Tell Me More Linky

I’m excited to be joining Amy Lemons’ fun linky today to share a little bit about myself, quirks and all!  Here we go:

1. The hubs and I have been married for two years (together for 8) and there hasn’t been a single dull moment.  He is such a goofball and makes me laugh so hard every day.  He reminds me so much of Phil Dunphy from Modern Family and even likes to use many of his phrases.  I am totally a Claire, and I like to think that we balance each other out.
2. I brought this little angel into our marriage and he is love of our my life.  I know my husband loves him deep down, but he’s a BIG troublemaker.   That’s why this picture of him is so ironic—there’s nothing angelic about my Cooper.  But I wouldn’t trade him for the world because he’s brought so much joy to our lives and definitely keeps things interesting. 

3. I am completely and utterly terrified of opening up crescent roll packages.  My husband has to do it for me every time and I literally have to leave the room. 
4. I have been friends with my BFF since we were toddlers.  We grew up across the street from each other and have always been like sisters.  She was my maid of honor and has always been there for me.  I love her to pieces.
5. I LOVE to snow ski.  I have been skiing since I was 2 years old and won a national competition when I was 6.  Here is a picture of the hubs and I on our Honeymoon at Squaw Valley (Lake Tahoe).  We've agreed that if we ever make it big, a house out there will be our first big purchase.  A girl can dream, right?!
6. I am OBSESSED with the show Friends and own all 11 seasons on DVD.  I know, I know—it’s 2012, but I still think it’s the best show that’s ever been on the air.  During the school year, my nightly ritual is watching an episode or two before bed to relax me.
7. I do NOT like chocolate.  I don’t know what planet I came from, but I’ve just never enjoyed it.  I’d rather have something salty and fried for dessert, like cheese fries or chips.;)

8. My husband and I are extreme DIYers and would love to have our own reality show.  We bought a fixer upper home three years ago because we found a good deal in a nice neighborhood and could feel the potential.  In three years, we did a complete tear off roof, gutted and redid the kitchen and first floor, redid the basement and fireplace, gutted and redid a bathroom, installed new hardwood floors, painted every room, and put in new doors and trim throughout the house. Oh, we also paid to have carpet installed on the top and bottom floors.  When I look at before pictures of our house, I can barely recognize it.  NOTHING is the same except the other two bathrooms, which the previous owners redid a few years ago.  It was a ton of work, but we love the end result and the fact that it feels like "our" home.  Here are some fun before and after pics.
kitchen before- don't you love my popcorn ceiling and hand-painted vines?!
kitchen after
fireplace before- can you tell the house was built in the 70s?
fireplace after
bathroom before- eek!
bathroom after (can't see in this pic, but the toilet is tucked in to the right of the sink)

Friday Fiction, Find and Newbie Blog Hop

My all-time favorite book for teaching text-to-self connections is “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” by Judith Viorst.  It’s so easy for the kids to connect to the many events that put Alexander in a bad mood. 

A good one to pair with “Alexander” is “The Pout Pout Fish” by Deborah Diesen.  It’s about a glum fish with an “ever-present pout” who spreads “dreary wearies all over the place.”  The book lends itself to student participation and the kids love the Pout Pout Fish song.

I like reading these two books at the beginning of the year because they spark good discussions about attitude and the fact that we are in control of our own behavior.  We also get into what makes a good friend and how to cheer someone up. 

I like to have my students put their connections into writing by telling about a time when they had a bad day.  I included this page as a freebie for you.  I also have a generic venn diagram you can use to compare Alexander and the Pout Pout Fish (or any two characters you’d like). 

I’m sure many of you use “The Lorax” for teaching text-to-world connections, but I wanted to share this activity I did that goes along with the book in case you haven’t seen it.  I found the free mustache template and writing prompt on this site.
For my Friday Find I’m sharing my new printer, which is on sale right now at Best Buy.  I was in desperate need of a new one, and I absolutely LOVE this guy.  It has amazing picture quality and even allows you to print directly from your phone.  I love that it can scan and fax without needing a phone line. 
Finally, I’m linking up with Janis from Grade 3 is the Place for Me for a Newbie Blogger Linky.  Here are my answers to her 5 questions:

1. I live in a suburb of Chicago, IL.
2. My current teaching position is 4th grade, a brand new grade level for me. I couldn’t be more thrilled!
3. My teaching experience includes one year in fifth and three years in first.  Moving around can be tough, but I thrive on change.
4. I started blogging about a month ago and it’s been such a great experience so far.  I love being able to share resources and ideas from teachers from all over the country.
5. My advice for new bloggers is to join linky parties because they help you connect with amazing bloggers.  Oh, and turn off the evil word verifier!  

Enjoy your weekend, everyone! :)

Poll Everywhere for Instant Student Feedback

As an educator, I feel that one of the greatest benefits of all this amazing new technology is being able to get immediate feedback on whether my students understand a concept.  Today, I’m going to share a very simple and user-friendly site that allows you to post open ended or multiple choice questions and see your audience’s feedback in real-time.  With Poll Everywhere students can use cell phones, tablets or a website link to respond and don't even need to be logged in to the site.  You as the teacher don’t even need a login to post your polls, which is a huge selling point for me.

Here is a two-minute video that goes over the basics of Poll Everywhere.  

Rather than waiting until the worksheets or exit slips have been collected and graded, you can get feedback during or immediately following your lesson.  This allows you to adapt the lesson as needed depending on the students’ understanding.  Since students might not want their peers to know they’re lost, this gives them an opportunity to do so anonymously (if you choose to do your polls anonymously). 

You could use Poll Everywhere to open up class discussions by posting a question that might have more than one viewpoint so you can stop and discuss both sides.  You can even embed your poll into Keynote or Powerpoint so students can see it in real-time, which I think is really cool.

I plan on using the free version, which supports an audience size of up to 40.  I’m going to leave the generic link on my class website all year so students always click on the same link and I never have to update it.  Once I create a new poll, they just need to type in the numeric code that corresponds with their answer choice (which will be displayed on the SMARTboard when I show the poll).

Feel free to respond to my poll below so you can test it out.  I'd love to hear your feedback. :)

Word Clouds as a 21st Century Learning Tool (and a Beginning of the Year Project Idea)

At the beginning of the year, I used to do a “recipe for a good school year” project, but I decided to change it up this year and do a word cloud version.  While perusing various word cloud sites, I came across Tagxedo and was mesmerized by all the different options it has for customizing your word cloud.  When I saw a key, I thought it would be cute for students to make a “key to a good school year” word cloud.  I'm hoping to get them up before Curriculum Night so I can have a tech project on display in my room.  Here is the example I made.
Generated using
Another beginning of the year idea I had was having students write adjectives to describe themselves and then customizing their word cloud with one of the many shapes available in Tagxedo.  This might be a fun icebreaker activity and could then be used as the cover for their portfolio binders.  Here is just a sampling of the many shapes Tagxedo has to offer. 
 While word clouds can make adorable projects for special occasions and holidays, they also serve as a valuable learning tool in a 21st Century classroom.  I’ve used word clouds during reading centers as a word work center.  Here is my word family example.
Generated using
Some other ideas I have for using word clouds in my classroom this year are:
-Adjectives to describe a famous person or a character in a book
-Practicing spelling and vocabulary words
-Demonstrating what students learned about a specific topic
-Analyzing famous speeches and historical documents (by copying and pasting the text to see which words were used most frequently)
-Self-evaluating student writing pieces
-Creating posters of synonyms for overused words, like the one below
Generated using
Here are my four favorite FREE word cloud generator sites that don’t require a login:

How have YOU used word clouds with your students?  I always love to hear your ideas. :) 

Update 7/22:
I linked this post with Jen's tech linkup. 
Teaching and Tech

Must Have Picture Books and Best Math Books

The Teacher Wife

I'm linking up with Lindsey from the Teacher Wife to share my must have picture books.  Since it’s too difficult for me to narrow down all of my favorites, I thought I’d share my top three beginning of the year picks.

My first is “Hooway for Wodney Wat” by Helen Lester.  Rodney the Rat is a shy rodent who is teased by his classmates because he has trouble pronouncing his Rs.  Then the meanest bully of all, Camilla Capybara, joins the class and all the rodents become petrified.  Rodney ends up cleverly outsmarting Camilla in a game and becomes a hero to all of his classmates.  This book sparks great discussion topics about bullying and conflict resolution.

Another great one for bullying and conflict resolution is “Chester the Raccoon and the Big Bad Bully” by Audrey Penn.  Chester and his friends are faced with a terrifying bully and have to come up with a creative way to solve their problem.
Finally, “Chrysanthemum” is always a must for me at the beginning of the year.  After being teased by her classmates about her name, Chrysanthemum eventually learns that it’s good to be unique and original.  We make a class book after reading this story for which each student writes why he/she is special and unique.

Donna from Math Coach’s Corner is having a “Best Math Book I Ever Read” linky party.  I love integrating literature into math and I’m going to share my two favorite picture books to teach fractions and dividing equal shares. 

My first pick is “The Doorbell Rang” by Pat Hutchins.  A mom made a dozen cookies for her two children, but each time the doorbell rings, they have to keep dividing the batch into equal shares.  I give my students some type of manipulative to simulate the cookies and pause while reading (each time the doorbell rings) so they can physically rearrange their cookies into equal shares.  I also give my students a follow-up worksheet to assess their understanding of the concepts.  Here is one of my students filling out her worksheet using cookie manipulatives.

My second pick is “The Hershey Fraction Book” by Jerry Pallotta.  I use this book in a similar fashion as the one above.  I buy my students their very own Hershey bar to practice with while I read the story aloud.  I then give a follow-up worksheet to assess their understanding. 

Monday Made-it: Spreading Good Vibes

After reading Amanda’s recent post about her morning meeting routine and compliment box, I was inspired to make my own compliment box for my fourth graders.  Her simple routine does so much to build community and character in the classroom—I just love it!  I decorated my box to go along with my Life is Good theme using stickers and graphics I printed from their website.  I went over everything with mod podge so it doesn’t get nasty and the stickers don’t peel off.

These are the compliment cards my students will be filling out.  You can grab these for FREE by clicking the image. 
I made these Life is Good letters using scrapbook paper and my brand spankin’ new circle cutter.  Boy, do I love that thing!  I also printed out various quotes from the Life is Good website to post around the classroom.  I am a big quote girl and love using them to motivate my students (and myself)!
Finally, here is my home made-it.  This was my "pinspiration."  Honestly, this was one of the easiest crafts I’ve ever done in my life—it took about six and-a-half minutes to make.  I cut a wine cork in half using a serrated knife and then glued a magnet to the back.  I don’t know about you, but it sometimes makes me sad to throw away a bottle of wine that has special meaning (like this one that has our last name on it).  Now instead of saving the whole bottle, I can display it using just the cork.  And it’s functional too!

Can’t wait to see what everyone made this week!  Enjoy your Monday—it’s gonna be a hot one in Chi-town!

Fiction Friday and Fabulous Find

I woke up super excited this morning knowing that it's time for Fiction Friday and Fabulous Find Friday, but then realized today's also Friday the 13th!  EEK! Gotta be extra careful today, ha!

One of my all-time favorite read alouds is “Owl Moon” by Jane Yolen because it can be used to teach several skills.  It’s about a little girl who goes “owling” on a winter’s night with her father, and it’s filled with such rich, disruptive language.  It’s perfect for teaching visualizing and it serves as a great mentor text for creating sensory images during a word choice unit.  I usually put a graphic organizer with all five senses up on the SMARTboard, and we pause every couple of pages to write down mental images we created under the corresponding sense.  Several similes and metaphors are found throughout the book, so it is also wonderful for teaching figurative language.

“Brave Irene” by William Steig is about a dressmaker’s daughter who goes on a dangerous journey in a blizzard.  It’s another one of my favorites because of its descriptive language and “muscle verbs.”  As I read it aloud, we pause every so often to record any verbs that are particularly strong in helping us create mental images.  I keep the anchor chart up so that students can select some of the verbs to use in their own writing throughout the year.

I mentioned before that I’m pretty much OBSESSED with anything Chris Van Allsburg and this is one of my favorites of his.  “The Z Was Zapped” is an alphabet play “in 26 acts,” but this is not your typical alphabet book.  Each letter is shown on stage undergoing some sort of mishap, and the reader has to turn the page in order to find out what has occurred.  After reading it aloud, I challenge my students to create their own class book using even better word choice than the author.  Each student gets one letter of the alphabet and creates their own original idea with a sketch of the letter’s mishap and corresponding sentence.  This activity is great for teaching alliteration as well because each letter’s mishap has to include that particular letter.  Here are a couple examples of what my students came up with. 

Since I’m on the subject of words and writing, I want to share a bulletin board I had my fifth graders create for finding synonyms for overused words.  I’ve seen this idea in several places and don’t know where the original idea came from.  My students LOVED this activity and actually used it frequently in their writing.  It worked well that we made it in October so it helped with the Halloween room decor. ;)

For my Fabulous Find, I'm sharing a circle cutter I just purchased from Michaels yesterday.  I LOVE it so far and it made yesterday's project 9 million times easier.  You'll have to wait until Monday to see my craft though. ;)