Classroom, Elementary

Mini Office

A few months ago, a co-worker of mine stumbled upon a Mini Office made by Kristen Vibas on Teachers Pay Teachers (my Heaven!). She forwarded it to me because she thought my students could benefit from it, and I am hugely grateful that she did!

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The office itself was created for English Language Learners, but I use it with my fourth graders (who all suffer from Learning Disabilities and are very weak at reading and writing) and it’s an awesome tool! They use it if they’re on writing centres in the mornings or if we’re got a writing assignment, and they have all told me that it is extremely helpful.

Obviously the visuals are excellent for aiding kids in finding and understanding the correct word. Further, when I am trying to help the entire class with writing and spelling, many words they need are here, so it gives me extra time to help elsewhere that’s needed.

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I’m trying to find a lot more visual aids to help my students with reading and writing, and this has helped a great deal. I still want more, though! Anything to help my stands improve their reading/writing, as well as their confidence. Any suggestions?

Classroom, Elementary

PAX Good Behaviour Game

Does anyone else use the PAX Good Behaviour Game in their classrooms? It comes from the PAXIS Institute and our school is one in our district which have begun using it on a trial basis.

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I will admit that I was skeptical at first as to how well it would work; but I’ve found it working very well. For me, in a year-round classroom, school begins again in a couple of weeks and my goal for this year is to implement PAX more often in the classroom. It recommends playing three times a day, but last year I only played about three or four times a week. So one of my goals for the upcoming year is to begin playing twice a day and hopefully three times a day by the time the end of year rolls around.

I began last year, even before playing games in my classroom, by using the harmonica that comes with the kit. Even using just that, I noticed a difference in my students’ attention. The harmonica is much less aggressive than a bell or whistle (and obviously less aggressive than yelling), and they all hear and respond very well to it.

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One of the concerns I had before beginning, was that I feared the game and prizes were geared toward very young students. I teach grade 4, and the kids are still young, but I worried they might be too mature to enjoy some of the PAX lingo and the silly prizes. To my surprise, not only was a wrong, even the sixth graders in our school and junior high students in other schools enjoy the terms and prizes (this genuinely shocked me).

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I’m still planning out if I should use other behaviour tools this year. I always use a sticker chart, but that’s it. I’m not a big fan of behaviour charts because I find that something that public can hurt kids’ self esteem, especially those with ADHD (which our school population has a lot of).

I guess the new year will see what else I implement! Yay for trial and error!

Art, Classroom, Elementary

Grade 4 Art Class: Mittens!

The Winter makes me want to curl up in a blanket and eat stew and weep all day long. I am not a fan. However, I am a grown woman with a job and responsibilities, so instead of being a useless ball of sadness, I have my grade 4s make winter-themed crafts and it cheers me up!

Adorable mittens!
Adorable mittens!

This week we made mittens to decorate our very sparse Winter bulletin board! The kids really enjoyed it and their mittens turned out great! I had the kids decorate the body of the mitten with a pattern of their choice and then decorate the cuffs with yarn. It was very, very simple to set up and had them hone their fine motor skills in working with the yarn.

I searched “mitten outline” in Google and right away go this image:

I love Google!

Which I simply enlarged in Microsoft Word and printed out for each student. The kids’ task was to:

1. Draw a line to show where the cuff begins.

2. Draw a design onto the body of the mitten in pencil.

3. Colour the design in once it’s been checked by a teacher.

4. Cut out the mitten.

5. Glue on their yarn.

It was insanely simple, the kids had a ton of fun, and they turned out super cute! Plus, not our sparse (sad) Winter bulletin board has some more colour!

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I can’t wait until Spring is here and I can put up our new bulletin board! Until then, this one should be cute and colourful enough to get me through the Winter months!

Classroom, Elementary

The Value of Word Walls

Word walls were something that confounded me upon entering the realm of elementary school teachers; what was the big deal and why did every teacher have one?

So I did some research and put up a, quite frankly, mediocre wall at best. It was a large sheet of paper on which we  could add words to.

Unfortunately, I found it to be rather useless. We hardly ever added words (my own fault) and as the class moved on with curriculum and units we began running out of space and the words often became irrelevant.

So I revamped the entire thing.

I cleared one of my whiteboards entirely and created an interactive and adjustable word wall.

Our Grade 4 Word Wall!
Our Grade 4 Word Wall!

The size and simplicity makes it easier for my students (who all have learning disabilities) to view words and know what they are and mean.

Additionally, I am able to erase words to add new ones once all or the majority of my class has mastered them or when we change units.

To gather words for our board and to make my board work best for my kids, I use three different strategies:

  1. When new vocabulary is introduced in any subject, we add it to the board. This helps the board become, not just a Language Arts tool, but a great source of information for Social Studies, Math, Science, etc.
  2. I test my kids four times a year using Dolch Sight Words and calculate which words they’re having the most difficulty with. Once a week we discuss one or two words and I’ll add them to the board. The next time they’re tested on the word (which is either then next time they’re tested on the word lists or occasionally on a spelling quiz), if they’ve mastered it, I remove the words and add new ones.
  3. Finally, to help the kids feel more invested in the board, about once a month I will have them give me words they have difficulty with. I will either get them to think, pair, share, or I will give them a topic (for example, In Spring I might have them give me words they often need to spell regarding the season that they have trouble with).

I’ve found that these changes I’ve made have turned my word wall into a hugely valuable tool in my classroom rather than simply a random thing all elementary teachers seem to have, so why not me too? I recommend involving students as much as possible so that they value the wall for the aid that it is, feel involved in it, and feel like valuable contributors to the class.