Throughout the year, our students do many journal entries. From math to language arts, they speak their minds, demonstrate their knowledge, and extend on our ever-changing curriculum. Their favorite part of journal writing is getting to share with the class. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough time in the day to share every entry every time. Journal groups are an easy and student-centered alternative.
The students have access to both the Journal Group Rules and Kind Words You Can Use mini-posters that we created. The students or the teacher can make the groups. They should be flexible, changing often. When we choose to make our groups, we make sure they are heterogeneous to reinforce acceptance and appreciation of various levels and abilities. These groups can meet while the teacher is conducting reading groups, during center times, or any other available time. The students love sharing, being heard, and hearing their classmates’ ideas.
The books will be half-sized, and vertical, with staples on the left side. Print a copy of our list book ideas and choose one topic each day so your students can create their own lists. If you want to share but don’t have much time, ask students to put a star next to their favorite item on the list of the day, and share only their favorites. Older students can keep their own copy of the list book ideas and choose which lists they’d like to write each day.
Our students really enjoy science projects. As teachers, we try to create multiple opportunities for conducting experiments in the classroom. After completing whole group instruction or sample experiments, it’s great to follow-up with independent or small group activities. Throughout the year whenever students are making observations, collecting data, suggesting hypotheses, etc., we tell our students that they are scientists. Sometimes to help our students really feel like scientists we give them these badges to wear.
We print these on cardstock and insert them in plastic badge holders (with clips). This allows for extra durability and longevity. They clip the badges on at the start of each experiment and return them to our basket at the conclusion of each experiment. If you are using these at a center or small group, it is fun to add goggles, lab coats and clipboards too! Our students look forward to feeling official and important!
Looking for a great author study or a new selection of children’s books for your young ones? We have just the solution: Sue Fliess! This talented writer has books about bugs, cars, ballerinas, robots, and more! In a recent interview, we found out all about Sue and the books she has written. Check it out!
How long have you been an author?
I’ve been a children’s book author since 2009, when I sold my first book, Shoes for Me! Before that, I authored many parenting articles for a company called Education.com, and wrote for a travel company called TravelMuse, and a few other online publications.
What made you want to become an author?
It was never this lifelong dream of mine. I always loved writing, and it was really more of an outlet. Sure, I thought publishing something one day would be exciting, but I didn’t set my sights on being an author until I started taking classes to see what writing for children was all about. I had a few stories I was writing, but I didn’t really know how to go about submitting them. I attended conferences and workshops, paid for critiques and joined a writing group and SCBWI. I began to get feedback from industry professionals that I had the talent to get published. That’s when it became a mission!
Tell us about your first book. Shoes for Me!is the story of a hippo who, upon realizing her feet have grown and she needs new shoes, gets to go on a shoe-shopping outing with her mom.
Feet got bigger, heel to toe. Time for new shoes. Off we go!
She’s a big girl now, so her mom lets her pick out the pair she wants (within reason, of course): Shiny zigzags—these are nice. Mom says, “No, not at that price!”
After trying nearly every shoe style in the store, she finally finds the perfect pair. This story was rejected nearly 25 times before finding the perfect editor! Whew!
Oh my! We know authors get rejected a lot. What do you do when you get rejected?
I’ve received so many rejections it actually hardly fazes me anymore. Except when I know in my heart ‘this manuscript would be perfect for this editor/publishing house’ and then having to face that it wasn’t. I have a few manuscripts that I still love so much and can’t understand why nobody wants them. But I don’t fall into the pity party thing. I accept it and move on to the new project I’m working on. If I dwelled on every rejection, I wouldn’t have written much by now.
Can you tell us anything about what you are working on now?
I am working on a chapter book, a fractured fairytale, and I’m revisiting a story about a cow that I started almost 7 years ago, for which I am (still) trying to find the right ending! Where do you get your ideas for books?
This is always so tough to answer because my answer sounds so ‘woo-woo.’ Of course I read a lot of children’s books and news stories, but I’ve also trained myself to be almost hyper-aware of my surroundings. Everything is a possible story. I like playing the “What if?” game and putting everyday things into compromising situations. Just the other day I got an idea for a story when I observed something while I was watering the flowers in my backyard. Which one of your books is your favorite?
That’s like choosing my favorite child. I love all of my books because each has a unique backstory. Probably the one that was the most fun to work on, which just recently published, was A Fairy Friend, because I got to research fairies and miniature worlds, and magic. I got to spend time on Pinterest for this book! Writing that story did not feel like work—the whole manuscript flew out onto the page. It was pure joy. And my editor only needed one tiny edit, which was also quite magical!
You have a lot of books written in rhyme. What is it about rhyme that you like so much?
Rhyming comes naturally to me, and I think it may be because I have a musical background. I played instruments, sang in choirs, got singing roles in musicals, and in general love singing and music. Rhyming books are basically songs on a page. And if you lived with me, you’d know I often break out into song at a moment’s notice. My family loves that.
What’s the hardest part about writing?
Discipline for sure. And because I mostly write from my house, it’s easy to use household appointments (garage door repair, A/C inspection, etc.) as a valid excuse for why no writing got done on a given day. When I start to get into one of those cycles, I try to round up some other writers to go to a local writing spot, or I just go there alone, to focus on writing, and not the fact that my dog may need a walk.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
My family likes to go explore our region on the weekends. Parks, wineries, museums, new restaurants. We love entertaining, and hanging out with friends. That is, if we’re not taking turns driving our kids to sports practices. We put in a porch and pool last year and this is the first summer we are enjoying it—so that may be where you find me when I’m not writing this summer. ☺
What advice would you give someone who wants to become an author too?
Find/join a writing group to get feedback on your work from other writers. For children’s books, join SCBWI. For adult books, there are other organizations, but join one. Attend conferences. Learn about the industry. Hone your skills by writing as much as you can, or taking classes to practice and try new strategies. Read. Network. Write, write, write! Only when you think you have your best work ready, submit it. Don’t be discouraged by rejection. There will be rejection—it’s part of the process. Embrace it—it means you’re working. It only takes one yes.
Have you ever met a reluctant reader? Someone who always wants to play rather than read a good book? There is a character just like that in Surf’s Up, a new book by Kwame Alexander and Daniel Miyares.
Bro and Dude’s adventure perfectly illustrates the power a good book can hold over a reader. It’s also a fantastic model of how to use a cliffhanger. Check out our Book Bite for ten ways to use Surf’s Up to jumpstart social studies, science, writing and engineering activities!
Scuba Dog is here! Dive in!! If you haven’t ordered your copy yet, you can find it on Amazon or you can ask your local bookstore. Our entire first grade has been counting down along with us and we hope you have been as well! If not, you can use the countdown activities as follow up activities and we have a Scuba Dog Activity Kit too. I’m not sure who has been more anxious about Scuba Dog’s arrival, Ann Marie or I. While Ann Marie has been on pins and needles about sharing her book with the world, I’ve been keeping a surprise book birthday party from her! Our first grade team is incredibly lucky to be such a tight knit group and we are thrilled to be able to celebrate this day with Ann Marie. Here’s a little peek at what we did to celebrate. A special “THANK YOU!” to Emily Mitchell, Ann Marie’s agent over at Wernick & Pratt, for sending a copy of the book for the party! I hope our staff enjoys their Scuba Dog Snack Mix!
Tomorrow's the big day: Scuba Dog by Ann Marie Stephens (my fellow Happy Teacher) will be released! We've been anxiously awaiting this day since April of last year and can’t believe it’s finally here. I hope you’ve enjoyed the countdown to Scuba Dog so far. Here is the last activity to help you and your kids celebrate the coming release date! If you’ve looked at our Book Bites, you know we like to feature snack ideas to go along with children’s literature. We hope you especially enjoy this one. Dive into a Scuba Dog Snack Mix! Visit a grocery story and pick up a few ocean and dog-themed snacks like goldfish crackers (bonus points if you can find Stauffer's whale shaped crackers-check Dollar Tree), oyster crackers, gummy fish, Scooby-Doo baked graham cracker sticks (shaped like dog bones), and blue M&Ms or jelly beans. We actually used blue Sixlets and told our kids they were bubbles. Put the ingredients in a bowl, mix them up, and fill snack bags for your friends and family. Yum!
If you missed any of the activities, you can find a full list here. Stay tuned for more Scuba Dog activities!
It’s almost here! In only two school days Scuba Dog will make his literary debut. So far, our classes have drawn pictures of the deep sea, made gifts to celebrate friendship and researched whales. Many of our students have made predictions regarding what the story will be about and they’ve slightly changed with each countdown activity. Today is a day I know my kids will enjoy because they will get to use their predictions to help them decide what to draw. Today’s activity: Design a T-shirt! Scuba Dog’s friends are in a 3-dog band. They wear fun t-shirts throughout the book. Design a new t-shirt for one of the band members. Print out the t-shirt pattern or draw your own. Take a picture of your t-shirt and post it on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram (#ScubaDog).
You can find Ann Marie with the following usernames:
Twitter, Instagram and Vine: @AMStephens_
Facebook: Ann Marie Stephens
Three days to go and our kids are getting seriously pumped up for Scuba Dog. If you didn’t get a chance to do the activities from Day 5 or Day 4 yet, go see what our classes did! Today’s activity is a great discussion starter and may lead to some independent research projects.
We set up a center full of whale fun! Information sheets, a writing prompt and a place for students to write what they learned from their research. Did you know that some whales (the ones with baleen) have TWO BLOWHOLES?!
Only four days left until you get to meet Scuba Dog! Yesterday we had a great time creating our own pictures of life under the sea. (If you missed that activity, be sure to check it out!) Today we’re in for some more fun as we celebrate the joy of friendship. Day 4: Make Gifts for Friends! Despite their differences, Scuba Dog and Whale become the best of friends and give each other gifts. Make friendship pins or necklaces for your friends. For pins, you will need large safety pins and small, colorful beads. For necklaces you will need some type of string and beads with larger holes. When your pins or necklaces are made, surprise your friends with their gifts.
**Beep, beep, beep- breaking news!**
I was totally inspired by this picture today.
Because of that we made friendship BRACELETS! Our classes cheered when they presented each other with their bracelets and even had (unprompted) loud choruses of "Thank you!" afterwards.
The countdown is on! THERE ARE ONLY FIVE SCHOOL DAYS LEFT BEFORE SCUBA DOG IS RELEASED!! In order to get our classes as excited as we are about the new release, we’ve put together a list of countdown activities! Check back each school day until May 3rd for a fun, new activity. For today: Take a Trip Under the Ocean! After Scuba Dog gets his SCUBA certification, he spends a lot of time deep in the ocean. What do you think it looks like down there? Make a picture with crayons, markers, or watercolor paints. Hang your picture in the classroom or at home. Purchase a bottle of bubbles from the dollar store. Blow bubbles in front of your picture as you show your family and friends your creation. Take a picture and post it on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram (#ScubaDog).
You can find Ann Marie with the following usernames:
Twitter, Instagram and Vine: @AMStephens_
Facebook: Ann Marie Stephens
My heart melted when I realized this was Scuba Dog and the whale!
I'm thrilled to share that Ann Marie's book SCUBA DOG will be here May 3rd! To celebrate, we’ve put together a 5-day countdown. Since we're planners, we thought we'd share our list ahead of time in case you'd like to join in on any of the activities. We will start on Wednesday, April 27th! We hope you will dive in with us! Make sure to post your pictures on social media with #ScubaDog so we can see them!
When I was in school I LOVED having class pets. My favorite year was fifth grade, when we had bunnies and black corn snakes. When I became a teacher, however, I couldn’t even begin to understand how other teachers could actually manage to keep a pet alive and healthy in a classroom full of wild animals students. Who feeds it? Can it survive in school over the weekends? What about spring break? What happens if we have unplanned snow days and I can’t get into the school? What if it starts making noise during a test or if it, God forbid, DIES?! I get heart palpitations just thinking about it.
Instead, I came up with a new idea to satisfy my students’ desires for a class pet. A virtual class pet!
We can check in on it every day, we can write stories about it and draw pictures of it doing silly things without any of the worries that accompany live class pets. (Did I mention my overwhelming fear of it dying in class?) Because of the fact that the animal doesn’t need to be in my classroom, my students have class pets much more exciting than a goldfish. We’ve had pandas, penguins, sharks and gorillas. This year we’ve even watched a pair of local bald eagles take care of their babies before and after they hatched!
We’re learning about things like animal habitats and conservation efforts and I don’t have any of the stress that comes with having real class pets. Have you ever had a virtual pet? What did you do with yours?
Sometimes, to liven things up, my students and I invent a theme for a particular day of the week. We don’t do this every week, just during those times when things start to get monotonous or challenging (before winter, spring, and summer breaks, around testing time, etc.).
Here are some examples: (can you tell we like alliteration?)
Musical Monday: Students can bring instruments from home, we may play music all day, we might play a game of “Name that Tune” or we may study a composer for the
Mysterious Monday: When the students walk in, they have a mystery to solve. Maybe there’s a surprise wrapped in a box, maybe something is missing etc… Follow the clues.
Tell Me Tuesday: We show our students a picture of an unusual creature that we think will be unfamiliar to them. Then ask questions such as, “What do you think it eats?” and “Where do you think it lives?” (My class has been doing this for the last few weeks for morning work since our old routine got stale. They're loving it!)
Walking Wednesday: Students and teacher take a walk outside, around the school, the track, or even on a nature trail.
Thank You Thursday: Students write thank you notes to friends, family, or teachers to thank them for something they’ve done.
Think About it Thursday: We pose a thought provoking question to our students and give everyone a small copy of the question to glue in their journal. They love sharing their opinions!
Fitness Friday: We learn a new kind of exercise or an idea for staying healthy and fit.
Free Read Friday: We drop everything we’re doing and grab a book. Students head to a cozy spot in the classroom and read.
When it comes time to teach shapes in first grade, there are always students who struggle. Some students think all shapes with four sides are rectangles while others fail to realize that no matter how you rotate a triangle, if it has 3 sides, it’s a triangle! To help our students develop a firm grasp on shape identification we made this book.
Each student gets a book with a cover and four pages divided in half (one for each basic shape). On one side, students draw examples of each shape and on the other they draw non-examples. For instance, one page says, “These are rectangles.” and “These are not rectangles.”
Once students have polished their shape identification skills it’s time to discuss the different attributes of shapes (i.e. how many sides, vertices, and right angles each shape has). Sides are simple. They learn those in Kindergarten so we simply remind them it’s a straight line on the shape. Vertex and vertices are a little tougher since they generally use the word corners in kindergarten. Our content word wall helps us a lot here! If students are having difficulty, we put the words “corner,” “vertex” and “vertices” on one line to show students they are synonyms.
After a few days, most students have mastered this new vocabulary. Finally we introduce right angles. Our brilliant math interventionist has students physically make a right angle using their arms. They put up one arm and say, “right” and then the other and say, “angle.” It’s a great multisensory approach to this math lesson.
After students are able to describe the traits of various shapes, I use two SMARTBoard lessons I created to have students sort shapes and determine which shape does not belong in a group of shapes. When students select their answer they have to explain which attribute makes it so that the shape does not belong. It’s a fun challenge that makes students use their knowledge of shape attributes. **Note- to open the file I've attached, you must be on a computer that has SMART Notebook software installed on it.
We created an exciting way to practice estimating skills. It’s called The Estimation Station. The station can be set up on an empty desk, a TV tray, a table corner, or even on top of a low bookshelf.
You will need a clear jar, like a small jelly, relish or pickle jar, or a large baby food jar with the lid. If you prefer plastic, try a small mayonnaise jar. Then fill the jar with candy but not in front of your students. Count the candy as you put it in. Write your total down somewhere so you won’t forget! Here are a few kinds of candies we have used: Starbursts, sweet tarts, candy corn, M&Ms or jellybeans.
Next, put out small pieces of paper so the students can record their guesses. We print out a sheet with our students’ names on them already. (First graders are famous for forgetting to write their names!) Lastly, we add a plastic container or covered shoebox with a slot in the top. You might already have a voting box from class elections you can use. The students will put their guesses inside. We also put out a sign. One at a time, the students visit the station. You can have this as an organized activity, using a class list, calling one student at a time, or you can leave the station out all day and encourage students to visit whenever they’d like. They will look at the jar, turn it around, pick it up and even shake it. Then they will make their guess on the slip of paper and drop it in your slotted container.
After all the guesses are in, we sit as a class and count the candy in the jar. There are always lots of rumblings and gasps as students remember their guesses and exclaim how close they’ve come (or not). We look through each guess and set aside the close or exact ones. The winner (and sometimes winners) gets to keep the contents. (Just transfer them to a Ziplock bag.) 99% of the time the winner wants to share with the whole class (believe it or not)!
We usually do The Estimation Station every day during our magnitude unit for about two or three weeks (depending on our candy supply)! If you’d like for the station to last longer, you can set it up for one day of the week. We’ve done both and they are equally as fun. Start estimating!
If your students are having trouble remembering the names of geometric solids, jog their memories with this post-holiday project. Ask students to bring in presents they received (or other items from home) that correspond to the shapes you are studying. For example, a board game is a rectangular prism, a baseball is a sphere, and a gel pen is a cylinder. If you school has a digital camera, you could take pictures of the items and post them for students to use as a review when test time approaches. Follow-up with a walk through the hallways, where students observe shapes in their environment. Create a class book titled, “Our Shape Walk.” Have each student create a page for a shape they saw and combine the pages for a book that can be used as a quick reference.