Saturday, September 24, 2016

Building a Classroom Community through Read Alouds

Classroom culture is imperative to successful classroom management.   I spend the first few months of school building a classroom culture of respect and it pays off in the end. When students feel respected by their teachers and peers, they choose to make better behavior choices.  

positive classroom culture read alouds

Even Robert Marzano agrees - "Teacher-student relationships provide an essential foundation for effective classroom management—and classroom management is a key to high student achievement." 

According to the Teaching Tolerance website, "teachers must provide safe spaces where students are seen, valued, cared for and respected. And behavior management systems must support safe, inclusive communities by enforcing high standards for respectful interaction; incorporating student-generated discipline policies; teaching conflict resolution; and actively addressing all instances of bias, bullying, exclusion or disrespect."

One strategy that I've found helpful when building our classroom culture is carefully targeted read aloud books.

Here are my favorites for building our classroom community.  We refer back to them all year long!

Read Aloud #1

The first book I read every year is Thank You Mr. Falker, by Patricia Polacco.

Thank You Mr. Falker Classroom Community Read Aloud

This story is about Patricia as a child, her struggles with reading and bullying, and how a special teacher noticed and changed her life.  I start with this book because I tell my students. "I want to be this teacher for you.  I promise to do everything I can to help you grow and change - if you'll let me."
I want my students to know that I'm going to work really hard this year for them and in response, it makes them want to work hard for me (and for themselves which is even more important).

This book also offers a great opportunity to start an open dialogue about how the students in your class are going to deal with each other's differences and bullying.  When the students feel like they're in charge of the classroom culture and making the decisions about important issues, they follow through with their promises.

Read Aloud #2

Secondly, every classroom community needs to read and share The Juice Box Bully: Empowering Kids to Stand Up To Others by Maria Dismondy and Bob Sornson.

Juice Box Bully Classroom Community Read Aloud

Now that you've established how you are going to treat your students this year, it's time for a discussion about how they're going to treat each other.  Building a classroom culture of respect among your students is critical and will reduce those daily tattling/recess complaints.

This book is about a new kid who enters a class where they've already made a promise to treat each other with respect.  The new student starts to treat a few kids disrespectfully and the classmates stand up and model how to solve the situation positively.  So often kids just watch bullying from afar and are too afraid to do anything about it.  The Juice Box Bully challenges students to stop being bystanders and to stand up for their classmates together.

"This books is what will make us a family," I tell my students.  We make our own classroom promise after reading this book, and pledge to follow it all year long.

The Juice Box Bully Student Pledge

Read Aloud #3

The third book I share with my students is The Energy Bus for Kids by Jon Gordon.  We've talked about the teacher-student relationship, and the student to student relationships, now it's time to address the relationship with themselves.  How are the students going to make this a great year for them!  A positive attitude is so important in life.  The Energy Bus gives kids steps for making each day a positive one.  When kids are getting down on themselves for mistakes, I refer to the steps in this book all year long.  It helps them remember that they have the power to turn their day around.

The Energy Bus for Kids Classroom Community Read Aloud

Read Aloud #4

Last but not least, I shared this book for the first time this year - Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena

Last Stop on Market Street Classroom Community Read Aloud

It won the 2015 Newbery Medal and the message it send readers - to accept others for their differences, to be grateful for what you have, and to serve others - is so powerful. We talk about how we are going to approach every day as an opportunity to do all three of these things in our classroom.

You can build a positive, respectful, teacher-student-self classroom culture in one week by sharing, discussing and implementing the ideas from these read alouds.  If you have other great read alouds that build classroom community, share them in the comments below.  I'd love to add to my collection!!

Build a Positive Classroom Culture with Read Alouds Blog Post

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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Revolutionary War Mock Trial Project Based Learning Activity

Are you looking for a must-do project for your social studies students this year?  If you teach the Revolutionary War time period, or anything to do with government and the judicial system - than you NEED this now!!!

Bring your history classroom alive with Road to the Revolution Mock Trials

Bringing history alive is so important and so much fun!  In our classroom, we bring the American Revolution to the present day by putting the Sons of Liberty and the British Red Coats on trial during our classroom 'Mock Trials.'

I cannot take credit for this idea, it was passed on to me through my mentor teacher and even though she's now retired, I keep it going strong because it's just so amazing to see my students living out the history they've learned from their text books.

Now I want to pass the torch to you because this memorable project is the perfect way to bring excitement and authenticity to your history classroom.  Plus, mock trials are an ideal way to hit those Speaking and Listening standards in the Common Core.

Implementing mock trials though, or any project based learning curriculum can be TONS of work when you have to create everything yourself, as I have over the past 10 years.  So to make your life easier, I've compiled EVERYTHING right HERE that you will ever need to ensure successful classroom mock trials!

Bring your history classroom alive

Bring your social studies classroom alive

Bring your history classroom alive with Mock Trials

So how does it work?  I'll run you through some of the important basics of putting on classroom mock trials. MUCH more in depth information, photos, and resources can be found right HERE.

Here we go!

Week 1 - Mock Trial Introductions and Auditions

  The first thing I do is talk with my students about the Judicial Branch of government and its purpose. I show them a couple (previewed) Judge Judy (or similar) clips from You Tube and we talk about why we need a judicial system and how jury duty works in our country.  

Next, I connect this discussion to two events we've learned about in social studies - The Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre (you could use any historical events that you wish). I explain to the students that we are going to bring the judicial system to life in our classroom by putting these two events on trial. Most of week one is full of discussion, creating anchor charts that detail each mock trial position, and hosting auditions.  

Road to the Revolution Mock Trials positions anchor chart example

Road to the Revolution Mock Trials audition script for attorneys and witnesses
One of my sweet students hard at work on a script to prepare for try-outs! 

Week 2 - Researching the Facts

After listening to tryouts, I determine who will receive each part and then pass out attorney case files. During week two, attorneys begin the research phase. They need to learn as much as they can about their particular case so they can prep the witnesses and create a winning strategy.

I check out lots of books on the Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre from our school and local libraries so students can begin this phase and build their case.  My students work on this during daily independent reading and computer lab times so very little actual curriculum time is used.

Researching facts for Road to the Revolution Mock Trials
Using her text book and a library book to research the facts of the Boston Tea Party. 

Week 3 - Lines of Questioning

Attorneys begin to build their cases. They meet with witnesses to brainstorm strategies for defending or prosecuting the defendants.  They also use the facts they've gathered to write out the questions they will ask each witness during the trial. Plus, they start their opening statements. Attorneys and witnesses practice their lines of questioning and at the end of the week we hold our first rehearsal.

If you're wondering how in the world do they accomplish ALL of this in one week - everything is explained clearly HERE with pictures and every resource needed to make your life so much easier!!! You can implement this project without any experience with legal system jargon - I promise!!!  I've done all the work for you. :)

Road to the Revolution Mock Trials rehearsal number one
The judge's table and witness stand in preparation for rehearsal #1. 

Week 4 - Practice Makes Perfect

Now that the students have had a chance to practice what they've accomplished, week 4 is all about revising lines of questioning, beginning to formulate cross-examination questions/answers, finalizing opening statements, beginning closing statements and a second rehearsal.

Road to the Revolution Mock Trials attorneys rehearsing for trial
Attorneys and witnesses working on their lines of questioning. 

Road to the Revolution Mock Trials line of questioning rehearsal
Cross-examination rehearsal!
Road to the Revolution Mock Trials bailiff swearing in witness during rehearsal
The bailiff practicing swearing in a witness.

Week 5 - The Judge and the Jury

With two rehearsals down, most of the fifth week will be about preparing for the "real" judge and jury and a dress rehearsal.  I play the judge during all rehearsals but I invite someone in to serve as the official judge on trial day.  Don't worry, everything the judge will need and say is included HERE so your visitor can be anyone.  I do try to secure a graduation gown and gavel for the judge - but those are optional items.

The jury is the remaining students in your classroom after you've selected the 22 speaking parts (the number of speaking parts can be altered to fit your classroom needs).  For dress rehearsal I do ask my students to dress up.  They look so cute and serious in their dress clothes.

Road to the Revolution Mock Trials jury set up for rehearsal
The jury may seem like a small part to students but mine learn quickly that it's
actually the most powerful position!! 

Bring your history classroom alive with American Revolution Mock Trials
Dress rehearsal to get out the nerves!!! Look at those adorable suits and ties.

Week 6 - Court is in Session

It's the last week (you can complete this project in less or more weeks - depending on how much class time you want to use). I use very little class time, the students do most of their preparation during independent reading, writing and computer lab time and at home.

During this crucial week students finalize all parts of their case and I remind them how amazing they are!  I usually schedule the trials on a Friday so parents/visitors can take time off work and attend. Each trial takes between 45-60 min.

On the big day, I just sit back, relax and watch my students bring history alive.  Parents are shocked when they find out how little I've done during this project and how much their students are able to accomplish on their own!  Mock trial presentation day is my favorite school day every single year!

Road to the Revolution Mock Trials court docket

Boston Tea Party and Boston Massacre Classroom Mock Trials

Monday, August 15, 2016

Back to School Classroom Scavenger Hunt and Giveaway

Can you believe it's back 2 school time already?  This is one of my favorite times of the year - new school supplies, new classroom decor, new students - a whole year of new possibilities.

And it to kick it all off, I am teaming up with 50 great teacherprenuers to bring you tried and true classroom management and organizational strategies that work in our classrooms. 

Please make sure that you hop to each participating blog! We are also hosting a giveaway. Enter to win one of two great prizes. We are giving away the chance to win a $50 TpT Gift Card and classroom resources from over 30 teacher authors. Good luck! 

To help you prepare for the first day of school with your new kiddos, I'm sharing my Back to School Classroom Scavenger Hunt. I love this activity because it gives kids the chance to explore their new classroom.  It's a fun, get em' up and moving, way to teach your brand new students where important stuff is located in the classroom.  And it serves as a great icebreaker too since they work in partners.  Plus, it's editable so you can customize it to fit your classroom needs!!

Download it for FREE right HERE.   


This activity is one of the first things we do each year, after discussing rules and expectations of course.  I randomly pair students up to work and set them off to explore their new domain.  The hunt usually takes about 30 minutes and then we discuss each item and what they noticed around the room.  This usually leads to a great discussion about other classroom procedures as well like cleanliness, pencil sharpening, bathroom breaks and more!!

Enjoy!!  And don't forget to enter the amazing giveaway below!!!!  Happy first day back to reality everyone!!

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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

5 ways to enhance your academic vocabulary instruction - #4 - PLAY with the Words

It's time for installment four of my "5 Ways to Enhance your Academic Vocabulary Instruction" series.  If you're interested in Way #1 - SEE the Words - Click HERE, or Way #2 - WRITE the Words Click HERE, and Way #3 - KEEP the Words - Click HERE.

Way #4 is PLAY with the words.

In post number one I reminded you that it's critical for students to SEE several visual representations of new vocabulary words (examples, models, drawings, word wall cards, representations, etc.) and in post number two we discussed that it's imperative for students to have time to WRITE about new vocabulary words (descriptions, definitions, examples/non-examples, synonyms/antonyms, meaningful sentences, test questions, and so on). Lastly, in post number three the strategy I shared to help your students reach vocabulary success is to KEEP the words in a common, easily accessible location (vocabulary notebooks, folders, binder rings, interactive bulletin boards, word walls), so students can reference new vocabulary words as much as possible.

Today we're going to move on to the fun stuff - PLAYING games with new vocabulary words. Research shows that often students forget new vocabulary words for three reasons:

1.  They are not properly stored in student's minds (long term memory).

2.  They are not practiced enough.

3.  They are not related to students own experiences and interests.

Playing vocabulary games can help with all three of these issues.

According to The Effect of Games on Learning Vocabulary by Maryam Rohani and Behzad Pourgharib, some teachers think that vocabulary games are a waste of time and prefer not to use them in the classroom.  But in fact, games provide students with strategies to improve their vocabulary proficiency.  Games offer visual aids, drama, role-play, critical thinking, connections and much MORE.

It's been proven that students learn new vocabulary more quickly and retain it better when they get to apply it in a relaxed and comfortable environment such as center or game time. Vocabulary aquisition should be enjoyed and fun.  Games are not a distraction but the perfect way of helping students to use new vocabulary repeatedly, connect it to their own lives, and store it in their long term memory.

In our classroom, we play vocabulary games once a week during our word work block.  I teach one game at a time until all games have been learned and after that the students may choose which game center they want to attend during game time.  The games we love are:

Flip It - (Headbandz) - Students can write vocabulary words on index cards. They will take turns flipping a card up to their forehead and attempting to guess the word with question stems like......
Does it mean? or is it a synonym of? or is it an antonym of? etc.

Memory - Again students can write new vocabulary words and descriptions/examples on separate index cards.  Mix them up, turn them over and match up the words with the meanings.

Bingo - Give students a blank bingo sheet and have them write in new vocabulary words.  Read off descriptions/examples and students will cover the corresponding word on their card.

Swat - Write vocabulary words on your whiteboard.  Call two students up to the board. Give them each a fly swatter. Read off a definition and the student who swats the matching word first earns a point for their team.

Puzzle Match - Write words on one half of an index card and descriptions/examples or synonyms/antonyms on the other half.  Cut the cards in half with a fancy cut to create two puzzle pieces.  Mix up all the pieces and try to match them back up.  Cut several cards with the same fancy cuts so students have to read the examples and not just match up the cuts.

Master It! - Use any game board and game pieces.  Use index cards for the question cards - write questions like: Use ____________ in a test question, or Use ____________ in a meaningful sentence, or Give a synonym/antonym for ____________.  On each card, give directions for how many spaces to move if answered correctly.  Also create wild spaces on the board and use index cards for wild cards that tell students to lose a turn, reverse the play, go backward 4 spaces, etc.

You can make all of these games yourself or you can purchase a set I made for my classroom right HERE.

Once again, studies have shown that students make the greatest gains in word knowledge when an interactive approach is used. Teachers who engage their students in vocabulary acquisition through books, think alouds, hands on activities and games are setting their kiddos up for vocabulary success.

PLAYING with new vocabulary words will help your students do better in school, on state tests and in life!

And, best of all, it's fun!!!!

Stay tuned for the final installment of my "5 Ways to Enhance your Academic Vocabulary Instruction" series - USE the words.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A teacher's summer break........

Wow, I can't believe it's already week 3 of summer break for us teachers here in Michigan.  Time flies when you're having fun. So far summer has been full of music, dancing, singing, sleeping, reading, creating, and tubing!

Week one was a blur of spring summer cleaning, landscaping and house projects. And sleeping in of course!  It was also filled with music as my daughter started piano lessons, I started rehearsals for Legally Blond the Musical and my husband took me to see Guns & Roses.  We were blown away, it was an amazing show! Go see them when they come to a city near you!

Slash hasn't changed one bit!!!!!

During week two, I started my summer reading stack.  My amazing friends at #wecantputbooksdown have been recommending the best new YA lit and my pile is massive.  I can't wait to share these new books with next year's 5th graders.

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I've already finished the whole Percy Jackson and the Olympians 5 Book Paperback Boxed Set  (definitely recommend these to your Harry Potter fans) and Booked by Kwame Alexander.

Booked is now my second favorite read this year, next to Pax - it's amazing! Your sports loving boys will actually read this novel in verse, I promise!

If you're not following our wecantputbooksdown instagram page - you need to!!!  We share anything and everything that promotes the love of reading!

During week two I also began thinking about decor for next year's classroom.  Yikes, I know.  But I can't help it!! I loooooove decorating a new classroom each year and making it a fun, exciting place to learn for my new students.

First on my list was updating my word wall cards.  I have 6 bulletin boards in my classroom and I dedicate 3 of them to word walls.  Academic vocabulary is so crucial for students to master and after we are immersed in these ELA, Math and Common Core Critical Verbs and Nouns, my kiddos constantly refer back to these words to use them in their writing and discussions.

My classroom colors are black, white (zebra print) and lime green. But I also have word wall sets available in bright chevrons and polka dots, rainbow colors, nautical colors, black & white, animal print or no backgrounds at all (great for conserving printer ink).


Plus, super easy bulletin boards! Just my style! Hang up a heading banner (I have tons of FREE ones available in my TPT store - just scroll down the page, they are near the bottom), post the vocabulary cards as they're taught, and that's it - a year long, interactive, useful bulletin board.

Week 3 of summer break called for a trip up north, along with most of the people in Michigan. We've been tubing ever since.


What has your teacher summer consisted of so far?  Enter the rafflecopter and comment below with your favorite summer activity for a chance to WIN a FREE word wall set of your choice from my store!!

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