It’s the Littlest Things…

On Thursday afternoon, we got a present.  Our phone rang and four of my boys went downstairs.  They came back with…

We knew it was coming, since we knew that our amazing principal, Mrs. Sisul, had ordered it for us.  But we didn’t know what it would look like or when it would be here.  It happened during Writer’s Workshop, and most kids were sitting at their tables.  Within 5 seconds of the rug’s appearance, this happened:

Don’t you love it?  Everyone ran over and plopped down on the carpet.  It’s very nice, almost shaggy, and very soft.  And it has that “new carpet” smell, which is also nice.

I mentioned that it was Writer’s Workshop, and what was really funny was that the rug then became the topic of several kiddo’s writing that day.   One friend wrote this entry:

Sorry…just realized it’s a little blurry, but hopefully you can see that it says NO MORE CHAIRS!  HA!

And when we got back to my classroom at the end of the day, my kindergartener, Riley, was as in love as my own students.  He got comfy while he waited for me to get ready to go home:

It’s so funny how sometimes it’s the littlest things, like a fabulous new rug, that came just make your day. Thanks, Mrs. Sisul! 🙂

Classroom Library Tour

Don’t you love this picture?  I do because I love our library, but also because I just used to edit it.  For free.  COOL!  But I digress…

For some reason I have never put any pictures of our library on here.  Which is funny because I love our library, but also because it’s one of my favorite things to check out on other people’s blogs.  So here it is–finally!

Several years ago I went through and made labels with pictures and authors’ names, after seeing the idea in someone else’s classroom!  This is one of my favorite places in our room.  Not sure if it’s because is has some of my favorite books, or if it’s because it’s pretty.  The rainbow boxes look so good in that black shelf, and are so organized (well at least I think so)!

Here you will find the end of the alphabetized author boxes, along with series like The Babysitter’s Club, Harry Potter, Magic Tree House and some genre boxes for fantasy and mystery.  There are other genres on an opposite wall–just didn’t have a pretty picture of them. 🙂

And yes, I know those 400, 500, and 600 boxes are missing labels!  I just keep forgetting to come back and do that.  😦

The box labeled “Good Books” has been around for a couple of years and has some of my favorites.  I lead kiddos there when they are just looking for a “good” book to read.

I love the label I put on this box.  So many “big” kids think they’ve outgrown picture books, but most of them were actually written at reading levels for older kids to work on independently anyway.  I encourage my “big kids” to try these every so often.  And usually they do. 🙂

While our main library is on the other side of the room, it’s mostly fiction and filled with chapter books.  Over here, next to our ActivBoard meeting space, are nonfiction collections.

Thanks for taking a tour of our library!  Glad you stopped by and love to hear what you thought. 🙂

Math Warm-Ups Sept 4-7, 2012

So after I posted about our Morning Math Warmups last week, I figured I would start doing that every week.  It will be great to see all of them once we’re finished this year.  We would really appreciate it if you followed along with our learning this year, and even comment with your own answers.  We could learn from you!

Since Monday was Labor Day, there are only four this week:





How would you answer these?  What warmups would you use for factors and multiples? Leave us a comment!

Just Goofing Around

Think of the feeling when you have to wear “church” clothes.  Or maybe for you, it’s easier to think about wearing a formal, like for a wedding or a fancy dinner.  You probably feel all stiff and uncomfortable, maybe itchy and hot.  If you’re in the wedding, you might feel like everyone is watching you, just waiting for you to make a mistake or drop something.  If you’re at that fancy dinner, you might be nervous that you’ll use the wrong fork, or not be able to read the menu because it’s in another language.  I remember that from prom when my date and I went to a really expensive French restaurant.  I couldn’t even have fun because I was so stressed out!

Now I don’t know about you, but at the end of a long day (even a great day like we had today), the first thing I do when I get home is put on my pjs.  I get comfortable–kind of like what you (or a kiddo) might do after that wedding, after you get home from church, after that fancy dinner is over.   From constricted to comfortable, into our “play clothes.”
That first example is how many people–kids and adults alike–feel about writing.  It’s uncomfortable and hard, with a  when-will-this-be-over kind of feeling.  Writer’s Workshop is a hated time, when all the pressure is on, and the teacher is watching your ever move.  Students may feel like they can’t do anything right, and they’re afraid they might make a mistake.

I want my writers to remember instead their play clothes; the way they feel and they freedom they are allowed in them.  When you’re wearing your play clothes you can get messy, run around, fall down and make mistakes.  There are no rules, really.  You feel alive!

So I want it to be in their Writer’s Notebook.  I want the writers I work with to feel energized when they sit down to write, ready to play with words and see what happens.  Their notebooks are allowed to be messy; it’s from the mess that masterpieces may emerge.

And so another notebook strategy was added today: Goof Around Writing.

First, I shared two entries from my own Writer’s Notebooks.  One was called “Ode to Mashed Potatoes” and the second was “Oh Sewing Machine, You are my Enemy!”  Each was just for fun, about how mashed potatoes tease me with their goodness but make me “fat, fat, fat” and then about a “fight” I had with my sewing machine last year when it wouldn’t work right.  Both were written in a playful manner, meant to sound silly and make you laugh.  But still, they were both based on my life.
Then my friends had a go.  They LOVED this, and there was much giggling as we shared our entries.  There were MANY kiddos who thought that you, dedicated blog reader, should be able to see what they did.  So here are some examples of what we did in our play clothes when we were just goofing around with our writing:





What do you do when you’re “goofing around” with writing?  What do your play clothes look like?  Please leave us a comment and tell us about it!  We’d love to read your thoughts! 🙂

Dance! Dance, I Say!

So hopefully by now you’ve read my Welcome to Rm. 202 post from the beginning of the year.  If not, you totally should.  Really.  Right now is even ok. 🙂

Well, I have many kiddos in my class who did, and the reason I know is that they sent me this:


And this:


And in case you still didn’t read it, there was a part at the end that challenged my new friends to send me a victory dance that they did once they got done reading the post.  All 2049 words of it.  Gotta love it! 🙂

What does your victory dance look like? 

Put Your Cub in the Den

If you’ve visited our schedule page, if you’ve been here a while, or if you know me, then you know that writing is a big deal in my classroom.   So getting into Writer’s Workshop is also a big deal.  There is a very special way that I introduce Writer’s Notebooks, a special way I share myself as a writer, and so then writing becomes a very special thing to my students, too.   It works out really nicely.  🙂

So…a couple of years into teaching 4th grade, I came up with what I thought was a great idea.  At that point, Steno notebooks were EVERYWHERE, and I found a new way to use them.  Rather than having my kiddos jump right into their Writer’s Notebooks, I gave them a “practice” notebook where I would teach them my way of using the notebook, a place to give it a try and make mistakes.  Then, once they had proved to me that they were ready, they got to “move in” to their real notebook.  Back then my class came up with the name of “training wheels” for that starter notebook, because of how you go through that learning stage before you ride a real bike.

This year, I knew I wanted to get back to this whole starter notebook idea (I hadn’t done it with my 5th graders yet), so I got to work.  Instead of using Stenos, though, which are strangely hard to find now, I decided to use a half-sized notebook.  Just a few quick slices of the paper cutter and you have a class set like this:

I liked how they are pint-sized, so are therefore portable, but have big enough pages that you can finish most thoughts on one page.

I told my class the story of the training wheels, and set goals for how I wanted them to use these notebooks over the next few weeks.  Then I asked them if they wanted to stick with the old name, or create a new one that was just for us.  And so the idea of the “cub” was born.  Instead of having  training wheels that led them to a bike, they decided that they would instead have a cub that grew up into a bear!  Then, they even renamed our cubbies (the places where they store their stuff) DENS, so they could put their BEAR in the DEN.  Get it?  Like Bearden?  That’s actually how I tell people how to spell my name: like a bear in a den.  HA!  And so the cub was born.  And very soon everyone’s cubs will become bears.  🙂

But what do we put in our cubs?  What am I teaching them to put in their notebooks?

It all started with a definition, courtesy of Ralph Fletcher:

A container.  A ditch.  A place to live like a writer.  I want my writers to think of this little notebook as a place to collect ideas, to save secrets, to start stories.  It’s a place they will visit each day, writing in a variety of different ways, collecting entries that they will come back to over and over again in their future–for sure in their 5th grade futures, but hopefully (if I do my job right!) their farther futures, too.  I am up to my 11th WNB, the first of which dates back to 2005, and I still use them everyday!

So far, we’ve learned these strategies for our writing toolboxes:

1. Lists: you can use this strategy for anything!  A list of favorite things, least favorite things, names, places, foods, story ideas–ANYTHING!  Like this, for example:


2. Memories:  I define a memory as anything that has happened to you in your past (and remember–5 minutes ago is the past!) that you want to remember.  It doesn’t have to be huge or monumental or “special,”  just memorable.  And important to you.  We’re learning that almost anything in our lives is “worthy” to be kept in our notebooks, and that we can write about these ordinary events in an extraordinary way.

A 5th grade memory or two:



3. Artifacts:These are really an extension of memories, and involves the “stuff” you put in your notebook that triggers memories–photographs, newspaper clippings, ticket stubs, candy wrappers, flower petals, cards, notes.  You name it!  Someone even taped a quarter into his notebook the other day because it sparked a story he’d heard before.  For us, it’s been mostly magazines lately.  I give them very specific directions about how the WRITING and THINKING is more important than the picture, and that they should not just cut out any old picture and write “I like…”  They are totally rocking at finding the deeper stories behind plain pictures they find in our classroom magazine bin.

For example:


4. Questions: We call these “fierce wonderings” (again per Ralph Fletcher’s smart thinking!).   We talked about how we wanted the focus to be on big questions that may not have an answer–at least not one that we can find easily or at this point in our lives.  We discovered that often fierce wonderings start with “why.”

5. Observations/Descriptions:  We added these to our strategy list today, and I can’t wait to share them with you soon!

I love the stories I keep hearing from families about how excited their students are to be writing!  They are already doing an AMAZING job with this!  But hey, that’s because they’re AMAZING kiddos!

What do you write about?  Have you ever tried any of these strategies in your own writing?  What can you add to our list of entry suggestions?  Leave a comment and share your thoughts! We LOVE to read comments!


Reading Museum

All during the first week of school, we spent our time in activities to get to know each other better.  During our second week, we continued, but with the focus of getting to know each other better as learners.

So on Friday during Reader’s Workshop, we held a Reading Museum.

The idea was simple, really.  Each reader in our room–including me!–set up an “exhibit” that told something about themselves as readers.  Then we went around to each exhibit (after having a quick conversation about expectations–you have to act a certain way in a museum, after all) to see what each person laid out.  We made connections to other readers’ books and asked questions we had, too.

Once we were finished, we debriefed on what we had learned during this activity and how it would help us in the future.   What a fun way to spend a Friday afternoon!

Check out some pictures from our museum:

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Have you ever been a part of a Reading Museum?  What books would you put in your exhibit?  We chose books that we liked, that we’ve read over and over, that someone read to us when we were little, etc.  We’d love to hear about your selections!  Leave us a comment, please! 🙂

Morning Math Warmups

This being the second week of school, we got a little closer to following our regular daily schedule.  In Math, that meant that we practiced the components of Guided Math.  One of those components is our Morning Math Warm-ups.

Each day when they come in, there will be a question on the easel to get their brains warmed up.  Generally they will be math-related, but sometimes not obviously so–not just “solve this equation” type questions.  These were the warm-ups for the week:


How would you answer these questions?  If you’re a parent: talk to your mathematician about how they answered them.  If you’re a teacher: how do you use warm-ups in your classroom?  Tell us about it! 🙂