Using Picture Books for Narrative Writing


We love to use picture books in our classroom. We are firm believers that you are never too old to learn a good lesson from a picture book. Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee is no exception. While the concept and text of the book may be simple for 5th graders (it is about a girl's first thrilling ride on a roller coaster), we are able to get a couple week's worth of writing instruction out of it!

We have to admit, this idea was inspired from a training we attended about integrating visual arts into literacy instruction. One great way to get students talking about art is to have them study illustrations in picture books. Marla Frazee is an amazing illustrator, and the facial expressions and subtle nuances of her pictures make for great art pieces to look at closely. To begin this lesson, we don't even have the students read the text in the book. Instead, we choose one set of thrill seekers to follow page by page. For example, there is an elderly couple that is riding the roller coaster together. We have the students focus just on the facial expressions of this couple as the story progresses. Students then choose another duo to study from beginning to end on their own.

After getting familiar with the different characters in the book, we then lead a class discussion on character traits. The students have a fun time thinking of traits for each set of characters, especially because looks can be deceiving with this set of riders! Several character pairs go through a character shift over the course of the book which also helps with understanding sequencing. We like to record this class discussion as an anchor chart for students to refer back to in future lessons.

The next lesson we do focuses solely on dialogue. Students are encouraged to imagine the conversations the character pairs have with each other before, during, and after the ride. They use the illustrations, as well as the character traits listed in the previous lesson, to come up with realistic dialogue for their characters. Again we like to model with one duo, giving us the opportunity to explicitly teach grammar rules related to dialogue. Students then move on to independent work using a character set of their choice.

Finally it is time to take what they have created thus far and turn it into a complete narrative writing piece. After modeling the components of a narrative that are expected at their grade level, students are given the opportunity to write their own stories from the perspectives of their chosen characters. As we all know, and as Marla Frazee makes perfectly clear with her wonderful illustrations, we all have different experiences on roller coasters, and the stories that come from this activity certainly reflect that.

Of course, after all of their hard work, we do end up reading the text to the class. We then like to compare the story the author wrote to the ones they came up with to look for similarities and differences. This book also does a great job of showing how authors and illustrators use font size, color, and shape to help tell a story. We were amazed at how in-depth our conversations with our students became as a response to this book. Do you know of other picture books that would lend themselves well to this kind of activity? Let us know!

If you want to use this book in your classroom, here is our affiliate link! By purchasing from this link, we earn a small commission.

The Homework Debate

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Why is homework synonymous with a feeling of dread? We have both had our share of parent concerns over the past decade regarding stress with homework.  We have noticed that across the nation, teachers are starting to become more aware of this fact and cutting down or eliminating homework.  For us, we agree that our students work extremely hard during the day and homework can be seen as a chore. How can we make homework seem more fun and meaningful? How can we get parents involved without the fighting and crying?  We decided to create a monthly choice chart that would include math, research, and enrichment opportunities. For our 5th graders, we still wanted to teach responsibility and accountability without the monotonous review worksheets.  We created a reflection form that would be used for each month where the students would write a little about what they took away from each activity.  

The feedback from our students and families were overwhelmingly positive! Below is one of the comments a parent shared with us when she posted about her son baking a pie for homework!  

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It felt as if a lightbulb had gone off when our kids were begging us to do more than the minimum we asked.  They were doing engaging and meaningful activities at home related to math, reading, and writing.  As an added bonus, we received a lot of pie samples for the September Choice Chart! We have created an entire year’s worth of monthly choice charts and each one is centered around what happens in that month.  

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Since our school still gives an effort grade on homework for report cards, we also gave students feedback forms which easily gave them some feedback from us.  We usually had a huge share out at the end of each month and let the students talk about what they learned (great for listening and speaking skills!).  

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We’d love to share our September Choice Chart with you! It’s a great Back to School “homework” for the new year.  Our personal favorite for this month is the one where they interview a grandparent.  They ask about what life was like for them as a child and so many parents and kids loved this one. One of our students created a Google Slideshow about his grandparents and learned so much.   

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Click the link below for a free copy of our September Choice Chart.  If you enjoyed this and would like a whole year’s worth of fun homework, please check out our product where we include the self reflection form, teacher feedback form, and all the months including an editable file in case you need to make changes to suit your class.  We’ve taken the “work” out of homework and made it fun! Please comment below and let us know what you are doing for homework in your classrooms!




ABC's of College Degrees Summer Countdown Giveaway!




We all feel it. Summer is approaching, state testing is looming, and everyone in the class has a case of spring fever. Rather than trying to fight against the excitement that ensues with the end of the year, we have fully embraced it. We have found a way to take the end of year craziness and focus it on some fun, enriching activities that continue the rigorous work we have been completing throughout the year. The best part is that it is all disguised as fluffy year-end fun so the kids have total buy-in.


We realize we aren’t the only people to use a summer countdown in our classrooms. However, rather than simply counting down the last week or ten days, we extend our countdown to the final 26 days of the school year. We know, we know. It sounds a bit crazy to start counting down to the end of the year with five weeks left, but our countdown is thematic so the kids remain focused and excited for each new day throughout the entire countdown. We celebrate the end of the year by celebrating the ABCs of College Degrees. This truly becomes a fun unit in and of itself, simultaneously providing engaging daily activities and giving students a glimpse at the educational opportunities available in college.

The countdown kicks off with the students each receiving their acceptance letter to Endoyear University. We hold a big acceptance party where we celebrate everyone’s acceptance into this “prestigious” program. From the letter they learn that they will be earning a different college degree each day through the last day of school. Already the students begin to look forward to seeing what their first degree will be. Each day we unveil the subject of the day, beginning with A for Advertising and working our way through the alphabet. By Day 3 we have students betting against one another over what degree will be earned for the letter F or L or Z. The best part is that the class isn’t able to earn the degree until the activity is successfully completed. This keeps end-of-year silliness in check and keeps the students focused on completing work.

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This activity can easily be done in any classroom at any grade level. Simply think of a college subject and come up with an activity that corresponds to it. We have provided a list of some ideas we have come up with over the years. Click on the image below to see what we came up with. We are sure you can add many more to this list!
To make life easier on you, we have put together a bundle of certificates that cover a variety of subjects. Many letters have multiple certificates to fit whichever activity works for you in your classroom. Even better, we have provided a link to a Google Drive resource that is completely editable in case there is a specific subject area you would like your kids to study that is not included in our bundle! We have also gone ahead and created an activity for each day, so implementing this in your own classroom is as simple as hitting print!
We are excited to be joining some other wonderful teacher bloggers in a blog hop giveaway. You not only have a chance to win this resource from us, but also the amazing end of year products our friends are showcasing, as well as a $100 Target gift card! Enter both of the Rafflecopters below for your chance to win, then head over to The Rigorous Owl by clicking the image at the end of the post! Remember, in order to win the gift card, you must complete ALL requirements for the Rafflecopter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway a Rafflecopter giveaway


Morning Routines!


We recently took a course from Tabitha Carro at FlapJack Factory. Our friend and colleague, Kristen, at Easy Teaching Tools recommended that we try it out and we were not disappointed! One of the templates we loved was the morning work and morning routines slides.  We usually have the same morning routine each morning, but still get asked daily, “What do I do now?” or “What do I do next?”.  For days where we have lots going on (you know those days with field trip permission forms, money collection, etc…) these slides are helpful in giving our students a visual!



The middle box on the template is nice as a morning review.  We like to spiral different subjects we have taught as a quick check in and it makes great daily practice.  We choose whatever it may be that the kids need to do.  It could be a quick math problem, or even a quick question from Social Studies or Science.  The kids do this in a morning routines composition book and can check with a friend or you can go over it after you take attendance.


Speaking of attendance, these slides are sure to help us remember to take attendance! We are guilty of forgetting and that is usually because we are answering questions about what to do in the morning!


The last little box we added to our template is a small section in the upper right hand corner that allows for fun facts.  It could be a student’s birthday or a fun day such as “National Hot Dog Day”.  It could also be an open ended question such as, “How will you be kind today?”.  This little box is meant to be used for whatever your heart desires!



If you want to try it out, click the link below for a FREE sample slide!


We have created over 50 slides and 6 themes to use year round! You can find these in our TpT store or by clicking HERE.


Kindness Week Book Reflection


Have you ever read The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig? It is a heartwarming picture book about the power of kindness. Brian is a kid who feels invisible at school. Always being left out and looked over has taken its toll on the little guy. When a new kid moves to school and starts paying attention to Brian and his talents, Brian’s world becomes a bit more colorful. Reading a quick blurb online made us quickly realize this was a must-have read aloud for our classes.

Our school is participating in a two-week Kindness Challenge, during which students are inspired to partake in various acts of kindness. On top of this, our school has had a particular focus on kindness throughout the year in hopes to create a positive school culture of mutual respect for one another. This book just seemed to lend itself so perfectly to our discussions of empathy and kindness, so we had to try it out and see how our kiddos responded to its message.

We invited our 2nd Grade Buddies over to our classroom for the read aloud. The discussions we were able to have during and after the reading were awesome. So many of the students, 5th and 2nd graders alike, could relate to the feelings Brian had throughout the book. And it was so clear to the students that all it took was one person’s kindness to turn his world around.

The Invisible Boy Reflection Activity -
 This lesson is a valuable follow-up activity after reading the book The Invisible Boy. Children studying empathy and kindness will be able to connect to the story while also having fun!

We wanted to take this discussion a step further so that the students could really visualize how others’ kind words and actions can positively impact our lives. To do this, we gave each child a black and white image of a child and had them write down when they felt invisible themselves. Examples ranged from not being invited to a birthday party, to friends not waiting for them at recess, to parents giving more attention to a brother or sister. Not only was this a good reflection for the students to get in touch with their own feelings, but it gave us as teachers an insight into what is going on in our students’ worlds emotionally. But the truly powerful part of this activity is what came next.

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 This lesson is a valuable follow-up activity after reading the book The Invisible Boy. Children studying empathy and kindness will be able to connect to the story while also having fun!    The Invisible Boy Reflection Activity -
 This lesson is a valuable follow-up activity after reading the book The Invisible Boy. Children studying empathy and kindness will be able to connect to the story while also having fun!

Each child then took their paper and read it to someone else. In response, the other student would use their colored pencil to write a word of encouragement or a kind deed to help the student feel more visible. Then using the same colored pencil, they would color in a piece of their picture. Students walked around from peer to peer, gaining words of encouragement and quickly getting their pictures completely colored in. The final product was a colorful page full of kind words all directed to each individual student. What a great personal keepsake for the kids to look back on whenever they start to feel invisible in the future. We can’t wait to do this activity again next school year!

IMG_5643.JPG  The Invisible Boy Reflection Activity -
 This lesson is a valuable follow-up activity after reading the book The Invisible Boy. Children studying empathy and kindness will be able to connect to the story while also having fun!  The Invisible Boy Reflection Activity -
 This lesson is a valuable follow-up activity after reading the book The Invisible Boy. Children studying empathy and kindness will be able to connect to the story while also having fun!

If you’d like to try it out, here is a free sample of our Invisible Boy Worksheet. To download the entire pack with a variety of kids to meet the needs of the students in your class, visit our TPT store here or visit bit.ly/invisibleboyreflection.

Let us know how else you have incorporated this book into your classroom. We would love to hear about it!
The Invisible Boy Reflection Activity -
 This lesson is a valuable follow-up activity after reading the book The Invisible Boy. Children studying empathy and kindness will be able to connect to the story while also having fun!

Super Bowl Activities for the Classroom!



Each year, when the NFL season starts up, we both get very excited for a variety of reasons.  We have been San Diego Charger fans since we’ve been born (although their move to Los Angeles may have broken our hearts).  We also enjoy playing fantasy football with friends, so when it comes time for the Super Bowl we look forward to the culmination of one of our favorite sports.  


We wanted to bring the excitement into the class and share some fun activities with our students.  We came up with some activities that could be used with real stats for the Super Bowl and it was a hit with our students.  We love that we can use it each year since it isn’t year specific.  


This was a particularly high interest activity for some of our kids that normally may be harder to motivate.  It was exciting to see them thrive and dive into the activities.  For the kids that aren't football fans, they gained a lot of knowledge too.  We wanted to show the kids that what we are doing in the classroom can translate to anywhere in the real world!  If you are interested in checking out a sample of these activities, click the link below to download a free copy.


The full product is available in our Teachers Pay Teachers store.  Activities in the full packet include:


Research activities for pregame, during the game, and post game
Graphing
Roman Numerals
Math Word Problems
Word Search
Performance Task (adding, subtracting, multiplying)
Writing with football themed paper
Fantasy Football Activity
Helpful Keys

We hope you can bring the joy of football into your classroom with these engaging activities! Click the image below to go to the product!



GEMS is the new PEMDAS





When we both moved to 5th grade, one of our team members shared with us the idea of using GEMS rather than PEMDAS for Order of Operations and simplifying expressions. Our minds were blown! It was so much more effective. Here's why:

We all probably grew up learning the common acronym for order of operations: PEMDAS or "Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally" or "Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiply, Divide, Add, Subtract". Although it does help remember the order, we found that our students were confused because they would follow the acronym too closely forgetting that you multiply and divide and add and subtract going from left to right. Also, they would get confused if they saw brackets or other types of groupings. It seemed like a common mistake that they forgot the left to right groupings.

So, in comes GEMS! GEMS stands for "Groupings, Exponents, Multiply/Divide, Subtract/Add". Why do we like it better?

The G stands for groupings so it includes parentheses, brackets, braces, and fraction bars.The E stands for exponents just like in the old PEMDAS acronym.
The M stands for both multiplication and division, in order from left to right.
And the S stands fro subtraction and addition, in order from left to right.

By grouping the M/D and A/S into single letters, it solidifies the idea that either operation can be performed first. It depends solely on which comes first in the expression.

We love incorporating music into our instruction, but we couldn't find any songs online using the GEMS acronym.  When in doubt, create your own!  Feel free to use this fun song with your class! Click the image for a printable file.

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