Tales from Outside the Classroom

An Introduction to Character Traits

Last week we took a look at Character Traits.  We spent a lot of time discussing how traits described a character on the inside.  We also talked about adjectives, though the students often gave the characters nouns as traits.  We'll work on that during our next go around.

We started by taking a look at Lulu because she's a phenomenal, big character in the books.  If you aren't familiar with Lulu and the amazingness Judith Viorst brings for this character you need to do it like now with your kids.
 We read Lulu and the Brontosaurus as our first read aloud of the year, and then read the next two.  We have used the books every time we've talked about a new fiction comprehension skills.  Because the texts are so engaging for the kids, it's a perfect way to introduce and practice a skill.

The next day I became the best teacher in the UNIVERSE (no, really, they told me so) because I showed this series of clips from Monsters Inc. showcasing the one and only Mike Wazowski.
I gave students a little half sheet that they could record the traits they thought of and then we went over it after the video.  I'd share it here with you but Disney/Pixar scares me and I borrowed a cute little image from the internet.  Thanks, Google!

Now the students were ready to analyze traits with a little more depth and complexity.  I saw this post from Around the Kampfire on how she used Stellaluna in her room and I love how she showed how Stellaluna changed.  We used it to talk about how a character can change in the story.  Our state test almost always asks students to detail how a character has changed so we'll be looking at this a TON this year and working on it.
(Please pardon my sloppy handwriting.  I don't have an easel and it becomes difficult to write on the bottom of this as it's on a table.)

I also loved this post and art idea from Runde's Room.  Jen always has the best art ideas.  Because I'm at an arts magnet, I'm always looking for ways I can incorporate art, even if I'm not teaching the art skills fully.  While she doesn't use this with character traits, I knew it would be an easy change.  Students chose their favorite character.  I did not give them a restriction that it had to be a character from a book- just a character they knew well.  They then had 3 minutes to list every character trait they could think of for that character.  I then had students rank the most important traits and choose between 8-12 they wanted to use in their art pieces.

We talked about how fun and funky writing and straight and jagged lines could be used to emphasize our traits.  We don't want to call someone spunky and then give them boring handwriting to write it.  I sketched out my traits for Harry Potter and sent the students off to work.  After they were finished and happy we used Sharpies to go over each area.

We then talked about colors could signify certain traits.  Angry is a trait that's best represented by a dark color by shy is best represented with a light color.  We used watercolors to fill in each area.

Some of the students did such an amazing job and their creativity really shined through!  I love the character traits they came up with for some of the characters.  And their word choice?  Superb!  I didn't focus on spelling on this activity but helped some students chop out words so there are a few mistakes.

I love our finished wall showcasing our work.

Do you have a trick or a hook for teaching character traits in your room?
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Using Powerpoint to Manage Centers Rotations

Last week I shared how I use Powerpoint to show my students their centers rotation each day for reading centers.  They have a new rotation each day and it was taking me too much time to switch out cards every morning.  Once the work is done, it's done.  I just open the slideshow, turn to the correct day, and project it for our entire rotation.  Math is a different story though.

  I tried doing a rotation where I slid the cards down to the next center after every switch.  It did not go well.  I would blow our whistle and I'd hear:


We didn't even quite make it two weeks before we needed a new plan.  I asked around if there was an app that would show the rotation.  The responses I got: Powerpoint.

It was an "Oh yeah!" moment.  So, in case you never had a similar moment, here's how I use it to help me.  There's also a detailed video tutorial at the end.

First, I created an image that I could use as the background.  I wanted it to be something I couldn't accidentally move.  I gave it a background and title and then added text boxes for each center.  The acronym I'm trying out this year is A + Math.  We go to 3 rotations a day so it takes 2 days to go to each center.

I also give my students a clean up time so that hopefully each center gets put away the exact way we've practiced.  I created a second image to put on the clean up screen.  Because the slideshow is auto-timed (more on that below) it automatically signals for students to rotate and move.  With math center sI like keeping the times regimented.  With my reading centers,  I may steal an extra couple minutes with a group if we're really working hard or in a discussion so I prefer not to have the times automatic then.

Our math center groups are organized by color.  I made a rectangle for each colored group.  I then layered a text box on top for the student names.  I grouped the two of them together and set them up with each center title.

I then inserted a text box into the right side and every two days I change out the information.  This is details on what the students are doing at each one, or what they need to bring with them to the center. This might seem like a lot of work, but it only takes me a moment to switch it up each morning.

I put three clean up slides and three center slides.  Every morning I set up the day's three slides by moving the bottom color to the top, selecting all of the other colors and dragging them down, and then copying/pasting the slide to do it again.  I'm currently trying to figure out if it's easier to do things with the colors rotated already and then just saving two different files (a Mon/Wed rotation and a Tues/Thurs rotation) and then all I'd have to do is change the text each morning.  I can't decide which is really the easiest....

Every Monday and Wednesday I set up the detailed information on the side.  It literally takes me a minute to type in and then it saves SO many questions during the two days.  We do an algebraic math program on Fridays and do not do centers.

If you'd like to watch the video to see how I created the Powerpoint step by step, click below.

I forgot one step in the video.  The last step.  To get the slideshow going, you have to hit it to start.  It starts timing immediately.  There are arrows pointing to the two options in the image below.

How do you manage centers in your classroom?  I'd love to hear some other ideas.  If you have any questions, leave me a comment and I'm happy to try and help!

Don't forget to check out the other great bright ideas posts below!

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Small Group Instruction Management

Last year I created cards to manage my centers.  My partner teacher and I combined groups so that our levels worked a bit better and then we split things up.  Our set up looked something like this (but with quite a few more places the students actually went to) and with three sessions.
This year I have 4 rotations most days and I have 6 groups.  Every morning I'd move the cards so the students knew where they'd go when.  It was taking me 5 minutes each morning to look at my chart and rearrange everything.  While 5 minutes doesn't seem like a lot, it adds up, and it's just one more thing I was having to do each morning.  I realized that if I just made one Powerpoint with each day of the week as a new slide, it'd be done.  For the year.  Or, you know, until our structure has to change for the fifteenth time during the year.  It has been a HUGE positive change for my mornings.  It's done.  It's ready.  I open the file, go to the slide, and then when we're ready, I just change it into slideshow mode.  When we're done, I escape out (of the file- not the room). ;)

I posted a picture of it on Instagram and Facebook last weekend.
I got a ton of responses from people who create the same thing.  I also got a ton of responses from people asking me to create one for them that they could buy.  It took me some time to come up with a way I could create it so that it was editable to meet everyone's needs, but still protected the clipart from Ashley Hughes.  I think this is a good compromise.  I've provided a few blank templates that people can use, but included most center options I think people need.
 This image shows the options with an editable teacher station and the blank template for the group names.  It also includes iPads, Independent Reading, and Listening as center options (among others).  It shows that the template fits 6 groups and 5 rotations.

 This arrangement shows the setup with the included group numbers, Group as the with teacher title, Computers, and Partner Reading (amongst others).

This arrangement shows the included options for colored group names, Work on Writing, Read to Self, and Tablets as included options.

I created a video to show you what's included with this file and how you can set it up and use it in your room.  It also shows you some tips I give for using Powerpoint for this type of thing.
  Just click the image below to head to TpT to check it out.
I'm also giving away a copy for free on Facebook so head over there to enter!

If you're looking for help in how to schedule your reading groups, or how often to see each group, I created these charts a long time ago when I was an instructional coach.  Many teachers spent so much time figuring out how to meet with each group so these are a nice little help.
 There are charts for 4-8 groups with 3 and 4 different sessions.  They're meant to be a base in your planning to help you get a jump start, but of course they're meant to be adjusted based on your kids' needs and abilities.

It's free in my TpT store so click the images to head over and download it to help you plan.

I've also posted how I use Powerpoint to completely manage my math centers.  Once it's set up, it manages the time, the clean up, and the switching.  Click here to check it out.
What do you use to manage your literacy centers?

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Erasable Office Supplies

If there's one thing that makes teachers happy it's new office supplies.  When I saw these from Shoplet I knew I wanted to check them out!  I was not let down.  They're ERASABLE!

First, I tried out these SuperTab Erasable Manila Folders from Smead.
 There's a little strip that has a sheen to it (that you can't see on here) on the tab for you to write on.  I love that you write on them in Sharpies.  This makes reading what's written SO much easier.  I usually write on most of mine in pencil so that I can erase and reuse them.  I'm cheap frugal like that.  I've even raided other people's file folder stashes as they were throwing them away.  No shame.

When you're done using the folder with that purpose you can erase the title you've written with a Pentel white polymer eraser and a little elbow grease.  These are PERFECT for student files since you can reuse them each year.

If my excitement for these erasable folders was going to be beat, it was certainly done by the FasTab Hanging Erasable File Folders.
 I use hanging files for my student files and so these were completely perfect.  They are sturdy and have a large, erasable writing area. Plus, I love the different colors.

I also loved these Smead Vertical File Folders.  You can have them standing on your file folder rack and still see what's written on them.  I do also like that they give you the option to write on a traditional edge or the vertical edge.

I also got to check out this Smead Step Organizer and it's my new take-home envelope.
It has tabs so you can label each section if you choose.  I switched to this one because while my previous one was absolutely adorable (I got it for $1 a while back) it was not sturdy and it only had 6 slots.  This one has 12.  As much as I don't want to publicly admit that I bring home more than 6 on occasion.  I stuffed it full this weekend and it's holding steady.

And that's it for today's edition of You Know You're a Teacher When: Erasable Folders style. :)
Life. Changing.

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Teaching Sound and Exploring Abstract Art

This year is a whole new world for me.  I'm teaching science on a daily basis.  I feel like I know nothing about anything science so it's been a challenge to really feel like I'm doing it well.  It's been so much fun keeping things engaging.  And, I've transferred to a different school in my district and it's an arts magnet.


As little as I know about science, I know even less about anything arts.  Sure, I like music.  Making music?  Um, no.  Visual arts.  Um, no.  In fact, I was excited about the craftivities I was going to be doing.  Except those aren't art.  Clearly, I'm learning. :)

My partner teacher found this amazing Sound and Light bundle on TpT and it's saved my life the last few weeks.  It includes detailed lesson plans, engaging projects, a unit test and study guide, vocabulary words, and so much more.  I didn't follow it to a T but it was what helped me get through.
We're starting light this week and so I'm so glad to be able to continue our unit with a similar theme.  Click the image above to check it out on TpT.

One of the activities in the unit is creating a straw horn.  I practiced before we got there.  I failed.  I tried with a different straw.  I failed.  I watched this video.
I still failed.

So I decided I'd let the kids try it anyway.  See if they could beat me.  Give them a challenge to be better than their teacher.  To really butter them up, I showed them the day before I let them try and I told them I couldn't do it.  They came in the next day so excited to tell me that they used a straw at home and were able to do it (without the directions, btw).  WHAT?  But as we passed out straws, we were still hardly getting any horn sounds.

I looked all over and I found some fatter straws and I thought we'd try those out and see if they helped.  And I had one of those instant "IDEA!" moments.  What a perfect way to introduce the scientific method.

So we formed our question together and students chose their hypothesis.  While "easier" isn't exactly the most scientific of experiments, I thought it was a great hands-on way to introduce it since we were essentially performing an experiment.

We created a graph of our hypotheses.

And then performed our experiment.
We all seemed to agree that the fat horn was easier to use as a straw horn.  But then once we had been successful with the fat straw, the skinny straw was so much easier.
We talked about what vibrates to make the noise, why it might be different in straws, why the sounds are different, etc.  The kids loved it!

I also showed this fun video that I happened to find.

Another idea in the unit is using bottles and water to make sounds.  This helps you explore pitch with students.  It bugged me that our pitch wasn't perfect with our water levels but I had to give up trying.
We won't talk about me realizing I needed 6 bottles the afternoon before.  Or, what logo was on the container that I carried these 6 bottles in with....

I had another moment of "IDEA!" and I ran into my storage cabinet and hunted in hopes of finding some food dye.  Clearly, I was successful and it made it so much easier for the kids to see the levels.

Also, it was hilarious to watch them freak out when I took a drink of some of the green liquid in my attempt to get the pitch juuuust right. :)

We also watched this fun video to end up our day.

And since it's Call Me Maybe, the kids loved that it was a song they knew and could sing along to.

Last, to wind out our unit, we did a little art project.  My first art project as a teacher.  My first time using paint as a teacher.  It didn't turn out so bad if I do say so myself!

I found this lesson from Art Lessons for Kids and it was perfect for us.  It held my hand enough that I was able to teach this in some capacity {whew!}.  We explored Abstract Art for a bit and learned a little about Wassily Kandinsky.  We looked at his Klamm Improvisation as well as a few other pieces.  

To lead up to the big project I chose a sound and didn't show students what it was at all.  It was clearly two dogs barking angrily at each other.  Students drew pictures to represent the sound.  I was so glad we had done this because many of them were very literal and not so abstract.

For our big unit, students chose a mystery sound and then got to work.

They did a much better job staying abstract this time, though I probably need a lot of practice on what exactly abstract SHOULD be.
We let our pictures dry over the weekend.  Then we came in on Monday and added some dimension by using multi-media on their pieces.  Some chose to make them 3D with construction paper.

Others just added some crayon.

Here's part of our display board.  I love how these turned out!

All in all I think it was a great first unit to start the year!  Do you have any great ideas for teaching sound?

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