Today I am linking up with Head Over Heels for Teaching to talk about a way that I spark student motivation!


Last week, I started something new in my classroom and I am LOVING it!

My students and I have started having a mini dance party every morning.

At my school, all of my kids wait outside until the bell rings, then I invite them into the classroom. As students enter the room, I have been playing fun, upbeat music. The kids LOVE dancing to the music as they come into the room. The best part is that it motivates them to be on time for school. Because if they are late, they miss the dance party!

At first, I was a bit hesitant to try out this idea because I thought that it might get my kids too excited. But it actually does the exact opposite. I have found that once the song ends, students are more ready to learn. My kids also know that by the time the song is over, they need to have their agendas open and book bins ready to go. This way, they have a task to complete while they dance :)

Some of our favourite songs to play include:
Happy - Pharrell Williams
Shake It Off - Taylor Swift
Stronger - Kelly Clarkson
What Makes You Beautiful - One Direction
Stereo Hearts - Gym Class Heroes
Good Feeling - Flo Rida
Best Day of My Life - American Authors
Love Runs Out- One Republic
Gagnam Style - Psy
We are Never Getting Back Together - Taylor Swift
Please Don't Stop the Music - Rhianna
Dynamite - Taio Cruz
Life is a Highway - Rascal Flatts
I Got a Feeling - Black Eyed Peas
Twist and Shout - The Beatles
I Like to Move It - Will.i.am
Macarena - Los de Rios
YMCA - The Village People

Note: Always be sure to play the version with "clean lyrics". If you search the name of the song in Google with "clean lyrics" a classroom friendly version should pop up!

After a few mornings of dancing, the strangest thing happened... I realized that I was a happier teacher! Sometimes mornings can be super stressful, it is nice to take a few moments to sing and dance. Plus, when 26 kids are smiling up at you, how could you possibly be in a bad mood?

Do you have any tricks for starting the day off on the right foot?
I would love to hear about your ideas in the comments :)


Saturday, 26 September 2015

Meet the Teacher Night

My "Meet the Teacher" night was on Thursday. I thought that I would share a few of the resources that I used to make the night a huge success!



This is what my room looked like before everyone arrived! 


Each student had a Welcome Flip Book and a Parent Survey on their desk.


Parent Information Survey

This parent information survey allowed me to collect a TON of valuable information about my students. I got a peek into their home lives because everyone was super honest while completing the survey. Another reason that the survey worked so well is that it gave the parents something to do while they were waiting to talk to me. If you would like a copy of this survey, you can find it here in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. The best part is that this product is editable! 


This AMAZING flip book is from Learning in Wonderland. She even made a You Tube Video to demonstrate how to assemble the flip books! You can check out the product here. 

All in all, "Meet the Teacher Night" was a huge success. I got a lot of "ooohhhhs" and "aaaahhhs" from colleagues and my administration. 

What do you do to make your "Meet the Teacher Night" a success?




Monday, 14 September 2015

No Excuses List


Has this ever been you after reading your students work?
Sally has forgotten to use punctuation. Joey has misspelled "the" and "at". Yousuf has forgotten to start his sentences with capital letters! You know that you have taught your students these basic writing concepts, but for some reason they keep forgetting! 

Enter the MAGICAL "No Excuses" list!!!!


Your "No Excuses" list includes things that have already been taught to your students. I teach fourth and fifth grade so my "No Excuses" list contains the following elements:
  • Name
  • Sentences start with an uppercase letter.
  • Sentences end with punctuation.
  • Word Wall Words are spelled correctly.
  • No little "i" stand alone.
It is super important that all of my students fully understand all of the elements on my list because I don't accept work that doesn't meet the standards.

As students hand in their work, if I notice that they have forgotten a capital letter I just say "No Excuses" and hand it back to them. Then they go back to their desk and fix the problem. If I notice that their work isn't up to standards while I am marking, I simply write "No Excuses" on it and hand it back to them. I find that by the end of September, most of my students are consistently remembering to check their work and I rarely have to return papers. 

I love my list for a couple of reasons.
  1. I don't spend all of my time correcting simple mistakes.
  2. My kids are taking ownership of their own work.
I totally suggest that you try creating your own "No Excuses" list! If you would like my headers, click here. I am unable to give you a copy of the Clip Art that I used due to copyright restrictions. However, you can get it for free here.

Alternatively, if you would like a "No Excuses" list that is ready to print and post, check out my TPT store! This product is only $1 and it comes with two different versions. 

Lastly, I have to thank the AMAZING Language Arts Consultant that shared the idea of a "No Excuses List" with me!

What do you think? Do you use something similar in your own room? Feel free to share in the comments below!




Monday, 24 August 2015

Developing Effective Home - School Relationships



During University, professors would talk all of the time about the importance of the educational triad. Teacher- Parent- Student. It felt like every professor would give at least one lecture about the importance of home- school relationships. But not a single one gave realistic ways to create these ever important relationships! I remember thinking to myself, how on earth am I supposed to make this happen?




12 months later, as I enter into my second year of teaching, I can honestly say that I have found a few secrets to improving home- school relationships. Here are my top tips!


  1. Make a good first impression!
The week before school started, I mailed postcards to all of my students! They LOVED this! After all, what kid doesn’t like getting “real mail”. I created and ordered my postcards from Vistaprint while they were having their semi annual sale. I got a ton of great feedback about the postcards from the parents and it was a nice way for them to get to know me even before school started.
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2) Email and Call With Praise! (Especially if you know that there might be a problem later on.)
During the first month of school, I am constantly catching my kids doing good things. I like to snap pictures of these moments and email them to their parents. I usually include a comment saying something along the lines of “So proud of Julia, she is really building her reading stamina!”

I have found that if parents hear from you about good things, they start to feel as though you really care about their child. (Which you do! That is why you are a teacher!) When they know that you are on their child’s side, they are more willing to listen to you if you have any concerns down the line.




3) Communicate often and use a variety of methods!
Parents are similar to kids in that they are all different. Some prefer email, others prefer notes, others still will only read something if it is sent directly to their phone. As a teacher, it can be a very daunting task to try and communicate effectively using many different methods of communication! I am a BIG fan of simple and easy.

I really like REMIND. You can check them out here www.remind.com.
I use REMIND for last minute reminders. For instance, I might remind parents to have their child wear pink for the assembly or that our fractions test is on Friday. The great thing about REMIND is that all of the messages go straight to parents’ phones. But, they don’t have your phone number and you don’t have theirs. It is genius! REMIND has even launched a new chat feature. I am anxious to try it out this year. Best of all, this is all FREE. Let’s get real, who doesn’t love FREE???


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I post our homework and daily reminders on our classroom blog. I found that once I got in the habit of posting every afternoon, it became part of my daily routine. The key to making a classroom blog work is consistency. If you are hardly ever updating information, parents aren’t likely to check in.


Now it’s time for a bit of honesty… I stopped writing newsletters in December of last year. At first I felt super guilty about it! But then I realized that no one even noticed. There was not a single parent or student who asked about the newsletter. Now I am by no means saying that you should get rid of your newsletter! Especially if it works really well for you. All I am saying is that you shouldn’t feel guilty if something isn’t working. I was spending almost 3 hours writing my monthly newsletter and it just wasn’t a good use of my time.




4) Do NOT email parents about problems.
We have all been there, you get to school on Monday morning after a busy weekend of laminating and lesson planning only to find an email from “that parent” in your inbox. The moment where your stomach does that little flippy thing and you feel like you might be sick. I have found that more often than not, they just needed to get something off of their chest. Unfortunately, you were the virtual punching bag that they chose to use. Whenever I get a lengthy email like that, I simply respond with “Please give me a call so that we can discuss this further.” I have had many parents email me back apologizing and indicating that they have thought more about the issue and that it is not a big deal.


5) Don’t forget the LOVE!
Remember that at the end of the day, we are all just looking out for the best interest of the kids. Once parents see that you love their child and care about them, they will want to have a positive relationship with you!


What are your “go to” methods for parent communication? I would love to hear them in the comments below!