Monday, September 28, 2015

Writing at the Middle School Level

This is Lyndsey from Lit with Lyns, and I'm here to discuss how I implement writing at the secondary level!  As you know, w/ the Common Core shift, writing has become even more important than ever!  In 6th grade, students must be able to develop strong argumentative and informative writing skills...and although kids are great at arguing at this age, they're often not so great at organizing their thoughts into a cohesive essay.  Last year I knew there was a good chance this would be a requirement on end of year testing, so I constantly found myself trying to think of ways to explain each step of the writing process to them...particularly the argumentative writing process.

I decided to break down this process by using student writing samples, which I found here on Achieve the Core and on the Common Core Standards website.  Both have a lot of great samples, and Achieve the Core has lessons that go along w/ the samples, as well!

Using one of the student samples, I broke down each paragraph and highlighted each element that should be included in an argumentative essay.  This allowed my students to have a visual of what their own essay would need.

Then, I also created task cards that would serve as a review of these elements.  This proved to be a great way for the kids to show that they understood the process.  Using the task cards, students were also required to add (for example) a third body or conclusion paragraph, based on the 3 main ideas that were being addressed in the essay. You can get the full product here!

I must say, this was an incredible asset in helping my students be able to construct their own argumentative and persuasive essays.  They gained a much better understanding of the entire process by going through each step...paragraph by paragraph.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Evidence Based Instagram Activity

As much as we all use Facebook, our students think it's some strange, obsolete social media that only their parents and grandparents use. (I'll admit, my grandma is an avid Facebook user, and I love it!) So we created an Instagram activity that can be used for any character in any book, poem, play, etc. We wanted to find a way to get our students engaged while also incorporating what we are always seeking as teachers - EVIDENCE BASED activities.

Here's a student example from our study of The Outsiders from last year.

We love this product because it:
- allows for creativity and student freedom
- engages students with an activity that they can relate to and CARE about
- asks students to incorporate evidence directly from the text
- requires students to justify their reasoning in their choices

Our Evidence Based IG Activity is a FREEBIE in our TPT store, so make sure to head over there and download!

We'd love to see how you use this activity in your classroom, so please share your pictures!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Baseball: Test Review Students Love!

Hi, all! Mandy from Caffeine and Lesson Plans here to share a bit about the way I review for tests in my classroom.

First of all, I gotta give it up to my fabulous teammate for bringing this idea to us when she transferred in from another school. It's seriously genius

Planning lessons to engage and motivate my kiddos is one of my favorite things to do. Seriously! Research shows that they are more likely to learn when they are engaged- we all know that. Beyond that, I just enjoy my day a lot more when we get to have fun! If the kids are happy, they are more likely to participate and listen. Motivation is especially important on test review day. Fifth grade is the first year of middle school in my district, so the kids are getting used to a higher level of independence. A great motivational and engaging review day activity is just what they need. Higher engagement and interest means better recall, which means better test scores. Win for everyone! So, what do I do? We play baseball!

To start, I project this image on my whiteboard. The kids are broken up into random groups, and each group is given a different color dry erase marker.  I have a practice test, a bucket of numbers, and a bucket of "runs." This will make sense soon, I promise.

Each group comes up and chooses a number from the bucket. Whatever number they get is the problem we will all be working on from the practice test.

The group works together to get an answer. Everyone has to talk with their group, even if they are unsure. This lets the kids that really understand the topic help those who don't understand as well. While they are working, all the other groups are trying to solve it, too. If the group that is "up to bat" gets it wrong, it goes to the next group with no additional time to work. You have to be ready with your answer when the question comes to you! This keeps them all working and on task because they never know when they will have the opportunity to score another point. Once everyone is ready, the group answers. If they get it right, they get to choose from the "run" bucket.

The choices are:

  • Single - move one base
  • Double - move two bases
  • Triple- move three bases
  • Homerun- score!
  • Steal- steal the next base if you are already on base. If you were out last time, you can't steal!
  • Out - your player is off the diamond and back to the dugout. 

 Here's where the diamond comes in. The designated hitter from the group draws their player on the correct base, depending on what they choose. This is totally their favorite part.

Since there are so many teams playing, it can look like the bases are loaded pretty easily. My kids that LOVE sports debated this with me for a while, because they thought they should get 3 points if they got a homerun. However, if the bases are loaded with other teams, I don't think that counts. :) 

Every time a player reaches home, the scorekeeper records one point in the scoreboard. The game gets really exciting near the end, because depending on what a group draws they could win it all or lose it all in just one turn. 

So, there it is! Test review with baseball. This game is a great way to help kids work collaboratively, ensure engagement, and practice for an upcoming test. I'm a big fan- and I hope you can use it in your classroom, too!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Organization in a Middle School Classroom!

Hello everyone!  Julia from History from the Middle here with some tips and tricks on staying organized in a middle school classroom!

Here are some easy to do tips and tricks I use in my history class.  I teach 6 different sections of history, 3 7th grade and 3 8th grade.  The first thing I do, is organize all of my classes into "colors".  I then have colored containers that go with each period.  So, they know when they turn something in, to turn it into their period and their colored container.  I have these containers labeled on bookshelves in my classroom, so students can easily see them, and can turn in things at any time!

I also have easy to grab caddies for needed supplies.  Each caddie has glue sticks, markers, crayons and a stapler for students to use.  I also have containers with highlighters and dry erase markers when we need them in class!

I also organize each of my desks by numbering them.  Each seat number also has a specific job.  Set #1 is my Materials Manager.  They are in charge of getting supplies for their table mates.  Seat #2 get to choose a job.  I have several different class jobs that they can choose from such as class leader, secretary, tech helper, first aid, teacher/sub help.  Finally, seat #3 is my table leader.  This student will be the reporter for their table for various class discussions, or just the student to help organize their table as we work in collaborative groups.  Also, each table is a specific color that matches the color of their supplies caddy!

I also use my color coded organization on my student work display wall.  Each period is represented by the color-backing, and then I choose 15 from that class to display on the wall!  This has made a GREAT and EASY way for me to represent all 6 of my classes!

I'd love to hear what types of organization YOU use in your classroom!  Please share below!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Fun with Bio Poems!

(huge thanks to Kimberly Geswin fonts! I'm addicted!)

Hi all,

Shana from Hello Teacher Lady here.  

I hope everyone is off to a wonderful start this year. My 7th graders just finished up one of my favorite beginning-of-year activities, the Bio Poem. It's perfectly themed for a language arts class and it helps me learn a ton about my students in a short period of time. 

I used this amazing free resource, Bio Poems Made Easy, by Laura Candler.  I made a handout for students with the planning boxes on one side and the template on the other. This is a great time to talk to students about the importance of planning in writing and the difference between a draft and the final copy. I noticed that many of my students at first tried to skip the planning boxes and went straight to the template, so I made sure to really stress the planning stage and modeled filling in the boxes and narrowing down ideas myself (now my students know I'm afraid of snakes, fish and chainsaws -- hope they don't make of me too much). 

Once they finish filling in their template and are happy with their draft, I give them the blank sheet to create their final copy. Since my end goal is to hang them in my room and I have 100+ students, I decided to scale the final copy sheet down to fit two on a page. 

Now I'm able to sit back and read with amazement while learning a bunch of interesting things about my kids, and I also have some fun and creative student work to display for parents at curriculum night. It's a win-win! 

My almost-complete Bio Poem board!
I also really like the idea of extending the Bio Poem idea to fictional characters or historical figures. I think we'll give it a shot during our Investigating Characters unit this year.

Thanks for stopping by!

Back to School Tidbits

Hey everyone!! I hope that the beginning of your school year has been very productive. I, personally, feel like I am finally getting into a rhythm. It's amazing how much less stressed you are when things begin to settle down! Today, I wanted to share a few tips that work for me in my classroom that you can use to survive the rest of your school year.

1) Create a to-do list. I accomplish more when I write it down immediately and cross it off when completed. And you don't even necessarily need a planner for this! Sticky notes on your desk do the job as well. There is something thoroughly satisfying about marking through the to-do list. Without this, I truly believe I would feel constantly behind. The completed to-do list allows me to have some closure to enjoy my time off.

2) Use your conference period to your advantage. Too many teachers chat during their conference period instead of getting work done. I challenge you to spend at least 2 conference periods a week shut away in your room the entire 45 minutes and no chatting with peers. You will be amazed by how much you can get done. By making this guarantee to myself has increased my productivity tremendously. I do not take as much home as I used to.

3) Be sure to always plan ahead for what you will need next school year. In the spring, I created these supplemental aids rings for my special ed students. They were constantly losing the ones I gave them at the beginning of the year, and I spent the majority of my time before the state standardized test redoing them. I realized I needed a way to make sure they are always with my students when they need them. What better way to do that than by attaching them to their notebooks?! As you can see, the notebooks have already become well-used and not a single child has lost their supplemental aids. Given the fact that we are already 4 weeks into the school year, I will take this as a major win!!

I hope that I was able to give you some ideas for making your school year great. I am sure that these are things you are already aware of, but sometimes we teachers need reminders to save our sanity. I hope that you have a fantastic rest of your school year!!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Top 3 Back to School Wins!

This year, I am teaching an all special needs learning strategies class at my middle school.  I have 17 students each with their own specific needs and my job on paper is to teach them various skills like communication skills, executive functioning, and self-determination.  Translated, that means teaching organization to the students who are typically the most disorganized!

So I tried some new things this year for back to school and decided to share the top 3 things that worked the best for me!

Have you ever heard of or read this book?   It's the story of how soldiers convinced the townspeople to help them make "stone soup".  Everyone contributed a little something and the final product was a feast!

My students had not heard of this book and even though they were off kilter from learning new schedules, they were silent as I read this book.  Not just silent - they were into it!  This was perfect because of the message we were able to glean from the book - that we all have something to contribute and if we work together, we can make something great!  We put what we have to share on interactive notebook foldables and then I put them up on our "expert wall":

These activities and more were part of my new Back to School pack:

The first topic that we are exploring in class is growth mindset.  I wanted students to think about how they communicate to themselves before we begin to work on communicating with others.   So, after learning about not giving up when things were hard, we played this "cups" game.

Each group of students was given one "tool" - a rubber band with four pieces of yarn tied to it.  Using only the tool, the students had to work together to move the cups into pyramids and then stack the cups all into one sleeve.

They loved this game!  They cooperated, participated appropriately and did not give up!  This was a major win because up until this point all the change of a new year definitely had my students acting out.

Part of teaching organization is requiring the students to fill in their planner in all their classes.  As many of my students are 6th graders this year, they eat the earliest lunch.  They were coming to me the last period of the day and they were hungry!  

So I told them that if they had their planner filled out for every class, that they would earn a snack.  So, as I check planners, I pass out small dixie cups to those who have their planners filled in.  While the bell work is being completed, I fill the cups.  This week it was goldfish crackers.  You would think they were made of real gold the way the kids are working for them!  Almost all planners are now filled in and you won't hear a word during bell work as they are all munching away!

It's not all sunshine and roses, but I think we are off to a good start and I thank you for joining me to celebrate our success!  

Leave a comment to tell all about your back to school wins!


Friday, September 11, 2015

A Checklist Manifesto for Teachers

Have you read The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande?  He proposes that the simple checklist will help streamline complex tasks and reduce errors.
The primary focus and anecdotes of his book deal with the medical field, but the take away is that in the midst of a complicated, multi-step process, a checklist helps us avoid mistakes and omissions.

When I finished reading this book, I cheered.  I felt validated!  Yay!  I am not crazy for loving my checklists!
In this back-to-school post, I want to share my own "checklist manifesto" ... middle-school style.

When to use a checklist

  • I use checklists whenever students are working on a multi-step task:  writing assignments, projects, book talks, or project-based learning.  Using the checklist helps me know that students are progressing in their work. 
  • I also use a checklist to quickly mark daily homework that is completed, but might not be taken for a grade.  Since I don't always collect homework, the checklist helps me see who has completed the work and who has not.  
  • A checklist helps me track when and how often I conference with a student during workshop time.  
  • I can use it to record participation grades.
My clipboard, my friend

  • I keep my checklist on a clipboard that I can easily use as I wander around the room monitoring students at work.  I use a simple shorthand to make quick notes.
  • Be sure to keep a cover sheet over your clipboard to ensure students privacy, and always return your clipboard to a safe place!  I keep mine in the same place on my desk.  That way, I never have to worry about losing it.
Other benefits

  • When using a checklist for a project, you are really creating all the steps required to complete the project and you're creating a gradebook page.  This is a wonderful resource for student or parent conferences when you want to talk about work habits.
  • A checklist is really a formative assessment.  You can see what areas need to be retaught -- even if you're just using a - or + notation on your checklist.
  • Anecdotal evidence at your fingertips.  Your checklist can show behavior patterns that need to be addressed with your students.  Often, students don't realize they've been unprepared for class three times in a week, or they have missed turning in assignments on a regular basis.  The checklist gives you the data you need to conference with students to help them adjust their behavior.
  • Checklists help you stay on track for a project.  You'll be able to see what the next steps are in completing a writing assignment or group project.  This will help you adjust the pacing of your class.  

Thank goodness my classroom isn't a (medical) operating room!
Obviously my checklists are academic rather than medical in nature.  But the outcome of using a checklist helps simplify my life.  As you're organizing projects for this school year, consider trying a checklist to help you organize and gather data -- stat!

Interested in more checklist goodness?
Check out the product in my Teachers Pay Teachers store:  Teacher-Checklists:  Making formative assessments easier.  You can download it for FREE for a the next week.  If you do download it, please leave me feedback!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

A Cure for Interactive Notebook Chaos

Ok, so 'chaos' might be a strong word, but it took me an entire year to realize the classroom could be calm and orderly when working on Interactive Reading Notebooks (IRNs). Hello! Susie here, from Anchored in Reading, ready to talk about strategies to smoothly implement Interactive Notebooks in the classroom. 

Picture it: you have a fantastic lesson planned on prefixes. You are excited and your students are excited because they get to work in their interactive notebooks. The class starts with a short task card bell ringer which leads to an interesting discussion. Next thing you know, you're 20 minutes into class and have yet to start the IRN lesson. "Quick, I need this group and this group to grab three markers!" "Hailey, can you give everyone a pair of scissors, please?!" "Hurry, we have less than half an hour to get this done." "Mrs. Kline, you forgot to call our group to get markers." "Do we need tape for this?" "I hope we don't need highlighters because I didn't grab one." 

Yes, I'm embarrassed to admit, these are factual statements that were uttered in my classroom the past couple of years. Then, after we were finally settled with all of our supplies, we begin the lesson just in time to hear the bell ring. Markers are scattered about, scissors lie on several desks, and tape dispensers could be found all over the place across various areas of the classroom. The next class coming in has to tip-toe very carefully to their seats. Oh boy! On top of that madness, wouldn't you know it, since I teach two different grades, the next class didn't need any of these supplies littering the classroom! "Emma, Jake, someone, can you please collect all of the IRN supplies on the floor, and desks, and ledges, and . . . " Yes, another statement uttered many, many, many times last year. I knew there had to be a better way.

I tried various methods: this row first, this bucket belongs to this group, the class helper will pass out all supplies, and so on. None were really successful. Then, something magical happened. I thought, why not pencil pouches to hold all materials. Ah ha! That's it! Oh, wait, what about pencil pouches located in one specific area of the classroom where students will always know where to find them! Keep going, keep going . . . ok, how about pencil pouches in one area so students will always know where to find them AND some sort of visual to let students know if they will need IRN supplies that day. Oh. My. Goodness. Did I just really come up with a method that works?! Why yes, yes I did. My students now check the IRN board upon entering the room. If they see the red side of the sign, they know to just have a seat and start reading quietly. If the visual is green, they proceed to the pouch holder, grab a pouch, then head to their seats to read quietly.

FINALLY! This Interactive Organization just might work!

At the end of class, students then return pouches by rows (how I currently have my seats set-up now.) The last student in each row collects all pouches and puts them back in the pouch holder. 

The only two cons to this method involve clean-up and consistent use of the visuals. After the IRN lesson, right before the bell rings, things can still get a bit hectic. Also, you have to be vigilant with turning the signs to the correct side every day. These two cons are greatly outweighed by the instructional time I have now gained from the start of class. These interactive notebook visuals can be found in my store, Anchored In Reading.

Here are the pouches I use. I found these super cheap at Five Below. I found the containers at the At Home store. If students need supplies for their IRNs, they grab a pouch from this holder on the counter right below the IRN supply board. 

Thanks for reading! Here's to less time wasted!

One more tip . . . I use cheese ball containers to collect scraps during IRN lessons! Put some fancy duct tape over the label and you have yourself a cheap and efficient scrap collector! I only have two and my students know to pass them around as we are working on lessons to minimize the mess. 

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