Sunday, July 29, 2012

We All Fit Together

As it gets closer to back to school (some of you may even have started already), all teachers must keep in mind how to create a caring classroom. Laura Candler at Corkboard Connections has some fantastic ideas and has even created a linky party for others to share.

So, I thought I would share an activity I have often done to help foster a classroom community. I have even done this activity as a long-term sub. I call it the We All Fit Together Puzzle Classbuilding Activity. Each student decorates and cuts out a puzzle piece. I always tell them to make sure they include their name and something about them. Then I mount all the puzzle pieces together on a poster board with the title "We All Fit Together." Students love seeing how the pieces fit together and how the other students have decorated their pieces.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas...

**Due to yesterday's Teachers Pay Teachers glitches, my sale is extended through today, July 26. Some other sellers are extending theirs also. There are still some hiccups here and there, so please, be patient.**

Santa has paid teachers an early visit. On July 25 only, some of my favorite teacher-blogger buds are bringing summer temperatures down by offering their seasonal items for 20% off! In my case, my seasonal items are all already free, but I am offering my whole line of Just Add Paper plans (including the bundle) for 20% as well. Stock up on awesome seasonal units for every holiday and for those inevitable sick days without having to take out a second loan on the sled. Visit Blog Hoppin for a complete list of the participating sellers. So, sit back, have a hot cocoa with marshmallows, and celebrate Christmas in July!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Proud Mama and Some Writing Exercise Ideas

My 13-year-old daughter has been at the most wonderful writing camp this last week. It was through a local nonprofit organization for writers called Gemini Ink, and this was her second year to go. Only this year, she was in the upper age group.

I knew it was going to be a good week when she told me after the second day day: "It's so great to really feel like I fit in. I can say something intelligent, and no one looks at me funny... they just say something intelligent back." I can't even tell you, the happiness I felt at that statement.

At the camp, they do various writing exercises each day, and then they work on writing and developing various pieces. They share and truly listen and offer constructive feedback to each other. There's really no other better place for a kid who likes to write.

A few of my favorite exercises that they did this year were:

• Using Newspaper Headlines as a Story Prompt... the students were handed a clipped out newspaper headline (appropriate, of course) and asked to develop a story knowing only the headline.

• Drawing a Line to Represent a Feeling... the students were given a feeling word (joy, bliss, guilt, anger, etc.) and asked to draw a line representing that feeling and then describe what their line meant.

• Writing About a Event without Mentioning the Event... students were given a setting, a character whose perspective the piece must be written from, and an event and had to write about the event without ever saying what it was. Now, in the case of this camp, they gave them the event of murder, but that is not very appropriate for the classroom. But the stories that came out having to tell the story of someone committing murder without mentioning "murder" were pretty amazing.

• Share a Passage from a Book... students were told to choose a passage from a book they had recently read and read it aloud to the class. Then the whole class discussed the author's writing style.

• People Watching... the students were taken on a trolley ride through downtown and asked to make as many observations as they could. Then when they returned, they wrote about they observed. You could certainly do this, by walking your class around the school or taking them and sitting them in a place with other students such as the playground, the gym, the library, or the cafeteria

The whole time, they discussed the process and styles of writing, so much so, that my daughter's final piece (that she shared at a public reading today) was writing about writing. And one little girl who was not in her group loved the piece so much that she even wanted a copy of it. How amazing is it that a girl about age 10 would want a copy of another's child's writing? That's the power of this camp.

Finally, I thought I'd share my daughter's piece as a proud mama should... and I welcome you to share it with your class if you think it would inspire even one writer.

To Write
Hannah Friedrich

Honesty flows out of me onto the page.

That’s what writing is. Even when writing fiction, nothing is a lie. Writing is the freedom to look at the world and see what it is, even if it’s not pretty. It is a freedom, but it’s not the kind most people want. A writer is a special kind of person, who views the world a different way. It can be confusing, or out there, but it’s truth in its own. If you stand on the other side of the field, you see a different game.

When the words flow together like they should, it’s like music. Every note has a place and a purpose, everything is arranged to order. Then it can become chaotic. Then it can leave the known world and become a new experience. You need order to create chaos. When you hear someone play the piano, it doesn’t sound perfect and neat. It sounds chaotic.

Writing is like that. It always has a rhythm to it, a sequence. A kind of run. When you really get into a good sprint, every little motion matters, every step contributes. It’s not just the big strides; it’s the shifting weight, the stretch forwards and the push back. It all falls together. It’s a beauty in its own.

I say that nothing you write should ever be a lie. I’m not saying that’s an easy task. I feel like writing is the desire to experience everything, the good and the bad. It takes strength to look at oneself and ask: what would it feel like? But that’s what you have to do. That’s all you can do. Even when writing through a character, you only have your emotions to go on. That’s the only reference point you get.

So. What would it feel like? What would it feel like to write?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Love a Good Deal!!!

My husband and daughter headed off this morning to see "The Dark Knight Rises." So, I wanted to do something special for my son who in my opinion is too young to watch Dark Knight. He requested we head to the mall. Any trip to the mall is not complete without a stop at Barnes & Noble, so of course, that's where we ended up. While he headed into the children's section, I perused the 75% off display... just in case. And I was not disappointed! Look at these cool books I found ranging from $2-$4! How could I pass up these gems?

Immediately my teacher brain started thinking of how I could use them in a classroom. I can see them used as a springboard for a whole class writing warm-up, in a writing center, or as a creative outlet for early finishers. I'm sure there are so many more ways they can be used.

The one on top is called Yamodo Monsters and Aliens. It is a spiral-bound book with perforated pages. It comes with a pen. On each page is a nonsense word that sounds like it could have something to do with a monster or an alien. Also on each page is a squiggle and a sentence to complete. For example, the first page says "romatoid" and has a squiggle of two rectangle. The object is to decide what the word means and to turn the squiggle into a picture of the meaning. Then write out the definition.

The large blue book is called Squiggle Monsters. Open this one up and it has three spinners — one for a squiggle that you draw and two for monster characteristics such as "big bug eyes," "hairy toes," and "2 tongues." There is a small dry erase board in the center with six markers hidden underneath and a dry-erase fact sheet on the right. You spin the spinners, incorporating your three things into a monster, and then complete the fact sheet about it.

The smaller Squiggle Mix Up book is very similar to Squiggle Monsters, except the squiggle is drawn for you, and the drawing happens using paper and pencil. You spin the top spinners that each list different kinds of animals. Then you morph the two animals into one using the squiggle already provided.

With all of these, I think the next step in a classroom would be to write a story about your new creation, tell about its adventures, and describe its challenges. My son is currently working on his third monster in a group of monsters destined to become friends and have many adventures. My son has never been excited about writing, and he is busily telling me about all the things these monster friends will accomplish. What a wonderful outlet for creativity in thinking, drawing, and writing, while at the same time practicing some writing skills. How often do students really get to explore their imaginations anymore?

If your Barnes & Noble does not have these books and you are looking for them, here is an Amazon link. And I discovered, there are also several other versions of each available.

What a fun time filler for subs too. I think at least one of these will be coming with me everyday I sub.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Feeling Swamped

In a couple of senses of the word. How is it that summer hit with all its "free" time, and yet I still feel just as overwhelmed by my to-do list? Maybe it's that my family is home with me all the time so I feel the need to do things with them. I know my blogging has dropped off the last few weeks, but I am hoping to get back on track with that.

One reason for the craziness is summer travels. It seems there have been a lot this summer. While I love to travel, each trip takes planning, packing, being away, unpacking, and cleaning. My most recent adventure was to visit family who live outside the New Orleans area. When we visit, we love to do some different local things. Of course, there is the obligatory trip to Cafe du Monde and the French Quarter, but this trip we added a few new things. We visited a New Orleans cemetery to see the beautiful sculptures and graves. We did a trip to the Aquarium of the Americas since it had been a long time since we had visited (plus I love sea otters). We visited the new Infinity Science Center beside Stennis Space Center (which is small, but nice... and they are adding sections in the future).

Finally, we did a swamp tour. My husband and I had been on one years ago, but our children had never been. And my son is entering third grade, the year when wetlands are the ecosystem studied in his district. Also, I have taught that third grade wetlands unit the last two years in long-term assignments and have fallen in love with the swamp myself. I know, it sounds crazy to hear "fallen in love with the swamp," but it really is a gorgeous place if you take the time to look. I snapped tons of photos while on the tour, so I thought I would put together a Swamp Powerpoint Presentation with some of them that show the various topics covered in the wetlands unit.

The presentation uses the photos as a launching point for discussions on such topics as ecosystems, food chains, animals adaptations, living and nonliving things, and natural/human-made changes to the swamp. I hope you enjoy this little glimpse into the Honey Island Swamp in Pearl River, LA.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

We Have a Winner!

Congratulations to Jodee who was chosen as the winner of the Caption Contest! The winner was chosen very scientifically. You see, I couldn't decide. All of the entries were good, so I narrowed it down to my few favorites and let my son decide. He chose Jodee's entry because when I read it to him, he giggled uncontrollably and said it reminded him of Scaredy Squirrel. So, a winner was born!
Thank you to everyone who entered! This was a really fun contest to judge. I will most likely be doing more of these in the future.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Caption This Photo and Win!

My family and I went to the zoo yesterday and had an amazing time! Because we are zoo members, we can get in as early 7:30 a.m. during the summer. Early I know, but so worth it to see so many more animals than usual out and about. Plus, in Texas, anything outdoors has to be done as early as possible to avoid heat stroke. As we were viewing the kangaroo enclosure, I spied this little guy. Bcause he cracked me up, my husband snapped this photo. It's too good not to do anything with, so I thought I'd hold a quick and easy caption contest.

Just add a comment with your caption for this photo, and include your email (just so I can contact you if I choose you as the winner). I will choose my favorite caption by which one makes me laugh the most (I know that is very subjective... sorry about that), and the winner can choose any product from my Teachers Pay Teachers store. I will choose a winner on Wednesday, July 4 at 9 a.m. CST, so get creative and caption away... the funnier, the better!!!
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