Text Structure Bookmark Freebie


It seems to me that text structure questions come up an awful lot on standardized tests.  I prepare my students with these bookmarks.  Students use them to identify the text structure in their book (or a stack of books that I dump on their group’s table during whole class activities).

Print, cut apart, and give each student or group their own set.  Laminate for longer life and reuse again and again!

Make it a game!  Students love the challenge of finding one of each type of structure.


Ace to King Review Game Freebie

Ace to King Review Game Freebie

Lately, to mix things up, I’ve been making a lot of my classroom activities more game like by using playing cards.  “Ace to King Review” is something I’ve been using for vocabulary review.  The idea is basic, and students pick up on the game quickly.  All you need is a projector, playing cards, and a key for your students to check each other’s verbal responses.  I’ve used parts of speech vocabulary words for fourth grade, but you can use any vocabulary words you want.

Rules (also listed on the slide show below): Students work in pairs.  Give them a partial deck of cards (Hand out the same number to everyone, but don’t worry if everyone has different face values.  If you play this a few times, eventually, every student will be asked for every definition at least once.)  Partner 1 draws a card, which corresponds to a word projected on the board.  They attempt to define the word, and Partner 2 agrees, disagrees, or checks the printed answer key (found after the question slide).  Partner 1 gets to keep all the cards that they answered correctly, and gives back the wrong answers to try again.  There is no question for the “Joker” card, so students can choose any word they want when they draw this card!

The Google Docs slide show is below, and you can download it using the little gear icon below the presentation box.  Feel free to try it out, adapt it, and let me know how it goes!

(I notice that the above frame seems to cut off the bottom of some slides–don’t worry, the downloaded version works fine!)

Weekly Literacy Homework Page

Weekly Literacy Homework Page

I was thinking there might be a few teachers out there with schools that are tight with paper like mine.  I originally formatted this weekly homework page format when we were asked to use less paper, but I had no idea how much I’d love it!  One page makes my life so much easier!

Each Monday, students are given a single homework page which has been printed on front and back and 3-hole-punched.  They pop it into their homework folder (a cheapo card stock folder with 3 brads and 2 pockets) and do 1/4 of the page each evening.  Just a heads up, these little pages are packed with info.  There isn’t a lot of white space, but my 4th graders have never had a problem with the amount of material on each page.  They quickly mastered the familiar weekly format.  Mine love routine, and the four standard sections (1. Reading for Information/Paragraph Attack 2. Word Work/Writing  3. Mixed Genre/Paragraph Attack  4. Context Clues/Vocabulary/Spelling) ensure I’m providing additional homework practice equally across my literacy curriculum.

Below is my general template.  (The first passage is from an AWESOME site, K12Reader, which has with tons of leveled passages based on content areas–check it out, really, it’s the best I’ve found.  The second passage I borrowed from…well, the Internet somewhere a while back.  If you recognize it, let me know and I’ll cite the source!  The crossword puzzle was made on Tools for Educator’s Puzzle Maker–another a super handy site!)

Download the Weekly Homework Page Format

1 page homework:

1. Get more bang for your buck: Use .25 inch margins.  Set your spacing is to single space (not 1.5).  It makes a difference!

2.  Decide on your weekly sections and label each day’s homework with the day and section title.  (Ex. Monday: Reading for Information/Paragraph Attack)  Also include easy to follow directions.

3. Have a place for student names at the top of each side of the paper.  This way, no matter how it’s laid out on their desk (I do homework checks while they are at specials), you can easily see whose you’re looking at.

4.  Tie the homework’s content to your specific curriculum standards each week, and use the same section headings each week.  I use a different activity type each day.  This helps students get familiar with many different question styles (standardized test prep anyone?).  Also, if a student really dislikes a certain type of activity (let’s say Tuesday’s writing activity is a real drag for them), they only see it once that week, and are more likely to just get it done instead of skipping it all together (like they might if I had a whole week of writing activities).  Also, I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir here, but it has to be said that homework should offer a very specific and tailored practice session outside of the classroom, not be random or busy work.  When the students open their homework each night, they should think, “Oh yeah, this is similar to what we did in class today.”  Provide hints or reminder sections for material you know could trip up your students.   They may not have an adult at home to help them if they get stuck.  Give them the tools they’ll need to review or extend what was taught in class.

5. Decide how you will check the homework.  I provide a key at the front of the room, and students check their work with a marker when they enter the class each day.  During certain times of the year, I may even make a matrix for them to mark their incorrect answers, so I can see at a glance which problems were the most difficult for the class as a whole. (I’ll try to find that matrix and post it here eventually!)  However, most times of the year, I do a quick glance over during specials (not to record grades, but to see the problem areas and who did/did not do the homework).  Then, I may pull certain students during the day to discuss problem areas.

This homework is specifically for a literacy classroom, so the sections are tied only to literacy.  However, if you want to provide homework for all subject areas, just change up your sections (Ex. Monday: Science Read and Respond Passage,  Tuesday: Writing about Social Studies, Wednesday: Math Concepts, Thursday: Health Read and Respond Passage).

How do you use and manage meaningful homework in your classroom?  I’d love to hear your ideas!

Sentence Frame Freebies


I first made these sentence frames (AKA sentence starters) in my classroom last year after hearing about their benefits with ESOL students during a TESOL grad class.  I began posting and referring to simple frames around my room during Shurley English lessons.  At this part of the day, students analyze and identify parts of speech and patterns in sentences.  The students were giving me one word answers, and I knew my fourth graders could do more.  I modeled how to use the sentence frames and required the students use a full sentence (like the example in the frame) EVERY time they gave me an answer.

3 examples from student responses:

  1. “I know ‘shiny’ is an adjective because it describes the plane in the sentence.”
  2. “I know ‘on his face’ is a prepositional phrase because it tells the position of fly.  Also, ‘on’ is a preposition, so it signaled that a prepositional phrase was coming!”
  3. “I know this sentence is an imperative sentence because someone is telling someone else what to do.  We talked about how ‘imperative’ sounds like ‘parent’, and parents tell us what to do!”

Their level of their articulation soared!  And by “their” I mean the whole class’ thinking, not just the ESOL students!  They were forced to provide reasoning for their answer, but also given scaffolding to formulate their response.  After a few weeks, most of the students didn’t need to look at the sentence frames for assistance, the sentence flow became second nature.  Try them out, and let me know how it goes!  (Access the Google Document link by clicking on any of the pictures, or use the PDF version: Sentence Frames Freebie)

I’m becoming an expert…


…in wedding planning!  I realized the other day, that I’ve spent an extraordinary amount of time researching wedding ideas in the last 2.5 weeks (and loved every second of it).  If you surf the Internet long enough, I’m pretty sure you get to call yourself an expert.  😉  To share my newly gained “expertise”, I’ve decided to try my hand at Squidoo and write some wedding planning articles for their site, showcasing the best tips I’ve found to help other brides-to-be.

So, my first two accomplishments of wedding planning?

Blocking hotel rooms and planning gift bags for the hotel guests!

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!