Friday, June 2, 2017

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Battle of the Books

Where we come from, Battle of the Books is a big deal.  Each spring, the North Carolina School Library Media Association publishes a list of 15 books for 4th and 5th graders and 27 books for middle schoolers.  Students don't have to read all the books, but should read a few of them so they can contribute to their team.  The following school year (usually right after Christmas break) students begin competing on teams to answer trivia questions about the novels.  There are school competitions, district competitions, and regional competitions.  Last school year, I was fortunate enough to participate in two rounds of district competition with an amazing team from my classroom.

I love everything about Battle of the Books.  Anything that gets kids not only reading, but fighting over who gets to read what book next, has full support in my classroom.  EBOB (elementary battle of the books) gets my students excited about reading like nothing I've ever seen.  It involves teamwork, planning, cooperation and turns students (many whom normally wouldn't enjoy such a role) into leaders.  It's so much fun to coach and to watch! 

With that said, there are always a few holdouts and I try not to force kids to participate in the actual EBOB.  What I do instead, shamelessly, is force them to participate in my own class version at the end of the school year.  I have created over 1,000 Battle of the Books style questions for novels that I either teach or assign for homework throughout the year.  During the last week of school, we'll have our own class Battle of the Books.  My hope is that some students gain confidence through this activity to participate in actual EBOB next school year.

I group students into evenly balanced teams and make brackets using this free website.  In actual EBOB, every team plays every other team so if there is time I set up it up that way instead.  Sometimes I do two different rounds-- one in which I assign teams and then another where they pick their teams.  The possibilities are endless.  Actual EBOB teams have up to 12 members and 6 are competing together at any given time.  For a classroom version, I make my own rules as I go.

In order to prepare for our class battles, I print out EBOB questions for all the books we've had that year and make stacks of questions for each group on a large table.  I shuffle the questions so that they aren't all from the beginning of the book on top.  Then, I simply grab one question from each pile (or at least from most piles) and slip them into a envelope, one for each battle.  My EBOB sets contain 36 questions per novel, so there are enough questions to have at least 36 battles.  

You ask ten questions each round (five to each team, with a chance to steal if the first team misses it-- called a "redirect" in EBOB).  I try to include more than ten questions in each envelope so I can skip over any that I don't particularly like that day for whatever reason.  I've stored the question envelopes in a binder in plastic sleeves so that I can use it year after year.  I keep adding to the envelopes for each round, and during the battle I just skip over books we haven't read this year.

*ALL my Battle of the Books products are on sale for 20% through Friday in my TPT store.*
If you own the following bundles, EBOB questions have JUST been added at the same price so download your bundle again: 
Because of Winn-Dixie, Bridge to Terabithia, Bunnicula, Charlotte's Web, Dear Mr. Henshaw, The Egypt Game, I Survived the Eruption of Mt. St. Helens, 1980, The Last Holiday Concert, The Lemonade War, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Magician's Elephant, and Rules.

If you have questions about EBOB or would like to know more, I'd love to hear from you!  You can read more about the Elementary Battle of the Books here and the Middle School Battle of the Books here.  This is my absolute favorite last week of school activity... Check back here next week and I'll add some pictures of our class battles!

Update: 6/2/17
We got back all our Comprehension Packets for the year and started reviewing for next week's battle!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

That Was Never For You

I’ve tried really hard to be a teacher blogger.  Once in a while I get it right but more often I miss my old blog where I just poured out my musings.  So, if you’ll indulge me, perhaps once in a while, I’ll pour out my musings here.  Starting now…

I love Easter almost as much as I hate Christmas.  It sounds conflicting, I know, but at the least it reassures me that I really do love Jesus. To me, Christmas is confusing and chaotic, much like it must have felt for those living out the nativity story.  But the Easter story, while painful in parts, is so much more… love, hope, and peace.  To me, Easter brings clarity. 

At our sunrise service today, I experienced clarity.  I’m not one to often claim God speaks to me directly, but this morning He did.  As I reflected on my faith and found myself asking Him yet again why my life doesn’t look quite like most thirty-somethings on Easter morning (or any morning for that matter), I clearly felt five words in my heart: “That was never for you.”

Jealousy is defined as, “an unhappy or angry feeling of wanting to have what someone else has.” Is there a more powerful emotion?  We see it in ourselves, we experience it our relationships, and we try in vain to teach it out of our kids.   I fight it every day in my classroom. “I raised my hand first.” “He cut in front of me in line.” Or more seriously: “She doesn’t want to play with me anymore.” “They never let me play football.”    And don’t even get me started on trying to play detective when petty objects or snacks get stolen out of desks, lunchboxes and bookbags.

 What is it deep inside that makes us always want what someone else has?

It’s so hard not to think this way—not to focus on what we don’t have instead of what we do have.  But Romans 8:11 says, “the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you.” And I assure you His is not a jealous spirit in this way.  In fact, it’s the opposite—humble, sacrificial, and unselfish to a degree we can’t imagine.   We get so hung up thinking it’s all about us, especially in this social media driven world where pride and comparison reign constant.

More often than not the things we get so hung up on were never for us in the first place.  We aren’t missing out if it wasn’t in His plan.  We aren’t being punished and we don’t deserve better.  All we deserved was the punishment He took for us on the cross.  He did so in order to save us from eternal Hell and in the meantime from a life spent meaningless... 

 If there’s one thing I’m thankful for today and everyday, it’s that.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Ten Things Teachers Say That We Don't Really Mean

April Fool's Day is a day to say things you don't really mean and get by with it.  While we were lucky enough to have April Fool's Day fall on a Saturday this year so we missed out on sharing it with our students, it has gotten me thinking about how in our profession, we say things we don't really mean all the time.  I'd venture to say teaching is up there with used car salesman and lawyer when it comes to uttering untruths and getting by with it.  Just to name a few...

"If you do that one more time, I'm going to call [your parent, the principal, etc.]" Let's be honest. It'll take at least half a dozen more times before we reach for that phone.

"Of course I remembered there's a staff meeting in five minutes." Who am I kidding? I can't even remember to use the bathroom during the day.

"I know who made that noise and if I hear it again, there will be consequences." I have no idea who made that noise but hopefully that'll make it stop. And if it doesn't, I'll pretend I didn't hear it so I don't have to admit I didn't know who it was in the first place.

"I guess you're going home with me [to the student whose parent is late]." Has anyone ever once made good on this threat? I'm thinking it would make the news if we did.

"I've never had a class who has as much trouble handling this as you guys do." In truth, I've been just as exasperated with every class I've ever had at some point or another. But a little shaming can't hurt.

"There's no way you turned that in. I wouldn't have misplaced it." I sure hope you find it when you go back and check your folders again. Because it very easily could've gotten swallowed up in the constant mess that is my desk.

"Of course I don't have a favorite student." Except for maybe that one who always does what they're supposed to without asking me if they're my favorite.

"I spelled that wrong to see if you were paying attention." Does anyone believe that one anyway?

"I chose your groups for a reason." Sometimes they are differentiated, balanced, and well-planned for personalities and learning styles.  Other times, I'm tired and I just use Team Shake.

"I can't believe the school year is almost over."  Oh yes, I can.  I love my students dearly and will miss them truly but a school year is 180 days for a reason.  Eventually, we all need a break.

Hope your April Fool's Day was prank-free!  Maybe next year I'll come up with something as cool as that guy's hilarious spelling test.  But more likely I'll be too easy making empty threats and faking it 'til I make it.  What about you?

Thursday, March 30, 2017

First in Flight Day

There's nothing a teacher loves more than a themed day.  Crazy sock day, twin day, book character day... you never know what you might find when you walk into an elementary school.  My teammates and I love to plan themed days related to the curriculum for our grade level, and today was one of my favorites: First in Flight Day.

Here in North Carolina the Wright Brothers are an even bigger deal than the Super Mario Brothers.  Many of our students have visited the Wright Brothers Memorial at the Outer Banks and if they haven't, they've at least noticed our license plates say, "First in Flight." North Carolina history embodies most of our fourth grade social studies curriculum, and the story of the Wright Brothers is too much fun to shortchange so we devote a whole day each spring to the topic.

This is my favorite book for teaching about the Wright Brothers.  It's long for a picture book so I read a little throughout the week so the students can use it as a reference in a learning station on First in Flight Day.  My resources for that station are from this amazing product by Monica Parsons on TPT. Other stations include checking out this video and article from (I used this product from History Matters on TPT) and a really cool virtual tour of the Wright Brothers Memorial from our school's subscription to Discovery Education.

By far, the most popular activity on First in Flight Day is paper airplane flying.  This year for the first time I used a very affordable book from Usborne called 100 Paper Planes to Fold and Fly.  It was well worth the $7.99!  I had each group choose three different designs to create and we tested which ones flew the farthest using the recording sheets in this product from Teachers Are Terrific on TPT.   If you don't have an Usborne contact, mine is Deanna; click here for her website.


Differentiated passages from the Bow Tie Guy and Wife have become one of my go-to resources on  TPT.   The Wright Brothers Differentiated Passages are a must for First in Flight Day.  This resource allowed me to justify targeted learning on an otherwise fun and fluffy day.

We ended the day up by doing a group poster activity using a poster size print out of this resource form Heart 2 Heart teaching.

Next week we'll start this exciting book for homework, and the kids will be ready!  You can download my FREE Reading Guide here.

Last but not least...what's any good themed day without food?  My recommendation for First in Flight Day is these adorable kite brownies from Little Debbie.  They are seasonal and sometimes hard to come by...especially if you're at the Wal-mart in my town this week because I may have bought 20+ boxes on Tuesday night...

But it was worth it!  These days are always a lot of work but they are so much fun!  And... they're what your students will remember.  What fun themed days do you have at your school? 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A SWEET Giveaway!

Enter below to win a class set (30 new books) of The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling PLUS my Novel Unit for the book.

The contest runs through Wednesday, March 29th and I'll ship both the books and a paper copy of the unit by the end of the month.

Click here to read how I used this book in my classroom back in January.

Feel free to share with a friend!

Sometimes You Just Have to Pretend

It's getting to be that time in the school year when I just tell it like it is.  So much of our time together has slipped by, but I've got about a quarter of a school year left to shoot them straight now that I really know them.  And if you know me, you can imagine how interesting that can be.

One of my students sees everything in black and white.  It's either right or wrong, fair or not, makes sense or doesn't, and he's either all in or all out.  We've had some power struggles but we've also made a lot of powerful progress.  He beats to his own drum and does his own thing, but slowly I'm convincing him that sometimes you just have to bend a little.

Today we had an early dismissal.  On these days, we have lunch in our classroom at 12:00 and dismiss at 12:50, so not much happens after lunch.  As we cleaned up around 12:30, I told the students to pack up and choose one of three activities: unfinished work, homework or read a book.  As I looked around the room ten minutes later, every single student had complied with the directions- except my nonconformist.

"Get out a book, please," I said to him.  "Why?" came the well-rehearsed reply. "Because everyone else is doing something productive and you were instructed to do the same," I said.  "But I am doing something," came yet another retort, "I'm imagining."

His reply, though insubordinate, was so authentic that I almost stopped there.  But at that point I had 23 other sets of eyes watching me sideways to see what would happen next.  So I walked over to his desk and laid down a copy of Stuart Little.  "Then, hold this book, pretend to read, and imagine," I ordered.  His eyes widened, as did a couple of other sets of eyes at his table.  "So you're telling me to pretend?" he asked, and, of course, again, "Why?"

"Because not all your future teachers will be as nice as I am, and you're going to have to learn to do things the first time you're asked even if you're faking it," I explained. "Sometimes, you just have to pretend." I stifled I laugh as a mischievous boy nearby muttered, "I can teach you all about that," under his breath.

I know my advice today didn't fall under our minute-by-minute instructions for balanced literacy.  Pretending to read while imagining doesn't exactly substitute for self-selected reading.  But sometimes life lessons are more important than academics.

All through life, people are going to ask you to do things that you don't want to do.  Sometimes you have to dig deep and endure situations that you're not in a mental (or emotional) place to handle at the time.  But you've got to pick up the book, hold it in your hands, and pretend, even if you're just imagining, and even if (especially when) you don't understand why.  Sometimes it's not about you; it's about the person that asked you or the ones that are watching you.

Sometimes you just have to pretend.  Might as well teach them young...

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

March Means (Basketball) Math!

I love running into former students and hearing what they remember about fourth grade.  More than once in the last couple of years I've had a student tell me, "I remember how you let us watch the ACC tournament in class." I'm not sure what that says about my academic rigor, but it definitely shows where one of my passions besides teaching lies: college basketball!

Growing up in North Carolina means you have a loyalty to a college basketball team.  It doesn't matter if anyone in your family ever went there or if you've ever even visited the campus.  You still cheer enthusiastically for one team and enthusiastically hate the other three.  I can remember crying at night growing up because I didn't want to go to school the next day when my team had lost.  My sister and I may have been known to throw away admissions packets from one particular college because we'd had rather died than attend there, even if a full scholarship had been offered.

One of my co-workers is not from around here and the first year we worked together I asked her what she was planning for ACC math the first week of March.  She gave me a completely blank look and said, "What are you talking about?" Ten years later and I still haven't fully convinced her this is an important, though unstated, objective in the fourth grade state math curriculum.  But I'm just going to keep on writing my lesson plans as if it counts.

Novel units are my thing but so is ACC basketball!  These are my ACC Math Task cards that I update annually with current ACC team and player statistics.  You can download a free sampler here containing four word problems featuring the North Carolina ACC teams.  The full product containing 60 word problems (four featuring each of 15 ACC teams), recording sheets and an answer key can be found here.  Most fourth grade math objectives are covered, but the word problems are appropriate for advanced third graders or for fifth grade review as well.

Whatever you do to celebrate the ACC tournament next week (March 7th-11th), remember that your students WILL remember... whether that's what you thought they'd remember or not.

Go Deacs!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

1,000 Followers Giveaway

In the summer of 2013, I put a few comprehension packets I had typed up for novel study on Teachers Pay Teachers.  In July, I made a whopping $2.10.  Nonetheless, I was excited that anyone found my products and made a purchase.  Then in August, with back-to-school, my sales skyrocketed to $72.83.  I was hooked!  I remember stressing with Brent over whether or not to pay the $60 per year fee to be a premium seller on TPT and keep more of my profits.  "We spend that eating dinner out, Deana," he reasoned with I did it.

Slowly, my TPT store became more and more successful and I began to revise, add covers, try new ideas, bundle products, etc.  I toyed with other kind of products, but Novel Units are my passion.  I've always loved schoolwork more than any other kind of work and this extension of my job became my favorite hobby.  In my spare time, without fail, TPT is what you'll find me doing.

Two years later in late summer 2015, I attended the TPT conference in Las Vegas.  After the conference, I paid Megan Favre to design my blog and began tracking my TPT statistics.  Whether they have purchased an item from you or not, buyers on TPT have an option to "follow" your account and be notified when you post new products and receive messages from you.  In August 2015, I had only 300 followers although I was in the top 2% of sellers site wide.

Last school year I took all four classes to get my AIG certification and unfortunately blogging and TPT had to take a backseat.  This year, I'm back at it and aiming to take it to the next level in 2017.

This week, I reached 1,000 followers on TPT!  I've been watching that number track closer to four digits for a long time and I'm over the moon excited!  Realizing that many people are paying attention to my work on TPT makes me want to give back and I'm celebrating with a 1,000 Follower Giveaway!!   Enter below for the chance to be one of TEN lucky winners to have a Novel Unit of your choice ($10 value in my TPT store) emailed directly to your inbox.  There are over 50 titles to choose from!

You'll also receive bonus entries by liking my Facebook page and following me on Instagram and Pinterest.  The contest runs for one week and winners will be announced next Friday, Feb. 24th.

By entering, you'll be subscribing to an email list.  I'm planning a ONCE a month email with updates on new products, teaching tips and, most importantly, giveaways!  You don't want to miss out on all I've got planned.  If you're a teacher, I hope you'll join me and if you aren't, please share with the favorite upper elementary teachers in your life!

A few of my Novel Units include:


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Do You Kahoot?

I don't think there's a THING my students enjoy more than Kahoot.  Not cupcakes, not extra recess, not even a homework pass. Someone asks me almost daily, "When are we playing Kahoot again?"

Kahoot is a FREE interactive online game that the teacher controls from a laptop hooked to a display (Smartboard, projection screen, large television, etc.).  It's so easy to set up your own account Kahoot and start creating games.  You can begin by clicking "get a kahoot" at the bottom of the page.  Students play by logging on with any wireless device- iPods, old cell phones, laptops, or my favorite: Chromebooks.  Students key in a code that comes up on the display screen when the teacher begins the game and give themselves a "nickname" which will identify them during the game. I require that my students choose a recognizable name, although sometimes they still get interesting.  Students can play individually or in partners or small groups.

One note about nicknames: last year I had a student named Cassidy and a student named Jack.  They partnered up and they insisted to me that the website was rejecting every name they tried.  It turns out because Cassidy's name contains a bad word and Jack's name is Jack, they couldn't find any combination of their names they could use.  Kahoot is really good at catching "naughty nicknames" as they call them.

As the teacher clicks through the questions on the front board, students click on the color/shape that matches their answer on their own device.  As if the element of timed competition wasn't enough to keep the kids hooked, jazzy and suspenseful music throughout the game.  Kahoot is probably the most engaging activity I do in my classroom and it can be adapted for any subject.

I have mostly used Kahoot for vocabulary review for my novel units.  Look me up under username JustMrsJones to use my public Kahoots that match some of my TPT Novel Units.  I'm always adding more!  I'm super excited because Kahoot just added a new game called Jumble.  In this game, students do more than just answer multiple choice questions; they must correctly ORDER four answer choices.  This will make for great sequencing, spelling and what we did used it for in class today: math!  We played an ordering fractions game and my students loved the extra challenge that Jumble offers.


Speaking of adding new features, Kahoot is always improving and changing.  The last time we played we were excited to see they had added this cute "Podium" screen at the end to recognize the winners instead of just the usual leaderboard.  It also updates you throughout the game about who is on a right answer streak, who hasn't missed any, etc.  Truly, my students and I can't get enough!

How do you Kahoot?