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Water Cycle Mini-Projects

Every year, when teaching things I have taught in the past, I feel the need to change things up, if only for my own sanity.  I take an idea that has worked with other classes, and tweak it just a bit so it is different from what I have already done.  Then there are other years where I just turn everything up on their head, throw all of the old stuff to the wind, and try something new.  So this year, I tried some new things with the Water Cycle.
First, I decided to just ask the kids to teach me about the water cycle.  I didn't want them to just color a picture or all do the same artsy thing.  Instead, I took a page out of my Teach Me Something file and told them to teach me about the water cycle.  I gave them a 17" x 17" piece of paper (because I wanted them to fit on my windows and that was the size of the window pane) and said they could do anything they wanted as long as it taught me about some part of the water cycle.

The kids got to work immediately.  They were SO into this project (which you can find as a part of this file here.)  They looked online for ideas, combed through their science books, brought in materials from home to work in class with, and got down to business.  

After one week of work that they only did in class (about 40 minutes a day for 5 days), the students came up with this.

And this.
This group brought in a shoe box and created a diorama.

And this.
This one is a game!  They created game pieces and a die in addition to the board.

And this.

They were so creative!  I just love what they did.

Then I asked the kids to think about what it would be like to be a water molecule going through the water cycle.  We watched The Magic School Bus At The Waterworks (this is the affiliate link to the book you can purchase.  The video can be found online) and took notes about the actual journey through the cycle.  The students then wrote their own narrative as if the water molecule was them.  The students used this organizer to write their narrative.  

Next, I had them pose into 4 different "shapes" with their bodies.  I took their pictures then, on a sentence strip. the students drew themselves into the water cycle.

I hung the narrative and the sentence strips from the ceiling, which gave the sentence strip the appearance of a raindrop.  
All in all, I loved what ended up happening with the water cycle in this year's "update" of my projects.  

Picture Books for Social Studies

Social studies is my absolute favorite subject to teach.   Telling stories from the past, and finding connections to the present and future, is such a great way to reach the students and help to create scholars.  One way that I have found to effectively reach the kids in my room when it comes to social studies is through picture books.  Using text with a historical background that is written at my students' reading level is perfect for grabbing (and holding) their interest.  So I thought I would bring you 5 different books that I have found successful in my classroom for teaching social studies concepts.

(The pink links are affiliate links and will take you to to Amazon to purchase the books!)

The Gift of the Sacred Dog (Reading Rainbow Books) by Paul Goble
Native Americans

This is a great myth that tells about how the arrival of horses in North America (when European settlers came) impacted the tribes living here.  While this is a myth (and not nonfiction) it still offers a great glimpse into how Native American tribes lived, their culture, and how myths played a central role in storytelling.  It also lends itself to a great discussion about how horses changed the way Native American peoples, the Sioux in particular, lived. 

Sarah Morton's Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl (Scholastic Bookshelf) by Kate Waters
Colonial Times

When I teach the students about the original 13 Colonies, and the settlers who came from England to establish the new lands, I love using Sarah Morton's Day by Kate Waters.  It is a photo-journal written in first person point of view, that shows a typical day in the life of a Plymouth Colony girl.  Reading through this book, the students are able to see what hard work it was to settle these new lands in the early 1600s....and realize that even the kids had to work!  (There are two other companion books, Samuel Eaton's Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Boy and Tapenum's Day: A Wampanoag Indian Boy In Pilgrim Times that show life through the eyes of a Pilgrim boy and a Native American living at the time.)  I then like to have my students create their own "photo-journal" from the point of view of a Pilgrim boy or girl living around the same time.  Using details from the text, as well as our social studies books and other resources, the students follow the same pattern as the Sarah Morton text and describe life from sun up to sunset.

The Boston Tea Party (Graphic History) by Matt Doeden
American Revolution

Using this graphic novel, which tells the basic story of the events causing and leading up to the famous Boston Tea Party, is a great way to hook my reluctant historians.  Seeing the true details of the event come to life with comic book drawings and speech bubbles is enough to make each of my kids eager to learn more about this piece of history.  I then am able to transfer that curiosity into learning about the various battles of the revolution and the students creating their own comics about the historical events.

Betsy Ross by Alexandra Wallner
American Revolution

Ok...I know I already wrote one suggested book about the American Revolution, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE this time period.  There are so many different "American Heroes" that came out of this time, that I usually do my biography unit in conjunction with this social studies topic.  A nice book to use is this one about Betsy Ross.  It is a very accessible book for all students to read, contains a lot of history, and even addresses some historical myths surrounding this prominent lady.  Using this book, we are able to see just what life was like for Besty growing up, as well as delve into the genre of biography.  From here, I am able to branch off and do many different projects surrounding Mrs. Ross.  Two of my favorites are creating our own American flags and biography reports of other notable people during this time period.  I love creating both hanger people and Magazine biography reports.  They just come out so awesome...and all stem from this little picture book.  (click the links to access the files I use on TpT.)

If You Traveled West In A Covered Wagon by Ellen Levine
Westward Expansion

This is a nonfiction book with lots of little tidbits about what it was like to travel west along the various trails that cropped up after the Louisiana Purchase.  There is a great deal of information included in this book, all written at a level that the students can understand.  I love using this one as we are discussing various parts of the Westward Expansion movement.  It is useful for the entire unit!

So there you have it.  A few books that you can use to enhance your social studies curriculum.  What books have you used that you have found particularly useful in teaching social studies standards?


Comparing and Contrasting Settings

Each year, I try to refine what I have taught in the past to help make it more meaningful or standards-based than the year before.  I find that by making small tweaks to lessons I have taught before, I am able to better reach my students.

Such is the case with a lesson on setting that I did with my class this year.   You can read in full detail how I taught setting to my students here, but in this post, I wanted to share with you a tweak to the writing assignment that I found successful, and just a bit more rigorous.

In the story we are reading, Gregor The Overlander (Underland Chronicles, Book 1) by Suzanne Collins, there are two main settings that are in stark contrast to each other, New York City and the fictional Regalia.  The author explains in detail the various components of both of these settings to lay out for the reader just how different each are.  She does this to give the reader a sense that the character "isn't in Kansas anymore" when he falls into Regalia.

Just like in previous years, I had the students draw the setting of the story using evidence from the text.  This time, though, I had them draw BOTH settings.  Each and every little thing they put into the drawing needed some back up from the text.  I asked the students to use both direct quotes and paraphrasing, with page numbers from the book to indicate where the information came from.  By drawing both settings, the students could visually see the contrast between them.

Then, instead of just writing about one of the settings, the students wrote a compare and contrast essay on each of the two locations.  This helped the kids to see the motivations of the author in writing such detail about the two locals.  Students could see the one to one comparisons, giving them even more of a contrast in their minds as to where Gregor was and what he was doing in the story.

By really visualizing and writing out the details of the two settings, the students were better able to enter the mind of the author while they were reading.  It helped them to see that there are reasons for everything that the author does when writing, and that nothing is just there for the sake of being there.
Want the organizer I used with the kids for this particular lesson?  You can find it free here.

Want all of the setting lessons I use (so you don't have to plan them!!)?  You can find them here.

Think, Create, Do: A First Week of School Project

My overall theme this year in fifth grade is that we "Think, Create, and Do".  I want to instill a growth mindset into the students and challenge them to be innovators and creators.  So I went with a lightbulb motif throughout the class.  You can see a bit of that lightbulb theming here.

One of the first projects we did was think about how we would "think", "create", and "do" over the course of this year.  I asked the students to brainstorm on divided circle map the different things that they could "think" of this year.  This could include subjects we would learn, projects they would make up, problems they would solve (which then lead into our opening discussion on Genius Hour).   For "Create", I asked them to write down all the objects or ideas they would create.  Projects, inventions, friendships, etc...  This one was probably the hardest because I asked them to be a bit abstract in their thinking.  Finally, for "Do", I wanted to them to think about how they would put all of that into action.  How would they actually create the friendships or the projects they thought up.  This was to be definite actions.

Then, to publish, they drew a huge lightbulb and wrote all the info on it.  The "filament" of the lightbulb was their name in cursive writing.

I had them stuff the lightbulbs like we did the colony balloons for the past few years and hung them upside down like a string of industrial bulbs above our cabinets.

This was an easy project that got them thinking right at the beginning of the year...and provided a cute little display to boot!

Ditching the Reading Log

One thing that I have changed up in my classroom this year is the use of a reading log for nightly homework.  While I still require my students to read for 30 minutes a night, I am not asking them to fill in a reading log anymore.

I know...there was just a huge cry of "But HOW do you keep them ACCOUNTABLE???!!!"  I could hear it through my computer ;)

I too had a bit of that same cry.  I mean, I know that just because my students fill out a reading log doesn't mean they are reading and I wanted to do something that was showing me they were actually reading, but on the other hand, what was I going to do???  So today, I thought I would share with you some things I am doing in my room right now that have helped me to keep track of the kids' reading without assigning a reading log.

Reading Conferences

For the first time, I have begun to hold reading conferences with the students.  It sounds very complicated and overwhelming -- reading conferences -- but really, all I am doing is calling the students for a 3 minute talk about the book they are reading.  Here is how it works:

When I have a few minutes here or there, I call over one of my students.  I ask him to tell me the title of the book he is reading and to recall some of the important parts of what was read.  You should see the kids light up when I ask them to tell me about their book!  They just LOVE it!  I mean, I love talking about what I am reading too, so I totally get it.  They just really liked telling me what was happening in the story.

What was great about this is that the kids who weren't reading really stood out to me.  They were hemming and hawwing over the books, had trouble naming even one they read, and just had nothing to say.  But I know those are the same kids that would have filled in a reading log anyway...they just faked it.  It was harder to fake when I was talking to them.

I then asked the students to tell me what types of books they typically gravitate towards.  Would they like to pick up a fiction book?  Mystery?  Nonfiction about sports?  What do they like?  This will help me later when recommending books for the kids.

I recorded all of the information on this sheet here.  It is very simple, but serves its purpose.


This summer I was introduced to a new form of technology called Padlet.  Basically, it is a bulletin board that the students can post on to record their thoughts on any matter of subject.   So once a week, for a total of 15 minutes, I have been doing what I call "Book Brag Padlet".

Padlet and book recommendationsI give my students the Padlet link and access password, and they are faced with a blank bulletin board.  At the top, I have a reading response prompt.  So far, I have done three with my class.  The first was a regular "brag".  The students had to tell me about their book and convince me to read it.  The second one asked the students to discuss the setting of their book (since we are using the Setting in 5 Days lessons right now, it fit perfectly)  and the last was to tell me an "Aha Moment" in their story as well (since all of my kids, coincidentally, are reading fiction books....AND we are using the Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading strategies)

What I love about this is that the kids are so invested in using the platform.  They are just pulled in.  They really like seeing each other typing at the same time and reading about each other's books.  They are learning about not just their own setting, but the setting in 33 other books.  I also love that I can instantly tell if someone is reading or not.  They are writing "on the spot" and that is very hard to do if you have nothing to write about because you aren't reading anything.

Currently Reading Book Cards

Great way to keep track of who is reading what in class.
Finally, in my classroom library, I have a pocket chart with laminated cards for the students to write the title of the book they are currently reading on.  Using a vis-a-vie marker, the students write their reading book and display them.

If they ever feel the need to talk to me about the book, they can move their card to the "Let's talk about my book" section and I will immediately call a conference with the student (of course I will also talk about books in passing with the students but this is a bit more formal of a discussion....actual time set aside.)

Once the students have finished the book they are reading, they will erase the title from their card and fill in a book spine to add to our classroom "bookshelf" (which you can read about more in detail here.)

So that is about it for now.  So far, I am loving what is happening in my room surrounding reading.  It is becoming very important to the kids and they are still being held accountable...even without a nightly homework reading log.

What is one thing you have done to get away from reading logs but still hold your students accountable for their nightly reading?
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