My students have been working hard on their How-to writing.   I always enjoy reading students' how-to pieces.  Not only do I learn about the students as writers, but I gain more insight into their areas of expertise.  Sometimes, I am very surprised at the topics students choose. Today, I would like to share some tools my students used to organize their how-to writing.

This post shows you how my second graders get ready to write their how to books.

I introduced this unit with two great mentor texts.  I chose one fiction,  How to Babysit a Grandpa and one nonfiction, How to Swallow a Pig.  Both of these books were full of specific examples, providing students with models for their own writing.  When conferring with students about their how-to pieces, I like to keep these books on hand to refer to as needed.

Two great mentor texts for how-to writing.  These books are perfect to carry with you during writing conferences as students write their own how-to books.

How to Babysit a Grandpa makes for a very fun read aloud.  I love using it as a mentor text because it is full of specific details and examples.  Each page tells about an important aspect of babysitting a grandpa.  You can find opening sentences, transitions, and examples that are very specific to the topic. Here is one of my favorite pages.

How to Babysit a Grandpa - an excellent mentor text for writing how-to books.

I also like to use a nonfiction text for how-to writing.  How to Swallow a Pig is a great book for showing how different animals have unique knowledge in how to perform certain tasks.  This book is great for prompting students to find a unique skill that they can share details about with the class.  This page is a great example of step by step instructions for how a leaf cutter ant farms for its food.  I like how it provides an opening paragraph for each skill.

*Bonus - You can learn a LOT of cool facts about different animals in this book!

How to Swallow a Pig - an excellent mentor text for writing how-to books.

After reading these books to students, I modeled how to brainstorm topics for their own How-to writing. We completed the organizer below with our areas of expertise.   I prompted students to think of ideas that were unique to them whenever possible.  We also discussed being specific (How to Steal a Base instead of How to Play Baseball).  You can download this organizer by clicking here or on the picture below.

Students use this free form to brainstorm areas of expertise prior to beginning their how-to books.

The next day, students brought their expert brainstorming sheet to the carpet.  I modeled how to select a topic and narrow it if needed.  I originally had "Taking care of a dog" on my expert sheet.  I explained to students how that was too broad.  I narrowed it down to how to feed a dog.

After narrowing my topic, I modeled how to use this graphic organizer to plan my writing.  I included details like making sure my dogs sits, looks at me, and waits for my command that it is okay for her to eat.  You can download this organizer here or by clicking on the picture below.

Students use this free form to brainstorm their steps prior to beginning their how-to books.

After they saw me model the process, students highlighted the topic from their expert organizer that they thought would work best.  Then they got to work on planning their own How-to writing.

We are now in the final stages of this writing project.  The organizer has been a great help during writing conferences throughout the writing process.  In the beginning, it helped students make sure they could choose an appropriate topic and identify steps.  Later, we referred to the organizer to talk about transitions and going step by step.  Next year, I plan on doing a little more modeling and conferencing with students prior to beginning drafts.  I think that will save me some time in the long run, especially with students who originally chose a topic that was too broad.

This post shares two great mentor texts and two free brainstorming forms for students to create their own how-to book.

Thank you!

I started a new professional book, and I can already tell it is going to become one of my favorites.  The Literacy Teacher's Playbook was recommended to me by a dear friend and colleague.  I'm only on page 9, and I already have to stop and put an idea into practice.

An Engagement Inventory is a great way to monitor independent reading.  This post has one as a free download.

The Literacy Teacher's Playbook takes the reader through various ways to assess your students.  Later, it talks about how to plan using the results of these assessments to best meet the needs of your students.  I can't wait to read about the instructional practices.  They look great at a glance.

This book is excellent professional reading for teachers.  Read this post for a free download of a reading engagement inventory inspired by this book.

In chapter one, Jennifer Serravallo talks about different lenses to use when assessing students' reading. The first lens she talks about is reading engagement.  She discusses using reading logs and interest inventories to help measure engagement.  These are tools that are very familiar to me, and I wholeheartedly agree with her suggestions on how to use them.   However, I was most excited to read about the idea of a Reading Engagement Inventory.  Here is a picture of the one from the book.

An Engagement Inventory is a great way to monitor independent reading.  This post has one as a free download.

Basically, you spend a block of reading time "kidwatching", paying close attention to the behaviors you notice during silent reading.  You code or make short notes about behaviors you notice.

In my version, a blank space will mean the student appears to be on task reading.  Here is my inventory I plan on using next year.  I will likely put it on my iPad and keep an electronic record as I am a huge fan of minimizing the amount of papers in my classroom. 

An Engagement Inventory is a great way to monitor independent reading.  This post has one as a free download.

If you would like to try out this form, I put it on a Google Slide.  If you make a copy of the file, you should be able to edit it however you would like, including changing the codes to fit your needs.  (Just go to file and click "Make a copy.)  I used font size 10, and I can fit 25 names in the table.  You can change the font and/or cell size if you need to fit in more names.  You can either print it out or complete the form digitally.  To download, click on the pink button below.


(If you need assistance editing the table, you can click here for help.)

Let me know if you have any questions.

Thank you!

It's Monday, so that means I'm linking up with Tara from 4th Grade Frolics for another edition of Monday Made It.


This week I have three projects to share.


My first Made It gave me a few challenges.  When I attended a professional development session for our new math program (Investigations) last week, the presenter shared a perfectly made large 10 frame that I just had to make.   

Mine did not come out nearly as neat, but I'm still excited about it.  (I tend to have some difficulty when it comes to making things straight.  The plastic was an added challenge.)  I am happy with how it turned out, and I'm sure it will be put to good use in my classroom.

The frame looks like this.

Make a mega-10 frame!

I got the plastic from Joanne's.  It was $3.00 a yard, and I only needed 2 feet.  The Duck Tape was a gift from one of my sweet students last year.

The next step was to get some counters.  I used plastic plates from Meijer.

Use plastic, Duck Tape, and paper plates to make a giant 10 frame!  This is great for tactile learners.

I love how students now have a large visual of a 10 frame.  This will be a great way to work with my tactile learners.


Several years ago, I remember reading about focus sticks.  I thought they would be really cute if I ever switched to a younger grade.  Well, now I am switching to second, so I had to make some.

First, I read this fabulous post from Hoots N' Hollers.  This post has a free download, so you can easily make your own focus sticks.  I just needed to buy craft sticks and Googly Eyes from Joann's.

These focus sticks are great to help with editing for conventions.

There is also a free download for a label on the same post.  However, I made my own label to match my classroom colors.  Finally, I put all the focus sticks in a can from the Target Dollar Spot.

Focus sticks serve as a great visual guide for students during the editing process.

I plan on using these focus sticks to assist my students with editing.  They will serve as reminders to edit for spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and (my favorite) asking, "Does it sound right?"

Thank you!

As I prepare to move to second grade, I have been doing a lot of thinking about what I want my reading block to look like.   Our district is switching from the Daily 5 format to a workshop approach.  I definitely see positive aspects to both approaches, but I am open-minded to making changes, especially since I am switching grade levels.

One aspect of the literacy block that will need to change is the way I track the reading students complete at school.  I need something different than I used in fourth grade and different from the Daily 5 tracking sheets.

Suggestions on how to track students' reading at school

I do plan to continue tracking the reading stamina of my young readers.  I definitely see the benefit of tracking the amount of time students can fully attend to their reading.  It's great to have a visual so students can see their growth.  I like this cute form from Taming My Flock of Firsties.  I plan on using it next year.

Daily Five Building Stamina FREEBIE
This week I spent a lot of time reading Lucy Calkin's Guide to the Reading Workshop.  As you can see from all of the Post-its, there were lots of great suggestions here.  


One of the points she emphasized was for students to keep a record of what they read in class.  I got to work on developing a form for my students to track their reading.  One thing I definitely wanted to include was a goal section to help students set and maintain high expectations for themselves.  Here is the form I came up with.

This free reading log helps set and track reading goals.

Then I thought about the students who were not quite ready to read chapter books.  I know I will work together with the Intervention Specialist to help a few students who are below grade level.  I wanted to make a form that would be appropriate for them to use as well.  It is important to me to have the forms look similar forms so no one would feel different.  My second form looks like this.

This free reading log helps set and track reading goals.

I am hoping these forms will help students set goals and stay on track during reading time.  I will definitely monitor them closely and discuss reading through conferences and small group work as frequently as I can.

If you would like to download these forms, just click on the pink button below.


How do you track your students in-class reading?  I'd love to hear your ideas.

I am looking forward to sharing more about what I learned from my reading.  I have a lot to tackle, and I will share as much as I can.

Thank you!
Hooray!  It's time for Monday Made It!  I'm excited to link up with Tara from 4th Grade Frolics for one of my favorite linky parties.


I have two Made Its that I would like to share with you today.


I went searching on Pinterest to find some fun activities for calendar time with my second graders next year.  One of the pins I came across inspired me to make my first Made It.

Here is the pin.  It is from Jessica at Tales of a Teacherista.


I like the idea of hanging this on the board for calendar time, so I attached ribbon to mine.  However, I can also see using it for small group work, one on one help, and partner activities.  Here is my version of this activity.  


I laminated both of the printables.  A dry erase marker works perfectly for writing the amount of money.  I initially used magnet tape to attach the coins.  However, they were a bit too heavy and kept falling off.  I ended up getting out the hot glue gun to secure the coins to the magnets.  I also glued the ribbon to the cooking sheet and used packaging tape for extra security.  



I got the cookie sheet at the Dollar Store and the ribbon at Jo Ann Fabrics.  If you would like the printables I used, you can get them here.


Next up is the Behavior BINGO game I made.  I blogged about this last week.  You can read that post here. Basically, when students reach pink on the clip chart, they may write their number on the BINGO board. Once the board is full, the class helper will pick a number.  The winner may choose one of the prize card rewards.  You can download the printables I used to make this game here.


I have many more items on my to do list.  I am looking forward to sharing more in upcoming weeks.

I can't wait to check out all the other Made Its.  Thank you, Tara for hosting this fun linky!

I have officially finished another school year.  Our last day with students was Tuesday, and we had a work day on Wednesday.  Thursday and Friday were professional development days.  We were very fortunate to have a guest speaker (Ken Williams) come in and talk to us about Professional Learning Communities (PLC).  Our district will implement PLC in the upcoming school year.  This workshop gave me a good idea of how to prepare and what to expect.

Why I'm excited for my district to implement Professional Learning Committees

Here are my five big takeaways from this workshop.


Teachers need to work as a team to do what's best for all students.  This goes beyond sharing copies and ideas.  We will be composing a list of what is most important for every child to learn and creating a plan to ensure that students master these concepts.  This requires a set time each week, not to plan lessons but to plan interventions and enrichment for specific students.  This may include flexible grouping across classrooms and/or involving specialists.


Expectations should be set at the first PLC meeting.  For example, everyone must be on time and prepared.  Other norms are also set such as not having cell phones out.  Whatever the expectations are, they should be set by, agreed upon and acted on by each group member.  


Every student must meet or exceed the "bar".  The bar is a set of standards from a unit, quarter or trimester that each child must meet. (Five was recommended, but not set in stone.)   The recommendation was to look at a unit, and select the most critical standards that every child must accomplish.  That does not mean to let the other standards go by the wayside.  Of course, you teach them with the same rigor as you always have.  However, all students must at least reach or exceed the bar that is set.  With this being our first year, we will start by focusing our PLC on one subject - yet to be determined.


The bar is set by the teachers.  I liked the recommendation that teachers first work independently to determine what they feel are the most critical standards.  Once each teacher has their "top five" most essential standards, the team can come together, share their ideas, state their cases, and come to a consensus on what the most critical standards are.  Having teachers create the bar gives them the ownership they need to make sure that the plan is meaningful.  It also allows them more flexibility than if the "must learn" standards were handed to them from administration.


Formative assessment and planning are keys to success.  Now, I have always been a believer in using formative assessment to drive my instruction.  I have shared ideas that worked with my colleagues and asked for help when I was stuck.  This takeaway was more of a validation to an idea I have had in place for a long time.  However, now I feel pushed to take this idea to a new level.  Although my colleagues and I have always been willing to share ideas, we have never explored the idea of flexible grouping across the grade level.  This is something new.  I am excited to give it a try, as I think the students will benefit from different delivery models.

Does your district have PLC in place?  I would love to hear any advice if you do.

***I hope that all of you have a wonderful summer whether it has already started or is just around the corner.  Enjoy!

Thank you!
I love a mentor text to help explain content.  Today I would like to share a great one for teaching ecosystems.  The goal of the lesson was to introduce students to the Ohio's Fourth Grade Science Standard that states, "Changes in an organism’s environment are sometimes beneficial to its survival and sometimes harmful."

This post shares a great mentor text for showing the effects of change on the environment.  A free graphic organizer is included.

The book is called Aliens from Earth.  From the text to the illustrations, it is the perfect mentor text to help explain animals' effects on the environment.  The book tells stories of how different animals came and "invaded" new territories.  The "invasion" seems harmless at first, but students soon learn of all the problems  that can be caused when an animal enters a new environment.

A fantastic book for showing very clear examples of how changes in the environment affect ecosystems.

One example I shared with my class was how fire ants arrived in our country entirely by accident.  They hitched a ride on a cargo ship from South Africa.  Once the fire ants arrived in the United States, their population flourished, as they had no natural predators.  Unfortunately, fire ants cause billions of dollars in destruction every year.  Ruining air conditioners and killing crops are a couple of examples of their destructive behavior.

Here is the illustration from the example in the above paragraph.  As you can see, all of the animal species are labeled.  I like how they are coded alien (a) or native (n).  This helps students to see how the native animal were affected by the change in their environment.

Aliens from Earth is a fantastic book for showing very clear examples of how changes in the environment affect ecosystems.

This book and the science concept lend themselves to reviewing cause and effect.  The text is very clear about the effects of the "invasions" to the natural balance of the ecosystems and how they caused a variety of problems.  Below are a couple of cause and effect relationships found in this book.

Cause - Some of the gypsy moths that were brought here from Europe escaped, and they have no predators.
Effect - Gypsy moth destroy over a million acres of forest each year.

Cause - The brown tree snake came to Guam on a military cargo ship.  There are no natural predators.
Effect - Some of Guam's native birds are now extinct.

I created a graphic organizer for students to continue practicing cause and effect.  You can easily use the organizer with this book or any other mentor text that has a cause and effect structure.  You can download it by clicking here or on the picture below.

This cause and effect organizer is free!  It goes great with the mentor text found on this post.

If you teach ecosystems or a unit on informational reading, I highly recommend this book.  It is well-organized, full of great information & illustrations, and highly engaging for our young readers.

Thank you!
I love books!  I mean I really love books!  One of my biggest missions is to get students to enjoy reading as much as I do.  A huge part of that mission is finding books of high interest that are at a "just right" reading level.  Today I'd like to share three sites that have helped me do just that.

This post shares three great websites for finding just right books for your classroom library.

I share all of these sites with my students and parents.   They are perfect to link up if you have a classroom webpage.  



Spaghetti Book Club - This site has book reviews for kids, by kids.  The books are explained and revered like only kids can do.  Reading positive reviews from peers can be a very powerful motivator for students.  I love how the students also post illustrations to go with their reviews.




What Should I Read Next? - This site is perfect when you have a reluctant reader who finally finds book that he/she loves.  All you need to do is type in the title, and the site will produce a list of books with similar themes at a similar level.  I love using this site when I am ordering new books for my classroom library.  Every year, there seems that students gravitate toward certain books.  This site is great for finding similar books.


 Guysread - This is an awesome site designed to encourage young males to love reading.  You can find a wide variety of book categories that appeal to guys, including "Creepy and Weird", "Tales and Scales" and "The Wild West".  When you click on a book title, you get a short review and a chance to rate the book for yourself.  This feature encourages students to come back, contribute to the site, and find more great books.  Seeing high ratings from peers can be a strong motivator for our students.

These sites are all easy and fun to use.  Enjoy!

Three Great Sites to Find Books for Kids



Thank you!
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