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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

State Testing Prep Part 2: Math

In Virginia, our state tests are called SOLs.  I'm not kidding.  It might as well stand for what you probably think it means, but it's supposed to mean "Standards of Learning."  Ha ha.  Anyway, I've been actively looking for ways to make test prep less painful.

Mary at Guided Math blog had a great suggestion.  By the way, you need to go check out her blog:

She was talking about the free math practice site Sumdog:

This website lets students create individual logins/profiles and it tracks them as they complete levels of math practice problems.  It starts really simple with basic addition and subtraction and works its way up to fractions, patterns, rounding, etc.  It has 122 different math topics from which to choose!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Taking the Sting Out of State Testing

So, here's my question for you:  How do you go about teaching test-taking skills and/or remediating with the students that need that extra push?  Technically, I do this all year long, but it always gets a little intense toward the end of the year.

I have been inspired to think about test prep in a different way from some very creative teachers.  Stephanie from Teaching in Room 6 blog is one of those teachers:  She does her test prep in stations/centers.  How cool is that?  That way it's not the same drill-and-practice, put me out of my misery kind of stuff.  When we get closer to ground zero, I'm definitely going this route!

For All Subjects:
Another thing I thought was really neat was how Stephanie's incorporating technology with a computer center, which is another of my goals for myself this year.  Here is one website that looks to be very promising that she's recommended:  It's totally free and all of the resources are as well (as far as I can tell so far).  Bonus!  Here's the link for all the wonderful task cards/worksheets that pertain to 4th/5th grade review work:

Virginia Studies
A website that I personally recommend if you are a Virginia teacher is
It costs $200 per school, but you get a TON of activities, worksheets, videos, and study guides that are directly related to all VA standards.  Our school has a subscription, and I don't know what I'd do without it.

I don't know about other states, but Virginia has decided to take its writing test online starting this year.  Here's the website where kids can practice:  I plan to have this as part of their center/computer lab time.

So how about you?  Do you know of any other great websites that help with test prep?  What do you use?

Monday, February 20, 2012


Keri at Teach, Play, Smile blog is giving away two $10 certificates to her TpT store!  All you have to do is blog about this giveaway and/or join her blog and leave a comment about it.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Behavior Management Time

Well, the treat basket is gonezo. 

In my classroom students earn points for being caught doing something good, which they can then turn in for rewards of their choice.  Up until this week, the treat basket has been the reward of choice.  Then, due to some dishonesty issues, I had to take the treat basket away.  It's just as well because I was feeling that they weren't really motivated by it anymore.  So now, I have to find something else to make them want to make good choices. 

As it so happens, DonorsChoose is having a matching campaign coming up in March.  So I pulled up the list of accepted vendors and started browsing.  Here's what I came up with:

Physio-Gymnic Balance Therapy Balls - 12" (30cm)

At about $13 a piece, these would be a great deal!  I've read several articles about the health and behavior benefits of using these in the classroom.  Ideally, I'd like 3 or 4 and just rotate them around the classroom each day to the students that earned that reward, but I'm also thinking about storage issues.

Maybe it's the cold weather and lack of sunshine.  Maybe it's the fact that it's "crunch time" and we're learning as much as we can a quickly as possible.  Whatever the reason, some of my students have developed a temper (slamming things, lashing out at classmates, breaking things on purpose).  Perhaps these would help?

Good time management = better behavior, right?  The overhead timer would help whole class assignments and with transitions as well.  The small timer would help with partner work and silent reading.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Student-Created Comics

So, our state 4th grade writing test is coming up in the next couple of months.  Starting next year, it will all be online (no paper and pencil---blah!).  We're supposed to get them used to typing in a text box for this.  Uh huh, with all that extra time we have to just stroll on over to the computer lab. 

In any case, I'm always on the lookout for websites that sort of simulate this.  I posted one about storybird recently:

I've now found a new website that allows students to use a variety of comic-style backgrounds and thought bubbles to create and publish a story called

It takes a little clicking and dragging, but it's pretty self-explanatory.  I plan to put it on the SmartBoard and play around with it next week to introduce it to students, and then add it to my Literacy Center choices.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Storybird--Helping Reluctant Writers and Artists Create!

I read about this website on a blog recently.

It is so cool!  It's a FREE website where you can get inspired by art to write mini stories.  After you choose your art theme, you create an online book.  It's really similar to online scrapbooking, and there's an extensive gallery of pictures from which to choose.

Here's a peek at something I made just playing around:

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Math Word Wall

My principal and math specialist would like us to start using math word walls.  I've been contemplating doing this for some time myself, so I was happy to check out the link below when it was sent to me.

**Warning** Just be careful if you want to show it to others (especially students) because it's one of those websites that is funded by advertisements.  This week's ad is apparently funded by a company that will remain nameless.  Suffice it to say that it's one of those "date night" ads.

Scroll down to near the bottom, and you can click on the appropriate grade level vocabulary cards to print for your word wall.  Of course I chose fourth grade.  Here's a peek at some of the cards:
I plan to print, laminate, and attach them to my cabinets with poster putty.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Reading Comprehension Strategies Link-Up

Rachel from Minds in Bloom blog is having a Link-Up for everyone to share reading comprehension strategies. 

You can check it out for yourself at

I made a document of all the comprehension strategies to date that I've practiced with my students.  This document includes 14 organizers for practicing reading strategies. Strategies include: Ask Questions; Make Connections; Synthesize; Create Images; Determine Importance; Fix-Up Strategies; Infer: Fact/Opinion; Summarize. Below is a an example of one of the pages.

I give my students a copy of the organizer once we've practiced it in class. Twice a week, students copy the organizer into their reading journals and apply it to their nightly reading.

You can pick up a free copy at my TpT store:

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Homework: What's Your Policy?

Jenaya at the Lesson Plan Diva is having a linky party about homework policies.  You can check it out at

We are allowed to assign up to 50 minutes of homework per night for our fourth graders. 

Reading:  My students read 20 minutes a night and fill out their "reading log" (see below).

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, students complete a "W.E.B. Log" in which they apply one of the reading comprehension strategies we practice in class to their nightly reading.  By the way, W.E.B. stands for "We Enjoy Books."  Right now, we're practicing what we call "Fix-Up Strategies," which is basically what you do when you come to a word or words you don't know (see below).

Students copy this into their W.E.B. Log notebooks and fill it out on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I conference with each student at least once a week to go over these and set reading goals for the next two days.

Math:  Monday through Thursday, I give 4-5 math problems from the workbook that goes with our math textbook.  I find that too many more questions than this is a waste of time because they make careless mistakes, and I need that extra time for either Virginia Studies or another review activity.

Virginia Studies:  For each new chapter in the book, my grade level created flash cards with the state standards' language on them.  Students have to draw a picture representation of what the card means and be able to explain why they chose to draw that particular picture.  I usually give 2-5 of these a night, depending on how much I taught and how much other homework I've given.

Below is an example from our current unit on the documents that helped to set up our government. 

All of this takes them pretty close to the 50 minutes, if not over for some of the more distractable students!

I try not to give any homework on Fridays, but it does happen from time to time.  If I must give homework, I try to make it minimal.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Goodwill Books Online

I was reading a post on Nicole's blog about finding Goodwill books online.  You should check out her blog:

I reluctantly went to the website, thinking I wouldn't find much of what I wanted or needed.

Holy cow, was I wrong!  I am so excited about what I found that I just have to share.

Lawn Boy Returns: $0.40
Trees Of The Dancing Goats (Book with CD ): $4.89

Many Luscious Lollipops: $0.59 
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane: $0.40 
Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook: $0.48  

And the CD to go with it: $4.01

No Talking: $0.40
The Tiger Rising CD: $6.16

All of this for about $27 (including shipping)! 

I think I'm even more excited about the fact that I can now beef up my listening center for fairly cheap.