We're Going on a Sentence Hunt...!

Our first chapter in English was on the lovely world of sentences - subjects and predicates, parts of speech, diagramming sentences, and the four types of sentences.
As a review, I showed the students posters of the different types of sentences. I found mine on Pintrest (where else?!) and they have cute little monsters on them with a definition and an example of each sentence type. Here's the link to the 4 Types of Sentences Monster Posters pin

We made a foldable to reinforce the 4 types of sentences.  Each flap is cut on the solid line and the definition and an example goes behind the flap.

The original link can be found here: Types of Sentences Foldable 

Then we do lots of practice identifying the sentence types - around the room, in our textbook, in magazines, in conversation, etc.

We ended our mini-unit by doing a Sentence Hunt. Each student became a detective and was tasked with hunting through a book to find an example of each type of sentence. It gave them real hands-on experience with the different types of sentences:

You can click to check out the "We're Going on a Sentence Hunt" Activity Packet

Here's a picture of our bulletin board showing off our Sentence Hunt skills:

Student Portfolios

Do you have a way of collecting student work throughout the year?

I reserve a drawer in my huge, ancient, crickety teacher desk where I have a hanging folder for each student - this becomes their "portfolio." Throughout the school year I place particularly meaningful assignments, creative projects, and important assessments in their "portfolio."

Sorry it's low quality - I blurred out the student names...but you get the idea of how the portfolio system works.

The parents absolutely LOVE these - it tracks the students' progress and shows their growth from September to June. At conferences, I just pull out the portfolio and show off some of their child's best work. I also put in anecdotal notes or important test scores that serve as talking points. 

The students know that I keep these and often come to me with something they're especially proud of and ask if it can be included in their portfolios. 

At the end of the year, I write a note to each student and add it to their file. I pass out blank file folders to the students and have them decorate them with pictures and words that describe their feelings about 5th grade (hopefully positive!). I then collect the folders and transfer all of the documents in their portfolio to the folder and stick a big rubber band around the whole thing (they get quite fat!).The last couple days of school, I hand out the portfolios and have the students reflect on how far they've come in 5th grade. They choose the piece (or two) that they are most proud of and get to share it with the class. It's an awesome tool in helping them be reflective learners. 

Illustrating Idioms

One of my absolute favorite things to teach is figurative language - I love it when students expand their minds, their vocabulary, and their writing with similes, metaphors, alliteration, personification, etc. (you get the idea...)

One of the most fun things I cover is idioms. They're common expressions that you hear every day - things like "Wow I'm drenched - it's raining cats and dogs out there!" or "don't worry about that now - we'll cross that bridge when we come to it." The students have heard many idioms, but they don't know exactly what they mean. Last year I covered idioms for 2 days, but the students (and me!) loved them so much that this year I decided to do a week-long unit on them.

Here are some of my idiom activities:

1. "Illustrating Idioms" Smartboard file - this is a wonderful children's book that defines what an idiom is as well as giving many common examples and explaining what these really mean. I read it to the class on the Smart Board, but you could also print it out and copy it for the kids to follow along as you read and discuss. 

Click here for the Illustrating Idioms notebook file

2. After we've discussed what an idiom is and common examples, I give them each a slip of paper with an idiom on it. They then have to draw a picture of what the sentence literally says. Then they write a sentence telling what the idiom figuratively means. For example, the picture of "you're pulling my leg" would show a boy literally yanking on his friend's leg. Then they would write "you're pulling my leg means that you're joking or teasing me."
*This is a wonderful bulletin board display*

3. Idioms charades: Students come up and draw an idiom out of an envelope. They then have to silently act it out and have their classmates guess what it is. It's tricky, but the more exposed your students are to a wide variety of idioms, they better they'll do. Here are some examples they can act out or draw:

4. Idiom matching partner game: I bought two sets of plastic cups (1 blue, 1 red). One the blue cups, I print labels with common idioms on them. On the red cups, I put labels with the answers, or what the idiom means. With a partner they match the blue cups with the red cups and fill out this " I got the idea from Teaching to Inspire in 5th and you can access the FREE TPT link here: Barbecuing a Good Time with Idioms but instead of printing out the cups, I used real cups that can stack together. *If you want a copy of my labels, please leave me a comment and I'll send them to you.

I intentionally use a lot of idioms in class this week and in the following weeks for the students to be exposed to them. Whenever I say one, if a student catches it, he/she can raise their hand and say "idiom!" and I reward them for paying attention and remembering. If ever a student doesn't know what an idiom means, I try to use it in a sentence or give an example before I just tell them outright what it means. Idioms are particularly difficult for my students whose first language is not English, so they need extra support and explanations.

I highly encourage you to incorporate idioms into your classroom schedule - don't worry, they're a piece of cake!

Back-to-School Night

Our school's Back-to-School Night was last night and it's always such a fun time to share information and partner with the parents. It was a hug success - I had all but two parents come, and those that did were very eager and supportive. 

The Friday before the event, I sent home an invite to each parent. The school sends home a reminder, but I wanted to also send a personal one from me. Here's what it looked like:

When the parents arrive to the classroom, I have them find their child's desk. On it is a "quiz" where the students have filled out information about themselves (their favorite food, movie, outdoor activity, etc.) and the parents have to guess what they wrote without flipping the paper over. My students write notes to their parents, thanking them for the sacrifices they make, and the parents respond with a note of their own. It's always the first thing a child looks for when they enter the classroom the next day.

I found this idea on Pintrest: click here for my Student-Parent Quiz document

I wrote up a "Fifth Grade Survival Guide" packet for the parents to use a reference for what we're going to cover this year, what my class expectations are, and ways to contact me. I include an overview of each subject, a paragraph about homework, the specials schedule, my contact information, and other important information.

Click here for the Survival Guide
Included on the last page on my "Survival Guide" was my Classroom Wishlist. These are items we use in the classroom and parents can volunteer to bring them in. I wrote them on apples and posted them on my whiteboard, so a parent could take an apple as a reminder of what they wanted to send in. That way, I don't end up with 7 parents each sending in a box of Ziploc sandwich bags. One of the things I emphasize is the donation of gently used or new Childrens books. If they send in books, I stick a label on the inside cover that says, "Donated by the ______ family."

And, as a thank-you for coming, I fill bags with popcorn and staple this note on them:

Classroom Library Lovin'!

Classroom tour continued....

I don't know about you, but one of my favorite places in my room is the classroom library. I want it to be a place where my students want to be. If it's cluttered, disorganized, and bare, then the students won't want to sit and peruse books (frankly - would you ever want to be there?!). 

Here are some pictures of my finished library!


Aren't those bookshelves cute?!? I got the two white ones from Salvation Army for $10 bucks each! Can you say bargain hunter?!? :) The drawers on the shorter one hold games, puzzles, flash cards, my labels and extra library cards, and other miscellaneous reading material.

Wall #1:

The "Tweet Reads" is a "twitter-esque" board where students can post a book recommendation for their classmates. The forms they fill out (in 140 characters or less) can be accessed here: 

Window Wall:

All of my library books are labeled with two stickers: 1. "This book belongs to: Mrs. Lawler" 2. a colored dot that represents the genre. Some of my library books are in baskets (either by author or by topic) while the rest are on bookshelves. I do not level my books as I don't want to limit my readers to choosing from only one shelf. Also, since I have 5th graders, they should be able to pick up a book and tell if it's within their grasp as a reader. 

Click here for my library labels.

When a student wants to check out a book, they fill their library card from the folder, write the date and the book they are checking out. Once they're finished, they put the book in the "Book Return" basket, cross it off their library card, and can peruse for a new book to stretch their imaginations! :) One of my classroom jobs is the "Class Librarian" who sorts through my "Book Return" basket and places them where they belong on the shelves.

Author's Spotlight:

One of the projects that we kick off the year with is decorating a tissue box with a book report (see earlier post for details). Along with that project, the students complete an "Author Study" activity on their author of the book they've chosen. Every week I will replace the "Author Study Spotlight" sheet with one of the students'. To start the year and to show them what I'm looking for, I've created three examples of some of my favorite authors (Gary Paulsen, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Jack Prelutsky). If you would like these examples, please leave a comment. 

Click here for the Author Study blank template

Each student has a reading folder that we use and update all year with different reading strategies, activities, and assignments. One of the first things that goes into the folder is the reading log, where the students record the books that they read throughout the year. We also make a big deal about determining the genre and keeping track of the different books we read by genre, but that will be for a later post :)

Click here for the Reading Log template

The columns are pretty self-explanatory. Here's the breakdown for the last column:

Rating: E=Easy, JR=Just Right, and C=Challenging 

1=didn't enjoy it, trudged through it anyway
3=it was so-so, not one I'd necessarily recommend to someone
5= it was OUTSTANDING! I loved it and want to share it with everyone I know! :)

So there you have it! It's a work in progress and I've been visiting the space with my students each day to remind them how the system works and how they need to behave in the library, or the "Rest Area" :) 

Do you organize your library differently? 
What are some ideas you have for the reading binder/reading centers involving the classroom library?

Look Whoos In Our Room!

This fall I branched out from my travel theme (gasp!) because I saw an idea that was just too cute! I put this display outside my door to welcome each student as they enter the classroom. 95% of my bulletin boards are for displaying my student work/activities. However, for the first day, I like the have one thing that is already up and has their names on it. I see it as a reminder that I've been thinking and planning for them to arrive. We can get so caught up in our room set-up and decor that we forget that actual children are going to be coming in! :)

I'm sure you've noticed that owls are "all the rage" these days. They're everywhere! And I'll admit it: I've been bitten by the owl bug! I can't seem to get enough of them :) I saw this idea on Pintrest (of course!) and here's the link to the original: http://pinterest.com/pin/212443

"Look Whoos In Our Room"


Close-up on the teacher owl. 

I bought this mini rug at Target for $2.50! I LOVE the Dollar Spot - it's my home away from home :) I labeled the owl "Mrs. Lawler" and created a speech bubble that says "We're going to have a HOOT this year!"

Close-up of the student owls:

Each student has an owl with their name on it - the grayish white ones are girls and the brown ones are boys. I recently got two new students, but I had made extra owls, so it was simple to label them and stick them up with the rest of the class. I put together my tree trunk and branches and then just stapled the owls around the limbs. I also taped up the yellow and orange leaves for fall.  I taped them because I plan to change them out per season (no leaves or perhaps snowflakes for winter, green leaves for spring, and blossoming flowers (or perhaps fruit!) for the late spring/summer)

Here's the door to my classroom. The owl display is directly to the right and I have tied it in with a sign from Wal-Mart (88 cents!) that has an owl and says "Welcome to Class." I also framed my window (inside and outside) with a border that says "KIDS AT WORK" to remind my students that when they enter the door, it's learning time!

I cut out my owls (and leaves and tree branches) at the LRC. If you do not have access to the amazing world of the LRC, you can print owls out on the computer or use this website for a free owl template for the students to assemble: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/FREE-Owl-Template-by-Classroom-Compulsion

Procedures, procedures, procedures!

If you ask veteran teachers what the most important thing to accomplish during the first week of school, the majority of them will say this: PROCEDURES! How you're going to do things in your classroom need to be taught and reinforced regularly if you're going to have a smoothly-running classroom. 

If you're a new teacher (or have been teaching for 20 years!) a book you MUST check out is The First Days of School, by Harry and Rosemary Wong. It is chock-full of helpful hints and tips that, if implemented, will make this year your most successful one yet! 

Now, back to what I was saying...
According to Harry Wong, "the number one problem in the classroom is not discipline:  it is the lack of procedures and routines."

A procedure is simply how something is to be done in your classroom. This covers a wide variety of things, from how a student walks into your room in the morning to how they ask for help to how or when they sharpen a pencil. Things that may seem obvious to you (don't use the electric sharpener when the teacher is teaching) aren't always to kids and, just like most things in life, procedures must be taught.

To help out the new teachers at my school, I created a chart of all of the procedures that I teach at the beginning of the year. Now, what works in my classroom may not be how you want to run yours - and that is fine! You have to decide how you want things accomplished - depending on your grade level, your school policies, and your personal preferences.

Here's the chart that I've made. I've listed the classroom event and then provided you with a blank space where you can write in when or how you want it done. You may think that some of these are obvious and you know exactly how you want them done - but even so, I recommend writing down what your procedure will be as a reference. A wise professor once told me - "if you fail to plan, you can plan to fail." Somewhat cheesy, I know - but an important truth.

Click here for my complete Procedures Chart
I left the third page blank so you could fill in any additional procedures that you may find specific need for.

According to Wong, there are three steps in implementing a procedure:
1. Explain:  State, explain, model, and demonstrate the procedure.
2. Rehearse:  Rehearse and practice the procedure under your supervision.
3. Reinforce.  Reteach, rehearse, practice, and reinforce the classroom procedure until it becomes a student habit or routine.

I introduce these procedures the first week, but I continue to teach them throughout the year. Remember, practice makes perfect!

"One of the greatest gifts a caring teacher can contribute to children is to help them learn to sit when they feel like running, to raise their hand when they feel like talking, to be polite to their neighbor, to stand in line without pushing, and to do their homework when they feel like playing.  By introducing procedures in the classroom, you are also introducing procedures as a way of living a happy and successful life."

*Click here for my complete Procedures Chart*
I left the third page blank so you could fill in any additional procedures that you may find specific need for.

Wall Decor That Does More Than Decorate

I have a HUGE classroom, which is absolutely wonderful. But it takes a lot to fill the space. I like the walls to be filled - but filled with purpose! I ponder everything that goes on the wall and ask myself, 

  • "Will this be helpful? Or just a colorful distraction? 
  • "Will the students actually use this? Or will it quickly become below their notice?"
They're valid questions every teacher should ask when setting up/decorating his/her classroom. Many times teachers will just stick store-bought posters on the wall to fill a big empty space. But that is often a waste of money and time - if the kids aren't going to use it or find encouragement from it or be challenged by it - then what's the point? Once you've differentiated between the two, have a ball setting up your room! It's your home-away-from-home (quite literally most of the time!) and it should be a place where you and your students feel welcomed, at home, and comfortable to learn and take risks.

Now I won't be posting a comprehension tour of my classroom until next week, but I did want to give you a sneak preview of some of the things hanging on my walls. I pray you'll be able to see the purpose behind the decor and it will make you pause and think about what you've used to "fill your wall space."

1. Before You Speak - THINK!
Here is a Pintrest Original :) I loved the message, so I trekked on over to my ever-faithful Learning Resource Center to die cut the letters and laminate this beauty. 5th grade is a challenging year for the students, both academically and socially. One way that I promote cooperative learning and kindness is by having them become mindful of what they say to one another (and to me!). I teach at a Christian school, so we discuss what the Bible says about the tongue (it is a powerful - and sometimes destructive - weapon) and edification (building one another up with the words that we say). 

This poster is directly about our "Bucket Fillers" display (I'll be doing an in-depth post about that in the coming weeks - stay tuned!) It's a much-needed reminder and fits perfectly with the idea of filling one another's "buckets" each day.

2. YET
The next one is three simple letters with profound meaning and application. Y E T. Yet. Whenever the students say, "I don't know!" or "I can't do this!" (usually in a whiny, defeated, exasperated voice - you know the one I mean) I just smile and silently point to these letters. You don't know YET. You can't do it YET. But if the students work diligently, try their hardest, and accept help from me, they can be confident that they will know it or will be able to do it.

3. Voice Level Stoplight
In keeping with my Travel Theme (you know I had to bring it up sometime in this post) I've created a stoplight system for not only their behavior, but for their voice levels during various activities. The circles are: 

  • Red = No Talking. Used for silent assignments (tests or quizzes) or if the student group work got out of hand, I'll move it to Red for a minute for the students to re-assess their noise level and conversation topics. The students LOVE to work together and talk about what we're learning, so the minute feels very long and once I move it away from Red, they're much more controlled with their voice levels.
  • Yellow = Whisper voices. Used for partner work, centers, and morning work.
  • Green = Inside voice. Used for group work, Fun Friday, special activities.

4. Mystery Soldiers
This was an idea I stole from my dear Student Teaching teacher (Love you, Mrs. Jones!) and though she used it in 2nd grade, I was amazed at how well it worked with my 5th graders! 

Here's how it works: When students are lining up to leave the classroom, I draw a pospicle stick with one of their names on it, but I don't tell them who it is. As we're walking in the hallway, I watch that student to see if he/she is behaving properly. If so, I make a big deal of announcing it when we reach our destination and then the name gets posted on this board. I put the popsicle stick right back in the can, so they cannot say, "Whew! That was my turn, now I can just goof off until everyone else has had a turn!" If the same name gets chosen again and the “soldier” is successful, then I put a tally mark next to the name. At the end of each month, the “soldier” with the most tally marks wins a prize.
*I've laminated the poster so the first day of each month I erase the names (with nail polish remover) and we start fresh.
*I've also done this with my table groups - I'll choose a whole group to watch and if they are all successful, their names go on the board AND they get 4 points for their team. It's very motivating.

I'll end with this thought once more: re-evaluate what you have covering your walls. If the kids aren't going to use it for information or find encouragement from it or be challenged by it - then what's the point?
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