Throwback Thursday {7.31.14}

I am linking up with Teacher's Desk 6 today for Throwback Thursday!  I first posted about Readers' Theaters at All Things Upper Elementary back in October. 

A number of upper elementary teachers have told me that they have not used Readers' Theaters in their classrooms.  I must say, that surprises me!  I've experienced nothing but great success using these resources with my students.

I see several WINS for students when we do Readers' Theaters:
  • In my district, students are placed in guided reading groups through fifth grade.  With that, they almost always read with the same small group of students who read at the same level they do.  However, during those weeks where we take a break from Guided Reading for Readers' Theaters, students are very excited to be placed in different groups and enjoy getting to work with different classmates that week.  Along with that, I nearly always see students working together, helping one another with expression or a difficult word.
  • Struggling readers get the opportunity to listen to strong models reading.
  • If I instruct a student to reread a chapter from a book, they often see it as a chore or a punishment.  Readers' Theaters, on the other hand, are fun to reread again and again!  With each rereading, students' fluency improves.  My experience has been that their voice expression improves with each rereading, too.  As students become more comfortable with the words and plot, they begin to experiment more with their character's lines, adding more expression.
  • They provide a good opportunity for students to practice oral speaking skills (speaking loudly and clearly, lowering their script to belly-button level rather than having it right in front of their face).
  • Many students love to perform (often including those I would least expect)!  With that, students often appear more invested in a Readers' Theater activity, knowing that they will eventually be performing it for others, and they want to be prepared so they entertain their audience.
  • They provide a good opportunity to practice listening skills.  In fact, on the day of the performance, we usually begin by discussing characteristics of a good speaker/reader, AND the characteristics of a good audience member.

Are you interested in giving a Readers' Theater a spin with your students?  I've got two timely resources available for you to check out, and I am going to reduce their prices today (20% off) for my blog readers!  (In my previous post, I linked my Halloween and Veteran's Day Readers' Theater... however, they don't seem too timely at the moment!  I decided to swap those images for my Back to School and Constitution Day scripts... at least they can be used in the next couple of months!)  These scripts contains parts for 25 and 26 readers, but more parts can easily be added if you have a larger class.

I'm also marking my bundle down by 20% today.

One final reminder, it is July 31st!!  Today is the last day to take advantage of my holiday-related resources being 30% off!  (Yes, many of the scripts listed above are already 30% off!)

Teaching about Themes... using the cupcake analogy!

A theme anchor chart that shows how themes in literature are like filled cupcakes. Uses the cupcake analogy to discover and explain story themes. (Includes FREE posters!)

This anchor chart explains the analogy that I share with my students.
A theme anchor chart that shows how themes in literature are like filled cupcakes. Uses the cupcake analogy to discover and explain story themes. (Includes FREE posters!)

This all started a few years ago, when my upper elementary students were struggling with the concept of "theme". Many of them were confusing "theme" with "main idea", even after all of our practice activities. I needed to try something different... something that would be catchy enough to stick with my fourth and fifth graders. I'm not sure how I came up with theme-filled cupcakes. I suppose I was rhyming words in my head, and realized "cream" rhymes with "theme". Anyway, when "theme-filled cupcakes" crossed my mind, I knew I was on to something.  After all, the theme of a book is usually hidden, just like the creme inside a cupcake. Theme is the central message of a book, just as creme is central to the cupcake.

If you have followed me for awhile, you already know that I have a sweet tooth and that I love food analogies. Also, I often design my anchor charts to match other activities I do with my students.  (I believe this helps students build connections and retain the huge amount of new learning they encounter each day!)

Click on any of the images below to download my freebies related to teaching about themes in literature!
A theme anchor chart that shows how themes in literature are like filled cupcakes. Uses the cupcake analogy to discover and explain story themes. (Includes FREE posters!)            A theme anchor chart that shows how themes in literature are like filled cupcakes. Uses the cupcake analogy to discover and explain story themes. (Includes FREE posters!)  

FREEBIE for teaching about themes in literature! Students can glue this foldable into interactive notebooks and refer to it as needed!

If you would like to take a look at the theme resources available in my store, click HERE. My theme filled cupcake craftivity is one of my favorite activities of the year!

This theme activity was created to help students truly understand the meaning of themes in literature. (A theme is hidden in a book just like creme can be hidden inside a cupcake!) Four passages are included. Students lift the flap to reveal the theme of each passage!
Amy Candler took the lovely photographs for this image!

Meet My Friend, Amy! {And Check out the Raffle Giveaway!}

Today, I would like to introduce you to Amy, from The Core of Grade 4.  

I think I have known Amy personally for about a year now. Actually, though, I feel like I have known her longer than that!  When I became a seller on TpT, she would purchase my products from time to time, and always left very kind and positive feedback!  Eventually I came to recognize her name when I received a feedback notification email containing her name.  I am sure my fellow TpT sellers would attest to the fact that these frequent customers come to feel like friends!

I truly cannot remember how we ended up emailing each other... perhaps Amy does!  But for some reason or another we ended up swapping email messages.  I learned that she is a fourth grade teacher in North Carolina, and her husband is a teacher at the same school!!  (During the Meet Me series hosted by The Teaching Tribune this summer, I learned that they met on their first day of Elementary Ed. classes in college!  How cool is that?!?)  She also has an adorable daughter who is now three!

Amy told me in one of those early emails that she was considering posting some products on TpT, and I encouraged her to go for it!  I am proud to say that I was one of her very first followers!  She has an entire series of math & science concept posters primarily for grades 2-5.  As an ESL teacher, I haven't yet had an opportunity to test any of her products, but I think they look incredible! She made them in a way that allows for plenty of writing opportunities and tasks requiring students to "explain their thinking".  Again speaking from an ESL teacher's perspective, I think this is so vitally important.  Presenting ELLs (and all students) a task in which they must use their newly acquired academic vocabulary throughout all subject areas is so critical to thorough understanding and retention.


Jump over to Amy's TpT store to check all of her fabulous resources!
While you are there, check out her this adorable science FREEBIE poster!

I LOVE how each standard has a page that focuses on vocabulary and requires students to write, AND a page where students apply their knowledge and show what they have learned!

Also, head over to The Core of Grade 4 to check out Amy's post for today, too!  Today she posted about how she used my Nonfiction Text Structures Bundle in her fourth grade classroom last year.  Because of that, I have decided to host a giveaway!  (I'm way overdue for a raffle, don't you think?!)  The winner will receive the nonfiction text structure bundle and one of Amy's concept posters (winner's choice!) to try out in his/her classroom next year.

Anchors Away Monday: Possessives

Hi everyone!  It's time for another installment of...

This anchor chart is designed to help students remember how to use the apostrophe to show ownership for singular and possessive nouns.
The adorable bee clip art images are by Michael Rawls.
The girl image is by the talented From the Pond.

If you have followed my other Anchors Away posts, you already know that I often design my anchor charts to match other activities I do with my students.  (I believe this helps students build connections and retain the huge amount of new learning they encounter each day!)

Last spring I created these two PowerPoints using the BEE theme.

Both PowerPoints come with a worksheet companion so that students can follow along and be totally engaged in the PowerPoint presentations!

This is page 1 of the worksheet companion that goes with the Singular Possessive PowerPoint.

As you all know, this is one of those grammar topics that simply needs to be practiced frequently in order for students to truly remember how to use the apostrophe correctly.  I love Laura Candler's set because she provides many varied practice opportunities!

I recently found this game, and it looks like a game that students would love!  And it's FREE!  It's by Fourth Grade Shenanigans.

Have you recently created an anchor chart which has proven to be helpful to your students?  Do you plan to create one this week?  Please link up!  (BTW, it's summer!!  No need to be formal...  a sketch on notebook paper for a planned anchor chart would be perfect!  In fact, in might even be fun to update us some Monday in the fall with a photo of your finished product!)   I can't wait to check out your anchor charts! 

Favorite Pin Friday

I am linking up with Teaching (Powered by Caffeine) today for 
These are some of my favorite pins that I found this past week, and are now on my Pinterest boards!
What a clever way to discuss the theme of a book!  Upper elementary students would love making one of these phones!  I found this pin via The Science Penguin.

This pin is #14 of a list of 36 DIY Ways to Decorate a Bulletin Board by Buzz Feed.

Isn't this the coolest science bulletin board?   The photos along the sides show photos of experiments this class performed throughout the year!
I found this pin via  Dragon's Den Curriculum.

Isn't this so true?!?!?  I LOVE this pin!  Click on it, and it will take you to an article on entitled "10 Great Lessons Highly Successful People Have Learned From Failure".  It includes quotes/life story snippets from famous people including Walt Disney, Elvis, Babe Ruth, Thomas Edison, Lucille Ball, and Michael Jordan.  It is a very inspirational article... you might even be able to share some of these stories with students!

Do YOU have a Pinterest account?  Please leave a link in the comments section so I can follow you!

Have a great Friday!

Technology Thursday:Saving Clear Images

I am linking up with Teaching Trio today for
Technology Thursday!  

Let me begin by saying that some of you (maybe most of you!!) will already know this trick.  But I want to go ahead and write this anyway for fellow bloggers like myself who might be stumped by the irritating problem of blurry photos! 

Yes, I admit that a month ago I did not know how the answer to this question...

How can I avoid images that look like this?!
Ugh!  It's so blurry, but I really wanted to add that blog button in the upper left corner! The only way I used to know how to do was to open the image in my "Paint" program, and then save it as a PNG file.

Here is ONE way to make clear, crisp images.  (I don't doubt there are other ways that I am not aware of!)

Step 1:
Insert your image into PowerPoint, and make any changes you wish.  (For this photo, I really wanted my blog button to be in the upper left corner of the image, so I added that.)

Step 2:
Select "Save as".  Give your image a file name.
Select "PNG Portable Network Graphics Format".
Select "Save".

Step 3:
A pop-up will appear.  Select "Current Slide Only". 

A clearer, crisper image is now saved!  Upload it and.... Voila!  Isn't it amazing how much clearer this version is?!?!

Here are the two versions side by side!  The blurriness is not too noticeable here, but the images are medium sized.  The larger the image is, the more blurry it gets for the picture on the left.

I hope that helps someone out there!  If you happen to know an even easier way to accomplish the same goal, please share!

Subjects & Predicates Anchor Chart

Last fall, the third grade teacher team that I co-taught with was on a mission.  We decided that we needed to do something about the frustrating fragments that often plagued our third graders' writing.  Therefore, we started the school year by teaching the four types of sentences during writing time.  Immediately after that, we tackled subjects & predicates.  

We wanted to provide meaningful experiences that would engage third grade students... a somewhat daunting goal at times when grammar is the task at hand.  We sat there, puzzled, for several minutes. 

Slowly, my ideas started chugging. When brainstorming, I often try to come up with some sort of visual that students can apply to a new concept. Thinking while I spoke, I suggested that we try using a train analogy to teach subjects and predicates this year.  We could teach students to think of a complete sentence as a train, with the subject being the train's engine, and the predicate serving as the train's caboose.

Subject and Predicate Anchor Chart- using the train analogy!

Then, in true Deb fashion, I started to envision a craftivity.... and then a PowerPoint... and then a page for their interactive notebooks... and within a matter of minutes, I had volunteered to create a series of train-themed subject and predicate materials.  One of the things I loved about working with the third grade team at my school was that even when they didn't quite "see" the vision that I tried to explain to them, they always supported my elaborate visions and let me run with my ideas and create!

This interactive PowerPoint contains 30 slides. After the introductory slides, students are given the opportunity to identify the subject and predicate within 15 practice sentences. 

This craftivity includes an interactive notebook entry, two worksheets, and teaching posters!
Not only did our third graders really seemed to enjoy the subject & predicate activities we did last year, I can honestly say that they really seemed to latch onto the train analogy!  As teachers, we were very pleased with their progress following this unit.  Best of all, it seemed to make a difference!  Although we still had students who occasionally used fragments, these incomplete sentences didn't seem to plague the students' writing to the extent they had in years past.  Furthermore, once we brought the fragment to their attention, students understood how to fix the problem almost immediately!  

Throwback Thursday {7.10.14} The Power of Popsicle Sticks

I am linking up with Teaching Trio and Teacher's Desk 6 today for Throwback Thursday and Technology Thursday!  I first posted about the Power of Popsicle Sticks at All Things Upper Elementary back in November. 

What's the last professional book that you read that truly impacted your students’ experiences in your classroom?  The answer to that question for me is Embedded Formative Assessment by Dylan Wiliam.
Not a cover that really grabs you and shouts “READ ME!”, huh?  When I found it in my school mailbox, I was quite tempted to set it aside.  However, we had a new ESL director at the time, and she was the one who had sent it to me to read.  I must admit, I wanted to set a favorable impression with her, so I decided that I should at least take the book home over the weekend and skim it...enough to be able to comment on a few topics.  Besides that, in her original email about this book, she had really sung its praises. Was it really all that?

So, home it went with me that Friday afternoon.  Saturday morning, I stepped onto my elliptical machine and balanced the book on the stand so that I could "multitask" while reading.  Wow, was I ever in for a shock!  This book really resonated with me.  I actually couldn’t put it down!  In fact, I finished the book by the end of the weekend! (Keep in mind that I had a 7-year-old and 4-year-old at the time, so stealing time to read at that point in my life was a daunting task…. Who am I kidding?!  It still is!)

In Chapter 3, Wiliam describes a classroom where a handful of dedicated students constantly raise their hands and contribute to the discussion, while the remainder of students in the classroom doodle, daydream, or "fly under the radar". The ultra-engaged students perform extremely well in school, as one would expect.  They are discussing the topic and interacting with the learning materials. Unfortunately, the performance of the disengaged students is suffering, as one would expect. Furthermore, the achievement gap is widening in this type of classroom.

While reading, I found myself thinking about the upper elementary classrooms in which I co-taught.  I had a strong hunch that the low engagement levels Wiliam described was nearly identical to what would be observed in the classrooms I taught in every day.  When I returned to school that Monday, my hunch was 100% verified.  A handful of students constantly raised their hands, while the other students either sat quietly or very obviously “spaced out”.

The very next day, my co-teachers allowed me to put some of Wiliam’s engagement strategies into action, and we noticed a remarkable difference immediately.  Allow me to share a couple of these strategies with you today! Below I describe the #1 change we made that seemed to significantly improve student engagement during lessons.

#1- The Power of the Popsicle Sticks!!

I bet many of you are saying to yourselves, “I have a cup like this in my classroom already!” Of the four classrooms I co-taught in that year, three of them already had a cup of Popsicle sticks with one student’s name printed on each stick.  However, we either weren’t using them correctly or we weren't using them with enough frequency.

We started using the cup CONSTANTLY.  (I’m serious…. We even instituted a “no-hands-in-the-air” policy.  Students didn’t need to bother raising their hands; we drew Popsicle sticks instead of calling on students raising their hand.)  Whenever we asked a question, we would provide wait time (often giving students a chance to talk to a partner), and then draw a Popsicle stick and announce the name. That student was then charged with answering the question.

I admit, I got a kick out of picking up the cup full of sticks at the beginning of a lesson and giving it a little rattle.  Kids would immediately sit up and look around.  It was a nonverbal way of saying “Pay attention…. your name may be called on to answer a question.”

Yes, the “pass” reply was still an option, but if a student passed, the question would eventually be bounced back to them and they would be asked to repeat the correct answer that another student had just given.

One fifth grade teacher I worked with eventually created two cups of popsicle sticks.  She kept one on her desk, and one on the other side of the room.  With that, at least one of the cups could easily be spotted and picked up at any given time.

Have you implemented Popsicle sticks to increase student engagement?  I'd love to hear your comments on their effectiveness in your classroom!

And now to link up with Teaching Trio for their Technology Thursday, I wanted to share a website with you that can randomly select names if you don't want to mess with the popsicle stick!

This website,, has a free random name generator.

Go to the website and click on "Edit/Save" below the spinner.

Delete the names that automatically appear, and enter your own students' names.
Click on the middle button, "Save this list as currently shown".

Your personalized spinner will appear.  You will be asked to provide a password.

Bookmark this link as a favorite for easy future access!

When you use this in your classroom, simply click on the spinner and a name will be selected!

Warning- one thing I do not like about this site is the applause that happens every time you pick a name.  If you have an Ipad in your classroom (or even access to an Iphone!), there is a free random name selector app called Random Name Selector Lite that you might want to check out, as well!  With this app, you can turn off the sound, and names are picked out of a top hat!

Do you know of other random name selector apps or websites?  Please share!