4th Grade Frenzy: 2016
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November 12, 2016

3 Sister Mosaics

These 3 Sister Mosaics are a huge hit every year with my class. So what are the 3 Sisters? Native Americans considered 3 crops to be most important: corn, squash, and beans. These crops not only provided a healthy diet but also kept the soil fertile.

These mosaics are easy and inexpensive to make! 

Various colors of 5" by 5" construction paper squares
6" by 6" neutral color card stock squares (I used dollar store file folders!)
Dried pumpkin seeds
Dried corn seeds
Dried bean seeds
Small cups to hold the seeds

1. Students glue their construction paper onto the neutral card stock background.
2. Students make a design with their seeds and glue them in place.
3. Allow to dry overnight.

Are you studying about the Lenape? LENAPE LIFEWAYS shares videos that are quite informative, and the students find them interesting. The video titled Gathering and Cooking mentions the 3 Sisters, and I use it as an introduction to the 3 Sister Mosaic activity. 

You can click HERE to get to the YouTube videos.

You may also like additional Lenape activities that are great for integrating comparing and contrasting skills.

This resource includes a sorting activity that is perfect for small group use with a Hula-Hoop Venn Diagram, a Venn Diagram recording sheet, a sample compare and contrast essay, and essay writing paper.

You can click HERE to get this resource.

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July 19, 2016

Author Visit!


Have you always wanted an author or illustrator to visit your school?
Finding an author to visit your school may be easier than you think! 
The following list contains the steps that I followed for our author visit. It may look like a lot, but it's really just broken down into small, manageable steps.

1. Start by Googling children's authors in your area. Make a list of possible visitors. Searching out of the area is fine too. Some may travel.
2. Narrow down your search to a few that appear to be grade-level appropriate.
3. Go to the local library or bookstore to browse the authors' books. Keep the authors on your list who appear to be a good match.
4. Contact the author(s) directly by email or phone to get details about price and availability. (Those in your area may provide a discount because no travel is involved.)
5. Discuss your plan with your administrator. It's always good to keep him/her in the loop!
6. Arrange to obtain funding. I applied for a grant from our Educational Foundation and won! You can also check with your PTA or local American Legion to see if they would be able to help.
7. Once you have funding, set the date for the visit. The hardest part is over!
8. Order some books by the author if funds are available.
9. Email the staff a Save the Date for the visit. You know we are planners and like to know everything ahead of time! I simply sent out a brief email stating that an author would be visiting and approximately how much time should be allotted for their students' experience.
10. If you order books, distribute them to classes when they arrive so that teachers and students have access to them prior to the visit.
11. Make a schedule. I grouped grade levels together in 3 meet and greet sessions. Plan what works for your school and the author's schedule.
12. Plan details. Our author/illustrator offered to sketch 10 reluctant readers/writers between sessions and to have lunch with 10 other reluctant readers/writers. I had each grade level chose students to participate, and had the names emailed to me. I then made a master list for the sketches and the lunch.
13. Contact the author three to four weeks prior to the visit, and finalize details such as equipment needed.
14. Secure the equipment and facilities needed within your building.
15. Send out final schedules to the staff one to two weeks prior to the visit.
16. Confirm with the author one week prior. Go over any last-minute details.
17. On the day of the visit, greet the author. You may want to have a few students with you for this greeting!
18. Have fun and take pictures!

*Some authors may provide order forms for signed copies of books that students may purchase.

Here is author/illustrator Michael Dooling. He visited our school this past spring, and the reviews from both staff and students were two thumbs up! We all learned about the process he follows when he writes and/or illustrates a book. Would you believe that he begins the process in an actual library?! He makes sure the kids know that it is okay to make mistakes. The experience was a huge hit. He is local to my area, but I believe he travels!

Here is a picture that one of my students helped Mr. Dooling draw:

Didn't she do an awesome job?!

Check out his site HERE.

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July 1, 2016

Boosting Staff Morale at School


There's no doubt about it....teaching is stressful!

Here are some fun and easy ways to raise the spirits of your staff or colleagues:

  1. Have random drawings at staff meetings for free and inexpensive prizes such as a preferred parking spot for the week or a new set of markers.
  2. Distribute bubble wrap during testing week or other stressful weeks. Include a note saying, "Pop 3 capsules every 4-6 hours or as needed for stress."
  3. Place a bowl of fresh fruit in the teachers' lounge.
  4. Write positive notes, and slide them under classroom doors.
  5. Plan and implement a staff member exercise group.
  6. Have students sing Happy Birthday to each staff member on their birthday.
  7. Check with local businesses for donations of coupons towards freebies and discounted services and products. Distribute in mailboxes or at meetings.
  8. Have a jeans day just because.
  9. Compile and distribute a list of businesses that provide educator discounts.
  10. Have a staff shout-out board! Read the shout-outs at monthly staff meetings.

Click HERE to get started for FREE!

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June 7, 2016

Teacher Hack: DIY Test Blockers

You have seen them in catalogs or maybe even bought them....test blockers to stop wandering eyes and increase focus. Our kids love these whimsical mini blockers made by my creative co-teacher with diaper boxes and Duct Tape. She simply cuts the boxes and adds random strips of Duct Tape, mixing colors and designs as she goes along. Many of us have Duct Tape left from some previous project. Why not ask the kids and your colleagues for leftover Duct Tape, and start making these blockers for yourself!? If you get the tape donated, your cost will be free!

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April 8, 2016

Motivated to Write!

Did you ever think back to how you learned to write? For me it was in 7th Grade English class. My teacher, Ms. Kisella, was a stickler for grammar, gave new meaning to drill and repetition, and made us show text evidence long before it was a "thing." But the best experience I remember from that 7th-grade class was pen pals! Ms. Kisella got us pen pals, and I fell in love with writing! Over the course of the next few years, one pen pal led to many and before I knew it, I had 5 pen pals within the United States and 5 in foreign countries. I can honestly say that I learned to write by writing to pen pals!

Research has shown that children are more likely to develop writing skills when they have a real audience, and writing to peers provides the perfect audience. This year I was fortunate enough to connect with Kathie at Tried and True Teaching Tools. We discovered that not only were we from opposite sides of the country, but we were also both interested in letter writing for our kids. We implemented our pen pal exchange in just a few easy steps.


Thinking about giving pen pals a try? Here are a few ideas that may help you get started:

1. Connect with another teacher in the same grade level as you. In terms of safety, it's probably best to meet the other teacher in person such as at a conference.

2. Send home permission slips. I like to inform parents when our learning will take us beyond our schoolyard. (I had 100% participation this year!)

3. Match up students. We made a Google Doc for this. Don't worry about uneven numbers of students. Some kids will love to have 2 pen pals!

4. Get started! Have one class of kids introduce themselves and ask a few questions.

5. Mail letters through the good ol' U.S. mail.

6. Watch the excitement when the kids get their 1st letter! This excitement doesn't wane either. They are just as excited with every letter. When that big brown manilla envelope arrives, the kids rush from classmate to classmate to teacher sharing their letters and then immediately want to start writing back! It's such an amazing scene to watch.

7. Smile as you witness written language skills improving and "hear" both sets of kids refer to their new friends as BFFs!

Ironically, what I thought would be an idea to help my students develop writing skills, has turned into a learning experience in other curriculum areas as well. We refer to the United States map often. We have read about the California Gold Rush and discussed the differences in climate between the two states. We talk about our California friends almost daily. Just the other day, as we were beginning our school day at 8:30 a.m., I happened to mention that our California friends were still in bed because they were 3 hours behind us. Many students responded that they would be moving to California so that they could sleep in! Time for a mini-lesson on time zones! The pen pal experience has turned into so much more than I ever imagined. Kathie and I now communicate regularly. I am beginning to realize that not only did the kids get new friends, but I got a new friend too!

Do you have any experience with pen pals? Click on the button below to hear Kathie's take on our experience!

March 17, 2016

Cup Stacking Games


Cup stacking is a fun activity that can be used to review a variety of skills. Students respond to a question, state the answer to a fact, or read the word on each cup before stacking. Partners can help each other stay on task, check for correct responses, or even time each other. Set up several cup stations around the room, and have students rotate through the different stations. Falling plastic cups may get a bit noisy, so try stacking them on the carpet. For rooms that are not carpeted, try asking your local carpet retailer for samples. My local store saved me a colorful bunch of carpet mats. Paper cups may be somewhat less noisy and can be a great alternative.

Here are some ideas for what to write on cups for use in review stations:

1. Sight words or high-frequency words
2. Numbers
3. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division facts
4. Short answer review questions for science or social studies
5. Definitions of vocabulary words

Already using cup stacking in your room? Try a fun alternative. Add some fun questions to each set! Kids love it when they get to these unrelated, just-for-fun questions such as Favorite color? Favorite subject? Birthday? Number of siblings? BFF?

Here is a stack that I made for basic facts with some fun questions mixed in:



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