Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Coding Your Thinking

Have you ever pulled an old activity out and had it work so successfully you wondered why you hadn't used it in so long?  That's what happened to me a couple weeks ago when we were focusing on penguin informational text.

Now you need to know - we've had four snow days, at least 3 delayed openings, 3 scheduled days off and about 3 feet of snow in the last month.  I barely know what day it is, nevermind being able to keep up with what I had planned.  Our super-engaging study of penguins, both narrative and expository, had taken a major hit (along with our ability to stay focused!) and at this point I just needed my kiddos to be engaged and learning.  There was no time to do what I had planned, so I quickly scoured my file folders on informational text to come up with something to lead us through the morning.

Then it hit me.  I wanted my kiddos to be engaged with the text, which of course meant getting them to THINK about what they were reading (no small task after all the days off and craziness lately!).  I remembered a basic, solid strategy I had used in the past (the VERY past) that I had termed "coding."  (And I'm sure I didn't invent this idea.... I know I got it from somewhere.)

The idea was for students to be thinking of four things as they read the text: Was this new information added to your schema?  Did you already know this?  Did you find this to be amazing? What did this text make you wonder?

I quickly explained what each code meant, and we talked about how good readers thought about what they were reading and how it fit with what they already knew.  Instant engagement for some reason - my kiddos were hooked by the idea of a "code" to use while reading.  They eagerly found their reading partner, grabbed a book and got to work.

The first job was to read the text together and stop along the way to share what each person was thinking.  No writing!  Each pair of students had a set of four sticky notes (woo-hoo!) on which they had written each coding symbol.  As they read, they stopped and pointed at a sticky note when it fit their thinking.

Their "reading talk" was amazing!  Every pair was focused, engaged and talking about their thinking.  Keeping the sticky notes in front of them helped to structure their conversations and gave them a purpose for their reading.

My original plan was to only have students talk about their thinking, then come back to share with the group.  I had a few pairs finish reading early though, so I gave each student a coding sheet for them to record their thinking.  They had to choose one or two ideas from the text that went with each code. 

That turned out to be super easy for most of them because they were filled with ideas on how what they had read fit with their thinking.

We did come back together at the end and shared some of our coding ideas.  I asked my kiddos to explain how this helped them as a reader and we charted some ideas.  I know they loved this strategy because the next day I had two kiddos ask for "one of those coding sheets and sticky notes" so they could record what they were thinking while they read independently!  Made my teacher heart smile!
If you're interested in the coding sheets (nicely fixed-up!) just click on the image below.  (I included two versions - one with the code meanings and one without, and each one with and without lines. I'm all about options!)
Let me know how they work for you!

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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Valentine's Day Fun - and Freebie!

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I thought I’d pop in and share a few activities I do with my kiddos to celebrate.  Our Valentine's Day fun will be combined with our 100th Day because of all our snow days - AND it's an early dismissal day!  That means everything this year will be short and sweet!

A few years ago, I discovered a way to organize the chaos of handing out valentines, and sneak in some learning in the process!  I ask students to bring in their valentines in some sort of container – bag, box, etc.  Then we spend time putting the valentines in alphabetical order.  Once everyone has their valentines ready, we are ready to commence the “passing out!”  Here’s where my little idea came in – I have my students sit in a circle on the rug – in alphabetical order!  Now, all each student has to do walk around the circle and drop a valentine in everyone’s bag (or box, or whatever you use.)  I have about 2-3 students walking around the circle at a time.  The valentines are already in order, so there’s no looking around for each person, figuring out who you forgot, etc.  It works perfectly!

Once everyone has their valentines handed out, the fun begins!  Students find a spot in the room to take their valentines to, and open them.  I keep small buckets nearby for trash (envelopes).  After a few minutes of looking at the valentines, I hand out one of my valentine cards activities.

The "Find Someone Who" activity is quick and easy.  Students sit with their valentines and write the name of a classmate who gave them a valentine that fits each box.

The second sheet is a little more involved.  Students use their valentines to find nouns, verbs and adjectives, to graph the different types of valentines, to compare and contrast and to give their opinion.  It’s always interesting walk around and see how different students organize this task. 

Some take each valentine one at a time and add them to the tally, while others look for each category on the sheet.  And of course, still others just randomly pull a valentine and put it back!

The back of the sheet asks students to tally different categories of valentines and use the information to answer 3 questions. I've found this to be a great way to put some focus onto passing out the valentines, and it doesn’t hurt that they’re getting a little review and practice in with it, too!

You can download the sheets for free (along with a valentine word search) by clicking on the image below.

I've also taken out my Valentine centers to use last week and this week during our math time.  I really LOVE the letter delivery activity.  It really gets my kiddos thinking about numbers!  You can check out my centers by clicking the image below. I created them to be quick and easy!

Happy Valentine's Day!
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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Favorite Things Giveaway

A quick question for you - if you had to list 5 of your favorite things, what would they be?  (And let's put family, friends, etc. aside for now - we know those are tops!)

Mine are (in no particular order):
1. office supplies (there's nothing better than new pens, sticky notes, folders.. aaahhh...)
2. my hot chocolate maker (I use that thing 3-4 times a week and I LOVE it!)
3. boots and scarves (staples of my winter wardrobe here in the Northeast)
4. my iphone6 (don't let me family know about that one - I swore I would never give up my 4S!)
5. my niece's new dog (dachshund and chihuahua mix - adorable!)

Of course, these are all subject to change with the seasons and new additions but for right now that' a pretty good list.  And to celebrate our favorite things, I've gotten together with a few bogging buddies for a Favorite Things Giveaway!  Ashlyn over at The Creative Classroom is hosting the giveaway.


The winner gets a whole stash of our favorite things, from pens  to gift cards to TpT products.  You can enter by clicking on the image above and visiting The Creative Classroom.  The giveaway ends this Monday at midnight, so don't wait!  Winners will be announced on Tuesday.

What will I send you?  Flair pens and sticky notes, of course - and a choice of any of my nonfiction units in my TpT store.  And just to add to the fun, anyone who leaves a comment below sharing 3 of their favorite things will also have a chance to win one of my nonfiction units :-)  I'll choose a random comment Tuesday evening (let's say after 6:00 EST).  Don't forget to leave your email in the comment, too!

UPDATE:  Congratulations to comment #1!
Good luck - and I hope you get to enjoy some of your favorite things this weekend!

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

QR Codes and Hyperlinks with Mr. Groundhog

Did you ever notice that when you actually have TIME to do things, you don't do the things you should?  Two snow days this week because of the blizzard - progress reports due on Friday - guess how many I've done?  Not enough to count.  Instead, I decided to add a little something to my groundhog unit for next Monday.

My kiddos LOVE researching any animal and with Groundhog Day coming up I knew I could work in some research along with main idea, details and some writing.   I had planned to post groundhog fact cards around the room and have students "read the room" to answer some questions.  Then we were going to reread the fact cards together (projected on the whiteboard) and do some main idea action. (You can read my groundhog post *HERE* from last year with lots of ideas to keep you busy!)

But.... I wanted something more interactive.  So I decided to create QR codes for the question cards I use with my nonfiction groundhog unit.  Now my students will just use an ipad to scan the code and it will take them to the information they can read to find the answer to the question. 

But... again... with time on my hands, I started thinking of how we could use the laptops to do some research.  It can be difficult to find sites on a second grade readability level, that are not full of ads, etc.  And I wanted this to be a pretty independent (partners, actually) activity.

So, I took the question cards and created a full page version - with a clickable hyperlink that would take students to a file with the fact card.  Let me show you what I mean.

Here's the first slide in the question set. (It's one page in a pdf file that I will save in our class folder on our school server so students can easily access it. You could put it on the desktop, too.)

Students read the question and then click on the groundhog image to go to a page I created with information.

This is what comes up when they click on the image.

(I saved each Powerpoint fact slide I created as an image and uploaded each one to dropbox.  Then I copied the shareable link and hyperlinked the image in the slide/pdf document above.) This is the same information that comes up when you scan the QR code, too.

And here's the answer sheet (with the questions, too, so they don't have to keep switching back and forth every time)

When they're done reading and answering a question, all they have to do is close the image screen and then move to the next page in the question file.  Ta-dah!  I'm going to give students a choice of working with the ipads or on the laptops on Monday.

I chose to put each question on a different page because I thought it would be easier visually for my kiddos.  But I'm thinking I could just as easily have created a document (saved in Word, as a pdf or whatever program you want your students to use) with all the questions on one page and clickable links. Or... I could save all my fact card slides in one pdf file and create a link (either to dropbox or on our school server) for students to access it.  They would then open the pdf file and read through each page just like they would if they had a hard copy!

(NOTE:  I do not think this would work if you tried to create it on a Mac because I believe the hyperlinks are not active after the document is secured.  Someone can correct me if I'm wrong.)

I can see lots of different uses for this idea and many benefits, including increased motivation and less paper!  My students love to use technology, and even though they are not going on an actual website to research information, they are still learning how to navigate programs.

You can check out my entire groundhog unit - with 6 fact cards, questions, main idea and writing activities -  which now includes the optional QR codes and hyperlinks activity, by clicking on the image below.  And if you've already purchased it - make sure you re-download it so you have the latest version.


With all the snow we've gotten this week - and more on the way for Friday and Monday I hear! - I'm really hoping the groundhog will not see his shadow.  That is, if he can even get up through all this snow at all!
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Wordless Wednesday - Snowcation

It's Wednesday - which means it's time to link up with Christina at Sugar and Spice for Wordless Wednesday.

Well, here you go...

I have nothing else to say. :-)

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What's Your Opinion?

I love teaching writing.  It really is one of my favorite parts of the day.  In past years, second graders focused mainly on narrative writing, because that's what was on our spring state testing.  With the shift to Common Core though, we've broadened our horizons and have been writing in many different genres.

I find opinion writing to be the easiest for my kiddos to do.  Seven year olds always feel passionate about whatever topic they are writing about and it's usually easy for them to come up with reasons to support their point of view. 

This writing piece ended up going in a completely different direction than I had originally planned.  We had read the story, Dear Mr. Blueberry, about a young girl who is convinced she has a whale in her pond - and she tries to convince one of her teachers that is the case, as well. 

My original plan was to do some letter writing about whether or not Emily really could have had a whale in her pond.  We read many nonfiction texts about whales and my kiddos were VERY involved in the whole research process.

Then we started talking one day - even IF Emily really did have a whale in her pond, would a whale make a good pet?  Let the conversations begin!  For some reason, this idea hit home and we had a great discussion - almost a debate! - over whether a whale would be a good pet.  Soooo, I went with it!

First we had to talk about qualities of a good pet in general.  I read, I Wanna Iguana - a story about a boy who tries to convince his mother (also in letter format) that an iguana would be a good pet.  Then we brainstormed a list of qualities of a good pet.

After that, we took those ideas and used them to think critically about a whale - what were some reasons for and against having a whale as a pet?  At first, everyone was in the "no" camp, but then as we talked more (and I let them know they could think outside the box!), a few "yes" opinions came up.

Finally, we ended by having everyone choose a side and write down 3 reasons to support their idea.  (Nothing fancy - but it worked!)

The next day, we returned to our sticky note reasons and used them to plan our writing.  We went back to our visual of hamburger writing and talked about adding LOTS of fixin's!  Our plan sheets included an idea for an opening sentence, 3 reasons - each with at least 1 detail, and a closing sentence.
(NOTE:  I created the sheet that morning and used the wrong template so there was no place to put the detail - we just improvised and added it under the reason.)
After some shared writing to model how to turn the ideas on the plan sheet into a spectacular writing piece, I set everyone off to write their opinions!  We wrote a rough draft, then edited with peers, and did a final copy.

I really wanted to show you our final display.  But with a Professional Day on Monday, no school with the blizzard today - and maybe tomorrow, too! - I haven't been able to put up the display yet.  So, if you want to come back later this week, I will post a picture of the finished product.

This turned out to be an easy, but very motivating writing piece for my kiddos.  We focused on two main skills in our writing: adding details to the reasons, and writing an engaging opening sentence.  They all did a great job!

There are so many different ways you can take this activity - letters to Emily (or Mr. Blueberry) explaining your opinion, an informational piece about how to take care of a whale (ooh - that would be fun!), etc. 

I'm off to shovel myself out (20" and counting!) and spend the rest of the day on TpT products and some other blog posts I have in mind.  I'm ready for spring!

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Wordless Wednesday - Classroom Coupons

Time to link up again with Christina from Sugar and Spice for

The biggest thing our classroom now?
I gave these coupons out for Christmas.  You should have seen the excitement!  They are for things like choosing the brain break, being at the end of the line, time on the ipad, etc.  Easy-peasy for me but BIG rewards for my kiddos.  It's fun to see each one's "strategy" - some have used one every day since we came back from break, others are saving them until later in the year... one kiddo asked if he could trade with someone else!  Although I used these for Christmas, they'd be great for Valentine's Day, too!  Just another example of how its the little things that matter most :-)
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