Fun with Mysteries

Do you have junior secret agents in your class this year? These are students who love gadgets, have a sense of adventure, love to read mysteries, and enjoy studying any type of map. Or do you have students on the opposite end of the spectrum?  Do you have students that act like they want to be anywhere but school. If so, maybe it's time for a little adventure!

The first time I introduced "Spy 101" was in October during Red Ribbon Week. My students had to choose a country in South America or Mexico. Each student wrote their own mission plan. For example, one student said the Statue of Liberty was stolen and reported hidden in Chile. Another student said the President that we see on t.v. was an imposter. The real President was getting medical treatment in Brazil. His mission was to see if the person in Brazil was the real person or the imposter President. 

In order to write their mission reports accurately, students had to research their country's: weather, terrain, culture, mode of travel, and other important details. Some of my students even visited travel agencies. They got posters, pamphlets, and extra information about their country which further enriched their reports.
You can integrate this with your current social studies unit. If you are studying Greece, have the mission take place in Greece. If you are studying continents, assign each group to a different continent
A literacy center - "Operation Bookworm" is included which also includes a book list with title, author, and reading levels (2nd - 6th grade).

Integrate science with this unit with this invisible ink lesson.  

Here's a video about making invisible ink you can show your class:
Safe share link
Each student will have their own spy folder and assigned a number (like James Bond). Labels are included.

Activities include:
Operation Bookworm
-Signs: color and blackline
-Mystery booklist: 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th
-Reading Tracker: 2 forms - chapters and pages
-Story comparison: venn diagram
-Book Log: Traveling with Book
-Setting Details: country/state/city, climate, landforms, flag, culture, interesting facts
-the Clues: write 3 clues
-Character Traits: is / is not tree map and generic tree map
-Mission location: locate on map (United States)
-Mystery location: locate on map (United States)
-Mission location: locate on map (world)
-Mystery location: locate on map (world)
-Research: background information
-Mission Report
-Mystery Report
-Secret Code
-Secret code message #1 and answer key
-Secret code message #2 and answer key
-Secret code message - write your own message - 2 forms
-Top Secret labels
-Agent labels

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Hallowiener How To Writing, Making Words, & More!

Halloween is a fun holiday!  All of the planning for costumes, carving pumpkins, and decorating can spill over into the classroom.  By the time the actual day arrives, the energy level of students can be off the charts.  The last thing students need is a sugar-filled party.

Years ago, my reading specialist introduced me to the book, The Hallo-wiener, by Dav Pilkey.
 The other dogs in this story make fun of Oscar, the dachshund (wiener dog).  The other dogs rush off and leave Oscar when it is time to go trick-or-treating.  In the end, Oscar rescues them and they all end up as friends.

It is an entertaining book with a good message for children.
The Hallo-wiener  book sets the theme for the perfect fall - Halloween party.  For your next Halloween party have "hallo-wieniers"!  You can easily make these in the classroom with a crockpot.  Put the wieners in the crockpot standing upright.  Add water after you finish adding all of the wieners.  Turn the crockpot on and they will soon be ready.  You can serve chips and water bottles with it.  Notice there is nothing that screams sugar on the menu.  Your parents will thank you for not sending home their child on a sugar high.
Let your students complete this making words activity while the wieners are cooking.  Your students will make as many words as possible from the word "Hallowiener".  There are letter tiles at the bottom that they can cut and arrange to help with this activity.  This is also a fun partner activity.
Let your students write the steps of how to make a hot dog after they finish eating.  Encourage your students to use transition words like the ones in the picture above.

In the ideal world, all teachers would have involved parents who can lend a hand for activities like this.  Unfortunately, that is not everyone's reality.  I have organized a "Hallo-wiener" day with my class and managed it completely by myself.  My Hallo-wiener file includes a parent note asking for supplies.  Many parents are happy to send in supplies but may not have flexibility with their jobs.  I would suggest that the date you ask for supplies be a couple of days before the activity so you have time to purchase missing supplies.  Check out the preview file to see the other activities included with the file.

How do you celebrate Halloween with your class?

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Cultural Diversity throughout the School Year

Our world is a giant melting pot and many classrooms reflect that diversity. Celebrations Around the World is one of my favorite units that celebrates different cultures. Wouldn't it be nice to have a center that celebrates cultural diversity all year long?

You can easily set up a diversity center with some books and a few reading response forms. I just added the pages below to my Reading Response & Book Bag file that would be perfect for this center.

Grandfather Tang's Story is a story that can be used with this center and enrich your math lessons, too. There is a tangram template and tangram sign included.

Some cultures and languages use an alphabet that is different than ours. Show examples of different types of alphabets. I recently visited my local thrift store and found the books below. Alef-Bet is a Hebrew alphabet book. The picture above is an example of an assignment that works with an alphabet book. You can click on the pictures below for more information about the books.

One of my favorite things about books is that you can travel without spending money. There is this big world out there just waiting to be explored . . . . with books!

Do you hang a map in your classroom? Too many times maps are something that is rolled up and put away after a lesson. I highly recommend hanging a map low enough that students can touch it, explore it, and talk about it. You will be surprised at how this quickly becomes "the" new hangout spot.

Maps are also a great way to show (document) the settings of the books you've read. Make a map themed bulletin board to show the settings of the books you've read to your class. You can also include a map with the cultural diversity center. I found this one at Lakeshore. It is about the size of a placemat - perfect size for a literacy center.

Introduce other languages with a cultural diversity center. There are many books that incorporate a few words of a different language that is perfect for this center.

Manana Iguana is the Spanish version of the Little Red Hen. The book is shown above in the picture. You can watch a video of it below:

Video: Manana Iguana 2:02
Safeshare link

Many girls add an American Girl doll that looks like them to their birthday or holiday wish list. It is familiar, relatable to them.

Characters in books work the same way for students. Have you ever had a student ask you where the books are in the library that look like him or her? After that happened to me, I made a conscious decision to look for books that have characters that represent our world.

SUGGESTION: One of the things I have found very helpful is looking at the publisher of books that I purchase. If you purchase a book that is published from another country, you will want to look at it very carefully.

In the picture above is a book called, "The Inspiring Stories from Aesop" by Kunwar Anil Kumar. When I looked closer at the book, I noticed that some words, although translated properly, may not be the choice of words I would prefer. The title of the fable in the picture is "An A#s in a Swamp". Although the word ___ is correct, I would have used the word "donkey".

The fable that we call "the boy who cried wolf" is called "false alarm" in this book. There are other differences that I found interesting and would make interesting lessons.

Just remember . . . . always preview books you purchase or parents donate to ensure the word choice is what you prefer for your class.

My husband's job has moved us from place to place. We currently live in the San Francisco bay area. I live halfway between San Francisco and Silicon Valley. There are several advantages of living here:

It is a culturally rich community.
Education is highly valued here.
It is heaven for people who love books.

Families place a high priority on education which means they purchase many, many, many books. When their children are finished reading the books, they donate them to the local thrift store. There is an overabundance of children's books at thrift stores. I can purchase children's books for 25 cents - $1.49 (chapter books). Most of these books have been gently used.

I have been purchasing used books, taping the edges, and leveling them (if levels are given on Level It or Book Wizard app) and hosting "Need Books? Giveaways" on my Facebook page.
Visit my FB page for my latest Need Books Giveaway. The theme is: Culturally Diverse Books. Here are a list of the books included with this giveaway. I will include Amazon links so you can read more about the books.

INDIA: Tenalirama
MALAYSIA: Hamid's Surprise
KOREA: What will you be Sara Mee?
AFRICA - Ghana: One Hen
SYRIA: Fatima and the Dream Thief
NATIVE AMERICAN - Hopi: The Warrior Maiden
CHINA: Sagwa, The Chinese Siamese Cat
CHINA: Grandfather Tang's Story
JAPAN: A Day in Japan
IRELAND: Dreaming of America
VIETNAM: The Lotus Seed
CARIBBEAN: How many days to America?
AFRICAN AMERICAN: Something Beautiful
AFRICAN AMERICAN: Goin' Someplace Special
HISPANIC: Let's Read about Cesar Chavez
BILINGUAL: A book of Seasons - English & Spanish
Some SPANISH words: Manana Iguana
Some SPANISH words: Siesta
RUSSIA: Molly's Pilgrim
JEWISH: Alef-bet: A Hebrew Alphabet Book
JEWISH: Bone Button Borscht
DEAF COMMUNITY: Mother Goose in Sign Language
VARIOUS COUNTRIES: This is the Way we go to School 

Do you have any favorite books that I should add to this center?


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Literature Circles Differentiate Motivate and Book Giveaway

Have you tried Literature Circles?  This is one of my tools in my toolbox that I have found quite useful.  Literature circles are great when:
  • You have a class with a wide range of abilities levels.
  • You have too much curriculum and not enough time to teach it.
  • You have students that are less-than-enthusiastic readers.

You can make your Literature Circles different sizes.  Sometimes you may have 2 students that are reading 2 or 3 grade levels above the next highest reading group.  Let those 2 students form their own circle.  The 2 students can rotate to a different job each time that they meet.  Although you won't have a student completing each job on the rotation wheel of the circle each time that they meet, the partners or smaller group can still have an effective discussion.

Do you integrate your curriculum?  This is the best way to add time to your day.  Use science or social studies to set the theme for your Literature Circle.  Look at the books below for a few examples:
  • Magic School Bus: The Search for the Missing Bones (reading level 3.5) would be perfect addition to a Human Body unit.
  • The Fire Cat (reading level 2.2) would enrich a fire safety unit.
  • Does your class dissect owl pellets?  Add the story, Owl at Home, to your reading plans.  It is on the 2.5 reading level.

Have you ever joined a Book Club as an adult?  If so, you know the feeling when the group voted to read a book that you were less than excited to read.  It took you longer to finish the book when this happened, right?  Many of your reluctant readers feelthe same way.  Choice affects enthusiasm for many readers.

I hope you follow my Facebook page.  I will be giving away multiple copies of these books.

REMINDER: Please downloadLIterature Circle, if you previously purchased it.  I completely redid it this summer. You get all new pages!

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Leveled Books tips

Is there such a thing as too many books? If you are a teacher, the answer is probably no. No matter how carefully administration forms classes, there will always be a range of reading levels in any given class. With this range of levels, comes the need for a large quantity of books.

Somehow books disappear like socks, yet no one has any idea where these missing items could be. Each year, teachers spend personal money, time shopping for, and Scholastic points replacing books that he or she has already purchased.  Frustrating, right?

Taping books is one thing that I found that gets a larger percentage of my take-home readers returned. I think the tape on the cover makes it easier for students and parents to identify as a "school book" instead of a "home book".

Supplies make a big difference! I tried a variety of tape. In the beginning, I used tape from the Dollar Tree trying to save money. Some brands of tape are harder to tape to books neatly. My favorite brand is Scotch packaging tape. This brand is also quiet. You know how tape makes a screechy sound when you pull a long strip off the roll? This is the only type of packaging tape in the Scotch line that I found that was QUIET. If you like to work on projects like this in front of the t.v., I highly recommend this specific type of tape. If you have a lot of books, buy in bulk.
Where do you get books?  I love to shop at thrift stores for books. Parents are also a great source.  Here is a free note you can send home throughout the year asking for donations.
Books with price tags often cover the bar code.  I found this handy-dandy label remover (picture above) to be a BIG HELP! Save your nails plus it doesn't damage your books.

You may have sticky residue after you take the price tag off. I have tried a variety of things to remove this without damaging the book. Goof Off-Heavy Duty Spot Remover and Degreaser, works great on the outside covers. You can spray this directly to the covers that have a shiny surface and wipe off. It does not work on the inside covers, though.

To save time, I print labels (free copy) like the picture above and attach them to the inside cover of books.

  • G.L.E. = Grade Level Equivalent
  • Lexile = Lexile Level
  • G.R. = Guided Reading Level
  • D.R.A. - Developmental Reading Assessment
I used the School Book Wizard app and the Level It app.  Not every book is included in these apps, but you can find many books using these apps.  A couple of things I found:

  • Sometimes the 2 apps gives different levels.  When this happens, I use Scholastic if this is the publisher of the book.  I assume the publisher would have more accurate information.
  • Most of the time, all 4 types of reading levels above are given, but not always.  I leave the spaces blank if the level is not given.  
  • Scanning the barcode does not work 100% of the time.  If the barcode doesn't work, search by author's name or title.  You can often find the levels searching this way.
I HIGHLY RECOMMEND writing down all the different types of reading levels given.  Your school may currently use the Lexile method but you never know when your school may switch to a new method or you may move to a new school district.  

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Listen and Following Directions - QR Code Listening Center, Assessment

We are keenly aware of the connection of listening skills and students' behavior.  Observe a class for a short period of time and you will quickly see which students need extra listening lessons.  Teachers with a "Listen Logan" may feel exhausted by the end of the day because of the extra time spent directing and redirecting their "Listen Logan".  Does this sound familiar?
  • Logan, why aren't you lined up?  I blew my whistle twice.
  • Logan, I told the class that everyone needs to push in his or her chair before you come to the carpet.  Why didn't you follow directions?
  • Logan how many times do I have to ask you to . . . . 
  • Logan, bring me your take-home folder . . . (5 minutes later) Logan, I need your take-home folder.  (another 5 minutes)  Where is your take-home folder, Logan?
  • Logan, do you see what all of your classmates are doing? We clean up when I ring my bell 3 times.  Why aren't you cleaning up?
Listening skills are one of those unsung heroes of the academic skill world.  We often hear and read articles, books, and posts about phonics, phonemic awareness, addition, and subtraction.  What we often overlook is the impact listening skills have on students' academic achievement.

If a "Listen Logan" is not actively listening to your lesson, he or she will miss valuable content which overtime impacts academic achievement.

Back to school time is the perfect time to do a quick whole group assessment of your students' listening skills.  Your students will love the fun, non-threatening format of the Listen & Draw lesson - listening skills assessment.  You will love how quiet your class is during the lesson!  

My Listen & Draw files include teacher directions with 10 steps of directions that you will read to your class.  Your students will listen to your directions and then draw what you tell them to do in the picture box.  At the end they will write a sentence or sentences about the pictures.   This also makes a good writing sample to keep in their portfolio for conferences and RTI.

Most of my Listen & Draw files include:

  • 10 - 12 Lessons with Teacher directions
  • Answer key - sample
  • Student worksheet
  • Sign with Listen & Draw directions (listen to teacher, work quietly, etc.)
I just finished completely revamping the first Listen & Draw file that I made.  I am now calling this Listen & Draw Plus because of all of the additional resources this file now has.  Some of these are requests from teachers and others are things I thought would help with assessment.
All of the Listen & Draw directions are now on a half-page chart (shown in 2 pictures above).  If you look at the chart in the graphic titled "Assess Listening Skills" you will see a sample of how to grade.  I highlighted the words in the directions that the student did not follow.  In the comment section, I wrote the skills that this student needs extra practice:  color words, position/preposition, and plural nouns. 

COLOR CODE: In the picture above, I copied the grading charts on different colored paper.  Choose the lessons that you plan to use for each grading period.  Print those grading charts on a different color.  

DIFFERENTIATE YOUR GRADING:  You can give different expectations for the writing portion of this for different students, groups, or grading periods.  There are 3 different points charts - 10, 12, and 15 points - for teachers who differentiate the writing.  Example:
  • Student A - Expectation: write 1 complete sentence = 1 point
    • Use the 10 points chart
  • Student B - Expectation: write more than 1 sentence = 2 points
    • Use 12 points chart
  • Student C - Expectation: You can set your own expectations.  Suggestion:  
    • Student earns 2 points if he/she adds detail to picture that shows the setting of the picture.
    • Students earns 3 points for writing 3+ sentences that include 5 or more words.
What do you do if some of your students need more practice but not all of them?  There are 12 lessons in this file.  If you use 4 of the lessons for Beginning of the year, 1st quarter, 2nd quarter, and 3rd quarter assessments, you will have 8 lessons to use with these students.  

Put students who need additional practice in a Listening Skill Group.  Don't have time to read the directions to your class?  No problem, you can use the QR Code listening center included with the Listen & Draw Plus.
To save time, put earbuds in a ziplock bag, punch a hole in the bag, and put the bag on a ring.  Put a label with students' name or number on the ziplock.  
Recognize and reward your Super Listeners.  There are Brag Tags and happy notes included to motivate all of your students.  Hopefully, with a little extra practice and motivation all of your students will become better listeners and you will come home with more energy!
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