Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Book Clubs in the Classroom

Do you use literature circles?
Literature circles are a great way to get your students excited about reading. I utilized literature circles for years. Over the years, I found that I needed to adjust how I ran these literature circles based on my students' needs.  I finally found a system that worked for me. I created Book Clubs.

Book Clubs

I called my literature circles "Book Clubs" because I wanted my students to love books like I did with my own book club.  At the beginning of the year, I told my students about how I belonged to a book club and  I explained how book clubs work.  In my own book club, we all read a book chosen by the next hostess.   I told my students that they were going to be a part of their own book clubs. They were thrilled!

How do you run Book Clubs?

Instead of using different "roles" or "jobs" like with literature circles, I created groups with just one person "running the show".  With adult book clubs, the host or hostess usually guides the discussions. My students followed this same example and we had a "host or hostess" each time we created a new Book Club.  That person became the Book Talk Leader.  Each week, the Book Talk Leader would be someone new.  This leader was in charge of leading the discussions and posing questions when there was a lull in the conversation.

I grouped students based on their MAP testing and Lexile levels and I usually had 6 groups going at a time.  Each group would consist of about 3-6 students.  Once I saw the dynamics of the group (based on Lexile) I started looking for books. I would then give each group a choice between several books and they decided as a team which book to read.  I explained that this is how my own book club works, too.

I had a subscription to EdHelper and it had "Literature Units" database.  Just looking under the 4th grade book list alone, there are hundreds of books that have story questions (and high-level, questions, not JUST basic recall information).  I didn't want to limit my book selections to JUST the books that I've read. Therefore, I used these questions and answers to help guide my students in their book talk discussions.  You can also find a wealth of book study resources on Teachers Pay Teachers.

How do you start?

I made a file folder with the questions printed from EdHelper.  I made one for each student.  I distributed these folders at the beginning of each new Book Club session.  Each student had the questions BEFORE reading that would be discussed during the Book Club's book talk.  I had my students look over the questions before reading, so that they could use this to guide their thinking while reading.

I had my students get with their book clubs when I first assigned the book so that they could preview the book and decide as a group how they want to break up the reading.  They knew that they would have three weeks to finish the entire book.  As a group, they decided on how many chapters to read each week.  It worked very nicely.  Then, students read their book during their "Read to Self" time of our reading rotations.  They also had the option to read the book at home, during free time, etc.

We would then meet to have our "Book Talks" each Thursday.  During this time, the students got together and started discussing the book first.  Listening to them talk about the book was my favorite time of the week.  I would walk around during this time soaking up all of the "book love".  At the beginning of the year, I modeled how this should be done.  I "pretended" with several student volunteers that we were sitting at my dining room table talking about a book.  We practiced with the read aloud that we had just completed.  We just talked.

*Did you like the book?
*What did you think of _______________?
*Why did this character do _________?
*Can you believe that he __________________?
*I was shocked when _________________.

I had also given my students "thinking stems" for their Read to Self letters and sometimes I would have students pull these out if they were struggling with what to talk about.

When they were finished chatting, I would tell them to pull out the questions from their folders.  They discussed these questions and where the answers were found in the book.  Sometimes, there would be quite the debate over a particular question.  That is when I remind them that they must refer to the book and "prove it" to the other person by citing the text.

I fell in love with Book Clubs and my students did, too.

Do you use book clubs?  How do you make it work for you?  Leave me a comment and let me know!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

How Do You Stay Informed?

A few months ago, I was working on a team for my district to research methods and strategies that would provide rigorous, engaging and authentic instruction for our students.  When completing the research, I ran across several articles published by Education Week that were relevant to the research we were doing.

Have you ever started researching an idea and fallen into the pit of the web and wondered how to get out?  That is essentially how I felt when I started reading articles on their website, and I knew that I needed to subscribe in order to stay up to date with current events and issues that we, as educators, face daily.

I turn to Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook for inspirational ideas for my classroom and for teaching tips.  I turn to Education Week to learn more about how we can make a difference as teachers in our profession.  I also turn to Education Week to understand policies that are being implemented.

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

Do you know and understand the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) that was signed into effect by President Obama on December 10, 2015?  Do you realize the implications for English Language Learners?  With the passing of ESSA, English Language proficiency will now be determined at the state level by their own accountability systems.  This will have a huge impact on the ELL community in our country.  It could be a positive impact if we all continue speaking up for the needs of all ELLs.  Now, we will focus our attention at the state level.

I didn't learn about all of the different aspects of the changes from NCLB to ESSA until finding the abundant information on  Because it directly affected the population of students I serve as an ESOL teacher, I knew I needed to do my own investigating.  In addition to the 37 issues of the printed newspaper, which I love, I have found countless articles on ESSA.  However, what I love most about the website is that it also links videos that answer many questions.  Below is a video I found that gave a pretty clear explanation of ESSA.

If you are interested in learning more about how ESSA will impact English Language Learners, you can also view this video that was shared by the Migration Policy Institute:

Taking Stock of ESSA’s Potential Impact on Immigrant and English-Learner Students from Migration Policy Institute on Vimeo.

How do you stay informed about what is happening in the world of education?  Do you have any more resources to share?

*This post is not sponsored by Education Week.  These opinions are strictly my own.  I just wanted to share with you a great resource for learning about what is happening in education.  

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Quick Tips for Back To School

Have you already hit the ground running this school year?  I've teamed up with some of my friends to give you some wonderful tips for back to school.  I hope you will hop along and check out some easy, QUICK tips that will help you save time, get inspired and ready for the Best School Year EVER!  Not only that, but we are each sharing a chance for you to receive a $25 gift certificate to Teachers Pay Teachers to get your year started right!  Make sure you visit each blog and enter. There will be multiple chances to win and several winners.  It could be YOU!
The tips I am sharing with you are simple ways to help you differentiate your math instruction. Often, so much attention is placed on how to differentiate in reading, but we lack ways to help meet the individual needs of our students in math. But, there are ways to make it work!

How do you differentiate math instruction?
Have you read Guided Math by Laney Sammons?  After reading this book, I knew that I needed to spend time finding ways help students individually.  Meeting the diverse needs of the varied ability levels in your classroom can be quite difficult- especially in math.

One way to differentiate math instruction is through a daily spiral review based on each student's individual needs.  Do you have students who haven't mastered the skills from the previous school year?  Perhaps you have students who lack basic computational skills that were covered 2 years prior. Allowing students an opportunity to complete math practice that is on their own instructional level not only helps them master skills they need, but it also builds self-confidence.

Why should you use a spiral review?
One of the most effective ways to foster mastery and retention of mathematical skills is through a daily cumulative review.  A daily math review should take between 5-10 minutes and should allow students an opportunity to be exposed to skills and concepts that touch all mathematical domains every single week.   Keep in mind, this is only one component of the entire math block, and not the sole method of math instruction. Students also need to be exposed to depth and complex problem solving while focusing on one skill/concept at a time, too.  However, why wait until May to teach any type of geometry?  In many cases, geometry isn't introduced until April or May...and we all know how busy and hectic those months can be.

How do I determine which grade level spiral review to use for each student?
If you are lucky enough to have access to a placement test, you could administer that assessment to determine which grade level your students need.  However, an easy way to determine the level for each student is to look at your content standards vertical alignment and determine if your student has mastered a certain (grade) level.  I wouldn't focus on every single standard.  That would take way too long.  Instead, get a general idea for a student and go with your instincts.  You can always bump a student up or down based on how he or she is doing.

How do I make this work in my busy classroom?
One of the easiest times to have students complete their spiral review work is during your "morning" routines.  Depending on which type of spiral review you use, student are only completing a few questions a day.  However, you can also have students complete the questions during stations, for homework, or as they complete other assignments during the day.

How do I use the information from their daily work?
Use the information that you gather from your students' spiral review work to build your lessons for guided math.  Are a few students not understanding how to find equivalent fractions?  That group gets pulled during Guided Math/ Math Workshop.

If you are interested in reading more about Guided Math/ Math Workshop visit the links below:

Math Workshop: Building Routines That Last a Year

Math Stations...Making It Work

More on Math Stations

Math Workshop Monday

Or, you can simply type in "math" to the search feature on the sidebar of my blog to find more posts about Guided Math or Math Workshop.

If you are interested in checking out my spiral review resources, click on the images within this blog post to find them in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.  Each one has one free week as a FREEBIE for you to try out.  Just download the preview for the free week!

Ready for the giveaway?  Enter to win!!!
a Rafflecopter giveaway 
Now, hop on through to find even more tips and chances to win! 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

February Pinterest Pick 3

For the last two weeks, I have been working on learning more about Pinterest.  I found a great course offered by Melissa at Blog Clarity called Pinning Perfect.  Anna from My Life and Kids has been moderating the course.  I’ve learned so much already! If you are a blogger and want to learn more about Pinterest and how to use it more effectively, I suggest you give the course a try.  Even if you aren't a blogger, did you know that more and more teachers are using Pinterest as a search engine to find activities for their classrooms?  Just the other day, Kristen(Ladybug’s Teacher Files) and I were discussing how it is the first place we go when we want to learn more about a strategy or method to try in our classrooms. I know there are better ways to use Pinterest, and this course is helping me learn the beauty that is Pinterest ;)
While taking this course, I “met” Ashley from Just Reed I have enjoyed learning from her, too.   I decided to join Ashley and her friends in this month’s Pinterest Pick 3 Party to tie in what I’ve learned and share some of my favorite February pins with you!

Ah, Valentine’s Day!  There are so many ways to incorporate Valentine’s activities into your classroom.  What I love about all three of the pins I’m sharing is that they take the holiday and use it to make learning fun.  Who doesn’t love learning when it's fun?
I absolutely love this building polygons activity.  The lesson teaches about polygons in a hands-on way.  The "Valentine's Day" connection is by using Valentine's Day colored straws.  You could really complete the activity any time of the year.  This is yet another reason why I love this pin!
Pinned from Lemon Lime Adventures
Are you looking for some fun ways to incorporate Science activities into your Valentine's Day activities?  You must check out this pin!  
Pinned from Little Bins for Little Hands
Or, check out this one, too!
Pinned from Raising Lifelong Learners
PIN with us!  We love PINSPIRATION!
Here’s how to join in on the fun!!!
1.  Save the Pick 3 images to your desktop.
2.  Create a blog post using these images to share your 3 Pinterest Picks for the month.
3.  Share a link to your full Pinterest page if you would like.
4.  Link up by clicking the add your link button below.
5.  Be sure to check out the other Pinterest finds that have been shared and leave a comments on the ones you love!

Be sure to check out my board "Fun in the Classroom" for even more FUN :)

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

7 Strategies to Create an Interactive Classroom

How do you differentiate for your English Language Learners?  Read on to learn 7 Strategies that will encourage even your more reluctant English Language Learners to participate!
Need to find some ways to create a more interactive classroom for your English Language Learners?  Use these 7 easy strategies to help you discover how you can build your students language while promoting a warm, inviting classroom.  (Check out strategy #6, it’s a favorite!) Education matters!
There are many ways to include active interaction within your classrooms.  Not only does this help your ELL students, it provides opportunities for all of your learners to explore oral language.  The Common Core Standards for Speaking and Listening ask for students at multiple grade levels to be able to express their thoughts and ideas.  Students must be able to explain and defend their own learning.  When you provide an opportunity for your students to interact with one another in collaborative settings, everyone wins!

So, what is “Interaction” anyway?

It is simply the opportunity that you give your students to interact in social and academic situations. Learning is more effective when students have an opportunity to discuss ideas and information.  Most people learn best by doing.  Even more learn best when teaching others.  Interaction is essentially “teaching” others your thoughts and ideas about a given topic.  When students defend their thinking, they teach others about their thinking.  Therefore they internalize the concepts at a deeper level.  There are many ways that you can encourage interaction among your students.  When you do, it encourages even your more reluctant English Language Learners to participate and it also creates a positive classroom environment.  Interaction stages include Teacher-Student Interaction, Paired Interaction and Group Interaction.  All three levels of interaction are beneficial and are easy to implement in your classroom. 

Try these 7 Simple Strategies to Create an Interactive and Active Classroom

1. Set up a classroom that is conducive to interaction.  Do you have your classroom set up in cooperative groups?  And when I mean cooperative groups, is it truly cooperative and not simply seats pushed together to form a group?  Cooperative grouping encourages discussion and interaction.  When asking questions and presenting material, give your students the opportunity to “think, pair and share”.

2.  Allow your students to use hand signals to indicate their level of understanding.  Check for understanding by allowing students to give a thumbs up or a thumbs down. This non-verbal way of communication encourages reluctant ELL (or any student) to speak up.  I always told my class to hold their signals close to their hearts.  This was our private way of “talking”.  Another variation is to use red and green cards on the corner of desks.

3.  Move more!  Use hand and body gestures to enhance speech.  Teach your students different hand gestures for certain phrases that are used often in the classroom.  Hand gestures enhance speech by providing a visual connection to the vocabulary or content material.  Use music with hand gestures for even more language support. 

4.  Increase engagement by using a simple “Find Your Match” interactive game.  When reviewing vocabulary, pass out cards using terms, definitions, and pictures and ask students to “find his/her match”.  Strategically pass out the cards by your students’ comfort/ability.  Non-English Speakers can join in this activity easily when you provide them with visual card. 

5. Monitor group work activities by having students share responsibilities on the assignment.  In groups of four, students read an article and answer questions related to that text.  However, they complete the work on each other’s paper.  Starting with their own paper, students answer question number one.  Then they pass their paper to the right, and begin working on the next question on the paper passed to them.  Students pass the papers until all questions are answered and the article is returned to the original owner.  Once completed, give the groups an opportunity to discuss and defend their answers.  This discussion time provides the oral language support that is essential for ELL students.

6. Utilize Reader’s Theater to improve fluency and comprehension.  Group high and low proficiency level students together so that students needing oral fluency modeling have the support they need.  Allow students opportunities to rehearse, read and perform in class. 

7.  When reviewing a topic, use Circle Chat.  Number students off by 2.  The number 1 students form a circle facing out.  The number 2 students encircle this center group facing in.  This way, you have two groups of students in a circle facing each other.  Give the students questions to discuss.  Partners have the opportunity to discuss the answers to the questions.  Then, the outer circle rotates one person to the right and the questions continue.

Classroom Interaction is essential for English Language Learners, but it is also a tool that will benefit the oral language and development of all students.  Can you see yourself implementing any of the strategies?  

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Prayers for South Carolina

Having lived most of my life in South Carolina, I am having a hard time lately with the devastation and tragedies that have taken place in my beloved state over the last year.  From the ice storms of the winter of 2014, to the tragedy in Charleston in June, to the devastating flooding that is occurring in and around our capital city this week, we are all heartbroken.  However, what I am most proud of is the fact that the great people of this state all seem to rally together during these difficult times to help out our fellow man.

My daughter came home on Friday for a family weekend.  I'm so thankful that we had this weekend planned and that she made it home safely from Columbia.  She's a student at the University of South Carolina and I just received notice that they have canceled classes through Friday of this week due to the unsafe conditions in the area.  I'm so grateful that she attends a university that puts the safety of its students first.  

Although the city where I teach is safe and the conditions are fine, my county is not completely unaffected.  Because of this, I have been home from school for two days because the buses are unable to travel down roads safely in the outlying areas of the county.  I am grateful for my district leaders. They made the decision to cancel school because many road closures and hazardous conditions make it unsafe for our students to travel to school.  Although it will be difficult to make these days up when the time comes, the safety of our students is more important than later inconveniences.

My Facebook newsfeed is full of unbelievable images of the flooding.  It's heartbreaking.

But, you know what else is flooding my newsfeed?  Images and messages of support.  Bottled water and other supplies are being gathered and distributed to relief efforts.  People across my great state are reaching out to help those less fortunate.

Please keep South Carolina in your thoughts and prayers as we rally to return to a new normal.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Is Handwriting a Lost Art?

How do you feel about teaching handwriting? For years, it was removed from our curriculum and it's almost become a lost art. That saddens me. Recently, I started following some beautiful Instagram accounts that have sparked my interest in the art of penmanship. I've never been in love with my own handwriting, but I think it's because I'm always in a hurry to get down my thoughts. I think it's about time to slow down and enjoy the art of hand lettering.

Did you know that BIC is on a mission to save handwriting through its Fight For Your Write initiative? The mission is aimed to educate everyone about the importance of writing by hand, and providing parents and educators with information and activities that encourage and inspire writing. By taking the pledge at, you can help join the crusade as well - for every signature collected, BIC will donate a pen or pencil to students in need across the country through their partnership with

I'm happy to partner with BIC to share this information with you! Writing is a critical learning tool for children, and BIC is committed to making sure that schools (and students) are given the tools that they need!

I received this fabulous box full of BIC supplies to check out and I have to say that I LOVE everything.

· BIC® Xtra-Fun pencil, the only #2 pencil with two-toned color barrels.
· BIC® Xtra-Craze™ Mechanical Pencil
· BIC® Brite Liner® Erasable Highlighter
· BIC® Cristal® Stylus
· BIC Atlantis® Ultra Comfort pen.

I love everything included, but I think I'm most in love with the erasable highlighter!  Check it out:

How cool is that?  I know this will come in handy when I'm trying to teach my English Language Learners how to highlight key concepts.  Often students get "highlighter happy" and now we have a way to fix that!  Yay!

Do you have a favorite BIC® product?