December 25, 2017

Teaching Firsthand and Secondhand Account

For the month of December our focus has been learning about point of view, firsthand and secondhand account and primary sources. Whew, that's a lot of standards!

I made reading vocabulary cards to introduce keywords they encountered in the question stems related to these standards. I realized we don't use the terms during our reading discussions enough (oops, this one is on me!). So, the kids found the visuals useful, and they all have referred to them. I'm glad I added the images because this standard is one of those they know but takes practice for them to feel comfortable using the terms.

Teaching the difference between firsthand and a secondhand account was the easy part. The hardest part was finding paired reading passages and related it to our social studies theme. I had no luck! But, found four worksheets with short reading passages that worked well to practice. I liked the way the worksheets asked the kids to cite evidence from the passage since this a standard we are struggling with. The questions that asked them to write from a different point of view were my favorites! This was tough for them but, it honed in this week's reading skills.

Midway through the week, I created a PowerPoint to explain firsthand and secondhand account. This PowerPoint made it clear for them to understand the difference there is between a firsthand and a secondhand account. I found the kids were confusing it with primary and secondary sources. My heart smiled when they connected a previous lesson we did at the start of the year.

After they got the basics down, we continued to refer to the Literacy handbook from McGraw Hill. I have to tell you I'm in love with this website. The best part is the content and that it's free! It is also a great website to recommend to parents.

To teach point of view, we used Brain Waves elements of fiction doodle notes. I highly recommend using these notes. The kids loved making their doodles notes. I was skeptical at first about the coloring because this year my class does not like to color as in previous years, but it truly made a difference. The power of colors and visuals never fails me in the classroom! They are my go-to strategies, and I try to incorporate them as much as I can.

What I love about teaching point of view are the picture books we get to read as a class to practice identifying the different point of view. My go-to picture books are the LaRue series and Two Bad Ants from Chris Van Allsburg. These picture books are fun and easy to read. The kids have a blast reading these books. They provided tons of practice to review other skills such as vocabulary, making inference and letter writing.

These books make the standard accessible to many types of readers. The illustrations in both books with the author's word choice make it easy to show how authors write from a different point of view. For example, with my struggling reader's I focused on the illustrations to make meaning of the letters that LaRue wrote to his owner. For the book Two Bad Ants, we compared the point of view of the ants with ours. Our culminating activity ended with the kids picking one character of the books we read and rewriting the story from another character's point of view.  We got so wrapped in our standards that winter break caught us off guard!

The week ended on a high note, but we are all excited to start our holiday festivities. I couldn't end this post without sharing! If you want to get the resources I used to teach these standards? Click below!

Big Learners : worksheets for students to practice telling the difference between firsthand and secondhand account. 

Student Notes- Powerpoint notes for students.

Teacher PowerPoint- Includes student notes. This is great to show in whole group. 

Picture Vocabulary Cards: Coming Soon!

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December 8, 2017

December Classroom Management Tips

The holidays are here, and so is the season where RM 113 need classroom reminders of the expectations and rules we have. It happens every year right after our Thanksgiving break. This year I’m tackling my rambunctious bunch by implementing four simple classroom management tips: 

Teacher vs. Students

My kids love to play board games and so do I! I decided to play a classic game of Connect Four with a twist. There's something about beating the teacher that they find satisfying. So, we play teacher versus students. As a class, they vote for a reward they will be working towards. The rewards can range from a popcorn party to some extra minutes outside. If the teacher wins, then they get the opposite. For example, they can win an extra five minutes or lose five minutes. To play, they have to work as a class to receive a token. The class earns a token and gets put into the grid as soon as they meet our classroom expectations. I chose students randomly, or I pick the ones I see putting a heap of effort to get that token! Now the opposite happens if I have to give them a warning, then I get to place a token in the grid. Trust me, the game gets competitive throughout the day especially when they need one more token to win. This is one game where I am fine being the loser.

Positive Stars

Sometimes when I'm teaching I want to praise students for participation, showing effort or just overall doing good things that make my teacher heart happy. At times, just stopping in the middle of a lesson to say "you're doing great" doesn't seem reasonable or appropriate. I want to acknowledge what they are doing without interrupting them and me.

So here's my quick fix; silent stars.As I'm talking, I just passed by their tables and leave a silent star. These silent stars have a praising phrase that I would say to them. I place them in a mason jar or just carry them with me. I love seeing their reaction as they earn a silent star. 

Lottery Ticket 

Who doesn't like to play the odds with lottery tickets? I can tell you my kids love it as much as my next door neighbors. I use lottery tickets to reward individual behavior. The concept behind it is just like playing the lottery. The more tickets you have the higher chances you have to win. The rewards consist of things the kids can do right away in the classroom. They range from writing with a pen to sitting on the teacher's chair. I use the lottery tickets for behavior and academics. If they receive a 100% on an assignment or make gains on any test, then I give them a lottery ticket. The kids fold the paper twice and throw it in the lottery basket. My lottery basket as you can see is an empty wipe box. It's easy and convenient. So, save those wipe boxes! Throughout the day, I pull lottery tickets and at the end of the week.

Emoji Bean Bag 

I always find random objects during bus duty. Two weeks ago, I ended up with this emoji bean bag. I took it home, washed it and it has been on top of a shelf till it found a new purpose. During instruction time, I use this little guy to keep my bunch engaged.

As I'm asking the kids questions, I call on them and throw the beanbag. They catch it and answer the question. If they answer correctly, then they get to pick who answers the next question. If they answer wrong, then they throw it to a friend to help them. Their friend answers the questions and throws the beanbag back to them, and they answer the question again. The friend who answered picks the next person while they throw the bean bag to the next person. 

Folks, I have two more weeks until winter break, and the struggle is real! The holiday craze is real, and it attacks all classrooms everywhere, especially RM 113! I have managed to push the class through with these tips and taking it day by day. How do you survive the holiday craze? 

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April 19, 2017

How to teach Montessori in a Public School

More schools are choosing Montessori programs over traditional teaching programs. Montessori programs have expanded to include public school. More than ever, parents are looking for alternative ways for their children to learn. The influx of charter schools offering innovative programs leads them to choose Montessori.

The shift to Montessori has put public schools in an odd place. Many teacher preparation programs don’t offer Montessori training as part of their program. Instead, teachers need to enroll in private Montessori training accredited through one of the two main Montessori entities: American Montessori Society (AMS) and Association Montessori International (AMI). This poses a huge problem for public schools. Ideally, a teacher would hold a Montessori credential and state certification. However, a Montessori credential is not required. At least in my state, to teach a teacher must have a teaching credential from an accredited University.

Public Montessori schools by law are held accountable to teach state standards. This is another obstacle for public Montessori schools. Montessori is a pedagogy established before standards. A Montessori curriculum surpasses state standards and at times the lessons taught do not correlate with grade level standards. Montessori programs allow the child to lead the curriculum. State standards are a guide to help teachers move the curriculum along. Due to this, there is a conflict between implementing a Montessori curriculum while teaching grade level standards. This conflict magnifies in grade levels that test; even more when teachers have a multi-age classroom. Teachers often feel the need to choose between the test and teaching. These two things alone make teachers frustrated.

The answer to teaching Montessori in public schools is multi-layered. For this reason, I decided to do a series of posts to show you how to teach Montessori in a public school. Here are key strategies, I use regardless of the grade levels I’m teaching.

Interdisciplinary Units

There are many names for interdisciplinary units. This concept is very much like thematic units. A misconception teachers think is that everything must match. Interdisciplinary units are an essential part of any Montessori program. One of Montessori’s key ideas is for children to see the world interrelated by making connections between what they learn. More of this in the next upcoming posts.

Montessori Work Plan

A Montessori program encourages independent learning. Montessori is big on teaching children to self-regulate. One way I promote independence is by establishing academic goals throughout the day. This is easily done by using a work plan. A work plan is a commitment done between the child and the teacher on a daily or weekly basis. The child with the help of the teacher pick lessons that reinforce what they are learning. Work plans are introduced as early as first grade.

Three Hour Cycle

The three-hour cycle is the block of time given to students to work on lessons. Ideally, this would be uninterrupted and it includes the child working in various settings. Within the three-hour block, children can work in a small group or independently. This is where small groups and one to one instruction happens. Many public schools have state mandates that regulate how much time is given to each subject. We will touch more on this throughout the series.


Observation is the heart of Montessori. Maria Montessori success with children came from the observations and reflections made from working with them. As a teacher, observation is key to know what’s working and what’s not. The materials found in classrooms today are Montessori’s results of careful observations and reflections. Observations play a significant role in decisions teachers makes in their classroom. Observations and reflections are part of successful Montessori classrooms. I will be sharing tips on following posts to make observations part of your teaching practice.
I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below on key practices used in your classroom.
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April 16, 2017

Retelling Strategy Twist

It is this time of the year when I like to add an element of surprise to our reading groups. I noticed that when it comes to our fiction text there’s seems to be a struggle when it’s time to retell and interpret literary devices we are encountering. From our group discussions, my kids do way better with nonfiction than fiction. The funny part is they find fiction to be easier than nonfiction. I’m still trying to process why they perceive that.

Reading skills unlike math are what I like to call recycle skills. Many of our kids will encounter again, most of the same reading skills and strategies they were once introduced to. Two of the main changes are the text’s complexity and the level in which they analyze. I decided to go back to retelling to see where the problem lies. I didn’t want to go the traditional route of just reading a story and picking on some kids to retell. 

I came across an author a couple of weeks back named Linda Hoyt through her book titled Revisit, Reflect, Retell. The title alone quickly caught my attention. One strategy that stood out was named team retelling. In team retelling, a group of children retells the story. What makes this strategy fun is the twist she puts on it.

The retelling focuses on the team sharing the responsibility of retelling various parts of the story. After reading, the different elements of the story are written down on individual cards. Here comes the twist: the cards are put faced down in front of the group and shuffled. Next, each student picks a card at random. The card chosen is the part they need to retell.

This strategy was a game changer in our group discussions. First, the kids were caught off guard. I saw a level of excitement when the cards were faced down and no one knew what they were going to get. Also, I loved how everyone got to participate. My introverts had a chance to make meaningful contributions while my extroverts were working on patiently waiting their turn.

She also suggested other variations on how to use the retelling cards. For example, students in pairs use the retelling cards to guide their retelling. One child is the listener the other is the teller. The listener holds the retelling cards and removes the card the speaker described in their retelling. After retelling, the listener can show the teller which elements they mentioned and which ones they didn’t. These retelling cards help story elements be more apparent to both the listener and teller. There’s a second set of cards that older kids can use, which steps it up a notch. These cards touch on literary devices like flashback and imagery. I highly recommend this strategy to help your readers stay on track while giving them a focus for listening.

What other strategies are you using to support students in retelling stories? I couldn’t let you leave without this freebie!

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April 10, 2017

Why We Love Integrated Units (And You Should, Too!)

As teachers, we need to help kids make the connection reading and writing go together. The analogy is simple; as peanut butter is to jelly, reading is to writing. Kids cannot afford to read without writing. Research states writing is the ultimate skill of reading. When our children write, they are showing us what they have understood, and their aptitude as readers and writers. If this is true, why do many teachers teach one subject over the other? Kids need to see the connection among subjects. The effect of teaching subjects in isolation has caused many kids to experience difficulty in reading and writing. As kids go up in grades, this gap becomes wider and more visible. So, what can we do to remediate this phenomenon? The answer is simple! One way is by integrating reading and writing into content areas such as science and social studies. Integrated units make this such a breeze!

Here is a lesson focusing on types of circuits while integrating reading and writing skills. The science goal was for my kids to understand the different types of circuits by identifying its characteristics. After doing some research on different types of circuits, I decided to compare make models to understand this abstract concept. This easily translated into the kids writing a response that would allow them to showcase what they have learned about circuits.

According to what I tell my kids, science is full of abstract concepts, they are invisible things happening all around us. To bring these invisible concepts to life, we created circuits models out of paper.We read and defined each type circuit. It’s a good practice for kids to relate new information to concepts they already understand for new knowledge to be acquired. We started the lesson by reading statements about electricity. The kids colored one of the boxes to tell if they agree or disagree. This naturally led us to discuss key science concepts.

I moved on to show the kids how light bulb turns on and off using the close and open circuit models. By making these models they understood how breaks in a circuit makes the light bulb turn off. The color coding on the models made it easy to follow the charged electrons making the light bulb turn on. Throughout the unit, we made different circuits models to explore the characteristics of each type of circuit. These models provided a visual that helped further their understanding of circuits.

As we continued learning about circuits, I wanted them to make connections with circuits and
electricity. On our previous lesson, we learned about static electricity and its characteristics. I started by introducing our reading skills. It was a great way to recap some of the highlights of static electricity. The kids also made their own interactive Venn Diagrams in their notebook. We decided to chunk the information into pieces by making comparisons after every two circuits. This was also a perfect time to introduce literature into the lesson. I couldn’t pass the opportunity to highlight Ben Franklin achievements to the science of electricity. As we read and compare Ben Franklin’s Big Ideas and discoveries to our study of electricity, this book easily extends our learning to other areas of science.

While learning about different circuits models, we stopped and look back at our predictions; It was great to see the kids ask if they can change their answers. The reflections and readings sparked discussions which paved the way to our written responses. Before starting, we learned about the types of comparisons scientist make. We discussed the difference between surface level and deep level comparisons. This quick explanation came in handy when it was time to support our answers with details. Our writing instruction began with mini-lessons on writing responses that compared two different subjects. I first modeled how to use the paragraph frames on our notes to write a model response. Throughout the lesson, I had four different checkpoints where we would work on answering each of the four statements. As the days passed, the kids gain familiarity and confidence with their writing skills. It was very handy to use the writer’s checklist at the bottom of the page to remind them of what to keep an eye out of, during the writing process.

Our unit would not be complete without making some circuits of our own. Learning about circuits inspired us to make our circuit toolbox. Based on what we learned, we used paper circuit to make different types of circuits. Each circuit toolbox had guided models and the tools necessary to make our own. The tools in the circuit toolbox were found at our local hardware stores although they can be easily purchased online. We first started with guided models and worked our way through to create our own. These paper circuits were easy and fun to make.

The kids had a blast making them. I loved how easy it was to walk them through the scientific method without them noticing. All the kids became experts in making these models quickly. You know, the lesson was a success when all the kids identified and labeled all the parts of the circuits. This activity was one way of bringing simple concepts of electricity to life.

 Don’t forget to check back on how we are continuing to integrate different subjects to make the connection between reading and writing. Grab the label to make your own circuit toolbox. Make sure to download the freebie because it's editable! If you want this whole lesson, stop by our teacherspayteachers store.

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