April Craftivity Showcase {GIVEAWAY!}

April is almost here!  I can't express just how much pleasure that statement makes me feel!  For me...

April = State testing is nearly over for one more year!

April = Winter gear (coats, mittens, boots, etc) gets put away for the year!

April = Warmer recess duty!

April = The end to another school year is ever approaching!

I started working on my April craftivities way back in February, and doing so gave me a hearty dose of Spring Fever!  I enjoyed working with pastel colors, Easter eggs, flowers, and all those things that come to mind when we think of Spring! 

So here they are!  My "Perfect-for-April" ELA craftivities! (Click on any image to be directed to the resource at my TpT store.)
I will also briefly mention that if you want to check out all of my April-specific resources, you can see a listing of them all here.

***Would you like to do one of the above craftivities with your students sometime this coming month?  THREE winners will receive their choice of one of the above ELA craftivities!  (As always, though, if a winner has already purchased what they want above, they can select another craftivity from my store!)

a Rafflecopter giveaway  
Good luck,

The Big Week is Here!

Today I am linking up with Mrs. Laffin's Laughings and her A Peek at my Week!
I'll be honest.  I'm just not too sure how I feel about this upcoming week.  My students are taking our state reading assessment.  A large part of me feels nervous, hoping that my students will do well and (above all) try their hardest. I also realize that how well they do on the test is somewhat out of my control, unfortunately.  As teachers, we recognize that what happens in a child's life outside of school in the 24 hours before testing can have a huge impact on test performance.  Another large part of me feels exhausted.  We've been working with this one week in mind all year long.  I feel like I've just run a marathon and have no energy left, yet I know I tried my best to prepare my students.  And, I have to admit, there's another part of me that thinks, State tests means the end of the year is in sight!!  Summer, here we come!

Since I am an ELL teacher, I will be providing accommodations for some of my English Language Learners.  I cannot read the passages to my students, but I am allowed to read the questions and answer choices.  I will be providing accommodations for the third graders each morning (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday), and for the fourth graders each afternoon.

We have been going through several practice passages the last few weeks, but in an effort not to burn out our students too much, we found time to do some creative activities, too!  First of all, we made our owl craftivity.
Part of this activity includes brainstorming good test-taking strategies as a large group while I write them on an anchor chart.  I used the Test Prep Posters by One Extra Degree with my students, and they came in very handy when making our anchor chart.
I also won a set of Melissa Cloud's "Keep Calm" test prep poster bundle that came in very handy.  (I really like these because they are short and to the point!)
After taking a break for a few days to do the craftivity, we tackled two final practice passages.  These are the two I wrote myself that come in my Owl Test Prep Bundle.
This passage in nonfiction.
This passage is fiction.
I'm curious... are a lot of you starting state tests this week, or do you still have more weeks to prepare?  If you're starting soon, too, GOOD LUCK! 

A Different World of Teaching- Part 2 {Guest Post}

Today is Part 2 of 2 of a guest post by Amy Decker, a fifth grade teacher in Eastern Iowa who previously taught at Anamosa Penitentiary.  (If you missed yesterday's post, you can read it here.) In Amy's post today, she shares some of the rewards and some of the key things she learned from the experience of teaching in a prison.

My students generally told me I was mean - to my face.  I’m sure they said even more behind my back.  My perceived "meanness" came from the fact that I had very high expectations for my students and I held accountable.

The rewards of teaching in this environment, though few, were very great.  Several students came back after they got their GED and told me they were very grateful that I wouldn’t ever let them give up, and that I believed in them when no else did.

Guys would tell me every day that a GED was worthless and that they didn’t need one to sell drugs or do whatever it was that led them to prison.   I always responded by saying that is fine...you can continue to sell drugs when you are released from prison, but I just want to give you options so if you decide you don’t want to sell drugs anymore, then you can get a better job.  I think they said this to me because they lacked confidence and never thought they would have the ability to get a GED. After completing their GED, these guys generally realized they were capable of a lot more, and it seemed to me like they instantly matured.

Teaching in a prison taught me to never judge a book by its cover (or an inmate by his  appearance).  I remember one student in particular...it was very clear to me that this young man was a gang member.  He came to my classroom, and I could see a tattoo across his knuckles (f*** you) as well as a tattoo across his forearms (f*** all my enemies).  I instantly thought he was going to be the worst student ever.  Boy was I wrong on that one.  This student turned out to be extremely respectful and very helpful.  When he completed his GED, I asked him to become my inmate tutor and then he started working with me all day.  He was a big help when I would have students who spoke Spanish and weren’t as good with English.  He was eventually granted work release.  Before he left, though, he showed me a letter his mother had written.  She had mentioned me.  His mom told him that she was thankful that I worked with him and helped him complete his GED.  She also wrote that she was praying for my family and me.  Then right before he left, he told me that he was thankful that he ended up in my class.  He explained that he never wanted a GED, but when he saw how excited I would get and what a big deal I would make in class out of a student passing just one of their GED tests, he knew he wanted to pass a test just to make me happy.  He then said after he passed his first test, he knew he could do it all.  Unfortunately, not very many students would come back and tell me these things, but the handful that did certainly made it worth all the crap I had to put up with along the way.

Another lesson I learned:  The students who give you the most headaches are usually the ones who need you the most. I had a student who made every day a challenge for me...but I still fought for him and his education. When I announced to my students that I would be leaving the prison to teach fifth grade, he was the first one to speak.  He said, "Mrs. Decker, you need to tell those fifth graders that they have to wait because we still need you here."  My former boss even emailed me after I had been gone for a month or so and told me that that very student said he missed me, and he wished he could be back in my classroom.  I try to remember this every day as I now work with a student who really seems to like negative attention.
Photos were not allowed at the prison, so I have no pictures from my experience.  These photos are from this year, my first year teaching in a "traditional" classroom.  The poster was made by my girl students during the second week of school.  I was super excited because they worked on it for several days before school and during their recess and brought in everything they needed.  They wouldn't let me see it until the end of the week when they presented it to me.
Thanks for reading about my experience teaching in a prison.  I hope it makes you appreciate your classroom environment just a little bit more than you did before.

A Different World of Teaching- Part 1 {Guest Post}

Hi everyone!  I am excited to share the following 2-part guest post with you.  Here's a bit of background:  I met Amy about a month ago when she requested my Apples craftivity freebie!   I noticed by her email that she taught in the Iowa educational system - my home state.  As we traded a few emails back and forth getting to know one another, she mentioned that this was her first year teaching in a traditional classroom environment, after having taught a few years in a prison.  I was floored - and intrigued!  What would that be like?!  I invited her to guest-blog here, and was delighted when she accepted my invitation!  If you're like me, after reading about Amy's experience, you'll find yourself thankful to be teaching right where you are...

WHAT? Where did you say you used to teach???

Hi everybody, my name is Amy Decker, and Deb asked me to write a guest blog to tell you about where I used to teach and what it was like. I used to teach at the Anamosa State Penitentiary here in Iowa. Yes, this is a prison.

How did I end up teaching in a prison?  Well...I went to the University of Northern Iowa (go PANTHERS!), and UNI does two eight-week student teaching placements.   I started the school year student teaching in a kindergarten classroom, and I absolutely LOVED it.  I thought I would later become a kindergarten teacher - at least that’s what I hoped for.  I was sad when my eight weeks in kindergarten were done because I knew the next eight weeks would be spent in fifth grade, and I remember thinking that I just didn’t want to teach those older kids.  For a number of reasons, my experience student-teaching in fifth grade wasn't the greatest, and I swore I would never teach fifth grade.

I graduated from UNI in December of 2004 with my BA in elementary education, and spent the rest of that school year as a substitute teacher.  As the 2004–2005 school year was starting, I still hadn’t gotten a teaching job, so I took a position as paraprofessional.

I desperately wanted to be a teacher so in the fall of 2007 when I saw a listing about how Kirkwood Community College was looking for a GED teacher to teach on-site at the Anamosa State Penitentiary (a men’s prison in eastern Iowa), I applied.  I remember thinking there was no way they would ever hire a teacher with a K-6 license to teach GED.  I thought at best, I would maybe get an interview, which I thought would be good interview experience.  I was floored when I got not only an interview, but a few weeks later, the job offer!  (My husband wasn’t too crazy about me going to work in a prison, but I accepted the position anyway.)

That's how I ended up teaching in a prison environment.  On to the experience itself...

Once I completed training, I got my classroom.  Looking back, I am so thankful that all of my first students were pretty smart because I’ll be honest - I didn’t completely know what I was doing.  I taught six classes, each fifty minutes long.

In addition to teaching students who were working toward their GED, I also taught literacy classes for inmates who read below a sixth grade reading level. There were times that this was especially difficult because, unlike a traditional classroom, each student was working on something different.   I often found myself with one or two literacy students as well as several GED students who were all working on different subjects.  It was a challenge to help the literacy students because I would always try to make sure that no one else in the room realized that the literacy inmate I was working with couldn’t read.  This was especially hard when I would have a student who had didn’t even know all the letters of the alphabet, let alone how to read.   As you can see, my prison classroom was more like a special ed classroom where everyone is working on their own things, and I would just work my way around the room helping students one on one.

I definitely had some memorable moments!  For example, I once was trying to help an older student who had spent the majority of his life in prison. The book I had him using had a passage from Romeo and Juliet. In order to get him to understand what was going on, I had to relate it to the well-known enemy gangs The Bloods and The Crips!

Inconsistency was another challenge altogether.  We literally had students coming and going all year long.  I taught year round (no summer break in prison – ironically, this was very surprising and upsetting to all inmates who thought they would at least get a summer break). When students got in trouble in the prison, they got sent to “the hole”.  (The hole is a disciplinary detention area where inmates are only released from their cell to shower, and to exercise for a short time each day in a fenced-in area that looked like a dog run).   When students were sent to "the hole", they would often be gone for at least a month...sometimes even longer.  One day, they would magically reappear in my class, and then the challenge would be to get them back to where they were since they usually forgot everything while they were gone.

On the other end of the spectrum, students would sometimes get work release, discharge from prison, or transfer to another prison, and we generally weren’t given very much notice, which made it hard for us to get all of their GED tests completed before they left.

As you might imagine, classroom discipline was...unique. If a student did something very wrong I would have to write a report, which often resulted in a punishment of being sent to "the hole".   As a young female working in a men’s prison, I certainly had my share of problems, and not all of them came from the students in my classroom. To get to the school I had to walk through the prison yard (an outside area all inmates had access to).  I had inmates stalk me, making a habit of following me.  I also had an inmate, who happened to be a sex offender, brush up against the front half of my body. (He was a school worker at the time, and thankfully he got banned from the school building forever). There were more situations I had to write up...

If nothing else from reading this today makes you appreciate teaching in a traditional classroom, this should!  One of the major downsides to teaching in a prison environment was dealing with lock downs.  When a lock down occurred, no inmates were allowed out of their cells. That meant that we teachers had to come in to do the work that the inmates regularly did - cooking and delivering meals, doing all the laundry, cleaning dishes, distributing mail, you name it.  Basically we had to report to the prison (even if the lock down occurred on a weekend) to do a job that an inmate would have been doing if they weren’t locked in their cell. I always hated these days as they messed up my time home with my family and they generally occurred in the summer when it was hot, and none of these areas of the prison are air conditioned.

Stop by Deb's blog again tomorrow for Part 2, where I share some of the key things I learned through the experience of teaching in a prison. 
Because photos were not allowed to be taken in the prison, I have no photos of that experience to share.  I now teach fifth grade in a Catholic school.  This is a photo of my students forming a cross with their hands. (I had it printed on a 16x20 canvas as my auction item for our school auction).

Classroom Tested/Teacher & Student Approved - Episode 18 {Giveaway!}

I am back again today to highlight another figurative language craftivity that has been Classroom Tested.   This one targets those fun idioms and hyperboles!

Purple Palmetto’s PorchFor Episode 18 today, I am linking up with Dawn at Purple Palmetto's Porch!

Click HERE to check out her (very creative!) post describing her experience using my Idioms and Hyperbole craftivity in her class. (Hint - her post is full of lots of...you guessed it!  - idioms and hyperboles!)  Actually, she also includes the St. Patrick's Day Idiom craftivity I recently created, too!

Thanks again, Dawn, for "classroom-testing" BOTH craftivity resources!

In keeping with the format of my previous episodes of Classroom Tested - Teacher & Student Approved, I'll share some of the feedback that has been left at my TpT store for these products:

TeachingThroughTurbulence commented:  "This was a perfect assessment for idioms and hyperboles for my resource group. They loved doing it and did really well with it! "

MsScott left this feedback: "My students love these activities! They don't even realize that they are learning!"

I have found that differentiating between idioms and hyperboles is especially challenging for my English language learners.  For native speakers of English, we somehow instinctively know that "That's just a drop in the bucket" is an idiom- it's something that people say when they are talking about a small attempt to solve a very large problem.  However, one can easily see why ELL's might consider this a hyperbole.  After all, managing to get one tiny droplet of water in a bucket can seem like an extreme exaggeration.

I try to explain that idioms have a meaning very different than the individual words of a phrase.  I also try to reassure them that they will  learn these idioms, slowly but surely, as they acquire English.  In terms of hyperboles, when my ELL's are confused, we spend time discussing what makes a statement an extreme exaggeration.  For example, for the statement "It's going to take forever to clean my room", I ask them questions like, "Do you really think it's going to take forever?  That means that they'll be cleaning their room for years and years.  Is that possible?"  I'd love to know... do you have any tricks for teaching your students the differences between idioms and hyperboles?

Would you like to use one of these craftivities in YOUR classroom?  Enter the giveaway!  One winner will receive their choice of these craftivities!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Also, when you hop over to Dawn's blog post,
you'll find that she ALSO has her own giveaway going on.  You can enter to win her St. Patrick's Day "Would You Rather...?" resource!  It looks like a fun activity to do with students next Monday!

March Craftivity Showcase {GIVEAWAY!}

March Madness!
St. Patrick's Day!
and state testing.
I have a bit of a "love-hate" relationship with the month of March.

I love that it means warmer temperatures, that I have less than three months until another school year draws to a close, that I get to celebrate my one-quarter Irish heritage, AND that I get the opportunity to beat my husband in our annual NCAA March Madness Pool competition!

And while "hate" is a strong word to use, I'm not a fan of Lent or State Testing - both of which are also associated with the month of March for me.

Oh well, we take the good with the bad, right?!  :)

I received feedback a couple of weeks ago that truly warmed my heart.  This individual simply commented "Great craftivity!! Love the concept of learning plus a craft! I can tell you love what you do!".  Those words packed a punch for me - a happy one!  I read those words and kind of stepped back and thought about it.  Yeah!  I thought, I really do love what I do!  From start to finish, I LOVE creating craftivities.  I love coming up with a creative idea for an ELA concept that I think has a shot at really "sticking" in a student's mind.  I love hunting for graphics that will fit my vision.  I enjoy creating the resource, thinking about future students completing the worksheets, cutting, coloring, and gluing.  I love thinking about a student's satisfaction at seeing their completed piece.  Finally, I love thinking about them displayed on bulletin boards or in hallways throughout the country - or even beyond! 

Yeah!  I really do love what I do!

After all that... here's a look at my "Perfect-for-March" ELA craftivities! (Click on any image to be directed to the resource at my TpT store.)

I will briefly mention that if you want to check out all of my March-specific resources, you can see a listing of them all here.

***Would you like to do one of the above craftivities with your students sometime this month?  THREE winners will receive their choice of one of the above ELA craftivities!  (As always, though, if a winner has already purchased what they want above,  they can select another craftivity from my store!)

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Good luck,

Have You Played ZAP! Yet? {GIVEAWAY!}

I love to play learning games with kids- especially when I am working with small groups! I find that students are almost always engaged and actively involved when they play a game.  Unlike many recent school years, I do not have many small groups written into my schedule this year.

Therefore, I was very excited a few weeks ago when I had an opportunity to play ZAP with a small group of third graders during our school's intervention block!  What is ZAP, you may ask?   I was unfamiliar with this game until a couple of months ago.  It is a FUN, cooperative game that allows for interaction and discussion.  My friend, Angela, from The Teacher's Desk 6 has an entire "line" of ZAP games!

A few weeks ago, I was tasked with working with five students to help them develop the skill of using context clues to determine the meaning of a word.  I knew that I wanted to play a game during one of our "sessions", so I headed to Angela's store, and purchased her Sweet Synonyms and Antonyms ZAP.  When I saw this game, I knew it would be perfect.  It contained challenging words and I also knew that the third graders had been targeting synonyms and antonyms recently, so I would be able to reinforce that skill, as well.  {BONUS!}

I printed the cards and wrote my own sentences on them.  (Remember... I had to include context clues practice in this lesson.)

Then I covered a Pringles can with construction paper and wrote "ZAP" on it.  With that, I was ready for the lesson.  Boy, did those kids love this game!  They took turns drawing a card from the can and reading the question at the top of the card.  It said:  "Is this word a synonym for the word "sweet"?  Or is in an antonym?  Or perhaps neither?"  Then they read my sentence with the context clue provided.  After a brief discussion, they announced their group's conclusion.  If they gave the correct answer, they got to keep the card.  If they did not answer correctly, I took the card.  The group who collected the most cards at the end of the game was the winning group!

But here's the catch!  If they drew one of two ZAP cards in the can, they lost ALL of their collected cards.  Yep, the cards they had worked so hard to collect went back in the can!  Even though there were only two ZAP cards in the entire can, I think each group drew one of the disastrous cards three times!!  My students loved this aspect!  Although I heard many loud groans when they drew a ZAP card, I saw plenty of smiles, as well!

Some of my boys did NOT want to be photographed! :)  There are actually five students playing this game.

 Another thing I really liked about this set of ZAP cards?  It addressed the multiple meaning of "sweet".  Students had to remember that "sweet" refers to a food taste as well as a behavior.  Therefore, "sugary" and "thoughtful" were both considered synonyms of sweet!

I highly recommend that you give one of Angela's ZAP games a try!  I will definitely playing this game again in my classroom!  Thanks, Angela, for creating such a fun learning opportunity for my students!

***I also want to highlight that Angela has a Milestone Mania raffle giveaway going on over at her blog right now!  Hop on over to enter to win a fantastically impressive prize package!

Classroom Tested- Teacher & Student Approved Episode 16 {GIVEAWAY!}

I tried to think of a creative simile or metaphor to open this post with, but my mind was like a desert today.  :)
 Figurative language is one of my favorite topics to teach each year, and I have to say - for me, similes and metaphors are the cherries on the figurative language sundae!  (Do you see why I like teaching figurative language so much?!  I become a runaway train sharing examples with my students!)  And alliteration is an adored aspect as well... Anyway, that's the topic of this episode of my Classroom Tested - Teacher & Student Approved series!

For Episode 16 today, I am linking up with Amy at The Core of Grade 4!

Click HERE to check out her post describing her experience using my Similes, Metaphors, and Alliteration craftivity in her class.  

Thanks again, Amy, for "classroom-testing" this craftivity resource!

In keeping with the format of my previous episodes of Classroom Tested - Teacher & Student Approved, I'll share some of the feedback that has been left at my TpT store of this product:

Cecile H commented:  "We were just reviewing these today. You have covered each of the aspects of figurative language really well. I love the posters, and the kids always love superheroes. Thanks for sharing all of your hard work."

Walkerkatieanne left this feedback: "My students loved doing this in small groups. We hung their posters around the classroom and they love looking at them!"

Would you like to use this Similes, Metaphors, & Alliteration craftivity in YOUR classroom?  Enter the giveaway!  One winner will receive it!  (Already have it?  Enter anyway!  I will gladly substitute it out for another craftivity of your choice.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Finally, if you missed previous episodes of this "series", I have links to them in the Classroom Tested-Teacher & Student Approved tab above.

Thanks so much for stopping by today...and come back Tuesday for another episode...if you're in the MOOD (hint, hint!), that is!