Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Creative Classroom Celebrates Women's History Month

Maya Angelou once said, “How important it is for use to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!”  Since 1987, we have celebrated the immense contributions and achievements of women throughout the month of March. Women’s History Month is a chance to not only celebrate a diverse group of women but to also educate others, especially our students, on the impact that these women have had on the history of our country and society. 

So how can you create meaningful opportunities for students to learn more about the roles and importance of women throughout March when you have a limited amount of time that you can devote in your classroom? It may seem like an impossible feat, but I can assure you that there are quite a few creative ways to balance the demands of your curriculum with celebrating Women’s History Month. 

Create A Women's History Month Bulletin Board

This is the Women's History Month Interactive Bulletin Board that I created for my own classroom! If you'd like this kit to create your own bulletin board, click here.

Create a bulletin board in your classroom that contain images, quotes, or other important information about specific women. You could select a group of women that is specific to your subject matter like famous female authors in ELA or female scientist throughout history in your science classroom. Often times, I will use this bulletin board not only as a way to brighten up my classroom, but also as another learning opportunity for my students. One way that I do this is by including higher order thinking questions for each image or quote that is on the bulletin board. Students are given these questions on a handout and they have the entire month to complete this assignment. It makes a perfect early finishers activity or extension activity that gives students extra practice in a variety of skills like analysis, making connections, and other critical thinking skills.

Another idea would be to let your students create products for a Women's History Month bulletin board. This is the ultimate way to give your students ownership in their own learning. One option would be to have your students select one woman who inspires them or is important to them. Students will create a mini poster that includes a photo, brief biography, and a short explanation of why this woman inspires them. You can use these posters to create multiple bulletin boards that display students' work and will allow your students to learn about a variety of important women.

Bell Ringers = Pique Students’ Curiosity + Practice Critical Thinking Skills

Bell Ringers are a simple and effective way to not only pique students’ interest on a topic, but to also ensure that students are still practicing critical thinking skills while learning more about that topic. In my opinion, it is one of the most effective ways to introduce students to concepts and get them thinking about topics when your time is limited. In my classroom, I normally devote 8-10 minutes for a bell ringer activity. This includes time for students to answer questions and time for discussion. 

During Women’s History Month, the bell ringers focus on a diverse group of women and a variety of higher order thinking questions. Each day my students are introduced to one woman. They learn about the her accomplishments through an infographic that contains a photo, background information and/or a quote. Students must use that information to answer a text-based higher order thinking question. When creating my bell ringers, I try to include a mixture of well-known women like Harriet Beecher Stowe or Rosa Parks and women that the majority of my students will not easily recognize like Indira Gandhi or Dr. Mary Walker. In addition,  I also include a variety of questions that students must answer to give students multiple opportunities to practice a variety of skills. My favorite question types to include are inferences, making connections, analyzing quotes, and supporting a position/idea. 

Each year I am constantly amazed at the responses and feedback that I get from my students.  The level of student engagement during these bell ringers is astounding at times. There are moments that you could hear a pin drop, which is definitely not always the case in a middle school classroom. The level of engagement can also be seen through my students’ writing and class discussions. It’s always so refreshing and often times enlightening to hear my students’ perspectives on different quotes and accomplishments. I love the way they can view a situation or quote in a brand new way that I had never considered before. 

If this sounds like something you would like to try out in your own classroom, I have created a small sampling of bell ringers that I have used in my own classroom. These bell ringers are also a part of a larger resource that is available in my store.

Click here to grab your FREE week’s worth of Women’s History Month Bell Ringers. 

What are your favorite ways to celebrate Women's History Month in your classroom? Leave your suggestions in the comments below to win a Women's History Month product of your choice from my store!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Celebrate Valentine's Day in ELA Without Sacrificing Content

One of the hardest things about being an English teacher in this fast paced world is being able to take time to celebrate holidays or special events in your classroom without sacrificing content.  It can be a struggle to balance the demands of your curriculum and the need to venture off script sometimes. While analysis and critical thinking are extremely important skills for students to master, let’s face it sometimes they need opportunities to think creatively and express their learning in a way that doesn’t require them to cite textual evidence every few minutes. Thinking creatively doesn’t mean that students won’t be thinking critically and showing their understanding of a concept or skill. 

Here are just a few suggestions on how to celebrate Valentine's Day with your students in ELA without veering too far from your curriculum:

1. Collaborative Poetry: If you are in the middle of a poetry unit, let your students take a break from analyzing figurative language and digging deeper into the poem itself. While creating a poem can be a daunting challenge for students, it becomes a much easier task when students are allowed to work together and bounce ideas off of each other. I always find it so interesting to listen to the brainstorming and discussions that students have as they work together to create their poem. 

If you are looking to add another degree of fun to this project, create a list of topics on sticky notes or scraps of paper. Fold the paper and place them in a cup or bucket. Let each group select a topic from the cup and tell them to keep their paper folded until everyone has had a chance to pick. Once all groups have selected a topic, explain that each group is responsible for creating a poem that is based on the topic they have selected. Here are some of the example topics I have included before: "A dog who is in love with the pug next door", "Asking out the most popular girl in school",  and "Teenage Girl's Dream Date".

2. Literary Love Letters: We all have our favorite characters or stories who have had an impact on our own lives. Wouldn't it be nice if you were able to express your love for these characters and stories? Valentine's Day is the perfect day to give your students a chance to write a letter to a character, story, or author that explains why this particular person or piece of literature has impacted their lives. It is not only a great way to get students thinking and writing creatively, but it can also be used as a tool to assess your students' writing abilities and offer academic feedback to your students.

Don't have time to create your own activity? Well, you are in luck! You can find the Literary Love Letters: Creative Writing Task in my TPT store. This unit includes everything that you will need to implement this activity in your own classroom. It also includes differentiated options and editable features that allow you to meet the needs of your individual student needs.  

3. DIY Valentine Cards-Literary Love Edition: One of my fondest memories of celebrating Valentine's Day when I was in school was giving and receiving Valentine cards from my classmates. There was something magical about trying to pick out the perfect cards to give to your friends and the excitement of seeing the cards that they had picked out for you. I'd venture to say that regardless of how old your students are that Valentine cards remain a focal point of this holiday for them too. 

Why not combine this timeless tradition with literature? A DIY Valentine Cards activity that is based on a favorite literary character or a recent story that students have read in class is the perfect solution to celebrate Valentine's Day without veering away from content. In this activity, students can create at least one Valentine that is related to a character or story. In addition to creating the Valentine, students can write a short explanation that explains the message behind their Valentine or how it relates to a certain character or story. 

Interested in having students create their own Valentine Cards? Click here to download the FREE resource, DIY Valentine Cards: Literary Love Edition.

4. Short Story Ideas: If you really don't want to stray from your curriculum at all while celebrating Valentine's Day, there's even an option for that. Find a short story that focuses on relationships, love, or that may  have an anti-love theme. My suggestion would be to read a short story like "The Chaser" by John Collier. This thought-provoking tales centers around Alan Austen and his desire to buy a love potion to win over the love of his life. The events in this story beg readers to ponder the question "Can money really buy love?".

"The Chaser" can be used to teach a wide variety of skills from main idea to making inferences to argumentative writing. It all depends upon the amount of time that you want to devote to instruction and the level of your students. For my 6th graders, we use our normal close reading strategies to tackle this text. During the first read, students are responsible for reading to answer the question, "OMG! What Happened!?!". This helps them practice writing summaries of what they have read and also allows me to see who gets the story and who may need more assistance going forward. During our second read, students dig deeper to analyze Alan Austen and his motivations. Students use this information to decide whether they think that Alan is truly in love with Diana or if he is simply obsessed with her. It is always quite entertaining to read my students' stances on this particular topic. The wisdom of middle school students can be quite enlightening. 

Do you have any other suggestions for celebrating Valentine's Day that I haven't mentioned? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Kindness Matters: Motivational Cards for Students and Teachers

From the beginning of my teaching career, promoting kindness and positivity in my classroom has been a top priority for a few reasons. I wanted my students to feel comfortable and to know that I am one of their biggest champions and cheerleaders. In addition, I  wanted to create a classroom community where students are not afraid to be themselves or make mistakes. I wanted my students to know that even though things may get tough or seem impossible that working hard and giving their best effort was appreciated. I wanted my students to embrace the philosophy that it's okay to make a mistake and that every success, no matter how big or small, should be celebrated. 

In the past, I have used a variety of methods to recognize my students and promote positivity. Here are photos of two of my favorite ways that I have used to instill kindness and encouragement into my classroom community and the inspiration behind my newest idea.
A few years ago, I discovered an amazing idea while browsing Pinterest. Student Shout-Outs are a simple tool to allow students to recognize their classmates. At our school, teachers are allowed to recognize students with Bulldog Brag Reports and I thought that this would work perfectly with that reward system. I created all the resources that I would need to implement this system and introduced it to students on the first day of the new school year. Students were allowed to grab shout-out slips at the beginning or end of class to recognize their classmates. At the end of each week, I selected one entry to be the "Student Shout-Out of the Week". That student would get a small prize while all the other entries would get Bulldog Bucks. On Monday, I would hand out the shout-outs to any students that had received them. It was so heartwarming to not only read the kind words that students wrote to one another, but to also see the reactions and smiles from the students who received a shout out.

Another way that I have used to encourage kindness and positivity with my students is through personal notes. Many years ago, I created teacher post cards and had them printed at Vistaprint. These post cards were used to encourage students who were struggling in my class and to recognize student growth and successes. Although it can take quite a bit of time to write these notes to my students, it was definitely time well spent once I would see the reactions of my students. Their smiles, happy responses, and hugs are one of the thing that made teaching such a rewarding job. 

This brings me to my newest idea to promote kindness and positivity in the classroom. Since I have experienced success with both of these tools, I contemplated how I could combine them to create an even better strategy.  The result of my brainstorming was the creation of Kindness Matters: Motivational Cards for Students and Teachers. Each motivational card contains an inspiring quote or words of wisdom that are easily relatable to both students and teachers. There are a variety of ways that these cards can be used to not only recognize or inspire students and teachers, but also allow students to spread kindness and encourage others.

 photo www.GIFCreator.me_dmVvwe_zpswq1uh7lr.gif

Here are a few ways that you can start using these cards in your own classrooms today:

Idea #1: Print out these cards on cardstock and laminate them.  Use the laminated cards to create a bulletin board or classroom display.

• Idea #2: Print out these cards and keep them in your desk until needed. If you see a student or colleague who looks like they need a dose of encouragement and positivity, hand them out to those students or teachers.

• Idea #3: Print out these cards and use the blank side to write an inspiring notes to students or teachers. 

• Idea #4: Print out these cards and keep them in a place that is accessible to your students. Explain the purpose of these cards and set expectations for students to use them. Encourage your students to write notes that recognize or inspire their classmates or teachers.

Do you have any other ideas on how these cards can be used to promote kindness and positivity in your classroom and school? Leave them in the comments below.

Thank you to Darlene from ELA Buffett and Pam from Desktop Learning Adventures for hosting this awesome blog hop that celebrates #kindnessnation and #weholdthesetruths. Check out the other blog posts from the Secondary Teacher-Authors below.