Stop, Swap, & Roll

I'm linking up again for Jungle Learners' Stop, Swap, & Roll product swap! I love participating in this linky because I get to meet some fellow teacher-bloggers and try out a new and exciting classroom resource. What could be more awesome?

So this time around, my swap partner is Crystal from Primary On The Prowl. Her store specializes in products for the K-2 crowd and she has a nice variety of affordable math and ELA resources. This year I'm teaching third grade and we are doing a LOT of writing. Check out the anchor charts my teaching partner made today...

I think the kids are a little bit tired of the formal writing process. (It's hard work!) So, I've been wanting to give them some fun writing during centers. After browsing through Crystal's store, I immediately knew I wanted to try her Writing Prompt Cards

I'm always needing new topics that get the kids excited about writing. This pack has a nice variety including narrative and opinion prompts. Many of them have really interesting story starters to help your writers get going (because getting started is usually the hardest part!). Each cards are also illustrated.

I chose several cards to put out during literacy centers. I picked narrative prompts with a mystery feel to them. My third graders are totally into mysteries lately, so I knew they would love to write their own! I was really pleased with how they dove right into their stories. Several of them even asked to work on them at other times of the day. Here they are hard at work...

A 3-page story? Wow! And it was good, too!

Notice the dictionary next to my young writers? They went and got it themselves. I'm so proud! 

Overall, their stories turned out really great! A few of the kids wanted to write another story using a different card when they finished the first one. I don't think that has ever happened! So, thank you for letting me try out your cards, Crystal! I know we'll get a lot of use out of them.

If you want to get this set of writing prompts yourself, you can find them HERE. The pack includes 78 different prompts: enough to keep even your most prolific writers busy. You can also enter to win them in the Rafflecopter below.

Don't forget to hop on over to Crystal's blog; Primary On The Prowl. You will also want to vist Jungle Learners to see some more product reviews and giveaways. You can find mine at Teaching Ideas for Those Who Love Teaching. Go check it out!

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Why Your Students Don't Follow Directions

Do you ever feel like this?

New and old teachers alike sometimes struggle to get their students to follow directions. It happens to the best of us! Sometimes they really aren't paying attention. But more often than not, the problem lies with YOU. Gasp! Did I just blame the teacher? Umm, yeah. But hey, I'm guilty of these mistakes too!

  1. You start talking before they are listening. - It's REALLY hard to not do this. Maybe they aren't all talking. Maybe they just aren't listening yet. Are some of the kids still moving around? Is Johnny still writing? Is Sally looking for a pencil? It's really important (like super duper important) to have everyone's attention before you utter even one word of the directions. Starting on the very first day of school, train your students to make eye contact with you to show they are listening. When all eyes are on you, then you at least know they aren't distracted doing something else.

  2. You give them too much at once. - The younger your students are, the more important this one is. But even older kids can get overwhelmed (or tune out) when you give them a bunch of things to do at once. Try giving them instructions about materials or procedures before telling them what to do to complete an assignment.

    For example, don't say, "Take out your pencil, highlighter, and post its. As you read the passage, highlight important vocabulary and use the post-its to do your text marking and ask questions."

    Whoa! That's just too much. Instead, give them the directions about materials first: "Take out your pencil, highlighter, and post-its." Then wait. Let them dig through their desks and get them out because the second you say, "Take out...", they'll stop listening and start digging around anyway. Once everyone has their materials and is settled, move on to what you want them to do. That's leads me to mistake #3...

  3. You only give directions verbally. - Using the same example, I wouldn't just tell my students to highlight important vocabulary, I would have them write this on the top of their papers: important words. It's pretty clear that I want them to highlight important words, right? Now they SEE the directions in addition to hearing them. What about the post-its? I would have them take one and do this:

    They can stick it right on their desk in case they forget what text marking to do. When students hear AND see the directions, they are much more likely to follow them!
I hope you've enjoyed these little tips. If you have one that works for your class, leave me a comment below. I love hearing new ideas! 

Do you teach younger students? Check out this set of Following Directions Cue Cards:


My Mid-Year Bag Of Tricks

We've passed the half-way point of the school year (yay!!) and this is when things can start to get a little bit boooring... for the kids and for me. Since I've had the same class two years in a row now, we're really good at our routines. But I've noticed some of them tuning me out lately. Maybe they've gotten just a little bit too comfortable and familiar with how I do things. Like during math, they KNOW I'm going to model it first, so maybe that's a good time for a quick nap, right? Ugh! So... time to pull out my bag of tricks!

What? Huh? A bag of tricks? Yeah, I've got a few little things up my sleeve to get the class back on track. Every teacher has them, but here are a few you might not have tried before...

1. YOU Are the Teacher - My kids love this one! After teaching a concept, I ask who wants to be the teacher. Whoever volunteers gets to come up and tell me what to do step-by-step. I do EXACTLY what the "teacher" tells me, even if it turns out to be completely ridiculous. This works really well for procedural tasks like subtraction with regrouping or a scientific investigation. If the end result isn't correct, another student gets to come up and try to teach me. The one who finally gets me to complete the task correctly earns a little reward.

2. Are You Smarter Than Your Teacher? - This is a fun competitive game for reviewing concepts at the end of a unit. It works well for science and social studies. First, I prepare a set of questions for the topic. Then, I divide the class into several groups and give them each a copy of the questions. They work with their groups to come up with the answers. (Sometimes I allow them to use their books, depending on how difficult the questions are.) 

After this brainstorming session, it's game time! I start by reading a question to team one. If they get it right, they earn 2 points. If not, they get to choose one of the other teams to steal by answering it. A successful steal earns that team 1 point. If that team also gets it wrong, I announce the answer and get the point myself. Then, I move on to the next question which goes to team two and follows the same procedure. We keep playing until all questions are used. The team or teacher with the most points at the end is the winner.

3. Write The Test - I like to use this one for math. Before I start instruction, I tell the class that they will be writing their own test. As you can imagine, they immediately perk right up. The catch is that I only select the very best questions, so they really have to pay attention and put forth their best effort. 

After I've taught the concept, I hang 5 to 10 papers around the room with various prompts on them such as "two-step problem involving division" or "an area problem with an answer of 18". I place a basket next to each station, pair the students up, and give them a stack of post-its. They quietly move around the room, discussing the prompts, and creating their own test question for each one. They write them on the post-its and place them in the appropriate basket. Later, I go through them and choose the best ones to use as quiz questions. The kids LOVE seeing their own questions on a test and the activity really builds their critical thinking. It also shows me who has a thorough understanding of the concepts and who is way off base.

4. Third Grade Detectives (or whatever grade you teach) - I have found that any kind of "investigation" gets the kids refocused. Sometimes I make them myself, like this fact and opinion center:

But there are plenty of activities on the web to keep your little detectives busy. For math, I love Scholastic's Math Maven's Mysteries. They are perfect for third and fourth graders:

The nice thing about these is that you can print them out, play the audio, or download them for your interactive whiteboard. My class loves working on the mysteries so I use them as a reward: Work hard during math meeting and we'll have time for a math mystery.

5. The Outdoor Classroom - I live in Florida, so this one is perfect for the middle of the year. If you're in one of those frigid, snowy, arctic places where you have to wear coats, this might not be for you. I love grabbing a pile of clipboards and moving our lesson outside. We can sit on the grass or sidewalks and enjoy the fresh air while we learn. Sometimes we can do our work with sidewalk chalk. The deal with this trick is that the second the kids gets rowdy or off-task, it's over and we go back inside to our desks. It's a sad, miserable punishment to lose outside classroom time!

So those are my little tricks for getting through the usual mid-year crisis. Do you have any special tricks of you own? I'd love to hear your comments and ideas!


You Oughta Know About...Learn Zillion

For this month's "You Oughta Know" blog hop, I want to share one of my favorite websites for teachers. It's called Learn Zillion. If you saw September's hop, you might be thinking, "Hey, didn't you already recommend your favorite teacher site?" Well yes... EngageNY is my favorite for detailed, standards-based lesson plans. But Learn Zillion is where you can go for interactive, student-oriented lesson support.

  • Lessons - Learn Zillion provides a lesson for every math and ELA standard. They are not the in-depth, scripted type you will find on EngageNY. These lessons use visuals that you can project for the students to see. Each one begins with a short opening question called a "Launch" to get students thinking. You can solve this together whole-group or model it. I like to show the launch, have partners talk about strategies they could use to solve it, and then model it myself. Here is an example of a math Launch question for third grade:

The Launch problem is then followed a "Task" and "Task Debrief" which gives students the opportunity to apply the skill that you're working on and see the steps for solving. 

One of my favorite parts of the Learn Zillion presentations are the "Common Misunderstanding" slides. They show students why a certain strategy or idea won't work:

The rest of the presentation shows the Big Ideas students will take away from the lesson, a formative assessment (great for exit tickets!), and then problem sets that can be printed out. At the very end is a video that goes with the lesson, which leads to the BEST part of the website...

  • Videos - This is the part of Learn Zillion that you absolutely MUST try! There are so many possible uses for the videos. First, you can use them for direct instruction. The videos are well-paced, clear and easy to understand, and they really break the steps down into manageable pieces. You could also use them for doing flipped classroom by having students view them prior to your own lesson. If you have above or below-level students, you can use the videos for other grade levels to meet their instructional needs. 
There are also teacher-created video "Lesson Sets". These are short series of videos around a particular topic. For example, this week I used the 3rd Grade Opinion Writing video set during my guided reading groups. In one group, I have a student who had gotten far ahead of the others. She needed something to work on while I caught the rest of them up. So, I pulled out the iPad and selected the video from this series called "Make a Brave Statement" to help her develop stronger openings for her writing. We had just read an article in Time For Kids called "Should Soda Be Taxed?" After watching the video, the student used what she learned to write an opening paragraph for her opinion on the TFK article. It allowed her to independently extend her learning and practice an important skill with very little involvement from me.

Next week, my reading groups will all be watching video lessons during their computer time. I set up a "class" so each student has a username and password and assigned specific videos for them to view before we meet at reading table. I can't wait to see how it jump starts their learning!

So that's a little overview of Learn Zillion. Go check it out!


Do Your Curriculum Maps Look Like This?

Does anyone else see a problem here? I got into an email debate with the district math department "expert" over this...

Here's how the conversation went...

Me: Dear Math Guru, Why does the curriculum map say that the children only need to understand denominators of 2, 3, 4, 6, and 8 but then tells us to teach whole numbers over one. Those two things contradict each other. Which is correct?

Math Lady: Dear Dumb Teacher, please refer to the curriculum maps provided by the district if you are unsure of the standards. You should be viewing the learning targets.

Me: Dear Math Guru, Please refer to page 26 of YOUR curriculum map. I am reading the targets.

This was followed by several equally insulting responses and finally no answer at all. Really? I mean, REALLY? 

The Best Baby Present Ever!

My husband and I are at the point in our lives where we're done having kids of our own but not quite old enough for grandchildren. So when a younger couple that we're friends with had a baby last year, we were super excited. A baby to borrow!! 

Now we love this baby! We love seeing pictures and videos of her trying to talk and trying to walk. So we decided to get them all a Christmas present with the sole purpose of trying to get some extra baby time. We bought them gift certificates for dinner and a movie in the hopes that we would get to babysit. Nice, right? But we couldn't forget about the baby, so look at what we bought her...

Now before anyone leaves me a well-deserved nasty comment, here is what the box looked like when I bought it...

Here's the great thing about young, first-time parents... they totally trust those of us who have already made it through babyhood. They really believed we wanted them to feed their child like a hamster. They smiled (fakely) and thanked us for our most thoughtful gift. It was wonderful and heart-warming!

So how did it all end? Well, we let them think this was the real present for a good half hour, Then we said, "Go ahead, open it up, Let's see how it works. Let's see if the baby likes it!" Then, the fake smiles were replaced by sighs of relief when they saw the footie pajamas, toys, and gift certificates we had put inside the box. Now, we're just waiting to get in that babysitting time!


Recipe Round-Up: Slow Cooker Favorites!

I am SOOOO proud of myself. I actually planned ahead for dinner tonight! Here's my usual weeknight cooking method... leave school around 3:00, drive to the grocery store and wander back and forth through the meat department muttering to myself that nothing sounds good, grab a few random things for lunch tomorrow, hop back in the car and end up at Boston Market/Panera/Subway OR go home and cook some really lame breakfast-for-dinner meal. Not that I don't really enjoy breakfast at dinnertime but come on - We need a real meal sometimes!

So yesterday, we finally got some cold weather and I got to wear my coat to school. Then, when I hit up Publix for my usual fruitless browse, I actually came up with a real dinner idea... beef stew! Yeah, perfect for chilly weather, right? Chili would be great too but no one at my house will eat it (crazy people!). So I quickly whipped out my ridiculously oversized iPhone (will tell more about that later) and pulled up a delicious recipe from The Pioneer Woman. She is totally awesome!

The ingredients are pretty basic - stew meat, tomato paste, onion, garlic, carrots, turnips, beef stock, olive oil, worcestershire sauce, and some seasoning. Turnips? Yes, and if you think you don't like them, you haven't cooked them right. Luckily, my dad just gave me a few out of his garden the other day.

The Pioneer Woman cooks her stew on the stove and I've always just followed her directions. But this time I wanted to use the crock pot. (I do love coming home to an already cooked meal.) Turns out that this is the perfect crock pot stew! Just look...

Is your mouth watering? This stew is so delicious! The only thing I had to do differently was add a little cornstarch-water mix at the end to thicken it up. That could be because I used less meat than the recipe called for but kept everything else the same. The only thing I might add next time is some nice crusty bread to dip in the gravy. YUM!

If you want to try this recipe out yourself, you can get it here: Sunday Night Stew. To make it in the crockpot instead, follow all of her steps for browning the meat, onion, and garlic up to where you add the Worcestershire sauce. After you do that, just dump it all in your crockpot and cook all day on low. I turned mine on at 7am and it was perfectly done by 4pm. I just turned the pot off and it stayed warm until we ate at around 5:30.

If you want to find some more crockpot favorites, hop on over to The ESOL Odyssey and check out the other bloggers who have joined this link up!


A Few of My Favorite... Websites For Learning

I'm linking up with the Teaching Trio for their new monthly feature: A Few of My Favorite Things. This time I'm going to tell you about my three favorite (and FREE) websites for learning. A couple of them do have the option for a paid subscription; but hold onto your wallet because the free versions are awesome all on their own. If you aren't already using these sites, definitely go check them out...

Don't forget to come back and tell me what you think! Now hop on over to Teaching Trio for some more Favorite Things.


The Big Reveal... Blog Makeover!!!

Ta-dah!!! Here is it... my brand new blog thanks to Shanon at Blogs Fit For A Queen. Don't you just LOVE it? I sure do!! I'm so happy at how she was able to work my TpT identity (Fishyrobb) into my blog design. No more split personality!
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