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How to End Your Year in Social Studies with an Engaging Project Your Students Will Love

Are you struggling with keeping your students engaged these last few weeks of school?  Are they flipping water bottles, spinning fidgets, hiding slime and anything else to avoid having to do actual school work?

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Photo courtesy of  Love Learning.

My fifths can barely sit still right now.  But I can't give up on teaching and learning yet.  We still have a lot to cover - the entire American Revolution to be precise.  I can't let those slime loving dabbers off the hook yet!  

So how do I tackle this problem every year? By sneaking in learning, while making them feel like they're having fun!

This is where mock trials come in!  If you've never tried mock trials in your classroom you are missing out!

To read more about how I implement mock trials in our classroom check out this blog post HERE.

Mock trials are my absolute favorite project every single year!  They are the perfect way to bring alive any event in history AND bring the judicial branch to life in your very own classroom.

We started our mock trials projects last week with auditions, and now our attorneys can't keep their hands off every book/source that has anything to do with the topic of their case (either the Boston Tea Party or the Boston Massacre).  Literally they are working their little behinds off (yes working hard in May!!!) and their sense of purpose and drive blows me away every year!

Meanwhile, I'm wandering around aimlessly without much to do while they're strategizing with their witnesses, writing their opening and closing statements, practicing their lines of questioning and learning more about these events that I ever thought possible!  

I can't imagine ending the year in social studies any other way. My kiddos are so engaged I haven't seen a water bottle flip in almost a week! 

I believe so powerfully in mock trials that I am giving away a set of my Road to the Revolution Mock Trials Project to one lucky winner.  All you have to do is enter the giveaway below before May 13th. 


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Plus, there's more great news.  If you enter this second giveaway you'll also have the chance to win a $100 Target gift card - perfect for some summer clothes shopping!   Make sure you enter all parts of the giveaway so you can be considered for the prize.

Best of luck with both the giveaways and with surviving the last few weeks of school!

For the chance to win more end of the school year activities, continue the blog hop by clicking on the link below!

Never dread conferring again with these four secrets!

Do you sometimes dread conferring during reading workshop? 

 You've been on your feet all day, your students finally settle in for that precious, quiet 30 minutes of independent reading time, and all you want to do is fall down in your desk chair and put up your aching feet?  The last thing you want to do is plan for 3-5 individual student reading conferences.  I mean you've already planned for 6 subjects during your 15 minute lunch, right?!?

I've been there.....

.....and it was pure survival mode, but then several years ago I signed up for a reading workshop lab classroom experience in our district, and I was suddenly accountable for making conferring work - because other teachers would be learning from me, yikes!  So the first thing I did was figure out what would work best for me, what would be easy for me to implement without adding on a lot of additional work and how could I make this enjoyable for myself and readers.  It took a few years (the lab classroom experience has since ended - teaching other teachers is hard friends!) but I've found a formula that works and I'm excited to share these four secrets with you!

I've compiled a free guide to conferring just for you and if you click HERE to read it now, you'll save yourself the years of dread, exhaustion and feelings of failure that I experienced.  And once conferring becomes easy for you and your students, you'll sit down in that desk chair, put up those feet and eat your 15 minute lunch with a smile on your face.

So download the Four Secrets to Successful Conferring guide now and read it over when you have a chance.  You'll learn how to easily figure out Who to confer with, What to say during your conferences, How to keep track of it all, and Where to go next.

With just a little practice of these four secrets, your dread of conferring will slowly turn to confidence and soon you'll be the one teaching other teachers in your district how to manage conferring easily and successfully.  Head on over to my TPT store to download the FREE guide now and take back your lunch time!

And check out what my other teacher blogger friends are showing off at Forever in 5th Grade's Show and Tell Tuesday!

3 tips for running successful student-led book clubs

three tips for running successful book clubs in the classroom

Have you always wanted to run book clubs in your classroom, but you're just not sure how to set them up, keep your readers accountable, or get your students reading, writing and talking deeply about books?

Are you thinking book clubs are impossible because you don't have sets of books for your students to read?

And how in the world will you get your curriculum standards taught if you're doing book clubs?

Or maybe you're not even sure what book clubs should look and sound like? 

Before you write off book clubs forever, envision your classroom readers excited about choosing books, encouraging each other to finish books, envision them helping each other to build comprehension, keeping each other accountable for writing thoughtful journal responses full of deep thinking.  Envision my friend, a community of readers who want to read, not just for you but for their peers and eventually, for themselves!  

It won't happen over night.  But it will happen if you believe!

book clubs in the classroom

Tip # 1 - Envision Piles of Book Club Books Everywhere

Let's start by squashing the thought that books clubs are impossible because you don't have access to sets of books.  Log on to scholastic.com right now, register yourself if you don't already have an account and sign up to receive a set of classroom book order flyers.  When they arrive send them home, make a big deal about how Scholastic books are up to 40% off publisher prices and you can't find a better deal anywhere.  If that doesn't work, remind (beg) your student's parents that every book they buy earns bonus points for your classroom.  These bonus points will buy you your book club sets!!  You won't have to spend a penny.

Or, if you're like me and you can't wait on those bonus points (you can spend them on more book club sets later) scroll down the flyer and find the $1 books! Every month Scholastic offers different dollar books that are quality literature!  This month's choices are: 2nd grade - Stone Fox and The Puppy Place: Mocha, 3rd grade - Black Lagoon #15, 4th grade - Shiloh, 5th grade - Tuck Everlasting and 6th grade -Pictures of Hollis Woods.  You could buy 5 copies of each of these books and have your first set of book club books in a week - differentiated for all your reading levels - and for only $30!

Did I mention tax write off????

Here's the current set of book club books we're using to analyze character development.  In the rafflecopter below you'll have the chance to win your own FREE set of book club books for your classroom!

use scholastic to purchase sets of book club books with bonus points

Tip #2 - Envision Your Students Practicing ALL the Standards

Book club books purchased ✅

Now, how in the world will you cover your district's curriculum expectations while also doing book clubs?  There just isn't enough time!!  Or is there?

But seriously, the great thing about teaching the standards is that they can be applied through ANY book!

And book clubs offer the perfect way for your students to authentically practice the standards you need to teach.

All you have to do is make a list of skills your standards cover. Teach each each one as a mini-lesson that the students will apply during reading.  They will write about the skill in their response journal and talk about the skill with their club.  Sound like a lot of work?  I've got you covered! If you're short on time and you're looking for a list of skills that are already compiled, with lesson plans and resources attached, then you need The Complete Guide to Book Clubs for Upper Elementary and Middle School Students.  If you enter the rafflecopter below you'll have a chance to win this product for FREE.

the complete guide to book clubs in the upper elementary and middle school classroom

The Complete Guide to Book Clubs in the Upper Elementary & Middle School Classroom is a 38 page Common Core aligned resource designed to lead your classroom successfully through book clubs from start to finish. This resource will work with ALL novels. Get your students self-selecting books, creating a weekly schedule, reading daily and writing responses, working within a book club of students to construct meaning (based on the common core standards), rating, summarizing, and recommending quality literature.

Tip #3 - Envision Thoughtful Discussions and Journal Responses

Books bought ✅
Lesson plans done ✅

What next?

How do your students magically start writing and responding to their reading with thoughtful discussions and journal prompts?  Well it's not magic. But it is peer pressure. The good kind.

writing journal response prompts for book clubs

When your readers stop performing for you and have choice over: the books they read, scheduling their assignments, choosing their response prompts, and leading their meetings, they start caring about being a contributing member of a group.  And that caring rubs off and builds real readers who truly enjoy sharing books and their thinking with others.

One way we model what thoughtful book clubs should look and sound like is through fish bowl meetings.  I randomly select a group of the day and they hold their meeting in front of the class while the rest of us observe.  I love sitting back and watching my readers shine during a fish bowl meeting and my other readers get so much out of seeing a book club at its best.  We talk about what went really well and what needs more practice and then the remaining clubs head off to have their meetings and to apply what they just learned from the fish bowl meeting.

use fish bowl recording sheets to observe your book club meetings

You can grab this fish bowl recording sheet and MORE in The Complete Guide to Book Clubs for Upper Elementary and Middle School Students.

I hope the 3 tips I've shared with you have alleviated your worries and have left you thinking, "Why didn't I start book clubs sooner?"

Why do I care so much? Because book clubs are my happy place.  Seriously.  The choice, autonomy, self-direction, motivation and authenticity of student-led book clubs make my teacher heart smile.

And so does a really good giveaway!!  

Since February is the month of love, I'd love to thank you for following my blog and social media accounts by giving you the chance to win a $100 gift card to Target and a FREE copy of my BEST-SELLING Complete Guide to Book Clubs PLUS a FREE book club set of 6 books of your choice! 

(You must complete all parts of the $100 Target Rafflecopter to be considered for the prize.)

Also, my blogging buddies have more amazing prizes for you to win if you continue on with the blog hop!  Good Luck my friend!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

How Google Classroom Revolutionized our Writing Workshop

Are you ready to jump your writing workshop into the 21st century?  If you're new to using Google Classroom, or you've just always wondered what it is, and what all the hype is about, than this post is for you.

We started using Google Classroom this year and while I'm in no way an expert yet, I have all kinds of notes, tips and advice I'd love to share with newbies like you!

So, I've compiled a guide full of all this goodness and I'm posting it for FREE in my TPT store - it's called Free Guide to Writing Workshop with Google Classroom.  I hope you check it out! 

The guide contains information on:
  • What is Google Classroom?
  • Why use Google Classroom?
  • How to get started
  • How to create assignments
  • How to share assignments
  • Other tips & advice
  • How to organize your Google drive
Download it right now and get started tomorrow with using Google Classroom in your writing workshop!  

And if you have additional tips that I missed, please share them in the comments below so I can add them to the guide. Or, if you'd just love to share how Google Classroom has revolutionized your classroom - I'd love to hear about that too! 

Never use a jump drive again!

A Free and Simple Classroom Reward - a Gift for Both Students and Teacher

Are you looking for a simple and free way to reward your students?  Maybe they've met a behavior challenge, or reached a classroom goal - whatever the reason for celebration - I've got the perfect incentive that both you and your students will LOVE!

Rewarding your students with gifts is expensive. 

Buying gifts for your kiddos adds up, even if it's just adorable items from the Target dollar spot.  Nine months of purchasing school supplies and toys for a treasure bin costs more money than we want to admit.

Rewarding your students with candy is unhealthy.

I used to have a candy jar in my classroom where I would keep jolly ranchers and starbursts.  It was expensive to buy those large bags of candy, but the kids loved it.  I would use the candy to reward my students for all kinds of good behaviors. It seemed to be the easiest form of reward but in retrospect, I was just reinforcing the idea that rewarding with food is positive - which can lead to unhealthy lifestyles.

So how should I reward my students?

If you're fed up with spending money on toys and candy, go ahead and STOP NOW! Do what I've learned works best!  Reward your kids with experiences!

There are many different experiences you can give your students - extra time with technology, gym or recess time, the chance to sit by a friend or in a special classroom spot, the opportunity to have a classroom job or be a classroom leader, permission to bring in a special item from home, and so much more!  But my favorite experience of them all - is to reward my class with a classroom read-in!

A free and simple classroom reward for teachers.

Everything we do in our classroom revolves around building a love for reading.  So why not focus our classroom rewards on facilitating that love as well!

A read-in is FREE and SIMPLE for you and it can also be so much fun for the kids. This is a gift for both teacher and students!

What Makes A Successful Read-In?

  • Allow your students to bring in a blanket and pillow from home, maybe even a stuffed animal too. 
  • On the special day, push all the desks out of the way so your kids can spread out and get comfy. 
  • Let your students bring in their favorite snack (no candy though).  
  • Go to YouTube and play a crackling fireplace in the background.  (We even found a video on YouTube this year that played instrumental Christmas music along with the crackling fire. It was amazing!)
  • Read with your kids!
  • Take pictures to spread the love.
  • Wait for them to start begging for another Read-In! 
Crackling fireplace with Christmas music to use during a classroom read-in.

Here's the crackling fireplace with Christmas music that we found! 

Facilitate a love of reading with a classroom read-in.
I always read with my students during a Read-In.  It's so nice to get comfy and forget the stress of teaching for a short while! 

A student reads intently during a classroom read-in.  Who doesn't love to read during a read-in?

I hope you try out a read-in in your classroom this year.  It could be your next answer to rewarding your students for reaching that classroom goal or milestone!  If you have any additional tips for making a classroom read-in successful, leave them in the comments below!!

How to host a successful read-in.

The Secret to Conferring During Reading Workshop

Does conferring during reading workshop scare you? Have you ever felt like you're not sure what to say or teach or check for when you pull up next to a reader?  I used to have those moments all the time, and I would catch myself avoiding conferring - because it didn't feel meaningful. I would pull a small group instead since I had a lesson plan for teaching that. Or, I would even, "gasp," sit down at my computer, check my email and rest my tired feet for a few minutes (and pray that my principal wouldn't walk in at that exact moment).  Know the feeling?

Image result for principal walks in on teacher sitting at desk meme

Every. Single. Time. Right?

I  do allow myself the necessary time to catch up on conferring paperwork on Fridays during reading workshop (I use this conferring binder set to keep all my conferring notes organized). But during the rest of the week, I'm now able to confer with 3-5 readers every day because I've discovered the key to meaningful conferring and it is actually so easy!!!

What's the Secret?

Why am I no longer scared? How do I magically know what to talk about and teach during conferences? Here it is: One, single, solitary, focused, specific learning target is the secret.  That is all!

Before I discovered the secret, staying focused on one skill during reading workshop was tough. It's so easy to veer off, get distracted, tell a story, seize a teachable moment, etc. etc. Before I knew it, no one remembered the point of the lesson or knew what specific skill to practice during independent reading, and I wasn't sure what to talk about (besides my favorite books) during conferences.

Should I talk about book choice? reading logs? engagement? stamina? the new J.K. Rowling movie? I've walked away from MANY reading conferences thinking, "I'm not sure if I taught that reader anything, but we had a great conversations about books."

But now that I force myself to stay focused on ONE learning target during our mini-lesson, shared reading time, independent reading and reading conferences, it makes our reading workshop so powerful and my life so much easier!!

How do I do it?

First, I post our daily learning target on the board (see photo above.)  I also make a journal response prompt with the same learning target for each day.  I display this journal response prompt on the document camera at the start of our mini-lesson at the carpet and refer back to it several times.

Check out my TPT store HERE for journal response prompt sets in Reading, Writing and Math. 

After the mini-lesson, we head back to our seats and practice responding to this prompt together with a shared reading text.

Finally, students respond to the prompt independently during independent reading time.

And Best of All......

My reading conferences focus on the prompt and students share their responses to the learning target at the conclusion of workshop time.  Everything is focused on one, single target.   Now that I've discovered this simple secret, I always know what to say when I pull up next to a reader to confer.

A typical conference sounds something like this:

Me - I'm noticing (something good about the reader that relates to the learning target - compliment). Tell me more about that.

S - responds

Me - Now let's look at how you're doing with today's learning target.  Tell me about your journal response.

S - shows me response and explains thinking process

Me- I take notes and compliment, reinforce or intervene/teach as needed. I record notes on an Avery label to adhere later to the student's page in my conferring notebook. Lastly, I give the student a sticky note bookmark with a goal to work on relating to the learning target and I ask the student to talk to me about how they will achieve the goal.

S - responds

Me - I thank the reader for their work, remind them that I will check in on them and their progress toward their goal in a few days. I schedule them a time in my conferring binder calendar and I move on to the next student on the schedule.

And that's it, this secret has transformed our reading workshop and allowed me powerful teaching time with each reader in my classroom.  It's taken hours away from the planning process and it has simply made my life easier. Which is every teacher's deepest darkest wish, right?

The following products were used in this blog post:


Planning a Halloween Party this week?

Who has time to plan a Halloween party, right? I mean seriously people, I'm trying to teach and mold young minds here.  Ain't nobody got time for parties.  Isn't it sad that the pace of our curriculum to keep up with the new standards makes us feel this way?? If you're feeling like I am, read this post because it will help you plan your party quickly and easily so you can keep on keeping on with all that important learning stuff.

spend time teaching instead of planning

You'll need four parent volunteers, one for each station, and donations of all the items listed on the family letter below.  You may need more than one student to volunteer to bring in some of the items so you'll have enough for your whole class.

The party will consist of 4 twenty minute stations. You'll need to set a timer, play some spooky Halloween music and then let the partying begin!

Food Station #1

A week ahead of time, start off by calling student names and having them volunteer to bring in an item, if they are able. You can create the list on an anchor chart and they circle their choice on the family note below.  This takes 10 minutes tops. Once completed, you'll send the notes home and whew - your food station #1 is done.  Check that one off the list.

You can grab this EDITABLE Halloween family note for FREE at my TPT store HERE.

Send home this family letter to get donations for your Halloween Party

Halloween Bingo Station #2

Next, go on TPT and download a FREE Halloween Bingo game.  There are tons to choose from - 172 to be exact.  Probably even more by the time you search!

Print the bingo game and station #2 is complete!  Find your bingo chips, or other similar items to be used for marking, or students can even just X out the spots as they are called. We use pretzels - which you could have students bring in instead of crackers.

use pretzels as bingo markers

A parent volunteer will help run the bingo game.  Can't get much easier than that.  Dig out an old plastic pumpkin and pour in a bag of the donated candy you collected from students - prizes are ready!!

ask family members to send in bags of candy for game prizes

Mummy Wrap Station #3

For station #3, your students will play the mummy wrap game.  Why do kids think it's so fun to be wrapped from head to toe in toilet paper?  It's gross, but they love it!  And it's clean toilet paper of course.  :)  Use the donated toilet paper that you asked for on the family letter above.  In this station the kids will wrap a partner in toilet paper until the timer goes off.  I usually give them one minute. Whoever is the best looking mummy wins a prize (again donated candy in a plastic pumpkin - you can't go wrong with candy on Halloween) Or, if you're one of those super healthy people, you can ask for a student volunteer to bring in Halloween pencils for prizes.  They can be found pretty much everywhere.  If students are careful, they can reuse the toilet paper and play a few times before they move on to the next station.

Kids love the mummy wrap game

Skeleton Craft Station #4

Lastly, for station #4, you just need black construction paper, glue and the Q-tips you had volunteers donate in the family letter above.  Students will make this fun skeleton.  Check out this blog post explaining how to make them HERE.

Spooky Skeletons are the perfect Halloween craft

And that's it!  You're done!  You can use these same stations year after year.  Kids love them and you can spend your precious time teaching instead of planning parties!!!

spend time teaching and let this blog post do the planning

Oh, and speaking of partying.  Are you following me on Instagram yet?  I'm hosting a $50 giveaway - $25 in choice products from my TPT store and $25 Amazon gift card!

Head over to my page now and take your chances of scoring all the goods!!!

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