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Hello Everyone!  During writing workshop, it can be hard to get students to break out of their comfort zone when it comes to word choice.  Today I'd like to share a new resource (and a freebie) designed to help you lead your students to choosing "just right" words for their writing.

Awesome references and activities for students to practice shades of meaning!

My newest TPT resource provides ample opportunities for your students to practice using words with subtle differences.  Here's what's included and how you can use it in your classroom to encourage growth in your students' word choice.

I created 12 alternative word list cards to use as a resource during writing workshop.  I printed mine on card stock, laminated & cut them, and then placed them on a ring.  I take this resource with me during writing conferences, so students can see some options if they need to be more specific.   You can also have your students cut out the words and place them in their writing notebooks as a reference.

Meaningful references to get your students to intentionally think about word choice

For practice and assessment of this skill, I provided eight printable activities.  Your students will enjoy ordering, illustrating, and spinning.  There is something for everyone!

Awesome no-prep activities for your students to practice words with different shades of meaning

Freebie!
The Shades of Meaning Spin is a great way to get your students actively engaged with alternative words.  I am offering this as a freebie.  You can download this game by clicking here or on the picture below.

Free Shades of Meaning Spin!

The activity below makes a great center.  However, there are several other ways you could use these cards in your classroom.
     *Pass out the cards to your students.  They need to find their group and stand in order of least
       intensive to most intensive.  (Great to get your students up and moving!)
     *Use the cards in a small group activity for students who need to advance their word choice.
     *Use when you have a few extra minutes: place several words on the document camera.  Students
      can say or write sentences, sketch, or act out the subtle differences in meaning.

Engaging center for your students to practice shades of meaning.

Grab all of these activities for 20% off if you purchase by the end of the day on Wednesday, April 18, 2018.  Have fun leading your class to better word choice!  You can make your purchase by clicking here or on the picture below.

Awesome references and activities for students to practice shades of meaning!

Have a great week!

A couple of weeks ago I shared some upgrades to my math workshop.  One of my favorite upgrades was creating a challenge bin for some of my students to use when they were finished with the assigned activities.  Today I would like to share what I have in my bin.

Creating a math challenge bin - Lots of freebies on this post!

On the left, you can see the math Power Towers for multiplication.  I found this wonderful idea at Fabulous in fifth.  You can read her post here.  On this site, you can learn how to make your own Power Towers as well as download a free label.  I had already made a set of Power Towers for addition and subtraction.  They were such a hit, I knew I needed a multiplication version for the challenge bin.

Inside the bin, I have an additional activity for multiplication.  I created some puzzles for my students who are working on multiplication to enhance their understanding of the concepts.  

Free Multiplication Match Game

I made 12 puzzles, but I have found that it worked better after I separated them into two sets of six.  I  put the Answer Key with both sets.  If you would like this set, you can download it for free here.  There is a sample included for your students to use as a model.

I also included four bags with place value task cards and activities.  You can view the video below to see what I include in the bags.  Then you can check out the links to the items below.


When I taught fourth grade, I created of task cards that I used for place value.  These cards are working out great for my second grade challenge bin.  You can see pictures of each type below.  You can also click here to view the entire set in my TPT store.  (The posters from the video as well as a print-friendly version for all four sets of task cards are included.)                                                                                                                                              
Awesome Place Value Task Cards!

Awesome Place Value Task Cards!

Awesome Place Value Task Cards!

Awesome Place Value Task Cards!

I love the game option (from the video).  I found some great free game boards to use with the task cards.  You can download them at Tim's Printables by clicking here.

You can download the list of uses for the task cards by clicking here or on the picture below.  This list works great for any task card center.

Free directions/task card options - Great for centers!

I definitely have more ideas to add to my challenge bin.  I will share them with you as I create them.

What do you do to keep your students challenged in math?

Creating a math challenge bin - Lots of freebies on this post!

Thank you and have a great week!

Hello Everyone!  Our weather in Columbus has been all over the place.  One day, I'm enjoying a long run outside, and it seems like the next we are on a delay due to snow.  Go figure.  I hope you have been able to have a few nice days to get outside this winter.

One of my big goals this year is to make some changes to my math workshop.  Originally, I wasn't sure exactly what those changes would be, but I knew things just weren't flowing the way I'd like.  I had a talk with my instructional coach.  She suggested video taping one of my lessons, so I could come up with some specific goals.  Although I was very nervous about being taped, I loved the idea.  Viewing the tape proved to be extremely helpful in pinpointing some specific areas I would like to change.  Today I'd like to share a couple of ways I improved my math workshop this year.

This post shares three ways I improved my math workshop.

So far, I have made three big changes that have enabled me to meet with more students and get a better handle on their needs.  Please understand that my math workshop is still a work in progress.  However, I am excited about fine tuning these changes and coming up with additional ideas for further improvement.


The first thing I did was one of the simplest to create, but probably the hardest for me to reinforce.  During math workshop, I found myself frequently interrupted while I was trying to confer or conduct small groups.  Sometimes it was due to some confusion with the assignment, and sometimes it was a procedural question.  This made it challenging to conduct conferences and small groups as effectively as I would like.  Students seem to follow the "Ask Three Before Me" rule very well in reading and writing, but they have more trouble with it in math.  I realize that I was largely to blame, as I typically answered these quick questions.  After watching myself do this consistently, I knew I needed a more formal procedure to reduce interrupting.  After talking to my instructional coach about the issue, I came up with this sign.

Having students write their questions can help them become more proactive in finding their own solutions (free sign).
(You can download this sign here.)

I have this sign posted on my dry erase board in the back of the room.  It took a while to get in the habit of using it (for both me and the students).  However, I have found that the task of having to write down the question has really helped students become more proactive in seeking out the answers to their questions.


Another area I wanted to improve was tracking the choices students were making after they finished an assignment.  I wanted to make sure students were making appropriate choices based on their needs.  I also wanted to do this without collecting any forms every day/week.

We use Investigations for math.  The workshop is set up with 2-3 choices for students.  I also have students who need to practice their facts, review some previously taught concepts, or need more of a challenge.  Because of this, some days there are additional choices during workshop time.  

In order to see at a glance who was finished with the assigned work and what choices they were making, I created a tracking slide using SMART Notebook.  After students complete the assignment, they move their name under their choice activity.  This allows me to see who is finished, and who is making good choices about activities based on their own goals.


I add a folder, clipboard, or basket icon so everyone will have a visual reminder of what to do with their paper when they are finished.  We may meet as a group to discuss, meet with a different partner to discuss, turn in the assignment, or keep in our folder as a reference or comparison for another day.  

***You can read this post to learn more about the system I use for partners in math. 


Last year, I started a challenge group for math.  I loved meeting with these students to take the concepts we were learning a bit deeper.  Time prevented me from meeting with them as often as I would like, but I felt it was effective nonetheless.  From time to time, I will change numbers or change assignments for the challenge group (flexible for all students depending on the skill).   This year, I wanted to add additional challenges during workshop time, so I put together a challenge bin.  

Create a challenge bin to help meet the needs of all of your students.

There is quite a bit to share here.  Because I don't want this post to go too long, I will share items from my challenge bin (which will include multiple freebies) in next week's post.

These changes have definitely helped my math workshop run more smoothly.  I know I am reaching more students, and students are doing a better job helping each other.  I am thinking about having another lesson taped to see improvements and set new goals.  There are always things that are going to need to be tweaked.  

I would love to hear some of your favorite parts of math workshop.  Please feel free to share what is going well for you.  

This post shares three ways I improved my math workshop.

Thank you, and have a great week!

Many of my teaching goals this year revolve around math instruction.  One of the items on my list was finding a more effective way to communicate math strategies to parents.  I've given them print outs with examples, but I wanted to be able to show them our problem solving strategies in action.

Enter the awesome Chrome extension: Screencastify.

How to use Screencastify to share math strategies with parents

Screencastify is a Chrome extension that allows you to record your computer screen.  Because everything I do on my SMART Board shows up on my computer screen, I am able to work out problems on the SMART Board and easily record them for parents.  I did purchase a rather fancy microphone that was recommended by our tech guy at school.  I plan on using the microphone for a few other projects, so I splurged.  However, you can get some good deals on microphones here.

The first thing you need to do is go to the Chrome store and download the free extension.  You can do that by clicking here, and then click "Add to Chrome".  Once you do that, you will see the Screencastify extension icon appear at the top of your extension bar (upper left of your screen).

How to use Screencastify to share math strategies with parents

Now you are ready to start recording.  Just click on the icon.  You will be prompted to grant access to your camera and microphone.  A folder, labeled Screencastify, will automatically be set up in your Google Drive.  All of your recordings will automatically be saved there.  Then, just click on the icon again, and click on "Record Desktop".  

How to use Screencastify to share math strategies with parents

As you can see from the picture above, I selected to show the preview window.  If you look two pictures down on this post, you can see the preview window show up.  If you do not want this to show as you are recording, deselect this box.

A pop up box will show up shortly after you click on "Record Desktop".  Once you click on "Share", you will hear a three second timer.  After that, you can start recording.


When you are done recording, click Stop Sharing.  Screencastify will automatically show you the recording.  If you don't like it, click on the trash icon.  Otherwise, it will automatically be saved to your drive in the Screencastify folder.

How to use Screencastify to share math strategies with parents

If you'd like to see an example, here is the video I recorded for my parents on how to solve words problems with an unknown start.


I am very excited about the possibilities with this extension.  I plan on sharing a few videos with parents in every math unit.  Beyond that, I'd like to create videos for future tech ideas that I share here on this blog.

How to use Screencastify to share math strategies with parents

Do you have a favorite Chrome extension?  I'd love to know what it is!

Thank you, and have a great week!

I hope everyone is enjoying the long weekend.  We got a lot of snow Friday night in Columbus.  I'm trying to stay warm and catch up on some things around the house.

One of the skills my class is working on is writing answers in clear, complete sentences that include the specific details that are needed to answer the question in the best way possible.  I am always trying to think of engaging ways for students to practice this skill.  Recently, I started a sentence writing activity that I call "Wednesday's Words".

Great practice for answering questions with a complete sentence!  This post includes a free download!

Every Wednesday for morning work, I pose a question for the students.  Each student writes the answer to the question on a Post-it note and places it on a class chart.  Students know they must write in a complete sentence with proper capitalization and punctuation.  Otherwise, I will remove their response, and they must rewrite it during choice time.

The topics of the questions vary from our class read aloud to favorite desserts.  I include topics from content subjects and Leader in Me.  I always put my answer to the question on the board to serve as a model.

Great practice for answering questions with a complete sentence!  This post includes a free download!

I have found many benefits to using this system.
1.  I am learning more about my students.
2.  It's awesome to have morning work that is meaningful, but requires almost no time to assess.
3.  Students are starting to carry these skills over to their daily work.
4.  Students are learning about each other.  I love that they check out the chart from time to time, as it is kept up for a week.
5.  It's a lot easier to monitor the corrections.  I always found it hard to track down students to correct work that is not done in complete sentences.  This way, I can see who needs to make the correction and easily make sure they get it done.
6.  Students receive regular practice on several skills in a very small amount of time.
7.  Eventually, I'll switch it up and write an answer.  Students will have to provide the question.  I may also include some math questions. This will provide opportunities to practice different skills in a familiar way.

If you'd like to use these signs in your own classroom, you can download them by clicking here or on the picture below.

Wednesday's Words: A free and easy way to practice responding using complete sentences!

What have you found to be an effective strategies for teaching students respond using complete sentences?   I would love to hear your ideas!

Thank you, and have a great week!


I hope everyone had a restful and fun holiday season!  If you're like me, it was a little rough getting back into the working routine.  Thankfully, I have 26 second graders who were happy to share their energy!

I am excited to start our poetry unit, as this is one of my favorites!  Although we use primarily free verse lessons from Lucy Calkins, I like to expose the students to several other types of poems.  To do that, I use a variety of mentor texts and personal examples. Today, I'd like to share two great mentor texts and a freebie for Haiku poems that you can use in our own poetry unit.

Writing Haiku: Two great mentor texts & a freebie

The first mentor text I'd like to share is Dogku.  This is a picture book written completely in Haiku.  It tells the story of a stray dog finding a home.

Dogku is the perfect mentor text for teaching Haiku.

Here's an example of one of my favorite poems as this stray puppy is "adjusting" to his new home.

Dogku is the perfect mentor text for teaching Haiku.

I love how Andrew Clements compares Haiku to a small vase for words in his Author's Note.  He explains how using just a few words helped him pick the perfect words.  I have to agree with him, as his words perfectly describe how this family found a stray dog and made him their own.

Dogku is the perfect mentor text for teaching Haiku.

Haiku is traditionally a three-line poem written in 17 syllables (5/7/5).  However, modern poets are now taking liberty with some of these rules.  The second mentor text I would like to share is Hi, Koo!  This book explains their definition of Haiku in the Author's Note.

Hi, Koo! is a great mentor text for teaching modern Haiku.

Hi, Koo! is a great mentor text for teaching modern Haiku.

I am loving this option, and thinking about having my students give it a try.  In the past, some of my students got stuck on the syllables and gave up on some good ideas.  I'm thinking that a little more freedom may alleviate that.

Hi Koo! takes students through the four seasons while providing excellent imagery and emotions.  Each poem still has three lines, but the syllable rules are broken.  Here is one of my favorite winter poems.  I just love the figurative language.

Hi, Koo! is a great mentor text for teaching modern Haiku.


If you're interested in trying one of these Haiku styles in your classroom, I have a great freebie for you.  I made two versions, one is for writing traditional Haiku, and the other is for the more modern version. If you'd like to use these forms in Google Classroom, simply delete the lines and keep the text box for your students to type. To download the forms, click here or on the pictures below.  (You will be prompted to make a copy.)

Freebie: Traditional Haiku

 Freebie: Modern Haiku

I hope your students enjoy poetry as much as mine do!  Please share your favorite mentor text for poetry.  I would love some new titles to add to my collection.

Mentor Texts and Freebies for Traditional and Modern Haiku

Thank you and have a great week!

Over the years, I have tried a wide variety of ways to take notes during reading and writing workshop.  I have used a countless number of forms and labeling systems.  Last year, in my effort to convert to being as paper-free as possible, I tried using the Confer app for conferences.  I loved it, and this is the first year where I used the same recording method two years in a row.  Here is why I love it so much (besides the fact that there is no paper required).

The Confer app is an excellent option for taking notes during reading and writing conferences.


Confer is very easy to use.  First, you name a class and set up your class list.  After you do this once, you can copy the students' names into another class.  Once your class is set up, you can customize the notetaking fields.  I like to use Compliment, Teaching Point, and Strategy.  Sometimes, I fill in the teaching point and strategy ahead of time, and sometimes I fill it in during or immediately after the conference.

Using the Confer app, you are able to customize note fields for each class.

When I'm meeting with students, there are additional options for further notes.  I love how you are able to take a picture of the students' work and add it to their "file".  I use this feature every time I meet with a student for writing so I can see exactly what I was referring to in my notes.  I have also used it for reading responses and fluency passages.

The Confer app is great for taking notes and pictures of students' work.

Another great feature is that you can sort your students in a variety of ways.  I most often sort them by date so I can see who I haven't met with in a while.  I also like to sort them by compliment and teaching point when it comes time to form strategy groups.

The Confer app offers a variety of ways to sort your students.

Sometimes, it's nice to have some or all of the note fields show up on the class list.  For this, I use the view feature, and whatever I select appears below the students' names.  (The picture below shows a group that I made up for this post.  I selected to view compliments.  The view bar disappears after you make your selection.)

Select the note fields you would like to view on Confer.

At our school, we are using the Lucy Calkins Reading and Writing Workshops.  There are many times when students work in partners or small groups.  In these cases, I like to group students together.  You can place a note for the whole group as well as for individuals in the group.  I use this for partner work all the time.

Take group notes using the Confer app.

A couple of notes
*There is a free version of this app, but the paid version ( currently $14.99) is well worth the money.
*If you'd like more information about this app in a video format, you can click here
*This app is currently available only for Apple devices (iPhone & iPad).
*I wrote this post because this is one of my favorite apps for education.  I am in no way compensated.
*I'm still playing around with the best way to use this app in math workshop.  In a couple of months, I will write a post sharing several major changes I've made in math workshop. I am hoping a successful way to use this app will be included.

I would love to hear about your successes using this app or any other system for taking conference notes with your students.  Please feel free to comment below.

Confer is a great app to using for reading and writing conferences!

Thank you, and have a great week!

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