Comprehension Toolkit and Saying Goodbye

We've gotten in our first Comprehension Toolkit lesson.  I wasn't sure how it was going to go, but it was great!  We read Coming to America: A Thanksgiving Story.  It's not your regular Skippy Jon Jones/Lily's Purple Plastic Purse elementary picture book.  It's deep y'all.
It's the story of a family that escapes Cuba to come to America.  It gets into nothing political, but is a "simple" story of a family traveling to America on a small boat.  It is told from a child's point of view.

Needless to say, the challenges they face are a little trickier than what my kiddos and I are navigating in our lives.  This makes it a perfect book for a lesson introducing them to their inner voice.  The experiences the girl and her family go through on their trip are shock the kids and create a lot of questions.

I modeled recording questions and comments my thinking voice was saying on Post-It notes for the first five or six pages.  After those first five or six pages, I had them start recording.   I stopped at the end of each page to give them a chance to record something their thinking voice said to them.  I had given them four post its before they sat down.  They only had to record one thing on each note, but almost every single child drew lines on their post notes as the book progressed so they could continue recording.

My little teacher heart was pitter pattering with joy.  Here are some of their post its:
When I finished the book, I put them in groups of 3 or 4 and told them to use their post it notes to have a conversation about the book.  It was beautiful.  I have always read in professional books these fabulous lessons where the children get in groups and have these deep, amazing conversations.

I did the lessons.  The conversations were never beautiful or deep.  They usually went like this:
"Um, so the book was good."
"Yea, uh, I liked the end."
"The beginning was sad."
Awkward silence.
"So, this weekend we went to see . . . ."

Turns out, I had never given them the tools to have a great conversation.  The Comprehension Toolkit is an amazing resource.  My 8 and 9 years had awesome, deep fabulous conversations on the 15th day of school.

Now this isn't my genius lesson (too bad), but a lesson I took straight from my favoritest resource.



After the lesson was over, they had to choose one of their post-it notes to put on our door.  I saw many a great exit slip chart over the summer.  Like these two:


But neither would work for me.  Two reasons:
1.  I have two sections.  The reality of me taking post it notes down between sections is nonexistent.  I don't have room for two different poster areas except for on the back of my door.  Leading us to problem #2.

2.  Our fire marshal.  The perfecto place for this would be on the back of the door, right?  No paper on the back of the door per the fire marshal.

But you can't keep a good teacher down.  I finally dreamed up this:

It's not paper.  It's VINYL.  Two totally different products.  I used my uh-mazing Silhouette to cut out the letters.  I can have post-its on them every once in a while because "they are temporary in nature."  That's fire marshal code for it's only going to be up there for a very short time.

And lastly, we recently had to say a very sad goodbye.  It was this precious girl's turn to go to the great dog park in the sky.  We'll miss you sweet Stella.


Our First Story and Show, Don’t Tell

Oh, my! What a week.  Week 4 with my third grade friends was great.  Great reading lessons, writing lessons, and picture day.

In writing news, we wrote our first story this week!  Yeehaw!  We have been focusing on choosing small moments.  This week we wrote action/reaction plans.  You know how your kids want to write stories that sound like this: We did this and then we did this and then we did this and then we did . . . .

And then you want to stab yourself in the eye.

Anyway, that's how we plan.  I tell the kids that those make terrible stories, but our brains really like to think this way when we're telling a story.  So the first day, we make plans where we bulleted out actions and skipped four or five lines between each action.

The next day, we added in the part that makes a story good.  The thoughts and feelings.  We labeled each one in our plan with a T and an F.  When teaching, I bounce back and forth referring to this as the action/reaction and external/internal story.  Whenevery I say action or external, I hold my hand out.  Whenever I say reaction or internal, I put one hand on my brain and the other on my heart.  

Here's how my plan looked at the end of day 2.  And no, I don't always write sad stories, but I think it really helps them to see that all stories don't have to be hunky dory.  These kids are deeper than we give them credit for.

Here are some copies of plans.  I kept working with everyone until they were "there".  It's a little cookie cutter, but for now it makes the point that you must have thoughts and feelings in a story for it to be worth writing.  Now on to life's little reality: I have to get grades y'all.  So their grade was based on how much coaching it took to get to a solid plan. 


Their first stories turned out pretty great for the beginning of third grade!  This week we'll work on showing not telling feelings.  Here's a page I'm going to use.  You can download it here.

I'm thinking I'll put them together to make a class book.  After that, I really want to do this lesson I found on Miss Radka's Rhapsody.


Hopefully, all this will turn out as great as it sounds in my head.


What I'm Lovin' Linky Party

I shared pictures of my classroom right after school started.  I'd like to take you on a more personal tour of the things I can't live without.  Or just make me really happy.

1.  Paper Organizer
This is actually a dish rack from the Container Store that's supposed to hang from a shelf in you kitchen cabinets.  They're on sale right now, too.

Look how perfectly they fit!!  One side is my "get to" side.  The other is full of things that we have used and need to be put away.

2.  Trader Joe's Salads.
I love Trader Joe's salads big time.  They're fresh, health, and tasty.  Let me also state that I am NOT a salad person.  I'm not one of those, "I'm craving a salad" kind of girls.  But I really like these.  They manage to be low calorie, too.  Most salads that taste good end up having more calories than a Big Mac.  I love the Mexicali Chicken, Lemon Chicken Salad, and Lemon Chicken Argula.  I love you salads.

3.  My T.H.I.N.K. Poster
I love this.  Most of the problems caused in a classroom are caused by words.  We talk about this from Day 1.  All I have to do is say, "Did you think before you speak?" And a little head hangs down.  There's no justifying that can go along with this motto.  You can go straight to Technology Rocks. Seriously. and download this baby.


4.  My Buc-ee's Cup
I love Buc-ee's.  If you've never traveled the Texas Interstate system, you have missed out.  Their claim to fame is to have the cleanest restrooms in all of Texas.  They are serious about it, too.  Buc-ee's restrooms are an EXPERIENCE.  Plus, they have good food.

Anyway, I love Buc-ee's, the kids love my Buc-ee's cup, and having a giant water cup keeps me hydrated during they day.

5.  My Lesson Plans
Who doesn't love writing lesson plans?  Okay, not really.  BUT, I love my beautiful lesson plan pages that I made.  They're pretty.  I smile and sigh.  And before you know it, I'm getting some lesson plans done.


After I started this post, I thought I'd love to see some of the silly little things that are making your life better.  So (chewing on fingernails), I decided to start my first linky party.  I want to read about what you're lovin'.  Not your Smart Board or your classroom library (those are duhs), but all the little things that make your day a little easier or happier.  Maybe the rest of us could find some inspiration for a little extra happy in our day from your post!

So grab this button:
i teach. what's Your Super Power?


And link up!  Never linked up before?  Watch the tutorial on my Blog Baby Blog page.

Daily/Weekly 5 Whatever . . .

So, I love me some Daily 5.  I love the concept of it, the independence, the choice, the analyzing the value of each activity we ask our children to do.  And I love that it is adaptable to individual classrooms and teachers.  It gives me time to pull small groups, give assessments, or work with kids one on one.

I have my own Daily 5 hybrid that works in my classroom.  I'm going to share it with you with the full realization that if The Sisters were dead, they would roll over in their graves.

I call them stations.  They're a little bit older in third grade.  Sometimes when you use the word centers, they think PLAYTIME!  While the centers in Kindergarten are not playtime, a third grader thinks back to K, and, in their eyes, manipulatives, stamps, and playdoh equals goof off time.  We do one a day.  I already have an independent reading time and writer's workshop time, so a daily writing and independent reading time would be redundant.  I have 2 hours and 5 minutes for reading/writing/grammar/word study/independent reading/stations.  Fitting in five stations a day would mean they were about 4 minutes each. Yea right.

Anywho, here are my five stations:
1.  Reading
Buddy or independent, kids choice.

2.  Writing
Right now we're starting with the whole class journals I posted about here.  Later I'll add in my Dr. Seuss quotes as a choice and some other reader response stuff.  We're starting simple for now.

3.  Word Work
I have two resources I love for word work.
Both are kind of like letter brain teasers and require kids to think about letter placement and what happens when letters change places or replace other letters.  I like them a lot.  I run the Letter Links on card stock and let kids build them with the letter tabs.  I run the Word Ladders front and back and let the kids complete them with a buddy if they like.  
Click on the pictures to get a better idea.

4.  Handwriting
Yes, I know.  But the thing is, handwriting matters.  How many of our kids struggle with not just the academic side of writing put also the physical side?  If we expect kids to learn their facts so they can work quickly, the same goes for handwriting.  It also gives me a chance to say, "I know we've practiced this letter.  You can do better than this."  I give a quick glance at the end of the week.  If it's junk on a page, they take an extra copy home for homework.  

5.  Computer
I'm, again, starting off small.  Our county library system has a subscription to Tumblebooks.  Yea for free!  Tumblebooks is an awesome but expensive resource.  For my nonfiction lovers, I had a link to the Enchanted Learning picture dictionary on each computer.  They can also take an AR quiz.

Here's my Stations poster.  You knew there was going to be one.


I'd love some other ideas.  The thing about stations is that it has to be not just valuable but simple.  If it starts getting all complicated, it's no longer worth it.  I can spend massive amounts of time preparing a station that the kids are going to do for 15-20 minutes once a week OR spend that time planning awesome reading or writing lessons.  I know which one wins each time.

Got any great ideas for me?

Cause and Effect What???

Yikes!  We worked quite a bit on cause and effect this week.

We matched up cause and effect.  I gave everyone a card with either cause or effect and they had to find their buddy.

I even made a anchor chart that was pretty!  Here's the pin from Fabulous Fourth Grade on Pinterest that I copied shamelessly:


Everything was good on the surface level where an action causes an action.
Grace loved to stories ➙She acted them out often.

But whew!  When we got to causes that created internal changes, life got a little harder.  So we did some acting.  I had a student who plays on a select soccer team volunteer.  We acted out the week before his tryouts.  I was his mom and told him daily how awesome and fabulous he was.  The kids discussed the effect it would have on him for his tryouts.

Then I told him daily how terrible a player he was, he was worse than all the other kids, and would never make the team.  Lightbulb! The kids discusses how that would have an effect on him for tryouts.  It helped make the point that effects are often internal.  (Sidenote-a big hug was given, and I was very silly during this part, so no permanent trauma was inflicted!)

We then flipped some causes.  If the cause was "Grace loved to play the main character", we changed it to "Grace hated being the main character" and discussed who that would have changed the story.  More lightbulbs!  They easily got to "She wanted the part of Peter Pan" after that.

I've enjoyed changing grades this year.  While it's certainly a lot more work, it's fun to get into the challenge and try on some new thinking.  It's keeping me from getting stale!  I taught 2nd grade a long time before moving to 4th the last three years and love both grades.  I'm finding 3rd grade to be a very happy combination of the best parts of those two grades.  I'm really happy.