Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Peek at My Week (8-25)


I'm linking up with the new linky party at Mrs. Laffin's Laughings for A Peek at My Week.

1.) I'm starting in-service tomorrow. It's going to be a looooong day with teacher meetings in the morning and insurance meetings in the afternoon. Let's just say it's a good thing I now have a smart phone and we get free lunch. ; )

2.) My husband and I may have to buy a new car this week. The scooter he bought to replace his car in order to save on gas, insurance, inspections, etc. shucked out on his way to work tonight. Perfect timing, eh? We really must have two cars because we both live too far from work to walk, and our schedules never mesh. Sigh. Maybe I should move to China where cars aren't generally needed in the big cities. It has been one car problem after another this year. Good news is, I might have to beg off the insurance meetings so I can take my husband to work or he can drop me at home. Fingers crossed!

3.) My classroom is almost ready for Orientation Night on Tuesday. The main thing I have left is filling half of a bulletin board at the back of my room. I want it to be for Language Arts, but I really don't know what would be the most efficient use of the space. I was thinking of leaving space to hang anchor charts there because I don't have wall space for that, but that seems kind of boring. Any suggestions? I've been searching, but nothing has hit me over the head yet.

4.) I've also been trying to come up with a good back-to-school gift for my students. I did have an idea, but I was afraid this year's crop of students would misread the cutesy saying I was attaching to it. They tend to have less-than-innocent minds I'm afraid. :( Any suggestions?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Saturday Snapshots (8-24)


This is my last Saturday before forced responsibility sets in. Sigh. It's also the last Saturday where I wake up and don't feel like my day is evaporating before my very eyes. Sigh.

Here are a few glimpses into my week:

I made these little magnets for Orientation Night. I saw them on another blog, but can't remember which one. I didn't really follow a design or anything. It was a lot of fun, and hopefully they will help parents keep track of my contact info. I just know I will find at least one of them stuck to the side of a desk, though. Sigh.

My husband made these amazing sandwiches at like 11:30 last night. We were staying up late because he needs to finish this 25 page paper before Monday, and he must eat when he stays up late. I normally get incredibly sick when I eat that late, but miraculously I didn't! This sandwich consists of string cheese, cherry tomatoes from a friend's garden, and roast beef lunchmeat. He grilled them on the stove after he brushed them with olive oil mixed with Italian seasoning. They were to die for.

This morning I went through a massive pile of papers and threw away 90% of them. Why oh why do I save papers I don't need. If it weren't for my occasional "throw everything not nailed down away" binges, I would be a hoarder. Ugh. Anyways, I found my to-do list from the day of my wedding rehearsal on an unopened bank statement from over four years ago. I couldn't throw it away. It reminded me of how absolutely stressful that day was! Never again will I plan a wedding. Ugh! I am glad I married my husband, though. He's worth the stress. :)

My sweet mom mailed me this Little Bo Peep book this week. She found it at an antique store and remembered that I used to have a copy of this when I was a little girl. "Peep" is my dad's nickname for me, so it was extra special. I may or may not have gotten a little emotional when I opened it.

I love the illustrations and the rhyme scheme. I've already been thinking about whether or not this would work as a mentor text. :) Something tells me the boys in my class would be less than thrilled. I think I'll display it on my mantel until I put up my fall decor.

Speaking of fall decor, I already hung this on my wall at home. I had a fall craft night with some of my friends last night, and this is what I made. It's extremely simple-looking, but that's how I roll. (Hence "Simply Sixth Grade.") All I did was agonize over which scrapbook papers to choose and then cut out three ovals per pumpkin and affixed them to some tan scrapbook paper. I made little stems from scrapbook paper as well. I had another Pinstrosity in this frame already, so this project was FREE! I love free. Can I be considered thrifty if I just rarely spend money on decor? This might even be a good craft for my class...if I ever took time to do crafts with them. Most of my students have hated crafts and have art class every week, so I usually just don't do crafts with them.

Well, the laundry is done and the kitchen floor is probably dry now and the grocery store is calling my name. Better get going.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Five For Friday with a Freebie


I'm linking up with Doodle Bug's Five for Friday today. 

What a week! I don't really have many pictures to go with this, so bear with me. :)

 1.) I spent four out of the five days this work week working at school on school stuff even though in-service technically doesn't start till next week. Phew. I'm definitely out of shape for working everyday. It's going to be an adjustment!

2.) Last night I stayed up waaaaay too late helping my hubby stay awake to get a good chunk of his 25-30 page paper done before Monday. I'm getting a little too old to be staying up that late. I'm not a night owl! That's for sure!

3.) We went to a friend's for dinner on Tuesday, and she sent me home with leftovers, garden fresh cherry tomatoes, zucchini, and a fresh basil cutting! I love friends who share...especially friends with gardens. Tomorrow is going to be zucchini bread day. My husband hates all forms of zucchini, so I'm going to have to get creative to use it up without his knowledge. :)

4.) Tonight I had a fall craft night with some of my friends. It was so fun to be with only females and to prepare for our favorite season and to just talk about girly things. I'm not very social, but I always come away refreshed after hanging out with these girls.

5.) I started a Teachers Pay Teachers store this week. It's pretty empty right now, but I'm hoping to keep working on adding useful products. I have to get over my copyright infringement phobia first. Here's a glimpse of my latest product, which I'm planning to install in my classroom next week as soon as it's laminated:

Click here to find the product in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Here's a freebie poster set for teaching flat vs. round characters in cased you missed my earlier post.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

DIY Classroom Contact Information Magnets

As I mentioned earlier today, I have backtoschoolitis...aka I don't want summer to end.

So, instead of working on my reading curriculum binder, which is like top priority right now, I made some magnets I was planning to put on my students desks for Back to School Night. It has the school number (because I don't give out my cell phone number due some parents calling ALL the time about NOTHING) and the extension is actually the office extension because some parents call in the middle of my teaching time and expect me to tell them how Johnny is doing at that very moment, my school e-mail, and the class website/grading program we use and parents can access.

I can't remember where I saw this idea, but I thought it was great! I think the blog I found this idea on used the free magnets from Vista Print. I didn't want to use Vista Print because I already had magnet sheets at home leftover from a magnetic menu board I made last summer and blogged about here...and I didn't want a million magnets...and I'm stubborn and like to make things by myself.

So, I created a little box on Microsoft Word and messed around with fonts and colors and shadings until I liked it. Then I copied and pasted it about 19 times so I had a total of 20. Then I printed a sample copy to see how it turned out before I printed on my magnet sheets. Then I inserted the magnet sheet upside down in my printer because my printer flips the paper before it's done. Make sure you check out your printer carefully first. You better believe I printed backwards many, many times last year when I was making my menu board! Ugh.

Here's the final product:
So, I'm feeling a little less lethargic and a little more okay with school starting. Successful projects work well that way.

I Don't Want to Go Backtoschoolitis

Ugh! I was so motivated about the upcoming school year last week. I still have the last couple days of this week left and next week of teacher in-service. But......I'm starting to realize that my freedom is slipping away from me.

Yesterday I spent like eight hours in my classroom and was reminded that working that many hours at once is exhausting...and I almost never work just eight hours during the school year.

And there is this amazing thunderstorm raging right now and all I want to do is cuddle up in my bed with a book...but there is work to be done! Sigh.

Sometimes I forget that I'm a grown up and have been for a few years now and need to act like one. Sigh.

My lack of motivation may stem from looking through a friend's Europe pictures this morning. That may have caused me a little dissatisfied with life. Sigh.

Must do work. Must do work. Must do work. Sigh.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Teaching Character Change

I've been working on developing a reading binder to help enhance my reading curriculum. It's a pretty bare-bones curriculum, so I've been really trying to supplement, supplement, supplement.

One key concept I want to work on this year is that of character change. I found some great resources via teaching blogs and Laura Candler's teaching files. I wanted to go a little further with it, so I created a couple of my own resources that I couldn't really find elsewhere (at least without buying something or searching for hours upon hours).

First, I wanted a couple of mini posters that would help my students distinguish between flat and round characters. I created them using PowerPoint. You can download them for free from my brand-spankin'-new Teachers Pay Teachers store. I plan to pull these posters out and display them every time I teach flat vs. round characters.

Then, I wanted some sort of blank timeline that I could pass out to my students to help them map the changes that the characters go through in a story. This may be difficult to get students to use at first, but I think it will be a great exercise in using evidence. You can purchase this resource as well at my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

If you have any suggestions or a product of your own that you use to teach character change, I'd love to hear about it!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Simple Sewing Projects

Today I installed my simple sewing projects in my classroom. Neither project was earth-shatteringly awesome or original, I just needed them to cover up some ugly spaces.

The first one was a fabric panel that needed to be hemmed to cover up the back of my now-exposed bookshelf. I rearranged my teacher's desk area to now include the bookshelf of teaching books I have. I don't have space in a closet or cabinet for these, and I certainly don't have space at home. Before they were facing away from my desk, and I had to get up and walk around the corner of my desk every time I needed a book. I also wanted to cut off student access to that side of my desk. Now they have to come around to the other least they will in theory...somehow they always find a way to get to that side of my desk.

I had this fabric leftover from my old dorm room curtains that one of my roommates in college left behind when she went to student-teach. I don't love the fabric, but I hate spending money on something like this. So I just worked with what I had. I did buy some Scotch brand sticky Velcro squares for about $3.67 at Wal-Mart. I affixed these to both the bookshelf and the fabric. I had purchased them for the other sewing project, and thought it would be an easy way to stick the fabric to the bookshelf and still prevent the bookshelf from being permanently altered. I don't really like these little squares because almost all of the sticky comes off the back when you peel it from the plastic packaging. You have to really show it who's boss if you want all the sticky to come off with the Velcro. I probably would avoid buying this brand again.

It's full of imperfections, but I'm a lazy perfectionist and really don't care. I'm also putting a reading chair in front of this to hide some of the imperfections. Here it is:

The second project I just hemmed a skinny panel of fabric to wrap around the computer cords that were now exposed after I moved the bookshelf.

Here's how they looked before:

Once I got back to school, I wrapped the fabric around the cords in a tube-like fashion and then placed the sticky Velcro squares where I thought they would work best to keep the fabric in place. My goal was to make this stay closed without complicated sewing or button-hole making.

Here's how it looks afterwards:

My husband said it's a little lame (after I asked him for his honest opinion), and I sort of agree. It did fulfill my expectations, though, and will work for now. I kind of hate cords. The cords at my desk have been making me crazy for the past few years, but unless I put my desk with my back to the kids, it won't work any other way. So, I will deal with it in the meantime.

I guess there is really no main point to this post. I'm just showing you that projects don't have to be perfect or dazzling or life-changing or Pinterest-worthy complete with caption reading "50 Teaching Life Hacks. Mind=blown" or some other hackneyed Pinterest comment. Sometimes we just have to make do with what we have and focus on the important aspects of the reading curriculum binder that is currently shouting my name. Better get working on that...sigh.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Five For Friday


I'm linking up rather late for Five for Friday. I can definitely tell that school season is creeping up on me. I've had lots of commitments lately, which frankly makes me happy because I've been a little bored lately. I don't have kids, my husband works a crazy shift, and this was the first summer I haven't worked since I was like 15 or 16! So, I've been a little listless of late.

1. The highlight of my week was our Back-To-School picnic one of my co-workers hosted last night on her "farm." We had sooooo much fun. I'm constantly reminded of how blessed I am in my co-workers. We get along so well and have so much fun together. I really miss eating with them every day during the summer. Some teacher's lounges are filled with negativity and crass humor (I definitely experienced this during student teaching!). Ours is filled with recipe sharing, vacation recommendations, embarrassing moment sharing, idea swapping, and lots and lots of laughter! I'm looking forward to school starting just so I can eat with my fellow teachers again!

Here's a pic of the recipe from Better Homes and Gardens for the potato salad I brought to the picnic. It was a big hit!

2. I've been reading/reviewing books for my class library like crazy this week. This book, Plain Girl by Virginia Sorensen, was excellent! This will be very appropriate for my classroom because we live near Lancaster County, PA so we are all familiar with the Amish lifestyle. In our immediate area we have a lot of Mennonites as well, so the students will be able to have a frame of reference when reading this book. The book basically explores some of the questions and doubts going through the mind of a young Amish girl who was forced to attend a public school. Sorensen does an excellent job of presenting all sorts of scenarios that really causes the reader to dig deeply to figure out what he or she ought to believe in these particular situations. Another great book by the same author, which happened to win a Newbery medal is Miracles on Maple Hill. This explores what happens to men who come home from war and the effects PTSD has on their families. It also takes place in Pennsylvania. This time at a maple syrup farm in the Pocono mountains, which is also near where we live. I love when I can connect books to our current lives.

3. I decided to try a couple extremely simple sewing projects for my classroom Thursday evening after my husband left for work. My grandma taught me how to sew back in high school, but I've never been great at it. Every time I attempt a sewing project I get super frustrated with my poor sewing skills and sometimes even end up in a fit of rage. I got a great chuckle out of Kim's post the other day at Joy in 6th Grade. Her experience with Mod Podge sounds exactly like my experiences with sewing. This time wasn't too bad, though. I only spilled my entire container of pins once, and even though I burned my fingertips with the iron, it didn't leave a mark! Best of all, I only had to rip out one seam! Now I call that success! If the projects turn out okay when I install them in my classroom on Monday, I'll show you some more pictures of what I did.

4. My husband and I started re-watching the Lord of the Rings on extended Blu-Ray this week. Oh how I love LOTR! I've watched them a million bajillion times and pretty much have the first one memorized since it's my favorite! I cannot wait until the next installment of the Hobbit comes out!

5. This last one is kinda sad. On Wednesday of this week, my husband got an e-mail stating that the seminary he's been attending for the past four years is closing after this school year. He still had about two years left before he graduated, so we're not really sure what all is going to happen. On the positive side, it means we might get to move back to Illinois sooner than we anticipated. On the negative side, we now have to decide our future by December. Yikes! I was resting in the comfort of another year and a half before we had to make any big decisions. Also, several people we've grown to love as friends and mentors are now without jobs. It's a pretty big deal. If there's one thing I've learned in life, though, it's God works all things out for good. We may not see it at the time, but ultimately everything will work out for his glory. Looking forward to where God will lead us in the next year!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Using A Heart Map in the Writer's Workshop

I'm actually re-posting a post I did last fall on using heart maps in the writer's workshop.This is from my other blog The Lazy Perfectionist from August 14, 2012.


Lately I've been researching new methods for teaching writing. The main method that keeps coming back to me is the use of mentor texts with writing workshops and writing notebooks. I've been really challenged to start my own writing notebook so my students can see that I, too write even though no one is making me. Students love to imitate their teachers. I'm hoping by my students seeing me write, they will want to write as well.

Tonight I spent a good hour and a half in Panera alone reading the book A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You by Ralph Fletcher. It's written for kids with the hope that their teachers will read it first and apply the principles to their own lives before forcing their students to apply it to theirs.
Tonight I started my very first entry. I created a Heart Map as suggested by a couple different educators. Here she is (I must say, I did a pretty decent job.):
It's of course rather childish, but I love everything about my childhood and wish I could return all the time. My favorite part of the this map is the center. I drew Ben as a stick figure in cowboy boots holding his fishing pole and harmonica. Not much else has been on his mind this summer other than those three things.

The purpose of this heart map is to remind writers of what is near and dear to their hearts. Writers do best when they write about either what they know or what interests them. I hope to come back to this map when I need inspiration for my own writing.

A year later, I can actually say this was probably my students' favorite activity we did all year. Some of them really do love to use markers, so I think that motivated them. However, I think all of us deep down love the chance to talk about ourselves and what we like and dislike. I know I sure had fun coming up with my heart map and then later sharing it with my students.

The important thing to keep in mind with this sort of activity is to remember to refer back to it throughout the year. I should have done a better job with this, but I was able to tell students who said "I have nothing to write about. My life is boring." that they could always refer back to their heart map and choose something from there to write about.

I hope to come up with some equally creative ideas this year to spur more students on towards loving their Writer's Notebooks. 

If you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Introducing Writer's Workshop in the 6th Grade Classroom

Today I'm linking up with Jivey for Workshop Wednesday.

I started Writer's Workshop last year in my classroom. I work at a small private school that isn't under the mandates of the state, so we kind of do our own thing. I wish we had a little more accountability, but I do appreciate the freedom I have to try what works best for us rather than feeling pressure from the state. (This is not to say I'm against state guidance. I'm all for it as long as the lawmakers are making informed decisions.)

Anyways, I'm pretty sure I'm the only teacher at my school doing any sort of workshop format so I'm kind of winging it. :)

Last year I went through some online videos that really helped me get the whole Writer's Workshop thing figured out. I also read Aimee Buckner's Notebook Know-How and Ralph Fletcher's Writer's Notebook to help me get started.

Buckner suggests starting Writer's Workshop with a activity focusing on one's name. She suggested reading the book Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes since it's all about names. I didn't use it last year, because I was too cheap to buy it, and I ran out of time to go to the library. This summer I was able to find it for super cheap at a thrift store, so I intend to use it to introduce my Writer's Notebook this upcoming school year. Anyways, last year I shared my story about how I got my name. I had previously written it in my Writer's Notebook and read it directly to the class. I then had them briefly write about their names as their very first entry in their Writer's Notebook. Most of them did very well with this, but I had a few stubborn boys who didn't think they had anything to write about. I then had the few who wanted to share their story with the class. It was a lot of fun to hear their stories especially since we had several new students in our class last year.

After this activity, I explained to the class how Writer's Workshop would work and that they were expected to write a daily page every day first thing when they arrived at school. I shared some ideas with them about what they could write about. The daily pages were pretty rough towards the end of the year. They had sort of lost their steam. I think I will provide some more guidance to help them out this year. Some of them were just boring diary entries. For example: "Today I had basketball practice. Then I went to McDonald's. Then I watched Duck Dynasty. Then I did my homework. Then I went to bed." There was then some variation on this theme EVERY SINGLE DAY! ARGH!

One thing I did very poorly was not modelling my own writing enough for the class. Sure, I would write when I needed to give them a specific example for how to do something in Writer's Workshop, but I didn't model DAILY writing for them. I hope to improve upon that this coming year.

One thing I really think helps get students excited about Writer's Workshop is having lots of engaging activities for them from the get-go. They would always get excited when I would tell them to pull out their Writer's Notebooks or when I would pull out the easel to show them an anchor chart. I just need to keep the momentum all year. I slacked off in this regard as the year went on.

I'm planning to implement Reader's Workshop this year. I'm really revamping what I do for Reading instruction because it has been incredibly sub-par in the past. I'll have to share what I'm doing once I'm finished. It's a huge project!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Tips for Using Anchor Charts in the 6th Grade Classroom

Last year was the first year I used anchor charts in my classroom. I had previously thought they were a lower-elementary tool, and that my 6th graders would've thought I was treating them like babies. How wrong I was!

Every time I would set up the easel and chart paper, they would get excited. I primarily used anchor charts in Writer's Workshop, and they loved it when they got to use fun pens or markers to copy them into their Writer's Notebooks. I have grand plans to use anchor charts even more this year. This year I will continue to use them in Writer's Workshop as well as during Reading and Grammar (which both spill into Writer's Workshop).

Here are a couple of tips for using anchor charts in no particular order:

1. Don't use Post-It chart paper unless you have plenty of display space to use them and don't really want to re-use the charts. I thought that Post-It chart paper would be the most convenient to use because I could stick the charts anywhere then. My room has very little display space, and I wanted to re-use a lot of my charts and got really frustrated with how the sticky part of the chart would stick to the other pages and make wrinkles and waste paper space, etc. I did end up putting some plain chart paper (plus a little glue) on the sticky parts of the Post-It paper to make them store better. But, I will be getting plain old chart paper for the 2013-2014 school year. You can be sure of that!

2. Have a sturdy display. I write ALL over my white boards, so those aren't always the best options for displaying anchor charts. I also don't have those handy cork strips above my boards to hang up the charts. So, I bought a cheap, flimsy easel at Staples to use. It's supposed to be easily transportable, so it falls apart all the time. I'm looking into using an IKEA clothes rack as a display cart of sorts. I got that idea from here. I still have to do a little more research on the feasibility of this plan. I'll just keep using my flimsy easel in the meantime because I'm an absolute cheapskate when it comes to purchasing things for my classroom.

3. Create as many anchor charts ahead of time as you can. It's really hard to write neatly or creatively on the chart paper when your class is watching. Plus, I have a really hard time writing neatly sideways, and I try to have my back to the class as little as possible. Also, if you have a flimsy display you will have a hard time writing neatly without it falling off (speaking from experience). My favorite way to prepare an anchor chart is on the floor with my can of Mr. Sketch scented markers at my side. there anything better than scented Mr. Sketch?

4. Take pictures of all of your anchor charts so you can easily re-create the ones you don't save. I jutst did this yesterday while I was working in my classroom. I saved pretty much all of them last year because I wasn't sure how I wanted to handle them yet, and I'm extremely vain and love to admire my work (even when it's not perfect). Anyways, I threw a bunch of them away yesterday but took pictures of them before I did so I could re-create them next year. I saved the ones that still looked good but might still re-do them anyways.

5. Make them bold and colorful. I know it's hard to do this when you're crunched for time, but your kiddos will love you for it. Most kids love color and pay better attention when your teaching tools are colorful. Don't worry about having cutesy handwriting or stellar sketching skills. You could even print out words and clip art if you are really that obsessive about having the PERFECT classroom displays. I could be, but I'm too lazy. Lazy perfectionist at its finest. When you are creating the anchor chart with your class, which can be very effective, don't worry too much about this because the idea is to keep the class engaged.

6. Have a good storage system if you are planning to re-use them. This is a tip that I haven't really followed quite yet. I have very little storage in my classroom, so most of the ideas I've found on Pinterest don't quite work for me. But, if you do have great closets or deep cabinets, just type in "anchor chart storage" into the search bar in Pinterest. There are lots of great ideas for this out there.

Here are some of my better anchor charts from last year. I wasn't too original with any of them, so I'll try to post their original links under them.

Original Source: here

Original Source: here (plus an EXCELLENT lesson to go with it!)

Original Source: here (this is actually from a collection of excellent posters that are free on TpT!)

Original Source: here

Original Source: here (straight from Scholastic!)

Original Source: here (Miss Klohn's Classroom has some AMAZING anchor charts for middle school!)
I sadly can't find the link to this, but I think it may have come from Aimee Buckner's book Notebook Know-How. This is an excellent book to get you started on implementing the Writer's Notebook in the classroom. Let me know if you know where this chart came from. That lame thumb drawing...all me (my students made fun of me like crazy).

Well, hopefully this very long post was a least somewhat helpful to you. I know none of my ideas are original and I don't follow my own advice very well, but hey you can still learn something from this rambling. Thanks for stopping by!
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