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Remembering September 11

As September 11, 2001 moves from a tragic event of our lifetime to a piece of history relegated to a show they watched on the History channel for our students, I find it more and more important to stop and recognize the day with my fifth graders each year.   This year was no exception.
Talking about heroes in a  fifth grade class on 9/11We began the day discussing what it means to be a hero.  You see, while I wanted to talk about the happenings on the day, I didn't want just a recount of exactly what happened.  I wanted to focus on a more human side of it all and thinking about what it means to be a hero was a good way to start that off.  

We then started reading The Man in the Red Bandanna. (this is my affiliate link and will take you to Amazon to buy the book)  This is a story of a 24 year old man (my age at the time of the attack) who, when faced with unknown consequences, ran back up and down flights of stairs in one of the Towers to save people who were stuck.  We then looked at how this young man exemplified aspects of what it means to be a hero.  The students had a very good discussion about what it means to be a hero and how ordinary people can be heroes.  
Two books that are good to read to fifth graders on September 11

There is this video that goes along with this story that was produced by ESPN (since the man at the center of the story was a college athlete.)  I have to say, for ME this 13 minute piece was too much to bear.  I was a bawling, hysterical mess while watching it in my home to preview.  So I put it on the students Chromebooks and they all watched it with their headphones.  I did give them an out and say they didn't have to watch it if they were sensitive, but every child watched it and, while moved, were not wrecked like I was.  

Then, to show them that not all heroes died during that day, I showed them Boatlift, a 12 minute video narrated by Tom Hanks about the boating community who dropped everything to evacuate people out of Manhattan.  It was uplifting and inspiring and showed how ordinary people can be heroes.  We then revisited our circle map and added any new information to it.

Next, the students took to the Chromebooks and researched the various heroes of 9/11.  On a google slide (click here for the link to the slide you can share with your students), inside the shape of two rectangles meant to replicate the shape of the Twin Towers, the students wrote short bios of the people who emerged as heroes on that day.  They were so inspired reading these stories and really found it fascinating the sacrifices people made for those they didn't know.  We printed the towers and cut them out.  One of my students couldn't use the Chromebook that day so I just printed out a few stories for her and she used those to create her towers with paper and pencil.

Using the same painting style we used last year in our Wonder rainbow displays, the students created a background for the towers.

Next, we read 14 Cows for America, (again, my affiliate link) a story about how a Maasai tribe gave 14 cows, a precious life-giving resource, to America.  We talked about how people react to tragedy and heal from it.  I then asked the students to write a list of 10 ways they could be a hero in their own lives and 10 ways they could help others overcome when faced with great odds.
On the background (which had dried by now), the students wrote the list of ideas they brainstormed to accompany the towers of heroes.  It came out perfect.  



This entire project took a total of two days.  The first day, we read the books, watched the videos, painted the backgrounds, and began the slides.  The second day, everything was put together.  All in all, I am SO happy with how our remembrance and lessons of the day came out.  The students walked away with an appreciation of the bravery and heroism that took place in the face of tragedy.  

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First Day Jitters in Upper Elementary

Using First Day Jitters in upper gradesToday was our first day of school (my 20th first day!) and I wanted to share a short, yet fun activity to get your kids engaged in academics right off the bat, yet still throw in a little fun along the way.  So I saw an idea to use First Day Jitters and Emojis online and ran with it (I can not, for the life of me, find the original post...I think it was in a FB group...when I find it I will link it.)
I read my students First Day Jitters (Mrs. Hartwells classroom adventures). (affiliate link) In the story, the main character doesn't want to go to a new school on the first day because she is nervous.  At the end of the book, we realize that the girl is actually the teacher.  Even teachers get nervous!

Using the picture book First Day Jitters in fifth gradeWhen the book was over, I shared how I was a little nervous about starting the day as well.  I mean, what if the kids were out of control?  What if they didn't listen?  What if they hated me?  But I also said that I was excited to meet them all.  A new year means new possibilities and there was SO much possibility with my new class.  Then, I shared that when I finally did meet them, and now that we were about 45 minutes into school, I was happy to know that the kids were amazing and inquisitive and funny.  

This lead into a discussion amongst the students about how they felt on this first day of school.  I asked them to turn to their neighbors and share two feelings that they were having and why.  After a few minutes of talk, I asked kids to share out.  There were a great deal of emotions going around the rooms, and lots of great reasons for those emotions!

First Day of fifth gradeThe kids then headed back to their seats as I projected a full list of emojis onto the screen.  I asked them to think about which emojis would represent their personal feelings about the first day of school.  Now, the emojis I projected were yellow face emojis.  I didn't let them choose anything in the emoji world, just the ones projected.  I wasn't really looking to see the poop emoji on their pages!  
Once they picked the emoji, they drew it on a piece of paper, and wrote a paragraph (or a few sentences if that is all they could write) detailing what that emoji stood for and why it was a good representation of their feelings on the first day.  Doing this enabled me to get a first day writing sample in a relatively stress-free setting.  The kids were enjoying the emoji aspect so they weren't so worried about the fact that they were writing.  Click here to get the simple form I used.  


In fifth grade, use First Day Jitters and emojis to get the kids writing on day one of schoolThen they cut out the emoji faces they drew, attached it to a picture of them that I took (I asked them to pose with their bodies so that they weren't just standing there) and rewrote the paragraphs as a final draft.   They came out SO cute!   I hung them on the wall and now we have a nice bulletin board to start our year off that is not only fun, but content based!

Have you used First Day Jitters  (my affiliate link will take you to purchase the book) with your upper grade class?  What are some ideas you have for how to use it with this age group?

Book "Shelfies"

Today I am going to share a nice back to school project that I have done with my students the past two years that gets them thinking of our classroom as a safe space to share about books.  The students take book "shelfies", which is basically a selfie taken with a book in hand.  I am not sure what took me so long to write about this, but I figure even two years later is better than not writing at all ;)   So here we go.

Back to school idea to share a "shelfie" (book selfie)During the first week of school, I begin to emphasize just how much children's literature means to me.  I share my favorites with the kids, previewing books I *know* we will read and ones I hope to read.  I also share other books that have meant something special to me or have moved me in any way.  I bring these conversations up as naturally as possible, but most definitely during our read aloud time at the end of each day (this is sacred time in my class.   There is not a day that goes by that I don't make some time, any time, to read aloud to the kids.)   

During this time I also ask the kids to share their favorite books with me.  We engage in discussions throughout the week, and then I ask the kids to come to school the next day with the book in hand just to show me and talk to me about it it.  When they have their favorite books, the kids use my phone (or chromebook or whatever) to take a selfie with the book in it.  I gave them this template so that they could then import the picture to look like it is inside of a phone or iPad.  (if the template isn't opening for you, try using your personal drive, not your school drive.  Sometimes school drives block downloading)

Using "Shelfies" to show our favorite books and discuss our likes and dislikes as readers.

After the selfie is done, the students write a paragraph detailing themselves as readers.  Do they enjoy reading?  Why or why not?  What types of books peak their interest?  What genres would they like to explore?  What books do they not tend to pick up in the library?  I want them to write about themselves as a whole, not just one specific book.

Then, I display all of this on the board so that all can see the books that were brought in as well as get  to know their fellow readers.  More than one student has been turned onto a new book because of the shelfie that they noticed on the board!

Have you done something like this before?  Please share below!

Growth Mindset I Am Poems

5th graders wrote I Am poems about growth mindset.We have been working with the idea of growth mindset all year long so as a "final" recap project, I wanted the kids to do a little reflective writing.  Using an "I Am" Poem template, the kids wrote their own I Am poems with a growth mindset twist.

Now, there are hundreds of "I Am" Poem templates online to choose from.  I happened to use this one here, but you can use any of them.  I didn't make copies, rather, I did a sort of "guided writing" with the kids.  I wrote the sentence stem on the board and then did my own example.  Since I wanted them to write with a growth mindset twist, I modeled that for them.  

I am a hard worker who strives to learn all I can.
I try to keep in mind that if I don't get it the first time, I will if I try again.
I hope that I will never lose my ability to persevere.  

Using an I Am poem to write growth mindset poems.After I modeled, the kids were then able to write that particular line on their own.  We did this for the first half of the poem.  Then I wrote the rest of the sentence stems and they were off to write independently.  
To display the poems (which really did show a great deal of reflection and focus on a growth mindset), I gave the students an outline of a lightbulb.  Using a concrete poem style, the students wrote their entire "I Am" poem around the outline so that, when it was complete, the lightbulb shown through the words.  
Fifth graders using reflective writing to talk about how they exhibit growth mindset.

I took a pic of the kids "holding" the lightbulb and then they drew themselves somewhere, anywhere, where they would have to have a growth mindset to succeed.  
Fun way for 5th graders to be reflective and artistic at the same time using growth mindset.

All in all, this came out just as I was envisioning. It was reflective, academic, and a tad bit fun.  The kids enjoyed it and loved reading each others' work.  

Wonder and Kindness

As Spring Break approaches, I find that my fifth graders are in need of some reminders as to what it means to be kind to each other.   In general, they are sweet kids, but at times the words they use and actions they take, particularly on the playground, aren't the kindest.   

Our read aloud for the month is Wonder by RJ Palacio so the theme of kindness fit right into our room.  It just so happens that a new book, We're All Wonders by RJ Palacio, a picture book intended for younger readers to access the story, came out this week as well.  So the timing was perfect. (the two links above are my affiliate links and will take you to Amazon to buy the books.)

I began by asking the students what kindness is.  We brainstormed a list of ideas and created an anchor chart.  Then I read the picture book to the students.  Because we had just finished Wonder, they were so excited to read this new version.  When we finished, I asked the kids to think of all the ways, in both the picture book and the novel, that people were not very kind to Auggie (the main character).  The kids were able to fill our entire circle map in no time.  It was easy to recall how people would scream in his face, recoiling at the way he looked. They remembered the names Auggie was called and the no-touching game that was played.  The instantly told me about all the awful things that happened to him.

I then asked the kids to brainstorm ways that, if they were in the novel with Auggie, they could be kinder to him.  Again, they had no problem thinking of ways they could be kind to Auggie.

Next, I asked the students to think about their own real life.  I asked them to reflect upon how they personally treat others and how they personally could make better choices when speaking to others.  Here is where things got a little challenging.  You see, when students are talking about fictional characters, or reading news stories about OTHER kids they don't know being treated unfairly or unkindly, they know exactly what they would do if they were there.  Because they aren't there.  They know they never will be there.  But when confronted with their own lives, and real possibilities for what they would have to do to step in or change situations, it is a bit harder for them.  So I asked them to brainstorm 15 different ways they PERSONALLY could show kindness to our classmates.  (I drew a lot of inspiration for this next part from Study All Knight's FREE Kindness unit, which you can grab here.)

The students then used tempra paint and painted  15 (or so) rainbow sunshine rays.  They also drew their own Wonder-Inspired portrait.  (I have previously done this before, but had them focus on precepts and writing....if you would like to do that, click here.  It is one of my fav lessons too!)

The students then glued their Wonder portraits into the middle of the rays,  used Sharpie to outline and write the 15 ways they could show real kindness in their lives (one way per ray) and were done.  

They came out amazing.  
Kids brainstorm ways to show kindness in the 5th grade.


What is better though, is that the past two days, my students are actively trying to be kinder to each other.  They are watching their words.  I have seen people purposefully go up to those who tend to wander during group time and invite them into the group.  I have seen students smile at others just a bit more.  It truly has been a Wonder.

Right now, for a limited time, Amazon has the book available for $3.99!!!  Snag up to 4 copies at that price.   Use my affiliate link here to get your copy ASAP before they are all gone!!

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