Tales from Outside the Classroom

Ideas to help kids to Restate the Question in the Answer

A loooong while ago I posted about using PQA to teach kids to restate the question in their answers and to help their responses on constructed response questions.  That post was SUPER popular.  After hearing from teachers from all over, I realized that 1) Many people don't call it PQA and 2) It's a struggle for kids all over.

In my state, 3rd grade is the first year that kids take state testing.  A big portion of our English/Language Arts test is reading comprehension, especially open ended questions.  So, I always start the year, from Day 1, requiring my kids to use PQA in their written responses.  It also helps the kids to answer the ACTUAL question that's written.  You know, because sometimes they write something and you wonder where it came from.  Teaching kids in an intervention setting really strengthened my hold on teaching it right from the start and practicing the entire year.

This year, I decided to change up the way I'm going to introduce it to the kids.  I thought it would help kids to see how it works by spending a bit of time focusing on using it in conversation.
I made question cards so the kids could interview each other in partners.  I'm planning on using it the first week of school.  You know, when the kids are supposed to be spending time getting to know each other and you're getting the I-NEED-TO-START-ACTUALLY-TEACHING-SOMETHING itch.  I think this is a perfect compromise.  You're introducing a skill that will be used the entire year, and is crucial on state testing, but it feels like the kids are just spending the time getting to know each other and building relationships.

I'm going to introduce it by using the first set of question cards and have them use them in small groups to get to know each other.  The first set of cards includes both the question and the sentence starter for the answer.
Then the cards remove the sentence starters.  I'm going to use the next set in small groups as well, so the students are practicing responding with the question.  Then, I'll split them up into partners to interview each other.  I provided blank interview sheets as well as interview sheets with questions to help you decide how independent you want your kids to be.  This helps transfer the skill over to writing.

In my previous experiences I've also seen first and second grade teachers really focusing on this skill.  However, what I made for third and fourth wouldn't work as easily with those grades, obviously.  So I changed up the lines to include writing lines to help young learners.  Some sheets are also provided for the very beginning of first grade, or the very end of kindergarten, where students only fill in the answer and then trace the rest.

An important aspect to consider when teaching students to restate the question is the hook that's going to help them remember.  In my area, we use the acronym PQA.  It stands for Putting the Question in the Answer.  I've also seen TTQA (Turn The Question Around) which is basically the same thing.  I've recently come across RAPS (Restate, Answer, Prove, Sum it Up), and RACE (Restate, Answer, Cite, Edit) which I really like for older students.  Whichever acronym you prefer, I've created posters to help you reference it in your classroom.  The PQA one is at the top of the post.  Just click on any of the images below to go download the set from my TpT store for free.

Once the school year is started, and we've practiced PQA together, I'll often throw practice in as independent practice during the day and as homework.  Most often it's tied to what we're currently studying, but I also put in stand alone practice to help the kids get used to doing a passage and answering questions in one session.

For my students, we start out the year using this set.  It's an older product of mine, but I gave it a bit of a facelift.

The passages and questions all fit onto one page- to help keep it visually appealing for the kids.  I like it because it gives them practice on the skill without making them feel frustrated.
There are 4 free pages in the Preview file.  This lets you get a feel for the set and try them out with your kids.

This summer, I also decided to make an easier set (which is why the previous one is now called Step 2).  This set is all half pages.  It's perfect for the beginning of the year in 2nd grade, and the end of the year in 1st.  The texts are very simple so you're really able to focus on the skill, even with the most struggling of students.

How do you work on this skill with your students?

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School Supply Deals- Week of 7/27/14

It's time for another week of school supply shopping!  A few weeks ago I shared a post showcasing a great giveaway from Coupons.com and shared some of their great online coupons to help you get school supplies, especially large purchases, cheaper.  Click the image below to head over there to check out their current school supply coupons and to enter the big giveaway!

If you're shopping in brick and mortar stores, check out this week's deals below.


  • Papermate Mechanical Pencils- FREE after rebate
  • Staples translucent pencil box- $0.50
  • Duck Poster Putty- $1
  • BIC Highlighters 5 pack- $1


  • Wexford sticky notes or flags- $0.17 with in ad coupon- Limit 6
  • Wexford 2 pocket folder- $0.10- Limit 10
  • Wexford wooden ruler- $0.17 with in ad coupon- Limit 6


  • Scotch Tape 2 pk- Free with coupon from Target.com
  • Post-It Notes- $0.02 with coupon from Target.com
  • Your choice of Up & Up School Supply 

Office Depot/Office Max

Remember that you can get extend the limit to three times as much as a teacher.
  • 2 pocket folders- $0.01 with $5 minimum purchase- Limit 10
  • Office Depot or Wescott 5" scissors- $0.25- Limit 3
  • Plastic rulers- $0.25- Limit 3
  • Office Ma 5ct pink eraser- $0.25- Limit 3
  • Scotch Poster Putty- $1

Happy shopping!

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Smooth Sailing into the New Year: Back to School Tips and Giveaways

The Back to School season is officially upon us.  I'm joining together with some of my favorite bloggers to give you a bunch of tips (and a HUGE giveaway) to help you sail into the new year smoothly!

Maybe it's because I've moved offices or classrooms every single year except my first year and have spent hour after hour after hour getting things set back up, but, my first tip is to take the time now to get organized.
Every summer I spend time trying to get as organized as I can.  There's always an area of the room that needs to be tackled, or in my case, I'm trying to get my new room just right.  Once the school year starts, things are in a constant motion and I've never found time to go back and tackle that To Do list that always gets continued over from summer. Getting organized now also helps to get things off on the right foot.

One of my biggest goals this summer was to put together a Teacher Toolbox for my teacher supplies.  In my new school I won't have a traditional teacher desk.  There's a teacher space, but it doesn't really have drawers, and I need a place for my markers, staples, thumb tacks, and whatnot.  I'm a teacher supply hoarder so I definitely need something to contain all of my goodies.  I bought this organizer from my local hardware store.
I knew I needed a ton of little drawers but I wanted some big drawers too. I also loved that this already came in black so I didn't need to worry about spray painting to keep it with my black and white scheme.  I then made labels to put on the drawers.  Because the drawers aren't flat, and the big ones have center tabs so you could divide them in half, I attached my labels with tape on the outside.  I LOVE the way it turned out!

I made my labels colorful, but I've also made a set that is completely black and white in case you need it.  I also made this completely editable.  That way, if you want to change some of it, you can do it straight in Powerpoint.  All of the directions for font and color matching are in the file.  Just click the image below to head to my TpT store to download it for free.

In my countless room changes I've discovered something.  If I don't start the year giving every piece of paper a specific and logical place, they'll multiply overnight and suddenly every surface is covered.  I realize I'm exaggerating, but I truly have had years where the stack of papers on my desk never gets emptied and has gotten out of control.  I've also had years where the stack of papers never really happened.  The trick was starting the year giving everything a specific place.

Last year, my kids had a hard time turning in their work into the correct slot in my mailbox system. I'm going to use that mailbox system myself to help me stay more organized.   For the kids, I decided to make a new system this year that was more visible.  I bought these two Sterlite drawer systems in black.  Why did I buy two different ones you ask?  Well, it's because the only thing different from them is the top, and when they're on high shelves and you're short, you don't notice the difference until you get home.
I then created these labels for the fronts of the drawers.  Two will be for turning papers in and the other will be for lined and scratch paper.  The same size labels work for both.

Just like the Teacher Toolbox labels, I've provided everything in Powerpoint so it's completely editable to work for you.

We're hoping these tips help you start off your year on the right foot.  We also want some lucky winners to have their year start even more smoothly so we're offering a total of $1,000 in gift cards to the lucky winners!   There's also a lucky winner that'll win almost $300 worth of teaching items!  Keep reading!

One lucky person (entries chosen from all of our blog entries) will win this GIANT bundle worth nearly $300!  I'm giving away a copy of my brand new bundle!
It is perfect for 3rd grade!  The first two sets in the bundle go through the 2nd grade Common Core math standards in a spiral review.  They're perfect for that ongoing practice to keep the kids fresh on the standards.  The second two sets in the bundle go through the 3rd grade Common Core math standards in a spiral.  This helps the kids practice before state testing.  You can click the image above to head to my TpT store to check it out.  But make sure you come back so you can enter to win this as part of this AMAZING bundle!

You can click on any of the products in the images below to check them out on TpT.


To help you get organized, and to maybe try one of the ideas I shared today, I'm offering two $25 Amazon gift cards!  To enter, just use the Rafflecopter below!  This contest is open to TEACHERS only.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

You'll want to make sure you hop through each person  in this hop so you can read some amazing tips and enter as many times as you can for this amazing giveaway.  Use the linky below to hop through!

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Wish List Wednesday: 2nd Grade Common Core Math Review

It's time for another Wish List Wednesday!
This 160 page set is perfect to last you for the year!  Each page features 5 boxes to spiral through the Common Core Math Standards for 2nd grade.
With 160 pages, it gives you an ample amount to use it as Morning Work or as a Warm Up in your classroom as well as gives you pages to send home for continued practice.

With this promotion, you can get the set for $10 off the unbundled price.  That's amazing!

Click on any of the pictures or here to head to my TpT store to check it out. There are 4 free pages in the preview to take a closer look at.

Click here to head to my Facebook page and enter to win a set for free (today only!)  Good luck!

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Monday Made It: DIY Share Chair

I'm linking up for my first ever Monday Made It.  I'm not the crafty type.  As much as I want to be, and I want to be successful, I just don't have the crafty gene.  Most of my stuff is worthy of being on Pinterest Fail.  I try and I try and I try and I try.  And it just never quite comes out the way it should.  So I generally don't care to share most of them with you.  This one, however, turned out okay.  Not amazing, but okay.  However, it's worth making it all the way until the end, because I certainly do have a Fail to share.

 I bought these two wooden stools from my local Goodwill.  They were $4 each, so I was super excited to get a great project for my classroom, and fill a void, for about $10.

 They weren't in the best shape.  Here you can see how scuffed the edges are.  You can also see what a giant pain in the butt it was to try and remove the price sticker.  Why?  Why, must people put stickers on things where the stickers can't be removed?  Why?

 I used a piece of sandpaper to lightly sand off the top layer.  I wanted to take off the remaining sheen and make sure the paint "stuck".  I was using super cheap paint that I just had leftover in the house.

 Here they are after I sanded them down.  I put about three layers of black spray paint on them.  After the second, I flipped them over to make sure I got it from every angle.

 I used a couple of paint pens to decorate the top.  Because my classroom is basically black and white, I just stuck with that.  I wanted to add a bit of decoration so I made the lines in silver.  I thought about designing the legs but my OCD would get in overdrive if each one didn't match up.  And, knowing my lack of skills, I knew I wouldn't be so successful in keeping each one the same.

 All in all, I'm happy with the way it turned out.  I could have used other tools instead of just free handing the paint, but I sort of like the unperfect look.

Plus, after finishing the top on this one and moving onto the next one, I knew it was time to call it quits.
Apparently, I made it a couple letters in and then switched words.  I mean, it wouldn't be my project if it went smoothly.

Now to decide what to do to fix it.  Should I try to write over the i and the r and change them to a r and an e?  Or should I sand and repaint the top?

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School Supply Deals: Week of 7/20

It's here.  This is the week things start getting real.  The week where you start going to four stores each week so you can get the best deals.  The week when you realize your summer is now dedicated to Back to School.  Here are the great deals this week.

And just a reminder- I don't post every school supply sale.  I post the ones that I think are the best "deals".  The ones you want to buy because it's the best price.  You might not agree and find think there's a deal I've missed.  Feel free to leave it in the comments. :)

Menards- The Home Improvement Store

I know you think it's odd to buy school supplies from a Hardware store.  I do too.  But each year they offer a KILLER sale.  So if you have one, it's definitely worth it.  A variety of the deals are also rebate deals so you'll have an upfront cost.  Get your rebates delivered elsewhere, and do separate transactions, to score more than the 10 limit.

  • 1 Subject spiral notebooks- FREE after rebate- Limit of 10 per mailing address.
  • 10 pack pens- FREE after rebate- Limit of 10 per mailing address.
  • 5" scissors- $0.39
  • Glue bottle or 3 pack Glue Sticks- $0.39
  • Pink erasers 4ct- $0.39
  • Cap erasers 40 pack- $0.39
  • Correction tape- $0.59
  • 7" scissors- $0.59
  • Highlighters 4ct- $0.59 (thin)
  • Dry erase markers 3ct- $0.59 (appears to be red, blue and black mixed)
  • Plastic storage box $0.59
  • Pencil pouch $0.59
  • Post-it Notes $0.59
  • Paper Clips $0.59
  • 5-Tab Dividers $0.59
  • 1" Binders $0.79
  • Dry erase markers 2ct black- $0.79
  • 3 hole punch $1.97 after rebate- Limit of 2 per mailing address.
  • 6 quart tote $0.88 (for book storage in libraries?)
They also have travel cups (ceramic hot cups and plastic double walled with straws) for 99 cents after rebate.  I'll be buying quite a few of those too.


Also remember that Staples prices matches + 10% so you can bring in ads and get things cheaper.

  • Crayola 10 ct markers & 12 ct colored pencils- $0.97
  • Post-it Notes 18 pack- $10
  • 2 pocket folders- $0.15 (I may start to buy some but generally wait for 10 cent deals)
  • Composition books- $0.50

Office Depot/Office Max

  • Poly snap envelopes $0.25 (look great for task card storage- haven't seen them in person)
  • Pink erasers 5pk $0.25- Limit 3
  • Glue bottles $0.25- Limit 3


  • Elmer's Glue Sticks 6 pack- $0.99


  • Wexford 1" Binder- $0.69
  • Wexford Index Cards- $0.29 with in-ad coupon

Let me know if you find any other good deals.  Happy shopping!

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4 Corners- A Kinesthetic Preassessment

I decided to do a little Throwback Thursday post and re-run a post from early on in my blog days.  I was going back and looking at my older posts and between all the crap {seriously, why would anyone follow my blog back then?} I had some really good posts.  I thought I'd bring some new life to them from time to time with a little Throwback Thursday!

4 Corners is a strategy typically used to build students' anticipation for new content.  You can use it to gauge students knowledge and comfort with a topic.  But, one of my favorite ways to review a skill is to use the 4 Corners strategy. I like it because it gets the kids up and moving. I also like it because your kids can hide within the pack if they aren't so certain about an answer. Here's how it works.

First, you label the four corners of your room. With review, I use multiple choice options a, b, c, d.  As a preassessment, you would label each corner with a level of comfort.  You could also come up with fun names for each corner.
1) A little minnow (struggling with the content)
2) A goldfish (feeling a little strong)
3) A catfish (big, bad and content)
4) A shark (I've got this under control)

Second, you ask the students a question and give corresponding answers.

Third, students move to the corner that represents an answer that they think is correct or the corner describing their comfort.

I always make the students explain the answer to reinforce what they're learning if you're reviewing. For your students who are struggling, they get to practice but if they don't know an answer, they can just follow the group and listen for the explanation. By doing this activity, all students are involved and it gets the kids up and moving for a couple minutes.

Basically, you can use this strategy any way to have students make a choice. I often forget about using it, but I need to add it back into my repertoire rotation.  Do you use 4 Corners in your classroom?  I'd love to hear some other ideas in the comments.

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Wishlist Wednesday: Open Ended Comprehension for 2nd Grade

This week's Wishlist Wednesday item is my Open Ended Comprehension for 2nd Grade.  These short passages are written to focus on students restating the question in their answers.  In my third grade class, we use these at the beginning of the year to practice PQA (putting the question in the answer).  I have a whole blog post about both here.

You can enter to win a copy of it over on my Facebook page or you can click the image above to head to my TpT store to buy it for 30% off!

*I do receive affiliate compensation from Zulily, however, all thoughts expressed below are my own.*

On a completely unrelated note- I'm completely obsessed with Zulily!  You've probably heard about it by now, but in case you haven't, here's a rundown.  Zulily is a daily deals site.  They offer deals for a few days at home in women, men, kids, and home categories.  I buy items for myself often, but I also have scored some cool things for my classroom.  Right now they have some great Back to School deals going on. They've also got some great teacher resource deals as well.

This table top magnetic letter stand and letters is only $14!

This black pocket chart totally goes with my black and white theme in my room.  I'm thinking this would be great for absence work, turning in work for each subject, or if you buy a few, it'd be great for mailboxes.

There are so many other products that are available as well.  To check out many of their Teaching Resources click here. This site is incredibly addicting.  Don't say I didn't warn you. :)

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School Supplies Deals- Week of 7/13/14

It's here.  It's officially the Back to School season.  I'm not quite ready for that yet, as it's giving me stress about everything I haven't yet accomplished {you know, since I haven't started anything yet}.  But, I also can't pass up a good deal so I'm going to start wrapping my head around the school year and make sure I grab great deals each week.

If you didn't follow me last year to see each week's deals, here's how it works: Each Sunday (sometimes Monday) I post the school supply deals I find each week.  Some are regional so you may not always have the same options in your area, but I also try to look nationally.  I try to include information on coupons, rebates, and limits, so you know exactly what you need or what the deal entails.  I also don't post every single item on sale at every single place.  I try to just include the "good" deals; those deals that you want to stock up on this week because they're a great price.  Without further ado.....


Remember that Staples will also price match to 110%, so bring in competitor ads!
  • Sharpie Permanent Fine Tip Marker- 2ct- Submit for rebate- FREE
  • Crayola Assorted Color Pencils- 12 ct- $0.97
  • Staples 6 Outlet Power Strip- $5

Office Max/Office Depot

  • Scholastic or Office Max Glue Sticks- 4ct- $0.25- Limit 3
  • 5-inch Kid Scissors- $0.25- Limit 3
  • Sharpie Single Permanent Markers- $0.25- Limit 10
  • Scholastic Crayons 24 ct.- $0.25- Limit 3
  • Office Depot Colored Copy Paper- $2.00- Limit 4- (Spend $4, get 50% back in rewards)


Use a Target Mobile Coupon for $1.50/3 Up & Up products to make these deals fantastic!
  • Up & Up Smudge Free Erasers 2 ct- $0.52- Free when you buy 3
  • Up & Up Staples 5000 ct.- $0.410 Free when you buy 3


  • Elmer's School Glue 2ct- $0.50
  • Crayola Crayons 24ct- $0.50
  • Scotch Laminator- $19.97

Happy shopping!

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