Saturday, August 29, 2015

Carson Dellosa's Colorful Chalkboard Set

I am so excited to share that I have been selected as a Brand Ambassador for Carson Dellosa! Every few months, I will be reviewing classroom resources, and I will be giving my honest opinions about usefulness, quality, design, rigor, relevance, and all of the things that matter when deciding what to spend your hard-earned money on!  I'm kicking off with this adorable Colorful Chalkboard Decor Set!

Last year, you may remember that I decided to try to streamline my classroom design.  I had decorated my classroom thematically in the past, but I just didn't want to keep up with it anymore, and truthfully, I tire of themes really easily.  That can get expensive, and I just don't want to pour money down the drain!  So, when I was asked to review this adorable Colorful Chalkboard decor set, I jumped at the chance.  The colors are vibrant, the patterns are fun, and overall, they fit SO well with my existing classroom decor!  #winning

My absolute favorite item in the set was the Colorful Chalkboard EZ Letters!  They were already punched out!!!  I contemplated laminating them for a hot minute or two...simply to add to the durability of the set... and then I decided not to because they were so easy to hang just the way they are.  I didn't want to laminate and have to cut them out because Carson Dellosa already made it so easy for me!  Ha! I LOVE the patterns... especially the chalky ones! I used the letters to spell out "Focus of the Week" on my Focus Board.  I would recommend getting at least two to be sure that you have enough to spell out whatever your heart desires, but otherwise, I am in L-O-V-E with this set.  And that's saying a lot.  I haven't bought lettering like this in, oh, probably ten years.  That said, I would buy another set of this in a heartbeat, and should I ever have to replace this, I hope that the design is still around!

This view just lets you see how the letters were incorporated with the rest of the board so you can see it in action.  I think it fills in the space nicely and adds a special somethin'-somethin'.  :)

Because I am a sucker for details, I wanted to do a little close-up of the letters.  This is how they come when you open the bag in all of their pre-punched glory! Just look at those colors and patterns!  Are they swoon-worthy or what?!

I  had already completed my bulletin boards prior to receiving the design pack in the mail, and since I have a tiny baby at home, I just didn't want to take the time to redo them.  Honesty is the best policy, right?  I will say, I LOVE the patterns on the Colorful Chalkboard Border though, and I will definitely be putting them to use.  They will look GREAT with the brights and blacks in my classroom.  I love the Chevron side, especially the textured chalky detail in ever squiggle.  I think the polka-dots are pretty cute too, but I just don't know if I personally would use it.  The nice thing is, both sides coordinate nicely together, and with the EZ letters!  The polka dot pattern is very similar to the photo I shared above!  In addition, it's great to have a double-sided border because it allows you to have more flexibility over time, it saves space, and it's slightly more economical! 

In addition, I was also afforded the opportunity to review the Colorful Chalkboard Bulletin Board Set.  It contains a birthday chart, an incentive chart, and an all-purpose chart (each are 17" x 24").  It also includes a calendar, 35 calendar cover-ups, and a door label.  As a third/fourth grade ELA and Social Studies teacher,  I don't have much of a use for the calendar.  It would take up prime real estate on my walls, and I need space for content that I am covering with my kiddos.  If I taught math or younger students, I would definitely display it though.  I am thinking of laminating the numbers to use for group presentations though.  I am thinking that my students could pull a number out of a basket and then they would present in that order.  I could stick a magnet to back of each of them, and then stick the current number on the whiteboard during each presentation so the next student would know they were next.  I haven't had a chance to tackle this project yet, but the wheels are turning.  Here's how the numbers look.  I think the set is super cute!

I did use the door label because the frame was just too cute.  I already have a pencil hanging outside of my classroom with my name and room number, but it hangs high up above the doorway as a standard sign-post in our building.  It's cute, but it's not at my kiddos' eye level, so I decided to laminate this frame and display it outside of my room where my students can see it.  It looks fantastic!  (I am refraining from posting the finished product simply because student safety is always at the forefront of my mind, and some part of me always feels weird about sharing my room number.)
Trust me though, it's just the right amount of simple and snazzy, and it is the perfect size!

I laminated the all-purpose chart from the set, and I decided to use a Vis-a-Vis marker so that I could easily change the text throughout the school-year.  I recently used it as a place to welcome my new students to my classroom at Meet the Teacher Night.  The bunting has my heart.  I mean, how precious is that?!  

I still haven't decided what I will use this chart for yet, but I wanted to be able to share it nonetheless.  I MAY use it for AR... or maybe homework completion.  I am not sure yet, but I really dig the clean design.  For right now, it's still tucked away in storage.  I know that I will find a good use for it soon though!

I really love this birthday chart for it's cute frames and simplicity too!  It fits nicely on a cabinet door, and it's the perfect way to display birthdays in a semi-prominent way without compromising too much of that "prime real estate" I was referring to earlier.  I have never been a teacher who creates a giant bulletin board with cupcakes (even though that's super cute too) because I don't have the space for that, and truthfully, if I did, I probably would still choose to display student work or academic tools instead.  This chart, in my opinion, is the way to go!

Here's the bottom line:  I love this design collection to the moon and back.  I am thinking of buying an additional set of letters to have on hand, and I am also thinking of purchasing the Colorful Chalkboard Cutouts and the Colorful Chalkboard Classroom Behavior Management Set because I think the frames are so cute and versatile! I may even go hog wild and pick up a set of Chalkboard Stickers to use with the frames!  The quality is great, and this set has style for dayssssss.  LOVE, LOVE, LOVE IT! I think you would too! :)

Review Disclaimer: I participate in the Brand Ambassador Program for Carson-Dellosa and have received this product for free to review.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Word Jar


I am a self-proclaimed "Word Nerd".  I love books that are dripping with precise vocabulary and transport you into the though you are a participant in the plot.  I love listening to articulate individuals speak... as their words pour out of their mouths and paint a pretty little picture.  I am continually amused by witty remarks, beautiful quotes, and interesting phrases that I haven't heard before.  Word play is my love language.  (I'm only kinda-sorta kidding!)  So, because I love words, and because being a well-spoken citizen is such an important skill in today's information-saturated society, I make it a point to infuse vocabulary instruction into every nook and cranny of my lessons. One way that I do this is through the implementation of a Word Jar. 

I wish I could take full credit for this simple yet brilliant idea, but I can't.  Way back in 2010, when this blog was just a fledgling endeavor with approximately ten readers, I originally shared how the Word Jar came into fruition.  Let's take a walk down Memory Lane, shall we?!  I had just finished reading Donavan's Word Jar with my students.  I was attempting to create a climate that cultivated voracious readers and word collectors, and I knew my students would be able to relate to the simplicity of Donovan's need to collect and share his words with the world.  We wrapped up the text, and immediately a student asked if we could start our own Word Jar.  I wholeheartedly admit that it hadn't crossed my mind!  What a simple idea, right?  Of course, I said, "Absolutely", and made a Walmart run that weekend to pick up a large jar. Perhaps one of the greatest things about this project is that it is SO easy to prepare.  You literally just buy the jar, slap on a label, and it's ready to roll! 

Over the years, my implementation of the Word Jar has evolved a little bit,  but one thing remains the same.  Every single word is kid-generated.  Every.  Single.  Word.  After all... I direct enough of our word study.  I want my kids to constantly be on the look-out for WOW words as we interact with various texts together and as they navigate stories during independent reading.  I want them to pay attention to descriptive language and nuances.  I, ultimately, want them to become word collectors. So, as they encounter new, exciting, puzzling, or fun-to-say words, I have them record the words on sticky notes (or templates), then they place them inside of the jar.  As we begin class, we take out one word to define, discuss, and record on the Expanding Vocabulary wall.  I don't have any really recent photos of this, but here's how it looked in 2010.  As you can see, this is a pretty simple set-up.  I just borrowed this idea from the 2 Sisters, and I created an "Expanding Vocabulary" Wall.  I laminated the template and wrote with a Vis-a-Vis marker each time we added a word.  The kids added each word to their personal dictionaries, and we moved on with our day!  Simple and effective! I haven't used the wall display in a few years, but I plan on having the kids keep their own personal word jars instead.  I am always looking to tweak how things work in my classroom...usually to simplify!

Since Post-It notes can be an additional expense, I created a template to use as I launch the Word Jar this fall.  I also added a personal word jar to use instead of the word wall, a graphic organizer, and a vocabulary template to project each word on the SMARTboard or Promethean.  Do you think you want to do this too?!  Click on the image below to snag this editable PowerPoint resource for F-R-E-E!

Are you interested in creating a culture of word connoisseurs?  Here are a few of my FAVORITE read alouds!  Happy Word Collecting, friends!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Writer's Workshop with an Interactive Twist!

I LOVE teaching writing!  A LOT.  I enjoy seeing students transform from reluctant writers who want to crumple up their pages or stare at empty pages into students who are voracious readers and writers. I love seeing students become prolific writers who just can't stop themselves.  I LOVE how it's a different experience every year because my students bring their own interests, experiences, and skills to the table.  I just LOVE it.  PERIOD.

I created a unit to launch Writer's Workshop a few years ago called We Are Authors: Launching Writer's Workshop, and it has helped set the tone for living writerly lives by helping my students SEE themselves as real authors with stories WORTH telling!  I believe that's part of the battle.  If your students BELIEVE they can write, and you give them the tools to do it by explicitly teaching them the author's craft and studying mentor texts by fabulous writers, THEY WILL AMAZE YOU.  I promise.

As part of that introductory unit, we read "Author: True Story" by Helen Lester, and then the kiddos create their own autobiographical books about their literate lives.  This is a great formative tool for me to find out what their perceived strengths and weaknesses are.  It also helps me develop a list of mini-lessons to hit each year based on my students' questions.  This is a great tool that serves dual purposes!

I also send them home with Inspiration Bags.  It's their first homework of the year!  They bring objects to school (almost like show and tell),  but they have to fit inside the bag.  The kids have to write descriptions of their objects, put them back into their bags, and then they have students at other tables guess the contents based on the descriptions! It is always a big hit with the kids!

Because I have had so much success with this hands-on approach to Writing Workshop, I really wanted a way to beef up my writing instruction and make it a little more engaging for my kiddos while building in a natural scaffold to help them with the various stages of the writing process, so I have started creating a series of units that incorporate interactive notebook templates to provide support along the way.  So far, I have created a Personal Narratives unit and a Fictional Narratives unit, and I have plans for at least three more units throughout the school-year.   You can check out the Scope and Sequences pages of my new units below:

Now, I was trying to figure out a way to show how this is all laid out, but as as a brand-new mommy, I don't have the time to fancy everything up as much as I would like.  I did take some time during one of Mr. Man's naps to create a few examples of the interactive templates that are contained in my Fictional Narrative unit.  I LOVE them so much!

This first page shows the header to keep the separate units labeled in the interactive notebook, and it has a KWL foldable to begin the unit and assess prior knowledge about the genre.


I created a little flap for a heart map so the students can sketch out things that matter to them and they can begin to see how those ideas can be a spark for new stories. 

These templates help the students think about themselves and their ideal fiction pieces before having them develop a new character for their story.

 As the unit progresses, they will reflect on how they are alike and different from their character, and they will reflect on their character's traits, thoughts, and motivations for deeper development.

They will build on that by planning out positive and negative internal and external traits. because characters are not perfect and perfect is boring!  Ha!  Great stories have TENSION, right!?

This is an example of one of the peer conferencing templates in my units, and you can see that I used an accordion template to help sketch out the plot of the story.  I like that it folds back and forth just like the plot of a good story.  There's always progress and set-backs!

You can see that there's a lot of attention to character development because its so critical to a believable and interesting fiction piece.

There's also a lot of time spent on the plot and building suspense, and that's hard, so I have created templates to help them plan it out as they expand on their stories.  You can see a few examples of this below.  I love using the plot rollercoaster as a tool with my kiddos to make it more concrete.

Now, that's just a sampling of the lessons, and it certainly doesn't give you a complete picture of the minilessons or the entire units, but I hope it gives you a clear idea of how they are set up.  Again, I believe that it's CRUCIAL to scaffold kids and give them the tools to be successful. I believe that this approach will do just that, and I can't wait to see the journey it takes us on.  I am P-U-M-P-E-D!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Back to School Bash Grand Prize Deets

Have y'all had fun hopping around to all 18 of our Bash Baskets?  If you haven't done that yet, please start HERE and make sure you do!  You only have until midnight on August 2nd to enter!  You may be thinking "Ohhh, I'm not lucky enough to win... I never get picked for prizes...There's just no way that my name will be selected!"  But, I would say:  YOU NEVER KNOW UNTIL YOU TRY!  So, go for the gold, folks!

Here's what you NEED to do FIRST... like RIGHT NOW!  We are doing an Instagram Hop with a secret message.  This secret message MUST BE entered on the Rafflecopter below or you will NOT be chosen as a winner!!!!  Look for THIS graphic on Instagram.  THIS graphic will start the secret message.   Hint:  You'll start with @stepintosecondgrade
You might want to grab a sheet of paper and a pen so that you can collect all letters as you are doing the Instagram hop because YOU MUST COLLECT THE SECRET MESSAGE!  Here are some tips for your Instagram Hop!
Don't have an instagram?  Well, sign up so you can enter the grand prize basket!!!  If you start in the right place and follow the order then all of your letters will nicely flow into one message :)  If you go out of order then you will have to unscramble the letters to make a word, and no one wants to do that!!!

So, let's talk about the Grand Prize!  This is the LARGEST, MOST AMAZING, INCREDIBLE Grand Prize ever... in the history of teacher giveaways!  
Your eyes are not deceiving you, that is a REAL Smartboard!  Whitlock (a Smartboard distributor) generously donated a Smartboard to our giveaway!  Isn't that amazing?!!!  Do you want to know all the details about the specific Smartboard and if it will work for you?  Look HERE!!

Whitlock will ship the Smartboard to the winner (continental US only!).  It comes with a projector and all software needed!!  The winner will need to have a way to mount the Smartboard AND will be in charge of maintenance after installation.  We want to make sure we lay it all out there before you enter :))  I'm sure that your school or district would be happy to help if you were the winner!
And, that's not all, y'all!  The winner will also receive a Silhouette Cameo and a One-Year ESGI Subscription!  OHMIWORD!!!

Once you have collected the secret code from our Instagram Hop, you can enter below!  You only have 24 hours, so don't delay!!!

Writing Opportunities for Early Finishers and Enrichment!

I am always looking for new ways to engage my students in meaningful early-finisher activities, because, let's face it, kids are not robots.  They are going to work at different paces, and that means that there will always be kids who finish first, even when you differentiate and provide sufficiently challenging work.  It's one of those unspoken truths of the classroom.  As much as I encourage my students to read, work on task cards,  or complete independent projects, I like to have some creative writing opportunities for them as well.  Over summer, I expanded my proverbial bag of tricks, and I'm excited to share them with my kiddos this fall.  I know they are going to LOVE the new options!

One of the centers I created is called Creativity Cards.  Basically I created cards with various picture prompts on them.  Then I created seven different direction cards to go along with it in two different sizes.  So, if we are working on narratives, I could put out directions that instruct them to write a narrative.  If we are working on opinion-based texts, I can put out that prompt. You get the idea! I even created a WILD CARD option to let my students tap into their own creativity while writing.  I love the simplicity of this, and I can't wait to see the texts that come out of this center!

Another center I created is called Picture This.  Essentially this is a pack of task cards with photo prompts to inspire interesting stories.  I intentionally chose colorful, whimsical, kid-friendly photos that I thought would be intriguing to my students.  I also intentionally included full-sized versions just in case I decide to use them as morning work and project them on the SMARTboard.  This center will undoubtedly capture the attention of my kiddos and get those gears turning!

I've recently started working on Writing Workshop units to complement my We Are Authors: Launching Writer's Workshop pack.  I've already wrapped up a Personal Narrative unit and a Fictional Narrative unit that I'm excited to blog about soon, so I created a set of 100 Narrative Early Finisher Prompts to use as an early finisher activity.  It's going to be a great way to extend the learning, especially since my units encourage students to brainstorm their own topics and choose what to write about.  This will offer the other side of the coin, because prompt-writing is so important in the world of testing, and I want my students to be able to write exceptionally both ways.

The writing prompt task cards can be used just as they are... and stored in a baggie or box...or you could attach a few prompts to composition notebooks.  I like using prompts in this manner because students write their stories within the notebooks AND they also read the stories by their peers.  This is a great way to give your students an authentic audience, and it also can provide models for your students.  I purchased a basket from Michael's last summer that says "Inspire", and I keep composition notebooks in it for this purpose.  It was a HUGE hit with my students last year... so much so that the basket was almost always empty because the notebooks were always in rotation!  I should have snapped a few photos of their stories, but #newmommybrain.  The bottom line?!  This is a fun twist on the traditional way to use task cards for writing. 

The next idea was a random one that hit last summer.  I found really neat school-themed scrapbook embellishments, and I thought it might make a neat creative writing center.  I  plan on tying it into one of my author studies this year as an early-finisher activity.  I'm sharing it because literally ANYTHING can become a fun prop to unlock your students' creativity and write fabulous stories!  Just be prepared to think about objects in new ways, because that's exactly what we want our students to do!  And...we want them doing this organically in Writer's Workshop too!  Writers often use their own lives and experiences as jumping-off-points.  This is a nice way to foster that flexible thinking and help them see how everything is a story waiting to happen!

You know those wooden shapes in the kid section of nearly every craft store?!  The cute ones that are painted to look like animals, flowers, and celestial bodies?!  Well, they can also be great tools for creative writing!  If students are stuck and looking for ideas, they can dig through the box to see if anything piques their interest and gives them an idea! It's simple, tangible, and fun for kids!

So, there you have it!  A few ideas for writing early finishers and enrichment that can easily be incorporated into your classroom with very minimal prep, but will yield great rewards for your kiddos! Creativity is everything!  Writing skills are SO important and SO critical in an information-based society like the one we are living in! Tackle it all with pizzazz and help your students make the most of their "free" time!