Halfway There

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

I know there are a lot of fancy ways to make name tags these days, but I still get a weird satisfaction in cranking out my kids' names in cursive that I never use otherwise. I guess I'd be a more skilled teacher if I scrawled out those loopy letters on the whiteboard every day, but in reality I'm just happy if my haphazard board print doesn't contain any spelling errors.

I am sort of a lunatic about name tags. I forbid my students from doodling on them or putting stickers on them and I fuss at them if they pick at them.  And should they try to move them from square in the top center of their desk... well, that sort of rebellion will not be tolerated. But even with these high standards, by halfway through the year, name tags must be replaced and tonight was the night.

As I sat here writing my students' names out from memory, I thought about how different it felt than when I made that first set at the beginning of the year. This time, I didn't need a roster; those names are etched into my brain in alphabetical order. This time, they don't need their student number written in the top corner; they know their place in our class (in more ways than one). In August, it was just a list of names. I had to double check the spelling each time and I couldn't even put a face with many of them. Now, each name represents a face I will never forget (even if I do forget the name eventually).

At this halfway point, we're settling into the part of the school year when we truly know each other. I know better how to help them, and they know better how to approach me. I can anticipate what they'll need, and sometimes they take the words right out of my mouth. I know what makes them tick, and, let's be honest, they know how to tick me off. Like those name tags, maybe we've worn each other down a little in the getting to know each other, in both good ways and bad. But now we're comfortable, and we do our best learning when we're comfortable.

We're halfway there! Tell your students and celebrate what you've learned- both academically and about each other. Reflect on where you've been and plan where you're headed. And if a student needs a fresh start, give it to them. Re-write their name on your heart, just like that first week when they had a clean slate. Put them top center on your list and give them the attention they need to be the best they can be. Every single name on that roster is worth it. We've got half a year left together, and the best is yet to come!

Personally, I like things better when the shiny new has worn off.  (Except for name tags. They should always be spotless and perfectly centered. So we'll tape down our new ones carefully tomorrow.)


A Few Faves

Thursday, January 25, 2018
This week a TPT customer asked me if I would consider bundling my Roald Dahl Novel Units at a discount. The idea of bundles had crossed my mind before, but I had never acted on it. Since someone asked specifically, I figured why not? So I bundled my six Roald Dahl Units (I also have three free Roald Dahl units!) and my first bundle was born!

Soon, I was looking through my TPT store to see if there were any other products worth bundling. Since the word "bundle" implies three at a minimum, I made a list of authors whose books appear at least three times in my collection of Novel Units. And as I looked over the list and prepared a few more bundles, I realized these five authors, while all VERY different, encapsulate some of my favorite books I've ever taught, so I wanted to share them with you.

Besides The Baby-sitters Club, Ramona books are the most clear memory I have of reading for fun as a child. Beverly Cleary books are truly timeless and there is something for everyone- boys and girls.  One of my favorite units is teaching Ribsy and Socks simultaneously and letting the kids split up by cat lovers and dog lovers. Apparently Beverly Cleary is timeless as well...did you know she's still alive at 101 years old?  She inspired many other beloved children's authors to do what they do, and I've come to love writing Novel Units for her wide variety of novels. They teach themselves! 

It's no secret that Roald Dahl is one of the most talented writer of children's literature ever. Has he written a book that hasn't been turned into a movie? Kids love him, and so do teachers! My personal favorite is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; this is another one I remember from my childhood. If you haven't ever done so, I highly recommend reading Who Was Roald Dahl? by True Kelley with your students alongside his novels. His own life story was also so interesting!

The writing style of Kate DiCamillo is unmatched in children's literature in my opinion.  Her books draw me in every time! Because of Winn-Dixie is one of my top five favorite children's books ever and that Novel Unit was my featured freebie when I hit my first TPT milestone. I honestly didn't realize I had three Kate DiCamillo Novel Units until I started making bundles, but I'm not at all surprised. You can't go wrong with these books!

4. Barbara Robinson
For years, I've started the school year with The Best School Year Ever and followed up with the seasonal spin-offs later on. This year, I didn't do so and I have missed teaching these books so much! In reality, The Best Christmas Pageant came decades before the other two, but I find all three to be equally hilarious and teachable! If you watch Scholastic book clubs the way I do (religiously) you'll find these on sale quite often.  Every teacher and class can relate to these classic tales!

5. Louis Sachar
Last but not least, Louis Sachar is perhaps the most unique children's author on this list. His books range from silly to serious, but they all make you think deeply in some way or another. The Louis Sachar book that I remember most clearly from my childhood is There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom, but I don't have a Novel Unit for it yet. Perhaps this is a bundle that will grow soon! In the meantime, you can't go wrong with Wayside School and Holes is one of my all-time best sellers!

Pulling these bundles together made me want to focus on writing Novel Units to round out some other author collections in my store. Who are your favorite children's authors? Do you have a favorite book by one of these authors that I didn't feature? I'd love to hear from you!


Teaching Plot Using Esio Trot

Sunday, January 21, 2018

"The distance between their balconies might not have been more than a few yards, but to Mr. Hoppy it seemed like a million miles." (p. 10)

There aren't many love stories that would entice my fourth grade class full of boys, but earlier this month Esio Trot by Roald Dahl did just that.  Perhaps a lesser known and definitely shorter book by the timelessly popular Dahl, this story is just as enchanting as his better known works. It's the perfect length for teaching plot because it's easy to get a handle on the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution.

While the book title might seem a little intimidating, it is a good hook for curious kiddos who find out right away that esio trot is simply tortoise spelled backward. Mr. Hoppy, who is in love with his downstairs neighbor Mrs. Silver, makes up a magic spell to help her tortoise Alfie "grow" which involves reverse speak so-to-say. We listened to the story on audio from Audible.com (included in a collection called Fantastic Mr. Fox and Other Animal Stories) and each time Mr. Hoppy's "magic" words were spoken, quiet giggles could be heard throughout my classroom.

Even if you are a Roald Dahl and Esio Trot fan, you may not know that the BBC released a made-for-television movie adapted from this story in 2015. I have yet to get my hands on a DVD copy (its currently only formatted for UK DVD players), but my students squealed with delight when I shared this movie trailer:

All my products for this novel can be found FREE in my TPT store.  
(The Comprehension Packet has been downloaded almost 4,000 times!) 


One of my favorite parts of my Novel Units is the Constructed Response included on every Final Test.  This writing component allows me to have a grade for both reading and writing when we take a test, and it allows me to get a glimpse of how deeply the students really became invested in the literature. Their passion for Mr. Hoppy's passion for Mrs. Silver was quite clear in their Constructed Responses for this test, which I'll leave you with today.  The prompt was: "As far as we know, Mrs. Silver never found out what Mr. Hoppy did. Imagine that he decided to confess to Mrs. Silver once they were married. Write a letter to Mrs. Silver from Mr. Hoppy explaining what he did and why he did it. Make sure to include details from the story."