Sunday, November 22, 2015

Bold Beginnings and Catchy Conclusions: Taking the Tears Out of Writing the First and Last Paragraphs

In my teaching and personal experience, I find the first sentence of a piece of writing to be one of the most difficult things to create and perfect.  After all, an author really only has a sentence or two to gain the interest of their readers.  No pressure, right?  What's the next most difficult thing to write?  That would be the final paragraph in which the author has to wrap everything up in a pretty package with a bow on top.  That's no easy task, either.  So, I compiled some of my favorite openings closings to stories that I've either read or written.

Most of my favorite openings include figurative language because it can make any writing piece fun, in my humble opinion.  My top favs are:

Onomatopoeia is a fun word just to say.  Also, describing the way something sounds is appealing to the auditory learner in me.  Plus, students enjoy trying to describe the sounds to each other.

Foreshadowing is fun to use around Halloween.  It adds a creep factor to creative writing and mysteries.

Alliteration is a fabulous element to add to the title of a story.  For example, "Bold Beginnings and Catchy Conclusions" sounds much more interesting than "Opening and Closing Paragraphs".

Similes/Metaphors help your future Mark Twains party like a rock star while they are writing.  See what I did there?

Below is the first page of the model story I created to help students get into their writing.  I challenge you to see how many of my favorite story-starter elements mentioned above are included.  Spoiler alert:  I tell you how many and which ones directly after the photo.

I'll bet you guessed that there were two of my favorite story-starter elements in this part of the story: Onomatopoeia and foreshadowing.  

Below is an example of some of the other Bold Beginnings included in the rest of the story.

Conclusions don't have to be boring and routine.  My favorites are quotes and similes/metaphors.  If a summary is done properly, it can also be a good ending to a story.  However, summaries can be tricky.  If all a summary includes is the same sentences from the story, that can really put a reader out.

I print, laminate, and keep these sheets available for buddy editing and small group writing.  If you'd like to pick up a copy, click here.

How do you inspire your students to open and close their writings?  I'd love to hear how!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Vocabulary Instruction and Assessment

One thing I've placed an emphasis on, regardless of whether I'm teaching elementary or middle school, is vocabulary.  I'm a believer in the benefits of vocabulary instruction in all subjects, not just Language Arts.

For example, my 7th Grade Life Science students often have 4-square vocabulary for homework prior to the instruction of those concepts.

They are responsible for filling in the definition and picture/graphic with the help of the glossary and pictures in their textbook. I don't like for them to use the Internet or dictionaries for this because there are usually too many different definitions and pictures out there on the World Wide Web.  The textbook streamlines that process.  I supply them with the example and non-example during class and they fill them in. This way, they've already been exposed to the key words twice before I even explicitly teach it in context.

After all the vocabulary has been thoroughly taught, we play review games from my Vocabulary Review Games Packet.

Finally, we take an assessment.  Half of it asks them to use the information from the 4-square examples, and half of it is matching the word to the definition.

I made a packet for the templates for the 4-square and vocabulary test. Click here to pick up a copy of my Vocabulary Instruction and Assessment Packet.

Do you do use explicit vocabulary instruction and review in all subjects?  I'd love to learn some tricks from you!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Let's Talk (Figurative Language) Turkey!

The holidays are right around the corner! While they can be hectic, they can also be a great time to talk about figurative language in your writing curriculum.

First of all, almost everyone loves Fall food so It's easy to get the students to buy into it.  This time of year also makes it easy to experience all those Multi-Sensory experiences first-hand: Colors of leaves, touching a pumpkin, the smells of pumpkin pie, crisp Fall air. So why not tap into those experiences and practice some figurative language while you're at it?

I had so much fun creating the graphic organizer!

And the Wanted Poster!

If you want to pick up a copy, click here.

Do you have a fun way to get students to practice figurative language in their writing?  I'd love to hear how!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Growth Mindset, Art, and Science Activity: Edible Neurons

We've been using Mindsets in the Classroom: Building a Culture of Success and Student Achievement in Schools by Mary Cay Ricci in our county. It is honestly one of my favorite district initiatives because believing in yourself and perseverance are two of life's most important skills. 

Many of the activities in its sister book, Ready-to-Use Resources for Mindsets in the Classroom: Everything Educators Need for School Successare geared toward elementary students or Language Arts, and I teach middle school science. So I decided to combine art and science in my first Growth Mindset activity: Edible Neurons. 

Since cells are such a big part of our curriculum in Life Science, I was able to tie this activity into cell parts when I showed them the following diagram.

So, we grabbed the Twizzlers and Fruit Roll-Ups and started creating our own edible models.  I did have them use hand sanitizer before beginning.

Finally, we got to EAT them!  This was easily their favorite part.

I created a document that gives step-by-step instructions and a materials list.  
This document includes:
~A materials list
~A procedure list
~A neuron diagram
~Pictures of partially and completely finished edible neurons

If you would like to pick up a copy, click here.

Do you have any Growth Mindset activities that mix well with science?  I'd love to hear about them!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Math is Real Life: Setting Up a Fish Tank

It's that time again, time for Math is Real Life.

It's time to downgrade my big fish tank. I only have two of the original ten fish left.  They died of old old age, by the way. So I got out the little fish tank I use for transportation. 

It had been about five years since I last used it, so I didn't exactly remember how many gallons it held.  I estimated that it would take about three gallons to fill. I even put it beside my Keurig, which takes about a gallon, for reference. 

So, off to the cupboard I went to get the gallons of water usually kept in there, but my hubby apparently didn't tell me we were down to one gallon. Oh, well. I poured it in to see how much it would fill before running to the store. 

One gallon filled the tank almost halfway. 

So, I needed to revise my original estimate of it being a three-gallon tank. It would only take about another gallon to almost completely fill it, which is a total of two gallons. Still, the scientist in me was screaming, "Buy two more gallons, just in case!".  It's better to be over-prepared than unprepared. 

Turns out, 2 gallons did the trick. 

So, with a little estimation and trial-and-error, I got my math on.  It's true, Math is Real Life!  If you want to join the link-up and share your real-life math experiences, click here.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Slow Cooker Teacher Savior: Italian Marinara Sauce

As I am full-swing into the school year now, I rely more and more on kitchen gadgets to make life easier at home.  I mean, who has the time to work 12+ hour days and come home to cook and clean it all up?  Not this chick.

So, in my latest installment of the teacher saviors posts, I'm focusing on the perfect pasta topper: Italian Marinara Sauce.  My family loves it and it's far more organic than the jarred stuff on isle 6 (although I love that, too!).

About 2 1/2 jars (36 ounces) of spaghetti sauce.

8 cups diced tomatoes (1 average tomato yields about a cup)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 tablespoons minced garlic
3 tablespoons McCormik Garlic and Herb Perfect Pinch Seasoning
4 tablespoons Italian seasoning
3 tablespoons lemon juice (I use the bottled stuff because I never have fresh lemons lying around)
1 tablespoon sweetener of choice (I have used Splenda, but I prefer Truvia baking blend for it's more organic nature)
2 tablespoons garlic powder

Combine all ingredients in the slow cooker and give them a really good stir.  You want the tomatoes to be completely coated with the herbs.

Cook on low for 6-8 hours.  I do not recommend cooking on high for this recipe.

Take the lid off and turn the cooker off to let the tomatoes cool while you get the pasta water going.

After they have sufficiently cooled so that you won't get burned if they splash onto you, use a blender to puree them to the desired consistency.  If you have a stick blender, you can just blend the tomatoes in the slow cooker.  I used my Magic Bullet to make batches of sauce.  Warning:  If you use a Magic Bullet or other blender that has a lid, you need to make sure the contents aren't too hot or they seem to create excess bubbles that want to explode out.

I save my old mason jars so I can store the sauce in them, but you could just leave it in the Magic Bullet cup.  I only like to leave about 12 ounces out at time so it doesn't go bad.  There's no way I'm using 2 jars of sauce in a few days!

I like to freeze the rest in baggies.  I measure about 12 ounces into each baggie and lay them flat in the freezer.

Enjoy over the pasta of your choice!

So, with about 20 minutes of prep, you can have a boat load of delicious sauce!  Do you have any slow cooker recipes that make a bunch of freezable meals?  I'd love to hear about them!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Behavior Management Cards

I am a big believer in having a behavior management system that allows some flexibility for the teacher, as well as give multi-sensory cues to the student.

In middle school, I knew a clip chart wasn't going to fly. So I created a card reminder system. 

While creating the cards, I thought of three main behaviors I wanted to see. These were: Teamwork, hard work, including staying on task, and evidence of higher-level thinking. I named these "Praise Cards". 

Then, I thought of the three main behaviors I wanted to curb. These were: Talking at inappropriate times, off-task behaviors, and leaving the group or their seat at inappropriate times. I named these "Reminder Cards".  

If I see a desired behavior, they get a Praise Card to keep for the period.  At the end, they write their name on a slip of paper to be entered into a drawing for prizes.  I plan to draw names about once every month or so.

If I see negative behaviors, I give a verbal warning first.  If the behavior continues, I give the Reminder Card.  If it still continues, I give a written referral (our school policy).  I find that having a reminder in front of them usually curbs the behavior for the period.

I made a PowerPoint of the cards so I could print as many as I needed.
This editable PowerPoint includes:
~4 "Reminder Cards" for talking
~4 "Reminder Cards" for off-task behavior
~4 "Reminder Cards" for being out of seats
~4 "Praise Cards" for teamwork
~4 "Praise Cards" for hard work
~4 "Praise Cards" for higher-level thinking

If you want to pick up a copy, click here.

Do you use a card system in your classroom?  I'd love to hear how!