The ABCD's of Student Engagement {Freebie!}

Hi there!  Today is my day of the month to blog over at All Things Upper Elementary.  There, I shared with readers a little bit about a book that has profoundly impacted the way I teach.  Actually, I was so "on fire" with the engagement strategies laid out in this book, that once I tried them for myself and witnessed firsthand the positive impact they had on my students' learning and retention, I gave a series of after-school teacher enrichment presentations to fellow colleagues in the district.  I would say that the things I learned in this book had an impact district-wide!

Not a cover that really grabs you and shouts “READ ME!”, huh?  (Fortunately, I got past the cover and into the book.  Check out my post at ATUE for the full story on what enticed me to open this book and further details on what I found in it.)

Basically, while reading, I found many similarities between the upper elementary classrooms in which I co-teach, and the ones that Wiliam described.  (Wiliam describes a classroom where a handful of dedicated students constantly raise their hands and contribute to the class discussion, while the remainder of students in the classroom doodle, daydream, or fly under the radar.)  When I returned to school on Monday, my hunch was 100% verified.  A handful of students constantly raised their hands, while the other students either sat quietly or simply “spaced out”.  Wiliam concluded that the achievement gap is widening in such a classroom... and I had to agree.

My co-teachers and I soon put some of Wiliam’s engagement strategies into action, and we saw a remarkable difference.  I shared my #1 strategy over at ATUE, and if you haven't been there, yet, I highly recommend checking it out.)  Below I describe the #2 change my colleagues and I made that seemed to make a significant difference in increasing student engagement during lessons.

#2- ABCD Cards (an all-student response system) 
First, each student was given a set of ABCD cards.
FREEBIE!  Click on the image for a set of ABCD cards like these you can print for your students!
Whenever we used a PowerPoint that included multiple choice questions, or displayed a multiple choice worksheet using the doc camera, students were instructed to get out their ABCD cards. (FYI - In some classrooms, students kept their cards in an envelope in their desk.  In other classrooms, teachers attached a library card envelope to the top of the desk, and students kept the cards in the envelope for easy access.)

(After being instructed a few times), whenever students were shown a multiple choice question, they knew to choose the letter they thought was the correct answer, place the card on top of their stack, and hold the stack close to their chest.   Once every student had an answer, we said “Show your answer.”  Students turned over their stack to display their answer, and we teachers were able to quickly identify which students understood the topic, and which were needed further instruction.

There are many more excellent strategies for keeping your students engaged during lessons, but I think that’s enough for this blog post! I will save other ideas for future blog posts!

Third Grade Writing in a Coteaching Classroom

Today I want to share a little about the efforts that my coteachers and I are making with writing this year - we are seeing positive results already!

This year my entire morning consists of coteaching writing - in all three of my school's third grade classrooms and one of the fourth grade classrooms.  This is actually my second year of coteaching writing, and I have found that I really enjoy witnessing the progress of my students' writing from where they begin in third grade to where they are at the end of fourth grade!  What growth occurs in these two short years!!

Our third grade team got together at the start of this school year and decided to make two significant changes to our writing program: 

1.  We are teaching the writing process very explicitly to our students.  What exactly do I mean by that?
Last year: We progressed through the writing process and used the vocabulary repeatedly, but the students never took ownership of the writing process.  (This became obvious last year at quarterly assessment time when students skipped the brainstorming and planning stages, and went right to writing a rough draft.)   
This year: We have posters displayed in each third grade classroom, and we move the arrow as we progress through the writing process.  (I purchased these adorable Writing Process Anchor Chart Posters from Sabrina Barr at TpT!)

I also created the tracking sheet below that students keep in their writing folder.  Students fill in each arrow as they progress through the writing process.  Not only do the students love coloring in the arrows as they complete each step, but we teachers find that it is extremely helpful to us, too - at the beginning of our writer's workshop time, we have students hold up their cards.  We catch a quick glimpse of where each student is in the writing process!
Click HERE to download this PDF!
2.  We record conference notes.  Each student has a copy of the Observation Notes sheet below.  They keep it in their writing folder and bring it to their individual writing conference.  As you can see, we record their writing strengths, but also weak areas that we specifically addressed during the conference.  This is very helpful in a writing classroom where coteaching is taking place. This allows us both to be "up-to-speed" on the nature of each student's most recent writing conference.
Click HERE to download this PDF!
Here's an example of how a coteaching classroom in particular benefits from use of this resource: If Miss Henderson (the classroom teacher) discussed using capital letters for proper nouns during the last writing conference, I can quickly glance at the conference notes, and begin the new conference with a statement like "I see at your last writing conference, you and Miss Henderson talked about capitalizing proper nouns.  Let's look at this writing piece to see if you remembered to use capital letters to begin proper nouns when you wrote independently."

Results?  I am pleased to report that we are seeing significant progress... when we write a comment for "developing skill", we usually DO see progress on the next writing piece!!  It also comes in very handy when it's time to fill out report cards and/or have parent-teacher conferences!

I'll update you later in the year with how things continue to progress!

Let's Talk Plot! {GIVEAWAY!}

I was surprised during the big Back-to-School sale at TeachersPayTeachers to find that one of my big sellers of the event was my Plot Task Card resource!  I created this resource late last April, and while initial sales were fine, they didn't lead me to believe that I had a "Top 10" product or anything like that.  :)  While I still think that chances of that are slim, the surprising sales of it last weekend delighted me!
As I tried to figure out the reason for the increased interest, I recognized that it makes sense to hit this concept early in the school year.  The ability to recognize the elements of plot is a basic concept that my students typically catch on to fairly quickly.  It's also important for students to understand this concept before moving on to "higher-level" or more abstract concepts of literature such as main idea, theme, mood, etc.

So, for those of you who haven't seen the Elements of Plot resources I've created, I thought I'd share them with you!

The Plot Task Card resource can actually be utilized as worksheets rather than task cards if you prefer. (If you preview the product at my TPT store, you can see what I mean.)
Included are 4 original short stories:
          - Amy's Day at the Lake
          - Stranded in Wyoming
          - The Unforgettable Hike
          - What to do with Fido
Students are tasked with identifying each plot element for each story:
          - Introduction/Exposition
          - Rising Action
          - Climax
          - Falling Action
          - Conclusion/Resolution
Feedback has been very positive!  One purchaser commented "These will be great to use in centers as we are discussing plot!"  I think so, too...  :)

I will also note that I intend to incorporate this into the interactive notebooks I am implementing with my fourth graders this year.  I will make photocopies of the plot diagram and give one to each student.  In each element's "box", I will have them list a description for it.  This will then be available for them to reference back to later in the year as needed.
I will also make brief mention of my Plot Elements Craftivity, too.  It is an engaging, hands-on activity that I think works great when first introducing the concept of plot to students.

I actually make this a 2-day activity:
          On Day 1, students read the original short story The Play Must Go On. Then they complete a worksheet to identify the story's plot elements. (They also begin coloring their word cards on Day 1.)
          On Day 2, as a class, we reread the story and then identify the plot elements as a group. This gives students the opportunity to correct any mistakes on their worksheet. Everyone then completes the craftivity by following the directions that I have placed under the doc camera.

Hey!  Why not do a giveaway?!  Enter this giveaway for a chance to win my Plot Elements Craftivity AND my Plot Task Cards resource. a Rafflecopter giveaway
As always, though, no need to wait to purchase these products if you are interested!  If you win them after you've purchased them, I will let you choose other resources at my store (up to $6 in value).

All Things Upper ElementaryOne last thing - stop over to All Things Upper Elementary tomorrow (Sunday).  Let's just say that you might recognize the person blogging there, and there'll be a "special treat" to be found, too!  :)

Thanks again for stopping by,

How is summer vacation related to nonfiction text structures?

Going on vacation is always a big summer event at my house.  This year we decided to take another road trip.  (One advantage of living in Iowa is that almost any vacation can be completed by driving!)  This summer we pointed our car Northwest and headed for our country's first national park (Yellowstone) and the great state of Montana!
My husband was happy to drive the entire trip, so I sat with my laptop and gleefully typed away until my computer ran out of power.  As a result, I completed some items on my to-do-list!  My tone task cards, tone craftivity, mood craftivity, and nonfiction text structure task cards were all created during our 40 hours in the van.  (Thank goodness for electronic games, the DVD player and the occasional bribe- my daughters were pretty content during the entire trip!)  I am excited to use all of the items I worked on next year with my 5th grade classes!

By looking at the Nonfiction Text Structure task cards, one can identify elements of our family vacation! Task card topics include the following:
  • BEARS  (My daughters were hoping to see a bear... I was hoping NOT to see one!)
  • FRENCH FRIES (We passed a lot of McDonald's restaurants along the road, and yes, we stopped at a few of them!)
  • WILDFIRES (Who knew there were so many dead trees in Yellowstone?)
  • BIKES (There seem to be many biking enthusiasts in Montana!  We passed a lot of them!)
  • THE GRAND CANYON (I couldn't resist including this topic, as this will hopefully be a vacation destination in the near future!)
  • GLACIERS (A tribute to our visit to Glacier National Park.)  
If you teach nonfiction text structures, feel free to take a peek at these task cards.

There are several examples of these types of paragraphs:
Compare and Contrast
Cause and Effect
Problem and Solution
This is my favorite photo from the trip!
We got to play in snow (in July!?!?) ,
while our friends back home were sweating in the extreme heat that week.

With school starting in just over a week, I'm sure we'll have "mountains" of white snow before we know it!  Stay cool!

P.S.  If you haven't already...time is running out for entering my raffle giveaway!  Again, one winner will receive my I Have...Who Has Game BUNDLE ($25 value)!  Sign up today!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Main Idea Cones with Delicious Detail Scoops!

It's July...who doesn't have an ice cream cone on their mind nearly every evening?  I must admit, I'm a soft-serve fan... the more swirls of soft, creamy vanilla goodness topping a flaky cone the better!  And I have to ask - does anyone else absolutely relish that last bite of the cone, once it's gotten all soggy and mushy?  I pop it into my mouth and savor as it melts on my tongue.  Okay, so I totally digress...

Anyway, cream...all make me feel like this is the perfect time to feature my second best-seller at my store - my Main Idea Ice Cream Cones craftivity!

Click HERE to purchase!
I have to say, when I did this craftivity with my fifth graders, they had a ball with it!  I saw some very creative cones!  I had birthday cake flavored scoops, candy bar scoops, fruit-filled scoops, you name it! 
A close up look at some creative scoops!
Here's "the scoop" on how this craftivity works.  Six cones contain a "main idea" sentence.  Nine scoops contain a sentence that is a supporting detail to one of the six main idea sentences.  Students must find the three supporting detail scoops that match each main idea sentence.  Once the have done this, they glue the scoops onto the cones and decorate their cones to their heart's desire.

Some teachers reported having this as a center activity, while others did it as a whole group activity.  A good number of teachers have provided feedback that this activity really helped students grasp the concept of main idea and how supporting details help to "hone in on" the main idea.  

Now I'm off to the freezer... 

Adjectives, Adverbs... and Apples!

It only seems appropriate to have my first featured craftivity to be filled with the first letter of the alphabet! (Hmmm...maybe I should make my way through the alphabet with future craftivities...On second thought, maybe not. That seems like way too much work for no good reason!)

I think this craftivity would make a great review to do with upper elementary students at the beginning of the school year. In fact, I'd probably tell them this activity is meant to help them clear those cobwebs from the learning room of their brain that was enjoying a nice, long break over the summer, but now needs to be cleared for more learning with you this year!  :) Besides that, apples are in season during the fall...who doesn't love a shiny, crunchy apple on a September or October day? (Okay, I have to admit that I'd take mine dipped in caramel, but that's beside the point!)
Check out this FREE Parts of Speech Craftivity! Students differentiate between adverbs and adverbs written in sentences!

Anyway, in this adjectives and adverbs craftivity, students are given worksheets with 20 apples. Each apple contains an "apple-themed" sentence, and students must identify whether the one word underlined in each sentence is an adjective or an adverb. From there, they color adjective apples red and adverb apples green... then create adjective and adverb baskets... and finally sort their apples into the appropriate baskets. As with all my craftivity products, there are detailed directions and a page outlining supplies you will need to gather to prepare for the craftivity. ENJOY!

Just click on the image above to download this FREEBIE!  

If you like this craftivity, check out my other craftivity products as you prepare for the new school year! Just click HERE!

Finally, if there's a concept that you feel some students have difficulty with year after year, and you would like to see a craftivity made for it, just let me know! I love coming up with new ideas to help learners craft connections.

Allow me to introduce myself!

Hello!  For my first-ever blog post, I thought it only right to share a bit about myself!  This fall I will begin my 15th year of teaching.  I currently teach ESL, although my teaching experiences include 2nd grade classroom teacher and Title I Reading teacher.  I teach in an elementary school in Nebraska with a very diverse population.  I am one of three ESL teachers in our school, and I currently work with the upper elementary students (3rd-5th graders).

After teaching pull-out ESL for ten years, my district switched to a co-teaching model.  This required some adjustment for all of us, but thanks to great colleagues, I really enjoy my various roles within each classroom I visit throughout the day.  I co-teach in about five classrooms, primarily in the area of language arts.  (That's why most of my posts will be related to ELA.)

Do any of you watch The Next Food Network Star?  The Food Network executives are continually reminding the competitors to develop and focus on their "point of view".  Well, I thought about that as I tried to come up with a creative name for my blog.  I arrived at Crafting Connections based on the fact that I always try my best to help my students create meaningful and memorable connections between their prior knowledge and new information.  I believe connections are important for all students, but critical for English language learners as they encounter academic vocabulary and advanced language structures as they strive to master academic content.  One of my favorite (and most successful!) ways to help students build these connections is through hands-on craft activities (a.k.a. craftivities).  Not only do my upper elementary students enjoy completing these activities, I have also found that they remember the vocabulary and content associated with each craftivity long after they complete the project!  It is not unusual for me to hear one of my students remind a classmate of the "synonym rolls" or the "theme-filled cupcakes" that we made earlier in the year.  (In fact, I just LOVE when that happens!)  Anyway, stay tuned as I develop my Crafting Connections point of view with future posts!      

Deb, Brooke, Troy, Kayla
As for my life outside of school, I enjoy reading, hiking, and baking.  My husband, Troy, and I have two wonderful daughters.  Kayla is almost 9 and Brooke is 6.  We like to play board games and go on bike rides- especially if a stop at DQ is part of the plan!

Thank you for taking the time to find out about me.  Feel free to drop me an email sometime.  I would love to learn about you, too!  One of the reasons I decided to finally start a blog is to build connections with teaching colleagues throughout the country (maybe even the world!)

Finally, I'd be honored to have you as a follower!  I love following my favorite bloggers through BlogLovin' (I have a link to it on the right side of this page).  If you haven't already done so, I encourage you to use it.  It is such a handy way to keep up on all your favorite blogs!  Please visit me here again in a day or two, when I will be giving a craftivity to all my blog followers!