Saturday, August 22, 2015

Bright Idea: Quiet Dice!

I absolutely love for my students to play math games with dice... but I do NOT love 25 students dropping them on their desk tops, or rolling them across the room. Hence, this month's bright idea:

Yes, you CAN have students playing math games at their desk without hearing that constant clatter. The solution? This aisle in Hobby Lobby (or whatever your local craft store may be):


They have every color and design of felt you can imagine. The plain colors only cost a quarter, so I went with those. 

Now, just like with every other routine in your classroom, you have to teach them HOW to play with dice and roll them on the felt. We practice together... and during stations, if I hear dice, they get one warning. The next time, they have to put up the dice for that day and I give them a "not-so-fun" review activity to do instead. It only takes one warning!! I've never had a student actually have to put the dice away. :)

So, how DO you roll dice without making noise or having them rolling across the room? First pick up the dice and "make a bubble" around them. Explain you want the dice to move in your hands but you don't want them to ESCAPE. 
Shake the dice gently, then put the sides of your wrists on the felt, before opening your hands. (Let your students know this is an important step to keep the dice from flying...)

Super easy, right? But believe me. They will need to practice. You'd be amazed at how many think by squeezing the dice and shaking their hands, the numbers are moving around on the dice. HA!

Good luck, and I hope this helps save a little sanity during math stations. :)

If you enjoyed this bright idea, please consider joining me on FacebookInstagram, or my TPT Store for more great ideas.

For more bright ideas from other bloggers, please browse through the link-up below and choose a topic/grade level that interests you. Thanks for visiting!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Today is the day! TPT BOOST SALE!

I hope your school year has gotten off to a great start! 

Today is the day..the TPT BOOST sale is happening RIGHT NOW! 
Those of you that have followed me for a while know that all of my products are kid-tested! 

Need paired texts? Differentiated math stations? Interactive notebooks for language arts? Wanting to integrate science or social studies? How about mentor sentences? Visit my store for 28% off of EVERYTHING today only- even printed hard copy books and bundles!

Don't forget the code: MORE15! (I have totally forgotten before...)

Enjoy your shopping! :)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Back to School in a Flash: Student Engagement

I have been watching this awesome linky series, and have just run out of time to link up each week. I'm excited to finally be able to link up with these fabulous ladies (on the last week LOL) to share with you how I keep students engaged in the classroom!

I do NOT believe in a quiet classroom. My students are constantly in discussion about what they are learning, either with a partner, a group, or with me. Here are four things I do to keep an engaged (but not obnoxiously loud) classroom.
First, I teach them to stop talking. I think we can all agree, kids know how to talk, no problem. But when I want them to stop, I need them to stop right then! I don't really use anything else from the Whole Brain Teaching Program except for the "Class-Yes" attention-getter. It is so easy to use, and works EVERY TIME. Definitely use the variations to keep them interested. Here is a video if you don't know what I'm talking about:
I let my students choose their partner a lot. I realized early-on in my teaching career that students who don't want to work together often WON'T do their best with each other. Now, does that mean they don't need to learn how to work together? Of course not. But, I'd rather my students work HARD with someone because they enjoy and work well with that person, especially when we only have a short time to get something done.
To make sure students aren't SCREAMING over each other to be heard at a table, I usually have mine spread out around the room- some may choose to stay at their seat with a partner, but most like to sit on the floor. If they are working with a partner on the floor, they should be sitting knee-to-knee. This helps with volume as well as respectful listening.
Students can learn so much from each other. It also really implants the information into their brain when they can talk about what they have learned. My students complete a group project once a quarter about a science or social studies topic. I choose their groups for them so that there is a variety of learning styles in the group. I'd rather them do it at school than at home because, a.) I can help them if they aren't understanding, b.) they are doing it, not their parents, and, c.) they don't wait until the night before to get it done. :)

I hope this post gives you some ideas for keeping students engaged in your classroom. Check out more ways to keep students engaged from some other fabulous bloggers:

Saturday, August 15, 2015

What Is Interactive Notetaking?

Interactive notetaking is the BEST way to get information to "sink in" for your students. I first learned about it five years ago at a staff development session and never looked back. Give it a try with your students, and I bet you'll feel the same- especially when you see how much they ENJOY it!

If you do a search on the internet for this topic, you will find that there are all different types of strategies. I am going to share the one that has worked for me in my classroom. In my room, we use colored pencils to key our paragraphs, then we use those same colors to write phrases and draw pictures that represent the important information learned in a passage. I LOVE using this strategy in science and social studies, but you could use it in any subject! It is really just a fancy way of doing close reading. :o)

Interactive notetaking is active learning because it helps students understand what is important in a text and allows them to represent what is important in their own way. It also helps students use BOTH parts of their brain!
The left brain "controls" the right side, and the right brain "controls" the left side. For this reason, anything I give them gets glued on the right side of the notebook- this is the "control." And anything they write or draw goes on the left side of the notebook- this is their "connection and creativity."
Color is VERY important with interactive notetaking. Students will box each paragraph with a different color. As they read, paragraph by paragraph, they should use the color of THAT paragraph to represent what they have learned. I highly recommend colored pencils- markers bleed, and crayons are hard to read when they start getting rounded ends. I have my students keep a handheld pencil sharpener with a shavings catcher at their desk- this keeps them from jamming my nice electric ones, and from getting up and down to sharpen. (They sharpen every five minutes at first, but then once they realize they are "eating" their pencils, the novelty wears off and they only use it when necessary!)

The first several weeks of school (and even sometimes later in the year when I really want to make sure they understand what they are reading), we do interactive notetaking together. Once I see they have the hang of it, I let them work in partners to read, dissect, and represent their passage. This is one of their favorite activities, and little do they know, they are learning so much by talking about what they are going to write/draw and why!

Sometimes there are more words and phrases than drawings. It depends on the topic.
You can find great {free} articles on on several science, social studies, and math topics (the two examples above are from there)- and they are sorted by grade level readability! You could do this with any article, of course.

**Copy Hack: If the page is too big for the notebook, copy it at 85%, cut off the white edges on the bottom and side, and BOOM. Perfect fit!**

We sometimes use annotating symbols as we do interactive notetaking, too. You'll see in the passage below, I had them draw a cloud around tricky words, then we defined them in the margins.
Get this free Columbus passage here!
You can also see above that this can be done with a graphic organizer! Students are guided to find information in their passage, and they use the color to show where the information came from.

Once students have finished their notes, they should be able to read back what they have learned. I have them sit with a partner and talk in complete sentences to summarize the notes they have drawn and written on the left side of their notebook.

This is also a great study tool. When we do interactive notetaking, my students are required to take home their notebook that night... they fold their notebook in half so that they can see their notes and a parent or older sibling can see the article. They should do just as they did in class and summarize their notes- and the person on the other side of the notebook should be able to follow along in the article, so they know if the child is not understanding.

Need passages? Check out the freebies in my store, as well as the complete sets!

I'm linking this up with another fabulous blogger and teacher- Joanne at Head Over Heels for Teaching! Interactive notetaking is absolutely a motivator for students... who wants to just "sit and get?" Not me! My students absorb so much using this strategy!
Do you have any fun notetaking strategies you use? I'd love to hear about them in the comments!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Why the Workshop Model? {Freebies Included!}

I absolutely love the Workshop Model. Love, as in big puffy-heart-love. I love it so much, I used to run a linky called Workshop Wednesday- you can see the past posts here if you are interested. And so do my kids! With so many levels and abilities of students within one classroom, it is just not possible to reach all of your kiddos through ONLY whole group lessons. Differentiation is the best part of the workshop model! Kids feel successful because they are working on their level. You feel successful because you see light bulbs going off as you work with your students in small groups. It's a win-win!

Get ready for a long, informative post...
but with freebies, so it's worth it, I promise!

With the workshop model, there is still a whole group lesson, but it is a mini-lesson: no more than 20 minutes. The mini-lesson should teach a grade level standard. I like to use the I DO-WE DO-YOU DO method where I show them a skill, then we work together to do it, then they try it on their own or with a partner. This keeps my lesson short and sweet. If you already follow me, you know I LOVE content integration. When I can, I try to use mentor texts to cover several skills. I can read a great book to them once, then just go back into that book to the parts we need to review for other lessons. It helps save time (because as much as I'd love to read a book at every lesson, we know those would usually NOT be mini-lessons). Here is a freebie you can use in math AND during writing for mentor sentences! (Not familiar with mentor sentences? Click here!)
The book, A Remainder of One, is pretty short, so you could use it as your math mini-lesson and have the students complete the interactive activity with you while you read. (This is one lesson included in my Math Mentor Sentences with MATH Interactive Notebook Activities.)

**There ARE days when whole group time needs to be extended longer than 20 minutes. You don't want this to be every day, but there are definitely some skills that are hard to introduce in 20 minutes. On these days, you may not get to small groups.**

Your small groups should not be the same lesson delivered to four different groups. You might as well just teach whole group every day if you want all of your students to receive the same lesson! Your small groups are where the differentiation happens. Now, this does not mean you can't teach the same skill to more than one group... we want students to move along the spectrum of understanding from concrete to abstract. Maybe you are working with students on multiplication in small groups: some students will need to use manipulatives to build arrays, some will be able to draw the arrays, while others will be "counting by 5's" to solve.
One important thing to note is that you can NOT fly by the seat of your pants with a Workshop Model. Planning is so important... not only knowing what your mini-lesson will be... but also who you will be pulling in small groups, what skills you will cover, and what you will need to teach that skill. Then of course, you need the plan for what the rest of the students are doing, too.

Enjoy these free lesson plan organizers to help you plan for your workshops! Click on the link or the images below to automatically download them to your computer.
These freebies are included in two products in my store! Last summer, I released a guide to Launching Reading Workshop to help you see how I run Reading Workshop in my classroom. Setting it up is the crucial part- getting the rituals and routines going early on will guarantee a successful year.

I am excited to announce I have just released my guide to Launching Math Workshop!
I absolutely love my rainbow colored ten-cart drawer, and I have used it for my stations for a few years. This new guide is colored to match, but you do not have to have the ten-cart drawer to use it.
Just like my Reading Workshop guide, the Math Workshop guide lays out how I establish routines in my classroom, how I determine groups, and how I set up my stations. It also includes two differentiated stations for each of the four rotations to get you started! I will also be creating more differentiated station sets (sold separately).

Stations are important to differentiate as well, because you don't want students to feel frustrated while they are working away from you. I like to use math games as much as possible because then students don't really feel like they are working. Here is a free game my students love- it is also included in Launching Math Workshop.
There is another version in the complete set that only goes to 1,000... but you could even differentiate this game by providing different dice!
Using ten-sided dice will provide a challenge because they will have to strategically place the big numbers in order to not go over 1,000,000. An easier version would be with six-sided dice.

I hope this helps get you started on the right foot this school year with workshops! To celebrate, I am having a sale on my Launching Reading Workshop, Launching Math Workshop, and Math Mentor Sentences with MATH Interactive Activities sets through Tuesday, August 11! Enjoy!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Buying Books on a Budget!

I get asked all the time (because of all of the books in my mentor sentence units), "where do you get all of your books?" Unfortunately, I never have a good answer because I'm an Amazon Prime Member and I just buy, buy, buy! Some people buy purses and shoes, I'm a bookaholic. I buy BOOKS!

But I decided to do a little bit of research and find out some other places you can get your books, especially for those of you on a budget. :) Of course, the free way is to not buy at all... Visit your local or school library! But if you are like me and want your OWN copy, here are some sites to check out: has new and used books- you don't have to buy directly from Amazon! If you don't mind a used book, that's often the best way to go, because you do still have to pay shipping... but like with this example, the used (like new) copy of this book is less than $9 with shipping instead of $14.30 for new (Prime price) or $16.95 without Prime. 
You definitely will want to check out! They have great deals on used books AND you get free shipping in the US on orders over $10!
As you may know, shipping can sometimes be what makes that "bargain book" not such a bargain... well this next website has you covered, too! has free shipping on orders over $50, but otherwise, $3.99 flat rate.
Half Price Books is a great site to find used books as well! You never pay more than half the cover price... there is shipping: $3.99 per book, but $2.99 for additional books from the same store.

Another website I found that often has coupon codes is They have the same shipping prices as Half Price Books.

As I mentioned, sometimes the shipping really gets you, but if you can find several books on one site, that definitely helps make your books a bargain!

Do you have any other sites you love to shop for books? Share in the comments! :)

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Light a Fire With a Good Book ~ and a HUGE Giveaway!

Well, here it comes... for some of you, it has already come! For others, it comes Monday... and still others, you have a month or more! No matter when you go BACK TO SCHOOL, it's August, so school is on your brain if you are a teacher.

Several of us bloggers have come together to give you some awesome ideas for Back to School Books! These books can be used to set up your classroom community, begin a good lesson, or just as a fun read-aloud... and there might be a couple giveaways in it for you, too!
The book I'd like to share with you is called The Golden Rule.
This book describes the ONE rule in my classroom... Treat others the way you want to be treated!

Another super-cute, fun book is Do Unto Otters, which addresses the same idea!
I post "The Golden Rule" in my room, and it is the only rule we follow because it really covers them all. I have students describe what they can do to display "The Golden Rule" in our classroom, and it's always all the things you would have on a do/don't do list in the class! They really start to understand "putting yourself in someone else's shoes."

Since The Golden Rule is the first book I read, it also makes the perfect first mentor sentence lesson, too! (Don't know what mentor sentences are? Read here!) You can find this lesson, and nine others, in the first unit of VOLUME 2 Mentor Sentences for grades 3-5!

This unit is also part of a money-saving bundle - all four units of mentor sentences in Volume 2 are in this bundle... you'll be set for the whole year!
And have you heard? Teachers Pay Teachers is having a site-wide Back to School Sale August 3rd and 4th, and all the single items in my store will be marked down 20%, plus TPT will give 10% off using the promo code BTS15! Bundles will be marked down 10%, and you can still use the promo code to get an additional 10% off!

We know what else really "lights a fire" in you, and that is fabulous technology! We are giving away a brand new Kindle Fire HD6 to one lucky winner! 
Enter the rafflecopter below by hopping through each of our blogs and entering the secret word that can be found on the tablet in each of our posts. Also make sure to follow our TPT stores because the winner will be announced through a message in your TPT inbox! 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

We are also giving away a $25 gift certificate to Creative Teaching Press!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Good luck! We hope you have a successful start to your school year! Now head over to Amelia's blog for another awesome book idea!