Series Reading Groups

We have been working with series of books in Readers’ Workshop lately.  Our newest unit, which has a focus on patterns, characters and changes, is asking students to look at a series of books (one per group) to find similarities and differences.  Each kiddo in the group is reading a different book (which is something I’ve never done before) and when they meet, the team is responsible for talking about what they’ve each found in their books individually.

We’ve worked on looking at what is always the same (patterns in the series), what we can learn about characters, asking ourselves why certain things are important, marking the text with post-its so we don’t forget what we’ve noticed, talking “long and strong” about our post-it notes, making sure we understand what our partners are saying by asking clarifying questions, and using a Venn diagram to model what we notice between the books in our groups.

We’ve chosen books series that match each level of reader in my classroom: Horrible Harry, Roscoe Riley Rules, Berenstain Bears, Clifford, Mercy Watson and Little House on the Prairie.

It’s been really exciting to see what they’ve been able to do with this study.  For many it’s the first time they have really read a chapter book.  While each group has different conversations based on the members and the books, each works with diligence and purpose as they discuss what they are learning about their texts.  They are really thinking deeply about their books, having fun with literacy and their reading conversations are leaking over into other parts of our day.  The other thing I’ve seen is that many have been positively pressured to higher levels of thinking and participating because of what they see their friends doing.  Love that kind of friendly competition!

I know this kind of thing would be best explained with videos, but all I have is pictures.  Imagine that you can hear quiet murmurs of engaging conversations around books that kids love and it would sound just about right!

What series do you enjoy reading?  We’d love some recommendations for our next choices! 🙂


Flip That Room!

There seems to be a theme in my 5th grade class….(I’m not sure if I should take it personally, or just be really impressed that my kiddos are so creative….).

Today was a day full of lots of things: learning, noise, fun, business, reading, noise, creating, collaborating, noise.  But luckily most of it was not just what I call “noise noise.”  Much of the noise we made today was “learning noise.”  Noise that indicates lots of thinking and creating and sharing is happening.  And yes, it was loud.  But sometimes that’s just how we roll.  Especially when there are 25 of us in the room all talking at once!

So back to the theme I mentioned….we had to stop at one point today and regroup a little bit.  Writer’s Workshop was a wee bit rocky, and so rather than fight against the trouble we were having, we stopped, gathered together and agreed to try that lesson again another day.

Instead, I had them help me with a problem. I told them that I need their help to figure out how I could help them best be learners during our last few days of 5th grade.  We have work left to do, and we want to try to have a little bit of fun, too.  They had some great thinking, which culminated in the idea that parts of our classroom (or how they were using it) were not really working for us.  We agreed that we could work together to fix that problem and create a space that we could do some amazing end-of-the-year work in for a few more weeks.

We started with every kiddo creating their own dream plan of what our classroom would look like.  Then kiddos met in their tribes, presenting their plan to the 4-5 kiddos in their group.  From their, the tribes created a new plan incorporating the best features from each individual plan.  Then we shared out as a class, and voted on the one we thought would work best for us.

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Here’s what is sounded like during that time.  Remember, it’s loud, but it’s not. just. noise.  They are busy solving problems!

Can’t wait to share the final product next week!  Seems like another theme this week is that I forget to take “after” pictures!  Stay tuned!

Be Square

Here’s a post about another team building activity we did the other day.  And boy, did it take some GRIT!  Some grit that we had to dig really deep for, too. 🙂

The basic premise of the game is that each person in the group has a folder with pieces of different squares.  In total, the group needs to end up with 5 equal-sized squares.  The catch?  No one can talk.  You can’t ask anyone else for pieces, but you can give pieces to other people in your group if you think they need them.

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At first, this was a really tricky task!  The biggest problem?  Everyone was trying to do it on their own!  Pretty much the opposite of how the game works!  You would not believe the sounds I heard during this activity–it’s too bad I didn’t take any video.  Most sounds were moans and groans as they tried to figure out what to do, except for from Table 6 (see above)–their group had “tweeting” or “chirping” sounds happening during this task.  I soon figured out that that was the sound of them digging deep to find their grit.  Whatever works, right?

However, I mentioned that some of us really struggled, and that was something that could be seen as well as heard.  Within the first few minutes, there were twisted-up “thinking” faces, frowns and furrowed brows.  One friend was even laying over the seat of his chair upside down.  Frustration abounded.  But nope–they could not and would not give up. 🙂

Eventually it was time for lunch, and so we left to chow–and left our game just as it was, planning to return after we’d had some time to breathe.  As I was sharing the story of our struggle with some friends at lunch, Mrs. Berger said something about needing to see things in another way.  This was genius!  It gave me an idea for how we could switch things up after we came back.

Once we were back in the room and ready to get started again, kiddos returned to their tables, but they had to sit at a DIFFERENT seat than where they were sitting before.  Groups got started again and slowly, but surely, I started to get hands raised (which was the sign that they had gotten it!). 🙂

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As we debriefed after we were finished, I asked each group what they thought it was that helped them the most.  Without fail, groups mentioned that seeing it from another angle helped them–then could see the puzzle from a different point-of-view and think in another way.  Thanks for the suggestion, Mrs. Berger–it’s just what we needed! 🙂


ActivActivity–January 14-15, 2013

Today’s ActivActivity is related to the Math Warm-up we had the other day:


Your job today is to come up with a story that uses FRACTIONS and has an answer of 3/4.  Work together with  your group to write one, and if you have time after that one, write another!  Leave your story in the comments for this post, and be sure to leave your names!

What’s All This “Box Factory” Business?–Part 1

You may have heard me or my students mention the Box Factory lately, and wondered what in the world we were talking about.  Let me tell you about this fabulous math work we’ve been doing lately.
In 5th grade, we have a unit on 3D geometry, focused around finding volume of different kinds of rectangular prisms and figuring out a formula for how to do this (l x w x h or b x h).  This year we incorporated a unit by Cathy Fosnot, which created a context for this learning.  Enter the “Box Factory.”

The basic premise of the investigation is that kids work in a box factory and have to figure out certain things related to volume and surface area (although these things are not specifically named until later in the unit).  There were three parts, and kids worked small groups to investigate the answers to these questions:
1.  If the box factory wanted to create boxes that held 24 items, how many different boxes could they create?  What would the dimensions be of those boxes? Which box would be the cheapest one to produce? There were 16 possible answers to this question, and the students used cubes, graph paper, equations, drawings, or whatever necessary to figure it out.  They had to then create a poster to show their strategies and explain their thinking to show to the other groups.

2. How much cardboard would you need to cover each of these boxes? This one extended the conversation into surface area, and invited students to now look at the outside of the box, instead of just the inside.  Most groups figured out that if they used the formula (2 x L) + (2 x W) + (2 x H) to determine how much cardboard they’d need.  The cheapest boxes to make would be ones that are closest to the shape of a cube, as opposed to a long, skinny box.

3.  If the factory created three sizes of cube-shaped boxes–2 x 2 x 2, 3 x 3 x 3, and 4 x 4 x4, how many units could each hold?  If it costs 12 cents per unit, how much would each box cost?  This one looked at the inside again, and added another layer of multiplication (with money) to figure out the final answers.


All throughout this investigation (which goes for about 10 days), the focus is on kids discovering strategies for volume, rather than just giving it to them.  Through the posters they create and the Math Congress conversations we share, they are also working on sharing and representing their thinking.  They are learning how to make their representations clear and concise so that other people can understand exactly what they did.

This poster-sharing part is not new to me in Math Workshop.  But Fosnot’s unit added a layer I’ve never thought of before in math–revision.  Much like when mathematicians publish proofs (and like we’d just spent time on in Writer’s Workshop!), students were able to get feedback from others on what worked, what was confusing, what they should add or take away.  They they had the opportunity to revise and edit their posters before they shared.  With each new poster they created, they added new ways of showing their thinking clearly.   They did this by discussing with their group, and then leaving suggestions on post-its.  We used the “Plus-delta” model to share something we liked and something we’d change:


So by the third time around, we were pretty great at showing thinking on our posters.  Even though you didn’t see all the steps, you can still appreciate the clarity and organization of these:







Have you ever done a Cathy Fosnot unit before?  How have you used revision and feedback in math to clarify thinking? What strategies do you use for teaching volume? We’d love to hear about it!

List-Group-Label: Science Work with Weather Words

I wrote about this topic last year here.  And like last year, I started my weather unit today with the same activity.  But that doesn’t mean that our experience was the same.  I have a different group of kiddos, with different knowledge and understanding, and I gave a different set of directions of how this protocol would work.  So yes, it’s similar, as many things are year-to-year, but it’s not nearly the same.
As with most every unit we begin, we start with vocabulary words that students will need to know.  Today we used the protocol List-Group-Label to do this introduction.  Here’s the big idea of how it works:

So, like I mentioned before, I had a couple of added directions this time around that helped further thinking.   When tribes got to the GROUPing part, rather than tell them how to make their poster look, we talked about how they needed to make a decision about the best kind of graphic organizer to use for their information.  I also took this opportunity to introduce the phrase “You gotta build the house before you decorate it.”  We talked about how you could “fancy” up your poster if you had some time at the end, but that the most important thing was to get your thinking down first, to show what you know about weather in an organized way.

We spent about 10 minutes on the list-group-label part, then took a short gallery walk to each tribe’s poster.  As they visited other posters, they were to notice what words others used, how they organized their thinking, and if there were any ideas they could “steal” to add to their own sheet once they returned.  After spending about 30 seconds at each poster, they had two minutes to tweak their own work before we were finished.

It was great to hear them work together in their groups to put words together, and think about how they could label each category.  Look at it in progress:


And then here is what we ended up with after our work time:

The Legendary 4

The Crazy Dragons (they even signed their work with their tribe name!)


The J.A.A.Zicles

The Wild Spirits

Please leave us a comment and let us know what you think.  We’d love to continue to learn with you.   What other words would you suggest we put on our lists?



Have you ever played Bananagrams?  Well, honestly, I haven’t either.   I know that it’s a little like Scrabble, and is a banana-bag filled with letter tiles.  At our “opening day” staff meeting, my fabulous principal, Mrs. Sisul, did this version of Bananagrams with our staff.  I thought it would be really great to try it with my 5th graders.  Here’s how we used it in our room on Thursday.

Every kiddo was given a letter tile out of the banana, and then were given these directions:

1. Find as many different other letters as you can and make a word.

2. No talking.

3. Sit down after you have a word.

4. If you can’t use your letter to make a word, wait by the easel.

During our first round, we made the words NUN, PEARS (which later became SPEAR), BOW (which became BROW when we added someone who needed a group), I (it’s a real word, right?), and RIO.  They did great, and followed all of the rules I gave them.  I was a little surprised with how easy it was to do the “not talking” part–that’s usually the rule that gets broken first.  Not these kids, though. 🙂

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We did another round where we added the rule that they had to make words that were 4 or more letters.  They LOVED this game, and have requested it multiple times since we played it.  I’m excited to come back to it often, with different rules each time.  The possibilities are endless, really.  I’m excited to try it for spelling.  Our program is based around a different “generalization” each week, and so they’d have to make words that follow that pattern, i.e. short vowels, “r”-controlled words, long vowels, etc.  I know they’ll be up for the challenge!

Have you played Bananagrams?  Have you used it in your classroom?  Do you have a suggestion for us for a rule we could add to our game?  We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Marshmallow Challenge!

Welcome back to school!  We have been very busy already this year–hence the reason why I haven’t updated in a while–and are getting into a groove.  Forgive me if the next few posts are out of order (at least the order in which they happened); I still need pictures of certain things before I post about them.
Anyhow…we have spent much of the last 6 days getting to know each other better as learners (and people in general, really), as well as focusing on how to work well with a group.  One thing that our tribes did together early on was to take the Marshmallow Challenge.  What a great idea shared with me by my new friend and teammate Mrs. Hong! When you’re done here, you should definitely check out her class blog. 🙂

Alright, so here’s the basic idea:

We got ready, and I set the timer.  They built and taped and created, and at the end of the challenge we stepped away from our structures and….Every. Tower. Fell. Over. 😦

For a few minutes my friends wanted to claim “FAIL” on this activity and say it didn’t work.  But instead, I led them to reflect on what went right.  After a conversation, we figured out that many groups had the right idea of focusing on building a strong foundation, many had made a plan first, each group had a common goal and all groups worked well together to create a spaghetti structure.  Even if they fell over, we were successful in a lot of ways.  And so that day, we planned to do the challenge again, knowing that the next time there would  be many things we’d change–but many things we’d try again. 🙂

And so today was that day.  We planned and prepared before we went to lunch, knowing that when we returned we’d get down to business.  It was so great to watch the tribes busy, talking together about what to do this time around.  Many had plans drawn on paper, and most mentioned specific things they wanted to do differently.  Many groups decided that instead of trying to make their tower really TALL, really FAST, they’d focus instead on making it STRONG.

We got ready, and I set the timer.  They built and taped and created, and at the end of the challenge we stepped away from our structures.  This time, this happened:

WAY BETTER, RIGHT?! I was so proud of them!  And yes, granted, two of them still fell over, but sadly it was right at the last minute!  Those last two were upright and fine until the timer buzzed.  Bummer!

Like I said, we focused on what we can learn from this situation.  It wasn’t about the tallest tower, or whether or not it fell over.  It was about the team, the working together, the learning about our strengths and building on them.  And they totally rocked all of those things!  I can’t wait to see the other amazing things they are going to accomplish together this year!


We have a new theme in the room this year–WILD about learning.  I will add pics to show it later on, but just picture lots of animal print.  Believe me–it’s FABULOUS!

So one thing that I always do at the beginning of the year is create a set of groups that we use all year for a variety of activities.  These groups don’t change, unlike many others in our class.  I always have a name for the groups, which is usually based on our theme.  They originally started back when I taught 4th grade and needed to have groups to vote on laws that we made for our class state.  They were legislatures, in effect.  Back then they were called Districts, and then last year (during a construction theme) they were Zones.

As I thought about this year, I latched on to the “wild” part of our theme, and that lead me to thinking about tribes.  That tribe idea lead me to Survivor.  You know, the show on CBS?

Originally I was just going to use the idea so that I had something clever to call our groups, but then I realized that there was actually more of a connection to that show than I had realized.  We made a link to the purpose of the tribe on Survivor–to help each member of the group “make it,” to focus on the strengths that each member brings to the situation, and to work together to solve problems.  Then I remembered how on the show, each tribe gives themselves a name–a name that tells something about the group as a whole.

So a new tradition was born.  One of our first activities together was to create tribe names and explain what that name meant about the group.

May I introduce to you, the 5 tribes of Rm. 202:






I’m going to save the explanations for another time, but I wonder: do you think you can figure out what they may mean?  And if your kiddo is in one of those tribes, can you figure out which one?  Teachers: do you have groups like these in your classroom?  Tell us about them!