April is National Poetry Month!

Poetry…the one genre that usually inspires a collective groan from my students, especially the boys! And sometimes, I just can’t blame them. As teachers, we often use boring poems that were written hundreds of years ago with vocabulary that no one uses anymore. Why do we do that??? There are SO MANY wonderful poets today who write poetry intended just for young students. As an elementary teacher-turned-librarian,  I get giddy when April comes around because I know how fun poetry can be and how many opinions I can change during my poetry unit.

I always begin with a lesson on how freeing poetry can be…it’s an opportunity to write without having to follow rules! We all know how students love a chance to break the rules. I further explain by reminding them that when we write a sentence, we always begin with a capital, end with punctuation, and we must include a noun and verb. Our stories must have a beginning, middle, and end that flow together cohesively. Poems don’t HAVE to have any of these! I demonstrate by walking over the window, observing for a few moments, and then coming back to my anchor chart pad and writing a poem. I don’t say anything…I just write. Students are a little confused at first, but then it dawns on them that I really can just write the way I want to when I write poetry!

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Of course, as we learn more about how to write different types of poetry, there are “rules” students must follow (such as how to write a haiku or a limerick), but I let them enjoy their freedom for as long as possible! Another freeing thing about the poem that I wrote is that the words do not have to rhyme. Oh the tears I have witnessed through the years over rhyming words! Some students LOVE to rhyme while others HATE it. There is room for all of us at the poetry table! Empower your students to write poetry by assuring them that their poems do not have to rhyme. You will be amazed by the change in the way they approach poetry writing!

I use this unit on the elements of poetry for most of my unit. I also spend a great deal of time reading poetry aloud to students, and allowing them time to explore different poets.

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What are your favorite poetry resources? Thanks for stopping by and sharing!

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Everyone loves a mystery!

As a classroom teacher, I never focused on the mystery genre much. Oh sure, I would introduce different series to my students when we added new books to our classroom library, but I never truly engaged them by teaching them all about mysteries. What a mistake! Now that I am in the school library as a media specialist, I can see how much students of all ages absolutely devour mysteries! As a reader, I myself love getting wrapped up in a great mystery. So why do teachers neglect the mystery genre? Perhaps it is the lack of quality resources out there to guide us along. Or maybe it is because there isn’t a separate standard on the end-of-year test that measures a student’s mastery of the mystery genre. No matter the reason, I think all teachers should strive to include a mystery genre unit in your ELA instruction. Mysteries are such a versatile genre, because they can also be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, science fiction, historical fiction and more.

As I looked for resources to teach my upper elementary students (grades 3 – 5) about mysteries, I was somewhat disappointed by what I found. It was easy to find lots of cute lessons featuring detective clip art, but I needed something more “meaty”. So I created my own unit.

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I based the lessons and activities on our state standards as well as the AASL standards that guide my instruction in my library/media center. To introduce our mystery genre study,  we began with a discussion of what a “mystery” is. Since this can be a multiple-meaning word, I like to see what they already know and go from there. While many students mentioned Scooby Doo and Cam Jansen, others immediately thought of UFOs or unexplained paranormal events that they have read about or seen on tv. Some recognized the genre title from Netflix while others had amazing personal insight such as, “My mama says it’s a mystery how my daddy keeps a job since he is so lazy!” I didn’t EVEN go there! 🙂 Following our conversation, I shared The Case of the Broken Vase on Youtube with them. It was a great way for them to visualize many of the elements of a mystery, plus the detective is ADORABLE!  Following this, I taught the essential vocabulary for the mystery genre using a PowerPoint that I created. I love teaching vocabulary using real-life photographs because students are such visual learners. Once I taught the vocabulary, we returned our focus to the Case of the Broken Vase and as a group, we completed our Detective Case Report on it. They loved this, and I felt like it was a great way to really help them acquire the new vocabulary.

detective case report

Following this activity, I selected several mysteries to do short “book talks” on to hook my readers, and it truly worked! On my shelf tops, I had already displayed lots of mysteries that would appeal to a wide variety of students on many different reading levels. The students couldn’t wait to check out the mysteries!

The unit that I created features so many more engaging activities for teaching the mystery genre, as well as detailed lesson plans, a teaching PowerPoint, assessment activities, interactive notebook resources, and more. Click here to learn more.

I’d love to hear what you do in your classroom or library to teach the mystery genre! Thanks so much for stopping by!

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How to Plan for Spelling…for the Entire Year!

 

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I have a love/hate relationship with spelling. I really do. I love to teach children word patterns, chunks, spelling rules…all for the sake of creating future perfect spellers. I feel like it is one small way that I can make the universe a better place 🙂 But I also hate spelling, or at least the way we traditionally teach it in elementary schools: give students 10 words on Monday, have them practice them for homework all week, test them on Friday, and then repeat it all over the next week! For most students, this approach doesn’t work. They are simply memorizing the words for the test on Friday, after which they promptly forget them. In order to truly learn to spell, students need multiple meaningful interactions with the new words. Furthermore, they need to learn patterns, spelling rules, and exceptions to the rules. There are so many wonderful spelling and phonics programs out there. I have tried several, but the one that my district has used for the last several years is Fundations by Wilson Language. This outstanding, research-based program provides a solid foundation for students in spelling and reading. I have used Fundations and the Wilson Language products in my classrooms from kindergarten through fourth grade.

When our district first adopted Fundations, each classroom received a kit as well as consumables for every student. These products are worth every penny! During the last few years, however, our funding has been cut and we no longer have the means to purchase the consumables (student journals/notebooks/etc) for each student. Therefore, I needed to create a homework and word study system for my classroom. This seemed like an overwhelming task at first, but once I got a system going, it didn’t take too long. This process can be used no matter which program you use for spelling. If your school or district does not have an official spelling program, there are several that you can find online.

To begin my planning, I use this planning guide to help map out all of the concepts and/or skills that I want to focus on for the year. I make two copies of this sheet (one for each semester). I fill in all of the concept/focus boxes first with the skills from our standards such as: plurals, r-controlled vowels, etc. Next, I decide how long I will spend on each concept/unit. I typically spend two weeks on each concept. After that, I start filling in my spelling words for each week of each unit. During the first week of a unit, I usually focus only on root words that contain the word pattern I am teaching. For example, if my focus is r-controlled patterns “ar” and “or”, then in week 1 of that unit my words might include park, chart, horn, and forth. In week two, I will then use those word patterns in multi-syllable words or in words with prefixes/suffixes, such as parking, charted, horns, etc. Each week, I also include five challenge words. These are almost always sight words that do not follow the spelling rules (in Fundations, these are called trick words). I fill out the entire master planning sheet at the beginning of the year. This helps me know exactly which words I will be focusing on not only for spelling instruction, but also for my word work centers as well as grammar lessons. I make a file for each unit and place all related activities in the file that corresponds with each skill or concept. This helps me organize all of the cute Pinterest activities I find throughout the year! Another added benefit is that I don’t repeat words! I’m sure none of you have ever done that, but I sure have!

So what about spelling homework? Yes, I still do spelling homework even though I know that the word study work we do in class is truly what helps the students master the spelling concepts. Our spelling homework provides additional practice, and parents like to see what their child is working on in class. Over the years, I have compiled quite a list of engaging spelling activities that students enjoy. Using the idea of the tic tac toe board, each student gets a spelling menu/choice board with their new spelling words on Monday. These are glued down onto the next clean page in their “Spelling Homework Notebooks”, which are simply composition books. Students must select three choices to complete during the week, and they return their notebooks to me on Fridays to be checked. Students are asked to keep the notebooks in their backpacks at all times unless they are completing homework. Often during word work time, students will use their spelling notebooks to complete activities on their choice boards from a previous week. I don’t mind if they repeat an activity that they have already done, but most often they like to choose a new one to mark off more activities on their tic tac toe boards.

A few years ago while teaching second grade, I decided that I would create all of the tic tac toe boards for the entire year before school began. It was a great accomplishment, and I loved not having to worry about making one each week for the following week. Of course, I had already planned out my entire list of spelling words for the year, so I just included those words on the tic tac toe boards and BAM! Spelling was done for the year. If you would like to save yourself a lot of time planning and creating spelling lists and homework boards, click below to get my year long spelling unit for second and third grade. I am almost finished with the one I created for fourth grade, so check back soon if you need that level.  I’d love to hear what you do for spelling instruction and homework! Thanks!

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TPT Conference 2016 in Orlando

My first Teachers Pay Teachers conference was amazing, and I am still trying to process everything I learned…which is difficult since I am still officially on vacation with my family! One of my greatest take-aways was understanding the power of collaboration. I have always loved working with a strong team, but during the last few days I have developed a keen awareness of just how beneficial having a tribe can be. Rachel Lynette has always been one of my favorite teacher-authors, and attending her session on networking was a fantastic opportunity. The TPT team as well as all of the presenters emphasized over and over again how important it was to find your tribe and support one another. I think it was Jen Bengel who reminded me of the quote, “Rising water lifts all boats.” Wow! There are so many aspects of my life that this quote can really apply to, so I made a poster to print out to help me stay focused on this.

{Click on the poster to download a copy}

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I had really wanted to meet other school librarians/media specialists while at the conference, but it wasn’t until after the conference ended that I was able to begin connecting with a few. I am excited about my newly formed friendships and can’t wait to see where this journey takes us. What was your greatest take-away from the conference?