Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Top 7 Reasons to use BOOM cards in your Classroom

I was introduced to BOOM cards two years ago.  Since that time, I've heard rave reviews from primary teachers about how much their kids love using them and how they provide good practice and review.

I wondered if they'd have the same effect on 6th graders.  I started playing around on the website and by the time I tested them out on my students, I had three decks of my own.

Yeah.  Not even close to enough!

To be honest, I was a bit surprised at how much my students loved them.  But they provide a real value and they're fun!

Why You Should Be Using BOOM Cards For Learning
  • As an activating strategy or even to pretest students to get an idea of where you need to start teaching
  • As a review and to see if what you've taught has "stuck.
  • To differentiate instruction for students who need additional time with a skill
  • To push students who need an extra challenge
  • For quick finishers
  • Because using them is fun!  Who doesn't want to win badges?
  • It's easy to set up your class (for older kids, they signed in themselves)
If you've never heard of BOOM cards, here's the link to their website.  A basic membership which gives you five of your own decks to use for up to 80 students in three classes.  That's $9.00 a year.  At $19, you're at power membership, and can have 150 students and unlimited decks.  Decks are the online cards that students interact with.  As an example, my decks have between 24-32 cards each.

If you're interested in creating your own decks, the site has excellent video tutorials showing you how to create them in PowerPoint or on their site.

If you're interested in trying some out, you can search the site or take a look at any of the three (I'll have more soon!) in my TpT store.


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Take a Shelfie: Between Shades of Grey

Ruta Sepetys takes little nuggets of history and turns them into powerfully told, hard-to-forget novels.  

Fifteen year old Lina, her younger brother Jonas, and her parents live what she considers to be an ordinary life in Lithuania.  A talented artist, Lina has been accepted to an art school for the summer, and she can't wait to finish the school year and begin this next adventure.

And then Soviet soldiers break into her home and change her life forever.  Separated from her father, and sent to a work camp in Siberia with her mother and brother, Lina finds ways to draw pictures of events and hide them in unusual ways, passing them from one work camp survivor to another, hoping that they reach her father.

Written with an unflinchingly honest portrayal of life in cattle cars, in work camps, in Siberia, there is a beautiful humanity that emerges.  In the midst of tremendous anguish, there is hope.  People you thought were awful turn out to be kind.

Lina is courageous and she's determined to tell the story of the horrors and the hope.  So she draws on scraps of material she scrounges and hides, hoping that some day, her story will be known. 

This is a powerful novel for middle and high school readers, and explores an aspect of World War II that many of us are less familiar with.  

What are you reading with your students right now?
If you like, you can purchase the book through the link below.  You don't pay any extra for it but I earn a few pennies as an amazon affiliate.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Take a Shelfie: Save Me A Seat by Weeks and Varadarajan

Save Me a Seat is a lovely pairing of two authors, Sarah Weeks of So B. It fame and Gita Varadarajan, a second-grade teacher who moved to the United States from India in 2011.  Each brings their unique strength to the book and the result is an inside look into the first week of school for two unlikely friends.

Joe, who believes "there is more to me than meets the eye" has always struggled in school.  He suffers from APD, Auditory Processing Disorder, which means he has difficulty filtering out important from unimportant sounds.  His brain wants to "do all the things" and he works to train it to focus only on those that are meaningful.  But of course, this makes him the target of the school bully who likes to taunt kids.  Because he can.

Ravi just moved from India, where he was a top student in his school.  But at this school, no one understands him - even though English is his first language - and every time he tries to explain something, he ends up making a fool of himself.  At this school, no one cares that he knows all kinds of things.

And then, there's Dillon Samreen, the popular bully and Indian-American student.  Whom Ravi thinks wants to be friends with him.  But Joe knows better.

The chapters alternate between Joe's and Ravi's points of view, and you'd think they would be so different.  But therein lies the beauty of this book.  Joe and Ravi are about as opposite as you can imagine.  Only they're not.  They have some things in common, too.  It just takes until Friday for them to discover that.

What are you reading right now that you want to share with your students?

If you like, you can purchase the book through the link below.  You don't pay any extra for it but I earn a few pennies as an amazon affiliate.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Improve Student Work with Guided Writing and Video

"Are we writing today?"  
"No, not today.  It's not Friday.
{Insert sad face here.}

I was THRILLED with the results of this writing assignment I came up with for my students to work on together. My students couldn't wait for Fridays, our "Student Writing Days."

I started off by saying:  
“Close your eyes.  Imagine that you are walking home from a friend’s house.  You live about a ten minute walk away.  It’s dark now and you’re heading home.  Can you picture it?  Visualize what this looks like in your head.  As you are picturing this, start to jot down responses to these questions."
Each step of the way, I led them through a visualization and then a set of questions like this.  There's something about the power of being guided that gives kids confidence.  Their writing is more descriptive and they don't tend to get as stuck.  
This year, we started the week before Halloween, so I had "spooky" music playing in the background.  The students begged me to turn off the lights and pull down the blinds.  I was surprised they could work that way, but they loved it! 
After students had been writing for a while, they could share some of what they'd written.  Sometimes we'd share it on my Activboard, sometimes they read it aloud to the whole class, other times to a small group.  An important thing they learned was that reading aloud helped them see missing words and missing punctuation.
Mini-lesson:  Become friends with periods and commas!
Once editing was over, they started to cut and paste onto Adobe Spark video.  Adobe Spark lets you choose a layout, backgrounds, pictures, and even music, if you want.  Students had a lot of fun making their video slides their own.

Finally, when the slides are all together, students go back and record themselves reading their stories. This was so amazing!  They totally got into doing this and read with so much feeling!

For a first try, I was over-the-moon thrilled with how well this project worked out!
Although the cover has a Fall "feeling" to it, it can be used at any time of year.  Click here to take a closer look at this product on TpT.

Have a great week!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Build Enthusiasm with this Reading Challenge!

Using blank book spines from KGFonts to track books students read
We all look for ways to keep kids reading, and in the upper elementary and middle school grades, the struggle is real.  Fortnite is hard (but not impossible) to compete with!

Ever since reading The Book Whisperer years ago, I've challenged my students to read 25 books during the year.  I carve out time for them to read almost every day in class, and expect that they'll read some at home, too.

This year, when I saw that Kimberly Geswein of KGFonts had created letters on book spines, I thought of a new way to keep track of what kids read!  I posted this in the hallway outside my room, and made a ton of white, blank ones to match.

Now, after a student finishes a book, he or she fills out the book spine with the title and author.  We're going to start a trail under this sign and just keep it going until the end of the year.  Who knows where it'll lead?!

Have a great week,

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Take a Shelfie: The Seventh Wish

This book!  

Kate Messner, you threw me a curve ball!  

I was reading along, chuckling at some of the antics Charlie had gotten herself into, and then WHAM! Screech! What?!

The thing is, the plot twist was so genuine and honestly told that it was hard to put the book down.  You just needed tissues.

Lots of tissues.

The Premise

Charlie is the protagonist and younger sister of "Abby-who-does-everything-right."  You know the type; you love her to death but still, you feel like you're always living in her shadow.  Abby is heading off to college, and while Charlie misses her, she has some fun of her own.

She gets talked into going ice fishing with her neighbor, Drew, and his nana, Mrs. McNeill.  Charlie's terrified of the ice, but she also knows that any fish she catches will net her a few dollars when she sells them to a local restaurant owner.  She takes Irish dance and her parents gave her a Christmas present of money towards a dress, but she knows, if she wants a dress with sparkles, it's going to cost a lot more than what they gave her.

But she's scared of going out on the ice.  Sitting at the edge of the lake, she catches one fish to Drew and Mrs. McNeill's 20.  Suddenly, she hears a voice...."Release me....Release me....and I will grant you a wish."

What would you do?

That starts a bunch of humorous antics that will have your students chuckling.  She has a crush on Roberto Sullivan and wishes that he'd like her back, she wants to help Drew, who's feeling pressured to go out for basketball because he's so tall but has zero skills, she want to help Dasha who's trying to test out of ESL classes.  Her intentions are good.  But, just like in all the fables she's read about wishes, things can and do go wrong.

Spoiler Alert

Skip this paragraph if you must.  Abby, the perfect sister, starts falling apart.  And it turns out she has gone from an addiction to Adderall ("all the college kids use it") to an addiction to heroin.  She hides it for a while but ends up in rehab.  And everything that Charlie thought was important gets pushed to the side.  To take care of Abby.

This heartfelt story of a girl coming to terms with life not being fair, with promises not being kept, will resonate with your students.  It really is a beautiful read.  

Kate Messner, in her notes, gives credit to her editor who "remained calm and supportive when I told her I was writing a magical-ice-fishing-Irish-dancing-heroin novel for kids."  

Well done by her editor!  Well worth the read!

If you like, you can purchase the book through the link below.  You don't pay any extra for it but I earn a few pennies as an amazon affiliate.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

A Fun Way for Students to Get to Know Students

Silent interviews to build student community
Are you sometimes surprised a couple of months in to school, to discover that a student doesn't know another student's name?  I forget that when we begin switching classes (we usually have students travel by homeroom the first week and then switch them into their classes).

Here's a fun activity that my students have enjoyed!

I tell my students on the first day that we're in our regular classes, that they're going to interview each other.  That's usually met with groans.  And then I throw out the clincher.

           The interviews will be silent.

"What?!  How can we do that?"

Very simply.  Every student gets a piece of paper and a pencil.  I have them pair up with someone they don't know well, or at all.  Taking turns, they have to write out their questions and their partner responds on the first student's paper.  Then the second student gets to ask a question and the first person responds.

It's a great way to learn about other students (and to learn how to ask good questions!)  There's always an ulterior motive in this teacher's heart! :)

Students can share out later, or move on to another student.  This year, I had students create a Venn Diagram and compare and contrast themselves to their partner.  Good way to teach a reading strategy!  You can create a "Same/Different" sheet and have students add one of their comments to that sheet.

Students sit so they can see everyone in the class, and when you read something from this sheet, everyone in the class raises their hand if they share that characteristic.  It is amazing to see how many things we had in common, even with students we didn't know!

I hope you try this in your classroom!  You'll be amused by the giggles and the deep thoughts as students try to come up with good questions, and by their beginning awareness of how much they have in common!