Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Aquarium Filler

I had an empty fish aquarium but didn’t want the hassle of keeping fish, so each week I’d pick a different animal to feature in the aquarium. And by animal I mean a stuffed animal or some other kind of toy. For example, I might put a plastic hermit crab inside. Then I’d add things you’d find in a hermit crab’s habitat: a sandy background (printed and taped to the back of the tank), empty shells, a water supply and maybe even some small pebbles. Outside of the aquarium I’d set up a basket full of books all about hermit crabs. With the exception of some great literature, I try to stick with nonfiction but it depends on my class and their unique interests. No matter what, they consistently love books that tell about wild animals or how to take care of pets (like hermit crabs). If changing your animal each week feels too overwhelming then change once or twice a month. You can turn your aquarium into a center and incorporate themed writing, math or science ideas too.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Open a New Chapter Book

Sometimes when we start a new chapter book we like to surprise our students. First we cover the book in wrapping paper, bulletin board paper, or even newspaper comic strips. We set the wrapped book out for all to see and the suspense builds. Students make predictions about the book’s title and subject matter. Sometimes they want to pick the book up and feel it or even shake it! We have a big unveiling, or rather unwrapping, after allowing the students a full day of guessing. Ooohs and aaahs are certain to follow. Don’t forget to reuse or recycle the paper!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Book Publishing Mini-Poster

Our students love to publish their own work. We make blank books by stapling together 3-5 pages of paper, plus a front cover. (A back cover is optional if your students want to add comprehension questions, a pretend ISBN number, etc...) We leave these blank books in our writing center. When students are there, or if they finish their work early, they can publish a fiction or nonfiction book of their own. You can provide a list of subject ideas, story starters, or even random clip art to jump-start creativity. When your students complete their stories they will be anxious to share them with the class. Sometimes they are so excited that they’ll forget crucial details such as their name or punctuation. We use this mini poster to prompt our students into creating more refined books.
The poster can hang at your writing center, in various spots around the room, or use our mini-mini sized posters to glue in writing journals for reference. Your students will be proud of their polished final products.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Summer Book Picks 2018

We are big believers in students being able to choose the books they read. Our classrooms are overflowing with choices and we give total freedom to our students. Often times we have parents and even colleagues who want recommendations. We have dozens! So we compiled some favorites for a summer list. 
Please know there are many more amazing reads out there! Hit the libraries, swap with friends, visit an indie bookstore such as Scrawl Books or find a Little Free Library near you Whatever you do...read!!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Making Friends with Change

Change. Not my favorite word. But it’s a word I had to tackle at the end of this school year, and we aren’t done wrestling yet. My friend and colleague of 27 years retired, my awesome principal took a job elsewhere, we have a new superintendent coming in, and as usual, I had to say goodbye to my students of 10 months. That’s a lot... isn’t it?

Though I crave the freedom of summer: turning off the alarm, traveling, and taking trips to the bathroom whenever I want, my mind still wanders to fall. How will I survive without my steadfast teaching soul mate? What if we get a principal like the soup Nazi on Seinfeld? (“No dress down days for you!”) Will the new superintendent do what’s best for our school system?

Change is about acceptance. No matter how much I worry or complain, nothing will go back to the way it was. Another school year will come and I’ll welcome it with open arms. Yikes! Right now my arms are crossed which means I have a ton of work to do. But maybe change isn’t just about acceptance. Maybe it’s about rejuvenating so you can have the strength to accept the changes. Since acceptance isn’t coming easily for me, I’m going to start with rejuvenation.

First, I’m going to spend as much time as possible in pajamas. Even if I’m doing laundry, paying bills, or cleaning the house, I’m having multiple dress down days at home! (Hey, my next principal might not give us any.)

Next, I’m going to read a book I’ve been saving - THE CREATIVITY PROJECT, edited by Colby Sharp.
It’s about originality, imagination, and sparks of all kinds. It’s written by the authors and illustrators we celebrate in our classrooms. I’m certain it will freshen my mind and inspire dozens of ideas for the 2018-2019 school year.

While I’m reading, I’m going to drink fun drinks like this one.
I’m going to sip slowly, maybe even take an hour per drink to make up for the rushed lunches I normally have. I’m going to go on long walks and use that time to reflect on the luck I’ve had in my teaching career. I’ve been surrounded by kind, hard-working people, and I’ve been lead by some of the best principals. I’m pretty sure I’ve laughed every day. Kids will do that for you.

Finally, I’ll start working on acceptance. The shifts are coming and darn it, I WILL shift too. I WILL open my mind to the thought that maybe luck will continue its presence at school. I WILL brainstorm ways to make my classroom an easy adjustment for my next group of students who will also be facing change. I WILL try my best. I WILL try my best. I MIGHT spike my fun drinks.

Change and I aren’t friends yet. We may never be. But I’m armed with comfy pjs, a book, and a drink. I can do this. I think.

Ann Marie Stephens
Twitter: AMStephens_

Monday, February 19, 2018

Ariel Bernstein Has a Balloon, We Have an Interview

We would like to welcome Ariel Bernstein to our blog. I first met Ariel at an SCBWI conference many years ago. She was kind, talented, and had an awesome book in the works called, I HAVE A BALLOON. Since then she’s landed more book deals, consistently supported her kidlit friends, all while raising two kids. Read on to find out about her publishing experience and one really weird, yet awesome, fact about her! Thanks, Ariel!

AMS/ER: Tell us three things about yourself: One funny, one weird, and one interesting. 

AB: Funny – I still have a baby tooth. I usually forget until I have my dentist cleaning and it’s commented on.
Weird – I can count the letters in a group of words almost automatically. So if someone says “Tell us three things about yourself” I know all those letters add up to 30 right away. Weird, right?
Interesting – Not to brag, but I make the best dessert in the history of dessert. It’s called cottage pudding, and it’s the easiest thing ever. You cut up pound cake into small cubes, mix them with a ton of whipped cream, and then mix in all sorts of berries. I guess someone might prefer a different dessert, but I don’t trust those people. 

AMS/ER: How did you break into the publishing world? 

AB: I broke in through the slush pile. I spent time querying, signed with my agent Mary Cummings, and she submitted my stories to editors. Sounds straight forward but there were the usual stumbles and heartbreaks along the way!

AMS/ER: Where do you like to write? 

AB: I like to write on either the loveseat in my living room or the couch in my den. They’re pretty comfy

AMS/ER: Why an owl and a monkey?

AB: At first I thought of two frogs, but quickly discarded that idea. I went into my children’s rooms to find inspiration for different characters by looking at their stuffed animals. I found an owl doll and a Curious George doll. I thought the idea of a calm, rational owl, and an energetic monkey would go together pretty well!
AMS/ER: What is your next book? Tell us a little about it.

AB: The first two books in my chapter book series, WARREN & DRAGON, illustrated by the awesome Mike Malbrough, are coming out on August 28, 2018 (Viking Children’s). It’s about a dreamy seven-year old boy named Warren and Dragon, his vain dragon companion.
AMS/ER: If you could have lunch with a children’s book author or illustrator whom would you choose and why?

AB: I once heard Rita Garcia-Williams give a wonderful speech at a conference. I’d love to sit down and listen to her talk over lunch and ask about her incredible career.

AMS/ER: What are you working on now?

AB: I’m working on books three and four of the WARREN & DRAGON series!

Questions our first grade students think all authors should answer:

First Graders: How do you concentrate?

AB: It can be hard but I just make myself sit and write. I usually put my cell phone in another room.

First Graders: How do you think of great ideas?

AB: All you have to do is find the most inconvenient time to think of a great idea – like in the middle of driving or taking a shower – and voila! An incredible idea will pop into your head that you won’t be able to write down. You’ll hope against hope you’ll remember it by the time you can access a pencil.

First Graders: Why did you become an author?

AB: I like making up stories and hearing that people find them funny, so that’s pretty good motivation.

First Graders: How did you get famous?

AB: I’m not sure I’m quite on the ‘famous’ level yet, so I’ll let you know when I get there how it happened!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Random Acts of Kindness Day

Did you know February 17th is Random Acts of Kindness Day??
When we discovered this last year we knew it had to be the theme of our February bulletin board.
To get our kids thinking about kindness, we read books like What Does It Mean To Be Kind? and One Good Deed. Then we had them write their own random act of kindness (RAK). They were filled with energy as they began brainstorming their ideas. When they settled on one they loved, they wrote in down and we added it to the board. Some students even needed an extra page to fit the details of their plan.

We compiled a list of their ideas that could be done at school and I added some extras. After some intense Pinterest and Google searching I felt our list was complete. Then I created a “Random Acts of Kindness Bingo” board with items that I knew our class would complete or knew would be easily accomplished individually. (Here's the Word version if you'd like to edit it.) Each student got a board and glued the squares on randomly so that they wouldn’t all be the same. Whenever a student got a Bingo, we all applauded for their acts of kindness (no award was given because we’re focusing on kindness, not winning).
We got compliments from adults all day who were impressed with our RAKs. When kids discovered the RAKs we’d hidden or left anonymously they’d look around with smiles on their faces. My class could not have been any more proud of themselves. I also noticed that RAKs continued to appear in my classroom long after February 17th.

Here are a few of the Random Acts of Kindness that we completed:
-Smile and wave quietly to someone you don’t know.
-Write something kind on a sticky note. Hide it inside the cover of a book in the library.
-Use chalk to write positive messages on the sidewalk. (This was a real crowd pleaser!)
-Say hi to someone new on the playground.
-Make a bookmark for someone in another class.
-Write a kindness poem.
-Hold the door open for someone.
-Pick up someone else’s trash.
-Ask someone who’s struggling if they’d like help.
-Make a friendship bracelet. (We did this as a whole class and each student put a bead on everyone’s bracelet.)
-Put a picture of each student in the middle of a piece of paper. Go around writing something nice about your classmates on their papers.

How will you celebrate Random Acts of Kindness Day?