Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Summer Writing With Little Learners

Before our big move (more on that in another post), I had a chance to use my August Writing Prompts with my boys.  My two sons, ages six and seven, are my "guinea pigs" when it comes to "field testing" my products.  We have spent a lot of time reading this summer, but I needed something fun and "summery" to keep my little writers' skills sharp.  With that in mind, I designed and created a set of writing prompts for August that can be used at home or in the classroom whether you are back to school or still on summer break.

Included in this packet:
  • (22) writing prompts
  • (12) stationery sheets to use for your own writing prompts or to take one of the prompts to final copy
  • Lots of room to write and draw
  • A variety of writing purposes: opinion, informative, how-to, narrative, lists, labeling
  • A variety of large and small lines for writing
  • Use as a journal (cover page is included) or place prompts in a writing center

Cover page for journal

Getting our supplies ready to write!

Both my boys wanted to try out the "writer's choice" writing prompt.  My six year old donned his "smart glasses" to help him write! I use plastic plates from the Dollar Store and an Expo marker to help him with writing words and the date.  You'll notice the letter "P" written on the plate. He told me he confused "9" with "P", so I grabbed that teachable moment and we had a mini-lesson!

 My seven year old decided to draw and label his Minecraft picture!

If you are in school, I included school -themed prompts such as this one for the first day of school:

And there are prompts for special days in August such as National S'mores Day!

 And that is just a little glimpse as to how I used my writing prompts packet at home! If you are interested in seeing the listing, stop on over at my TeachersPayTeachers store to see the preview.

I'm working on my September prompts packet.  What types of prompts would you like me to include?  Leave me a comment!


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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Sparkle ** Words~Vocabulary Recording Sheets FREEBIE

Remember the "catch'em being good" discipline technique from the 1980's?  I vividly remember my education professors encouraging us future teachers to look for the positive in our students and to acknowledge and praise those who were meeting our behavioral expectations.  No doubt about it, this timeless strategy works.  I took this idea and applied it to the area of vocabulary development and application.

Using effective word choice when writing and speaking is the ultimate goal of vocabulary instruction. I often use the term "sparkle words" when teaching students about word choice. Good writers use descriptive, precise, and creative word choices to make their writing "shine".  One such method that I have used with students is to record these "sparkle" words when I hear them using interesting words in conversation or when I spot them in their writing.  I would record them on chart paper and after the kids caught on, they would then add the words to the chart paper as well.  I kept the chart paper on my focus wall as a reference for students as they were writing or speaking.

There are many ways that you could adapt this idea such as writing the words on word cards to place on a bulletin board or word wall, or having students record the words on a portable word wall that is kept in their writer's notebook.  Once students understand, they enjoy "catching" each other using sparkle words and they can take over recording the words.

This summer, I am using this same idea with my six and seven year old sons.  The older child has an amazing vocabulary and soaks up new words like a sponge.  He is blessed to be like an elephant because once he hears a word, he rarely forgets!  Just last week, he used the word liberty correctly in a sentence.  I asked him what it meant and he told me "freedom".  I asked him where he learned that word and he said from his reading teacher this past school year.  YAY for his teacher!!

So, I decided to capitalize on his strengths, praise him for taking a risk using sparkle words (sometimes he uses them correctly, other times he doesn't, but it is his attempt that counts!), and to use a recording sheet so he and his younger brother can see just how many "big kid" words they are using.

I made recording sheets like this one and placed it on the fridge:

Every time I hear one of my boys using a sparkly word, I record it on the sheet.  The examples above are actual words that I have "caught" my seven year old using this week.

The next step will be to use this list as a resource for when he is writing.  We'll keep the words on the fridge for now and then when school starts, I will have him keep this in his writer's notebook.

You can grab the above recording sheet and a few others for FREE that I made by clicking on the picture below (packet is on Google Drive).

Let me know how you encourage kids to use wonderful words in their speech and writing!


Freebie Fridays

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Monday, July 15, 2013

Amazing World Records of Weather~ A Product Review

There are many aspects of blogging that I enjoy.  Blogging helps me to process ideas, collaborate and network with teachers and parents around the world, and it offers a cathartic release that I often can only achieve through writing.  Another part of blogging that I really enjoy is writing product reviews.  I was contacted by Educents to review Sunflower Education's Amazing World Records of Weather.  This product caught my eye because my two young sons are fascinated and intrigued with anything that is weather-related, and many, many of my previous students were as well.

** I received a complimentary copy of the PDF version for the purpose of reviewing this product on my blog.  All opinions expressed here are my own.

What Did I Receive?
I received a PDF form of the (105) page resource book,  Amazing World Records of Weather. This product is part of The Amazing World Records of Science and Technology published by Sunflower Education.


A Little Background Information
This resource is available in PDF form and in hard copy book form. Other books in this series include topics for geography, history, language and literature, and science and technology.  Using students' natural interest in world records, this nonfiction resource includes (20) lesson plans with (60) reproducible activity sheets.  This product is appropriate for classroom teachers and homeschool parents to use as a supplementary text for their science instruction in grades 5 to 9:  "Uses kids' natural fascination with world records to reach them and teach them" (Sunflower Education).

  • Recommended by the NSTA (National Science Teachers Association)
  • Designed for students in grades 5-9
  • Teaches key concepts about weather and meteorology:  includes (20) world records of weather
  • Written and created by teachers, parents, and educational publishing experts.  Tested in classrooms and homeschools
  • Includes explicit, detailed lesson plans, suggestions, and teaching tips for instruction
  • Includes enrichment and extension activities such as simple, yet informative science experiments
  • Includes intriguing topics such as the world's hottest place, the heaviest hail, and the world's worst tornado
  • Four sections of content are included:  Hot and Cold, Air Pressure, Precipitation, and Weather Disasters
  • The world record grabs students' attention, and follow-up activities provide vital learning

Amazing World Records of Weather: 20 Innovative, Easy-to-Integrate Lesson Plans Teach Key Concepts and Motivate All Students!

 My Review

 I found the lesson plans to be concise, yet well-written with clear learning objectives, a time frame, and special materials needed to implement the lesson.  As well, there are teacher-tips included to clarify the lesson directions.  Lessons include related projects for students to make such as a rain gauge, a weather vane, or a simple experiment to create a vortex in a plastic bottle.  These hands-on projects help students to apply their knowledge from the readings.  However, I did find that although a supply list and a diagram is included for each project, more detailed directions could have been included for the projects.

The reproducibles are professionally designed and easy to read. The activity pages for students include short informational reading passages that include a reading purpose (e.g. "Read the article below to discover how tornadoes form"). Many text features are built into the reading pages such as maps, illustrations, black and white photographs, captions, charts, and fact boxes.  These readings would make for a great way to introduce nonfiction text features or to have students complete individually to apply their strategic reading knowledge.

A few other things that I noticed and really liked:
  • The reproducibles can be copied for use in a single teacher's classroom
  • A great time saver, as the activities integrate reading/language arts and science (and sometimes a little math as well).
  • Flexible lessons that can be used to differentiate instruction, can be used whole-class, in small groups, in nonfiction literacy circles, in Guided Reading groups.
  • Promotes cooperative learning, as many of the readings and activities can be completed as a group.
  • The questions after reading offer a variety of "right there" questions with explicit answers and other questions that are more implicit and require students to compare and contrast, make text connections, sketch and visualize, define Tier III vocabulary words, among just a few.
  • Questions require a written response in a brief constructed response format ( no selected response).
  • Short text passages will appeal to reluctant readers in that they will not be overwhelmed with a large amount of text. In addition, they make a great supplement to your science curriculum.
  • Topics are very interesting and should provide a "hook" for all readers to want to read more.
  • The lessons are aligned to some national standards (science and reading/language arts).  Although they are not explicitly aligned to Common Core State Standards, I found this correlation when I examined the "World's Worst Tornado" lesson:
Reading Informational Text (Grade 5):  RI.5.3, RI.5.4, RI.5.8

In short, the resource I reviewed is an extremely well-written, organized, and appealing product for both students and teachers.  You can see other books in this series and grab an incredible deal from Educents!   All of the books ( geography, history, language and literature, and science and technology)  will be offered as a bundle on Educents starting today and going through the 25th. The PDF's will be offered at 50% OFF ($42.50) and the shipped hard copy books will be offered at 30%OFF ($59 with free shipping).

Click the picture below to grab your deal!  Enjoy!

Hip Homeschool Hop Button  
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Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Book Whisperer: Why Independent Reading Is a MUST and a FREEBIE!

As of late, I have been here, there, and everywhere!  Today, you will find me in a tropical paradise!  Well, not literally, but rather virtually, as I am guest blogging for my very dear and sweet friend Martha from~

My Primary Paradise

 I love hanging out in her "paradise" because she always has such clever,practical ideas, you can't beat the ambiance, and I always leave inspired and refreshed!  Today I am blogging about my reading of the ever-popular professional book, The Book Whisperer.  I have not been this invigorated since I read Regie Routman's Invitations: Changing as Teachers and Learners K-12, w-a-y back in 1991.

Stop on over to Martha's blog where I share a few take-aways from my reading of chapters one and two and have a FREEBIE for you! 


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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Throwback Tuesday: The Perfect Gift~ Beginning of the Year Writing

Even though it is only July and even though I am now a stay-at-home mom to my two boys and my two dachshunds, I still think about the beginning of the school year.  Maybe it's because I always started to think about the new school year right after the 4th of July for the past twenty-four years.  Maybe it's because I'm anticpating homeschooling my two boys for the first time this year. Or, perhaps, maybe, it's because the excitement of a new school year and all things "teachery" are just in my blood!

In any case, I wanted to share an old blog post from last year called "The Perfect Gift".  Some of you may not know that I was a middle school language arts teacher and literacy resource teacher for many years.  When I was an English language arts teacher, this was my favorite beginning of the year writing activity.  Click the picture below to read the post I wrote last year about this unique writing task that promotes goal setting and how I used it to assess writing skills in the intermediate and middle grades.


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Saturday, July 6, 2013

Kindergarten Tutoring with Phonics Fish and More!

As I am no longer in the classroom, I look forward to my private tutoring sessions each week.  One sweet little girl I work with just finished kindergarten and we are working together over the summer to keep her skills fresh and to prevent that dreaded "summer slide".  Although this smart little kinder is always so motivated, I do my best to add lots of fun and variety to our summer sessions.

This week, we continued our work of learning the Pre-Primer sight words.  I thought I would share with you an alternative to magnetic letters for spelling sight words in a very tactile manner. A few years ago, I discovered Flat Fish Phonics Fish from Carson Dellosa.  Students love to work with these foam manipulatives to make sight words and for learning and reinforcing alphabet skillsThe fish are smooth on the front and textured on the back; they lock together like a puzzle. Click on the picture below to check out the details.

The target word for this week was youEarlier in the week I introduced the word and she used magnetic letters to spell the word.  Then, on Friday, we used a playdough/tracing mat from my Playdough Tracing Sight Word Mat set and the Phonics Fish!

 We read the word in context by reading the sentence at the bottom of the mat.  Then, my cutie traced the word with an Expo marker, and she read the sentence all by herself!

Another little gadget I like to use is the Reading Helper slide to highlight target words, punctuation or whatever the teaching point is for the session.  I love to have students use a magnifying glass to search for other sight words we have learned.

After reading a sight word story from Reading A-Z  (Can You See? A perfect book to use with the Phonics Fish, as the book is about ocean animals), my little reader again used the fish to make the sight word.

Using reading manipulatives makes instruction more interactive and kinesthetic and helps the reader to focus.  The Phonics Fish is something I don't use everyday like magnetic letters or letter cards, but they are fun and effective to use when you need to add a little something different to the mix!

What are your favorite reading gadgets or manipulatives to use for instruction and/or intervention?

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Rock 'N Learn Sight Word DVDs: A Product Review

As a reading specialist, I spend a great deal of time teaching and reinforcing sight words, or "lightning words", as I call them (because you need to be able to read them lightning fast!).  Because sight word instruction can be a little dry and I get bored as easily as the kids do, I am always on the look out for interesting, creative, and multi-modal ways to make it fun. 

When I was contacted by Educents to review Rock 'N Learn's sight word DVD's, I knew immediately that this product was something I just had to have to add to my "bag of tricks"!

What did I receive? 
I received a total of four DVDs:  Letter Sounds, and Levels 1,2,3 for sight words.
** I received complimentary copies of the DVDs for the purpose of reviewing these products on my blog.  All opinions expressed here are my own.

Letter Sounds DVD cover at an angleSight Words Level 1 DVD case at an angleSight Words Level 2 DVD CoverSight Words Level 3 DVD Cover 

A little background information:
These videos can be played on a computer that has a DVD driveThey cannot be played in a CD player.  However, they can be played on a DVD player that is attached to your television.  These DVDs encourage learners to participate along with the program through singing, reading, dancing, and playing along with the games.

On the Rock N Learn website, they include a correlation to Common Core State Standards for each DVD. Here is an example for the Sight Words Level One DVD:

Identify real-life connections between words and their use (e.g., note places at school that are colorful).
Use words and phrases acquired through conversations, reading and being read to, and responding to texts.
Read common high-frequency words by sight (e.g., the, of, to, you, she, my, is, are, do, does).

Highlights of the Letter Sounds DVD
  • Includes (11) songs for a total of sixty-two minutes of viewing time
  • Reviews upper and lower case letters in a logical progression:  letter identification, sounds, segmenting, blending.
  • Presents letters and sounds in isolation and ends with reading the words in context (sentences)
  • Includes some initial blends
  • A feature that I really like is that an on-screen mouth is shown with the lips moving to show how to make the sound
  • Pictures are included for each sound to help students to anchor the sound to the letter and a picture
  • A game is included for students to try and say the letter sound before the character does
  • Other games include "Spell It" and "Swap the Sound"
  • Some pre-primer sight words are included
  • Integrates appealing graphics and music
  • At the end, the words are presented in sentences, which appear on the screen. Readers have an opportunity to read the sentence before the character does.  I like how when the character reads, each word is highlighted, which promotes one-to-one matching.

Highlights of the Sight Word DVDs
  • There are three sight word DVDs:  Level I, II, III
  • Each DVD is between fifty to sixty minutes long

  • Level I  explains what sight words are and why they are important to learn ("you know them when you see them").  The Pre-primer Dolch words are presented as well as the top twenty words form Fry's first one-hundred words.  There are sixteen songs.  Appropriate for preschool and early kindergarten or students that need extra practice.

  • Level II  picks up where Level I left off.  All the Primer words from the Dolch list are presented along with many Fry words.  I like how at the beginning, the character has to rearrange the word cards to make a complete sentence.  The first song, "Use Your Words" explains why words are important.  Appropriate for preschool to kindergarten or for older students who need additional practice. Sixty-eight words are presented.

  • Level III  includes all the first grade Dolch words and some of the Fry words.  At the beginning, some of the words from Part I and II are reviewed. Over seventy words are presented in various formats. Throughout the DVD character traits such as helping others, kindness, exercising, and healthy eating habits are integrated into the story line.

Click the picture below to view a video clip of one of the sight word DVDs:

My Review
I viewed all four DVDs and watched the Sight Words Level III with my six and seven year old sons. I found the DVDs to be very well made with appealing animation and bright, vivid graphics, likable characters ( a talking armadillo, Brad, a "rock star" teenage boy who plays the electric guitar, an alien in space ship, just to name a few).  The setting for the animation has a modern feel to it that my boys liked.  It held their attention for the entire fifty minutes which isn't an easy feat. The music and songs are catchy and add to the interactive nature of the program, as kids are invited to sing and dance along as they are reviewing or learning sight words.  When I asked my boys what they liked the best, they both responded, "the music!"

The words and sentences are presented on the screen so students can see them as they read aloud or sing them, thus reinforcing their learning by involving multiple modalities. As well, when the character reads the sentences, one-to-one matching and visual discrimination are emphasized with the words being highlighted as they are read, or by the "dancing dot" (my words) that appears over each word.

 In addition, students have opportunity to sing, dance, use hand movements, read aloud, and play games (e.g., by trying to read a word or sentence before the character does).  Adults can easily pause the program to provide more information or explanation.  The main menu presents all the songs in a clear and organized fashion, making it easy to select which segment you want to watch.

In short, I can understand how these DVDs have won so many awards!  They keep students' interest with the animated story line complemented with the "rock" music.  These DVDs would be perfect to use as an introduction to sounds, letters, sight words, as a review, to use as a "brain break", or to use in a literacy center such as a Smart Board or computer center.  However, they also would be appropriate to use in small groups, as a whole class, or in one-to-one instructional settings.

You can grab a fantastic deal on Educents for a limited time only!  They are offering Rock N Learn DVD bundles at up to 50% off!  Click the picture below to see the deal and to order your set!  I'm positive that you will be as excited as I am to use these this school year to review and reinforce reading skills!

 Main Rock N Learn Logo

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Monday, July 1, 2013

4th of July Emergent Reader- FREEBIE!

As I was searching for a July 4th printable reader to use with a kindergarten student I tutor, I could not find anything appropriate.  Life is just about crazy right now with preparing for our move, preparing to homeschool in the fall, and life in general! However, I really wanted an emergent reader to use with my student this week.  So, I whipped together a little printable book to use and want to share with you!  I really, really wanted to add more to this, but ran out of time!  So, because it is a "bare bones" literacy packet, I am offering it to you for FREE!

This little printable is (9) pages, including the cover page and two writing pages at the end.  It is very simple and is perfect for emergent readers who are reading at a (B) Guided Reading level.

  • Target sight words:  come, you, will, to, the, with, me  
*I am focusing on come and you with my student
  • Written in a predictable text pattern
  • Pictures are done in black and white for students to color afterwards
  • I used a large font for easy reading
  • The last two pages have a sentence starter for students to write about their favorite part of this holiday

Easy prep!  Just print, collate, and staple together!

How will I use this in my tutoring sessions this week?
Last week we worked on the word comeThis week I will introduce the word you.  After spelling the word with magnetic letters and using my playdough sight word mat, I will introduce the book.

~I will activate prior knowledge about the 4th of July:  What do you like to do on the 4th of July?
~We will do a picture walk and the student will make a prediction of what the book will be about.
~I will do a read-aloud
~We will do a shared reading
~The student will highlight our target words in different colors
~I will have the student retell the story (we are working on  beginning, middle, end)
~The student will complete the writing pages with lots of support from me.

If this looks like something you can use, click here to download a FREE copy from Teachers Pay Teachers.

Have a fabulous holiday as we celebrate our nation's birthday!!!

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

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