Sunday, December 1, 2013

C.U.P.S. and A.R.M.S.

I am new to teaching Writing in sixth grade.  It was a subject previously taught by one of my team members, but now I am on my own.  I really wanted to use something simple for my kids to use for revising and editing and it seemed like the C.U.P.S. and A.R.M.S. revising and editing was a simple enough place to start.  I also wanted to make something that they could glue into their notebooks for a quick reference.  Of course, I quickly hopped over to PicMonkey to create something fast and cute.

So far, I am still getting my feet wet when it comes to teaching writing, but the kids liked this and seemed to catch on quickly.  Thought I would share my little poster with you.

Turns out, this little poster has become very popular on Pinterest and has received quite a few hits here on my blog.  So, for those of you that would like a free, printable version, I have it linked here on my Teachers Pay Teachers store.  Enjoy!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

2013-2014 6th Grade Quote

Here it is people!  After much deliberation and design consideration, here is our new t-shirt and quote for the sixth graders!  I am so excited and it looks great thanks to AMJ.  Our new quote is...

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

And although the shirts are not yet off the presses, here is our final design...

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Book Jacket Redesign

As I was going through my stacks of stuff, getting my classroom ready, I found some laminating to be cut.  I realized that it was something that I had intended to blog about, but had completely forgot.

In my classroom library, I have rings that hold book jackets that were created by sixth graders.  They choose the book that they most enjoyed reading throughout the year and redesign its book jacket.  I do this at the end of the year, so I choose my favorites.  I have quite a collection as I have done this a few times and on average, I have about 100 sixth graders each year.

We start by analyzing current book jackets.  I put a pile of books out for each table group and they brainstorm a list of things that they have in common.  I ask them to note what they look like and important elements that they all have.  Then, we make a master list to use as a rubric.  Usually it includes things like

  • a bold title 
  • author name
  • quotes and reviews by authors or publications
  • great use of graphics and colors (no white space)

My sixth graders this last year were awesome.  I could brag about them for paragraphs.  Each and every one of them was and is wonderful. I have so many awesome book jackets this year, I didn't know how to only share a few, but here they are:

I punch a hole in the corner and put them on rings.  Then I hang them up in the classroom library (pictures soon to come).  So when kids have free time they can take a set of jackets on a ring to their desk and see if there are any books that they are interested in reading.  Many of the reviews on the jacket are quotes from other sixth graders that also read the book.  This year, my new sixth graders will get to read jackets from the last two years of sixth graders; they are often kids they have looked up to at school.

A great way to get kids interested in literature because it isn't coming from you, but from their peers.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Class of 2014 Quote

So, I admit it.  I snuck over to work today and spent some time working on my room.  If I ever get it back together again, I will post pictures.  I am SUPPOSED to be on vacation, but... Well, if you are a teacher, you know.  As I was putting together a to-do list I realized that my team and I had not yet decided on a quote for this year's sixth grade class.

Let me explain...
A few years ago, one of my team members in 6th grade thought it would be a good idea to choose a quote for the year.  Something that brings all of the sixth graders together and is sort of their "motto" for the year.  Then, we design "Class Of" t-shirts with the quote on the back and we post the quote up in all of the sixth grade classrooms.  Here are a few of the tshirts we have had in the past few years...
t-shirt designs for 6th grade
We all wear our 6th grade tshirts on Spirit Days at school and important events (like camp and playing dodgeball with the Airforce).  So, here are the quotes we have used since we have started this great sixth grade tradition:

"Be the change you wish to see in the world." -Gandhi
"Be true to your work, your word, and your friend." -Thoreau
"The time is always right to do what is right." -M.L.K.
"You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think." -Christopher Robin

And as I said, I am in search for this year's quote.  I have a Pinterest board just for quotes and I keep an eye out everywhere.  I feel like when I find it, I will know.  I am a HUGE fan of Robby Novak, so I am on the lookout for great Kid President quotes.  He is so fun.  I found these great posters from Shane Read Creative and I would love to design a tshirt that was a little more hip this year, like this...

Anybody out there have some good quote suggestions for the class of 2014?  I would love to hear them!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Using PowToon in the Classroom

Summer is my time to try out things that I am petrified to try for the first time during the school year.  Today, I searched around for a new, more dynamic way to make presentations.  I wanted something a little more engaging then the regular old Powerpoint or SmartBoard lesson.  I did a little bit of research and decided on Powtoon.
Why?  It was free, easy to use (if you are familiar with presentation software like Powerpoint), and it was cute.  Those kids love "cute" and I thought maybe they could also learn to make their own animated presentations.  I am hoping it will work for not only presentations and slideshows, but also for short "flipped" videos that could be linked to websites, tweeted out, or on YouTube.

The only drawback is that it requires a flash player.  So those of us who work mainly on an IPAD are out of luck.  Luckily I have both a laptop and an IPAD for the classroom.  The laptop is hooked up directly to my flat screen TV in the classroom, so this works fine for me.  Also, instead of getting a few IPADs for my room, I decided to try out the cheaper option, which is a set of about 6 Chromebooks.  So, PowToon should be a great tool for those.

First, I started with something I knew I could use right away in the classroom.  I took the posters I made for our 6th grade interactive notebooks and turned the information into a short little video.

Then, as I felt like I was on a role, I tried a quick explanation of Main Idea.

It's actually addictive.  At first, it takes some time to figure out how to use it.  I of course always opt for the "playing around until I figure it out" option which sometimes takes a little longer than watching the tutorial.  If you are familiar with PowerPoint and timing slides, then it isn't too hard.  Once I got the hang of it, it went pretty quick.

It is a little limited once you get going.  There were times I caught myself saying things like, "oh man, it doesn't _____?"  But for something totally free, I can't really complain.  Easy and fun to work with, if you are looking for animated presentation software online for your classroom.

I would love to hear what other people are using that are similar.  I wish I had the time to check them all out. And if you have tried PowToon, what did you think?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

College Week Activity - College Research and Posters

Wow.  It has been a really long time since my last post, but as most people know, it is testing season.  Most of my time recently has been spent preparing, giving, and then recuperating from the test.  We recently celebrated college week here at my school, so I had the sixth graders work on a project in partners to learn a little more about the colleges they were interested in.
First, they had to work together to do research on the college they had chosen.  We are lucky enough here to have a few IPADs that we can pass around and share, but this could totally be done in a computer lab.  I gave each set of partners this worksheet to guide them.
Then, they make posters using the information they have gathered.  Here are a few of the posters my sixth graders made this year.

When all of the posters are complete, I put them on the walls around the room.  Then I give them this worksheet.  They use it while they walk around the room and get information from the posters that the other students have made.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Released Test Questions - California Standards Test

I am just like you.  Every year, just about this time, my sixth grade students and I start the long arduous process of going over the California Released Test Questions for the CST.  But I knew that somehow this year, I was going to have to mix things up a bit.  As many of you, I also saw the "I Choose 'C'" video that has spread across YouTube (made by an 8th grader, by the way).  So, I showed it to them.  When that many kids in a room identify with something like that, you know it is time for a shake-up.
My students are great test takers.  Sometimes I wonder if they are too good.  I noticed that many of them were going through the motions while we were analyzing similar questions during the year, so this year I tried something new.  In honor of the new Common Core and in honor of making these kids use their brains again, I took the California Released Test Questions and eliminated their choices.  Yes, you read correctly.  I took the choices away.  Well, I did leave a few choices, due to the fact that it is just necessary for some of the released questions.  Now, my students MUST answer them first without options A, B, C, or D.  It forces them to go find the evidence from the text, not just play the elimination game with the four options.  When I have given everyone time to answer the questions and discuss them in groups, only then do I allow them to choose their options.  I have put the choices into a PowerPoint and they use what they wrote, highlighted and underlined to make a choice.
Analyzing Released Test Questions "More Than A Niece"

Analyzing Released Test Questions "Water Picture"

What have I learned from this little experiment?   My kids have all the knowledge they need in their heads, but if they can find a shortcut to avoid using it, they will.  Now, they are having great discussions and they are finding and sharing things they weren't before.  I am getting more out of our time we spend going over the released test questions then I was before.  And of course, it was important to get feedback from my kids.  An easy majority of them said that it was better this way.  They said it was easier, not to so much confusion about second guessing their answers.  I am getting real information about what standards they are more comfortable with and where we should spend a few minutes reviewing or revisiting.  This is not for everyone and it does take time.  But isn't this where common core is heading anyhow?  Finding justifications in the text?  Writing out answers and synthesizing the information presented?  I can easily say that I am glad I took a chance and tried this out.
I would love to hear your strategies for covering Released Test Questions!  What are you doing to make them more engaging and how do you keep your kids thinking, not just test taking?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Creating a Field Guide in the Classroom

As our final project for the Redwood Forest, the students make their own field guides.  When they are done, I laminate them and they can take the field guides to camp.  It is a great activity that incorporates note taking, research, non-linguistic representation, and a little creativity.  Here is the process if you want to make a field guide with your students...
field guide notes in interactive notebook

The first thing my students do is spend time taking notes on the species of the forest.  They used a combination of resources that included pamphlets, other field guides, and the internet.  They put these notes in their interactive notebooks so they can also use them on their test.

When they are finished, we check them over for mistakes, and then they are ready to start the final product!

First, they copy their notes into pre-made boxes.  This is so they don't run out of room on their final piece of card stock and if they make a mistake, they can just get a new box, instead of starting their project all over.
boxes for field guide notes
Then, they get pictures of all the species that are included in their field guide.  I spend A LOT of time on Google images to find black and white pictures or line drawings of all of these plants, trees, and animals.  They are required to color the plants and animals the correct colors.
field guide pictures
Once they have done their boxes and pictures, they are ready to cut and glue.  I give them a piece of white card stock.  It tends to hold up a lot better than just plain white construction paper.  When they are all done, I like to laminate them just in case it rains at camp :)  Here are some examples of the finished products...
front cover of field guide
inside of field guide
This can be done for any biome or ecosystem project.  It could even just include species that you find around your school or in your neighborhood.  They love making them and love taking them out in the field even more!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Interactive Notebook Posters

This is a work in progress but I thought I would share now as people are making plans for next year already (really?).  After years of doing interactive notebooks, I wanted to make a series of posters that I could put up in the classroom as a reference for the kids.  They have a rubric in their notebook to guide them, but sometimes having them on the wall is much better for those who need the visual reminder.  Notebooks are more effective for you and your students if you have a clear rubric and set of requirements laying out what you expect.
Interactive notebook - organization

Interactive notebook - table of contents

Interactive notebook - headings and titles

My goal is to get them into dollar store frames and hang them right above the white board.  I did them in Powerpoint so that I can use it as a presentation for next year (on my new IPAD and Apple TV system!).  I am also working on something to send home to parents as well.  Of course, interactive notebook requirements are different for everyone, but I would say pick and choose what works for you and incorporate what you like for your class.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Teaching Resources for the Redwood Forest

I spent a boat load of time doing research, asking around, and using Google to find anything and everything that I could to develop a Science unit around the Redwood Forest.  Why?  Because I really believe in place based Science education.  I think students should study and understand the environment and community around them before they can understand the rest of the world.  Bottom line:  It is meaningful and they can touch it.  My students also spend a week in the Redwood Forest at the end of the year for 6th grade camp.  When we are done with learning in and out of the classroom, they understand and care about what they learned.

So, if there is anyone else out there hoping to teach their kids about the Redwood Forest, here is what I came up with, all in one place.  Hopefully it saves you some time...

  • Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods (also good for tide pool and ocean stuff) this link will take you to their list of publications that are free to download
  • Redwood Video/Slideshow - this is a quick, but totally wonderful slideshow set to music that was created by Humboldt State and National Geographic.  It is beautiful and totally leaves an impression with the students when they watch it.  This particular version is through YouTube so hopefully your district has not blocked the site for teachers.
  • Save the Redwoods League (of course) they have great resources that can be downloaded for free.  You can also order some of their publications and they will send them to you in the mail.  They also have great links to online resources including loads of info on Giant Sequoias as well.
  • Humboldt State University Natural History Museum  This Redwood Ecology website is great for using in a computer lab or if the students have access to IPADs or other devices.  It includes a great Webquest that I do every time that I teach this unit.  
  • Redwood Ecology  Great website that has information about the species of the forest, very kid friendly.  Hosted by Humboldt County Office of Education
  • Climbing Redwood Giants - National Geographic movie.  Since the district has blocked Netflix, I cannot stream this video from there, but here is the link from the National Geographic channel.  It is about 45 minutes long, but a wonderful video.
  • California Forest Foundation - has a ton of downloadable materials, especially if you are into learning more about forest management with your students.  They also have a Critical Thinking section that has great links and more resources.
  • Redwood Ed from the California Department of Parks and Recreation - this is curriculum and resources for teachers.  It is a lot to print, so I would download and pick and choose what works for you, but it is a great resource.
  • Golden Gate National Recreation Area - This link will take you to the Teacher's Guide for Into the Redwood Forest.  There are also plant and animal guides for download as well as a student journal.  You can also sign up for trainings and field trips to the area through the site.  
  • Reading the Rings of a Tree Poster from International Paper - good if you need a visual for dedronchronology
  • The Life of a Tree - from  It is a little animated/slideshow presentation about the parts of a tree and how to read tree rings.  
  • The National Park Service provides these great little fact sheets on Redwood Prairies and Forests.  It is a great download to use for non-fiction text features and getting basic facts on plants and animals.
  • The Sequoia Park Zoo - this links to their Redwood Forest Edventures curriculum guide, totally downloadable and printable
  • Operation Redwood by Terrell French is a great fictional book about a boy trying to save a grove of redwoods.  I personally just finished reading it and really enjoyed it.  They have a study guide with discussion questions for the book.
  • Big Basin Teacher Resources Page - includes some of the links that I have here, plus many more.  LOVE Big Basin.  If you have never had a chance to visit, you should go.
  • Redwood Forest Plant Guide - I am still trying to remember the original makers of this, but this one is on DocStoc.  If anyone knows the original link, please remind me.
  • Humboldt State Institute for Redwood Ecology - Steve Stillett is the rockstar of Ecology.  The kids always think his job is so cool.  Check out the great photo tours.
  • Measuring Redwood Giants from KQED Science on the Spot - speaking of Steve Stillett, this is a great short video on how they measure the trees and why.  Again, it is through YouTube.
  • National Geographic Photos and short article.  The photos are really beautiful and the point of view can't be beat.
So, this list is a work in progress.   I am constantly updating my curriculum as I find new resources.  If you have discovered anything new that I have not included here I would love to know.

Westing Game Character Chart

If you are reading The Westing Game or any other book with a large number of characters to keep track of, a large, wall-sized character chart may be just right for your students.

One of my favorite books to teach (obviously) is The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin.  You may have seen my other posts on the wanted posters or the way I use interactive notebooks to teach the book.  Because there are 16 characters, the kids always have trouble getting started and keeping them straight.  Then, as we progress through the book we are always trying to figure out who is the most mysterious character or who would have had a reason to kill Sam Westing.  We keep 4 x 4 charts in our interactive notebooks four times throughout the book where we keep track of what we learned about each character in those particular set of chapters.  We also keep a large interactive character chart in the classroom.  Each time we do a character chart, I also have students get into groups of three and I randomly assign them a character to report on.  They write all that they know on the sticky note that I give them in bullet points. Then, they stick them up on the wall for everyone to see.

Westing Game Character Chart
It becomes a giant reference wall. Each set of chapters has its own color of sticky note. It is especially popular when the students are making their Wanted Posters and are trying to gather as much information for their posters as they can.  It is also helpful when they are studying for their quizzes and final test.

If you are interested in getting the whole book unit check it out here.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Determining the Age of a Tree Using Circumference

I love this science activity.  It is great for two reasons.  1.  The kids have been doing geometry in math and are already studying circumference and diameter of circles.  2.  They really begin to understand that studying trees is a science and that Math has a practical purpose in life.  So I am sharing this for anyone who needs a great Common Core Math lesson on Circumference, Diameter, and its relationship to Pi or for anyone who just wants to show their kids the science of determining the age of a tree without harming one.

You will need a few things to start:
1.  calculators (or not, if you want them to practice mutiplying and dividing huge amounts of decimals)

2.  long pieces of string or yarn

3.  rulers or yardsticks

4.  growth factor charts for different species of trees.  The best one I have found was here at the Missouri Dept. of Conservation.

My "fake" trees
5.  Fake trees (mine consist of wrapping cylindrical shaped objects with brown paper) and/or real trees.

6.  An engaging video that shows them what this is like in the field.  I use this one with Steve Stillett measuring Redwood trees.

7.  Blank worksheet that includes the directions, formulas, and a chart to record their data
Calculating the Age of a Tree Worksheet
The students have "fake" tree options in the classroom and a few real tree options outside.  I have them work in partners because using the string and laying it onto rulers or yardsticks sometimes requires four hands. Plus, the conversations about the math often create a few lightbulb moments for some kids.  Essentially, the formula is as follows:

Diameter x growth rate = tree age

They need to measure the circumference, divide that by 3.14 to get the diameter, then multiply by the growth rate on the chart based on what type of tree it is.

I find that students who did not really understand circumference and diameter beyond the formula, have a much better understanding of their relationship once this is done. They also really enjoy what they are doing.  Especially when I let them go outside and try it on real trees.  When they are done, they get glued into their interactive notebooks.

Let me know if you have any questions about the lesson, but if you spend any time on either of these subjects it is well worth the time and effort.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Science Notebooks - Learning About Conservationists

Every few days, we start science by learning about an important conservationist/naturalist.  As she is the mother of the environmental movement, we started with Rachel Carson.  We will of course move on to John Muir, Julia Hill, et al.  I gave the kids a quote to analyze and a little bio to read and take notes on.  It only takes about 15 minutes and it is a good way to also expose them to jobs and opportunities in the Environmental Science field.
This is a simple organizer that I can change for each different conservationist.  It is really nothing more than a bunch of text boxes.  If anyone would like the blank versions, just let me know!  And if you have any suggestions for other conservationists or naturalists that I should be covering, I would love your input.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Living Things and their Environment- science notebooks

I do deviate from our science curriculum because I really like a "place based" curriculum that students can relate to; however, I start with a good foundation of vocabulary and information about environments and living things from the textbook.  I found a great slideshare this year by Mr. Schumaeir and you can link to it here.  It is awesome for introducing the concepts and using your student engagement strategies prior to reading the chapter.  There is no reason for reinventing the wheel when there are so many amazing teachers out there sharing their stuff.  Then, we go through the chapter using this graphic organizer...

Living Things and their Environments

Our second lesson covers the Energy Flow in Ecosystems chapter.  First we do a simple organizer with definitions and notes. Then, the students have to cut, paste, and sort a group of pictures that I give them next to the right category of producer, consumer, or decomposer.
Producers, Consumers, and Decomposers

These activities get the students ready to talk about various types of ecosystems and how the biotic and abiotic factors all work together.  They will spend about three weeks closely examining the Redwood Forest so these chapters are essential to understanding this local biome and national treasure.

Please check my upcoming posts for information and resources for teaching about the Redwood Forest.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Roald Dahl Quote Poster

My goal for next year is to create, print, and frame my favorite quotes for the classroom.  I decided to start today, since it seems all of my great ideas lack time in the end.  Seems like 6 months should be enough time. Anyhow, my favorite author of all time is Roald Dahl, so of course I have started with him.  Plus it was something shorter to play around with.  If you are wondering where I made this happen, I used PicMonkey for this.  BUT, I'm thinking that I'll try other formats to see which I like best.  So far, so good.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Making Posters - PDF style

Here is my latest poster for my unit in the Redwood Forest.  I have taken this beautiful drawing of the layers of the redwood forest by Cynthia Linsenbardt and enlarged it for this poster.  Now I have a big version for the wall and the kids have their own little version in their notebooks.  I am totally behind the curve, but for those of you that are there with me, here are the directions.

I rarely have time to even go to pee during the day, much less take a file over to the local copy place to be enlarged into a poster.  Plus, my posters usually occur on a whim and I am not patient enough to wait around for my poster to be made when I can make it myself.  So, I finally googled how to enlarge stuff and this is what I found...

STEP ONE:  convert your picture to a PDF, if it isn't already

STEP TWO:  open your PDF and select "print" from the File Menu

STEP THREE:  go down to "page scaling" and use the drop down menu, choose to "tile" your pages

STEP FOUR:  decide how much bigger you want it to be and change the tile scale percentage, if you play around a little with different numbers, it will show you how big/ how many pages it will be

STEP FIVE: print, cut, and glue your pages together

This is great for classroom mural projects, making things larger for anchor charts or walls, or just making your own posters!

Picture credit:  Cynthia Linsenbardt, and the field notebook used by

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


I am excited to say that we are officially done with social studies around here and science has begun!  I will be posting our endeavors every few days.  We have a special science rotation in the sixth grade and each teacher is responsible for covering an important biome in California.  My specialty is the Redwood Forest and it is my favorite due to the fact that the sixth grade spends five days in the Redwoods of Santa Cruz for outdoor education camp.  So, if you would like to see what we learn and where I get my resources, stay tuned!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Grading Comprehension Questions

So I see about 100 kids each day for Reading.  There are three groups, reading three different books.  Every week they are assigned chapters from those books and about 6 comprehension questions to go with them.  They answer those comprehension questions in their Reading Response Notebooks.  If you do the math, this is how many comprehension questions I would be grading each week...

100 kids X 6 comprehension questions = 600 short answer questions every week

I don't know about you, but I just don't have the time for that.  So here is one way I manage it.  First, make yourself some of those "ticket out the door" posters.  I have 5 or 6 for each group because each poster is for one question.
Mine are getting a little faded as they have been up all year.

Then, I put the kids into groups of 2 or 3, depending on how many kids you have this would vary.  Each group gets a number.  That number is where they put their answer on the poster.  For example, if they were group #1, their answer will always go in the #1 boxes.

Each group also gets their own sticky note color.  This is more for fun and to help my eyes when looking over them.  You could just do it with plain old yellow stickies if you wanted.  Each group gets a sticky note for each question (5 questions = 5 sticky notes).

After they discuss all of their answers, they write them on the sticky note and place them in the boxes.  I can then quickly look over all of their answers for each comprehension question.

If a group has a wrong answer, I simply move the sticky note down below the board.  If they see their color sticky below the board, they know their group needs to fix an answer.  If they still have all 5 sticky notes up, their group gets 100% on the assignment.

Sticky Note Comprehension for The Hobbit

SO MUCH FASTER than grading each one separately!