Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Mrs. Claus Takes the Reins

We are in the final stretch to Winter Break and desperately trying to hold the attention of our excited students. Thank you, Sue Fliess for coming to the rescue with your new book, Mrs. Claus Takes the Reins!
If you have kids in your life, put on your Santa hat, grab your boots, and go get your copy today. Then try our activities to go along with the story. This book and these ideas are our survival kit for the next couple of days! Ho, ho, go Mrs Claus!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Boring Sentence Repair Shop

How many times have you looked at your students’ sentences and thought, “These sentences are too short,” or “They don’t give any details?” We experience this quite often in first grade where we constantly see sentences such as, “I like ___” or “___ is nice.” BOR-ING! This is why we created the Boring Sentence Repair Shop.

Just like a car that needs repairing, our boring sentences can go in the shop in shambles and come out like new! The repair shop itself is simply a piece of poster board with a clip-art picture of a repair shop glued to it. Then the entire poster is laminated to last longer. The repair shop process works best when done as a whole group or in small groups. As a class, we brainstorm a simple sentence such as, “I like to eat cookies.” Then we write the boring sentence on a sentence strip and cut off the blank space left at the end to highlight how short it really is. We read it together, shout “BOR-ING!” and we get another strip. (Make sure it’s long!)

We start brainstorming ways to “repair” our sentence. For instance, we might ask, “What are some synonyms for like?” Then we choose or vote on one of those words. We ask questions relevant to our boring sentence topic. “Why do you like to eat cookies?” “What kind of cookies do you eat?” “What is a stronger or better word for ‘eat’?” “Where do you like to eat your cookies?” We go back and forth with ideas eventually settling on the best verbs, adjectives, and nouns we can conjure up. An example might be, “I adore devouring gooey, warm, chocolate chip cookies.” We write our repaired sentence on the long strip; sometimes we even have to tape two strips together.

Here comes the hokey part, but we swear they eat it up every time. We put the new sentence behind the repair shop poster board. Then we say something such as, “Let’s reread our boring sentence.” Afterwards, slide it behind the poster board. Then say, “So we repaired out boring sentence and now it’s ready.” Slide the new sentence out from the other side of the repair shop with a “Ta-da!” and read it together.

After reading, compare the two sentences by getting oral feedback from the students. Create a bulletin board to display your sentences no matter how often you do them. Make sure to organize them with a clear before and after connection. Then sit back, eat a gooey, warm, chocolate chip cookie, and watch the improvement on individual sentence writing.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Haunted Halloween- A Book Bite

Check out our latest Book Bite. We’ve taken HAUNTED HALLOWEEN, by Sue Fliess, and created activities for educators and parents. Download our ideas and have a spooktacular time!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A Haunted Halloween with Sue Fliess

The poetically prolific author Sue Fliess has a new book just perfect for young Halloween lovers. We thought this would be the perfect time for another interview with her!

Since this is our second interview with you we are going to dive a little deeper into your life as a writer! What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you as an author?
Once I was doing a reading at a bookstore, and when I was done and taking questions from the kids, this one 7-yr old boy asked me if I wrote the book. I said “Yes,” and he looked very puzzled. Then he said, “But, are you alive?” Turns out, he was under the impression that authors are usually dead. So, lucky me, I was the first ‘alive’ author he’d ever met!

Do you prefer to create your stories on paper or on the computer?
Well, actually, I create them in my head first! If they seem like they actually make sense, then depending on where I am, I either type them on my computer, or I might send myself an email with the idea or just jot it down on a small notebook I keep in my purse, for exactly that reason.

You have written two books about Halloween. Why?
I absolutely love Halloween! I own several wigs and costumes and usually go all out on Halloween with decorations. My first Halloween book, Goblin Hood was inspired by my son, who at the time, could not pronounce bow and arrow – he said ‘bone and arrow.’ I immediately asked the question: What type of creature would use that? My brain made a Robin Hood connection, and a creature/goblin character came to mind, and it just fit! For Haunted Halloween, which is my new board book, I wanted to write a very young Halloween story, and I remember trying to challenge myself to use as few words as possible. Believe it or not, I wrote it before I wrote Goblin Hood, which came out in 2016. Sometimes that’s just how it happens. I thought it would be fun to add a counting element to the story of 5 trick-or-treaters, and thankfully it worked!

We love your board book, HAUNTED HALLOWEEN. What’s your favorite page and why?
My favorite page is for the number 8. Eight gargoyles. Cauldron boils. I think I should get a ribbon for getting ‘gargoyle’ in a rhyming picture book, ha!

Tell us about one of your Halloween costumes from your childhood.
I was Casper, the friendly ghost and my sister was Minnie Mouse!

What’s your next book to be released?
My next book is already out, so I’ll tell you about both that one and the one coming in January. Mrs. Claus Takes the Reins (another holiday book!), illustrated by Mark Chambers and published by Amazon/Two Lions Press, came out September 18. It’s about Santa getting a sniffle and deciding to call off Christmas. But Mrs. Claus says she’ll take over the job for the night. It’s fun and funny, and the illustrations are adorable.

Santa says,
“I’m stuffy. I’m sneezy. I’m slow as a yeti.
My big ho-ho-ho isn’t holiday-ready.
We must cancel Christmas, oh what a disgrace.”

Mrs. Claus answers:
“I have a solution. I’ll go in your place!”

And in January, I have a rhyming picture book coming from Running Press Kids called Ninja Camp, illustrated by Jen Taylor. In Ninja Camp, a diverse group of girls and boys attend a ninja camp, where they hope to become Ninjas of the Night. As they learn new skills, they are challenged by the rival camp, Ninjas of the Dawn, and must defend their camp’s Shadow Blade. I’m happy to tell you that even though they lose the Shadow Blade briefly, they get it back and become official ninjas as a team.

Do you have a special snack or drink you like to have while writing?
Coffee. Oh, and coffee.

What are you working on right now?
I am working on two stories. A build-upon picture book based on a famous nursery rhyme, and a new—wait for it—holiday book that I’m under contract for that will be out fall of 2019.

How does your dog, Charlie, play a role in your daily writing routine?
He’s my rock. My support system. Okay, that’s not totally true. But he is my faithful housemate while I’m writing. Sometimes I will bounce ideas off of him, and he wags in approval. That said, he did inspire a book that I wrote earlier this year about a boy and his dog as they grow up together, that I’m really hoping will find the right home. It’s like nothing I’ve ever written before.

Out of all of your books, which one do you like the best? Why?
Oh, gosh, this is a tough question! Right now I have 2 favorites, but if you ask me next year, it will likely change: Mary Had a Little Lab and Mrs. Claus Takes the Reins. I think all the women-empowerment activity going on has catapulted them into the lead, and also inspired my writing.

Thank you so much for "hanging out" with us today!!!

Monday, September 3, 2018

Fun Ideas for Testing Time

We know what you’re thinking. How did Ann Marie and Erin ever think they could use the words “fun” and “testing” in the same sentence? Trust us, we have a plan. If you’re like us, you spend an overwhelming amount of time testing your students. Yes, there are standardized tests but what about other school system and state mandated tests, not to mention your own classroom assessments and screeners? Many times these tests must be given one-on-one; so what do you do with the rest of the students? We don’t want to distribute a bunch of worksheets to keep the students away from our testing area. Instead we came up with a list of ideas to keep our students challenged, entertained, and productively occupied.
Try some of these ideas and add your own. Testing occurs all year so grow your list until the last day of school. Then it will be time to make your own list for summer: Fun Ideas for Relaxing.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Tropical Tuesday

I came back from my vacation on a tropical island and really struggled to let go of the relaxed atmosphere. It was hard to say good-bye to the beach towels, tropical music, and don’t even get me started on the coconut and pineapple. I decided to bring that tropical feel to my classroom every Tuesday with Tropical Tuesday. I give my students permission to bring beach towels (or any towel) and sunglasses if they have them. I also provide towels, (I asked friends and colleagues for donations from their used beach and pool towels) and a couple of beach chairs.
On Tropical Tuesday, the students spread towels all over the room to work on, some wear sunglasses, we play relaxing beach music, and eat tropical snacks. We try food such as dried coconut, plantain chips, and pineapple. We even eat goldfish and mini Mounds candy bars. The students love the change of pace and I enjoy living the island life.

Ann Marie

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?

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

All You Need is Love (And a Break From Testing!)

Whew! January is finally over and we couldn’t be happier. The month was full of tests, tests, and more tests! (Erin loves data and all the charts and tables that come along with it and even she is thrilled that it’s over!) Now that February is here we are celebrating with a new bulletin board.
The crafty part is pretty simple. We used hand and heart patterns. The students cut out the hands and folded two fingers down to make the sign for “I love you.” They did not crease the paper, which created a rounded, more natural look for the fingers. Then they cut out the hearts, glued them onto the hands and wrote about something that they love. We even used this as an opportunity to practice working on synonyms and ended up with sentences with words like “cherish,” “treasure,” and “appreciate.”

Next, we made our class poem centerpiece using this writing frame.
The kids threw out ideas and we worked together to chose the ones we thought sounded amazing. We even combined ideas. To make the board interactive we made individual copies of our writing frame to hang in a pocket. We posted quick and easy instructions on the outside of the pocket. Any student or staff member in our school can take a copy, compose a poem, and return it to us. Then, we’ll hang the poems all around the board, spreading love and poetry for all to see. It’s been an inspiring way to move on from testing. 
**On a quick side note, our team came up with a creative idea that I LOVED. After we hung up the poem on our white poster board heart we felt it was entirely too plain. We thought that adding polka dots could make it cuter but debated on what color would be best so it wouldn’t clash with the other things on our board. We ended up using…. leftover border! We used a round craft punch to make circles that matched the board perfectly. Now this may be old news to some, but I think it’s brilliant!