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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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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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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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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Happy Sunday everyone - and this Sunday is even better because we have Monday off!  That gives a whole new meaning to Sunday night.  I've spent my morning trying to organize part of my workspace in my office - and that reminded me of a fun blog linky that Hilary from Second Grade is Out of This World is hosting.  As soon as I saw this I KNEW it had my name written all over it!
I know teachers love posting the "best" parts of their lives - perfect classrooms, beautiful displays, engaging activities.... but life is real and it's not always perfect - which is what drew me to this linky.  This month's topic - the junk drawer!

I'll be honest.  I do not have a junk drawer at school.  Ever since I refinished my desk (see more about that project HERE), I have REALLY tried to keep things organized.  And honestly, it's having all my little stuff in a space ON my desk that has kept that drawer from becoming crazy.
That being said... I do have a junk place.  It's under one of my tables in my classroom.

I try to hide it with those lovely "curtains" that you can see are scotch-taped on to the side of the table (the Velcro kept falling off).  But the truth is, chaos lives under there.

I know, I know, it doesn't look that bad.  That's because I have come up with the genius solution of putting all the junk in BOXES. As long as I can't see it, it's not really there!  And what IS there, you ask?  There is very little storage space in my room to keep holiday and themed units - all the books, activities, etc. that goes with each month.  So I keep most things at home... in my basement... (which is another story that you will never see and there is no way I'm going to take a picture of that and put it out there for everyone to see - I have to draw the line somewhere.)

Soooo... when we finish a unit, I gather up all the books and centers and activities and just pile them under that table, honestly meaning to take them all home and put them away in the right box in my beautifully organized basement.  Which pretty much never happens.  Which is why up until a few weeks ago you could still find Thanksgiving (and maybe a stray Halloween) book or two in there.

HOWEVER - I DID clean and I DID bring things home, so it doesn't look so bad under there right now.  One of those boxes is actually empty! :-)

But, in the interest of really being "real"... I need to show you this:

It's a picture of the corner of my hallway coming in from the garage.  Yep.  I brought it all home, but just recently took it out of the back of my car and now it sits in the hall. 

I can't take it any more though so I'm going to put it all away this afternoon.  And then replace it with another pile very soon, I'm sure!

Want to see more "real" junk spaces of teachers?  Check out the linky and I'm sure you'll find some kindred spirits!
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Do you use ipads during your math centers?  Hop on over to Who's Who and check out my class's five favorite math apps, perfect for math centers, small groups or extra practice.  I love discovering new apps!

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We are steadily working our way through mental addition and subtraction.  I really like these units because they give students the opportunity to solve problems in different ways and makes them explain their thinking.

Today's math skill was focusing on adding (and I included subtracting) multiples of ten.  Problems like 45 +30, 67 - 20 or (gasp!) 265 + 20... Most of us do pretty well at this - but we definitely needed to solidify the concept a little more so we took today to make sure everyone was on the same page.

We started by reviewing counting by 10's starting in the tens, then moved to starting with any 2-digit number.  I divided my kiddos into 4 groups, each group sitting together in one area of the rug.  I started by rolling the big foam dice cubes (always a hit!) to create a 2-digit number. 

Then we started counting up by 10's.  I pointed at one group, and they started the counting.  After a few numbers, I would clap and point to a different group.  It was their job to pick up the counting from where the other group left off.  This really helped everyone stay engaged and focused because you never knew when I was going to clap and point to another group!  We did this with a few different numbers counting by 10's going forward, then we switched it to counting backwards by 10's. 

(At first everyone in the smaller groups counted in unison, but then after a few rounds they had to each count individually going around their smaller circles, until I clapped and switched to a different group. Doing it this way gave everyone a chance to warm up and feel successful counting together, and switching to counting individually gave me a clear idea of who still needed a little work.)

Now that we were warmed up, we reviewed adding and subtracting multiples of ten.  I wrote a problem on the board and we discussed different strategies for solving it.  Most of my kiddos felt comfortable just subtracting or adding the tens, but some preferred to count up or back to get their answer.  Both ways worked, so everyone's strategy was validated.  After a couple of those, it was on to some fun!

We played a math version of the getting-to-know-game "Find Someone Who Has."  In this game, everyone has a sheet with a number on the top.  That is THEIR number.  Students walked around the room trying to find someone with a number that matched one of their boxes.  When they did (there was at least 1 of each answer, sometimes 2), they wrote that person's name and the answer in the box.

It was a hit!  I heard lots of thinking aloud as students figured out which numbers to look for.  It was fun to see the different ways my kiddos went about the activity, too.  Some started with the first box, answered all the problems and then looked for people who had those numbers.  Some solved one problem at a time.  I even had a couple students who looked at other people's numbers first, then tried to figure out which box to put the number in. (You can find the games in my TpT store HERE, or by clicking the picture.)

We ended our math time with a little independent follow-up activity.  Students worked on their own to roll 2 (or 3) dice, make a number, spin the spinner and write and solve the resulting problem.  This gave me one more chance to see who still might need some help with this concept.

(You can grab the spinner activity freebie HERE, or by clicking the picture.)  The different activities gave everyone a chance to review and practice in a different way and by the end of the math time I knew exactly where everyone stood with this skill.  I was able to differentiate for my learners by using 2 or 3-digit numbers - and by allowing students to use base ten blocks to solve the problems, if needed.

Simple, but effective and fun, too - what more could you ask for?

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I'm linking up with Kristina at Sugar and Spice for this week's Wordless Wednesday.
So... what do you think?
Does this count as a sign of spring?  Every year for Christmas my parents give me an amaryllis bulb to grow in my classroom.  I never know what its going to look like.  The picture shows what our bulb looks like now.  It makes me think if we can just get through the next couple months, spring will be coming!  What's your favorite sign of spring?

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It snowed! It snowed!  I'm not a huge fan of snow.  I like it to come down enough to cover the ground, give us a few good hours to play in the snow, then I'm done and ready for spring!  But since I live in New England, that's not usually the case.  Soooo... I like to use my January writing to focus on winter activities.

I have a confession - I do not do a cute little craft to go with every writing piece we do.  I like them, don't get me wrong... a lot of times I just prefer to focus on the writing. I don't take every piece of writing to a final copy, and since I like to spend a solid amount of time reading mentor texts, planning, modeling, writing, revising and sharing.... we can spend a good two weeks or more on one piece of writing.  To have my kiddos edit it to perfection and then copy it over to display it would probably take another two weeks! 

This week we started a personal narrative writing piece about one winter activity they've done.  We started by using the book, The Wild Toboggan Ride by Suzan Reid as our mentor text.
(Unfortunately, I couldn't find this book available on Scholastic, but Amazon had some used ones available.)
This book is the perfect way to start our unit because it's a great example of stretching out ONE event - and it's so fun to read!  (Any book that involves people landing in a garbage can is a hit with second graders!)  I have the tape (yes, the tape) from Scholastic so I pull out our old listening center cassette player and we listen to the story a couple times.

First, we focus on what makes this a good narrative - specifically, the structure of the narrative.  We created a chart detailing the beginning, middle and end and talked about how we can use that as we write our own stories. ( I make most of my charts on the Smartboard, so I just used an image of the file for here.) We looked at how the beginning got the reader interested and told what was going on, the middle was the biggest part, with the most details, and the end tied everything up.

Next, we returned to the story to focus on the details.  First, we talked about what made the story interesting.  Right away everyone started giving examples - "There was lots of talking."  "The sounds that were in there."  "The way the author used strong verbs."  We began another chart, this time listing the different types of details. (I forgot to save a copy of the completed chart so here's the original.)

I then put students with a partner and gave each of them copies of two or three pages of the book.  Their job was to find examples of each of the types of details and underline them.

They did a great job!  We had some great discussions about why each example fit in a certain category, and everyone really understood what each type of detail meant by the time we were done.

The next step was to start thinking about writing our own narratives.  We brainstormed all the activities you cold do in the snow and each student made their choice of which one to write about.  We did a quick drawing just to get ideas flowing and students shared with partners.  I could tell they were ready to start their stories!

Next week we'll return to the story once again - and our list of types of details - to review each one.  Day 1 will be stretching the one activity into 3 smaller pieces.  Day 2 will be generating ideas for action description, dialogue, sound effects and thoughts and feelings to go with our own winter activities. 

After that, we'll start writing our narratives!  I can't wait to see how they turn out.  I always find that by using a mentor text or two, students have a much clearer idea of how to make their writing work. 

If you're interested in the writing sheets, they are part of my new "Winter Writing" pack on TpT. There are planning sheets, brainstorming sheets and writing paper for narrative, expository and opinion writing on three winter topics - hot chocolate, snowmen and winter activities. More than enough ideas to get you through the winter!



You can click on any of the images to head to my TpT store and find out more.  I use a lot of these every winter in different ways - work on writing activities, homework, shared writing... You can print them out or project them and write together.

And since we're so wrapped up in winter, let's celebrate by giving one pack away!  Comment with your favorite activity to do in the winter (and maybe another book to use as a mentor text for a winter personal narrative?) along with your email and I'll choose a winner Sunday night before bed.  Good luck!

(Congratulations Kelly!  I'll be sending you an email with the winter writing.  Enjoy!  Thanks to everyone for sharing your winter activities and book ideas!)

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Hello.. I'm back... Happy New Year!

School starts again on Monday and I know I should be working on my New Year's resolutions... or at least on MAKING some. 

And I KNOW what one of them should be.

I just went and dug out my gradebook.  Here's what I found.

It looks remarkably like the way I left it when I threw it in my bag on the way out before Christmas.  (and considering it was still in the same place I put it when I got home, I shouldn't be surprised.)
I hate grading papers.  Like, REALLY hate it.  I am good at walking around while my kiddos are working and writing notes on sticky notes about how they're doing, and about taking notes during small group time, etc.  So I do have a very good handle on how each of my kiddos is doing.
But when it comes time sitting down and actually correcting things - and then putting things in the gradebook, I can find a MILLION other things that need to get done first.  I know I'm not the only one who feels this way.  When you first start teaching, grading papers is fun.  Drawing smiley faces, circling errors, writing encouraging comments.... but it gets old fast.
Knowing that grading is not on my top ten list of favorite things to do, I've devised a system that helps me stay relatively on top of things.  No system is perfect and honestly, if you don't make a real effort to USE the system, it doesn't work (ask me how I know :-)

So, here are some strategies I use to make grading (and recording!) a little easier.

This one is really important.  There are a ton of pre-made gradebooks on the market, and if you search TpT you can find even more - some you can even customize.  You just have to find one that works for you. 

I know I wanted a gradebook that fit with the Common Core standards, since our school was moving to standards-based report cards this year.  I also did not want to write my students' names in a billion times.  And it had to have big enough spaces for me be able to not only put a grade, but add a note too, if needed.  So - I created my own CC standards-based gradebook.

There is a page for EVERY standard.  I put my student names in and printed 2 copies of each page, so I would have enough space for most of the year.  Then I tabbed each section. 

NOTE:  After going through one round of report cards, I discovered I needed to add MORE tabs to my binder.  I needed the individual standards grouped by over-arching standard, because that's what was on our report card.  So I added little sticky tabs for those.

I also added a back page with all the info I would need for end-of-year data: DRA level, writing prompt scores, etc.  By keeping this all on one page and adding to it throughout the year, I'm one step ahead of the crazy end-of-year rush!

I have to say, this really worked well for me.  It was easy to gather grades for report cards, I could address any specific academic concerns when they came up, I had data for PPTs... success!
(If you're interested in seeing the editbale gradebooks I created, click HERE to go to my TpT store.  I have them for grades 1-4. I have also begun to create custom gradebooks that match your report card. You can email me for more information.)

Having a useful and pertinent gradebook does make recording the grades easier.  But that doesn't help with the actual task of GRADING papers.  For that, I present to you, the 3-tiered system of grading!

Tier 1 - stuff you don't grade
Admit it.  You have stuff you don't grade.  And if you don't, you should.  I'm talking about things like activities you've done whole class, quick reviews you give to jus to make sure everyone is still on track, some center activities... All these provide valuable information, but do not need to be added to the pile of things to grade.  Check them off - or better yet, have your students draw a smiley face or whatever - and send them home.  Of course, if anyone had trouble with the activity, you'd make a note.  But don't put them in the pile.

Tier 2 - stuff you correct for information
What does that mean?  A 100% does not mean the same thing for everyone.  For example, when you correct/grade an activity, 3 students have everything correct.  Just writing 100 in the gradebook does not tell you much.  Student 1 finished quickly, needed no help and had a solid understanding of the concept.  Student 2 completed the activity in a reasonable amount of time, but had a few questions while working.  Student 3 got them all right, but needed a quick reteaching and some support to complete the activity.  Each of those examples shows students who are at different points with the concept.  I use a quick coding system of plus, check, check minus and minus in my gradebook to tell me what I need to know.

When I go back and look at my gradebook for report cards, if a student has mostly check marks, that means they are where I would expect them to be now.  Those with plusses are beyond, and those with "check minuses" are the ones who still need support.  These "coded" grades give me the most information about my students.

Tier 3 - stuff you grade for benchmark scores, etc.
This includes spelling tests, math chapter tests, writing prompts, etc.  It's the actual grade that matters here, for the most part, since that is what will be recorded on data sheets.

That's it!  I also find it helpful to have a tiered tray where I put papers to be graded.  The ones on the bottom are the ones that need a quick review and then send home (Tier 1).  My IA often takes care of these.  Love her!  The middle tray are those to be "coded."  I try to put something on these right away after the students do them so I remember how things went.  Then all I have to do it quickly write them in my book and send them home.  The top tray is for those papers I need to really look at, make a copy of, etc.

I already talked about this a little, but it bears repeating.  Some things can just be sent home with a big "C" or check mark or smiley face.  Timed math facts? Want to hear a dirty little secret?  I don't correct every math problem.  We do 100 facts in 5 minutes and I do NOT check each and every one.  I glance at the problems, pick up on any mistakes and just count up the number completed.  It's not going to matter if the student really got 86 problems and I recorded 90.  It all averages out in the end.  I do know which certain students I need to check more carefully, but for the most part, I just count by tens and go!

Using journals and interactive notebooks gives students a chance to show what they know without adding to the grading stack.  I have students show me their work right away and add it to my gradebook immediately.  Sometimes I will have them leave their journal or notebook open to the particular activity and I'll go through them quickly when I have a moment.

I hope you can use some of these tips to make your grading easier.  To me, the most important part of grading is getting the most valuable information possible.  That pile of papers can get overwhelming very quickly, so it's important to find ways to make things easier.

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