Friday, December 11, 2015

December Comic Strips for Creative Writing

Graphic novels are all the rage in elementary classrooms and comic book movies are dominating the box office as well as the toy shelves.  Meanwhile, our classes often have several students who are the definition of reluctant writer.  These "Comic Strips for Creative Writing" are the perfect solution, especially these snowmen and Santa-themed sets, which I have bundled for a discount as well.

Head over to my TeacherPayTeachers store and check them out.  Clicking on these covers will take you right there.  They feature snowmen, Santa, and elves in humorous situations and blank speech/thought bubbles ready for your students' creative dialogue ideas.  It is really amazing what students do with these!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Memorization in math a bad thing?

I think a math curriculum that FOCUSES on memorization or makes it more important than conceptual knowledge is bad, but I think it's a fallacy to make it seem like memorization has no place.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Create some "Drawing Time" with my "Draw a Little, Write a Little" picture prompts

     My 3rd graders are ALWAYS asking, "Can we draw?"  I get a sad look on my face and think about how much I loved drawing when I was a kid and the opportunity for self-expression drawing provides.  Often, my answer is no.  Why?

     High-stakes testing has increased the pressure on the elementary teacher to focus so heavily on maximizing our reading, writing, and math time that teachers often feel as if they don't want to "get caught" doing arts and crafts activities.  In Indiana we have the standardized testing that all students 3--10 take, PLUS a separate reading test that is used to determine passing to 4th grade.  So when can we draw?  How can we fit in little moments the students really enjoy?

     Here are some printable picture prompts to answer that dilemma! Each page features an incomplete picture with instructions on what to draw to make the scene complete.  I find that when I DO have drawing be part of an activity it takes students FAR too long to finish.  Part of that time is students thinking of what to draw!  This eliminates that problem.  They provide a nice balance between student freedom/self-expression and clear guidelines.

Following the picture section is a short writing prompt coinciding with the picture.  Once again, it is broad enough to allow students to be creative and independent, while at the same time setting up a clear writing goal.  It could be finishing a narrative or conversation, writing a description, or explaining a situation.

Another great thing about this TeachersPayTeachers purchase?  It's ALIVE!  I will be adding more prompt pages to this collection as time goes by and YOU won't have to pay more!  Whenever you purchase this set, you will receive the prompts currently in the set.  When I add more prompts I will increase the price, but YOU can come back and download the updated set without paying any extra! You will get a notification on your TPT "My Purchases" page when the product has been revised. As of the original date of this post, there are 13 prompts included. (Updated in January 2016 to include 19 total prompts) Go get it now at my TeachersPayTeachers store!

Find some more TPT sellers' favorite products here:
Becca the Science Girl and Other Amazing Educational Things
Follow Adam Thompson's board Ready-For-Writing Printables on Pinterest.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

If I had my own planet like "The Little Prince"...

I read The Little Prince aloud to my 3rd grade class.  We stopped after a few chapters to do some drawing in response to their reading.  The kids might not have the life experiences to really "get" a lot of the moralistic aspects of the book, but they have enjoyed listening to it and talking about it and definitely enjoyed this activity!

I'm kind of surprised I haven't read The Little Prince before now.  It is one of the best-selling books ever, and is actually the most prolific French-language book ever.  It was written in the 1940's by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.  

In the story, a pilot has crash-landed in the Sahara desert and soon meets a "most extraordinary small person".  He engages in conversation with the "Little Prince" while trying to fix his airplane.  We learn about the prince's life (he's the only person living on his planet) and his travels from tiny planet to tiny planet (asteroids, actually), the characters he meets and the lessons he learns.

The pilot acts as narrator and illustrator.  he self-referentially refers to his own writing and drawing throughout the novella, which makes for a uniquely toned narrative.  Interestingly enough, de Saint-Exupéry actually DID crash-land an airplane into the middle of the Sahara desert, and much of the book is allusion to and metaphor of his own life experiences and philosophy.

Before starting the chapters where the prince recounts his travels from planet to planet, I had my class do a little art project in response to our reading.  I posed the question "If you had your own little planet like 'The Little Prince', what would it look like?"  I gave some instruction on drawing on their "spheres" with the right perspective and discussed some ideas and set them on their way.  I really liked their results!  

My 3rd Graders work on their "personal planets".

The final results.  I thought they were really cool!

As a mentor text, The Little Prince great for studying symbolism, metaphor, and allusion.  Those aren't big focuses in 3rd grade, but I like to discuss those deep comprehension concepts with my students, especially during read-alouds.  Some kids really are amazed when they start to see the "story behind the story" and understanding such concepts can really enrich their reading experiences.  I generally try to use poetry to teach metaphor and symbolism to such young students, but the flower on the princes planet, the inhabitants of the other little planets he visits and their idiosyncrasies, and the characteristics of the planets are all ripe for symbolism and metaphor discussions.

Read about some other mentor texts at this linky:

Monday, February 9, 2015

How to Determine Reading/Grade Level of a Text

Have you ever wanted to find the reading level of a newspaper or magazine article, website, or other such text?  Have you ever, for the purpose of differentiation, re-wrote a science or social studies text in simpler language?  Have you ever written a test or passage and wanted to know if the reading level was appropriate for your students?  There are some ways for you to make that determination.

There are many readability measures out there. Gunning fog, Coleman-Liau, and Dale-Chall  among others.  Flesch-Kincaid may be the the most used in education.  They all involve formulas involving word length, sentence length, syllables, and other variables.  However, there is no need to grab a text and a calculator to check texts.

There are many websites offering tools to determine readability levels of texts.  Many of these websites not only allow you to type or copy/paste text into a box for determination, but also will give a level for web pages when you enter the URL.  I'm not sure how trustworthy they all are; I tried the same text in a few and got 1-3 level differences in some scores between sites.  I found to be the best.  It seemed to ME to be the most accurate with the scores.  You can type or copy/paste text and enter URLs for free.  For a donation of at least a dollar, you can upload documents to be checked.  Other websites can do this, but gives you an average of the levels as well, which I find useful.

You can also use Microsoft Word to check Flesch-Kincaid readability grade level and ease of reading.  I made a quick tutorial for how to set up MS Word to do this for you that can be downloaded at my TeachersPayTeachers store.  It's free to download.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Fraction Task Cards

We'll be doing work with finding equivalent fractions and comparing fractions soon. I wanted to get in some review of naming fractions before then. While I was working with one group on the whiteboard on perimeter and area, and another group was practicing some 3-digit addition and subtraction, one group was working with naming the fractions on Snowy Fractions Task Cards from Mrs 3rd Grade (TeachersPayTeachers). They are a very attractive set of task cards and my students really enjoyed working with them. My kids loved the penguins on these winter-themed fraction materials.  All the fractions are full color, but two version of everything are included; one set has a nice full color border on each card, and one set is a more printer-friendly blackline border.  I used the ink-saving version, but the cards still looked great.

 Also included in this set are strips with three fractions on them for students to order from least to greatest. This is great practice for my 3rd graders; they need to realize that 2/10 is NOT greater than 1/4 just because the digits in the numerator and denominator are larger. The relative sizes of the pieces is important to consider. Having the visual there to reference really helped that concept sink in. I did some pre-teaching with these today so that next week they can work on them independently or with groups.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Collaborative Pinterest Board Invite: Elementary Teacher Blogs

Post by Adam Thompson - TPT.

Go comment on this post on my Facebook page if interested.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Addition and Subtraction Mental Math Memory Matching Games: Develop Computational Fluency

It can be frustrating for educators when the pendulum swings and what used to be considered the most important topic or skill is put on the back-burner and previously secondary concepts suddenly receive a majority of the focus.

In math education, there has often been a battle between conceptual understanding and computational or procedural fluency.  These domains, alongside application, are equally important. Thankfully, it seems we have come to a time with the Common Core that all three domains (conceptual understanding, fluency, and application) receive equal time and focus; more people have come to the understanding that conceptual understanding leads to fluency in computation and procedure, both of which are required for accurate and efficient application.  All three domains work together to develop well-rounded math ability in students.

These sets of memory matching games can help students in the development of mental computational fluency.  Between these two comprehensive sets of memory matching games, all mental math addition and subtraction computation standards for grades kindergarten, one, two, and three are covered.  That includes : K.OA.A.4, 1.NBT.C.4, 1.NBT.C.5, 1.NBT.C.6, 1.OA.C.6, 1.OA.D.8, 2.OA.B.2, 2.NBT.A.2, 2.NBT.B.7, 2.NBT.B.8, and 3.NBT.A.2.

There are almost 90 20-card memory matching games total in these two sets.  Card-backs to conceal and disguise the cards are also included.  Click on the covers above to view them at my TeachersPayTeachers store.


Saturday, January 31, 2015

Check it Out: National Library of Virtual Manipulatives

Every teacher understands the value of manipulatives as visual and kinesthetic learning tools to help students achieve a deeper understanding of math.  When I first had my Epson Brightlink (smart board) installed in my classroom, I started searching for virtual manipulatives to use with math lessons.

The National Library of Virtual Manipulatives  was the best that I found.  It is incredibly comprehensive and flexible to your specific needs.
"The National Library of Virtual Manipulatives (NLVM) is an NSF supported project that began in 1999 to develop a library of uniquely interactive, web-based virtual manipulatives or concept tutorials"

Checking on one of the boxes will take you to a list of Java applets for that math strand and grade level range.  In my third grade class, I use this heavily for place value study.

I love this applet.  You simply click on the ones, tens, hundreds, or thousands blocks at the top of the chart to insert pictures below.  To the right it shows you the number made by the blocks (I will often conceal this from students depending on the lesson focus/purpose).  What I REALLY love about this applet is the visual representation of re-and un-grouping.  For example, you can click a hundred square, drag it into the tens column, and it will separate into 10 ten rods. Or, you could use your mouse to highlight 10 ones and they will turn into a tens rod.  The students really love watching it happen.  I'm always surprised how excitedly they will call out things like"Mr. Thompson!  Turn one of the thousands into 10 hundreds again!". 

There are several great applets for fractions, also. 

 I love how easily customizable these manipulatives are, and that there are applications for so many levels throughout all the strands. 
For fractions there are apps for fraction identification, equivalency, multiplying, and more

Of course there are several applets focusing on geometry.  I love the virtual geoboard!

I would encourage you to check out this great online math resource!  I'm not a fan of Java software, the site isn't very "pretty", and most of these could use some updating to modern web standards, but I haven't found anything this comprehensive and customizable.  It has been a valuable part of my mathematics instruction.

Follow Adam Thompson's board Help for Teachers on Pinterest.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Movie Clip Monday: "Ruben's Tube" Videos for Studying Sound in Science

At least in Indiana, sound energy is studied in third grade science.  I've enjoyed teaching our hands-on sound unit the last few years.  When we talk about sound waves, I like to show some videos of "Ruben's Tubes".  A Ruben's Tube is a tube with tiny holes in a straight line along one side.  The tube is filled with propane and sealed at one end.  The other end has an audio speaker.  Tiny amounts of propane leak through the pinholes.  The propane leaks are lit and little flames appear at each pinhole. Sound waves are compression waves, so gas particles are brought together and pulled apart as the sound energy travels, so when a sound wave travels from the speaker through the tube, gas particles become condensed in some areas (producing a higher flame) and sparse in other areas (producing a lower flame).  This makes for a really cool sound wave visual.  

The first video I've shared here is my favorite of the Ruben's Tube videos.  The second is a scene from the T.V. show "Mythbusters".

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Teaching Theme with Fables and Arnold Lobel's "Fables" as a Mentor Text

"CM fables" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia -

Fables are a foundational genre of literature.  They are prevalent in cultures and folk literature throughout the world and many have survived over 2000 years.  Many think of Aesop when they think of fables, and he certainly was a prolific fabulist, but there have been many great fable writers through the centuries.  Most literary works can have their themes and plots traced back to literary archetypes originating hundreds or thousands of years ago, which is why I think teaching these ancient genres and stories is so important.  You've got to have a meaningful understanding of such foundational literature and genres to truly understand what you read, and the comprehension of theme that can be developed through the reading and study of fables is no exception.  The Common Core standards certainly agree with me, as fables are specifically mentioned in second and third grade standards.

Common Core Anchor Standard #2 reads, "Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas."  RL.2.2 from that strand goes on to specifically include determining "the central message, lesson, or moral" from fables and folktales.  RL.3.2 shares the same wording, but includes myths as well.  Following along to RL.4.2, we see the specific genres are dropped and "message, lesson, or moral" are replaced by "theme".  Common Core supports using fables, and other foundational genres like folktale and myth, in helping students develop an understanding of literary theme.

In my classroom, I use Arnold Lobel's Fables as a mentor text to teach theme every year.  Aesop's fables see plenty of time in my classroom as well, but Fables is an excellent picture book.  The stories have the traditional characteristics of a fable; 20 short, one page stories featuring animals learning teaching the reader some lesson or "moral of the story" (THEME!!!)  Accompanying each story is a full page illustration.  These illustrations are excellent.  They capture the spirit of the stories wonderfully.  I would LOVE to have a few of them as posters in my room; they are THAT good.  

I usually read through the book over the course of two weeks.  I will read a story and ask the class to share what they think the theme is (What lesson did the character learn?  What lesson did you learn about life from this story?).  Often their answers are too specific to the story and we work on making them more general. Students will often bring up these stories the rest of the year ("Mr. Thompson!  That reminds me of..."). It's an excellent book and teaching tool. 

Want to read about more mentor texts?  Check out The Owl Teacher's "Mentor Text Monday" link-up!

Follow Adam Thompson's board Children's Literature on Pinterest.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Stop Those Boring Narratives! "STOP IT!" Link-up

You read and read and read.  Students are exposed to narratives of all sorts; literary fiction and non-fiction, humor, science fiction, fantasy, suspense.  They close read it, mark it up, respond to it, and analyze it.  They study the descriptive language, plot structure, characters, and more.

They do journal writing, free-writing, power writing, and guided writing.  You mini-lesson the heck out of the six traits.

They are interesting, intelligent kids with lots of ideas and personality.

Then they turn in the most boring narrative writing assignment you've ever read.


Let's link-up and share our best ideas for improving those narratives!

Graphic novels are HUGE right now.  Our library stocks a nice collection of them and my students eat them up.  I thought I might be able to tap into that interest and improve their narrative writing skills at the same time.  So I decided to start working on sets of comic strips for students to use in creating their own little narratives, the focus being on dialogue and inner monologue.

Wouldn't we all love to see some more character interaction and dialogue in our students' narrative creative writings?  I thought these would help them develop comfort with that concept and prompt them to include it in their narrative writing more often.

Right now you can get 17 different comic strips in three different formats at my TPT store.  They are image files, so print off single strips or combine into one document to make a longer narrative.  You can use them however you like!

Want to get an idea of how these could be used?  Go get an example here:

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Adult ESL Thoughts: Dictation

I used to think dictation was a waste of time in my adult ESL classes.  I viewed it as an impractical, unrealistic, purely academic practice that wouldn't help them improve meaningfully.  I've tried it a few times in the last few weeks, however, and my students love it.  I'm really surprised my attitude toward dictation was so bad, and my reasoning was poor.

I've been doing scrambled sentence activities with my adult ESL students for years, even though I could certainly apply the same critique to it that I did to dictation; it is an impractical, unrealistic, purely academic practice.  Yet, I continued doing them.  Why?  Because the improvement I saw in their syntax (both orally and written) was significant, their understanding of grammar improved, and their exposure to content vocabulary was beneficial.
Some students listening to the monologue
The same can be said with dictation, PLUS it has the added benefit of listening practice that so many of my students need.  Even my most advanced students have a hard time hearing the words and sentences separately when listening to English spoken at normal speed by native speakers.  I can relate to that.  I can speak and read quite a bit of Spanish, but when two native speakers are conversing my ears can't discriminate individual words and phrases.

I wish my stubbornness hadn't stopped me from doing dictation more regularly sooner.  The students have really enjoyed it and I believe the results will be seen, especially in listening.

I have been using the dictation activities at  I highly recommend them!

Students check their work 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Kelly and Kim's Kindergarten Kreations: Markdown Monday Linky Party! (January 12th - 16th)...

I have my "Addition and Subtraction Mental Math Grade 1+2 Memory Matching Games" 50% off all week!

Kelly and Kim's Kindergarten Kreations: Markdown Monday Linky Party! (January 12th - 16th)...: Please add your link below to join the linky fun! Link a product from your TpT store that you would like to "markdown" until...

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

January 6th Ramblings: First day back from Christmas Break!

The 2-hour delay this morning certainly helped ease us back into school after a nice, restful break. The dangerous wind chills this week might continue to ease that transition if it gets cold enough for delays or even cancellations!

I'm always pleasantly surprised by my students in January. They start to drag a little bit near the end of first semester in December and you start to feel a little frustrated by the lack of progress. January rolls around and everybody is fresh and my 3rd graders never fail to impress and remind me we HAVE made a lot of progress this year! These kids are halfway to being fourth graders, and most of them are really showing it.

We are working on reading AND writing persuasive texts this week. We'll be analyzing the opinions presented in such texts and highlighting the evidence used to support the opinion. At the same time, students will be developing their own evidence to support their opinions to persuade their readers.

In math, we're heading into geometry. Envision Math starts with solid figures in Topic 10 (Topic 10 and 11 are geometry), and I always seem to forget when I say "Next year, I'm starting with lines, points, and angles. Then, I'm moving to polygons. Finally, we'll head back to polyhedrons so we can discuss them with the vocabulary we learned previously", but once again I forgot and did lesson one today! Oh well...we'll master this material one way or another. I really enjoy a lot about Envision Math sequencing and materials, but this is one example where I don't understand the rationale behind the order. I never feel beholden to a textbook's sequence or methods, so it's not a big deal, but it's always convenient to have the textbook go along with the way you feel something should be taught or presented.

Speaking of textbooks, this is the last year I'm teaching using our book for social studies. I'm tired of seeing one hundred years of history in a paragraph or "Transportation" summarized on a page. Next summer, if I find the time, Id like to work on some materials to cover all the content we need to cover in a more meaningful, interesting way; maybe compiling some primary vs. secondary source material, and raising the interest/relevance level of the readings.

Good (shortened) first day in 3rd grade.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The "story" of my logo.

I didn't want to just have my picture or some random picture.  I used a background I had made, a picture of me working with students, the best face picture of me I could find, and my bearded smiley face magnet from my desk along with my name, which is also my TPT store name and VOILA, my logo was created.  It doesn't look nearly as professional as many others, but I like it.