Saturday, September 13, 2014

You Oughta Know About Student Blogging

I'm joining in the You Oughta Know blog series to tell you a little about student blogging.

If only we had more time!  Wishful thinking, I know. It's nearly impossible to fit it "ALL" in on a daily basis. Teachers everywhere are searching for creative and innovative ways to squeeze more time into their schedule.  In my classroom, it's 'time to talk about our reading' that we just don't have enough of.  
We only have one hour for Reader's Workshop each day. One hour!  It's just not enough time for a mini-lesson, independent reading (guided reading and conferring), discussions, journaling, teacher read aloud, shared reading, book recommending.....etc., etc.  As time runs out, the "talking about what we're reading" portion gets the ax. 


To me, book recommending is the mark of a true reader.  All of us book lovers can't wait to recommend the latest book we’ve devoured to our teacher friend or family member.  Isn't that what readers do? They talk about and share what they read.  Yet lack of time can edge out this instrumental part of Reader’s Workshop.

To resolve this issue, I introduced my students to the world of blogging. My hope is to inspire my readers to ‘talk about their reading’ even when we can’t find the time to ‘fit’ it into our schedule.

Why blogs? My fifth graders love the chance to comment on anything online (hence the underage popularity of facebook, snapchat, instagram, twitter, etc.) Why not give them a fun, safe, educational, inspiring place to do just that?!

How did I set it all up? It’s fairly easy to create a classroom blog. All you need is an email address and some patience. We use but other free blogging websites you could use are kidblog, blogger, or wordpress.  The main page of our blog is for posting daily homework assignments and classroom news.  I created page links (easy to do) for classroom photos, contact information, and our book recommendations.  The students click on the book recommendations link and this is where they post and comment.  I have to put in the page password to give them access, but they do the rest.

My advice is to model lots and lots of oral and written book recommendations before you expect the students to begin posting. I gave my class time to practice orally with partners and individually in their reader’s notebooks.

Then I set some requirements.  Students must write one book recommendation every three weeks. In a 9-10 week marking period, that's 3 required recommendations (many write more).   I also set aside the first 10-15 minutes of every computer lab session for students to log in to our classroom blog, peruse the book recommendations page and comment on 2-3 of their peers' book recommendations. I love reading their conversations and peeking into their reading lives.

I even encourage students to log in at home to read their peer's book recommendations, and they comment at home as well (you can tell by the post comment time). I’ve also begun to hear talk in the classroom during workshop mini-lessons and share time that connects back to the books they know other students are reading.  

We have a bin of "Class Recommended Books.” It’s the hottest spot in our classroom library.  Some students even bring in the books from home that they blogged about to share with those who commented on their posts.

I can’t wait to see their reading lives blossom as we continue to blog about books for the remainder of the year.

In essence, squeezing our book recommendations into computer lab time, is allowing us to still fit it "ALL" in and it’s giving students a relevant place to act and grow as real readers.  I even plan to keep our website alive all summer for students to continue to post and comment to each other about their summer reads!

I hope blogging about books in your classroom will inspire your readers to always find the ‘time’ to talk about reading!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

2014 Classroom Reveal and First Read Alouds

I'm beyond excited to share my 2014-15 classroom with you!  I've minimized the zebra print (yes gasp!) this year and I've added other black and white patterns as well as lime green to accent.  The results make me truly happy.  I can spend 8 hours a day in this space for sure now, probably even more.  We all know, a teacher's work is never done!  

#1  Front of Room -

This is our daily meeting space. It also contains our white board and easel for recording lesson notes and our Smart Board. The carpet I purchased for a great deal from Amazon and shipping was FREE since I'm a Prime member. Woo hoo!  The black pillows and green ottoman bean bags are from Big Lots.  Great deals on all.

This is the other side of the Smart Board. We are required to post our daily learning targets. This area also holds part of our library and our read around the room, mystery walker, and classroom job charts.  All of these sets will be available in my TPT store soon!  

The learning targets area is pretty self-explanatory. This is where each morning I write (in "I can kid friendly language") what the students will learn in each of three subjects I teach. We talk about the day's learning targets during our morning meeting and we discuss how they'll know if they achieve each target.  


Mystery Walker motivates students to move quietly in the hallway.  I have large wooden popsicle sticks in the first drawer of the green 3 drawer unit you can see above.  One drawer has the Mystery Walker sticks. They are marked with student names and an MW so they don't get mixed up with the other sticks.  I pull two sticks each time we leave the room and those are the Mystery Walkers.  I secretly watch those two students as we walk to and from a location and if they were following our hallway expectations, they earn a prize when we return to the classroom.  I change the small prizes up - in the past I've used jolly ranchers, starbursts, pencil top erasers, grippers, pencils, bookmarks, classroom money, etc.  If the Mystery Walkers do not follow hallway expectations, when we return to the classroom I simply put that stick back into the drawer. I do not announce who it was, that way any student who may have talked will wonder if it was them. 

The Read Around the Room chart shows which students can read in our special classroom spaces for the day.  This year we have the four green bean bag ottomans, a large black pillow, a stool, a table area, the carpet, and a rocking chair.  Again I have Popsicle sticks marked with student names and an RR so they don't get mixed up with the Mystery Walker sticks.  These sticks are kept in the second drawer.  I pull sticks each morning for these special spaces.  The next morning I take out the sticks and put them into a rubber banded group until all students have made it onto the chart once. Then all the sticks return to the drawer and the process repeats! 

Lastly, in the third drawer of the green drawer unit are Popsicle sticks marked with student names and a J. These sticks are placed into the jobs pockets to show which students have which classroom jobs.  Students apply for jobs in our classroom.  I have an application (remind me to post that in a later post) that students must complete and I chose the best applicants for each job.  Jobs change monthly.  I've found students do much better with their classroom jobs when they have ownership over the jobs they choose.  All students who want a job are able to secure a few jobs each year.  Also, switching them monthly allows students time to get really good at the job and then to be able to train the new employee. 

#2 - Classroom Library -

If you follow me on Instagram you've seen a few sneak peeks of our classroom library. It's my favorite space in the room.  I've combined it this year with our meeting space and my small group space.  Last year these were three separate spaces, but when you have a small classroom, you do what you can to maximize room to move.

Here's a few close ups of how I organize our books (by genre on the first three shelves, by author on the fourth shelf and buddy books are in the last shelf. On top in the green baskets are "Mrs. O'Bryan's Favorites" these are the books I read for my 40 Book Challenge and recommend to the class.  The second green basket is "Books We Recommend." These are the books students recommend to the class on their blogs and during status of the class. 


The classroom library labels can be found in my TPT store.  Here's also a sneak peek of the first books we will read aloud.  Our chapter book for September is the Fabled Fifth Graders of Aesop Elementary. In October we will join in the Global Read Aloud with One for the Murphys.  

During the first week, these are the picture books I will read aloud to set the tone for our classroom community - Have You Filled a Bucket Today, Do Unto Otters, The Juice Box Bully and The Energy Bus for Kids.  

#3 Student Desks -

I have 32 fifth graders this year and currently I have the desks arranged into three groups. One group of 12, one group of 10 and one group of 8.  I arrange the desks this way to conserve space.  Also, I place students into partnerships and seat them directly across from their reading partner and next to their math partner.  This way students can turn and talk easily when instructed.  

You can also see our Critical Verbs of the Common Core word wall in this shot. I've posted these already to help me remember to use this language of instruction constantly and so I can point out and refer to the words when they are used and found in our daily work and discussions.  Each card contains a verb from the Common Core and the example/definition.  

Here's a close up.  They are so stinkin' cute I'm beside myself!  :)

#4 Back and Sides of Room -

In the back of the room I've created a space that shares many things - our nonfiction library, listening center, student computer, math manipulatives and student supplies. 

You can get the black & white chevron supply labels in my TPT store also.  The classroom meme rules on the cupboard door are from the fabulous Tracee Orman.  And the self-assessment posters on the file cabinet are from the amazing Kristine Nannini.  

On these bulletin boards we will add the Common Core ELA & Math vocabulary cards we master during each unit.  I love seeing these boards grow throughout the year!  

This is just a quick view of the one window in the room (I get so jealous of all of you who have walls of classroom windows - but hey you can't have it all, right!?!).  The zebra drawers are where I keep copies for the four classes I teach - two sections of math, one section of reading and writing.  I also store task cards and centers in these drawers too.  Don't mind the boxes in the corner that still needing unpacking.  I'm just realizing that I never got to those.  LOL

#5 My Desk Area - 

Lastly, here is a photo of my desk area.  Posted on the bulletin board is our monthly calendar, September birthday reminders that I found on Fifth Grade Freebies, and our daily schedule. Don't you just love the black and white curtains covering my shelf where I store text books and around my desk??  Hopefully I'll post a Monday Made It soon to describe how I used only a hot glue gun, yes I said only a hot glue gun, to make all of the curtains in my classroom. 

Here's a closer shot of our calendar.  I got the idea to display a desk calendar from my team mate Stephanie Rye of Forever in Fifth Grade.  I stayed up way too late Thursday night making the month header, all because Nikki from Melonheadz Illustrating posted these adorable monthly kidlettes and I just had to find a way to use them.  Darn her!  LOL.  Anyway, I also plan to add these monthly headers to my store soon too!

Well that's it!  I hope you enjoyed the tour!  I know I learn so much from touring all of my colleagues rooms throughout the year and I love looking at all of your classroom reveals too.  Back to School is truly my favorite and the most inspiring time of the year!!


P.S.  I'm leaving you with the view from our hallway.  This is our classroom window display. It's not my favorite display I've ever created, but I was tired and running out of ideas.  So I plugged all of my students names into Wordle to create the poster in the middle and found these FREE black and white inspirational quotes on TPT and voila.  The hanging puffs were $1.50 at the Dollar Store! 

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!!!  

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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!!

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