Reflections and Resources from Tarheelstate Teacher
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Vocabulary Mats: My FAVORITE SCIENCE STUDY STRATEGY!

In my last blog post, I mentioned that Vocabulary Mats are the ONE GO TO SCIENCE VOCABULARY strategy that I CANNOT TEACH WITHOUT. Because I LOVE this vocabulary strategy so much, I wanted to spend a whole blog post sharing more about them and how I implement them in the classroom.
Vocabulary mastery in the content areas is very important to students' success with the domain. Check out my favorite vocabulary strategy for an idea that your 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th graders will love using to learn their science terms.

Vocabulary Mats really came to be in my classroom because science became a tested subject for my 5th graders years ago in North Carolina.

I realized that for many of my students, they wouldn't simply pass the test because they LOVE science, or because they engaged in the activities that I planned for them, or because they could be a good group member when collaborating with classmates. My students could be science lovers and still risk bombing this test! I was not okay with setting them up for that kind of failure.

Whether or not they had mastery of the key vocabulary of our science units would be the deciding factor in whether or not they passed the test. To be honest, it was the test that put the importance of vocabulary mastery on my "content-area" radar.

I wanted my students to have a fun way to practice their words and for us to see growth in their learning over time.
Vocabulary mastery in the content areas is very important to students' success with the domain. Check out my favorite vocabulary strategy for an idea that your 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th graders will love using to learn their science terms.
Vocabulary mats are where it's at! I believe in them because I've seen students (including those with learning disabilities and English language learners) master their science vocabulary because of the time spent practicing and using these vocabulary mats.

HOW TO PREPARE VOCABULARY MATS


Although you could have students leave the definitions intact and cut apart the word mat, I believe that having the definitions cut apart to place onto the word mat encourages students to read the definitions carefully and makes it less likely that they just memorize the placement of the cards.
Vocabulary mastery in the content areas is very important to students' success with the domain. Check out my favorite vocabulary strategy for an idea that your 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th graders will love using to learn their science terms.

If you incorporate vocabulary mats into multiple units, I suggest copying each unit/set of vocabulary mats on different colors of card stock. (For example, the Landforms set on yellow, Ecosystems on green, etc). Card stock will allow for more durability as you use vocabulary mats again and again.

I use matching colors for the definition cards that students will cut apart. This will keep the individual mats separate and allow students to easily find the materials for the specific unit they want to study.

I give students a sheet protector to put their vocabulary mat and definition cards in for safe keeping. This is perfect because students can place the vocabulary mats safely in a binder or folder and keep up with the cards more easily.

HOW TO USE VOCABULARY MATS 


To use the vocabulary mats for content-area vocabulary mastery, students place definitions over the top of the words FACE UP so that YOU can see their definition matches as you rotate the room and give them feedback.

While students are practicing with their vocabulary mats, I rotate the room checking over students' answers. I turn all of the CORRECT answers facedown so that the student knows they are correct!

I leave any INCORRECT answers face up so that they know it needs to change (circled in blue) OR I move the incorrect answers off of the word mat for the student.
Vocabulary mastery in the content areas is very important to students' success with the domain. Check out my favorite vocabulary strategy for an idea that your 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th graders will love using to learn their science terms.
I use this strategy as a prior knowledge assessment activity at the beginning of our science units. I like to see what my students already know at the start of a unit and I like to give students the opportunity to see and feel the growth as we do the activity again and again and they can place more words correctly with more ease.

Is science a tested subject in your grade level?


When 4th quarter rolls around, I turn my word study block into a science vocabulary review period.

Students pull out their vocabulary mats and choose which science concepts they need to spend their time studying. 15 minutes of class time goes a long way to help students master their vocabulary.

As we get closer to the test, students also take their vocabulary mats home and use them to study their words.

Science Vocabulary has become a mini-blog series this month!

You may also be interested in reading:

 A Process for Identifying Your Tier 3 (KEY) Content-Area Vocabulary

 The BEST Vocabulary Activities for Launching a Science Unit

If you are interested in adding VOCABULARY MATS to your SCIENCE routines, you can check out the Vocabulary Mats I have available. These resources not only include vocabulary mats, but another strategy I call "study slips," and multiple-choice and open-ended vocabulary quizzes so that you can document progress!

Force, Motion, and Simple Machines

Ecosystems and Biomes/Types of Ecosystems

Weather and Weather Tools

Properties of Rocks and Minerals

Conservation of Energy and Properties of Matter

Weathering, Erosion, and Plate Tectonics (formerly called Landforms)

Phases of the Moon

Need something you do not see? I am happy to take requests at tarheelstateteacher(at)gmail(dot)com!


Vocabulary mastery in the content areas is very important to students' success with the domain. Check out my favorite vocabulary strategy for an idea that your 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th graders will love using to learn their science terms.

Science Vocabulary Activities and Ideas for Launching your Science Units

In my pursuit of trying to understand how to help students master content-area vocabulary, a few activities and ideas became my "go-to" science vocabulary activities that I use each time I launch a new unit. These are fun, engage students in thinking about science concepts right away, and serve many purposes for me as I start my science units.
Looking for ideas that activate prior knowledge, help you integrate VOCABULARY ACTIVITIES into your science and content-area units, and assess your students before getting into your lessons? I've got three fun, engaging science vocabulary activities that are perfect for 3rd, 4th, 5th, and middle school students!  
I often think of my students' brains as a huge room filled with filing cabinets.  My goal is to:
  • Gain access to the room (sometimes the biggest feat of them all!)
  • Access the file folder that relates to the content I am teaching (Yes, tapping into PRIOR KNOWLEDGE!)
  • Attach new conceptual understanding and skills to the file before carefully placing it back where it belongs (NEW LEARNING, what? what!)
Simple enough, right?

Looking for ideas that activate prior knowledge, help you integrate VOCABULARY ACTIVITIES into your science and content-area units, and assess your students before getting into your lessons? I've got three fun, engaging science vocabulary activities that are perfect for 3rd, 4th, 5th, and middle school students!

The problem is there are so many steps along the way where the ball can easily get dropped and the information/understanding/skill doesn't get filed away into students' long-term memory.

How do we get new information to "stick" and stay so that it is accessible not just for the duration of our unit or grade level, but as a permanent fixture ready to be accessed whenever it is needed?

I think that VOCABULARY MASTERY is one of the places where the ball of all of the above gets dropped.

Think about it...students have "experienced" content in previous years, they have read about the content (potentially glazing over the vocabulary words that the *teacher* knows are important for the content), and they have probably been quizzed or tested on the content---only to move on to the next grade level without really being able to ACCESS their "learning" quickly to attain new concepts.

I think this is because we often don't spend enough time helping students access and master the vocabulary of the content area. We don't spend enough time having them work with and utilize the VOCABULARY of the domain.

> > > We busy our students with ACTIVITIES and then wonder why they don't remember things. (Believe me, #ImGUILTY!)

Engaging & Assessing Students' Background Knowledge at the Beginning of Your Unit


At the beginning of our science units, I use three main strategies to assess students' background knowledge and expose them to key vocabulary that they will need to master. (This works for social studies and other content-areas too!)

First, I prepare a list of key words for the unit, including a few words that are not necessarily new for our grade-level, but that will provide students with some words that they feel confident about. You can read more about the process my grade-level team went through to identify our "tier-3" key vocabulary for our units in this post.

I type these words in large font, copied onto card stock, and laminated them for posting in the classroom. I use these word lists with the following strategies:

1) Vocabulary Knowledge Continuum

Looking for ideas that activate prior knowledge, help you integrate VOCABULARY ACTIVITIES into your science and content-area units, and assess your students before getting into your lessons? I've got three fun, engaging science vocabulary activities that are perfect for 3rd, 4th, 5th, and middle school students!

Using the list of words I have drafted, I play a game of 4 corners with my students using the 4 levels of word knowledge:

1) The word is totally new to me
2) I've heard or seen the word before, but I'm not sure what it means.
3) I know one definition could use the word in a sentence.
4) I know many ways this word can be used, can explain the word, and can give examples.

I post these posters in the corners of the room and have students move around to their "word knowledge" comfort level as I call out the vocabulary words. (I use a bell to get their attention when they have moved to a new spot and are noisy. I try to keep the game moving, and I am also taking mental notes on the words that students think they know and the words that are new to nearly everyone).

After the 4-Corners game is over, I like to make a class word knowledge continuum to post in the room. I tend to go on the lower end of where most of students feel their comfort level is with the words. This makes a great classroom display that you can refer back to again and again as you work through your unit, moving the words as students' word knowledge increases.

2) Categorize and Label

Looking for ideas that activate prior knowledge, help you integrate VOCABULARY ACTIVITIES into your science and content-area units, and assess your students before getting into your lessons? I've got three fun, engaging science vocabulary activities that are perfect for 3rd, 4th, 5th, and middle school students! Categorize, group, and label activity!
After students have had some exposure to the words (hearing them read aloud and getting to think about whether or not they know the words' meanings), I give students a copy of the vocabulary words and have them work independently to sort the words into groups that make sense based on their prior knowledge.

After sorting all words, students write a label or phrase for each group. While I use this at the beginning of a unit, it is also a great strategy to have students sort the words throughout the unit to show growth in knowledge–students' groupings should become more precisely based on the relationships between the words as the unit goes on.

After I implemented this strategy a few times with students using pencil and paper, I figured out two ways to make the "categorize and label" activity more interactive.

  1. I started printing the vocabulary on card stock for students to have vocabulary cards for actively sorting the words. This made it easier for students to consider their groupings and move words to different categories if they changed their minds.
  2. I've also given each student a word and allowed them to move around the room, silently grouping themselves. From this activity, I can tack their groupings to a bulletin board and we continually refer back to the list as we learn new things. Throughout the unit, students give me feedback on how to re-arrange the words.

3) Vocabulary Mat Strategy: 

Looking for ideas that activate prior knowledge, help you integrate VOCABULARY ACTIVITIES into your science and content-area units, and assess your students before getting into your lessons? I've got three fun, engaging science vocabulary activities that are perfect for 3rd, 4th, 5th, and middle school students! Ecosystems Science Vocabulary mats
Vocabulary Mats are LITERALLY the ONE GO TO SCIENCE VOCABULARY strategy that I CANNOT TEACH WITHOUT. If you do nothing else, I want you to consider implementing this study strategy into your science time.

Years ago, in response to our state science test for 5th graders, I came up with Vocabulary Mats as an alternative to flash cards or match up games where students have both the vocabulary word and the definition cards cut apart. I have found that too many cards can be a lot to manage and really impede students’ ability to study their vocabulary words.

To use the vocabulary mats, the “mat” that contains the vocabulary words stays intact. The definitions are on another mat and are cut apart.

Why do I have students cut apart the definitions versus the words? I have found that this encourages and forces students to have to read the definitions when they are sorting cards onto the mats.
Looking for ideas that activate prior knowledge, help you integrate VOCABULARY ACTIVITIES into your science and content-area units, and assess your students before getting into your lessons? I've got three fun, engaging science vocabulary activities that are perfect for 3rd, 4th, 5th, and middle school students!
To use this activity to assess and activate prior knowledge, I have students prepare their mat activity during the first week of our unit (after completing activity 1-2 above).

Students read the definitions and lay them onto the vocabulary word that they think is being described. This is a great way to see how well students know the vocabulary and it is a good PRE-ASSESSMENT before you get into your learning activities for the unit.

I like to pull this activity out again and again so that students demonstrate greater mastery of the vocabulary words and get more practice with matching them up.

Each time students get to engage with their vocabulary mat, they 1) find that they have mastered new words and 2) they have the opportunity to add a few more words to their long-term memory files.

SEEING MY STUDENTS MAKE PROGRESS on just about anything makes my heart happy! And, vocabulary mats are one of the places in my teaching where I know students are showing growth!


Science Vocabulary ideas has become a mini-blog series this month!

You may also be interested in reading:

 A Process for Identifying Your Tier 3 (KEY) Content-Area Vocabulary

→ More about Vocabulary Mats: My FAVORITE Science Study Strategy

If you are interested in adding VOCABULARY MATS to your SCIENCE routines, you can check out the Vocabulary Mats I have available. Although the resources are set up as vocabulary mats, you can also use the word mats for activities 1-2 by making extra copies for students to create graphic organizers and sort the words on the word knowledge continuum.
Looking for ideas that activate prior knowledge, help you integrate VOCABULARY ACTIVITIES into your science and content-area units, and assess your students before getting into your lessons? I've got three fun, engaging science vocabulary activities that are perfect for 3rd, 4th, 5th, and middle school students!

Force, Motion, and Simple Machines

Ecosystems and Biomes/Types of Ecosystems

Weather and Weather Tools

Properties of Rocks and Minerals

Conservation of Energy and Properties of Matter

Weathering, Erosion, and Plate Tectonics

Phases of the Moon

Looking for ideas that activate prior knowledge, help you integrate VOCABULARY ACTIVITIES into your science and content-area units, and assess your students before getting into your lessons? I've got three fun, engaging science vocabulary activities that are perfect for 3rd, 4th, 5th, and middle school students!

How to Identify Your Tier 3 Content-Area Vocabulary Words

I believe that it is imperative that students master 80% or more of our content-specific vocabulary in order to truly master a content area and be successful in future grades.
Identifying key vocabulary to teach in our content area and science units can be overwhelming, but we can't let that stop us! Our students need us to set aside instructional time for helping them to master tier 3 vocabulary words. This process makes it SO easy to decide what vocabulary words to spend your limited teaching time on with direct instruction and fun vocabulary activities to help students master those important words.
Beck and McKeown call these content area words "tier 3 words" because they are topic-specific, are seen outside of the studies of a domain less frequently than tier 1 and 2 words, and typically need to be directly taught for students to master them.

I also believe that it is our responsibility as teachers to set aside classroom time for direct-instruction and review of content-area vocabulary. Rather than hope students learn the key vocabulary in a unit through osmosis, we can help students master vocabulary through ISOLATED vocabulary activities and direct instruction.

Today, I'm going to share with you the process my grade-level team went through to identify our tier 3 words for our Weathering and Erosion unit.

But, before we get going, let's make sure we all know WHY we need to focus (some of our) class time on vocabulary instruction.

Identifying key vocabulary to teach in our content area and science units can be overwhelming, but we can't let that stop us! Our students need us to set aside instructional time for helping them to master tier 3 vocabulary words. This process makes it SO easy to decide what vocabulary words to spend your limited teaching time on with direct instruction and fun vocabulary activities to help students master those important words.
Wouldn’t it be nice if when you were teaching ecosystems (part of your curriculum) and you talked about PRODUCERS (organisms that make their own food), all students already had mastery of the word PHOTOSYNTHESIS (since you know that this is in a previous grade’s curriculum)?

All too often, we know that many students do NOT carry these content-specific vocabulary terms with them from the previous grade-level.

In order to carry these important words with them to the next grade level, students must be afforded more than simply hearing the words in whole group instruction, seeing them in the content-area reading that they do, and having them embedded in their classroom activities.

"We talked about that last year" is simply not enough to ensure that students maintain and master these words for life.

If you still aren't sure that ISOLATED and DIRECT instruction in vocabulary is necessary, think about your students with learning disabilities, your English language learners, and your struggling readers. Heck, even your average students may appear to know what you are talking about, but may forget word meanings once the unit is over and you have moved on to something else.

If we really want students to walk away from our teaching units with mastery and ownership of the important vocabulary in our curriculum, we must directly teach for the mastery of those words.

So, where do we start? All the words seem important. 

> > > This feeling is so true! And, the overwhelm of not knowing where to start (so not getting started at all) is a habit to break ourselves from as teachers. 

HOW TO GET STARTED WITH IDENTIFYING YOUR KEY VOCABULARY


If your school or district does not already have a set of content-area words identified (and even if they do), you can start by creating a list of all the words you think are important and related to the unit you are teaching.

YOU CAN identify the vocabulary words that YOU think are TIER 3. You don't have to wait for someone else to deem a list of words as the "golden ticket" to vocabulary success.

The GOAL of TEACHING just about any list of words for MASTERY is enough to help children make improvements and gains. Your list doesn't have to be perfect---but the effort to help students master those words is worth it!

Step 1: Brainstorm possible tier-3 vocabulary words.

In our landforms unit, my grade-level team used our state standards, science textbook, science kit, released End of Grade questions, and unit plans as a resource of potentially important words that students would encounter and need to master. Our initial list is pictured:
Identifying key vocabulary to teach in our content area and science units can be overwhelming, but we can't let that stop us! Our students need us to set aside instructional time for helping them to master tier 3 vocabulary words. This process makes it SO easy to decide what vocabulary words to spend your limited teaching time on with direct instruction and fun vocabulary activities to help students master those important words.
Obviously, this list is too long for directly instructing students on each one, unless that’s all we planned to do with our science time.

Step 2: So, our next step was to decide which words were critical to our curriculum. 

Some of the words in our above list come from extension content (like core, mantle, crust), but are not directly stated in our standards. Some words on the list were also put there in hopes that students could say “I REALLY KNOW WHAT THIS WORD MEANS” in a vocabulary knowledge activity we do on the first day of our science units (these words give students confidence as not all of the words are unknown to them and also help them attach new words to previously learned words).

We also decided which words were simple enough (or discussed so much) that students would learn them quickly through experiences during the unit.

"Basin" was an example of this. During this unit, students work with stream tables daily, and hold a basin under the stream table to catch the water as it comes out. (A basin is a depression in the earth that holds water; we assumed that calling their plastic water catcher a basin would suffice in helping students memorize this word).

"Canyon" was also eliminated as every group would end up with a canyon in their stream table activity. We would constantly point it out to students, show pictures of the Grand Canyon, etc. Students would master canyon through the regular activities of the unit. So, these words did not make it onto our "tier 3" list.

After asking ourselves “Which words would we need to ENSURE students mastered AND which words might not be MASTERED by EVERY STUDENT through our normal classroom experiences? Which words need DIRECT INSTRUCTION?,” we whittled our list down to 8 words: delta, deposition, erosion, meander, oxbow lake, sediment, tributary, weathering. 
Identifying key vocabulary to teach in our content area and science units can be overwhelming, but we can't let that stop us! Our students need us to set aside instructional time for helping them to master tier 3 vocabulary words. This process makes it SO easy to decide what vocabulary words to spend your limited teaching time on with direct instruction and fun vocabulary activities to help students master those important words.

We knew that it was highly likely that students would encounter these words on our end of grade test. Students needed to understand the difference between weathering and erosion. We might not see a meander in our stream tables, and an oxbow lake is extremely difficult to create and capture before it is once again changed by the flow of water. 

Knowing that "meander" and "oxbow lake" are tested vocabulary words, we knew we needed to take these words through Marzano's 6 steps (discussed below), show many examples, put them in review games like bingo and jeopardy, encourage students to use the terms when writing about and discussing our science activities, and review them again before testing.

Success! Once you have trimmed your words to only the ones that will require direct-instruction,  managing to set aside time to help students master these terms seems doable. We took our list from 28 words to 8 through this process!

So, how do you directly teach vocabulary to help students master these words?


Robert Marzano has researched and wrote heavily about the 6-steps of vocabulary instruction. These steps include:

1-Teacher Explains-Provide a student-friendly definition, example, or explanation of the word. (This step can take just a few minutes).

Students should not be using precious class time to look up your content-area vocabulary words.

Ideas: tell a story, point out a class experience that incorporated the word, show an image, describe what you think of when you hear the word, create a picture or share a video that demonstrates the word.

2-Students Restate-Ask students to restate the explanation of the word in their own words

Students should not simply copy the teachers example, but construct their own example, description, sentence, or explanation.

3-Students Show/Represent-Students construct a graphic representation of the word (picture, symbol, capturing a classroom experience related to the word, etc)

This non-linguistic representation helps students visualize the word and code it into their brains in a different mode than simply written or oral processing.

4-Discuss-Use discussion activities to help students add to their knowledge of the word

Ideas: identify synonyms/antonyms of the word, create analogies, metaphors, talk with a partner, word wall games, Give 1, Get 1 activities, complete a Frayer Model with a partner, etc.

5-Refine and Reflect-Students return to their vocabulary work (perhaps in a vocab notebook) and refine their definitions, examples, sentences, etc. Students can discuss with a partner new ideas they have about the word at the end of your lessons and activities. (Great closure activity!)

6-Practice, Play, and Maintain: Provide opportunities for students to practice the words through games; this energizes students to review the words and helps students maintain their learning and put the words into mastery.

Steps 1-3 or 4 might all happen in the same day.

Step 5 would be appropriate after students have had time to work with the words/concepts in classroom experiences, and Step 6 is appropriate all year as you try to add more words to students memory banks.

As you are going through these steps, how and where do students record them?

Here is one option called the Frayer Model. I have probably modified it a million times over the years. It usually contains examples and nonexamples, and googling it, I think I should not be calling it the frayer model any more, but here's my template.

Identifying key vocabulary to teach in our content area and science units can be overwhelming, but we can't let that stop us! Our students need us to set aside instructional time for helping them to master tier 3 vocabulary words. This process makes it SO easy to decide what vocabulary words to spend your limited teaching time on with direct instruction and fun vocabulary activities to help students master those important words. Frayer Model
Marzano suggests playing learning games weekly with vocabulary words. Perhaps you set aside 15-30 minutes a week during your content areas for word-learning/review games. This would give you time to review words from a unit in isolation but to also mix them together as you study multiple units. Vocabulary Friyay's sound like a cool thing to me!

In this vocabulary mini-blog series, I've shared some of my FAVORITE vocabulary activities to get your wheels turning on how you can start infusing your classroom with content-area vocabulary learning! Check them out here:

 The BEST Vocabulary Activities for Launching a Science Unit

→ Vocabulary Mats: My FAVORITE Science Study Strategy

If you are interested in grabbing up some of the resources now, my VOCABULARY MATS and VOCABULARY STUDY SLIPS resources are listed below:

Force, Motion, and Simple Machines

Ecosystems and Biomes/Types of Ecosystems

Weather and Weather Tools

Properties of Rocks and Minerals

Conservation of Energy and Properties of Matter

Weathering, Erosion, and Plate Tectonics

Phases of the Moon

Vocabulary Mat study strategy, activities and ideas for teaching science vocabulary

Identifying key vocabulary to teach in our content area and science units can be overwhelming, but we can't let that stop us! Our students need us to set aside instructional time for helping them to master tier 3 vocabulary words. This process makes it SO easy to decide what vocabulary words to spend your limited teaching time on with direct instruction and fun vocabulary activities to help students master those important words.
(6-Steps information from Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement; Marzano (2004).)

Students Misbehaving? 5 Steps for Improving Classroom Behavior

Recently I updated one of my blog posts about behavior and how I help students reflect and set classroom goals to improve our classroom environment as a team. That blog post had me walking down memory lane, and re-reading an older blog post where I shared that it felt like my classroom management was falling apart.
Grab two free classroom management strategies to improve your whole-group classroom environment. Our classroom management and student behavior often gets tested midyear. The honeymoon is over and our students may tire during the stretch to spring break. Read about how I addressed our classroom behavior issues. Behavior management in the classroom doesn't have to have you losing your mind! Perfect strategies for empowering 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders to become partners in improving the classroom experience for everyone.
How I dealt with this was such a quality classroom management move and a glimpse into the response I have often had when multiple behavior issues are happening, so I thought you would enjoy reading about the process I went through with my students to identify the issues and re-set ourselves for appropriate behavior at school. 

Here goes a flashback post from March of 2013!

Is this the time of year that it seems your students are in need of a break? 

A few weeks ago, I found that my students were having a very challenging time listening, focusing, and treating each other with kindness. 

COME ON GUYS!!! This is the time of the year when I think I am supposed to be getting the most done--3rd quarter, pre-state-testing, still have major things to learn, and hey, I show up to work hard

Why aren’t my students doing the same?
Grab two free classroom management strategies to improve your whole-group classroom environment. Our classroom management and student behavior often gets tested midyear. The honeymoon is over and our students may tire during the stretch to spring break. Read about how I addressed our classroom behavior issues. Behavior management in the classroom doesn't have to have you losing your mind! Perfect strategies for empowering 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders to become partners in improving the classroom experience for everyone.

Well, one thing I realized is that I had dropped the ball on routinely having our morning meeting. With so many snow days and late starts, we stopped reflecting on our behavior and stopped setting new classroom goals to work towards. 

Honestly, my kiddos repeat themselves every day when reflecting on our class goal during morning meetings, and we had achieved perseverance in math for the most part. And my kiddos are DARN NEAR perfect...

{You can read all about our routine daily reflection process that we use during morning meetings in this post.}

But hey, isn’t it better to give them the time to repeat themselves each morning--what went well yesterday, what needs to be better today--than for me to constantly have to repeat myself?

Let’s just say the trade-off of cutting morning meetings this quarter turned into a week’s worth of lengthy morning meetings focused on problem-solving the issues we were having.
Grab two free classroom management strategies to improve your whole-group classroom environment. Our classroom management and student behavior often gets tested midyear. The honeymoon is over and our students may tire during the stretch to spring break. Read about how I addressed our classroom behavior issues. Behavior management in the classroom doesn't have to have you losing your mind! Perfect strategies for empowering 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders to become partners in improving the classroom experience for everyone.
Here's what I did to improve our classroom environment:

Step 1: What do we want our classroom to be like? 

Grab two free classroom management strategies to improve your whole-group classroom environment. Our classroom management and student behavior often gets tested midyear. The honeymoon is over and our students may tire during the stretch to spring break. Read about how I addressed our classroom behavior issues. Behavior management in the classroom doesn't have to have you losing your mind! Perfect strategies for empowering 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders to become partners in improving the classroom experience for everyone.


First, I had students reflect on what they wanted out of the classroom. “When you show up to school at 8 am, what are you looking to get out of our day?” In one morning meeting, we discussed these hopes and dreams.

My favorite response was to have a classroom "where we can learn EVERYTHING that has been planned for us." Yes, please!!!

Step 2: List the Issues We're Having


Next, students listed the main issues they felt we were having. (It's so empowering to HAVE STUDENTS VOICE THE ISSUES rather than a rant from the teacher! Although, guilty of rants myself, of course!)

Next, we went around our circle and told our top two. While students were reporting out, I was taking notes and tallies. These were our issues:
Grab two free classroom management strategies to improve your whole-group classroom environment. Our classroom management and student behavior often gets tested midyear. The honeymoon is over and our students may tire during the stretch to spring break. Read about how I addressed our classroom behavior issues. Behavior management in the classroom doesn't have to have you losing your mind! Perfect strategies for empowering 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders to become partners in improving the classroom experience for everyone.
  • socializing/side-conversations
  • getting off topic
  • talking out
  • group not getting along
  • having fun at inappropriate times
  • joking/purposely bothering people
  • learning time being wasted
  • not wanting to learn-motivation
  • not learning enough time
  • too many noises
  • rudeness to teacher
  • too many distractions

Wow! Does this list sound familiar? (I hope not! #butreally!!)

Step 3: Categorize and Group Issues


We were able to group the issues into two main problems:

Main Issue #1: Kindness (how we treat each other)--I learned we were having problems at recess that were spilling over into our afternoon learning time. This is something I could be more conscious of at recess and help problem solve. 

Main Issue #2: Issues related to classroom focus like too many distractions, side conversations, students joking during lessons, lacking the motivation to learn, talking while the teacher is talking, etc. that all related back to a lack of focus.

Step 4: Develop strategies to target the main issues and get student buy-in on the plan.


In comes our FOCUS reminder sign.

Grab two free classroom management strategies to improve your whole-group classroom environment. Our classroom management and student behavior often gets tested midyear. The honeymoon is over and our students may tire during the stretch to spring break. Read about how I addressed our classroom behavior issues. Behavior management in the classroom doesn't have to have you losing your mind! Perfect strategies for empowering 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders to become partners in improving the classroom experience for everyone.
While students did most of the problem solving in our next class meeting, I already had the idea of our FOCUS reminder.

Anytime I say FOCUS, students know to get it together. This doesn’t just mean focusing on me, but focusing on the task at hand, focusing on anyone who is talking, and being motivated to do their best with their best focus.

With this strategy, I made the FOCUS expectations more visual for students.

How do I use the FOCUS sign? 

The class always starts out at O. (I simply place the clothespin on O). 

With extremely great focus, they can move up to an F, but with poor focus, they move down to a C, U, and lastly an S. 

In a given subject, the class can always move back up the FOCUS sign. They can move down to a C in one minute, and immediately be returned to an O with appropriate focus. It's fluid and effective! 

So far, I haven't attached tangible consequences or rewards to this strategy. The FOCUS monitor is meant to be motivating within itself. Pride in our accomplishments and compliments from the teacher should be reward enough!

Now, what if the kiddos are just having a bad day? With my strategic, wise teacher thinking, I decided that the FOCUS sign would reset to O for every subject. (This is genius! Read on to see why!)

Students might think I am just being forgiving or easy on them, but I am really using reverse psychology AND helping them REFOCUS for a new subject area

By saying positively that I know they are going to RESTART their focus, it isn't like they have to move back up from a U or C during a new subject. They already start at O and just try to maintain it. (I'm not sure if I am explaining the beauty of this well, but I hope you "get" it--they continuously get a "fresh start" all day long :)

OH.....AND I ALMOST FORGOT TO TELL YOU ANOTHER AWESOME PART OF THE FOCUS SIGN....It can travel!!! This week, it went to the computer lab with us :)

I found that focusing at transitions (from quiet reading to a whole group math lesson for example) is one of our biggest challenges. Now, I feel kind of dumb putting that in writing because DUHHHH! but sometimes I think we (I) forget to give students time to refocus because we (I) are rushing to the next thing we need to learn.

Grab two free classroom management strategies to improve your whole-group classroom environment. Our classroom management and student behavior often gets tested midyear. The honeymoon is over and our students may tire during the stretch to spring break. Read about how I addressed our classroom behavior issues. Behavior management in the classroom doesn't have to have you losing your mind! Perfect strategies for empowering 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders to become partners in improving the classroom experience for everyone.
As I write this reflection about our behavior, I once again feel like I am doing "beginning of the year" stuff. But, I am starting to learn that kids need us to revisit "beginning of the year" lessons ALL YEAR LONG so that they are reminded  and inspired to maintain their good behavior.  When I'm frustrated with my kiddos (behavior, learning, etc) I eventually come around to "What can I change to help them change?"

You can download the FOCUS template for free here. I hope you can use the FOCUS sign to help your students stay motivated, focused, and well-behaved!

Step 5: Is to reflect regularly on how students are doing with their newly stated goals to improve the classroom environment.


Grab two free classroom management strategies to improve your whole-group classroom environment. Our classroom management and student behavior often gets tested midyear. The honeymoon is over and our students may tire during the stretch to spring break. Read about how I addressed our classroom behavior issues. Behavior management in the classroom doesn't have to have you losing your mind! Perfect strategies for empowering 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders to become partners in improving the classroom experience for everyone.
I like to use a whole-group structure to continuously have students set 1-2 shared goals for our class and to reflect on things to improve in the classroom environment. You can read about how I empower students to set goals as a group or you can get the goal setting template sent directly to your inbox by submitting your info below!

Grab two free classroom management strategies to improve your whole-group classroom environment. Our classroom management and student behavior often gets tested midyear. The honeymoon is over and our students may tire during the stretch to spring break. Read about how I addressed our classroom behavior issues. Behavior management in the classroom doesn't have to have you losing your mind! Perfect strategies for empowering 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders to become partners in improving the classroom experience for everyone.

Roll and Multiply Free Dice Game for Multiplying Whole Numbers

Are your 4th or 5th grade students struggling with multiplying whole numbers and leaving you wracking your brain trying to figure out how to respond? Or, are you realizing that differentiating your multiplication practice is a must because students are all over the place in their mastery?
Read on for a look at the 4th and 5th grade leveled continuum for multiplication concepts, a free multiplication dice game, and other ideas for differentiation during your multiplication unit.
Well, I've got a "differentiation ready," easy to implement, print and go game for you today that you can use during whole group, math stations, or guided math groups. Your students can play independently or with a partner--or both! You've got a million ways to incorporate this game into your plans!

This game uses a scaffolded and differentiated learning continuum for multiplication that I wish I had understood sooner in my teaching career.

If you read my last blog post, I shared how I see math concepts on a continuum of learning along with 5 differentiated activities to use during your multiplication unit. Here's how I outline the levels of skills for multiplying whole numbers:

Read on for a look at the 4th and 5th grade leveled continuum for multiplication concepts, a free multiplication dice game, and other ideas for differentiation during your multiplication unit.
We should move students from multiplying 2 digit by 1 digit to 3 digit by 1 digit to 4 digit by 1 digit, then move them to 2 digit by 2 digit and 3 digit by 2 digit. (If you are working with decimals, you can build students up using this same continuum and size of factors.)

Is this continuum obvious? Is this something you already realize? Is this already how you structure your multiplication of whole numbers lessons and student practice AND how you plan for differentiation? If so, I'm impressed! I wish you had been my mentor teacher so you could have guided me to this understanding sooner.

For those of us who did not have this scaffolded continuum handed to us, can you see how this continuum applies to levels of readiness? Not all students are ready at the same time and I'm a big believer in meeting students where they are--FINALLY, by thinking about my curriculum on a leveled continuum, I understand how to meet students where they are.

But, moving on, you're probably here for the multiplication dice game, so let's get to it! I've incorporated this scaffolding into the dice game I'm sharing with you today. If you want the game sent to you, just throw your info into the boxes below.


MATERIALS NEEDED 


YOUR CHOICE OF GAME BOARDS:

Choose from the templates for the area model or the standard algorithm.
Differentiate by assigning students to the leveled game board that matches their ability OR the next level of multiplication that they are trying to master. You have boards for:
  • 2 Digit by 1 Digit
  • 3 Digit by 1 Digit
  • 4 Digit by 1 Digit
  • 2 Digit by 2 Digit
  • 3 Digit by 2 Digit
DICE:

6-sided dice will work for this game, but if you have access to 10-sided dice, students will be able to create multiplication problems with all numerals.

6-sided dice may also be used as a modification for students that need you to limit the challenging multiplication facts for them (since this dice will not require them to multiply by 7, 8, or 9. You can always move them up to the 10-sided dice later)

DECIDE ON THE FORMAT FOR THE GAME:


These “Roll and Multiply” game boards can be used with partners AND as independent practice activities—again and again! Each time you move students to the next level, you can have them play with a partner, then move the game into independent practice.

Students can be given calculators to check their work since there are numerous combinations of multiplication problems that they can create.

INCREASE THE CRITICAL THINKING/ STRATEGY USED IN THE GAMES:

You may set up the game two ways:

1) Students must create the multiplication problem in the order that numbers are rolled on the dice. In this set-up, the winning product will be based on luck.

Read on for a look at the 4th and 5th grade leveled continuum for multiplication concepts, a free multiplication dice game, and other ideas for differentiation during your multiplication unit.2) Students decide where to place numerals as they roll them. This will allow students to develop strategies for having the highest product (example—if I roll a nine, I should place it in the highest place value that is available).

When playing with a partner, students can earn points (win the round) by rolling the highest product. The area model template has a place for students to note the winner. For the standard algorithm game boards, you can have them tally their score on a t-chart.

MODIFYING THE GAME EVEN MORE: 


One last way to help students who are really struggling with mastering multiplication (using any model) is to peel back the layers of difficulty even more. These students will benefit from a reduction of the multiplication facts they are expected to recall.
Read on for a look at the 4th and 5th grade leveled continuum for multiplication concepts, a free multiplication dice game, and other ideas for differentiation during your multiplication unit.

You can do this for them by setting up their game so that they only multiply by 2’s or 5’s. (I've given you a few of these modified game boards in your download!)

Multiplying by 2's and 5's is a great scaffold because these are the easiest multiplication facts to memorize or count-by on fingers in my opinion.

Students can still roll the dice for the other factor, but by reducing the multiplication facts they must recall, you have freed up some brain space for learning the process of multiplying larger numbers. In your free download, I've included area model and standard algorithm game boards for multiplying 2 digit by 1 digits with just 2's and 5's, but you can write in 2's and 5's on any of the other game boards or multiplication activity you have.

I hope you LOVE using this game in your classroom for multiplication practice and differentiation. You can plan to use the game boards again and again so that you can increase students’ level of mastery and the rigor of the game each time!

Other Differentiated Resources for Multiplication of Whole Numbers that You May Like:

> > > Differentiated Multiplication Assessments and Practice Sheets (3 Levels with 3 Version each--perfect for pre-assessment, small groups, independent practice, review, and post-assessment)
> > > Multiplication Word Problems (in the same set as above)
> > > What's My Error? Error Analysis Task Cards for the Area Model (5 Levels)

This Multiplication Exploration can provide your students with more opportunities for critical thinking about how the factors affect and the magnitude of the products.

If you are sold on differentiating your math instruction based on a leveled continuum, I highly recommend checking out my differentiated assessments and practice sheets. 4th Grade sets are completed for every standard in the curriculum and more 5th grade assessments are on their way.
 Differentiated Math Assessments

You can find the 4th Grade Assessments here in my tpt store or by clicking the photo above.

You can find the 5th Grade Assessments here in my tpt store.



Multiplying Whole Numbers: Ideas for 4th and 5th Grade

Looking for fresh ideas and activities for multiplying whole numbers that might make it more fun and help your 4th or 5th graders master the process of multiplication more quickly?
Need ideas and activities for teaching multiplying whole numbers to your 4th and 5th graders? If you want to infuse your classroom with differentiated activities, this post is a must read with at least 5 ideas for differentiating your multiplication practice and student assignments. Read on for a look at the 4th and 5th grade leveled continuum for multiplication concepts, a free multiplication dice game, and other ideas for differentiation during your multiplication unit.
Nearly every group of 4th grade and 5th grade students I've taught have needed me to differentiate and scaffold their learning in order to help them master multiplication of whole numbers.

Over the years, I've learned to envision my standards on a continuum of learning by connecting what I want students to be able to do with lower-level skills that can help them "build up" to the grade-level learning goal. In addition to helping my struggling students master a concept, I like to figure out what would be required of students to go beyond my grade-level standards. I tack these more challenging skills onto my continuum of learning as a stretch for students who work beyond grade level.

I am a big advocate of knowing how your grade level's standards connect to the previous grade level AND the next grade level's standards. I've developed this love of connecting curriculum across grade levels because I'm passionate about differentiation--and this is how I see it being successful--and I've been blessed during my teaching career to loop from 4th to 5th grade where I immediately understood my 5th grade curriculum in relation to the 4th grade "building blocks" I now had to teach.

But I also know that as teachers, sometimes we barely have time to do a deep dive into our own standards, so it can be even more challenging to find the time to figure out how to make appropriate connections within a span of grade levels.

Lucky for you, I love thinking about vertical alignment--the "stepping stones," and the "stretches" that I can use as a road map for differentiation in my classroom. I'm a nerd who's done the work for you!

Here's how I see the continuum of learning for 4th and 5th grade multiplication.
Need ideas and activities for teaching multiplying whole numbers to your 4th and 5th graders? If you want to infuse your classroom with differentiated activities, this post is a must read with at least 5 ideas for differentiating your multiplication practice and student assignments. Read on for a look at the 4th and 5th grade leveled continuum for multiplication concepts, a free multiplication dice game, and other ideas for differentiation during your multiplication unit.
In this continuum, you can see that rather than giving students a mix of problems "on grade level" from the start of our multiplication unit, we can give them controlled practice that scaffolds them from 2 by 1 digit to at least 2 by 2 digit for 4th graders and 3 by 3 digit for 5th graders. We also have an idea of how to push students who quickly master the grade level standards.

So, given a continuum for learning to multiply whole numbers that is now concrete and makes common sense to us, how do we proceed with our teaching? Here are some ideas!

1) USE LEVELED ACTIVITIES and GAMES

One of my favorite ways to utilize scaffolding with computation skills is by incorporating dice games. When I discovered the power of 10-sided dice a few years ago, I went crazy designing dice games and activities for my students!
Need ideas and activities for teaching multiplying whole numbers to your 4th and 5th graders? If you want to infuse your classroom with differentiated activities, this post is a must read with at least 5 ideas for differentiating your multiplication practice and student assignments. Read on for a look at the 4th and 5th grade leveled continuum for multiplication concepts, a free multiplication dice game, and other ideas for differentiation during your multiplication unit.
We can make sure that the games we have our students play for math practice incorporates the leveled continuum. I like to start by assigning students to the level that matches their ability OR the next level that they are trying to master.
  • For multiplication practice, I've created separate multiplication game boards for 2 by 1, 3 by 1, 4 by 1, 2 by 2, and 3 by 2 digit multiplication just for you! 
  • The game boards include templates for the area model and the standard algorithm. I like to have my students master the area model and introduce the standard algorithm later---I love the area model, but as the numbers get larger, some students have more success with the standard algorithm. I believe both methods are deserving of adequate class time, especially for 5th graders.
Play games like this again and again, increasing the challenge for students each time. You can also have students play games like this with a partner OR independently. I do both and usually make it the games independent once the partner aspect has lost its novelty.

I've written more about this multiplication game here and you can get the "Roll and Multiply" game sent to your email by entering your info below.


2) USE LEVELED ASSESSMENTS

Utilizing leveled continuums, I've developed math assessments and practice sheets that allow you to assess where students are on the spectrum of "building blocks," "goals," and "stretching beyond."

These are perfect for knowing which level your students are at and therefore making it EASY for you to know exactly where to place them in differentiated activities. By pre- and post-assessing with these leveled problems, you can also visibly see how students grow in their mastery of concepts as the unit goes on.

You can find the assessments specific to multiplication here.
Need ideas and activities for teaching multiplying whole numbers to your 4th and 5th graders? If you want to infuse your classroom with differentiated activities, this post is a must read with at least 5 ideas for differentiating your multiplication practice and student assignments. Read on for a look at the 4th and 5th grade leveled continuum for multiplication concepts, a free multiplication dice game, and other ideas for differentiation during your multiplication unit.


3) INCORPORATE ERROR-ANALYSIS PROBLEMS

While your scaffolded games will add an awesome element of fun and differentiation as you help your students learn to multiply whole numbers, you will need additional activities to enrich their learning and make sure that no matter what level of mastery they are on, they can apply their learning of computation to other contexts. 

I LOVE to incorporate error analysis problems as my students learn to use the area model for multiplication. I've found that error analysis can be great for students who are struggling and making common errors, but that it can also provide a challenge for students who have mastered a concept because it makes them think more deeply about the methods we are learning for concepts that came easily to them. Students also enjoy "playing teacher" and trying to figure out what mistakes the "student" has made.
Need ideas and activities for teaching multiplying whole numbers to your 4th and 5th graders? If you want to infuse your classroom with differentiated activities, this post is a must read with at least 5 ideas for differentiating your multiplication practice and student assignments. Read on for a look at the 4th and 5th grade leveled continuum for multiplication concepts, a free multiplication dice game, and other ideas for differentiation during your multiplication unit.
In these differentiated error analysis task cards, students identify one error on each card and multiply whole numbers to find the correct product. The task cards come in 5 leveled sets so that you are ready to meet your students where they are. Find the "What's My Error?" multiplication bundle here.

4) INCORPORATE REAL-WORLD WORD PROBLEMS

I incorporate multi-step, "real-world relevant" word problems into all of my math concepts. This is typically how students are expected to apply and show their learning on our state test, so I want them to get comfortable with word problems from the start.
Need ideas and activities for teaching multiplying whole numbers to your 4th and 5th graders? If you want to infuse your classroom with differentiated activities, this post is a must read with at least 5 ideas for differentiating your multiplication practice and student assignments. Read on for a look at the 4th and 5th grade leveled continuum for multiplication concepts, a free multiplication dice game, and other ideas for differentiation during your multiplication unit.
In my differentiated math resources, I've included real-world word problem sets that students can relate to. The 4th grade differentiated multiplication word problem sheets contain three versions of leveled word problems with 6 problems each that align with the continuum of multiplication.

5) USE THE MULTIPLICATION CONTINUUM WHEN TEACHING OTHER CONCEPTS

Going forward, I am sure to incorporate these levels for multiplication into other parts of my math content as the year goes on. If your students struggle with multiplication and division now, they may struggle with converting measurements later in the year, for example. 
Need ideas and activities for teaching multiplying whole numbers to your 4th and 5th graders? If you want to infuse your classroom with differentiated activities, this post is a must read with at least 5 ideas for differentiating your multiplication practice and student assignments. Read on for a look at the 4th and 5th grade leveled continuum for multiplication concepts, a free multiplication dice game, and other ideas for differentiation during your multiplication unit.
However, if you use your measurement unit as an opportunity to continue moving them along the continuum of mastery (by starting out with 2 by 1, 3 by 1, and 4 by 1 conversion problems and then moving to 2 by 2 and 3 by 2 problems), you will give your students the opportunity to understand measurement concepts at their comfort level. (If you want the resources for differentiation already put together for you, you can find the 4th Grade Measurement Assessments and Practice sheets right here.)

What's the point? Why plan your math teaching like this?

I believe that students who are struggling to master a concept deserve controlled practice to help them achieve mastery of a concept. We need to be the experts who know how to scaffold students' learning.
Need ideas and activities for teaching multiplying whole numbers to your 4th and 5th graders? If you want to infuse your classroom with differentiated activities, this post is a must read with at least 5 ideas for differentiating your multiplication practice and student assignments. Read on for a look at the 4th and 5th grade leveled continuum for multiplication concepts, a free multiplication dice game, and other ideas for differentiation during your multiplication unit.
By understanding math concepts on a continuum of skills, you have an advantage that helps you set up opportunities to scaffold your students to greater mastery of the math concepts you are teaching.

If you are sold on differentiating your math instruction based on a leveled continuum, I highly recommend checking out my differentiated assessments and practice sheets. 4th Grade sets are completed for every standard in the curriculum and more 5th grade assessments are on their way.
 Differentiated Math Assessments

You can find the 4th Grade Assessments here in my tpt store or by clicking the photo above.

You can find the 5th Grade Assessments here in my tpt store.

Love this post and want more like it? 

Well, I'm glad you feel that way!  I am going to continue to break down key math concepts in the 4th and 5th grade curriculum--division and fractions concepts are coming up next. 

Make sure you grab your "Roll and Multiply" Differentiated Dice Game and you will also be notified when I publish a new differentiated math blog post. Happy teaching, passionate differentiator!

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