Sunday, August 17, 2014

Updated Reading Response Letter FREEBIE

Who needs to use Reading Response Letters in the classroom? You do! They are the perfect supplement to your daily conferring during Reading Workshop time! Reading Response Letters guarantee you hear from each reader, each week! They allow your students -
  • Time to reflect on their reading and to think deeply about the text.
  • Responses from you that guide/push their thinking about text.
  • Authentic situations to write/talk about text with an adult and peers.
  • A safe place to ask questions about text, practice and write about reading comprehension strategies, and give and offer book recommendations.
Are you convinced yet?

If so, grab my freebie to see if you can make Reading Response Letters work in your classroom also!

I've experimented with Reading Response Letters ever since Fountas and Pinnell published their first Guided Reading book. It took me several years to fine tune a set of Reading Response Letter procedures/expectations. I must admit, I wanted to give up and give in many times. Grading and responding to Reading Response Letters can get very overwhelming without an organized system. The past few years I've finally found what works for me, so I'd love to share it with you!


If you currently use Reading Response Letters in your classroom, how have they helped you get to know your readers?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Meet the Teacher Series 2014 - Come and get to know ME

I always enjoy getting to know my teacher blogger friends a bit better, and I've had so much fun reading the posts in this series, that I just HAD to link up myself.  You can find the linky party over at Falling Into First.  Here's a little bit about me.......

I'm married to a high school English teacher - celebrating 14 years this October!  And I'm a mama to these two sweet kiddos - heading into second and fifth grades this year!  My son loves hockey and soccer and my daughter is an animal lover and dancer!

(My girl is in the middle)

This is my 12th year teaching 5th grade in Michigan.  I've always lived in Michigan.  I earned my bachelor's degree in Journalism/Graphic Design from Alma College (go Gamma Phi!) and I went back to school a few years later for my teaching certificate and master's degree as a literacy specialist K-12.  


  1. Reading - there's never enough time for all the books I want to read! I especially love young adult lit, historical fiction, dystopian science fiction and series books like Harry Potter, Twilight, Divergent, Rot & Ruin, etc..... 
  2. Blogging - the best teacher PD in the world!!!
  3. Working Out - again there's never enough time to fit it all in, but my favorites are cross fit, yoga and dance classes.  Yes, I'm an adult and I still take ballet classes and I'm proud of it!!!  
  4. Scrapbooking - LOVE it, soothes my soul, but I'm sooooo far behind......
  5. Summer - self explanatory - and I'm really not ready for it to end. When you live in a state like Michigan, you cherish every precious moment of over 50 degree weather!!!
A dance teacher - wait that's still a teacher so I guess it technically doesn't count.  Choice #2 - a librarian - does that count?  Surrounded by books all day long = heaven!


Hardworking, Reflective, Active


"I really love grading 62 math tests," said no teacher ever!!!!!

Donalyn Miller (hee hee hee, I'm such a dork!)


 The ability to stop time so I can keep my own kiddos younger for just a bit longer, and so I can accomplish all the reading, blogging, creating, scrapbooking and working out that needs to happen in a day!


"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
- Philippians 4:13

Anything by Debbie Gibson

Just kidding - that's totally dating me as an 80's girl!

For real - how about 'Royals' by Lourde or 'Rolling in the Deep' by Adele


Definitely a morning person!  I wake up ready to conquer the world and I am ready to collapse by lunch time!  I'm useless in the evening! 

My Reading, Writing and Math Exit Slips - I use these babies every day in my classroom!! 



I still take Ballet classes as an adult. Wait, I already told you that earlier. :)  How about I used to be an extremely picky eater. I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for most of my life. But now, I like ALMOST anything.  It's weird.

So that's me!  Thanks for reading and taking the time to get to know me a bit better!  Link up with Falling Into First so I can get to know you as well!!

Monday, August 4, 2014

It's a small start - organization, exit slips, and a freebie!

Good morning all!! Today I'm working on electronically organizing my exit slips for this upcoming school year. I tend to save them ALL into one huge file, creatively titled "exit slips." :) And they all get jumbled up and lost in the chaos. This morning, I'm separating the ever-expanding file into some smaller, and no less creatively named, sub-files titled 'Reading Exit Slips,' 'Writing Exit Slips,' and 'Math Exit Slip's, I'm also creating files within the sub-files that are labeled by the Common Core standard or topic. I know, I know, it's not rocket science - but hey it's the little things that count!! And in my book, the more organized I can get before school actually starts, the smoother my school year will run!! 

In the spirit of feeling organized, accomplished and a tiny bit ready for this new year to start - I'm throwing back a post ALL about how I use exit slips for closure during our reading, writing and math workshops! Enjoy!!

I am a workshop addict! Any other workshop teachers out there? I absolutely love workshop - it is my passion. I am constantly reading teacher books and thinking about ways to improve my reading, writing, and math workshops. While there are lots of benefits to the workshop style of teaching, there are also a few drawbacks. Assessment seems to be an issue that comes up a lot with my colleagues. Us upper elementary teachers need grades, (unless we are lucky and have standardized report cards) and grades are often hard to come by in a true workshop. So today I'm here to talk with you about one of the ways I grade formatively assess my students during workshop.

In true workshop style, students are learning and discussing new skills during a short mini-lesson (not exactly a place to earn a grade). Students then move into the workshop portion of the session to practice (either previous skills or the new skill they were taught that day). Since students are authentically practicing skills, this time should be a place for students to grow and learn from their mistakes, not to be assessed for a grade. There are some days when I collect notebooks to assess student progress, and I am always working with small strategy and intervention groups as well as conferring with individuals to assess progress. But again, it's hard to give grades during those times because everyone is doing something different. Our workshop ends each day when students come back together to share/discuss what they learned/practiced and again this should be a comfortable, stress free place for students to talk about what went well and what didn't. So, while authentic teaching, learning, and assessing is happening - grading is not.

And, since I am still expected to enter grades into a grade book, I panic when the end of the marking period nears and my grade book is as empty as a bird's nest in December. Anyone else been there? Yikes!

Enter the exit slip. This little guy has saved my life, literally. No more making up silly assignments just to get grades. (Gulp, confession time) This guy truly assesses my student's understanding each day (bonus) and can be entered into my grade book as a grade (double bonus). Rush of relief! I hand out a daily exit slip at the end of workshop time almost daily.

Math Exit slips are designed to bring closure to your math lessons. I use slips that have fewer than four tasks to complete and should take students approximately 5 minutes to finish.

I collect the sheets and my formative assessment needs are met. In just minutes I can quickly form piles of students who have a concept mastered, who are almost there, and who need intervention. Now I can plan my instruction for the next day. I know if I can move on or not, and who I'll need to check in with for extra practice. Exit slips ensure 'No student gets left behind' in my classroom!!!

Where do I get the exit slips? I create them before I teach each unit. I'm a firm believer in backward design. Before I begin a new unit, whether it is informational writing, character development, or order of operations, I start with the common core standards and create the summative (final) assessment (if one isn't already provided by my district). Then, I work backward. I start by breaking the assessment into three or four chunks and create formative assessments (quizzes) to give along the way to inform my instruction of those skills and help provide intervention when needed, instead of when it's too late. Then I break each formative assessment (quiz) into chunks which become lessons. Lastly, I create an exit slip assessment for each lesson. Yes, I said EACH lesson. Exit slips are short and sweet. Mine are only a half page and usually consist of 2 to 4 questions. It takes me about an hour to create all of the exit slips for the unit. Then I print them, copy them, and I have my daily lessons organized and ready to go.

Why use exit slips? Not only are they quick and easy to create, but they are also quick and easy to grade. They only take about 5 minutes for students to complete, and most importantly they tell you instantly who is ready to move on and who needs more practice. True formative assessment! Plus, double whammy, grades for the grade book. But what about homework? I think exit slips are a better assessment than homework, because, well, homework is often done with the help of someone else.

Don't wait for the big test to figure out who doesn't get it! With frequent math exit slips you can quickly assess your students and know immediately who has it and who doesn't. Math exit slips are a MUST in every best practice classroom!

All you workshop junkies with empty grade books, if you'd like to try out using exit slips in your classroom - here's a FREEBIE from my Common Core Decimal Numbers Assessment Pack. I hope you find it useful.


I would love to hear how you are already using exit slips in your classroom!!

Lastly, don't forget to enter my friend Stephanie's Blogiversary Giveaway over at Forever in Fifth Grade!  She's giving away two great back to school products to a lucky winner this Friday!!!  

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Thowback Thursday - Character Inferences FREEBIE and a Bloggy Buddy's Blogiversary Giveaway

Happy Thursday everyone.  I love Thursdays.  Seeing all of the throwback pics on Facebook and Instagram keep me smiling all day long.  Plus, it means the weekend is almost here!!

I'm linking up with The Teacher's Desk  for her Throwback Thursday linky.  This post is one on my most viewed.  I'm throwing it back out there because I've recently updated the FREEBIE involved.  I hope you're able to add it to your inferring 'bag of tricks.'

Here's the original post:

Our focus during Reader's Workshop the past few weeks has been on making inferences about character's personalities.  We are noticing and marking with sticky notes our character's actions, and writing about and discussing what those actions reveal to us about the character's personality.

For fifth grade readers, noticing their thinking while they read (metacognition), is a tough feat.  Each day I am modeling my noticings about our character's actions during our daily read aloud of the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  Which if you haven't read it yet, check it out!!  Great new book that addresses the issue of acceptance (close to the heart of middle school aged kids).

After I model and the students discuss their thinking with partners, they  head off to their just right books to practice independently. Right now we are using sticky notes to mark when a character does something that shows the reader a bit about that character's personality. The purpose is to mark this evidence so that later when we write a response in our reader's notebooks about our main character, we will have evidence to support the response.  The stems we are using to mark these places are:

I think it must be ________________ to be (main character) because..........

(I had students write this response after they finished the first chapter of their independent reading book to help them empathize with the main character and begin to think about what it must be like to be that character.)

I'm noticing that    (main character)                (action)_____ on page _____and this shows that he/she is          (character trait)       because...........

(We wrote this response on day two.  The students looked for a specific action - for example "I noticed that on page 32, John picked up his locker partner's papers that fell all over the ground. This shows me that John is kind and helpful because usually when someone I know picks up something I drop, they are doing it to be nice and they are helping me.)

I'm noticing that       (supporting character)              (action)_______ on page _____and this shows that he/she is       (character trait)        because............

(The purpose of this response on day three is to begin to compare character actions.  CCSS require fifth grade students to compare and contrast two characters in a text 5.RL.3.

I was surprised when       (main character)            ___(surprising action)_______ on page _____and this shows that he/she is (character trait) because .............

(Day four's response is to notice when the main character does something surprising and to use this noticing to continue to build inferences (theories) about the character's personality.  For example, "I noticed that on page 56, after John found out that he failed his math test, he slammed his locker door in his locker partner's face.  This showed me that even though John is usually kind and helpful, when he's frustrated, he can lose his temper and take it out on his friends.)

I'm noticing that ___(object)_________is very special to      (main character)      and this shows that he/she is (character trait)  because.............

(On day five we moved beyond noticing our character's actions to noticing special objects that will help us infer more about their personality. For example, "I noticed on page 77 that John has a picture of his dad hanging on the door of his locker. His dad is away at war.  Whenever he looks at the picture he thinks about what advice his dad would give him.  Sometimes the picture helps him, but sometimes it frustrates him.  This shows me that John is feeling lost in middle school without his dad around to give him advice."

Next week each student will write a one-page written response about "Who is _(main character)__________?  Tell me about his/her personality, likes, dislikes, and problems.  Use the evidence you've marked with sticky notes to support your response. Remember to cite the page numbers where you found the evidence."

I'm looking forward to reading the responses!!!  I hope this close, critical reading and noticing/marking of evidence will prove to pay off when they craft their thinking into a written reading response.  I'll keep you posted on how they turn out.  

If you want to try out the same questions stems with your students. Click here for a FREEBIE!

Bonus -  if you're interested in FREE lesson plans for teaching your readers to make character inferences click HERE. Our district is piloting/adopting the use of these lesson plans this year.


Lastly, I also hope you have the time to enter a very special giveaway.  It's my bloggy buddy and real life teammate - Stephanie Rye from Forever in Fifth's 1 year blogiversary. To celebrate she's giving you the chance to win her newest back to school product - Camp Read-A-Lot Reading Journal and 40 Book Challenge Bundle!  I've also donated my Common Core Critical Verbs Vocabulary Word Wall Set. The lucky winner will get BOTH prizes!!  Perfect for back to school bulletin boards!!  The giveaway begins tomorrow morning and ends next Friday, August 8th at midnight.  Tell all your friends!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

6th Grade Teachers it's Finally Here! ELA Common Core Vocab. set and a giveaway!!

Sixth grade teachers I want to be you right now!! This new ELA Common Core Academic Vocabulary Word Wall set is so stinkin' cute! I just love how it turned out and it's going to look amazing on your bulletin board!! I'm so over the moon about it that I'm going to have a little giveaway. Enter below for the chance to win your very own set!!  Giveaway ends Friday 7-25-14 at midnight.

Displaying academic vocabulary in the classroom is extremely important! Research shows that students need exposure to new vocabulary words multiple times before they reach mastery. This word wall set is perfect for enforcing academic vocabulary and will give your students year-long test prep of those tricky words they need to rock your state test!

(Polka Dot, Black & White, Rainbow and Zebra sets coming soon)  Also, don't forget to check out the matching Math and Critical Verbs of the Common Core word wall sets!!



a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks all for sharing in my excitement! I know some of you are gearing up for back to school already. We still have 5 more weeks of summer in Michigan! Well if you call 71 degrees summer? But hey, I'll take it. I'm loving every minute!!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Two for Tuesday - 50% off my two most wish listed products!

I'm linking up with the Teaching Tribune this morning for "2 For Tuesday."  Who can pass up a 50% off sale?!?  I can't wait to see what other products get linked up today so I can do a little half off shopping myself.

The first product I'm linking up is my MOST wish-listed item.  It's PERFECT for back to school season because these exit slips focus on Launching your Reading Workshop.

Today only, this product is a mere $1.75!!!

Here's a blog post I wrote on how we use exit slips to ensure accountability and purpose during Reading Workshop.

You know those readers who hide in the corner or under their desks, stare blankly at pages and pretty much do nothing during independent reading time because they don't have a purpose for reading and/or they're not being held accountable for proving that they actually read anything?  I've got em' in my classroom and I always stress every year about how to get them to really read vs. fake read.

First and foremost, I try my hardest to spread my love for reading to each and every one of those students.  I aspire to make reading enjoyable and show them the journeys they can travel through books. I pray that independent reading time becomes their favorite time of the day, but that alone doesn't always work.  They are still unfocused during reading time and I don't really know if they are reading each day unless I confer with them.  Unfortunately, I can't reach all of them every day.

So this year, I'm using Reading Exit Slips to quickly gather data each day on who is really reading, who is fake reading and who can apply the strategies I taught during the mini-lesson.  The exit slips are giving those distracted readers a purpose for reading that they can refer back to when they lose track of their thoughts.  Also, knowing that they need to respond to the prompt after independent reading time, and share their response with a partner, is keeping them accountable for actually reading and not just turning pages.

How am I using the exit slips?

First, I put the exit slip up on the SMARTboard with the document camera and use it as our "I can" learning target to keep us focused during the mini-lesson.  I explain the prompt and model it with our classroom read aloud.  I give the students time to respond to the prompt orally based on the classroom read aloud.  Then I hand out a prompt to each student. They head back to their seat, use a glue stick to glue it onto the top of the next blank page in their reader's notebook, and their job is to think about the prompt while they read independently from their just right choice books.  Many of them respond to the prompt while they're reading.  When the timer goes off I do give students a few minutes to finish and reread their responses. Then they meet with their reading partner and share their answers to the prompt.  Every few days I collect reader's notebooks and read though the responses for a grade and/or to inform my instruction/intervention needs.  I also read through the responses as I'm walking around conferring.  The responses are a great way to start each reading conference so you can check to see if the student is applying the taught skill.

The second item that I'm marking 50% off, today only, is one of my BEST sellers!!  An AWESOME deal at only $1.50.  That's cheaper than a Starbucks coffee!!

Here's a blog post that details how we tackle close reading in room 206!

First, we have a weekly subscription to a current events news magazine like Time for Kids or Scholastic News. If you don’t have access to either of these publications, with upper elementary students you can use your local newspaper. There are also many free websites that offer informational articles like Kelly Gallagher’s free article of the week site. 

Teachers should set aside at least one day a week to read current articles and opinion pieces, especially in English, social studies, and science.
(Focus - Schmoker, 2011)

After I determine the article from the magazine that we are going to read closely and debate that week, we start with vocabulary. We take 10-15 minutes to talk about 2-3 academic vocabulary words. The students talk in groups to determine a description of the word and a picture to represent the word.  We discuss the different examples and then the students complete this vocabulary sheet from my Close Reading resource. 

Before we read I have the students announce their initial opinion on the issue. For example last week we read an article about dodgeball so we took opinions on whether or not dodgeball should be banned in schools. I send the yesses to one side of the classroom, the nos to the other and the maybes in the middle.  We talk about why we have these opinions and I record their ideas on a chart. 

Next, we discuss our purpose for reading in our Close Reading packet (which usually has to do with their opinion on the article - example purpose: To find facts that explain why schools should or should not ban dodgeball). Then we read the article together closely - highlighting the facts and taking notes as we read.  After we read, I have the students cite in their close reading packet two facts from the article that support their opinion. They share these facts with a partner and we take a second poll on our opinions. It's interesting to see who has changed sides at this point based on the facts.  This is also when we hold our debate to try and sway our maybes to choose a side.

Lastly, students write an opinion piece to persuade their readers to take their side on the issue. They follow the rubric in their close reading packet when formulating their opinion piece.

And that's it!  It's fun seeing how serious they take opinion writing when they have a purposeful audience to address, a controversial issue to debate and strong facts to support their opinion.  We wrote to the gym teacher last week about whether or not dodgeball should be banned. In the past, we've written to our principal, cafeteria workers, custodians, politicians, bus drivers, parents, celebrities.....

Happy shopping!!! Check out all of the other great "2 For Tuesday" deals at the Teaching Tribune's weekly link-up.  I'll be checking back in all day to read about the new deals and steals.  Enjoy!!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

40 Book Challenge FREEBIES and more

Teaching blogs share freebies all the time and at Teaching Blog Addict, we give you the place to find them all in one spot! Be sure to come back each week to see what's new! Find free downloads and teacher resources for kindergarten, first grade ,second grade, third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade and sixth grade.

As you all know, this past year Donalyn Miller (author of The Book Whisperer) inspired me to incorporate a 40 Book Challenge into my reader's workshop.  We started the challenge on the first day of school and we talked about it every day.  I kept track of the books I read on our classroom door. And my readers kept track of the books they completed in their Data Tracking Reading Workshop binders and on our 40 Book Challenge Bulletin Board.

How cool was my door?? I loved seeing the books I read increase throughout the year, and I loved talking about those book with my own readers and even passing readers who noticed a cover while in the hallway. I hated having to take it down at the end of the year, but I also can't wait to start again this year.  P.S. I've started my 40 Book Challenge already for this upcoming year so I can keep up with my readers.  :)  I'll post a few covers on the first day of school to kick off our 2014-2015 40 Book Challenge!

If you'd like to make a similar display on your door or a classroom bulletin board, click HERE for an editable FREE 40 Book Challenge poster of your own.

While I kept track of my 40 Book Challenge progress on our classroom door, I mentioned earlier that my readers kept track of the books they read in their reading binders.  I created these record keeping pages for my students to log their progress.  And because I'm so excited for YOU to incorporate a 40 Book Challenge into your classroom, I'm giving away these record keeping sheets for FREE! Click HERE for the FREE 40 Book Challenge record keeping pages.  I pulled these pages out of my Data Tracking Reading Workshop Organizer Binder which is full of EVERYTHING you need to keep your reading workshop running smoothly and organized.

The record keeping sheets helped my students stay on track with their 40 Book Challenge progress, but I needed more.  About half way through the year I decided that I wanted a quicker way to monitor each student's finished books. The only time I was hearing and seeing their progress was during status of the class updates, strategy groups and conferring.  I wanted a way to SEE their progress at a glance.  So I created this 40 Book Challenge Bulletin Board Set.

This set helped my readers to show off how many books they had read, along with me, and I could quickly see the progress of each student. We also kept a total running record of our books read and had a little friendly competition with some neighboring 5th grade classrooms.  Gotta love a good competition!

Similar to many of you,  I do not have a lot of wall space available in my classroom, so I created a large and small set of 40 Book Challenge letters.  I also created individual book squares students can fill out and post as they finish books, and 5 book recording book marks that students fill out and post as they complete 5 books (to save space).  I used the smaller set of heading letters and the 5 book tracking rectangles here!

I just recently updated my 40 Book Challenge Bulletin Board set so that the bookmark tracking rectangles are now numbered - books 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, etc. for easier record keeping.  If you've already purchased the set make sure you re-download the updated version.

I would love to hear about how you are incorporating Donalyn Miller's 40 Book Challenge into your classroom!  Comments, questions, tips and advice are always appreciated!!

Happy Reading!!!  I'm off to get back to my summer reading so I can stay on top of this year's 40 Book Challenge. I'm reading Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage.  It's the sequel to Three Times Lucky. I may like part two better than part one. :) Who doesn't love a good ghost story!  Enjoy!

I'm linking up with the fabulous Deanna Jump for Book Talk Tuesday.  Head on over to read about all the different recommended reads.  You can add them to your 40 Book Challenge!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...