December 30, 2011

Literature Circles Made Easy Webinar

Are you interested in using literature circles in your classroom? If so, I invite you to watch the recording of my free webinar, Literature Circles Made Easy. Just click the link or read on to learn more.

From the moment I saw my first literature circles in action over 15 years ago, the concept grabbed me. I was visiting another school and observed kids meeting together to discuss books they were reading. I remember thinking, "What a terrific idea! I've got to try that with my students!" Having kids form reading groups based on their own book selections seemed like the ideal way to teach reading. However, as soon as I began to try literature circles, I realized that implementing an effective program wasn't quite as easy as it appeared. I struggled with how to structure the program in a way that would hold kids accountable without dampening their enthusiasm for reading. I tinkered with various types of literature circles, from a highly-structured teacher-directed model similar to guided reading groups to a more loosely-structured, student-directed model. After several years of experimenting, I finally settled on a process I refer to as Classroom Book Clubs which seems to have the perfect combination of flexibility and accountability. Book Clubs are very easy to implement and they don't involve roles or excessive amounts of written preparation. The last few years that I was in the classroom, I used this model to supplement other methods of instruction such as the balanced literacy framework and reading workshop.

My students and I loved this method of using literature circles so much that I decided to create a slidecast program of instructional videos to share the strategies with other teachers. I also held a free webinar on this topic to provide more information and answer questions. During the webinar I explained how Literature Circles fit with the Common Core standards, how to create groups, how to encourage kids to participate actively in the discussions, and more. Participants shared their own strategies via the chat box which made it an interactive, exciting session. You can view the recording from the Literature Circles page on Teaching Resources. I hope you enjoy it!

Teaching Resources ~

December 26, 2011

Mitten Science

Mittens keep our hands warm, but are mittens themselves warm? That's the question Selina Smith of the Classroom Magic blog posed to students in her mitten investigation.

Using inquiry science, students discovered that  mittens keep our hands warm because they trap our body heat, but mittens alone are not warm at all. Selina pairs this investigation with the book, The Mitten, by Jan Brett. Visit her blog to download the complete directions and handouts for the activity.

More Mitten Investigations
Selina's blog post intrigued me right away. I like her original question because it's easy to understand and can be explored with a simple science experiment. This activity also started me thinking about other mitten experiments that would be very easy for students to explore. A great follow up to her activity would be to have students brainstorm a list of mitten questions to investigate. Here are a few mitten of MY questions:
  • Are thin cotton mittens as effect as thick thermal mittens for keeping hands warm?
  • Do gloves keep hands as warm as mittens?
  • Do hands get warmer the longer they are inside the mittens? 
  • How does the outside air temperature affect the temperature of hands inside mittens? (If you are wearing mittens indoors will your hands be the same temperature as they would be if you were wearing them outdoors in cold weather?)

Designing Reliable Experiments
If your students are new to science inquiry, I would suggest choosing one experiment to do as a class. Later your students can choose another question to explore with a partner or a team. Download the Science Experiment Lab Write up from Teaching Resources before you begin.

To get started, give each student a blank copy of the form. Work through the various parts of the write up together, starting with the question and hypothesis.

Discuss how to design an experiment that will be reliable because this may be a new concept for elementary students. They tend to think that if they do an experiment one time, the results are "proof" that their hypothesis is correct. Experiments can be made more reliable by changing only one part of the experiment at a time (the variable), repeating the experiment, and measuring carefully.

After you design the experiment, let each team carry it out and record their results. Walk them through the remaining steps to draw conclusions and complete the science lab write up.

Can you think of other mitten questions to investigate? How would you use this activity in your classroom? Visit the Science page on Teaching Resources for more investigation ideas!

Visit Teaching Resources at

December 22, 2011

Dear Future Me

Have you ever written a letter to yourself in the future? The website makes it easy to send yourself an email that will be delivered on a future date. What a great concept! I tried it out, and it actually worked as promised. One day I received a strange email addressed, "Dear Future Laura," and it was like being pulled into a time warp! Okay, that might be over-dramatizing things, but it was still pretty amazing to get an email from my past self. Sort of boggles the mind!

Before I tell you more, let me warn you that this website is not really appropriate for elementary students. There's a public part of the site that has uncensored "future me" letters for people to read, and you never know what you'll find there. There are sample letters on the right side of the letter-writing area that seem to be okay, but students should definitely be supervised while using the site. I probably wouldn't let elementary students use themselves, but they could possibly write their letters in Word and you could have an adult enter them into the system later.

That being said, even if you don't use the website itself, you can still make use of the concept of writing a letter to yourself in the future. If I were using this with students, I would create a parent letter that explains the project and outlines options for participation. One option would be to allow their child to use the website in a supervised setting and have the letter delivered to either the parent's email or to the student's email address if they have one. Another option would be to have the teacher send home a copy of the letter in a sealed envelope for them to hand to their child on a specific date.

So how might you use this "future me" letter idea in your classroom? How about having them write a letter the first week in January and schedule it to be delivered on the last day of school? Or they might write a letter to themselves and arrange for it to be delivered on January 1st of the following year.

What would you suggest that students write about in this letter? I created a graphic organizer and a packet of materials for you to use with your students, but I'm sure you can think of many other ideas, too.  Perhaps they could include a list of their goals for the coming months or year? How about a description of the student's life at the time the letter is written including current events, things that interest them, what's going on in their lives now, etc. Perhaps they could include a favorite motivational quote or some encouraging words. What else comes to mind? You can download the freebie shown here from my store. If you like it, please take a moment to follow me on TpT and to rate this item.

I'd love to hear your ideas for having your students write "future me" letters. Please share your ideas here as a comment on this blog so that others can read your suggestions. Sometimes an idea shared by one person will spark a new thought in someone else. I look forward to your suggestions!

December 20, 2011

Power Reading Workshop Autographed for You!

Have you ever had an idea you wish you had dreamed up a week ago? That's how I felt today! A fellow blogger wanted to order a copy of my Power Reading Workshop book as a gift for someone and have me autograph it before sending to them. The ordering process needed to be a little different because normally books are shipped directly from the publisher. However, we worked out an arrangement and the book is on its way.

Then I began wondering if anyone else might like to order a copy of Power Reading Workshop and have it personally autographed and sent as a gift. Or maybe someone would want their own autographed copy! So I decided to set up a special ordering page to handle those types of orders. All you do is order the book from this page and then send me an email with the information regarding who it should be autographed to and where the book should be sent. The whole process is described on the "autographed copy" book page.

I'm not sure if this will interest anyone, but I wish the inspiration had hit me last week! Since that didn't happen, the best I can offer that if you order a book today (Tuesday), I'll try to get it out in the mail tomorrow via Priority Mail and it might still arrive by Christmas! Even if the book doesn't get there by Christmas, I'm sure that this gift will be much appreciated when it does arrive! Happy holidays to you!

December 6, 2011

A Simple Solution for Fast Finishers

By Angela Watson, Guest Blogger

None of us will ever have a class in which all students work at the same pace. That's okay! The goal is to make sure everyone is engaged in meaningful learning activities. For some kids, that means providing extra projects and assignments while they wait for their peers; for other kids, it means teaching time management and how to get things done on schedule. This is not as difficult as it sounds! Predictable classroom routines, clearly defined procedures, and lots of positive reinforcement will make a huge difference in how smoothly your classroom runs.

An easy way to support kids who finish quickly is to teach your class to always look at a When Finished sign after they complete an assignment. The sign I use is posted on my board and lists several assignments I typically have students complete when they are done with their work early. I use a red magnetized arrow to point to the assignment kids are supposed to complete. If kids need to do more than one thing, I'll use two arrows, one which says "First" and one which says "Then" to specify the order things should be completed in. For example, sometimes I like to have students show me their work before they start their next project, so I'll move the arrow that says "First" so that it points to "Show your work to your teacher" and I'll move the arrow that says "Then" so it points to "Get your book box and read silently." The bottom portion of the sign allows me to write a customized assignment on the board underneath if needed.

The When Finished signs keeps me from having to write out the same tasks over and over, and keeps students from wondering what they should be doing. Students' time is never wasted...and I never have to hear, "I'm done! Now what?"

You can download the When Finished sign for free right here! Or, visit the Routines and Procedures page to learn how to teach other expectations, such as lining up, getting drinks, passing in papers, cooperative learning, and arrival/dismissal routines.

Angela Powell Watson was a classroom teacher for 11 years, and currently works as an educational consultant and instructional coach in New York City. She is the author of two books, including The Cornerstone: Classroom Management That Makes Teaching More Effective, Efficient, and Enjoyable. She provides free teacher resources--including photos, printables, and activities--on her website,

December 5, 2011

Christmas Paper Chain Connections Craftivity

I love dreaming up new seasonal activities, but I always try to make them educational. A few days ago I remembered how I used to love to make paper chains to decorate our Christmas tree, and I realized that this craftivity could easily be adapted to the classroom by having students write on the slips of paper first. In fact, this idea would fit perfectly into a lesson on making connections while reading!

Making connections helps the reader make sense of what he or she is reading, and we often teach our students about three different types of connections: text to text, text to self, and text to world. Children are often taught to recognize and distinguish between these three, so I created a printable to make it super easy for students to record and classify their connections. (For some great mini lessons on teaching connections, read Stephanie Harvey's book, Strategies That Work.)

You can use this activity just before the holidays and have students create paper chains to decorate their Christmas trees, or you can do the activity at another time during the year and make paper chains for fun. The Paper Chain Connections activity can also be used with a "reading marathon" right before the holidays. Everything is fully explained in my free holiday lesson packet called Christmas Decoration Connections. You can download it from my Seasonal page on Teaching Resources during December, or my TeachersPayTeachers store any time of the year. If you download it from TpT, please take a moment to rate it. I hope you and your students enjoy this activity!

Teaching Resources ~

December 2, 2011

Teaching Sight Words? Try Sight Phrases Instead!

by Jennifer Harness Ayers, Guest Blogger

For me, teaching is a mission.  It is my heart and soul.  Because of this, I am like the little girl with a curl in the middle of her forehead (when she was bad, she was really bad—but when she was good, she was wonderful!).  When I think I am doing a great job, life is great.  When I feel like I am struggling to reach my students, life is the pits.  

I hit a dry spell in my teaching a few years ago, as I was teaching my struggling readers in guided reading.  We were going over and over the main 200 sight words, but there was little progress being made.  I had flashcards, and worksheets (yes, I admit it), and cloze passages.  I drilled, flashed cards, referred to context clues, highlighted the sight words with tape, and sent lists home with students to practice.  But, yet, there was little progress made.  I decided then, that I needed to do some research.  What were the best practices for teaching sight words? As I researched, I of course read the information published by Dr. Frye (and yes, there is a real Dr. Frye—he is not an imaginary character that a publisher made up like I thought!), Fountas and Pinnell, and Dr. Timothy Rasinski.  All of them had excellent ideas for teaching sight words, but it was Dr. Rasinski and his book, The Fluent Reader, which helped me to understand that there was more to sight words than just teaching them in isolation.  He recommended teaching the sight words in phrases.  I was ecstatic. Of course, one of the first thoughts that went through my mind was, ‘Why didn’t I think of this?’
I went to school the next day, armed with a plan. By teaching sight word PHRASES instead of words in isolation, I could build vocabulary, fluency, and schema.  I began teaching phrasing in order to show that these words help build a vision that the author has already created….it is up to us as readers to break the code so that we can ‘see the video in our head’.  So, instead of teaching the word ‘please’, I might teach the phrase ‘please pass the’ and use the sight word phrase to create detailed sentences in order to link meaning.  Without the phrase, a reader may not have enough understanding to figure out the word.  ‘Please’ by itself may not be strong enough in its meaning while standing alone. Or, possibly, is too complex of a word for the student to be able to break its code. But, when adding the other two words in the phrase to build ‘please pass the’, a whole world opens up because we automatically start building schema to try to finish the phrase. I’m sure some of you have automatically thought of salt, peas, butter, or something of that nature. It is the same with readers. They will automatically try to finish the phrase. That is when we take them back to the book to find the word please and use the phrase that it ‘lives in’ to teach the word.  It is all about using the phrase to spark the need to read. 
Feel free to download my packet of free sight word phrases and games from Laura's website. I use these in my own classroom when I model how to use sight word phrases in guided reading and then I gradually move them into a center for independent practice before beginning a new set.  Enjoy!

Jennifer Harness Ayers is a 17 year veteran teacher of the Hamilton County Schools System in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where she has fulfilled the roles of reading interventionist, lead teacher, presenter, and has taught grades 1-5. She currently teaches second grade.  She recently earned her Ed.S. from Tennessee Technological University in Administration and Supervision, but her most important accomplishments in life were becoming a wife and a mom to her two children.  Jennifer is the author of the blog Best Practices 4 Teaching. (