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Polar Express Non-AR Reading Party

Door decoration

The last day before Christmas break was our big reading party!!  What fun we had too!  Our school decided to try a year without using Accelerated Reader (AR).  You can read about our thinking on why we made this change to let AR go by clicking here.  

This was our 2nd party of the year to celebrate reading (read about our first party by clicking here).  In the past years with AR, we only had 2 parties and not everyone got to participate.  This year we are celebrating 4 times and EVERYONE gets to be involved with celebrating how great reading can be.  Yay for that!! 

We picked the theme of The Polar Express, which is great for this time of year of course.  Most doors and halls were all decked out with trains, snowy trees, and snow flakes.  Lots of 3-D snowflakes were made and hung too.

door decorating

My teaching neighbor had her brother draw the train for our doors.  He did a fabulous job- what a talent!!

door decoration

Now to get back to the celebrating of reading!  Sorry I got off track there for a bit.  I just had to show you how our doors looked and the wonderful train!

Of course, The Polar Express was read in many classrooms and activities were done to go with the book.  Many classes had mystery guest readers.  Our principal participated in this and read the book in several rooms. 

Graham cracker train made with icing and decorated with Oreos and candy
Click on picture to be taken to Chasing Supermom Blog

The first graders made trains with graham crackers and candies, much like the one in the above picture.  I didn't get pictures of those cute trains, but they looked a lot like this one.  The kids had so much fun making them!  The teachers saved milk cartons for the bottom part to make them sturdier.  And putting them in a gallon size baggie for the trip home was a genius idea.  No lost goodies and parents were able to see their masterpiece.  

food craft

This little reindeer was made by the second graders.  Marshmallows, chocolate chips, red hots, pretzels and icing.  Quick and easy food craft!

Besides reading the book, mystery readers, food crafts, and decorating, lots of other fun things were happening for our Polar Express Reading Celebration!  Students wore their pjs and slippers to school.  They got to read in the hall, which is fun since they don't normally get to do that.  First grade had Polar Express tickets that had to be punched before they got to go to the movies- projector set out in the hall and students sprawled out on blankets while sipping hot cocoa.  

Jingle bells were handed out and fun was had and reading was celebrated!  What a great way to show the love of reading before heading out for our Christmas break.  

How does your school celebrate reading with students??  We are always looking for new ideas to steal borrow for our parties!!  :)

2012's Blog Best and Brightest

Christina from Bunting, Books, and Bainbridge is hosting a linky!  We get to showcase our best posts from our blog for this past year.  What fun!  When you finish reading mine, go join up and tell us about your blog's shining moments too!  Just click on the picture above to be taken to Christina's blog so you can link up. 

My highest viewed post was technically post in 2011, but it was only 3 days shy of 2012 and it has been my most viewed post by far!  It was a simple, little idea that I got from a workshop with Robert Probst- Tabletop Twitter.  

A fun post that was my second highest in views was my Name Fun and a Freebie post.  It was a fun post about teaching students their names and I included a freebie of reading posters.

I have a huge interest in RtI and so I frequently post about it.  RtI works and works well at my school.  Here is my highest viewed RtI post, which also happens to be my third highest viewed post this year.

Through this wonderful place called blogland, I have connected with Tammy, from Forever in 1st.  She has the best ideas and so much knowledge about writing.  You definitely want to check out her blog and read about how she teaches.  Her students are truly blessed to be in her room and I am blessed to call her my friend!  Go check out her ideas- be sure to check in each Saturday for her reflective Saturday Sayings- and then link up and show us what has been your best this year.  :)

Pete Saves Christmas!

Pete the Cat saved Christmas.

Before heading off for Christmas break, we had just enough time to finish up our Pete the Cat unit and making these cute Pete the Cats in stocking hats!  I do not have much time with my students (30 minutes per day) so I speed things up by having all the pieces cut out and ready to go.  All students need to do is follow directions putting him together and glue him down.  I like to do some fun things with my students, but my focus must remain on authentic reading and writing activities.  

If you missed the other Pete the Cat posts just click here to read them too!

Pete the Cat Saves Christmas

We have been working hard on comprehension with an author study with the Pete the Cat books.  My kinders were really picking up on the language and themes that Eric Litwin uses in his books.  When they hear the same language being used across different books depicting his style their hands shoot up and they just can't wait to tell me what they are noticing!  

author study comparison chart

Another activity that the students did was practice a retelling of the story and to do a line up of their writing.  After we went through what happened in the story, the students each decided what they each would write.  When they were completed they put themselves in order that the story happened.  

Pete the Cat retelling activity

Santa was sick.

He called Pete the Cat.

He crossed names off.

I'm kind of sad that our Pete the Cat unit is over.  We have learned a lot of lessons from this laid back cat!  I hope you have enjoyed going on this journey of learning with us.  :)

I want to wish each and every one of you a blessed Christmas spent with your families and friends!!

Pinterest Favorites

I am joining Michelle in her Pinterest Favorites Linky party!  How Fun!!  I love discovering great ideas on Pinterest and am happy to share with you my Pinterest boards and a couple of my favorite pinners to follow.

Go check out my boards and follow me on Pinterest if you like them!  You can do this by clicking on my picture below.  Then go check out and follow the pinners below.  :)

One pinner that I have pinned a lot from is A Teacher's Treasure.  I have pinned a lot from Mor for reading comprehension ideas.

great hands on for this plot structure concept.  Can't wait to use it next year.

Another pinner that I find just the cutest ideas that go along with picture books is Vickie Plant.  She has such fun and eye catching ideas!

pirates and maps

I hope you go check out these pinners and then in join Michelle's linky party too!

GROOVY Buttons!


Groovy buttons, colorful buttons, big and small buttons!  Kids go crazy for buttons!

My four groovy buttons

We read Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons.  It is our 3rd Pete the Cat book that we have been reading, writing about, and filling in a comparison chart.  My other Pete the Cat links are here.  This link will take you to our Pete the Cat activities from last year.

Pete the Cat had green buttons.

After reading the book and filling out the chart, students got to choose their buttons and write about them.  Funny how something so little as  buttons can get them so excited!  

Pete the Cat has green buttons.

Pete the cat button activities
Pete has regular buttons.

I could not get anyone interested in using the word groovy to describe their buttons!!  I think the little guy above wanted to do just the opposite of groovy when he picked "regular" buttons!  Most liked describing their buttons with color words.

Here is our chart that we filled out.  I really like having lots of books by the same author so we can do author studies and compare the books.  When we read the first book and chart the language the author uses, the kids remember and just light up when they hear the same language being used in other books!  It is fun to see that light bulb switch on when they hear "Goodness no" in all the Pete books.  Teaching the theme of each book is important too.  We discuss what we should learn from Pete and if the lesson is the same in each book or different.

Pete the cat writing activities

We also read and wrote about Pete the Cat Rocking in My School Shoes.  We are on a Pete the Cat roll!

Pete the Cat went to library.  He went to the school.  Pete the Cat went to the playground.

Next week, I will show case the work we did with the next Pete the Cat book!  I love the lesson he teaches:  It's all good!  Don't worry and don't cry!

With A Heavy Heart

With my heart breaking, I am joining with other teacher bloggers in a day of silence on our blogs to honor and remember those from Sandy Hook Elementary and their community.  

For the mountains may depart
and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,
says the LORD, who has compassion on you.
Isaiah 54

Christmas Books & Music Fun

Christmas Holiday Books

I just LOVE this time of year, don't you?  The decorations, the feeling of good will towards one another, all the baking and cooking, and of course the Real Reason for the Season!

In the spirit of the holidays, I thought I would share some Christmas books with you.  First is There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Bell!  Kids love these books, maybe because of the outlandishness of the stories.  How fun it would be to rewrite this story with the ideas of the students.  As creative as they are I am sure they could come up with some really good ones!

Christmas books

The Puppy Who Wanted A Boy is an adorable story told from the perspective of a puppy who asks for a boy for Christmas.  I love the twist that it is from the puppy's point of view.  It would make a great starting point of writing stories from other's perspectives.

Holiday books

The Snowmen books are some of my favorites!  The stories are cute and the illustrations are so lively and colorful.  These books can be used in many different writing activities.  A fun thing to do to go with the Snowmen books is snowman soup!  This one is from my Polar Express Math and Reading Activities, but works so great with this story too!

Snowmen at Christmas

Now for the music!  Besides reading great Christmas stories during this time of year, I also love to play Christmas music.  I have been collecting Christmas music from Kohl's for years now.  Yes, Kohls the clothing store!!  Every year they offer a cd of holiday music.  Some from singers like Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra all the way to artists from today!  And they are only $5!!  I have quite a collection of them now and I really enjoy playing them at school for the students!  Here is this year's cd that Kohls is offering and proceeds go to their Kohls Cares Foundation.

Christmas music for the classroom
If you are looking for some special Christmas music for your home, go check out my good friend Tammy's blog!  She is not only a wonderful teacher, but she has a beautiful voice too!

What are some of your favorite books and music to play during this time of year?  

Informational Text Features

Informational Text Features Chart

A few of my groups have been learning about informational text and the features they might find in these books.  Some were having a bit of difficulty learning and remembering the differences between informational text and literature until we color coded our charts.  Click here to read about that.

We first learned about the text features authors use to help us comprehend what we are reading by using big books.  Then I used printable books from Reading A-Z and students drew out informational text labels.  They were each responsible for finding the text features they drew out.  Because the Reading A-Z books are printable, they can be cut apart.  Love that!  Certainly can't do that with regular books.  :)  

So students found examples of the text features, cut them out, and they were glued down on large paper.  Students also had to explain what each text feature was and how it helped the reader.


By first learning together with big books, then moving on to finding examples in books, students were able to gain a better understanding of what these text features were and how they were used.

text features

Diagrams and Labels

Now the students are reading informational books and know how to use the text features and why the author included them.  Hopefully these activities boost their comprehension!

Rereading: A Valuable Comprehension Tool

rereading for comprehension
Details after 1st Reading vs. after Rereading
I am sure you have heard of having students reread stories.  There are many reasons why.  Building fluency is one.  I use rereading a lot during RtI to increase my students' fluency.  I have for many years had students reread their books.  I have them read their book on day one for a specific purpose- could be that we have picture walked the story and made a prediction.  I may have them read to check that prediction.  Then day two they will reread this same story again, but this time it will be for another purpose like comparing the actions of this character to a character from a previous book.  Then on day three, it will be a completely different purpose like to answer an inferential question.

But I decided to use a poem with one of my RtI students who is presently on Tier III to help HER to really see what rereading can do for her comprehension.  I needed HER to see what a valuable tool it could be since she was struggling a bit understanding what she read.  I already knew how valuable it was, but she didn't.  Not yet...

poem for rereading to improve comprehension

So I chose a poem with lots of things going on it- Noise Day by Shel Silverstein.  It has lots different actions and is easily visualized.  I had her read it once and then do a quick sketch of what she remembered.

quick sketch with many more details after rereading

As you can see, she did not get many details after one reading of the poem.  

Wow!!  Look at the difference between the two sketches!  She could easily "see" how many more details from the poem that she remembered after rereading it.  It was like a little light bulb went on for her.  :)

The next step for her is applying what she has just figured out.  She needs to remember to reread now for tests and when answering questions on paper in class.  She has an assessment coming up and I am hoping that she can remember to apply this new skill and then carry it through!

Literature & Informational Text: Common Core

text elements

We started out our school year reading literature stories.  My students learned that when they read those types of books they should be able to identify certain elements like characters, setting, problem, and solution.  Once we learned this, we moved on to informational text.  Problem was when we began to mix books, it became surprisingly hard for some of my struggling readers to keep the two types separated in their minds.

I had to find a way to help them to separate the types in their brains so they could apply it to a new book.  Color coding became our new friend this year!

We all made charts for our reading response journals.  Pink became our literature story chart.  

Green became our color for informational texts and elements we may find in them.  The color coding really seemed to help the students who had been struggling.  They would first decide what color the book went with and then could use the information from the charts to help them prove why they thought the book was either a literature story or informational text.  I always have them prove their thinking.  Not only is this a common core requirement, but if they have to think through to prove an answer, they may see that their original answer was flawed and need to go back and try again.  

examples of literature using book covers

Our next step was taking some books we have read this year and deciding (again- we discuss this when new books are introduced) which chart they belong on.  After they can tell me the type of book that it is and prove why they think that, the picture of the book cover gets taped to the chart.

using informational text elements to identify books

We don't have as many informational books on the chart yet since we have just recently begun this unit.  

When the students try to decide which chart the books belong on, you can see them look over at the charts for help.  Or you can just give them the hint of does it belong on the pink or the green charts.  The color is helpful for those that are having difficulty remembering the common core terms.  We will use the charts and corresponding colors as bridges to the correct vocabulary until they can remember on their own.  
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