Sunday, May 28, 2017

Gearing up for the last week!

The last week of the 2016-2017 school year is here! And I'm happy, but I'm also feeling a bit sad.  I have loved this year so much.  Even on the most difficult days, working here has been such a blessing.  I love that I am "teaching" again - something that I had not felt like I was doing during the 2015-2016 school year.  I just don't want this year to end.  But.... it has to.  I can't wait to see what these 93 6th graders do in the future :)

Since my grandma died a few weeks ago, I've had trouble getting back on track.  I got so far behind on grading and packing up my room, that the last several days have been just a race.  I really want to enjoy the end of the year, but it has been CRAZY!

With the school year winding down, I have been teaching all of my favorite end of the year lessons with my kids.  On Friday, we did an activity that I have been doing for years.  It's one of those activities that not only fills me with joy, but it is a final eye-opening moment for my kids: that breakthrough when they realize how everything that you have done this year is intertwined and has a purpose.

I call this activity "connection chains," and I know that there are other versions out there, so if anyone has a more zippy name let me know.  In this activity, students make text to self, text, world, and media connections between everything that we have read all year.  I mean EVERYTHING that we have read: from class novels to choice novels, articles, other subjects texts books, art assignments, their English research papers, and on and on.  Although it starts out as an individual activity, the students then share and work together to complete the tasks.  I love it when they make connections that are so insightful and built off of meaningful discussions with their classmates.  This year I chose 6 "anchor" texts to get the ball rolling: Pictures of Hollis Woods, Esperanza Rising, Bud, Not Buddy, The Cay, Holes, and Four Miles to Pinecone.  I hang the anchor links around the room and the students make connections to each text.

I start with this worksheet.  I've seen others that are similar, but none that I have found include the writing component that I added.  In my book, writing = thinking.  This year I printed the tasks on several colors of paper and let the students pick their starting color.  (In the olden days, hehe, I just cut up strips of paper ahead of time and had the kids write everything on them.  I found that this led to a bit of disorganization and always confusion - especially from the kids that maybe didn't "hear" the directions).

So, the kids attach their connection links to the six anchor texts around the room.  By the end of the day, the 6 chains are pretty long, since all four periods made connections during the day.  The kids all ask what we are going to do with the chains, and I always say, "I haven't decided yet.  Any good ideas?"  I then hang them up during my prep or after school, and I always get the same reaction.  It is the best part!  To see the kids faces when they walk in and see their work hanging from the ceiling is so awesome.  It's like they forget they are "big kids" for a little bit.  This year was no exception.  Every class was so excited to see their work displayed like this - they all had a part in the creation. (This year is especially cool because I didn't have a single student absent on the day we did this, so it truly is a creation made by every student.)  This is that big "ah-ha" moment that melts every teacher's heart.  That moment that we can see the growth our students have made, and receive affirmation that they are ready to be sent on to the next year.  Can you tell how much I love this activity?  The discussions about the various connections that we had were amazing and inspiring.  (I wish I would have recorded some of them.)

Here are some pics of our chain this year:

Remember when I said that my room used to be a closet?  Now you have proof!  It's teeny tiny, dark and dank.  It's currently a disaster, as I have already started taking things down and getting ready for summer.  (What's the saying? It always gets worse before it gets better?) That wall that you are looking at?  Will be torn down the day after school gets out to make my room bigger.  I am coping with this total mess right now as I pack EVERYTHING up.  I've already taken down and stashed away many of the items that made this room feel like an energized classroom, so these chains have kind of helped to add a festive spirit to the end of the year.   The kids were so excited, that many of them took more link sheets home to make more connections over the weekend.

Hear are a few more shots:

These chain worksheets are part of my TPT set, End of the Year Activities for ELA.  We also started the Literature Mosaics from the same set, so I will post pics next week.

Have a great Memorial Day everyone!


Monday, May 15, 2017

A Tough Week

My post tonight is short and sweet.  This past week my family lost someone special to us.  Blogging has not felt right.  I've struggled to stay focused on teaching, when my heart is elsewhere.  Tomorrow my family and I will travel 300 miles to celebrate a life that shaped my own.  Again - so hard to be a good teacher this week...

Today in class, I realized that there are only 12.5 days left of school.  So even though I am broken, I decided to come up with an activity that helps students reflect on their growth this year.  We've worked a great deal on developing a growth mindset, so I came up with a "last week of school" activity to go with those lessons, and really wrap up a great year.

I think it will be fun:

So, even in the midst of my struggles, I did get some good news.  My boss talked to me today about expanding my class room.  I hope that it goes through!  No more room that is the size of a closet! (It really was a storage closet.)  Anyway, life goes on....


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Interactive Bookmarks

Interactive Bookmarks are my jam.  Seriously.

I've been using them for years and I truly believe that they not only reinforce skills, but also engage readers in critical thinking.  This year with my 6th graders, the kids have completed them primarily with their choice reading novels; however, before I came to this school, I had used them for all different purposes.

Anyway, when I designed my latest batch, I made sure that they had everything that I could possibly squeeze into on them.  Over the years I have bought so many different styles of bookmarks, usually practicing just one skill.  I wanted something that could be used for an entire novel that required the practice of more than one skill or concept.  I made both a fiction one and a nonfiction one, because the skills required are definitely different.  They are both double sided and foldable so they tuck easily into a book.  What I have really loved this year is watching the growth from the beginning of the year up until now.  When they did their first book marks in September, it provided me with a great assessment of where they needed to go this year.  From then moving forward, I have had another "assessment" batch every month, and the growth of thinking has been fantastic.

Here are some snapshots of the bookmarks:



Here is a listing of what is on the bookmarks:

I have both of these bookmarks on TPT separately and part of a discounted bundle.  They really are one of my most favorite tools.  Keeping thinking going is both a challenge and an inspiration, and these bookmarks have always served that purpose for me.  Enjoy!


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Stay on Target

Oh my goodness!  The kids are so squirrelly lately!  It's May and they have so much going on, and they know the end of the year is almost here.  Last week was a challenge, and it is only going to become more so.  And our kids have MAP testing this week - tomorrow actually.  Yikes!

This morning as I sat brainstorming for some new games and such to engage kids in our lessons, I saw a bunch of different bulletin boards on Pinterest designed for end of the year motivation.  I had a really cute one I did when I worked in the suburban public school with 1st and 2nd graders, but I never used it in the urban public schools, and it doesn't seem fitting for my students, or our school, right now.  I am always blown away by Pinterest posts.  Where do these people work that they have extra bulletin boards to use on stuff like this instead of curriculum materials?  And the size of these rooms?  Wowza.  I have worked in a "hoity-toity" public school, urban public schools, and now a excellent private school, and I have never had more than 1 bulletin board.  (In the "hoity-toity" school, I didn't have any - just white boards that I taped paper to and pretended I had a bulletin board.  And a pole.  I had pole I taped things to from time to time.)  My rooms have always been small.  Right now I can't even walk between the tables in my room when the students are in there!  Anyway, moving on....

Since we've established that I am moderately jealous of Pinterest teachers who have bulletin boards, I will show you my solution.

So, I saw several bulletin boards with this saying, and since I'm still reveling in my environmental camp, archery glory, it seemed to be appropriate.  It is a powerpoint, so I can change the number of days left.  I also made a blank one (just 8 1/2 x 11) to laminate and hang outside my door.  I think I will post the powerpoint one with my homeroom on Monday for the next two weeks, and then the small sign and the PP everyday after that.

I could probably put the blank one in my TPT store as a Freebie - not sure that anyone would want it.  Maybe if I post a pic of a laminated one with the number written in dry erase marker on it.  Anyway, I'm hoping that just a simple reminder might help at least one person remember to bring a pencil!

We have a busy week ahead at school: MAP testing, May Crowning, math placement assessments, the school art showcase, and a pops concert.  Should be a fun one.  Hard to stay focused with so much going on in addition to course work.

Tomorrow I'm going to post my foldable bookmarks that I have my kids use when they complete their monthly choice reading projects.  I have been using them for years and they work really well.  The kids all got their new ones for this month last week, so hopefully I will have some pictures that I can post of bookmarks in use.

Have a good week!


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

End of the Year Activities for Literature & English Classes!

I'm sad the year is coming to an end.  Truly.  Switching to this school has been fantastic.  I hope I can be here for awhile.  This year is especially hard because not only have I really connected with these kids, but I have seen so much growth.  Serious growth.  This weekend as I was lesson planning, I started to think about how much I want the kids to recognize their own growth.  I started pulling out all of my old "end of the year" activities, that to be honest, were simply filler activities to get through the last week of school, and I realized that they all had one of the three criteria that I wanted for the end of this year: they were fun.  But I realized that they were missing a genuine connection to our classwork from this year.  I didn't just want them to be fun, but I want the students to have a chance to apply what they have learned and reflect upon how far they have come this year.  I wish I could be the 7th grade teacher who gets to teach them next year.  They are so prepared.  Anyway, I took all of those activities and reworked them so that they would have all three of the pieces I wanted.

One of my favorite activities is a Literature Class Mosaic.  Our school completed an awesome activity this year where every student in the school contributed to a mosaic mural of our building.  It was breathtaking.  (Not exaggerating at all here - when I first saw it all put together I got chills.)

To continue with that idea, I created an activity where the kids create a square about their favorite things from the year: a class novel, favorite quote, characters, favorite assignment, etc.  I plan to put the board together and have it up in my room to start next year.  I'm super excited to do this.  I think it will be especially great for open house.

All of these activities can be found in a set in my TPT store; however, I'm going to put the mosaic activity up as a freebie.  The set includes all sorts of things: plot diagram of the year, letter writing activities, Top 5 lists, making connections, etc., etc..  Looking forward to a great month of May!


Here's the freebie-

And here is my full set of activities:

Tuesday, May 2, 2017


Back at it this week, and it's been a rough start.  Really rough.

Exhibit A
This is after being at school for just a few hours.

Well, even though my desk looks like the scene of a misdemeanor, some really great things have been going on in class.  Regardless of a post camp hang-over, the kids are excited about our last novel of the year: Esperanza Rising.  This book connects so well to the rest of the novels we have read this year, as well as to our 5th-6th grade perseverance program.  Anyway, I designed an activity a few weeks back, and tried it with a few lit circles.  The kids really loved it, so I am going to use it with our whole class novel.  I'm super pumped.

So, what I did was take regular discussion questions ranging from setting to citing text evidence (and everything in between), and made them a little bit more fun to get us through the last few weeks of the year.  I created a hashtag activity!  My 6th graders are super into "hashtagging" everything, so they really like it.  Here are some pics:

I put them on binder rings.
I like the ones on colored paper because
I have the tasks separated by concepts/tasks. 
(setting, theme, plot, etc.)

This is my favorite part!  
It's a chart to keep track of what cards I've assigned
or that the kids have chosen to make sure we have 
covered them all.

I also printed out the response sheets, 
although you really don't need them,
because I like that the kids have some accountability
at this point in the year.

The cards cover setting, character, conflict, theme, plot, citing text evidence, literary elements, and critical thinking/opinions.  Tomorrow I am assigning 1 from each category, and I'm excited to see how this pushes the kids to a new, critical thinking level. 

I put the cards up on my TPT store - I hope other teachers find them as enjoyable as I have!

So, even though my desk exploded, good things are still happening, even late in the year!

Peace out~