April 2017 - The Classroom Nook

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The Writer's Toolkit: Building Better Writers


We all want our students to be better writers, right?  We want to provide them with the best instruction and resources to help them take their writing to the next level.

For me, teaching writing was tedious.  It was kinda that time during the school day that I almost (ok, not almost - completely) dreaded.  I knew that the hour would be spent with interruptions, off-task students, and blank stares.

You too?

I've heard the same cry from other teachers that I have spoken with.  One of the biggest complaints I have heard from teachers is that they have a hard time getting students focused, and keeping them focused in and on their writing.

Sometimes, students just don't know where to start, or what to do next when it comes to their writing.  When you want your students to improve their writing, they don't always know where to begin.

Enter in the Writer's Toolkit:
I created the writer's toolkit out of the need expressed by teachers to have a one-stop shop for students to go to help make their writing better without having to have you hold their hand every step of the way.  We want our students to become more independent in their writing, and the writer's toolkit gets you one step closer.

The writer's toolkit gives students their own space to be creative and have everything they need to improve their writing right in front of them.

In the writer's toolkit, students:
  • can get inspiration for what to write about
  • complete check-lists for each stage of the writing process to keep them on track from pre-writing through publishing
  • have the tools they need to make better word choices in their writing
  • can check up on how to use punctuation correctly in their writing
  • can learn how to make their writing smooth and organized
How to use the writer's toolkit in your writing block:
The writer's toolkit is simple to create.  You will need two file-folders.  I absolutely adore these colorful ones from Oriental Trading.  They are little bit thicker and sturdier than your standard file folder, which will allow it to stand up better once the tool kit is completely assembled.  Plus - their cute design gives the finished kit a beautiful look!

You are essentially creating a writing "cubicle" office with the folders so that students can stand the toolkit up and use the different parts of it during their writing time.  The cubicle set-up is the perfect way to keep students focused on their writing.  When upright, the cubicle is tall enough to help block out distractions of other students working in your classroom.  The cubicle is large enough so that 2-3 students can work together gathered around it, if you are having a more collaborative writing session. However, students can also lay it flat and access all the important components of the toolkit.  The flexibility of the toolkit allows your students to use however they want.


You will likely not need a writer's toolkit for every student to use at the same time, but rather just a few toolkits for students to use as needed.  However, if you're looking have a class-set, you can print the components of the toolkit out in black and white to save ink.

The only thing you will need in addition to the components provided in the kit is 2 file folders.  The folders are taped together (and laminated, if desired).  You can then easily cut out the components of the kit and glue to the inside of the folders.



Once assembled, simply place the toolkit at a writing center for students to use or in an easy place for students to access when needed.  The toolkit folds up nicely to lay flat on a table or shelf.  It is easily mobile for students to take with them anywhere in the room.

The key to making the toolkit a success in your class is...you guessed it: modeling!  In your mini-lessons, small-group instruction, and individual conferences, show students how they can use the components of the toolkit when working through their writing.  Overtime, students will begin using the kit on their own without prompting.


If you'd like to check out this writer's toolkit and all the details, you can find it here.

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RIP Textbooks - Alternatives to Boring or Outdated Textbooks

It was my first year of teaching.  1 week before school, I was hired to teach 4th grade in a hot little classroom on the second floor of a very old building (I believe it was built in 1912, and I'm pretty sure not too much had been done to it since).

I was the lucky heir to a classroom previously occupied by a teacher that was now basking in the glory of retirement.  So what did that mean?  I got all the crap that said retired teacher didn't need anymore and couldn't pawn off to their coworkers.  The teacher had left pretty much everything that he didn't want to deal with on the shelves of the classroom.  And there it all sat, all summer long collecting dust.  

Among the rubble - a class-set of social studies textbooks....from 1978.  Yikes.  Please tell me that these were not the current books that the students were using.  I mean, I get that the facts about the American Revolution hadn't changed much since the late 1700's, but come on!

Alas, they were.  

How about you?  What's the copyright on your textbooks?  Are they from the 20th century (because that was 17 years ago now!  Hard to believe!)?  Are they so boring that you can't even begin to fake it in front of your students?  

THERE'S A BETTER WAY!

OK - what I'm about to share with you is NOT a quick fix, and I don't want to make any false claims that in 10 minutes or less you're going to have a solution to your textbook woes.

But - what I AM going to share with you is that with a little work, you could have an amazing, more engaging textbook alternative that you'll be proud to present to your students. 

And you, dear teacher, are a go-getter, so let's do this!

But - first, let's take a moment of silence to mourn the life of the textbook.

{insert moment of silence here}

OK - I'm ready to move on with my life, how about you?

Let's talk about some of the textbook's successors:

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5 (Constructive) Activities to Do When You Have 5 Minutes to Fill


Let me set the scene:

It's almost time for lunch and you just finished up your math lesson. Your students miraculously put all of their materials away just as you asked, and are now sitting with their hands crossed, sitting straight, and waiting for your next direction.  (OK, that last part about hands crossed and sitting straight is a bit of a stretch - but let's just fantasize for a moment, mmmmk?)

What I'm trying to say is - you've got about 5 minutes to spare and you know that if you allow your student to turn and chat until it's time to line up for lunch, you'll be scraping students off the ceiling and putting out small fires.

Ever have a class like that?  The kind that if you "give an inch, they take a mile... 

Well, in cases like that, it's always good to have a few ready-to-go 5-minute fillers that can be pulled out in a moment's notice.

Here are 5 constructive, no-prep activities that you can do when you have 5 minutes to spare after a lesson, before a transition, or at the end of the day:
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Teaching Poetry All Year Long (Not just in April)


By now you have probably started to see poetry ideas pop up all over in your social media news feeds and on Pinterest.  It can only mean one thing:  National Poetry Month is here.

I loved teaching poetry, and for the most part, my students always loved our poetry unit.  And -although I'm sharing this post with you in April (National Poetry Month), I want to encourage you to teach poetry all year long.  You don't have to wait until Spring each year to bust out your poetry books - in fact - you shouldn't!

Poetry is the perfect genre for teaching reading, writing, and speaking skills and strategies in a short period of time.  Since poems are short, incorporating them into your lessons lends itself to a quick bite-sized lesson on skills like fluency, literature analysis, reading comprehension strategies, and more.

Here are some poetry activities that can sneak their way into your instruction at any time of the year:

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