Art, Curriculum, Elementary

Make Your Own Dinosaur!

I like to try my hardest to combine Art with what we’re learning about in other subjects. It can sometimes be challenging, and other times not so much. Either way, the kids love making art, so integrating it with other subjects can really help them to remember certain important points.

This time around was one of those “not so much” times. We’re in the midst of our fossil unit and my students are loving all things dinosaur related. So, I decided I would combine Art and Social Studies and have the kids create their own dinosaurs!

First, I had them do a fill-in-the-blank write-up which described their dinosaur.

Then, the kids sketched their creations and painted them. The end results were all really great! Especially considering how difficult it can be for kids to paint.

Now we have a brand new bulletin board! I love getting to look at a brand new, super cute bulletin board!

Book Club, Curriculum, Elementary

KIAT Book Club: Differentiation in Practice Ch.1

Hello everyone! We finished up Classrooms That Work a couple weeks back and I’ve been so sad without a book for book club! It’s left a bit of a void in my life, so I’ve picked a new one! It’s another from my school’s old library and I think it’s going to be a very helpful one for myself and a lot of other teachers as well.

And the book is … (drumroll, please) … Differentiation in Practice by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Caroline Cunningham Eidson.

The book in question
The book in question

Each chapter in the book focuses on a different unit plan which is differentiated to meet student needs. I like this, not just because I get a chance to read through and potentially implement a new unit, but because I can also pull out different tips and tricks to practice more differentiation in the lessons and units I’ve already planned.

Our first chapter in the book is titled “All About the ABCs: A Language Arts Unit on the Alphabet”. Indeed, it’s a good chapter to begin with as so many kids, whether they come from families who do not read with them, are English Language Learners, have learning disabilities, have cognitive delays, etc. need to receive differentiated instruction in English Language Arts.

Chapter one!
Chapter one!

I find the unit itself is geared toward division one students, so those thriving at a higher grade level could need further differentiation to make the unit more challenging and/or more interesting, but for me, where my students are technically in division two, but all are working in different areas within division one, it’s a great way to have the entire class working on the “same” unit at their own working level.

Further, this chapter discusses the use of learning centres, which I use daily in my classroom for both math and language arts. Indeed, it’s difficult to differentiate without the use of centres and I recommend them all the way through elementary (I know most teachers these days are doing centres into the alter years, but too often, many are stopping them by fourth and fifth grade).

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The “teacher reflection” discusses ways in which she organized the centres so that students at different levels could still use the same materials indifferent ways. Obviously, I LOVE this because it cuts down teacher time/money in buying and/or making supplies for centres. We’re already pressed for time as it is, there’s no need to burden us further!

The unit itself is one I definitely would like to utilize in my own classroom. Indeed, it has students at various levels learning letter sounds, creating words, and writing sentences. Plus, they get to make and share their own book, which tends to be the most fun part of the writing process!

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If you’re interested in the book, here is the link to it on Amazon! Stay tuned for chapter two!

Art, Elementary

Let’s Pretend It’s Spring

I am not a winter person. Every winter I forget just how cold and dark it is and how much I wait for (and countdown to) Spring. So today I’m going to post about a Spring craft I did last year with my kids to try to brighten my own mood, and maybe someone else’s too!

Right before Parent Teacher interviews last year, I realized my current bulletin board was looking rough and I needed something new to put in its place, so I needed a quick and easy craft for the students to make. I settled on a simple painted branch with tissue paper flowers craft.

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I gave all the kids blue paper so that their branch would looks as though it were against the sky and, to keep the classroom clean and orderly, I had them all sketch their ideas out and then take turns (two at a time) to paint their branches.

After their branches were painted, they got to choose their coloured paper, cut out their pieces, then return to their desks to glue on their tissue using the back of their pencils (they wrapped the tissue around the pencil, dipped it lightly into glue, then stuck it to their painting).

The branches turned out really cute and very colourful! They immediately brightened my classroom (and posting them today is indeed brightening my day!).

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Plus, my new bulletin board was up by the end of the day and looked hella cute for PT interviews the following night! Plus, isn’t the caption adorable, I love making the text for my bulletin boards even more than I love making the crafts!

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Curriculum, Elementary

Teaching Roald Dahl’s “The Witches”

What’s everyone’s favourite Roald Dahl book? It’s hard, I know, because they’re all perfection on a page. I’ve spent years reading and re-reading and teaching all of his novels and short stories and have finally decided that “The Witches” is my favourite. It’s especially fun to teach and read aloud just to do the voice of the Grand High Witch!

The Witches

Teaching at a school in which none of my students are able to read at grade level and many have comprehension and memory issues, I had to be creative about teaching my favourite Dahl novel. I didn’t want to skip teaching it in favour of something simpler because I feel like it’s a disservice to students who would otherwise love the story, to not get to learn it because of their learning struggles.

Overall, all of my students enjoy and understand the story; I just need to be create about assessment and activities for the book. I decided to create an activity book to anchor my class through the novel and then add various activities throughout.

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I’ll read each chapter of the novel to my class and have them follow along in their own books (very, very few are able to follow along, but I still insist on this as they know many sight words which can help them follow along and catch other common words as well). After each chapter, I have all students draw a quick picture to help them remember what happened in the chapter, which I use as comprehension assessment later (I’ll have a mini interview with them about what has happened in the novel and they get to use the drawings from their activity book as a guide).

The book also has chapter questions, some are basic comprehension questions, but mostly I want to have the students think deeper about what we’re reading so I like to include a lot of “how would you feel if…” or “what do you think will happen next…” type of questions. I’ll also try to mix in more aspects of curriculum, such as having them think of adjectives to describe various characters or having them compare and contrast.

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I like to also include other activities outside of the activity book to get students away from basic pen and paper, in-desk activities. I’ll have them act out scenes, or play hangman games to try to stump their classmates, or make The Witches-themed art projects. As with all of my activities in all of my units in all of my subjects, the thing I most want to accomplish is student enjoyment and passion about learning; it’s just all about making sure they’re learning and that I’m finding creative ways to assess along the way!

If you’re interested in my Witches activity book, you can find it here in my Teachers Pay Teachers ¬†store. I also have a similar Matilda activity book, which you can find here if you’re so inclined. Happy teaching!

Art, Elementary

Tissue Paper Leaves

It’s September, so here in Calgary it’s already Fall and we’ve got about eight days until it’s Winter. Time to work on the Autumn themed crafts before they seem horribly misplaced with three feet of snow right outside. Hey, it’s also the beginning of the school year for the majority of teachers and students, so happy first day or two back!

One of my favourite crafts to make with my students are tissue paper leaves! They’re an easy concept, but need to be modelled thoroughly because the tissue and glue can get messy if kids aren’t following instructions. Further, I’m obviously a fan of how well this project aids in the development of fine motor skills.

Depending on the class’ skill level, I’ll either give them a large cut out of a leaf on brown, yellow, orange, or red paper, or I’ll have them draw a large leaf in a shape they like and cut it out themselves. This time around, I had the kids draw and cut their own leaves (some ended up looking like random splatters, but most resemble leaves).

This is, of course, the easiest part for the kids. Again, depending on their skill and focus level, I will either cut out pieces of tissue paper in various colours or I’ll have them cut out their own. This time, I cut out a huge amount of pieces, then students cut more if they needed more or if they wanted different colours or shapes.

We covered tables with plastic and poured white glue into egg cups so the kids could wrap tissue around the ends of their pencils, dip it lightly into the glue, and then attach them to their leaves.

I will admit that this art project took much longer than I thought it would; we had some glue issues, and some of the kids got restless (again, I’ll remind you how high the cases of ADHD are in my room). Thus, I now know for the future to really be careful and judge the make-up of the classroom before assigning something that could be daunting for some kids. I would perhaps make the leaves themselves smaller or give the students smaller pieces of paper to cut them out from.

Alas, at least our finished bulletin board looked awesome (bulletin boards are becoming my favourite part of school)!

We're falling in love with reading!
We’re falling in love with reading!
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!