Tales from Outside the Classroom

Holiday Gift Giving

This time of year I'm always on the hunt for the perfect gift.  I tend to stress about giving gifts because I want them to be perfect.  I want the receiver to know I put a lot of thought into them and I want the gift to be something meaningful to them.  That's why we give gifts anyway, right?  Here are ideas for gifts for the people in your lives.

Gifts for Students
Gifts for Teacher Friends
I also spend a lot of time during the month of December doing heartfelt projects with my kids.  Our stockings are already hung so we can leave each other kindness notes.  We are going to be talking about Paying it Forward and ways we can give back to each other in our classroom during the next couple weeks (and always).  How do you keep the holidays relevant but not so outspoken in your classroom?

If you're looking for ways to save money on gifts for your students, coworkers, and friends and family, check out The Good Stuff on Coupons.com.  They're currently running The Good Stuff Holiday Sweepstakes. The sweepstakes runs from today through Christmas Day with one $100 winner per week and one $500 grand prize winner.  Wouldn't that be a great prize to help offset your holiday pending?  These also have 3 GREAT gift-giving guides with budget-friendly ideas (this week), gifts for enthusiasts, and gifts for the hostess that seems to have everything.  Keep checking back for the other guides.

Good luck!
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Merry Little Tips

I don't know about you, but I'm not looking forward to the next few weeks of school.  This week I had 3 days off, and sure that's restful.  I even convinced myself that I didn't need to spend time at school doing any of the million things I need to do.  I just needed to spend a few days away from school.  For my sanity. But the next few weeks are going to be crazy.  The kids are a little crazier.  And time.  TIME.  What happens to time in the month of December?  It seems like our days are more full of programs and special presentations.  My evenings are more full of events, programs, and time with loved ones.  There just isn't enough time in December.  Time to plan.  Time to grade.  Time to relax.

Some friends and I wanted to share some of our best time-saving tips.  Some sanity saving tips that can be used during the crazy month of December, and throughout the other crazy times of the year.
 I use one chapter book as a mentor text to introduce all of our fiction comprehension skills.  The posters/anchors we create in those lessons are on display in one area of the room for students' reference.  I planned this out at the beginning of the year, but you can certainly implement it at any time.

Starting the first week of school, I read aloud Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst as our read aloud.  The beginning of the year has a little more time for read alouds it seems so we finished it up pretty quickly.  There are also two more companion books that we read aloud as well, which allowed us to compare/contrast and discuss how the character changes in different texts.  Lulu is a strong main character and the kids are so entranced by this book that they remember tons of details.

Then, when a new comprehension skill is introduced we have a high-quality text that we all know that is used as a mini-lesson.  I introduce the skill and we then build a reference poster.
Here are the posters we created for sequence and summary.
And the one we created for character traits.

It might not seem like much of an idea to you, but for me, it's such a help knowing that for a few weeks each month I have at least 1 ready to go lesson that doesn't require planning, or hunting for resources.  I know that on Monday after I do a brief explanation of the skill, we'll create a poster showcasing it with Lulu.  Done and done.  That day's plan takes me literally 2 seconds, and that extra saved time makes a world of difference.

There are so many high-quality and engaging chapter books that are read aloud in classrooms, that I hope this is an easy idea for you to implement in your rooms.  And I hope it saves you just a bit of time.

Visit the link up below to see other time saving tips from some of my favorite bloggers.

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A Collection of Bright Ideas

Early on this year, a group of bloggers that I admire tossed around the idea of doing a monthly link up of "bright ideas" with no strings attached.  No freebies.  No products.  Just great, often simple, ideas that make a difference in our classrooms.  I've been so excited to participate in it often throughout this year, sharing ideas that work for me and my students.

This year, I showcased a variety of posts from management to kinesthetic ideas and technology tips.  Here's a round-up of my posts from this year.  To go to any of the posts, just click on the corresponding image.

My kids are squirrely (Is that how you spell it?  I saw squirly but now I'm thinking that's it's squirrely like a squirrel being frantic.  I've never tried to spell it I guess) and I'm always looking for ways to keep them engaged and to keep our energy level at a point where they're involved but things aren't getting out of control.  These 4 ideas help me intertwine some movement into our day.

I add some morphology topics into my word wall to help solidify some of the skills we work on (suffixes, prefixes, etc) but also to help get students to transfer their knowledge of one word with an unknown word.  I use a tree to help me showcase the skill, but then I use our word wall to remind students of each new word part we've learned.

I've showed a couple ways Google Docs can be utilized in the classroom...


If you're looking for ways to use board games in your classroom, here are some ideas.

If you haven't discovered the amazing ClassDojo website, come see how I use a token economy in conjunction with ClassDojo.

This year I also started using Powerpoint to completely manage my centers boards and rotations-including the timing! Come watch this video to see how simple it is to set up!

I love going through all of the Bright Ideas posts each month.  They're seriously some of the best posts I've ever found.  To check out other round ups, check out the link-up below.

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Sight Word Shakers

I receive office supplies from Shoplet.com from time to time to try out.  I was super excited when these Astrobright sets arrived at my house.
I received the Neon Astrobrights colored paper and the Happy Astrobrights colored card stock sets.   I generally just use the colored paper that my school supplies and I rarely, rarely have used card stock.  Well, after using both of these sets, I don't think I'll be going back to either.  I was super impressed with the quality of the paper.  It was a bit thicker than the cheap paper my school provides, but what stood out the most was just how bright the paper actually is.  This will be perfect for the art projects we do because they just stand out so much.  I'm thinking it'll be fantastic as a torn paper project on black paper.  I used the card stock to create a couple sight word shakers for our word work bin.
I used a Coffee-Mate creamer bottle since the bottles themselves are clear.  I soaked it, cleaned it, then took off the wrapper and let it dry for a few days.  It did take a few days sitting upside down to get all of the water out it seemed.
 I copied each of the Dolch sight words onto three colors of the card stock.  I then cut out a row from one color, a different row from another, and a row from the last color.  I then used the rest to make three more bottles.

I started by pouring a bit of rice into the bottom.  Then I dropped 5-7 words at a time into the bottle, added more rice, added more words, etc.
 The Astrobrights card stock was great to use for this project.  The bright colors make it super simple to see the words in the rice.  The card stock is also firm enough that rice hasn't damaged the words as the students have shaken it up.

 It's important to leave some space at the top for the rice to move around and the words to come out.  I taped a piece of construction paper over the top before screwing the red cap back on.  That way, nothing really can come out.  Especially because we all know that there'll be at least one kid who does open the top to check it out even after you've explained that they need to not do that.

My students have multiple word work options in the Word Work center, so this is just one that they can choose.  They love using it so far!

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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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