Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Place for those Pesky Binders

Lots of teachers who have a blog do something called "Made-it Monday" to show everyone a project they worked on over the weekend.  When I get the idea in my head to make something, I usually have a hard time waiting for the weekend to work on it - sometimes I start late at night on a Tuesday or at 6 AM on a Friday.  So, with that in mind... I refinished some furniture for my classroom!

Binders are the thing I always have trouble storing.  Our kids have fairly small desks and LOTS that need to go in them, so I have always tried to keep their writing portfolios somewhere in my room to keep them out of their desks.  The problem is that they take up SO MUCH ROOM!  They never fit quite right on the shelves I have.  They are awfully wide for the amount of pages they hold (at least for the first half of the year).  A few years ago I started seeing quarter-circle and semi-circle shelving to help solve this problem, but they were very expensive.  Therefore, you can probably understand my excitement when I was driving down a street nearby and saw this on the side of the road!
Someone had dismantled a desk and they were getting rid of the pieces.  I made a hasty but very safe U-turn to grab this chunk.  It was in pretty rough shape, lots of screws sticking out and some holes around the top, but I had a feeling that I could spiff it up.

The first, and most expensive, step was to prime it.  I know from experience that if I skip this step (which is so tempting) the paint will all peel/chip off in a matter of weeks, so I wanted to do this one right.  So, while Mr. M and his friends were playing video games, I spread my painting gear around the dining room and got to work.  It took a few layers to get that shiny, fake wood all covered up.

It looked so much better all cleaned up, but I wanted it to have a pop of color too.  I love color! I though purple would look nice in our mostly green and blue classroom.  Here's a great tip - when you only need to do a small area, ask for a sample size at the paint counter.  There is a surprising amount of paint in them and they usually cost around $3!

I also added a top to it.  The top hid the holes that I could fill in.  I also hate to have wasted space in my room, so now the top can be used to hold things as well.  I am not totally sure what yet, but I am sure it will be well-used.

So here's how it turned out:
I was really tempted to add the little bit of green glitter paint I have left over from the name tag board, but I refrained.  I am sure that it will find its way into our room in some form before September 5th!

Thursday, August 16, 2012


I am so excited to finally know who the lucky Room 13 kids are going to be next year!  We are going to have so much fun and learn so many amazing things.  Even though it means the end of summer vacation, I can't wait to get back to school and get started!  

Summer camp just ended, so the custodians (including the new West custodian - Mr. Arujo) are working really hard to get the classrooms cleaned up so that the teachers can get them ready.  In the meantime, I am doing some projects at home that I can bring to school for this year.  

One thing that I really wanted to have ready this year was a set of really nice, reusable name tags since we have so many new teachers this year.  I got some inspiration from the web and decided to make a nice place to display them as well.  
It started with a plain cork-board.  I planned to paint it blue or grey or something dull like that... but then I found green glitter paint!  How is a person supposed to pass up glitter paint?
I also enjoy love polka dots, so I found some ribbon covered with them to hang the names from.  

After that I made name tags up on the computer.  I used some new fonts and borders I downloaded from this blog.  I love how easy they all are to read.  

I happen to think that this is going to look totally fabulous in my room this year, right under the phone.  That way when we go to specials for the first few weeks, go on field trips, or have a substitute, names won't be an issue.  Besides, the sparkles just make me smile!

Friday, August 3, 2012


They have always been one of the main things in my teaching that I felt I needed to improve.  I always set out with the best of intentions to keep it simple, direct, and to the point... and yet they would end up taking 20-30 minutes.  About half way through this past year I realized that it wasn't really always me talking too much - it was the kids.  I just didn't know how to keep them engaged, but not let them take over the discussion.  I tried a lot of things - scripting my mini-lessons out, setting a timer, etc.  None of it really worked.

That's why I was so excited to have the chance to work in some mini-lessons during the nonfiction blogging club that I am co-running at our summer camp.  Being able to do the same mini-lesson four times over the course of a day has really helped me get the timing down and find that perfect balance of student interaction/engagement.  

They certainly weren't incredibly original topics for mini-lessons, but they helped my find my rhythm that I am excited to transfer into my classroom this year.  This is particularly important for me as I am going to try to implement Daily 5, which relies so heavily on mini-lessons for teaching strategies and procedures.  Here's what I did:

I read them them just a couple pages of A-Z Brazil and as I mentioned in a previous post, we listed "What good readers think about." I put them up on a chart that we referred to for the rest of the week when I was reading aloud or when I was chatting with them about what they were reading.  I also used this book to show them that they don't always have to read the whole book when reading nonfiction - they can just pick parts that interest them.

Today's mini-lesson was about wrapping up their blogs with an opinion statement.  To start we talked about all the ways we could describe a book if we liked it.  Then we made a list of words we might use if we didn't like it.  After that I told them that there was a secret word that really was the most important when you write your opinion and I wrote "because" in really big letters on the bottom of the chart.  

Then I read them the essay from the beginning of one of my old Zoobook magazines about Bats.  It was all about how most people think bats are scary or gross but how they really are helpful to people.  After I read it I had 2 or 3 kids make opinion statements, making sure they included "because" and a reason that made sense. 

We looked at nonfiction text features - all those parts of nonfiction books that aren't usually a part of fiction.  For this I just passed out a book to each kid that they could flip through (making sure they all had lots of features).  Then we listed all the things we found in the book and talked about what they were used for.  

After we made the list I gave them examples of how you could write about using these features in their blog.
     "I used the Table of Contents to find the part about the flag because I wanted to see what it looks like."
    "The glossary helped me figure out what erosion means."

I also encouraged them to try to use labels or captions in their illustration for the day (and lots of them did!)

We talked about the strategy that I called "Read*Think*Write."  I read them the first few pages of First Garden by Robbing Gourley, which is about Michelle Obama's decision to plant the big vegetable garden at the White House.  This lesson was definitely inspired by the "Check for Understanding" comprehension strategy from the CAFE book by The Sisters.  Very simply, I read them a page and very intentionally put the book down.  We talked about what we thought was interesting or important from that page.  Then we turned it into a sentence or two on the chart.  The focus was really on thinking at the end of each page and then writing our own words, not copying from the book. 
My favorite moment was when one of my soon-to-be fourth graders said excitedly "All we need to do is add an opinion and it would make a great book-blog!"  Yay! She remembered!