Monthly Archives: April 2012

I’m engaged!!!


Exciting news, everyone!  My boyfriend, Dan, gave me the biggest surprise of my life on the Great Wall of China on Friday the 13th.  No bad luck for us!  He asked me to take a picture with him, handed the camera to our friend (who also had no idea what was about to happen), and got down on one knee.  I never saw it coming, which you can see in the pictures!



Paragraph Attack Page Protector

Reading comprehension DIY tool and strategy

Use this simple tool to allow students to practice marking up passages without getting library fines. 🙂

This post ties in with the Paragraph Attack video I posted a couple days ago.  Paragraph Attack is a series of steps I have my students use every time they read a passage that includes comprehension questions.  Many of my students are ESOL or EIP and reading below grade level.  Using these steps provides them with a strategy for making meaning of reading passages.  You can find the original post and the steps HERE.

In order to make the Paragraph Attack strategy a routine and improve confidence with high level reading passages, I feel it’s important to encourage students to use Paragraph Attack with every reading comprehension passage we use.

Sometimes though, our reading passages aren’t in worksheet format–they’re in books, and you get in trouble if you write in books!  I give my students modified page protectors and a fine tipped dry erase marker to use in place of their pencils.  Cut off one long side of the page protector, slip it over the book page, and mark up the passage with no worries!  (You can also use the clear overhead projector sheets, but I found that they slip around much more than the page protectors, and students get frustrated.)

Clicking on the pics will bring you to this article on my other website, which has suggestions for where to find page protectors and fine tipped dry erase markers.  Happy reading!

Dollar Store Goodie: Timers


Dollar Store Goodie: Timers

Ever have those student that seem to spend mysteriously large amounts of time in the media center or running errands around the school? I have a few of these, and I found a simple (and cheap!) solution–Dollar Store Timers!  The timers shown are from the Dollar Tree, but any digital timer will work!

First, attach the timer to the media center pass. My library pass is on a long necklace, reducing how many times it’s lost while students search for books. I wrap the necklace string around the plastic stand piece on the back of the timer and then make it stay with a piece of masking tape.

Next, with your students, determine how much time is needed to get to the media center, search, and get back to the classroom. You can even have a few students run some time trails during their media center trips that day. You can always tweak this time as you see fit if it’s too much or too little time. My students use 4 minutes.

Then, teach the students how to set the timer for your chosen time and also STOP the timer’s alarm. I did NOT want my students to be causing a ruckus in the media center, so we practiced hitting the stop button as quickly as possible. This way, IF the timer did go off in the media center, they wouldn’t be distracting others.

Finally, teach the students WHEN to start and stop the timer. The beeping isn’t loud, but I asked my students to set the timer as soon as they stepped out of the classroom and just outside the door when they returned. This way, they weren’t distracting anyone with the tiny “beep beep” the buttons make.

This process really improved the efficiency of every media center visit, made students plan what they would search for before ever reaching the media center, and helped with their time estimation skills. ALSO, the Media Specialist LOVED it. She told me that she wished all the teachers would use the timers, because it eliminated the fooling around that she had to deal with in the media center! She said the students would look down at the timer and then pick up the pace in making their selection.

How do YOU encourage your students to use their time wisely? I’d love to hear your ideas!

Paragraph Attack!


Paragraph Attack!

My students use these steps to break down and make meaning from every passage they read.  I made this video to help them remember the steps.

Standardized tests can cause anxiety for even the most knowledgeable students.  Long reading passages can easily overwhelm a student in a stressful testing situation.  However, by learning and consistently using test taking and comprehension strategies, your students are preparing themselves with tools to attack any reading passage they encounter.  I noticed that when my students looked at passages using the same method every time, they became more comfortable and confident in analyzing difficult passages and constructing meaning from them.

The steps:
1. Read and circle the title. Look for clues in the title about the main idea of the passage.

2. Number the paragraphs.  Since test questions often ask students to go back to specific paragraphs to look for information, labeling the paragraphs prior to reading can assist with these questions later.  In addition, beginning with a simple task boosts confidence and allows a moment to calm nerves.

3. Read the questions.  If the main purpose of reading the passage is to answer the questions at the end, why not begin with the end in mind?  Read the questions, underline the key words, and take note of what information needs to be found.  (No need to read the answer choices at this time.  That will come later.)

4. Read the passage.  Underline all topic sentences and box in key words.  Make notes in the margins about big ideas.  Be careful to box in only a few words and phrases per paragraph.  Using a pencil to underline and box in important information is better than a highlighter for test preparation, as highlighters are not allowed on most standardized tests.  It is best to prepare in conditions most similar the test taking situation.

5. Reread the questions.  This time, read the answer choices as well.  After reading each answer choice, decide if the answer is not correct or maybe correct.  If the answer not correct, cross through the letter.  If the answer is possibly correct, mark it with an “M” for maybe.  If there is more than one “M” (“maybe correct”) answer choice, reread those answer choices, go back to the passage for more information, and select the best choice.

6.  If time allows, reread the questions and check the answers.

Happy attacking! 😉 reading test preparation

Student Independence


Do what only you can do.

My new motto this year is (I seem to have a lot of these), “Don’t do anything for the students that they can do themselves.”  This ties is nicely with a statement by preacher Andy Stanley, in which he said, “Only do whatever it is that only you can do.”  He didn’t mean shirk all responsibility, but to delegate where you can, so you can focus on the areas in which you are gifted and called to make the greatest difference.  With these things in mind, I brainstormed this list of things my fourth grade students can do themselves.  Allowing the students more independence in running the classroom allows them to grow as responsible students and you more time to “do what only you can do”–teach!  (The picture will link you to the 3 min. video of Andy speaking about this point.)

So, in no particular order…

What Students can do Themselves

1. Take attendance and tally lunch choices.

2. Begin AM work.

3. Complete tasks and begin a new one.

4. Determine who has turned in which papers (students check off their name or move a clothespin).

5. Line up

6. Transition to carpet

7. Connect my laptop to the LCD. Set up classroom computers (pull up program or my blog to begin working on skills).

8. Practice Shurley English using the ActivBoard (while I assist other students in small group).

9. Change jobs each week.  Manage jobs (who is/isn’t doing their job).

10. Assign points to on task student groups.

11. Organize book shelves by genre, level, series, or topic. (Which got me thinking, why not invite some former students into the classroom to help me set up my room at the beginning of the year?  They would love it, and so would I!)

12. Move from lunch to transitional activities to PM classes.

13. Write in agendas. “Today I learned… HW… Positive moment for me…  Something I should work on…”

14. Rotate through centers during Reading and Writing blocks (student will set timer, transition quickly).

15. Return checked out classroom books and literacy bags (make a student’s job to peer check and use a CueCat–I NEED one of these!).

16. Find new educational game sites to add to my (our) blog!

17. Write newsletters and call out messages with the most important and current class information.

18. Grade (Self and Peers): Spelling Tests, Vocabulary Quizzes, Word Work, Reading Journals

19. Peer Revision (provide with revision form “1 Glow, 2 Grows” and labels with specific feedback)

20. Make bulletin boards of student work and create specific student feedback (high level thinking!).

Now, with the students managing themselves, I can get to the business of TEACHING!  🙂

What do your students do independently?  How do they take the lead in their own learning and running of their classroom?  I can’t wait to hear your tips and tricks for student independence!

Peer Grading


Found this great article, “Escaping the Paper Grading Trap“, and I’m ready to devise a system for students to do more of their own grading.  I have fallen victim to the 40lb teacher’s take home bag more often that I care to admit.  This article stresses, “Don’t do for students what they can do for themselves.”  Not only does allowing students to grade their own (or peer’s) paper free up my time to focus on planning instruction, but it provides more immediate feedback than I can hope to provide on my current grading weekend warrior schedule I’m currently on.

This will be especially useful for daily homework and word work workbooks.  We can create an accountability system and process for teaching cooperative learning groups to grade each other’s papers.

Grading Papers in Stages


Just found this great idea at, and I can’t wait to make some rubrics to go along with it.  Kim offers a sample timeline and assigns each date a task and point value.  Students accomplishing the task get 100% of the points that day, while students not completing the task get partial or no credit.  I think this could really help some of less motivated students complete their work on time, PLUS provide some meaningful daily grades for writing (even when we work on a large paper for an extended period of time).

Planning/Drafting/Editing Daily Assessment


Due Date


Sign Off





____/____ /____

____/____ /____

____/____ /____

____/____ /____

____/____ /____











Total Points_____/_____

Final Draft Rubric

3 points 2 points 1 points
Introduction Engaging beginning
Thesis statement
Introduces topic
Includes 2 of the 3 Includes 1 of the 3
Body 3 detailed paragraphs
3 topic sentences
3 closing sentences
Includes 2 of the 3 Includes 1 of the 3
Conclusion Restates thesis
Includes opinion
Wraps up the paper
Includes 2 of the 3 Includes 1 of the 3
Conventions Correct capitalization
Correct spelling
Correct punctuation
Includes 2 of the 3 Includes 1 of the 3

Total Points ____/12   (x 3 = final score)

Add the total points from each of the 2 assessments to reach a final grade for the project.