Sunday, December 2, 2012

For All Your Apostrophe Needs

Getting into the "nitty gritty" of grammar rules can be fun! I did a few mini-lessons with apostrophes recently, and we'll be doing these two chants throughout the school year for reminders:

Teacher: Apostrophes are in the air!
Student: Commas are on the floor!

Teacher: Apostrophes have two homes...
Students: Contractions and possessives!

The second chant keeps us from going "apostrophe-crazy." Students can get confused and add apostrophes to plurals or other words that don't need them. I also made a helpful handout for their writing folders!

Download it HERE!

We kept the fun going by reading The Girl's Like Spaghetti by grammar guru Lynne Truss. It's a silly book that points out how the meaning of a sentence can be completely changed by adding, moving, or deleting apostrophes. 

Last but not least, I told my students (in a very dramatic way) that they knew more about apostrophes than many adults! When a few of them said they didn't believe me, I showed them photos of public signs with apostrophe mistakes. You can find tons from or! (As with any website, be sure to browse the website content before showing your students!) I printed out a few of the signs, and they created "new and improved" duplicates with correct apostrophe usage. 

They have a whole new appreciation for apostrophes now. I'm crossing my fingers in hopes that it lasts so they don't grow into the adults that make these embarrassing signs! 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Teaching Voice & Freebie Printable!

Of all the "6+1" writing traits, I've always thought that voice reigns supreme. A student's story can have all the bells and whistles; well-organized paragraphs, vivid word choice, neat handwriting, perfect spelling and punctuation, etc., but if the student does not showcase their own voice, it comes off boring or formulaic to the reader. Voice is what makes the composition authentic and memorable. The Best Story by Eileen Spinelli is a book that I read every year to teach the importance of showing voice in everything we write. 

The perfect read-aloud to teach the importance of VOICE!

Since it's a quick read-aloud, it allows time for an awesome follow-up activity that I stole from 6+1 Traits of Writing by Ruth Culham. I told my students that greeting card writers are the real masters of showing voice because nobody wants to buy a card for a friend or relative that shows no personality or feeling! I put them in groups of 3-4 and had them categorize a stack of random greetings cards into 4 categories:

Sentimental (serious, from the heart, and often lengthy)
Humorous (makes you laugh)
Short and sweet (has a brief yet meaningful message)
VOICELESS (How did this card make it off the shelf?!)

They did so well with sorting carefully, and they enjoyed reading the cards more than I expected! I hope we can reflect back on this activity every time we talk about showing voice. 

In other news, I've been keeping up with my "Writer of the Week," inspired by Pinterest! Each writer of the week gets the fancy certificate pictured below. In celebration of reaching 100 followers, I thought I'd make it a freebie for all you hardworking writing teachers out there! Let's remember to keep rewarding our budding writers!

Download the freebie HERE!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

"Hook ' Yer Reader" Part 2!

It's official... school being in full swing has definitely taken a lot of my time and energy that could be spent blogging, but don't give up on me! There are still plenty of writing goodies to go around!

You may have read my previous post about three easy and effective ways for kids to HOOK their readers. I just finished introducing leads with my students, and they are already impressing me! With lots of modeling and showcasing author examples, the kids will get more and more confident with writing their own leads. Anchor charts always help, too!

Anchor chart used to teach leads

After introducing three ways to hook the reader (through this freebie!) I created a little homework assignment that challenged them to revise boring beginnings and write their own hooks. It was a short yet challenging little exercise! I hope you can use this in your classroom, too!

Click HERE to download it!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Subject & Predicate Freebie!

It's only the second week of school, and I'm already starting to do the "juggling act!" There is so much introductory content to cover in such a short period of time. I'm sure I'm preaching to the choir! While I'm spending the majority of our class time on the writing process (as promised!) we're also working on complete sentence mini-lessons.
The major concept that I'm trying to stress right now is that complete sentences can be long or short, but they must have a subject and predicate! This is the anchor chart I've used for the past couple years:

Fortunately, my students came to me with awesome prior knowledge of nouns and verbs. After defining subject and predicate/how they relate to nouns and verbs, I wrote the following sentence:

Dogs bark.

I asked, "Is this a complete sentence?" All four class periods reacted the same exact way; which almost never happens! I heard "No!" coming from all sides of the room, but after some wait time and a slight grin from me, "No!" quickly turned to "Yes!" As I underlined "dog" with red and boxed "bark" with green, it started to sink in. This sentence was great proof that a short sentence does not have to mean an incomplete sentence. If it has a subject and predicate, it's complete!

Kids commonly struggle with finding the subject and predicate of a sentence, so I made a FREEBIE printable for all you hardworking writing teachers out there! Keep fighting the good fight. They will get it, and it will help them for years to come!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

We've Got Big Plans!

Today was the fourth day of school, and I feel like we're off to a great start! One of my favorite activities we did as a homeroom class was determine our "big plans" for fourth grade, the rest of our school careers, and adulthood. First, we read Big Plans by Bob Shea. The story itself is a fast read, but it's full of subtle humor, silly scenarios, and unique illustrations that the students loved. Although the book is all about how a young boy rises to power because of his "big plans," the conclusion is open-ended; the author never reveals what the his "big plans" actually are!

After the read aloud, I asked my students what their "big plans" are. It must have been a long summer because it took a while for even one hand to go up! Once one or two students finally chimed in with what they want to be when they grow up, the others were eager to share. We then discussed our goals for fourth grade and how reaching them will eventually help us achieve our goals for adulthood. It was the perfect time to get our "big plans" down on paper! Here's a look at the foldables we created:

  We made big plans for fourth grade, our school career, and adulthood!

Curious to see what some of the "big plans" were?

These will mean more than just a hallway display. On the last week of school, the students will get their foldables back. I'll have them reflect on their fourth grade year and ask themselves if their "big plans" are being executed. Now if only I can file them away in a spot where they won't get lost in the abyss... staying organized is one of my "big plans!"

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Room 314 is Ready to Rock!

It's back to school time for teachers! (I'm sure you've noticed.) This past week, we had our staff retreat. It was truly a blast. It's always exciting to see all my coworkers again after a long break. Everyone looked so refreshed and relaxed, and the day was filled with laughs. Here is my favorite photo from the retreat:

Random and strange... just how I like it. When I wasn't busy taking photos of chicken, I worked tirelessly in my room. I can proudly say that it's ready! The only things missing now are the fourth graders! I probably could have finished up the room in 2 days, but it took me 5 days total since I love to socialize and spend way too much time on things that should take 5 minutes. I'm linking up with Beg, Borrow, Steal to share pics!

Front of the room

The bulletin board version of my Revising vs. Editing Venn Diagram

Read-aloud spot & writing process wall

After taking this picture, I labeled each notebook paper as a different step in the writing process (Step 1: Plan, Step 2: Draft, etc.)

Writer of the Week! Thanks, Pinterest!

Objectives, spelling words chart, & "razzle dazzle" word wall

I'm hoping the red X over each worn out word will send a strong message!

Rules, rewards, and consequences... what the first days of school are all about!

I hope everyone has a fabulous first week of school! For those of you who have already started, I hope it's going well and you still have your voice!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Back to School Bucket Filling

Even though our fourth graders switch classes and have four different teachers, our team likes to spend the first couple days of school with our homerooms. It gives us time to teach rules and procedures, help get them organized, build a classroom community, and motivate them to be the best student they can be! Last year, I found my absolute favorite book to read on the first day of school: Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud. It will be my favorite for years and years to come. I love it because it's a simple concept with a really deep meaning and a lifelong lesson!

This book is wildly popular with elementary school teachers, but I've had a tricky time finding bucket filling-themed activities that are more appropriate for the upper grades. So, I created a few! My favorite part about these 3 activities (besides encouraging bucket filling, of course) is that they all entail WRITING! Who would have guessed it?

The first activity in the 3-pack, "Ways I Can Be a Bucket Filler," can also turn into a small group activity. Last year, I had my students write their best bucket filling ideas on star die-cuts, and we made a really fun hallway display...

I am so giddy all of a sudden... it's almost time to meet a brand new group of fourth graders! I sincerely hope that other teachers out there can benefit from these activities to start the school year off right. Bucket fillers unite! What is your favorite back to school read-aloud?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Linky & Printables

I love Oh Boy 4th Grade so much that I don't even mind, as Farley puts it, "the lack of sentence structure!" I read her blog tonight and felt compelled to join the "Currently" linky party:

I also want to share some back-to-school printables for all you hardworking writing teachers out there! They've been uploaded to my TpT Store, but I have yet to post them to the blog!

I'm proud of this one: Revising vs. Editing. I've learned that acknowledging them as two different steps of the writing process really is important if you want your students' writing to grow. Revising is typically more challenging for young writers since it can be so vague at first, but it's so worth all the hard work! I will board that soapbox another day. Anyway, we have a couple chants that go along with this printable:

Teacher: "Revising is..."
Students: "...making it SOUND better!" *make a hearing gesture*


Teacher: "Editing is..."
Students: "Making it LOOK better!" *make hand binoculars*

Then, I'll throw examples at them. I'll ask, "If I read my first draft aloud to you, would you be able to hear that the word "august" needs to be capitalized?" etc. The possibilities are endless...

My other printable is a FREEBIE that will help ease the pain when your students hear the tragic news: "Said is DEAD!"  We had so much fun with this motto/theme last year, and I can't wait to do it all over again with our new group!

I hope I've given you a little inspiration for a brand new school year! May your workroom be stocked and your coffee be caffeinated!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Word Choice: Old vs. Ancient

This week our school is hosting a "Summer Enrichment Camp" that gives students the option of attending 5 shortened school days where they can get a head start into their new grade level. It's been nice to meet some of our brand new fourth graders, see my coworkers again, and start working on my room. I'm loving the new door sign I ordered from Fanciful Felt by Bourdiers on Etsy! I hardly ever shop online, but this was a must-have!

Since I knew I'd only have one week with my little group before school officially starts, I wanted to work on something that would get them excited about fourth grade writing. So, I decided to dedicate the whole week to word choice! We all know that kids' vocabularies grow as they get older, but how can we teach them to remember to use these wonderful words when they put pencil to paper? Giving students a list of vivid synonyms (we call them "razzle dazzle" words!) to replace worn out/overused words is easy for them and us, but I've found that a lot of my students tend to get "word drunk" once they rely too much on whipping out that word list every time they write. I'll emphasize how important it is for them to throw away worn out words and replace them with "razzle dazzle" words from their word list, and then I'll read sentences like this:

"I once helped an ancient lady put her groceries in the car."

Poor woman... I'd need help with my groceries, too, if I was several centuries old. "Elderly" would have been much more appropriate, but how was my student to learn this from a word list? We have to teach our budding writers that learning new words comes with time and if you write with "razzle dazzle" words that are completely unfamiliar to you, even if it "sounds cool," your writing will be formulaic, wordy, and maybe just downright offensive! I put together a word list that students can build on their own and update throughout the year as they learn new "razzle dazzle" words through reading, conversations, teachers, etc. They will be able to see different shades of meaning in synonyms and refer only to the "razzle dazzle" words that they're familiar with. Hopefully I won't be reading about anymore ancient ladies!

You might be wondering why I left out the word "said." I'm saving the "Said is Dead" theme for later on in the year when we work on adding more dialogue to our stories. "My Razzle Dazzle Words" pairs very nicely with Crickwing by Janell Cannon. She's also the author of one of my childhood favorites, Stellaluna.

This is now my #1 favorite mentor text for teaching word choice. If you can get past the fact that it's about a cockroach that plays with his food (gross), you'll find that it's jampacked with vivid verbs and adjectives like "scrambled," "chortled," "eensy," "brilliant," "stammered," "gasped," "howled," "insisted"... and the list goes on.

Thank you to Mrs. T from Teaching Mrs. T for nominating me for the "One Lovely Blog" Award! Most blogs I follow have this award and I just did a round of 20 nominations for other awards, so I want to wait a bit on nominating 15 more for this one. I hope you can forgive me! ; )

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Hook ' Yer Reader, Matey! Yargh!

While I am still stressing over deciding how I'm going to have my students plan their compositions this year, I know that the next step in the writing process will be teaching them how to HOOK the reader with a fabulous lead. This has always been one of my favorite lessons of the year because you can totally play up the "hook" theme, and the fourth graders really impress me with how talented they are at crafting their own leads. Two years ago, I dressed up as a fisherman (tackle-clad hat, fishing pole, weird vest, etc.) Then came the disastrous follow-up activity where I taught FIVE ways to hook the reader at once, and each student wrote all five of their leads on different a fish die-cut. I then felt compelled to tie ALL the fish die-cuts together with fishing line and hang them from the ceiling, where you probably couldn't even read them. Did I mention I had about 70 students? I ended up laughing at myself so hard. (You have to laugh, or you'll cry.)

Last year was better. I dressed as Captain Hook and taught THREE ways to hook the reader. This was a lot less daunting to start with, and I didn't kid myself with the mess of 350 ceiling fish. Once the kids got past my distracting eye patch and on-again-off-again pirate accent, they listened to me read many catchy leads from different mentor texts. It was a mini-lesson if there ever was one. We'd only read the first couple sentences of each book, discuss why and how it "hooked" us, and then move onto the next. If you're looking to find fiction books that have great leads, Roald Dahl, Cynthia Rylant, and Judy Blume books are always a hit. I also just found a new favorite while browsing through Half Price Books:

(Eileen Spinelli is also the author of The Best Story, my favorite mentor text to teach the trait of voice!) This year, with the addition of my borderline creepy Captain Hook getup and collection of mentor texts, I'll have a new follow-up activity I've created (below) where students can read more author examples and write their own hooks in three different ways. After that, I'll have them choose their favorite hook to begin their next composition with. We'll definitely keep these in our writing folders for reference throughout the year. I got the idea of representing each hook method with a different punctuation mark from a district training, and I found the awesome pirate-y font at, my favorite website for free fonts. I also wanted to teach three ways to hook the reader that would work for both narrative and expository writing to make things less confusing for my fourth graders, so I went with the three you'll see on the PDF...

I'm interested to know how other teachers introduce leads or if there are any must-have mentor texts out there that I'm unaware of, so please feel free to comment! I will end this post with my favorite pirate joke:

Q: "What's a pirate's favorite fast food restaurant?"
A: "AAARRRRRby's!" 

You know you're laughing!

- Sarah

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Teaching Blogs Galore!

I had no idea how huge the world of teaching blogs really is until I started one, but it's a great thing. I was so flattered to find out that three fellow teachers/bloggers noticed and recognized my new blog! I want to give a shout out and thank you to Katie for nominating me for the Versatile Blogger Award! I also want to thank Shanell and Janna for nominating me for the Liebster Award. It took a while to figure out who I'd like to nominate for these awards, but it's easy to see that the blogs below are more than deserving! Be sure to check them out.

 Here are the seven rules to follow when receiving this award:
1. Thank the blogger who nominated you. (Thanks again, Katie!)
2. Include a link to their blog. (Click her name at the top of the post!)
3. Include the award image in your post. (Above)
4. Give 7 random facts about yourself.  (Below)
5. Nominate 15 other bloggers for the award. (Below)
6. When nominating, include a link to their blog. (Below)
7. Let other bloggers know they've been nominated.

I nominate these fabulous blogs for The Versatile Blogger Award:

(I follow all of these blogs, and I can't wait to try out so many ideas from them!)

Now for 7 random facts about my random self:

1. I have 5 baby teeth that haven't fallen out (and hopefully never will!)
2. My toenails are currently painted yellow, my favorite color.
3. My husband builds robots.
4. I am more prone to mosquito bites than anyone I know.
5. My favorite movie of all time is Amadeus.
6. I share a birthday with President Abraham Lincoln.
7. I cook delicious spaghetti.

Here are the rules for the Liebster Award:
1. Link back to the person who gave it to you (Top of post!)
2. Post the award to your blog.
3. Give the award to bloggers with less than 200 followers.
4. Let the bloggers know they have won.

I nominate these up and coming blogs for The Liebster Award:

Peacocks and Penguins
Keep Calm & Imagine
Temple's Teaching Tales
Mrs. A's Room
Creating Brain Wrinkles

Congrats to all!