December 26, 2012

Laura Candler's Teaching Resources on TpT

It’s hard to believe that 2013 is right around the corner! The new year will bring many changes, but one that I wanted to share with you has to do with my Teaching Resources website. It’s actually not going to be much of a change, but it’s definitely worth a mention.

As you probably know, in addition to offering hundreds of resources for free on, I also sell digital resources and print books. Starting on January 1st, I'm going to be directing sales of digital resources to my TeachersPayTeachers store for payment processing.  It won’t seem like much of a change from your perspective because my website will look exactly the same. The main difference will be that when you click the Buy Now button to purchase a digital item, you will click through to my TpT store to make that purchase there. Here's an overview of what will change and what will stay the same.

What WILL Change
  • When you purchase a digital item, the Buy Now button with take you to my TpT store to process the payment.
  • After January 1st, you will not be able to purchase my Literacy, Math, or Super Mini Pack Combos. Because of this, I’m offering special discounts on those items from now until January 1st when they are removed from my website. If you use the discount code COMBO at checkout, you’ll get $5 off the Literacy or Math pack and $10 off the Super Mini Pack Combo. Visit my Mini Pack page to find those items.
What WON’T Change
  • Teaching Resources will look the same and will still have hundreds of freebies in the online file cabinet and on the strategies pages. 
  • You will still be able to view previews of my products directly from Teaching Resources.
  • You can still purchase hard copies of my print books and even the digital/print combos of Power Reading Workshop and Graphic Organizers for Reading directly from my website. My Classroom Book Clubs DVD will still be available through my website.
  • I will still accept checks and purchase orders myself. You can download the appropriate order forms from my Ordering Page
  • Your school can still purchase site licenses directly from my website. 
  • My prices on TpT are the same as prices on my website, and you can continue to expect reasonable prices for these time-saving materials.
Benefits of Purchasing on TpT
This change will mean that you will be making your purchases from TpT instead of from my website, but there are actually a number of benefits to doing so.  Here are some of the reasons I think you’ll enjoy using TpT:
  • The TpT site is well-organized and easy to navigate. 
  • You can follow your favorite sellers there to be notified when they add new freebies and products.
  • You can quickly see preview images of products, and you can still download complete previews of my books from TpT. 
  • Everything you purchase will be available in your TpT account so that you can download it again in the event of a computer crash. 
  • On TpT, you can purchase single copy items for yourself as well as add additional licenses for coworkers at greatly reduced prices.
  • You can earn credits for leaving feedback on your purchases, and you can spend these credits on anywhere on TpT.
  • TpT has many different payment options including credit cards, PayPal, and purchase orders.
Follow Me on TpT for Big Discounts
If you don't already use TeachersPayTeachers, the first thing you need to do is to sign up for a free account. Then visit my TpT store and click the Follow Me link at the top to be sure you are notified of any new freebies or products that I add to my store. As a way of showing appreciation to my TpT followers, I'm planning to offer 50% off all items I add to my store for the first 24 hours they are on the site. The only way you'll know that I've added these items is to follow me there to receive notification by email.

One thing that won't change in 2013 is that I plan to continue creating loads of new freebies and other teaching resources, just as I've done for over 10 years on I still love to share resources with teachers, whether it's through my own website or TeachersPayTeachers.

December 20, 2012

The Power of Audio Books

Most kids love to listen to audio books, but did you know that this practice is also extremely effective for improving reading comprehension and fluency? I discovered this well-kept secret a few years ago when I started using audio books with my struggling readers. I was using Classroom Book Clubs in my classroom on a regular basis, but I was experiencing a problem when it came to book selection. Many of my 5th graders were signing up to be in groups with difficult books that I knew they couldn't read on their own. What to do? Require them to choose an easier book that didn't interest them? Or let them choose a difficult book, knowing that they would probably drop out of the group later?

Fortunately, I discovered a simple solution to this problem: audio books. I located audio versions of some of my favorite student books like Hatchet and Shiloh, and I allowed students in those groups to listen while reading their books each day. To manage the problem of multiple users needing the same audio player, I figured out how to connect several students via headphone adapters connected together. I assigned one student in each group the role of “Audio Captain” who would start and stop the audio player as needed. All students were expected to have their own copy of the book open and follow along, tracking the text visually as they listened.

Reading Comprehension Improved 50%
My students were very excited about the program, and the audio materials were constantly in use during reading class. After just a few weeks, I noticed something amazing. I could tell that the students who were using these audio materials regularly were becoming better readers! They weren't just becoming better listeners – their reading comprehension and fluency skills were improving, too!

These results intrigued me and I wanted to know more. I was in graduate school at the time, so I conducted an action research study to gather data about what I was observing. I selected eight struggling readers for my study, and I provided audio materials for every book that they read over a two-month period. I compared their reading comprehension test scores before and after the study, and every single student made significant gains. The average score rose from 41% of their reading comprehension answers being correct in September to 60% correct in December, a 50% increase!

I know it was just a small, informal study, but the results convinced me that I needed to continue using audio books. I began to wonder how listening to audio books could translate to improved reading skills. I finally realized that audio books can introduce students to a world of reading they've never known. Fifth graders who can’t read well probably aren't motivated by a steady diet of picture books and easy chapter books. But hook them up to an audio version of Hatchet, and the words begin to work their magic. As students track the text with their eyes and listen with their ears, they see words they've heard before but were not able to recognize in print. They can apply the strategies that good readers use, from visualizing the events to making predictions. In the process, they discover the joys of a great book!

Time Saving Resources for You
Another reason you might want to obtain audio books for Literature Circles or Classroom Book Clubs is that you can listen to them to preview them or to keep up with what your students are reading. I always recommend that teachers read books first before using them with students, but it can be difficult to find time to do so. If you purchase the audio version, you can listen while driving or doing something else.

Where to Find Audio Books
You can find audio books in many places, including your public library and yard sales. However, the easiest way to find them is to go to and search for them there. I've created a collection of Literature Circle resource pages on my website that include book recommendations in many categories, including Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Adventure, and Realistic Fiction. Each book includes a link to where you can find it on, and most of those books have audio versions that you can purchase. I recommend purchasing the CD versions because then you’ll always have one master copy, but you may want to transfer the audio file to a mobile device, computer, or Mp3 player.

How to Obtain Audio Materials
Does the idea of using audio books intrigue you? I’ll bet you can think of several students right now who would benefit from listening while reading. However, you may also be wondering how and where you can purchase these materials since they can be a bit costly. That was my concern, too, but I solved that problem by setting up an Audio Book Fund and asking for donations to our classroom audio book collection.Here's a copy of my letter to parents in Word format so you can adapt it and use it yourself. In the letter I explained about the importance of audio books and how my students would benefit. I was thrilled to receive over $100 in donations within a week! When the money started rolling in, I ordered audio materials to go with all of my favorite titles to use with Classroom Book Clubs.

If you haven't used audio books in your classroom, I hope you'll consider giving them a try. I think you'll find audio books to be powerful tools to improve comprehension and fluency. Best of all, listening to audio books will allow your struggling readers to discover the magic hidden inside every great book. Soon their reading skills will improve and they won't need audio books. When that happens, a whole new world will open up before them, the amazing world of literacy!

December 17, 2012

Teaching . . . an Act of Love

Yesterday was a day of silence on many blogs, but today the difficult conversations begin as students and teachers grapple with their feelings about Friday’s events. My thoughts and prayers are with all of you who are heading back to school today, not knowing what the day holds in store. How do you talk to students about what happened at Sandy Hook School, or do you even discuss it? You know there will be questions, but how to find the right words to answer them when your own mind is so full of questions? How do you reassure students that they are safe when the reality is that life is short and we don't know for sure what tomorrow holds? These are difficult questions and I certainly don’t have the answers, but I pray that you’ll find whatever words are necessary to soothe fears and help your students through this difficult time.

As you search for answers, I would like to share with you two special blog posts that may help you through this process. Angela Watson of The Cornerstone for Teachers offers words of wisdom in What do you say at a time like this?  Denise Boehm of Sunny Days in Second Grade offers her thoughts on how to respond as a teacher in What do we do now?  Both messages spoke to my heart, and I wanted to share them with you.

Friday’s events were truly horrible, but the actions of many brave individuals reminds us that teaching is more than a job or even a profession … it’s an act of love. Thankfully most of us will never have to demonstrate our love for our students in a willingness to face down a gunman. However, teachers show their love every day in countless ways, making their classrooms safe havens for children who might not otherwise feel the unconditional love of a caring adult. So treasure the time that you have with your students this week and let them know how much you care. You might not find the perfect words to answer every question, but your love will shine through in your actions and that may be all that matters.

December 16, 2012

Day of Silence for Sandy Hook Elementary

My heart aches for the families and friends of those involved in the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary. When I watch the news stories, I can't even begin to imagine how horrific it must have been for those who were there. So many innocent children and adults lost their lives on Friday, and those who survived will carry the scars of that day with them for a very long time. I pray for the survivors to find the healing strength needed to face the challenges ahead. Today I'm joining other bloggers with a day of silence to honor and remember the victims and their families. They will be in my thoughts and prayers today as I give thanks that my own family is healthy and safe.

December 13, 2012

Tips for Teaching with Math Games

Who doesn't love a game? In the math classroom, games offer an engaging alternative to worksheets, allowing students to work with others and have fun while learning. They’re perfect for practicing new skills or reviewing previously-learned content. Math games are extremely versatile and can be used in cooperative learning teams, in small group instruction, or in math centers.

The key to using math games effectively in the classroom is to develop clear and specific management systems and procedures. Students need to know when they can play the games, where to go to play them, how to choose a partner, and a host of other procedures.

I've shared some tips below, and you can download the entire set of tips as a PDF file by clicking the Tips for Teaching with Math Games link or the cover above.

Using Math Games in Cooperative Learning Teams
Math games work well in cooperative learning teams during whole group instruction. After you introduce a skill, demonstrate it, and check for understanding, you can have students play a game to practice the skill. When you use games in cooperative learning teams, each team will need a copy of the game materials, and all teams will be engaged in playing the games while you serve as a facilitator. This gives you the opportunity to walk around and work with individual students who may need extra help. Another way to use games in cooperative learning teams is for reviewing several different skills the day before a test. If you choose to use games this way, you’ll need a different game for each skill and rotate the games from team to team every 10 to 15 minutes. Sometimes you can use the same game but simply create different problem cards or task cards for each skill.

Using Math Games in Learning Centers
Using math game centers is a way to help students keep skills sharp throughout the year. You may want to set aside 15 to 20 minutes a day for students to work in math centers. Having them play the games first thing in the morning as other students arrive can keep them on task and energize them for the day. You can also encourage students to use these activities when they have completed other assignments or while you are working with a small group. To learn more about how to use games in centers, watch my free webinar, Motivating Math Stations, on Teaching Resources.  In that webinar I explain how to choose and develop games for math centers.

Where to Find Math Games
You can create your own math games quite easily, or you can find them by searching online. I've created quite a few math games that are appropriate for grades 3 through 5, and most of those can be adapted for younger or older students by changing the problem cards. Many of my games are free on my online Math Centers page and in my TeachersPayTeachers store, and others are priced reasonably considering the amount of time and energy you save by not having to create them yourself.  The games shown here include complete directions, student printables, and answer keys if needed. You can also find math games in my ebook, Math Stations for Middle Grades, available in my store.

Using Games to Teach Social Skills
The younger your students, the more help they will need with developing social skills for games. However, even older students may need to review these skills. Remind your students that although they might not win every game, they are all winners because they are having fun while they learning. One way to work on social skills is to teach a mini-lesson on what “sportsmanship” means. Display this chart, which you can find in the Tips for Teaching Math Games packet, or create a similar chart on chart paper. Ask students what it means to be a “good sport” versus a “poor sport” when playing games. During the class brainstorming session, remind them not to name specific people or incidents that have happened in class.  Just list behaviors such as bragging, taking turns, congratulating the winner, smiling, grabbing the materials, not following the rules, pouting, etc. Remind students that it’s no fun to play with a poor sport! Also, be sure that students have strategies for common game tasks such as deciding who goes first. Rather than arguing, they can flip a coin, play Rock-Paper-Scissors, or toss a die. After you address these issues with mini-lessons, you’ll find that your students enjoy playing games more and get along better with their peers.

How do you use math games in your classroom?  Do you have any tips of your own to share?

December 8, 2012

Celebrate 12-12-12 with Race to Write 12

Wednesday’s date is December 12th, 2012, otherwise known as 12-12-12. What a unique event, and certainly one worth celebrating! Okay, maybe not a big celebration, but how about taking a few minutes for a cooperative learning game based on the number 12?

The Race to Write 12 game is a fun, fast-paced team builder that you can use this Wednesday or any time of the year when you need an engaging activity that fosters creative thinking and collaboration. You can download it for free from my TeachersPayTeachers store or from the Caring Classroom page on Teaching Resources.

Race to Write 12 involves students working in teams to write a list of 12 items as described on a topic card selected by the teacher. Each group races against the other teams to be the first to complete this task. The team that lists 12 acceptable items first wins the round and collects the topic card. This freebie comes with 10 prepared topic cards, and I included a template you can use to create your own to modify the activity for your own students. You can also adapt the game to a specific subject area by creating cards with topics related to that subject. For example, in math, your topics could include, “Units of Measurement,” “Polygons,” or “Multiples of 12.” In science, your topics could include “Mammals,” “Landforms,” “Examples of Liquids.” The possibilities are endless!

Race to Write 12 is a simple game that your students will love. Taking time for special activities like this one will foster a sense of classroom community among your students. Visit the Caring Classroom page on Teaching Resources for more cooperative learning activities and classroom management strategies. Hope your class finds 12-12-12 to be a memorable and fun day!

December 6, 2012

Gifts for Santa's Scientists

What would YOU give an ornithologist for Christmas? What about an ichthyologist or a paleontologist?

Santa has a bag of gifts for a dozen scientists, and he needs YOUR students to help him figure out which gift goes to which scientist. But first, they’ll need to do a little research and work with their teams to learn about a dozen different types of scientists. Curious? Let me share a little bit about this activity with you.

Gifts for Santa’s Scientists is an engaging research lesson that I developed for my students a few years ago, and it worked like a charm for keeping them on task during the busy week right before the holidays. Before you read on to learn more, you might want to click this preview link and scroll through the document to see what's included in the lesson. I've created a complete packet of printables, directions, and an answer key to make it really easy to implement.

Gifts for Santa's Scientists
To begin the activity, tell your students that Santa has gifts for a dozen scientists in his sack, but the gifts aren't labeled with names. Santa needs their help to figure out which gift to give to each scientist. This activity does not involve an actual gift exchange; students will simply be discussing the gifts named in Santa's bag, like a telescope, a magnet, or a flower pot.

Working in teams of four, each student will research three scientists and complete an activity page like the one shown on the right. They write a sentence or two to describe each scientist's area of study and draw a simple illustration of something those scientists might study. After students finish with their research, they return to their teams to share and record what they've learned.

After they complete this step, the fun begins! They work together as a team to match each gift in Santa’s bag with the scientist names on the packages. To make the activity even more challenging, you can ask students to put away all of their study materials and try to match the gifts and scientists based on what they remember.

My students really enjoyed this activity, and I loved that fact that they had to conduct research, work with a team, and do some critical thinking in order to figure out which scientists received which gifts.

You can find Gifts for Santa's Scientists in my TpT store. One thing I love about TpT is reading the comments and feedback from teachers who've used my materials. This comment from Selina Smith about Gifts for Santa's Scientists made my day!
"I can't say enough wonderful things about this product. It is SO well thought out. It is perfect for students who need help with research. It is perfect for incorporating technology. The directions are so clear you could easily pick it up 3 minutes before class and be ready to teach the lesson. I love how she has written Day 1 number 1, 2, 3, etc. Thank you for making such a great product! I want MORE :)"
Holidays Around the World
The week before Christmas vacation is often a crazy time, and the excitement of the upcoming holidays makes it tough to keep students on task. Textbook lessons won’t hold their attention, so cooperative learning lessons like Gifts for Santa’s Scientists offer a welcome change from regular daily instruction. If you prefer an lesson that involves a variety of winter holidays, you will find a similar cooperative research activity in my December Mini Pack called "Holidays Around the World."

By the way, the ornithologist received a bird feeder, the ichthyologist received scuba gear, and the paleontologist received fossils. I’m not sure about you, but I think Santa could have saved himself the trouble and just given them all iPads! What do you want for Christmas?

December 2, 2012 Site Navigation Made Easy

Tips to Help You Find What You Need

I absolutely love sharing free resources with teachers. In fact, it’s one of my favorite things to do, and over the years I've created quite a collection of freebies on my Teaching Resources website. I've organized my website into four main categories: File Cabinet, Strategies, Laura's Books, and Workshops. You can access those categories from the white torn paper navigation bar at the top of my website. But there are actually a number of easier ways to find exactly what you are looking for on Laura, and I'd like to share them with you now.

Google – The fastest way, by far, to instantly find what you want on my site is to simply type “Laura Candler” and “X” into the Google search box. “X” might be “literature circles,” “math,” “problem solving,” “strategies,” or “cooperative learning.” You name it, and voila, you’ll likely find it. Thanks to millions of visitors who came before you, very often your teaching topic of interest will appear as a convenient link at the top of the Google search results! It’s really just that easy. Try it! Shortcuts - I just love Pinterest! So for you other Pinterest junkies out there, I have a special new visual way, just for you, to navigate my site. I've recently been busy creating pins for every major part of my website, and I've gathered them all up on all my newest Pinterest board, “ Shortcuts.”  It's a simple visual map, or “bulletin board” of Teaching Resources that makes it a snap to find just what you want. Just click the image on the right, find the yellow shortcuts pin on this board and repin it to one of your own boards. When you are looking for a specific page on my site, just click on my Shortcuts board and quickly scan it to find what you want.

Pinterest – Just Pin it!  As an alternative to using my new shortcuts or other Pinterest boards, you can create your own Pinterest board and either directly pin pages you like from my site or just go to my shortcuts board and simply repin the pages you want to your new board. Search Feature – Just a reminder about another basic tool, site search. Type your topic into the green search box on the top of every page. Then click “Search” to see what's available on on that topic.

It brings me a lot of pleasure to know that I am helping to make your work easier and your students to be more successful. I hope that you will find that one of the methods above strikes your fancy and make it super easy for you find just what you need on Teaching Resources, right when you need it. Enjoy!

November 25, 2012

Holiday Learning Link Up

Looking for the Holiday Learning Link Up post?

Unfortunately, the blog link up was no longer working so I deactivated that post and created a new one in its place.

Click over to Winter Holiday Learning Fun to read about this Sugar Cone Christmas Tree activity and to find out where to download several winter holiday freebies!

November 16, 2012

Literature Circles Made Easy - New Resources

New Book Recommendations and More!

The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas can be a challenge for you and your students. Everyone is excited about the upcoming winter holidays, and it’s hard to keep kids focused on their work. This is especially true in reading, because when students are reading or working quietly on assignments, their minds can easily wander. Literature Circles to the rescue! This instructional strategy is fun, engaging, and effective, and now is the perfect time to get started!

If you've never tried Literature Circles, you might be wondering what this strategy is all about. Literature Circles are often called Book Clubs, and they operate much like adult book clubs. In a nutshell, students form groups by selecting books that interest them. Then they meet regularly with other students who are reading the same book to discuss what they’re reading. If Literature Circles sound a bit overwhelming, don’t worry! I’ve compiled an entire collection of resources on my website, including some wonderful new book recommendations, to make them extremely easy to implement.

Literature Circles Freebies on Teaching Resources 
About 15 years ago when I first started my Teaching Resources website, I created a page to gather and share free Literature Circle resources. I eventually added so much content that I had to divide it into several different pages by category. You’ll find descriptions of different Literature Circle strategies, a free webinar recording in which I explain how to implement Literature Circles, and tips for managing Literature Circles in your classroom. Best of all, you'll find page after page of free printables including graphic organizers, organizational tools, and other resources to help you get started. After you finish reading this blog post to learn about my other resources on this topic, you’ll definitely want to visit the main Literature Circles page on Teaching Resources.

Classroom Book Clubs
Teachers used to assign roles in Literature Circles, but that’s no longer the norm. I experimented with Literature Circles for many years and eventually developed an effective and fun method that does not use roles. This method worked so well for me that I created a slidecast eLearning course to share my strategies with others. Classroom Book Clubs: Literature Circles Made Easy consists of a series of short videos in which I share a step-by-step method for getting started with Literature Circles. This teaching resource is available on CD or as a digital download, and it includes student printables and organizational forms. If you’d like to know more, you can watch a short video on my Literature Circles page on Teaching Resources. You can also preview the complete packet of printables online.

New! Literature Circles Book Recommendations
One of the most critical elements of developing a great Literature Circles program is locating terrific books for students to read and discuss. Unfortunately, this step can be difficult and time-consuming because after you locate the books, you need to find time to preview them before sharing them with your class. Fortunately, help is on the way!

A few months ago, I embarked on a major undertaking – to create a huge collection of Literature Circle books recommended by teachers for teachers. I’m excited to announce that Favorite Literature Circles Resources is now live on my website. Here you can find book recommendations for professional reading as well as four pages of book recommendations for students in one convenient location. The student books are categorized by genre, and you can click the book covers on those pages to read more recommendations on I’m working to add links to the audio CD versions of those books so you can differentiate instruction for your struggling readers. The audio versions will also save you time because you can listen to them to preview the books before using them with your class.

Collaborate and Share
What’s your favorite book for Literature Circles? If you would like to help add to the growing collection of teacher recommendations, click this Google Doc link to share your favorite title with us. From time to time, I’ll update the pages with new book titles, and I may use your suggestions to create a downloadable list of recommendations. Click here to sign up for my free Candler's Classroom Connections newsletter to be sure you're notified of new resources on this topic.

Good luck with Literature Circles! I hope these resources help you and your students enjoy the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, making this an enjoyable and stress-free time in the classroom!

November 4, 2012

Favorite Read Alouds for November

November is a great month for read-alouds! Here are a few of my favorites for Thanksgiving and Veteran's Day. These short picture books are perfect for upper elementary students and work well with many fall-related activities.

November is a great month for reading aloud! Here are a few of my favorite books for Thanksgiving and Veteran's Day. These short picture books are perfect for upper elementary students and work well with many fall-related activities. At the end of the book list, you'll find a link to my November Activities pack which includes activities for many of these titles.

If you aren't familiar with these titles and would like to read more reviews, detailed descriptions, or purchase the book, you can click on the title or cover image, and you'll go right to it on Amazon where you can get more information! I also recommend that you locate your books several weeks in advance of the lesson so you can read them and make sure they are right for your class.

Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving 
By Laurie Halse Anderson and Matt Faulkner

Thank You, Sarah is a wonderful book about the history of Thanksgiving in the United States and how Sarah Hale helped make it a national holiday. It's great for teaching students about the "power of the pen" and how one person can make a difference.

If You Were At the First Thanksgiving 
By Anne Kamma

If You Were at the First Thanksgiving is a great nonfiction book organized in a question and answer format. It provides information about the first Thanksgiving as well as information about how the Pilgrims lived when they first came to America.

Oh, What a Thanksgiving!
By Steven Kroll and S. D. Schindler

Oh, What a Thanksgiving! is perfect for comparing and contrasting Thanksgiving today with the traditions observed by the Pilgrims. Children today will find that Thanksgiving long ago was much different!

'Twas the Night before Thanksgiving
By Dav Pilkey 

This hilarious book takes the form of a long, illustrated poem with a single stanza on each page. While the stanzas are similar to the traditional Christmas poem, the story is anything but traditional! Your students will love the surprise ending!

The Wall
By Eve Bunting and Ronald Himler

The Wall is an excellent book to read to students when discussing Veteran's Day. It's a touching story about a boy who travels to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial with his father to seek out his grandfather's name.

I hope you enjoy sharing these with your students as much as I do. They are a great way to foster a warm holiday spirit in the classroom. You can also find activities for many of these books in my November Activities from Teaching Resources Mini Pack.

If you have a favorite book for November, please share your suggestions in a comment on this post. Happy reading!

November 1, 2012

Thankful Writing Craftivity

Thankful Writing is a freebie from Laura Candler that's a step-by-step writing lesson and a craftivity all in one.The final project is sent home with students to be shared with their families on Thanksgiving day, and it's sure to be a memorable keepsake!
Free Thanksgiving Writing Lesson and Craftivity!

November is finally here, and what better time to think of all of the things we are thankful for? This topic might seem may seem trite and overdone for a writing assignment, but we can never overdo the message of learning to show appreciation for the people and things that make our lives rich and fulfilling.

Fortunately, this topic also makes a great first expository essay for upper elementary students because it's so easy to organize and write. Yes, it does involve "formula" writing, but I believe in starting out with one formulaic essay to teach students an easy way to organize their thoughts into a coherent paper. I loved having my students write about the people and things they were thankful for because it helped them focus on the positives in their lives, and their final essays made a nice gift to their families on Thanksgiving Day.

Thankful Writing is a freebie from Laura Candler that's a step-by-step writing lesson and a craftivity all in one.The final project is sent home with students to be shared with their families on Thanksgiving day, and it's sure to be a memorable keepsake!The final step of the activity is what makes this project really special. After student write the final drafts of their papers, they staple them into a folder made from a large sheet of colored construction paper. Each student decorates a cover and glues it on to the front of his or her folder to create a special keepsake. If you really want to turn this activity into a full fledged "craftivity," provide plenty of time and lots of creative materials for students to use when decorating their Thanksgiving folders to take home.  Having students add a small photo and the date is a nice touch because many families will treasure this special gift and keep it for many years.

Thankful Writing Craftivity Freebie

My "Thankful Writing" activity became a yearly tradition because it was such a terrific writing activity, and it was so appreciated by my students' families. Because it worked so well for me, I wrote up the complete directions to share with others as a freebie. It's my little gift and my way of showing my appreciation for the many educators who have shared so much with me through the years. The packet includes complete directions, a graphic organizer for brainstorming, and directions for introducing students to expository writing. You can download it from my Seasonal Page on Teaching Resources during November, and my newsletter subscribers can find it on Laura's Best Freebies page any time of the year.

Thankful Writing is a freebie from Laura Candler that's a step-by-step writing lesson and a craftivity all in one.The final project is sent home with students to be shared with their families on Thanksgiving day, and it's sure to be a memorable keepsake!

Tips for Success

Here are a few things to keep in mind that will help make this activity a success.
  • Timing - If possible, start on this activity several weeks before Thanksgiving, especially if your students have not written an essay before. You'll be surprised at how much time it takes to brainstorm ideas, teach them the format, write the first draft, revise and edit it, and create the final draft. You should also allow plenty of time for students to decorate their covers. 
  • Grading - If you are spend spend several weeks on this activity, you'll probably need to assign some sort of grade to it. You could do a participation grade based on overall effort and quality of work. If you need to write comments on their work to justify your grade, you won't want to write in the copy that students are going to give to their parents. What I did was to make a copy of the essay for myself so that I could write comments on it. I felt that since this was their first expository essay, it was more of a learning activity than an assessment so I tended to grade it very leniently. Most of my comments and feedback took place during the writing conference so my final grade ended up being more of a participation grade than anything else.
  • More Cover Options - I recently revised and updated this freebie, and it now includes a coloring page that you can print for students who might obsess over decorating their covers. However, I think most parents would rather see original artwork on the cover. One option might be to have the create the traditional hand-tracing turkey as the cover art. Check out this version that I found on Enchanted Learning for a slightly different approach. 
The day before Thanksgiving, provide time for students to share their final writing projects with their classmates before they bring them home to present to their families. You'll find this to be a nice way to end the day before you send them off for the holidays!

October 30, 2012

Spontaneity Brings Math to Life!

By Nyla Phillips-Martin, Guest Blogger

Last week, while in the midst of teaching a lesson on cuboids, I quickly realised that I had to do something drastic to get the attention of my most easily distracted student. I mean, there I was feeling all proud of myself for having everything I needed, I had my examples and non-examples for the students to handle, observe and compare attributes. My classroom was buzzing with excitement; hands were fervently flying up during Q & A time as I selected students to answer questions.

But the hand that I was looking for at the front corner of the class never went up. Justin (let’s call him Justin) just sat there looking away from me, tapping his ruler on the desk. Then he poked another student with his pencil. Now, it is not uncommon for him to be like this because he sometimes gets into trouble in order to avoid class work. What I needed to do was to get his attention without halting the momentum that the other students were having. At that moment, an idea popped into my head.

I walked out of the room, spun around and returned with a silly grin and a cuboid net in my hand. I didn't say a word. I just slowly folded the net into a talking cuboid (like a puppet). Think of a box with the top lid open – that flap became the puppet’s mouth. Anyway, I used the silliest voice I could muster and made the puppet talk.

He introduced himself as Corey the Cuboid and went on to talk about his other siblings and the fact that he feels like the odd one out because he cannot roll like the cylinder or sphere and he’s not as cute as his brother the cube. My fourth grade students were wide eyed and everybody was paying attention – not to me the teacher, but to the cuboid on show.

They all wanted to have their turn with handling Corey the Cuboid and making him talk (including Justin). In fact, they had so much fun making him talk that I videotaped one of my students as she brought Corey to life!

I really enjoyed that cuboid net lesson and it taught me that even with a lot of planning, a touch of spontaneity keeps things interesting. The lesson gave me an idea for their math project – to have them put on their own puppet show featuring different talking 3D Shapes.

If you like the idea of having students create puppets from 3D shapes, feel free to use the patterns from this free assortment of 3D shape nets that I created to save yourself some time! And don’t forget to flip out and be just a tad spontaneous!

Nyla Phillips-Martin, is a young wife, mother, and teacher in the Caribbean. She has a B. Ed Degree in Primary Education and is in her seventh year of teaching. She hopes to show other teachers in her country the power of using technology for use in records, planning and especially in the classroom. To her, education is all about fostering creativity and facilitating hands-on learning. Visit Nyla's blog, Nyla's Crafty Teaching, for more engaging lesson ideas!

October 24, 2012

Winning a Million - Math Lessons and More!

What would you do if you won a million dollars in a lottery? Take the entire amount over 20 years or a lump sum payout that's much smaller? Here are some ideas to help your students explore this question.
What would you do if you won a million dollars? The NC Education Lottery offers winners a choice between the entire amount paid over 20 years, or a lump sum payout of a smaller amount. What are the implications of each choice?

Today I saw a news article about a local man, James Anderson, who won $1 million in the Holiday Millions lottery game. One part of the story in particular really captured my interest:
"Top prize winners in the Holiday Millions game have the option of claiming their prize as a 20-year annuity or a lump sum. Anderson chose the $600,000 lump sum, which left him with $408,006 after taxes."
When I read this part of the article, my teacher brain went into overdrive! Do you realize that by accepting $600,000, Mr. Anderson gave up $400,000 of his payout just so he could get the money now instead of spreading it over 20 years? Furthermore, the government took such a big chunk that he now has less than half of that million dollars.

Million Dollar Lottery Lessons
As I read this, I immediately saw all kinds of possibilities for lessons about winning a million dollars. There are loads of obvious math lesson ideas, but I can also think of many literacy lessons as well. Here are a few quick thoughts about where you could go with this topic. Please share your ideas, too!

  • Read informational text.  Begin by having students read the article. You can find the article online here on the Fayetteville Observer website.  Then ask them to complete a "What's the Scoop?" graphic organizer to uncover the important facts and details in the news story. You could also use the Current Event Report form in my Social Studies file cabinet to have students write a summary of the important information. 
  • Analyze the math involved in Mr. Anderson's decision. What exactly did it mean in financial terms to take $600,000 now instead of a million paid over 20 years? I called the lottery hotline to make sure I understood how the 20-year annuity worked, and it's basically an option for taking out 1/20th of the money each year for 20 years. So how much money did Mr. Anderson give up? If you received a million dollars in annual payments over 20 years, how much would you get each year? What would that be on a monthly basis? What is the average salary in America? Would you be rich, living comfortably, or just getting by?  
  • Debate the pros and cons of the two payout options. Even though he gave up $400,000 to take out the immediate lump sum of $600,000, it might actually not be such a bad deal if he invests the money wisely. Disregard taxes because taxes will have to be paid on the money either way, and consider what would happen if he invested the full $600,000. What interest rate would be needed to make that money grow to $1 million in 20 years? As a side note, the person I spoke with on the lottery hotline said that the last 5 jackpot winners all took the lump sum payout. I'm assuming they contacted a financial adviser before making that decision, so it may be that taking the lump sum is a better option. But what if you took the money and just spent it? Would you be able to invest it?
  • Explore probability - Discuss the probability of winning money in the Holiday Millions game. You can read more about this particular game on the Holiday Millions page of the NC Education Lottery website. Players can win different amounts; what is the probability of winning each amount? (Click here to download a chart showing the approximate odds of winning.)

    A lottery ticket costs $20. Look at the odds of winning a million dollars. What if you bought a ticket every day for a year? How much would you spend? How much would you improve your chances of winning?  
  • Research possible purchases. What can you buy with $408,000 (the amount after taxes)? Research the cost of a home in your area, the cost of a new car, a dream vacation, etc. 
  • Discuss the concept of a million. Read the book How Much is a Million or If You Made a Million written by David Schwartz and illustrated by Steven Kellogg. Use the ideas in these books as a springboard for discussing just how big a million really is. 
  • Discuss impact of winning a $1 million. How would your life change? Are people with more money happier? What problems might be caused by winning a lot of money? Would people treat you differently? (I've heard that many people who win large sums of money end up broke and unhappy in a few years. It would be interesting to research the facts on this and discuss your findings with your students.)
  • Write an expository paragraph or paper - What would you do if you won a $1 million and had a choice between taking a lump sum of $600,000 or the whole amount over 20 years? How might your life change based on your decision?
These are just a few lesson ideas that came to mind as I thought about the implications of winning $1 million dollars. How would you teach a million dollar lottery lesson? I think we can agree that this topic is a goldmine of rich learning opportunities, no pun intended!