Reflections and Resources from Tarheelstate Teacher: June 2015
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It's a Wrap! 2014-2015 Top 10 Classroom Highlights

This school year is a wrap. Personally, my brain starts transitioning to the next school year around March. Call it spring fever, but we're at the 300 yard mark in a 400 yard dash. Routines and procedures are {mostly} running smoothly, and I have some brain space available for thinking about next year.

Never in my career have I reflected on the school year as in depth as I have this past month. Making a Top 10 Highlights list forced me to reflect on the best parts of the 2014-2015 school year. As I shared many resources and project ideas, I documented my school year and cataloged some of my favorite classroom projects and experiences, most of them brand-new this year.

I'd like to impart to you that this reflective documentation of my work was a priceless teacher experience. During my New Year's goal setting period, I realized that I had become the kind of teacher who throws her planbook away each year {not literally} and starts from scratch {not all the time, but way too often}. This is not very efficient and often leaves me feeling like a first year teacher. This is unnecessary and I made a commitment to myself to stop reinventing the wheel ALL the time. This is not to say that I am unwilling to develop new lessons and materials, but that I should begin with considering what I have done in the past more often. My time is very important now that I have a family to love and take care of. Teaching should be manageable and falling back on what worked in the past is critical to managing this career. {I know your district probably won't say that to you, but take it from my 10 years of experience. Promise!}

Taking the time to announce what I loved @tarheelstateteacher.com will help me remember all that I did this year AND will help me choose to use some of these classroom activities again and again. If you can't tell, I highly recommend taking the time to reflect on this year's highlights--for now, stay away from all the stuff you want to change, and focus on the good stuff, what you and your students loved and why you loved it. Reignite the fire as you rejuvenate for next year!
I hope you found something that piqued your interest and inspired you as you plan for your 2015-2016 school year. {I'd love to hear more about your thoughts in the comments.} If you missed any of my highlights, you can click through here.

#10 Transitioning to a New School
#9 Spiral Math Homework
#8 "One Thing" Goal Setting Strategy
#7 School Budget {Govt} Project
#6 Bill Peet Author Study Projects
#5 Poetry Workshop
#4 {State} Travel Brochure Projects
#3 Classroom Read Alouds {Chapter Books}
#2 Ecosystems Museum Projects
#1 "Teach Me How to Teach" Projects
BONUS: Top Math Highlights

Don't be disappointed that this series has ended. I have re-envisioned my blog to really focus on reflection and documentation. My brain REALLY needs to reflect in a productive way and write. In truth, I am still reflecting on the school year. My "highlights" series focused on the positives from this year, but you will surely hear more about what I plan to continue doing and what I plan to change for 2015-2016. I look forward to sharing this love of teaching with you. Reignite your passion this summer!


"Teach Me How to Teach" Projects: It's {almost} a Wrap! 2014-2015 Top 10 Highlights #1

...Students become teachers in this classroom project...

Alright, at this point, the 2014-2015 school year is a wrap!!!! We finished out last Friday with a 1/2 day and Mr. Tarheelstate officially moved in all of his belongings so we spent the weekend unpacking boxes. Every time I found the bottom of a box, I celebrated by pulling off the tape and breaking the box down. {No, really, it's that exciting to get down to the bottom of a box and have all that stuff put away. Especially when some of the boxes belong to a 7 year old!} I spent an entire day (12 hours) painting the dark wood trim in my office white...it took 2-3 coats to get the job done. We have been BUSY and I'm looking forward to a summer of officially feeling married and being a new mommy :)

But, let's put an official wrap on  my highlights from 2014-2015 by taking a look at my students' favorite highlight of the year, our "Teach me How to Teach" science projects.  We completed these projects twice this year, both at times when students could have been disengaging--the week before spring break and the last two weeks of school {that LONG stretch of days after testing}. I wanted to capitalize on the skills my students learned during our Ecosystems Museum Projects AND put a new spin on the ol' "research, make powerpoint, present" assignment.
students teach the class in this end of year "teach me how to teach" classroom project (science projects, project based learning)

Teach Me Topics: 
In our first "Teach Me" project, I decided to allow students to teach one of our "Earth History" objectives: Give examples of how the surface of the earth changes due to slow processes such as erosion and weathering, and rapid processes such as landslides, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes.

In the second "Teach Me" project, students picked up some of the objectives we had not yet learned about:
1) Explain how minerals are identified using tests for the physical properties of hardness, color, luster, cleavage, and streak.
2) Classify rocks as metamorphic, sedimentary, or igneous based on their composition, how they are formed and the processes that create them.
3)  Explain the role of vitamins and minerals, and exercise in maintaining a healthy body.
For the second round, I split partnerships into two groups of teachers: Rocks and Minerals and Vitamins and Minerals.




1) I launched the first unit with a true/false anticipation guide from a mini-unit I have on Plate Tectonics called "The Changing Earth." I designed this unit sooo long ago, but I still love the way I organized it. It was easy to pique students' interest in their "Teach Me" topics with the following statements:
1. Mountains can form when one land mass collides into another. True: The Himalayan Mountains formed when India and Asia collided 50 million years ago. 225 million years ago, India was an island.
2. Islands can form when lava piles up on the ocean floor and eventually comes to the surface. True: Iceland has an island called Surtsey that was formed by lava erupting and piling up on the ocean floor.
3. Mountains can be found in the ocean. True: The earth’s longest mountain change is found in the ocean.
4. It is possible for cities to move so much that they change places with other cities. Trure: Los Angeles, located on the Pacific Plate, is now 340 million miles south of San Francisco, located on the North American plate. In 16 million years, the plates will have moved so much that Los Angeles will be north of San Francisco. (Isn't this a movie right now?!?)
5. Oceans can shrink over time. True: The Pacific Ocean basin is slowly shrinking because the Atlantic Ocean basin is opening up and pushing the North America and South America are moving westward.

2) After students chose one of the true/false statements to research and were introduced to the idea of the changing Earth, I told students they were going to be the teachers and would teach in partners. I even allowed students to choose their own partners for this project. {Risky, but it worked!} Partnerships chose specific topics for their "Teach Me" lesson from a list of related topics that I had generated beforehand based on the objective--not necessarily based on their true/false statement.

3) Students used the planning sheet I provided and began researching their topic to create a slideshow to aid in their lesson. As students researched, they were also told to think about what kind of activity they might use to help their students learn about the topic in a hands-on way. Students planned away. I gave them about a week of science time to research, complete a slideshow, and decide on their hands-on activity. As students planned with their partner, I helped by meeting with them to discuss their hands-on activity. I did a lot of searching for activities related to their topic that would be easy for them to use.

4) Scheduling the Lessons: I identified all 45 min - 1 hour blocks of time I could offer during the week before spring break (or before the last day of school for our second "Teach Me" unit.) Because it was the week before spring break and we had just wrapped up larger projects, I was able to have two partners teach each day. The order of the teaching/presentations went in the sequence that made the most sense for the material that students were teaching. Some days during the "teaching" week, partnerships had an hour to continue preparing, collecting materials, and check in with me to make sure they were ready.

5) Presentations! Teaching! Student-led hands-on activities! It was SHOWTIME! :) We created models of the layers of the Earth, put together a Pangea puzzle and a tectonic plates puzzle, erupted a few vinegar and baking soda volcanoes, did a "types of volcanoes" sort activity, and modeled tsunamis and earthquakes.

6) Reflection and Feedback: After watching students teach their lessons, I knew REFLECTING on what they did was a critical piece of the project. Each partnership completed a reflection form together. This gave students the chance to compliment themselves and note areas that they would improve upon if given another chance to teach. I had them reflect on any unexpected things that happened in their lesson, because well, that's really a teacher's life. I also wanted students to discuss how they shared the responsibility of both planning and teaching the lesson.

Having students provide feedback to each teacher/presenter was really important too. After students went through the act of teaching--researching, creating a lesson, putting together a powerpoint, and implementing an activity, I really wanted them to receive positive feedback from their peers.

For teacher feedback, I made a quick list of things I wanted to pay attention to during the presentation/lesson: knowledge of topic, organization of lesson, completeness of presentation, sharing of lesson with partner, and the hands-on activity. I completed the 1/4 pg feedback form for each "teacher" individually and rated them on a 1-4 scale {this is how our reports cards are}. For some things, I gave students n/a's or "unsure" because based on their presentation, I was unsure. This came up a good bit with partners who did not share the presenting of their topic very well when teaching. I was "unsure" if some students really had "knowledge of the material." The feedback form had just enough space for me to write remarks I had regarding the lesson.

Get my "Teach Me How to Teach" project materials for free. These may not stay up free forever, so grab them now!


Remember how I said I had some surprises this year with student engagement and motivation? This was one of those projects/activities where I thought it was "cool" when I thought of it--ok, cool-school, but my students' response to "Teach Me how to Teach" blew me away. They got SOOO excited to find their activity, make their powerpoint--this time with bells and whistles to keep their students engaged, excited to teach their lesson, and excited to watch one another teach. When it was all over the first time, they BEGGED me to do it again. So, I promised that after End of Grade testing would be a perfect time to allow them to plan another lesson. "Teach Me" was also one of those projects where I wasn't quite sure what I was getting myself into or how the lessons would turn out. I was taking a risk. This year was about taking a lot of risks as a teacher.

Students become teachers in this "teach me how to teach" classroom project; includes lesson plan template, peer review/feedback forms, and student self-reflections; end of year project based learning projects for scienceA big reason I LOVED this unit was that EVERY SINGLE lesson was hands-on. I will happily and honestly admit that I do not always have the time and energy to make science hands-on for every.single.lesson. Helping students find hands-on activities and helping them gather materials to teach their lesson felt easier than doing it all by myself. While students were busy working on their powerpoints/teaching materials, I met with partnerships to discuss activities and materials needed. We gathered what we already had at school and either I or the students brought in the additional materials. We were able to PLAN for our school day DURING our school day. {Novel concept!}

It was so fun watching my students teach--the good, the bad, and the ugly! I watched students successfully give directions and also watched them become frustrated when their classmates talked over them or did not understand directions. {"Welcome to my world" is all I could think!}

I am glad that we were able to do this project twice because having students walk through a process more than once is something I have figured out this year that is extremely important. Students deserve the opportunity to try something again. After putting time and energy into learning a skill set, it is important to give students the opportunity to apply that skill set again {usually with different content} to capitalize on the first experience and continue to develop and hone their skills. 

This post wraps up my 2014-2014 highlights. I hope you have enjoyed the ride as I have LOVED reflecting and documenting on the past year. As a bonus, I actually have one more 2014-2015 Highlight post of my sleeve that focuses just on math in general. If I included math highlights in my Top 10, it would take up the whole list. It is TRULY my favorite subject to teach AND the passion for math that I share in the classroom transfers to my students. See you soon!




Changing Earth Mini-Research Project
All 2014-2015 Top 10 Highlights
#10 Transitioning to a New School
#9 Spiral Math Homework
#8 "One Thing" Goal Setting Strategy
#7 School Budget {Govt} Project
#6 Bill Peet Author Study Projects
#5 Poetry Workshop
#4 {State} Travel Brochure Projects
#3 Classroom Read Alouds {Chapter Books}
#2 Ecosystems Museum Projects
Bonus: Top Math Highlights




It's {almost} a Wrap! 2014-2015 Top 10 Highlights #2 Ecosystems Museum Project

School is {almost} over! And this week has been wearing me out! But, we have a 1/2 day tomorrow and I just know I can do that. It's time for #2 on my 2014-2015 Highlights list--our Ecosystems Museum Projects {our BIG project based learning unit this year}. I REALLY would love to put this one as our #1 highlight, but based on student feedback, something else took that slot, so tune in tomorrow or Saturday to find out what the #1 favorite highlight of 2014-15 was.
Ecosystems Biomes Animal Research Projects with Ecosystems Museum Project Based learning; take your animal research for the upper elementary 4th 5th grade to another level! Hands on Science projects with arts integration

I wrote about our Ecosystems Museum projects in detail earlier this year on Life, Love, Literacy so I'm prepared to tell you all about what we did. My principal {requires} at least one project based unit each year. In our first "project" earlier this year, students negotiated and presented a $20,000 budget to the principal {coming in at #7 on our highlights list}. If you are not familiar with project-based learning, the Buck Institute is a great place to start poking around. We were also strongly encouraged to figure out ways to incorporate the arts into our project too because we are working to be recognized as a STEAM school. I decided to focus my PBL unit on Ecosystems/Organisms through an Ecosystems Mobile Museum Project--Project based learning? Check! Art...Oh yeah baby! {If you didn't catch my post about my Ecosystems Research unit--how we got to the museum part--you may want read that too.}

I dare say this project was really fun and meaningful AND allowed me to incorporate lots of Language Arts and technology goals into a science-based unit. One note to keep in mind as you read, I collaborated with the 5th grade teacher for this unit, so anything I did focused on Organisms and Ecosystems of NC, she applied to world biomes to meet the 5th grade standards.


To launch our project, we planned a field trip to a local Natural Sciences museum. Before our visit to the museum, students received a "letter" from the museum challenging them to create a mobile museum to help the museum educate more children about ecosystems and organisms of North Carolina. The letter started with "You have been hired by the Museum of Natural Sciences to help create a mobile museum exhibit. A mobile museum exhibit is one that can be moved around from place to place. We believe that mobile museums are important for helping us educate more students beyond the walls of the museum."








Driving Question:

Project-based learning is supposed to start with a driving question. Our driving question was "How can we create a museum that educates children and adults of all ages about our state ecosystems and wildlife?"

4th grade students chose an organism local to NC’s coastal plain or the mountain region (also included temperate deciduous forest animals). 5th grade students focused on organisms from specific biomes. All students used the research pages provided to learn about their organism in-depth. The journal pages provided a focus for students’ research and the 5th grade teacher and I each chose the sheets that matched our standards.

After researching their organism, students wrote research papers AND turned those papers into Google slide shows (or other presentations) to be shown as interactive learning stations during the mobile museum. I also had plans for us to pull sentences and paragraphs from students’ articles to create informational posters for our mobile museum displays, but we didn't get the time to include this in our exhibit. {Can you say "SNOW DAYS"?}

After students completed their slideshows, I had them pair up with another student who studied a similar organism and they completed the venn diagram from my Ecosystems research booklet materials. I thought this was a great way for students to experience one another's projects, but then I also realized it was a great way for them to get feedback and a motivator for revision. So, after doing the comparison activity, I copied the niche, behavioral adaptations, and physical adaptations sheets and paired students again. This time, students had to try to fill in the niche and adaptations sheets using only the information their partner provided in the slideshow. (I call this "backwards mapping" as students were kind of trying to work backwards from the slideshow to the research template.) This activity created a lot of motivation to revise their projects and to include missing information. (Constructive feedback for 21 kids given by other classmates? PERFECTO!)

Simultaneously with our in-class research, students created a 3-D model of their organism with either clay or by felting in art class.

After getting a good grip on our research and slide shows, I divided students into groups based on their specific ecosystem (Mountains/Forest in Mountains, by the Riverside, in a Forest by the coast, etc) and they worked together to design ecosystem murals to serve as backdrops for our Mobile Museum Exhibits. {Mural design and painting happened mostly in my classroom! I was so scared to take on "real" art happening in my classroom, but now I'm so glad I did it!} I cut butcher paper fit to the size of tri-fold boards. Groups figured out how one backdrop would flow into the next so that we had a “mountains to sea” display.



When the mobile museum was ready, we opened in the cafeteria and invited parents and all classes to attend. In case you can't tell by the pictures below, it was AH~mazing!



As grade levels came to visit, my students grabbed one student and led them around the museum. (I made a little checklist/scavenger hunt of all the organisms in our museum so that they would have a little something to engage them at the museum.) I spent the morning watching my students share their slideshows and what they had learned with students in other grades. It was so cool to see a culmination of all their hard work!

I do have some wishes for what I wish we had time to add to these projects:
* I wanted a key of the organisms (instead of using the labels you see) where students create a simple illustration of the environment and use numbers and a key to identify each organism. (This is how it's done at our local museum's exhibits)
* I wanted foreground environmental stuff (you see those bare tables? I would have loved for students to have had time to add sticks, leaves, grass, moss, etc. to the displays)
* the DECOMPOSERS in the ecosystem are missing! (Whoops!!! Something else that needed to be added to the foreground)
* Using information from students' slideshows and research to add displays and info boxes to the exhibit (like at a real museum--you have info to read as you move through the exhibits)
* And lastly, I truly had the goal of having students create one hands-on learning tool in partners. This would have helped us better meet our "Driving Question" and would have required more critical thinking as students become teachers. The 5th graders were able to pull this off. Here's two examples from their projects:


Ecosystems Biomes Animal Research Projects with Ecosystems Museum Project Based learning; take your animal research for the upper elementary 4th 5th grade to another level! Hands on Science projects with arts integrationYou might ask how much time this took. We began our projects in January and wrapped up at the beginning of March. We also had nearly two weeks of snow days in there. I would estimate that we spent 2 weeks on research, 2 weeks on typing drafts, one week on slideshow creation and mural creation (same week), and that the art teacher used 5 or so art classes to help students get their 3D organisms completed. Keep in mind all of the standards I included with this one project--research and reading informational texts, writing informational texts, creating slideshows/utilizing technology, art, communicating and collaborating (to design a cohesive mural together), all of my ecosystems science goals, and a better understanding of the regions of North Carolina (social studies). I call this a WIN WIN! and my students are excited to do it again in 5th grade for their biomes unit!

I reflected on my{first} project-based learning unit using this Project Design Rubric and a PBL Essential Elements Checklist, but I was very proud of what we accomplished--3D organism models that looked amazing, a collaborative mural backdrop that flowed from one environment to the next, a final research booklet, research paper, and a google slide show. I could hardly measure the time put into this project, but I dare say it was less than or equal to what it would have taken to teach research, nonfiction writing, slideshow design, and ecosystems separately. And this project surely created memories of 4th grade!




Ecosystems PBL Unit Materials (with step-by-step notes)

Detailed Post focused on how I used the Ecosystems Notebooking Pages

The Buck Institute (What is Project Based Learning?)

Model for "Gold Standard" PBL

Student Reflection Form from BIE

The $20,000 School Budget Project (our first PBL unit this year)



 end of year highlights favorite classroom activities

It's {almost} a Wrap! 2014-2015 Top 10 Highlights #3 Chapter Book Read Alouds

The books I share with my students for read aloud each year always create my most favorite memories. I love the feeling I get as I experience a book with a group of children. That's why today I'm sharing my favorite chapter book read alouds.

On the lookout for some great chapter book read alouds? This is it! Click through to see four great books and the reading strategies, standards, and skills they allow you to teach with confidence. Great ideas here for your upper elementary students - particularly 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade classrooms (and even homeschool families). {third, fourth, fifth, sixth grader}

Even if I have read the book by myself and or with other classes, the experience is always different. Students come up with profound ideas and help me see things in new ways.

They beg for more and they groan when it is time to move on to other things.

On the lookout for some great chapter book read alouds? This is it! Click through to see four great books and the reading strategies, standards, and skills they allow you to teach with confidence. Great ideas here for your upper elementary students - particularly 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade classrooms (and even homeschool families). {third, fourth, fifth, sixth grader}I'm going to keep this post short, but I'm sharing the chapter books I read aloud to my students this year and the main focus of our reading mini lessons for those books.

Note: Links to these chapter books are affiliate links. This means that I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. Read my full disclosure here.

Chapter Book Read Alouds

1st Quarter: Wings by Bill Brittain

before, during, after reading; walking in the character's shoes/empathy; theme(s)

2nd Quarter: The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamilo

walking in the characters' shoes/empathy; theme(s); identifying and paying attention to symbols to find more meaning in the story; characterization/character traits; looking at how people deal with trauma/death; comparing/contrasting two characters; bullying; fitting in;

3rd Quarter: Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

being able to answer open-ended questions with text-based evidence; pre-writing with t-charts, venn diagrams, etc. before answering questions; Civil Rights/race relations; historical fiction

4th Quarter: Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli

for the love of reading!!! Hokey Pokey was really a read aloud to keep us reading at the end of the year. It is Jerry Spinelli's newest book and I wanted to see how I liked it and share it with a group of kiddos. It is a coming of age story and was perfect for sending my 4th graders onto 5th grade. We did a LOT of fun activities with this book, and I hope to have time to share more about it with you. Think skits and classroom performances, illustrations, Hokey Pokey dancing, students reading aloud, and more!

I hope you enjoyed learning about my favorite chapter book read alouds. Please make sure to check out my other top 10 highlights from this school year.

On the lookout for some great chapter book read alouds? This is it! Click through to see four great books and the reading strategies, standards, and skills they allow you to teach with confidence. Great ideas here for your upper elementary students - particularly 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade classrooms (and even homeschool families). {third, fourth, fifth, sixth grader}

It's {almost} a Wrap! 2014-2015 Top 10 Highlights #4 Travel Brochure

4th quarter, I really wanted to give my students the chance to travel our state and use technology. I had been trying to formulate a brochure-type project all year, so I finally decided to just jump in and launch a Travel Brochure project.

If you're looking for an engaging research activity to help your students focus on important skills while also learning a lot & having fun, you have to try a travel brochure! Your upper elementary students will enjoy this activity. It even brings technology into play! Have them research various topics to create more than one brochure. This can be adapted for ANY subject! It's great for your 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th grade classroom & homeschool students. Plus there's a FREE digital download!





Every student at our school has a google account, so we have been using google drive a lot this year. I decided to create this project in google slideshow (like powerpoint). I created a format for the travel brochures and shared it with students in a "copy" only format. Each student made a copy of the template for themselves.

North Carolina's regions are the Piedmont, Mountains, and Coastal Plain. Since we live in the Piedmont, I decided to start with the Mountains and the Coastal Plain. Students created a brochure related to both of these regions. {We ran out of time before we got to the Piedmont with our brochure projects!}

The template I shared with students was a little prettier than what you see below (I used some of the clipart frames I have purchased. However, I cleaned up my file before sharing it with you to refrain from breaking the clipart seller's terms of use).

If you're looking for an engaging research activity to help your students focus on important skills while also learning a lot & having fun, you have to try a travel brochure! Your upper elementary students will enjoy this activity. It even brings technology into play! Have them research various topics to create more than one brochure. This can be adapted for ANY subject! It's great for your 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th grade classroom & homeschool students. Plus there's a FREE digital download!

I also shared a lengthy document of various museums and educational sites in North Carolina with students through their google accounts. Since our focus was on United States history as it relates to North Carolina and other important aspects of North Carolina History, I did not allow students to research science-based places.

Through this project, students learned a lot about the Lost Colony of Roanoke, Colonial History, Civil War history, Native Americans (mainly the Cherokee), and Pearl Harbor. I also had students study the Elizabethan Gardens, a radio museum, the birthplace of Pepsi, Kitty Hawk, (where Orville and Wilbur had their first successful flight), lighthouses, and a variety of other places and topics.

You can make your own copy of these documents so that you can edit them to use with your own class. (Note: Some of the links in the travel sites list are dead. I didn't take the time to fix them during our project, but allowed my students to google information for those sites and helped them find the organization's main website so that they would have it for researching.)

If you're looking for an engaging research activity to help your students focus on important skills while also learning a lot & having fun, you have to try a travel brochure! Your upper elementary students will enjoy this activity. It even brings technology into play! Have them research various topics to create more than one brochure. This can be adapted for ANY subject! It's great for your 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th grade classroom & homeschool students. Plus there's a FREE digital download!

I saved our Travel Brochure celebration for Thursday of the last week of school, mainly because students needed more time to get their brochures "print-ready." This may have been one of the reasons we stayed mostly sane after testing--we had a project to continue working on.

If you're looking for an engaging research activity to help your students focus on important skills while also learning a lot & having fun, you have to try a travel brochure! Your upper elementary students will enjoy this activity. It even brings technology into play! Have them research various topics to create more than one brochure. This can be adapted for ANY subject! It's great for your 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th grade classroom & homeschool students. Plus there's a FREE digital download!This project was more of a "loved it" project for my students. It was another one of those projects that I was asked daily if we were going to have time to work on them.

It was also another project that we could have completed through pencil and paper, but since this project was completed online, it was more engaging--recall my students' excitement and motivation with their Bill Peet Picturebook projects.

(I even printed off the template for them to complete a handwritten draft and decided that was a waste of time--I struggle with requiring handwritten drafts versus going straight to computer processing all the time, but that's for another post!)

My favorite thing about this project (and something I want to try to recreate next year in as many ways as possible) was that my students got to cycle through doing the same basic thing more than once. 

The brochure project was big enough to require research, time, and effort to put a nice one together (focused on the mountains), but the project was manageable enough that students were able to complete a second brochure (focused on the coast).

I have found that it is rare that we take students through nearly the same process or activity in an effort to allow them to
1) use the skills they acquired in the first go-round
2) get to start fresh on a similar project
3) demonstrate greater independence, and
4) try to go above and beyond the level of work they did in the first attempt.

{And I think this is a missed opportunity in education.}


I am SOOO looking forward to reflecting over the summer and coming up with more ways to build "an ethic of excellence and a culture of craftsmanship" (This link is an affiliate link that sends you to the book by the same title. This means that I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. Read my full disclosure here.) with repeated activities next year.

I loved that students got to know a lot of places around North Carolina. When they initially chose the place they wanted to research, they spent one class period just reading about different sites you could visit and tour.

During our celebration, students were exposed to even more places around North Carolina that they could visit...best of all, many of the travel sites are free or cheap. I thought this was a great way to send students off for summer...with a list of potential state-history related places to try to visit. Overall, our travel brochure project was a complete success!

It's {almost} a Wrap! 2014-2015 Top 10 Highlights #5 Poetry Workshop

First, let me say, I kept Poetry Workshop SOOO simple this year. It was our last hour before the weekend and was a great way to expose my students to different poetic techniques and allow my students to be creative with writing and illustrating. I have lots of plans to amp up Poetry Workshop next year, but today I'll just share the basics of what we did this year.

Learn the benefits of poetry workshop in your upper elementary classroom & how you can make it work. Great to integrate reading and writing into each day. This teacher gives examples to use, resources to try, great examples, and more! Click through to see if you can make this work with your 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th grade classroom or homeschool students. Make your poem unit last the entire year. {third, fourth, fifth, or sixth grader}

{Note: Links to books in this post may be affiliate links. This means that I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. Read my full disclosure here.}

Learn the benefits of poetry workshop in your upper elementary classroom & how you can make it work. Great to integrate reading and writing into each day. This teacher gives examples to use, resources to try, great examples, and more! Click through to see if you can make this work with your 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th grade classroom or homeschool students. Make your poem unit last the entire year. {third, fourth, fifth, or sixth grader}Learn the benefits of poetry workshop in your upper elementary classroom & how you can make it work. Great to integrate reading and writing into each day. This teacher gives examples to use, resources to try, great examples, and more! Click through to see if you can make this work with your 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th grade classroom or homeschool students. Make your poem unit last the entire year. {third, fourth, fifth, or sixth grader}

During the first week of school, we created heart maps, which many teachers use the idea {originated from Georgia Heard's Awakening the Heart}



I was able to find a good number of free templates for students to use on TPT (here, and here). I printed multiple copies of each design and allowed students to choose the design they wanted to use.

This is one of those activities I do most every year, but it's also one of those that I go back and forth about {perhaps because it feels like "same-old, same-old"}. However, I really wanted to have an artistic activity the first week of school AND I am so glad I had students create heart maps this year. I immediately saw their artistic talent and knew that I would need to capitalize on their abilities with my lessons and assignments.

At the start of the year we put our iPoet notebooks together with a table of contents. Check out those fancy spiral notebooks I landed at Walmart for 25 cents! I was so excited! I bought enough to have them ready for next year too :) Our poetry notebooks were a combo of student-written poems and example poems from our mini-lessons.

Each Friday afternoon 1st and 2nd quarter, we had a Poetry Workshop. In the past, I pulled poems from various anthologies and would spend time each week searching for the perfect poems to use for our workshop. This year, I gave in to needing a set of poems already laid out for me.

You can find the two resources I purchased in the resource section at the end of this post. Both sets are great because they focus on different types of poems and literary devices. You can choose your topic, but you already have a good set of example poems to work with. {These TIME SAVERS made poetry workshop much more enjoyable for me each week!}

I printed the focus poems on 1/2 sized sheets. Students placed the poems in their poetry notebooks. When we looked at various features {personification, metaphors, onomatopoeia,  alliteration, etc), students highlighted the features in the poems.

Learn the benefits of poetry workshop in your upper elementary classroom & how you can make it work. Great to integrate reading and writing into each day. This teacher gives examples to use, resources to try, great examples, and more! Click through to see if you can make this work with your 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th grade classroom or homeschool students. Make your poem unit last the entire year. {third, fourth, fifth, or sixth grader}
Each week, we focused on a literary device, poem format, or technique. I projected example poems on the smartboard and students volunteered to read the poems aloud.

Throughout the year, I also taught lessons on how to brainstorm poem ideas and on how to use line-breaks to create rhythm and emphasis in a poem. When our iPoet pads started to fill up with example poems, we would start our poetry workshop with students choosing a poem from a past lesson to read aloud. Multiple students could read the same poem aloud and sometimes I would pick a poem and ask someone to read it. Can you say oral reading fluency three times fast?!?!? I had a number of students in speech this year and this was perfect practice for them. It was also a fun way to get us into a poetic mood! 

Learn the benefits of poetry workshop in your upper elementary classroom & how you can make it work. Great to integrate reading and writing into each day. This teacher gives examples to use, resources to try, great examples, and more! Click through to see if you can make this work with your 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th grade classroom or homeschool students. Make your poem unit last the entire year. {third, fourth, fifth, or sixth grader}
Learn the benefits of poetry workshop in your upper elementary classroom & how you can make it work. Great to integrate reading and writing into each day. This teacher gives examples to use, resources to try, great examples, and more! Click through to see if you can make this work with your 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th grade classroom or homeschool students. Make your poem unit last the entire year. {third, fourth, fifth, or sixth grader}

After moving on to our minilesson and focusing on a feature or device, students brainstormed poem ideas in their writer's notebook {not the poetry notebook!}. I had to approve poems before students were allowed to copy them into their notebooks and illustrate them. Neatness and correct spelling was definitely a priority. I encouraged students to try out the techniques and literary devices we discussed but I did not require it as I wanted them to have time to create poems as they wanted.

Learn the benefits of poetry workshop in your upper elementary classroom & how you can make it work. Great to integrate reading and writing into each day. This teacher gives examples to use, resources to try, great examples, and more! Click through to see if you can make this work with your 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th grade classroom or homeschool students. Make your poem unit last the entire year. {third, fourth, fifth, or sixth grader}
To end our workshop, we always met at the carpet with our notebooks and had a sharing session. Often, I would start with a request for poems from anyone who had attempted to use the device/technique from our minilesson. Our share sessions were a great way to end the week!

1) My students' enthusiasm! My students LOVED poetry Fridays. I was able to maintain this block of time consistently each Friday 1st and 2nd quarter and hope to carry it through the whole year next year.

2) This year I got something out of poetry workshop that I had not before...and I was sold! Revision, revision, revision, in an INSTANT! As students asked for their poems to be approved for recording in their iPoet Pads, I was able to give them specific feedback, teach/review grammar skills, and focus on spelling strategies.

Students were extremely willing to revise their poems, elaborate, correct spelling issues, and overall, make their work better during this one hour block of writing time. I was really impressed by students who would take one simple suggestion and run with it, bringing back to me a poem that had doubled in size or completely changed perspective.

Poetry workshop gave us the opportunity to make the writing process "bite-sized." In one hour, students were able to move through all stages of the writing process. So worth it!!!

3) Did I mention my students are talented artists? I loved that poetry workshop provided them the weekly opportunity to draw, color, and be creative in the "regular" classroom.




Mentor Poems for Teaching Poetry from Lorrie L Birchall 
20 Poetry Forms from Dot Cates
Awakening the Heart by Georgia Heard


Learn the benefits of poetry workshop in your upper elementary classroom & how you can make it work. Great to integrate reading and writing into each day. This teacher gives examples to use, resources to try, great examples, and more! Click through to see if you can make this work with your 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th grade classroom or homeschool students. Make your poem unit last the entire year. {third, fourth, fifth, or sixth grader}

It's {almost} a Wrap! 2014-2015 Top 10 Highlights #6 Author Study

Coming in at #6 on our 2014-2015 school year highlights is an author study project where we focused on picture books written by Bill Peet.

Your upper elementary students are going to love participating in this picture book author study featuring Bill Peet. Click through for a FREE Google Drive download, picture book ideas, ideas, and tips from a teacher who taught numerous reading strategies while asking her students to complete the author study. The best part? You can differentiate it to meet the needs of your 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th grade classroom or homeschool students. And it covers a lot of standards too!

As I tried a number of new things this year (often, flying by the seat of my pants waiting to see how things would play out, but sometimes as well-planned ideas and activities), I had some major surprises with student engagement. I think I do a pretty good job of keeping my students engaged. My attitude is that if I’m bored, they are bored AND if they are bored, “Houston, we got 99 problems” ;)

I teach really sweet students who usually follow my lead and get excited about what I present to them in class. But, often, I'm still really surprised by their enthusiasm for certain things. What’s the evidence for my students’ enthusiasm?
  • Can I take this home and work on it tonight? 
  • When do we get to work on….
  • When I said, “You can work on this for morning work,” I heard cheers. 
Our Bill Peet author study project was one of those assignments that surprised me with how engaged and motivated my students were. I had students begging me for "Bill Peet" time and I had parents telling me that their child shared their project with them at home and even chose to work on their project over playing on their iPad. {Win!}

Why was I so surprised by my students' enthusiasm? Well when you see how simple this project was, maybe you will be surprised too!


Note: Links to the books I mention are affiliate links. This means that I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. Read my full disclosure here.



As we left for spring break, we were in the midst of learning how to write literary essays. We used our Civil Rights book club books for content and developed theses focused on a strong theme in the story. I called these essays "practice" because I helped a lot, the essays were really messy with editing and revising, and it was students' introduction to the parts of an essay and the parts of a supporting paragraph.  

So, I knew I wanted to move them through the process again when we returned for 4th quarter, but I didn't have the time to wait for them to read another chapter book before starting another essay project.

I wanted to start right away so I decided to focus our work on Bill Peet's picturebooks. If you are not familiar with Bill Peet, he was an illustrator for Walt Disney who eventually left because of creative differences. Later, he began writing the stories that filled his childhood. He illustrated and authored a number of very creative books with super imaginative characters.

Prior to this study, my favorite Bill Peet book was Wump World, mainly because I'm a tree-hugger. Think Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsburg--Wump World has the same message, a warning about taking care of our Earth. Another huge goal I had for this project was to spend some time focusing on author's purpose/author's message. This is perhaps the reason I thought of Bill Peet immediately because I had used Wump World in the past to focus on author's message.

Through this picture book study with my students, I also fell in love with The Spooky Tail of Prewitt Peacock, Kermit the Hermit, How Drufus the Dragon Lost His Head, and Eli. I also highly recommend grabbing a copy of Bill Peet's Autobiography if you do this study in your classroom.

Your upper elementary students are going to love participating in this picture book author study featuring Bill Peet. Click through for a FREE Google Drive download, picture book ideas, ideas, and tips from a teacher who taught numerous reading strategies while asking her students to complete the author study. The best part? You can differentiate it to meet the needs of your 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th grade classroom or homeschool students. And it covers a lot of standards too!I went to the local library and gathered all the Bill Peet books off of the shelf. We didn't have enough copies for each child to have one independently, so we had to do a lot of sharing during this study.  

To launch the study, I gave students a simple handout and had them read as many books as they could get to in the span of a week.

{Next year, I think I will allow them to JUST read the books without a recording sheet for a week and then add the recording sheet later. This is an opportunity to build a LOT of reading stamina with engaging literature and children on all reading levels can feel safe reading these books, although we can expect them to think deeply about the themes and messages in the stories}.

I taught lessons on how to figure out the author's message. {Since this was a 4th quarter project, students were already well-versed in summaries, themes, and "It's About's"}.

I taught students to attempt to put cliche lessons into their own words, and I tried to train them to read their lessons back to themselves to see if they were 1) accurate to the story, and 2) made sense and/or were truthful.

An example of a lesson I often get from students is "If you are nice to someone, they will be nice back." I really challenge my students hard on stating a lesson like that. Is that really true? Does that happen in real life? Is the author trying to tell me that if I am nice to someone, they will be nice back? No? Then we need to try harder to find the right words to describe what the author wanted us to learn.

The assignment: 


After getting to know many of the stories, I had students choose one book to focus on in depth. I created the assignment in google slideshow and shared it with all of my students as an un-editable file that you can download here.

Your upper elementary students are going to love participating in this picture book author study featuring Bill Peet. Click through for a FREE Google Drive download, picture book ideas, ideas, and tips from a teacher who taught numerous reading strategies while asking her students to complete the author study. The best part? You can differentiate it to meet the needs of your 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th grade classroom or homeschool students. And it covers a lot of standards too!

Here's where the surprise comes in. Do you see what I assigned them?!?! 


To me, this project was a reader response that I had students complete with an online word processor rather than pencil and paper. That's it. It was that simple...to me. But, somehow, this was super engaging to students.

I didn't even let them play with the "fluffy" stuff until the required pieces were completed and I had pushed them and pushed them to add more and revise their sentences. {You'll see this in the two examples below. One project is very simple while the second student had time to make it a little fancier.}

Student Example #1

Your upper elementary students are going to love participating in this picture book author study featuring Bill Peet. Click through for a FREE Google Drive download, picture book ideas, ideas, and tips from a teacher who taught numerous reading strategies while asking her students to complete the author study. The best part? You can differentiate it to meet the needs of your 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th grade classroom or homeschool students. And it covers a lot of standards too!

 Student Example # 2

Your upper elementary students are going to love participating in this picture book author study featuring Bill Peet. Click through for a FREE Google Drive download, picture book ideas, ideas, and tips from a teacher who taught numerous reading strategies while asking her students to complete the author study. The best part? You can differentiate it to meet the needs of your 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th grade classroom or homeschool students. And it covers a lot of standards too!

By the way, this project never turned into a full-blown essay, but I will be aiming for that next year.

We loved this project so much that I made a donorschoose project to get the resources we need for next year. I ordered two copies of each Bill Peet title that was available from amazon and also ordered Helen Lester books (another great author to study, especially perfect for the beginning of the year). I hope to be able to implement 2-3 author study projects like this one next year. I'm excited to attempt to scaffold the project with Helen Lester books 1st quarter and Bill Peet books later in the year.

With a project like this, there are many opportunities to assess students' abilities in reading and writing. During 1st quarter next year, I'll start with having students write summaries, identify and support themes, and describe and analyze characters.

My lessons will aim to help students learn to write summaries that are not too long and not too short and to better verbalize the themes in the story and support them with evidence. I can do a read aloud to take a "benchmark" assessment of where students are with these objectives and then use their projects as a way to improve their abilities.

Then, I will even take a final assessment at the end of the unit with another read aloud and an independent reading passage. I'll just have to remember to choose two of the picturebooks to keep to myself for my pre and post read aloud assessments :)

I hope some of my end of year reflections have your brain spinning. I said it in the last post, but I am truly enjoying using my blog space to reflect on some top experiences from this school year - including this author study. The best part is that it also helps me think about how to improve upon what happened this year. If you have not taken the time to reflect on 2014-15, I highly recommend it! I'm half way through my countdown so keep stopping by to see what else is in store!

Your upper elementary students are going to love participating in this picture book author study featuring Bill Peet. Click through for a FREE Google Drive download, picture book ideas, ideas, and tips from a teacher who taught numerous reading strategies while asking her students to complete the author study. The best part? You can differentiate it to meet the needs of your 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th grade classroom or homeschool students. And it covers a lot of standards too!

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