Thursday, December 8, 2011

Building Vocabulary-

          As a high school senior (a hundred years ago), I was invited to compete for a four-year scholarship at a state university in a nearby community.  The competition was judged on the results of a test we were given.  The test was 100% vocabulary.   Vocabulary has long been the quick and dirty way to assess intelligence, among other things.   Vocabulary is a vital component of reading success, but it also has a tremendous impact on social interaction and success, as well as career and economic success.
          Teaching vocabulary is one of the most important things that we do every day.  Its importance should not be minimized.  It has been estimated that in order to be successful,  students need to learn 3000 new words per year.  Can you imagine trying to teach 3000 vocabulary words in the course of a school year?  Most vocabulary is learned indirectly.
Teaching students to learn words on their own is as important, if not more so, than the direct teaching of vocabulary list words that we do each week.  First, we must constantly encourage students to do a lot of independent reading from a wide variety of texts.  Then we must equip them with word-learning skills such as using dictionaries and other references, understanding word parts, and using context clues.
Showing students that words are fun and interesting can kindle curiosity and interest that will support continued vocabulary growth.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Free Winter Holiday Tips and Activities

Rachel Lynette, a very successful Teachers Pay Teachers author, has compiled a free ebook of suggestions, tips, links, and free activities for the winter holiday season.  Fifty different teacher-authors contributed to this project and the result is a valuable resource.  It is available at Teachers Pay Teachers by clicking on the image above.  Enjoy!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Big Sale at Teachers Pay Teachers

I survived my Black Friday adventures!  Did some shopping, saved some money, avoided all the craziness at Midnight.  Doesn't get much better than that.  My daughter and I went shopping about 6:30 A.M.  We weren't trying to get any of the "only five per store" deals, so we didn't fight any crowds.  By the time, we hit the stores, things had calmed down considerably.  Our shopping was quite leisurely, actually, and we both found some really good prices on gifts for loved ones and even ourselves!  There are several gifts I'm going to order online this year.  I'm hoping Cyber Monday will bring lots of good deals, too.  
Teachers Pay Teachers is having a Cyber Monday Sale.  All of my products are 15% off, plus use the promo code listed on the banner below for an additional 10% off.  Happy shopping!


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Value of Read Aloud in the Classroom

Every once in a while, I have to defend the time I spend daily on classroom read-aloud.  The most recent person to question that investment of time was an over-zealous literacy coach who thought the time was better used in "direction instruction".  The one thing I will never give up in my classroom is the daily read aloud.  It is, without a doubt, the best part of our day.  It is especially beneficial in third grade.  For many of these kids, it's the first time they've listened a chapter book--spreading the completion of a novel over several days or even weeks, and the first time that there's not pictures to take precedence over text.  We read from many different genres, and many different authors.  My personal favorite is historical fiction and we read a lot of that during the year.  I sometimes worry that kids today are too immersed in fantasy.  Some want to read nothing else.  I've had many students experience historical fiction for the first time during our read alouds, and they've discovered that they like it.  I have favorite read alouds that I repeat year after year, sometimes adding in new ones.  Since I am a "vintage teacher", many of the books are read are not necessarily new or popular, but all are beloved by students who've been introduced to them.  The fantasy books I read each year are Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Coville and The Unicorn's Quest by Jonathan Soule.  A few years ago I discovered a version of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow that had been adapted for Scholastic by Joanne Mattern.  It is part of the 101 Words to Know series.  It is now our favorite October read.  During November I always try to read a biographical story of Pocahantas. I'm really saddened by what Disney did to her story.  I think children deserve to know her true story.  I also try to fit in a biographical story of Squanto.  In the spring, we spend a lot of time on the history of our community and county.  The mountain men, the Shoshone tribe, and pioneers are part of our local legacy, so I always read aloud the Mr. Tucket series by Gary Paulsen and The Legend of Jimmy Spoon by Kristianna Gregory.

I found the following paragraphs on the website of the National Reading Panel.  This is great support for any classroom teacher being pressured to give up read aloud:
You can encourage indirect learning of vocabulary in two main ways. First, read aloud to your students, no matter what grade you teach. Students of all ages can learn words from hearing texts of various kinds read to them. Reading aloud works best when you discuss the selection before, during, and after you read. Talk with students about new vocabulary and concepts and help them relate the words to their prior knowledge and experiences.
The second way to promote indirect learning of vocabulary is to encourage students to read extensively on their own. Rather than allocating instructional time for independent reading in the classroom, however, encourage your students to read more outside of school. Of course, your students also can read on their own during independent work time in the classroom-for example, while you teach another small group or after students have completed one activity and are waiting for a new activity to begin.

What are your favorite read alouds?  Please comment and share those most loved by your students.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Parent Conferences

Just finished fall conferences with parents.  I have kind of a love/hate relationship with conferences.  Once I get into the thick of conferences, I actually enjoy them.  It is enlightening to visit with parents and their child, and usually, the conversation leads to shared understandings and doors that open to various ways to help the students improve.  The part I dislike is the preparation.  In our district, we used to have a prep day for getting ready for conferences.  With the budget cuts of recent years, that prep time is gone, and the gathering of information and printing reports is all done on my own time.  So, by the time I actually get to sit down with parents, I'm already exhausted.  Then there's always that bit of uncertainty that causes anxiety.  Will parents be positive and supportive, or is there one who is upset with me and can't wait to unload on me?   Usually parents are VERY supportive, but you just never know quite what to expect.
I always put together a packet of information about the students' progress, such as a grade report including scores for individual assignments and tests, data on reading fluency and comprehension, samples of class work, a self-evaluation completed by the child, and so on.  This packet is sent home to parents in advance of our conference.  I ask them to have a private conference with their child to discuss the information before they come to see me.  I think parents appreciate having this information ahead of time.  It  gives them an opportunity to prepare for the conference as I have prepared.  They have an opportunity to absorb and think about the scores and grades.  They are then in a position to ask questions and offer insight and suggestions. 
My conferences this week were very enjoyable and helpful.  I have a great bunch of kids this year, and they come with great parents!

And now I have two days off for "Fall Recess".  Hooray!  I need it!

The self-evaluation form that my students complete before each conference is available free in my store at Teachers Pay Teachers.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Teaching Place Value

Just finished my place value unit.  There are always some young learners for whom place value is a huge mystery.  Over the years, I've written and re-written activities and practice worksheets.  After teaching, assessing, re-teaching, re-assessing, I think they've finally got it.  Undoubtedly, these concepts will need to be re-visited throughout the year.  Having a firm grasp of the base ten system is so fundamental to most other math concepts.  We (my third grade team) recently purchased 3-D place value blocks.  The more manipulatives, the better, right?  The hands-on activities were fun and provided a different approach to practicing a basic skill.  And, for some kids, the manipulatives provided the ah-hah moment. 

Something else I added to my unit this year was the book Sir Cumference and All the King's Tens.  I got thirty copies for thirty dollars through a special offer in the September Lucky Book Club.

Here's an activity we did to reinforce the idea that a number can be respresented in different ways.  Kids make a kite with four sections.  In one section they write the standard form of any number they choose.  In a second section, they write expanded form of the same number.  The third section is where they write the word name for the number, and in the fourth section, they draw (or paste on) place value models representing the number.  They then decorate the kites, and we attach string and tails.  This make a fun and attractive hall or bulletin board display with a title like "Flying High with Place Value".
The activity that I used with the place value manipulatives is available free on Teachers Pay Teachers.  I also have a full-blown place value unit that can stand alone or be used to supplement a textbook chapter.  Also, check out the place value games offered in my store.  All of these are written for teaching about four-digit numbers.  Happy teaching!

Friday, September 9, 2011

My Name Activity

I always start the year with the book Chrystanthemum by Kevin Henkes.  We do lots of activities with the book including story mapping, sequencing, graphing, and so on.  One really fun activity is having students talk with parents about their own names, who chose the name and why, and so on.  I then have them write an acrostic using the letters of their names.  We publish these acrostic poems and hang them in the hall for parents to enjoy at Parent Night.  This year, I gave students a pencil-drawn outline of a body (somewhat like a paper doll) then had them turn it into a self portrait, including the clothes they were wearing at that time.  These self-portraits then hold a "sign" with the student's name acrostic.  Here are some pictures of our display:

 Don't you LOVE kids' self-portraits?!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

International Literacy Day

In honor of International Literacy Day, I would like to share with you a snippet from an article written by Sebastian Wren.  The Article is entitled "Ten Myths of Reading Instruction" and was published in SEDL newsletter Volume XIV, Number 3 in December 2002.

"Although such reading programs can be a useful part of a larger reading curriculum, no reading program by itself has ever been shown to be truly "successful"—not with all children and all teachers. And no reading program by itself has been shown to accelerate all children to advanced levels of performance. . .
There are a few programs that, if properly implemented, could help a school move in the right direction, but nothing could ever take the place of a knowledgeable and talented teacher."
You can find the entire article here:

A hats-off salute to dedicated knowledgeable and talented teachers everywhere!  There truly is no limit to your influence in the lives of children.

From September 8 to September 12, I have put these two literacy-building products on sale at my Teachers Pay Teachers Store:

Genres of Literature is a 26-page unit that explores 11 different genres: fairy tales, fantsy, folk tales, fables, legends, realistic fiction, historical fiction, biography, informational text, poetry, and drama. Each genre has a description and an example, followed by an engaging activity for students to complete. Activities include writing a journal entry about a biography, writing newspaper articles about fables, writing a personal letter to a fairy tale character, illustrating a folk tale, writing a story ending for realisitic fiction, making a map for a legend, creating a post card to send to someone about a fantasy, writing dialouge for a script, etc.

Reading Strategies
These worksheets can be used with any book or passage, and will guide young readers in learning and using reading strategies that support and improve comprehension. Students will practice previewing, predicting and identifying reasons for reading. They will learn to ask and answer their own question, clarify as they read, identify story elements and summarize after reading. Activities are open-ended and can be used with any assigned reading passage.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Reading Fluency

For decades, the battle of ideas has raged over reading instruction.  There are many ideas, opinions, and methods for achieving the same goal.  Many teachers and districts today use reading workshop.  That method is not well-accepted in my district.  Reading instruction in my district is very skills based and data-driven.  It is an approach that is working very well. 

One element of comprehensive reading instruction is building fluency.  A quick one-minute timing of a child's oral reading can yield a wealth of information.  Easy and inexpensive to administer, these timings provide a snapshot that is invaluable in collecting data and tracking student performance and learning trends over the course of the year.  Reading fluency has been shown to be a reliable predictor of performance on high-stakes tests.

Automaticity--how quickly and effortlessly a child can process words--is a key factor in identifying children who struggle and why they struggle.  During a fluency timing itt is easy to identify children who guess at words rather than decode them, children who don't read the endings of words, children who skip words, and so on.  Reading rate is important in measuring the extent of automaticity.

An effective way to build fluency is through repeated readings.  This method is research-tested and proven.  The child reads a passage cold, and the number of correct words per minute is recorded.  They then read through the passage with adult, and practice the same passage repeatedly until they are fluent.  They do a final timed-reading, which is recorded.  Students are able to compare their reading rates and accuracy rates from the first reading to the final one.  Seeing their own growth gives a big boost in confidence. Students who are struggling, start out with reading passages below their grade level.  As their automaticity improves, they progress to passages that are more difficult. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Training or Natural Talent?

A recently published poll focused on the question of whether great teachers are born or made.  The poll asked whether those responding believed that natural ability was more important in the classroom than teacher training.  You can read an article here:
I'd be really interested to know the thoughts of other teachers on this question?  How important is training?  What about advanced degrees?  Is natural teaching ability as important as training?  Where does experience fit into the picture?  Read the article, then leave a comment on this blog!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Signing Up Parent Volunteers

In my previous post, I mentioned recruiting volunteers at Back to School Night.
Here is the volunteer sign-up page that I use:

Getting Acquainted With Students

There are many different ways to get acquainted with your students.  Schools typically have a "Back to School Night" or some other time when parents and students are invited into the classroom together.  Here are a few ideas that might help to kick off your year:

1.  I admit, it's a little late for this year, but a great idea is to spend  half an hour during the LAST few days of school meeting and greeting next year's students.  This needs to be organized on a "whole school" basis, but it works great for easing anxieties, and sending students off for the summer with fewer worries about the class they will be in and the classmates they will spend the year with.

2.  If you have an informal "open house," greet students with an activity.  I like to use a classroom scavenger hunt.  I give them a list of instructions and a pencil.  They become familiar with the classroom by completing it.  They find their desk (I have name plates in place), find their cubby, find the class library and read the rules for using it.  They find where our restroom passes are located and the rules for using them.  They find the poster listing the steps for starting each day out right, and so on.   The last step is to "Make sure you say hello to Mrs. Lindley".  This little activity engages them with their new environment and also gives them a head start on learning classroom procedures.  Parents are welcome to help students work through the activity.  It usually takes about ten minutes.

3.  During a formal "sit-down" parent night, you can present your class schedule, expectations for homework, classroom policies and procedures, etc.  It is a great idea to have these printed and hand them out to parents to refer to throughout the year.  This is also a great time to make a pitch for classroom volunteers.  I share with parents my needs (i.e. times of day, etc.) for volunteers and have them complete a form indicating when they would like to help, if they can commit to a regular, weekly time, and also if they can commit to finding child care for younger siblings. 

4.  A power point presentation is great for these formal parent nights.  Power points introducing yourself, your family, interests, hobbies, etc. are also fun for the first day of school to share with students.

5.  On that first day, students can interview one another and then present their partner to the class using the information they learned in the interview.

6.  There are many different ice breaker activities that work well with introductions.  Students can make posters about themselves, you can have them bring an object from home that tells something about them, have them complete a bingo grid with names of classmates, etc.  Find some that you really enjoy and have a fantastic first day!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Pick-Me-Up for Teachers from Matt Damon

Matt Damon was one of the speakers at the Save Our Schools march on the Ellipse near the White House on July 30.  If your morale needs a boost, read his speech, then give yourself a pat on the back!

Back to School Goodies

Teachers Pay Teachers is having a site-wide sale for back to school from August 1 through August 6.  Everything is discounted 10%. Use this promo code: B1T1S.
I am having a sale as well!  All of my teaching materials on Teachers Pay Teachers are 15% off from August 1st through the 5th.  So, you can save a total of 25% at my TPT store!!

Also, watch for the launch of the new Teachers Pay Teachers site.  It is fantastic--very attractive and use-friendly!

One of my fellow bloggers is having a back-to-school blog party with lots of giveaways.  Check in each day for the next week at this site:

Best wishes for a great back to school and a fantastic year!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Starting the Year with Chrysanthemum

I love to start the school year with the book Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes.  I read it to my class, then we read it together--I have a class set of the books.  We do several activities with character, setting, plot, and sequencing.   We also do some vocabulary and comprehension activities.  My students' first weekly vocabulary assessment will be with vocabulary words from this story.  We also do several activities focused on our own names.  Students have a homework assignment to talk about their own names with their parents.  They write a paragraph about their names after having this chat with their parents.  We make a bar graph based on the number of letters in our names.  Students make a colorful poster of their names.  Kids love to learn about their names and talk about their names.  This short little unit is a great vehicle for getting to know your kids!  These activities are available on Teachers Pay Teachers.  For a limited time, the unit is being offered free.  You can find it here:
Have a great start to a great school year!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Those Pesky and Important Math Facts

Addition Facts Mastery
Is there a third grade, or even second grade, teacher out there who hasn't wished that every one of your students came to you already having memorized basic addition and subtraction facts?  Having these facts mastered is vital to success in elementary math, but also for success in algebra and advanced math courses throughout the school career.  Teachers of beginning algebra classes often report that the largest barrier their students face, is their lack of fluency with basic math facts. Fluency with facts requires practice. Lots of practice, for most kids.
One of the most effective and efficient ways of assuring basic facts mastery is to have a system of daily timed
assessments that students progress through. Upon mastering one family of facts, they move on to the next.
Teaching students to use strategies, rather than just rote memorization, makes mastering the basic facts much easier and faster. I developed my system of daily timings around a set of addition strategies: zero property, add 1, add 2, addition doubles, doubles plus one, doubles plus two, add ten, and add ten subtract one.  Several of the facts can actually be solved using more than one strategy. But probably the most important strategy that students need to learn is the commutative property of addition.
My addition fact mastery system is available for free download at Teachers Pay Teachers.
There are 10 addition assessments in this packet, grouped by strategy. The first 9 assessments are 24 problems, intended to be completed in one minute. 100% accuracy must be achieved in one minute in order to move on to the next assessment. Each assessment is a half-page. I have found it easy to save paper by re-using copy paper that has had one side used. Rather than discard extra copies of assignments, etc., I save these and run my math timings on the backs of them. The final assessment, Addition Review, has 100 problems.  Students are allowed five minutes to complete it, and can pass it off with 95% accuracy.
Along with the timed assessments, I have included a record-keeping chart so you can easily track student progress, and practice pages of 100 problems each that focus on each strategy.  These are great for homework.  Enjoy these timings and practice pages.  Here's to making our math life  a bit easier!

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Summer is finally here in northern Utah.  It has been very slow in coming this year.  We had record amounts of snowfall in the mountains throughout the winter and into the spring.  We had the wettest spring on record with lots of rain and lots of snow.  When the snowpack should have been melting, it continued to build.  When we finally did start to see some warm temperatures, there was flooding in many areas.  However, we were really blessed because the spring was so cool and long-lasting that the snow melted much slower than was expected.  The flooding came, the rivers were high and fast, but it was not nearly as bad as it could have been.

I always feel like as long as it is June, I have forever.  June is wonderful with warm days, cool nights, and time to recover, renew, and rejuvenate.  But, June seems to end quickly, and once we get into July, it's time to start thinking about school again.  ( Really, I never stop thinking and planning, but July means GET SERIOUS!)  So, I've been working on curriculum materials.  I started, years ago, creating most of my own materials.  I've always been rather dissatisfied with textbook programs.  Whenever I look at a textbook lesson, my first thought is, "Where's the practice?"  It's hard to believe that experts who write these books don't understand how much practice and repetition third graders need to become proficient.  So, I typically re-write or at least supplement every new program my district buys.

Last year, we were given Reading Street 2011.  There are many things I like about the program, and some that I dislike.  I've been busy for the last year writing activities to fill in the gaps in the program and provide extra time-on-task.  I love the way every week's lesson focuses on either a science or social studies concept.  I like having a specifice skill to focus on for spelling, comprehension, and study skills.  However, with my colleagues, we have made some changes to the yearly schedule.  We chose to focus on one study skill per unit, rather than one per week.  We chose the skills that align with our current core curriculum, and focus on them, one at a time.  We then test that skill at the end of the unit.  We also rearranged the schedule for teaching comprehension skills.  Rather than one per week, we teach two per unit, and again, we test comprehension at the end of the unit, not the end of the week.  We found that the weekly tests for Reading Street are way too hard for our kids.  We give a spelling test and a vocabulary test every week, but test compehension, study skills, and grammar skills only at the end of the unit.

The practice materials that accompany the textbooks are okay, but not great.  I personally like practice activites that pack a lot more punch!  I want lots more practice than what is provided on a page in the program.  I have written additional spelling and vocabulary units for every selection in the textbook.  I have also made a curriculum map for the year that provides for the changes I've discussed.  I've been working on activities for the study skills and the comprehension skills.  Watch for these things to be posted on Teachers Pay Teachers.  I'd be really interested to hear your thoughts and experiences with using Reading Street.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Today is the day I take a huge step forward--into the world of blogging.  Who knew. . .

After thirty-three years in the classroom with 8 and 9-year olds, maybe this is just what I need to preserve any sensibility that I still have remaining.

But, seriously, I love third-graders.  They are old enough to be independent (no nose wiping and shoe tying) and young enough to still think that school is fun and the teacher is cool.  So, it doesn't get any better than this.

I'm always a little puzzled, though, when it comes to fitting third grade into a category.  When I started teaching (way back before schools had computers) third grade was considered a primary grade.  Not so much, anymore.  Primary grades, generally, are K-2.  How nice to fit into such a tidy grouping.  When materials are listed for grades K-3, I know without even looking that they will be too easy for my kids.

Intermediate?  I don't know.  It depends on who's asking and who's answering.  When I google intermediate grades I get a wide variety of opinions--anywhere from 3-5 to 6-8.  So, stuck in the middle, we are, not really sure which group we belong with.  It's a lovely place to be, though, right in the middle of the elementary years.  The place where the "rubber hits the road"  where kids really turn on to reading and discover they can read those "big books".  I love being in the place where learning to read morphs into reading to learn.  Just look at all those light bulbs turning on!