Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Use Halloween Candy as a Math Lesson

I found this activity over at and liked it.  It's an activity that interests kids because it involves candy.

Click the link above (it takes you right to the activity) and download a .pdf of a candy log:

Give it to students a few days before Halloween.  If you're having a Halloween party at school, it should go out before then.  Students can keep a record of what kinds of candy they got during trick-or-treating.  Even if some kids don't go trick-or-treating, they can keep a record of what kinds of candy they got during the Halloween party, or what they ate over the weekend.

During the week after Halloween, collect the data forms and use them to teach students about various kinds of graphs and charts, like circle graphs, bar graphs, line graphs or pictographs.  Combine everyone's data and hang a chart of your findings around the room.

From the link, here's an example using tally marks:

This could also be used to apply skills for probability, fractions and percents ("What percent of the class received candy bars during Halloween?").

The activity works for several holidays.  Have them keep a record of what kind of dishes they eat during Thanksgiving, what kind of presents they receive during Christmas, etc.  It's a great way to keep them on their toes.


credit: theteacherscorner

Monday, October 25, 2010

Teaching Tips of the Week (October 25-31)

  1. Here’s a great tip from The Tip Jar:  use metal cookie sheets with raised edges in your spelling, math or word work centers.  Students can use magnetic letters and numbers on the sheets for their activities.  The sheets will give students space to work, and will stack up neatly for easy storage.
  2. Check out this cool project from High Tech High:  10th graders applied their math and science skills to design a model of a home that has minimal impact on the environment.  The site contains full details about the project.
  3. Houghton Mifflin has a great proofreading interactive activity on their site that allows students to be the editor for a TV network.  They must choose a passage and keep a sharp eye for mistakes to correct.
  4. Teaching Young Children provides tips for making different kinds of puppets for the preschool classroom (
  5. Finally, the 2011 Cray-Pas art contest in underway!  If you have students gifted in art, download the entry form for them and encourage them to enter their work for a chance to when cool prizes, such as art materials and their artwork imprinted on a tote bag!  Winning students will also have their teachers and schools awarded prizes.  The deadline is December 10, 2010.  Visit the site for more details! 

(image source:  sakuraofamerica)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Made of Awesome: Weekly Writer Activity

Here’s a great way to add creative writing to your week:  Weekly Reader (another company I quite enjoy) has a Weekly Writer serial writing activity that features some of your students’ favorite authors! 

From the site:

“Each week, the Weekly Writer presents another cliff-hanger. Ideally, the entry leaves readers eager to know what happens next.”

The Weekly Writer entries are composed by some of the most popular, award-winning writers in children’s and young adult literature, such as Walter Dean Myers, R.L. Stine, Lois Lowry, Chris Van Allsburg, and Stephen King.  They write the beginning of a story which culminates in a cliffhanger, and students can read and submit their additions to the story and have them posted on the website for all to enjoy!

Jeff Kinney, author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series has written this week’s story.  Imagine your students’ wonder as they contribute to a story written by their favorite authors!

This week’s submission is due by Thursday.  Be sure to check the teacher’s page for tips on how to implement this activity.  Check the site periodically for authors added to its roster and new stories!

Here are a few lesson plan ideas:

  1. Weekly Writer could be ideal whether you’re looking for a writing center/station, writing workshop lessons, a long-term creative writing project or an enrichment activity.  Students can read the beginning of the story each week individually, in groups, or as a class.  Then, they can work on the story during the week, edit and fine-tune their ideas, and submit their completed work to Weekly Reader.  The class can also check the serial story’s evolution on the website.  Celebrate as a class if one of your students is chosen to have their work posted on the site!
  2. As the website suggests, this activity is great for exploring story elements and author’s craft.
  3. After reviewing the stories, have your class start its own serial writing activity.  Over the course of several weeks, students can begin an original story and add to it in installments.  Post the updates on a classroom blog.
  4. Read the story beginnings to the class once a week, brainstorm some thoughts as a class, and then assign a daily journal writing activity that allows students to continue their own version of the story.  When the final version of the story is posted, read it together as a class and have students share their work to everyone or small groups.
  5. Use Weekly Writer to initiate an author study.  Have students research the authors and read some of the popular novels they’ve written.  You can also have your class research the history of serial writing. The site mentions Charles Dickens, yet there are many other authors who got their start by writing stories in installments.  Encourage your students to find about other authors and stories that use this technique.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Teaching Tips of the Week (October 18-24)

  1. If you're looking for a math game for your class, try Neopets' Math Nightmare, an amusing game that allows them to quickly type in the answers to addition, subtraction, multiplication or division problems before an alarm wakes up a cat.  There are different levels to the game, and it's a great way to practice mental math!
  2. Here's another game for students to practice their subject/verb agreement:  Verb Viper provides sentences for students to choose the correct verb to feed the snake.
  3. Assess your students' understanding of the three branches of government as they play The US Mint's Branches of Power Game.
  4.  If you’re studying Native American tribes, use OurStory’s lesson that includes a reading guide to a Newberry Honor Book, and a chance for students to design their own Pueblo pot.
  5. The Federal Trade Commission has a site, YouAreHere, designed for 5th-8th graders to learn about business markets, and how to be good consumers.  The site is designed as a virtual mall which highlights different aspects of business.  The West Terrace of the mall shows how to be savvy consumers who are aware of advertising techniques for products.

source:  YouAreHere

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

***LIFESAVER #2: Reading Analysis ***

If you haven't guessed yet, I simply love Scholastic.  They have tons of great resources, some of which are their classroom magazines.  One magazine is called Storyworks, and Scholastic's site has reproducible worksheets for teachers to use with the magazine's features, but these particular sheets can be used for almost anything.  They are especially useful for Lifesaver lessons if you do not have real lesson plans.

Why This Works:

It's fairly simple for students to do.  The sheets have basic analysis for any piece of fiction or nonfiction.  Questions about character, theme, plot elements, main idea, and other things are good review for students.  It's all presented pretty simply (Storyworks is designed for elementary students), but it's versatile for several grade levels.  Whether it's a picture book read to 3rd graders, or a novel for middle-schoolers, story elements and important facts are essentially the same.

If you discover that you don't have lesson plans, one thing substitute teachers often do is make students read silently.  As I've previously discussed why indefinite, "kill some time while I figure this out" reading has its faults, reading with purpose can be a lot more beneficial to students and subs.  

This Lifesaver is not simply busy work, since it does go through lengths to have students explore reading comprehension.  It takes up a good amount of time, even if students are reading a short text.  It's also versatile.  You can grab a literature textbook or classroom magazine, select a story or article, and have students work on this.  You could also just let them read their independent reading texts, whatever stories they may be reading themselves or what may be in the classroom library, and let them analyze their particular reading.  It's so flexible that it pretty much fit almost anything they could be reading.  It doesn't have specific questions for specific texts; it's broad enough for several different grade levels and classrooms.

A Few Things to Consider:

The only thing you have to think about is how you're going to keep this with you.  There are only a few options.  One is to print 20 or 30 of these and keep them with you at all times.  Of course, if you do that, you should probably only have one set and just tell students to write on their own paper so that you don't have to keep printing it again (even though, inevitably, someone will write on your copy).

You could just keep one copy of the worksheet and, if the need ever calls for it, you could write down the basic outline on the board or overhead and just tell students to follow what you've written on their own paper.  If you're lucky, you may have a document camera (which are the coolest!) to save you some effort.

Depending on the grade and ability levels, you may want to explain, omit or even lengthen some parts of the worksheets.

I hope this helps!  

Again, regular teachers, this may be useful enough for you to use in your real lessons!

Check out Storyworks if you get a chance!


credit to:  Scholastic Storyworks

Monday, October 11, 2010

Teaching Tips of the Week (October 11-17)

  1. The Roald Dahl Dahlathon is running now through December.  The beloved authors' site is challenging young readers to read three of his books and complete a downloadable reading journal in order to win prizes!
  2. Algebra can be engaging to students playing Lure of the Labyrinth!  This unique tool is “a digital game for middle-school pre-algebra students. It includes a wealth of intriguing math-based puzzles wrapped into an exciting narrative game in which students work to find their lost pet - and save the world from monsters!”
  3. No matter the grade level, use wordless picture books to assess your students’ mastery of story structure and literary elements.  Have them write short story or reader’s theater script to accompany a wordless picture book.  This lesson idea can get you started.  Not only could this be a great way to express creativity, but this can also help your struggling readers with comprehension.
  4.  Science teachers:  consider visiting Wonderville and Proton the Cat when you want your class to apply their studies of sound waves and hearing.  It's a really well-designed site!
  5. Amuse your students’ word sense with a list of Tom Swifties.  Use the provided examples to stimulate their word skills, and you could even have students devise their own Tom Swifties using their spelling and vocabulary lists.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Restroom Breaks: How Do You Deal?

One of my least favorite things about subbing, especially since I mostly work in elementary schools, is dealing with a few basic, biological needs:  restroom and water breaks.  In fact, I prefer older middle grades (4th and 5th) partly because you don't have to escort the entire class on a restroom break all the time.  It seems like with Pre K-1st, their tiny little bladders require hourly restroom visits.  Then, you have to trek down the hall, maintain silence and order, wait for everyone to go, keep kids from playing in the restroom, get them out quickly, go all the way back to the room, and then resume instruction.

On some days subbing with older students, there appears to be an endless stream of students asking me, "Can I go to the bathroom?  Can I go get a drink of water?"  The first couple of requests, I usually comply. But then I may notice the same kid will get up maybe an hour or two later.  Or a girl will get permission to go, and suddenly everyone has to go.  It gets annoying.  It also doesn't help that many teachers and schools find a million different ways to handle restroom breaks, so there's no real standard to follow.

I've been visiting some teacher boards lately and, just since the beginning of the school year, several topics have arisen about whether restroom breaks are required (atozforums) and how many restroom breaks are normal (proteacher) and so on.  This sparked some lively discussion as teachers shared different philosophies that ranged from absolutely no restroom breaks during instructional time EVER (particularly due to vandalism) to letting students get up and go, without asking, whenever they want.

Generally, I have no set way that I handle restrooms.  I usually let a few kids go, and I deny several requests if I think it's getting excessive.  If enough students ask, I'll take the entire class to the restroom.

Occasionally, with older grades, I'll let one table or group go at a time.  I like doing that because students can keep working and quit asking me to go, since they realize their groups' turn for a break is imminent.  The only problem is that this only works in trustworthy classes.  Some groups will go and linger too long, and I've also had a teacher escort a group of boys back to report that they were all playing in the restroom.

I've seen somewhere that subs can make their own restroom log for their classes.  Just have students sign in and out with the times that they left and leave it for the teacher, who will then see how long students were in the restroom and how frequently they went.  I haven't tried it yet, but I'm seriously considering it.  It would also be helpful to me to see exactly who has already gone and how long ago they did.  I sometimes find myself asking students with uncertainty, "Didn't you just go?"

I mentioned on AtoZ that one classroom method I liked was one I saw in, I believe, sixth-grade at one school.  Because of restroom abuses, teachers in the entire grade printed out small restroom passes marked with 8 or 10 boxes.  Students had to write their names on it and keep up with it each week.  Whenever they needed to go to the restroom or get water during class, all they had to do was give the teacher this pass.  No questions asked.  The teacher hole-punched a box on the pass and let them go.  The catch was, once those boxes have all been punched, there were no more restroom breaks for the student until the following week, when they all get new passes.  So if a kid wanted to get up and go three times in one day, fine, but they've already used nearly half of their breaks for the whole week.  If I recall correctly, students who had unpunched boxes at the end of the week got some small reward.  I think I like that method because it was simple, pretty fair, forced kids to use discretion about their restroom visits and, because the whole grade did it, made it easy to follow for subs to know what to do.

What do you think?

How do you deal with restroom breaks?


Monday, October 4, 2010

Teaching Tips of the Week (October 4-10)

  1. Help students practice their math skills with a deck of cards instead of paper and pencil.  Here is a list of several math games to play simply using a deck of cards (via letsplaymath).
  2. iCivics' Argument Wars is a great place for your students to practice applying their knowledge about the US legal system and the Constitution.  The online game gives them the chance to choose a character and argue actual Supreme Court cases.  Use the cases and information provided as a backdrop for some lively classroom debates, such as whether or not it should be Constitutional for schools to search students' belongings.  It's good practice for them to do what lawyers do:  build support for their arguments.  You can also listen to actual oral arguments in the cases.
  3. TryScience's Extreme Challenge combines students' interest in extreme sports with science.  By exploring the site, they can learn why traveling on a snowboard in a crouched position is more aerodynamic for faster movement, or how fiber typing different muscles is important for athletes.  Then, they apply their science knowledge to compete in the online games!  Try the Quick Games to practice the challenges without registering.
  4. Addition MATHO is an online game which allows students to practice basic addition to win a BINGO challenge.
  5. StudentTreasures Publishing offers an exciting way to get your class motivated about writing.  Through their publishing service, you can guide your students in a writing process that culminates in an actual published, hardbound book!  The program offers a couple of free packages:  a class book where students can contribute a page, or a school-wide deal that offers $2,000 in free books.  See the site for more details and examples, like the ones shown below.