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LEGO Glasses Get to Know You

Great back to school activity for upper elementary to get to know your new studentsThis year, on the first day of school, I did something that I have never done before.  We broke out some glasses equipped with LEGO studs and the bricks and created representations of ourselves to introduce each other in our class.
How?  Well, here is the basic run down.

These LEGO glasses are perfect for doing a get to know you activity in upper elementary.This summer, I went to the Get Your Teach On conference in San Diego.  While there, Hope King showed us this STEM unit that she does in her classroom.  The first activity was a get to know you type thing and I instantly fell in love.  I just couldn't get the idea out of my brain.  So I broke down and ordered these glasses here. (my affiliate link)
Wonderful back to school get to know you activity for fifth grade.On the first day of school, I told the kids that we were going to introduce ourselves to each other but first we needed to build representations of our personalities.  Each child got a pair of glasses and LEGOs (that I raided from my own children's stash).  They used the LEGOs to create things that might mean something to them.  For example, on my glasses, I put a tall pink LEGO to represent my oldest daughter with a medium sized blue next to it and a smaller blue for my two sons.  I also added a red and green piece to symbolize an apple since teachers are synonymous with apples.  Once I modeled a few, the kids got to work.

As they were working, I was walking around asking them to explain some of their choices to me.  It was an awesome way for me to get to know the kids.  I heard about their favorite foods, details about their families, where they went on vacation, and even some made up stories that they wish happened to them. It was a wonderful way for me to begin building a connection to my students right off the bat.

Once the glasses were complete, I took a picture of them wearing the glasses. They then diagramed their drawings using a template I created (and you can find here.)  I had them dismantle the glasses and put everything away.  These glasses were too expensive for them to keep ;)  I will find another use for them later on in the year.  
The next day, the students used these drawings to write a paragraph explaining the glasses.  Everything they diagramed was to be explained in the paragraph.  This became their first writing sample and a wonderful assessment of their basic writing skills.   Did they indent?  How was the spelling?  Were the sentences simple or elaborated?  It gave me a baseline with which to start instruction.

Finally, I put the pics that I took of them on a shared Google Slide and each of them logged onto the computer to type their paragraph.  This, again, served as a jumping off point for me to see the tech skills they came in with.  Could they get online?  Did they know about text boxes?  Did they panic when something went "wrong"?  
Combining back to school with Google Slides and LEGOs

And that is it.  Total, with the writing and all, this took about three sessions in class.  Can you say BEST TEACHER EVER???  ;)   Well, maybe not, but the kids did love it, got to be creative, and they wanted to come back the next day.  What else can we ask for?  

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Biography Magazine on Google Slides

Great project on Google Slides.  Give the students a template and let them research.I am a sucker for inventive publishing.  I mean, who wouldn't love taking a 5 paragraph essay and writing the final draft in a cool and different way?  I do that all the time in my class.  So when it came to publishing this year's biography writing, I just couldn't let them write a simple essay and draw a picture.  

Now, if you have followed along with my in the past, you know that I have creatively published this biography before.  I LOVE doing these Hanger People biographies but I felt like this year, since we are so into Google Slides and using our chrome books (which I have a class set of thanks to DonorsChoose.org!)  we could take these biographies in a different direction.  So instead of the hanger people this year, we created magazines.

Organizing the biographical research in the prewriting section helps the students to craft clear paragraphs.To begin, we of course started with the writing.  Being 5th graders, I knew that if I just told them to write a biography, they would be lost.  So instead, I helped to scaffold the writing for them.  When scaffolding, I use a style very similar to Paragraph of the Week/Essay of the Month in that I break the writing down into pieces.  We start from the inside out, with the content of the middle paragraphs first, then move onto the introduction and conclusion paragraphs.  I used these organizers to get them going.
Now, at this point in the year, we have done many lessons on research and navigating around Google, so they were able to fill in their organizers pretty quickly.  However, I did notice that many of them were focusing on the minute details of the subject's life.  They really wanted to talk about how many brothers and sisters the subject had and left out that the person helped to strategically win the American Revolution (or whatever they did that made them famous.)  So during the prewriting phase, we started with their middle life FIRST.  I wanted them to really focus not on when the person was born, but what he or she did that was vital to this time period.  I did A LOT of modeling.  This modeling during the prewriting really helped the students to construct nice, research-filled paragraphs that told the basic story of the life of the subject, focusing on the contribution that person made to the Revolution.

Once the writing was done (using all of the organizers), the fun part came.   Through Google Classroom, I assigned the students a magazine template that I created (you can get it here.)  You should have seen their little faces when I showed it to them!  They couldn't wait to get in and put their written work into the space!  

Creative way to publish student writing, using a magazine template instead of a piece of paper.For each paragraph, there was a page to fill in.  I wrote instructions in the "speaker notes" for the students to follow as they were typing.  So even though there was a template to follow, they still  needed to find pictures and adjust the fonts so that the space would be filled.  The kids really felt as if they were creating a magazine when they were typing!
Wonderful way to display biography reports.  Use Google to create a magazine template!Then came the front cover.  This page had them all giddy.  The students needed to find a picture of their subject and write a headline grabber that told of the subject's most important contribution.  They LOVED this part.  And when the magazine overlay was put on top.....you should have heard the oohs and aahs!

I am very lucky in that I have access to a color printer at school, so we printed them all out, bound it together with some long paper, glue sticks, and a staple gun, and I laminated the cover.  OH MY WORD.  I could not stop staring at them.  They came out GORGEOUS!  

Students in 5th grade display their "magazine" biography reports on figures of the American Revolution.


Fabulous project on Google Slides that you can have your students complete for any biography subject.Honestly, this is one of my most favorite things I have ever made.  The scaffolded organizers helped ensure that the kids were writing coherently and the magazine template just made for a magnificent display that encouraged others to read that written work.   Get your copy of the entire resource here.

What is one alternative publishing idea that you have for biography writing?  Please share below!

Read Aloud in the Upper Elementary Classroom

How does read aloud look in an upper elementary class?One of the nonnegotiables in my classroom is read aloud time.  I build it into my schedule so that every day, rain or shine, I read aloud to my students.  I get quite a few questions about how I actually do read aloud and what it looks like in my classroom, so I thought I would write about it here to give you a clearer picture of what read aloud looks like in my room.

At the end of every school day, about 20 minutes before the bell rings for dismissal,  I have my students clean up our classroom using the 60 second clean up, they write their homework in their planners, we pass out papers (homework, flyers from the office, etc...) and then they pack up their stuff to go home.  When the kids are done packing up, I have them join me on the rug.  Since this is an individual process (some kids take longer than others) I head to the rug at this time and sit in my chair.  Kids join me as they finish up and we usually start talking about the books we are reading.  This is super informal and becomes a time when I can just chat casually with a few students about books.  I write nothing down.  I don't have a script.  We just chat while we wait for the rest of the kids.    This little chat I have is very enticing to the kids too.  They like to talk with me about books so they generally tend to get packed up quickly so they can converse.

Once *most* of the kids are on the rug, I begin reading aloud.  Most of the time, I am reading from a chapter book so I just continue on from where I left off.  Other times, say if we just finished a chapter book, I will read aloud a picture book (though I generally tend to read those during lessons throughout the day to be honest.)  

Here is what I get asked the most when I talk about read aloud: What are your students doing when you read aloud?

The answer is simple.  They listen. 

That is it.  

My kids listen as I read aloud to them.  They don't take notes.  They don't do a comprehension activity.  They don't respond to the text orally or otherwise.  They just listen as I share the written words with them.  

Why do I do this?  There are lots of reasons but the biggest one is that it helps me to create readers.  You see, the kids listen to me fluently reading, enjoying the book, and can visualize the story.  They get taken away into a world that they may not have been to before.  They see the joy of reading first hand.  I KNOW that I have introduced books that the kids would have never picked up on their own and they become hooked on the entire series.  I KNOW that I have shown kids that books are a doorway to a new land of imagination and fun.  I KNOW that I have opened up channels of discussion for the kids to talk about books with me and each other.  I KNOW that I have created readers in my class.  All because of the read aloud. 

So what books do I read aloud?  Well, I tend to choose different types of novels.  In the beginning of the year,  usually find books that I know will engage the kids and are a part of series.  The reason I do this is so that the kids then have the option to read the rest of the books in that series.  If they like the book, there is something else to read that continues the story.  As the year goes on, I choose books that are of all different genres.  Below are a few of my tried and true favorites that are almost always a hit with my students.   (the links are affiliate links that will take you to Amazon to purchase the books.)


A perennial favorite with my fifth graders.  This is one that helps to set the tone for the rest of the year. It talks about bullying, empathy, and how people can change.  It is a great one to begin the year.

Another book that is great for the beginning of the year.  This is one cliffhanger after the other.  There are giant bugs, wars between humans and human-sized rats, an underground society, a quest, and a whole lot of action.  This story has all the basic elements of storytelling as well (plot, character, setting, conflict, theme) that it is a must have to get your kids just thinking about these ideas.  This is the first in a series an my students are always checking out the others after we read this one.

This book is the first in a series.   The story takes place in a dystopian society where it is illegal to be a third child.  The main character is a third child who must hide his entire life.  It is one that has a long beginning and takes a while to get into.  It is one that I KNOW the kids would put down if they read it on their own.  But once you get to page 41....magic.  It is utter and complete magic. 

An endearing story about a robot stranded on an island.  The robot learns the ways of the animals and how to survive in this unknown land.  It is the first of two books that my students begged me for.  I think it helped that I read aloud to them using the robot voice the entire time the robot talked ;)  
If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I am always recommending books that I find valuable for my classroom.  You can scroll down through my feed for dozens of recommendations that have resonated with my students over the years.  (Follow me here if you aren't yet ;) )

So what about you?  Do you read aloud to your students?  How often?  When?  What are your favorites to read aloud?

Postcards from the Battlefield

First person perspective using primary sources to create postcards from American Revolution Battles.I like to have the kids write historically from the perspective of someone who was at that event.  Meaning, when I want them to write about, say a battle of the American Revolution, I don't just have them list off facts, I like them to take on the persona of a person who witnessed the battle and is telling the story.
Such was the case when I had my students learn about the battles this year.  I had them research the battle using this form here.  It was basic, just asking them to fill in the blanks on basic information about the battle itself.

First person perspective using primary sources to create postcards from American Revolution Battles.Then I had them create a postcard (I used this template in google slides...though if you have no access to tech you can print it off and have them handwrite it.)  They wrote a first person narrative in letter form to a relative explaining the details of the battle they researched.  

I asked them to make up an address and create a stamp. This could be any sort of picture they thought would make a good stamp during that time period.  Some kids drew one and took a pic to insert.  Others found pictures online that fit with what they were going for.

First person perspective using primary sources to create postcards from American Revolution Battles.Next came the fun part.  The students created the picture portion of the postcard.  Some of them created a picture using clipart and the shapes tool on Google Slides. 
Others found several pictures online that would match what they described in the battle and used that.  
Then we cut the pieces out, glued them together, laminated them, and viola....a postcard was made!
First person perspective using primary sources to create postcards from American Revolution Battles.

And that is it.  It was a quick and easy way to have the kids research and write about the battles.  This could work for any historical event really, though since we were researching the battles, we went with that in my room :)  

MUST HAVE Picture Books for the Upper Grades

I love using picture books in my classroom.  There is just SO much that can be taught with them and through them that excluding them from my fifth grade class just because they are "for younger kids" is a travesty to me.  Picture books can be full of rich imagery, wonderful lessons, complex characters....you name it, picture books have it.  

There are SO many different picture books that I use in my class throughout the year, but for this particular post, I thought I would focus on 10 of my favorites and how I use them.  (all of the links to the books are affiliate links on Amazon.)


I See You is a book about homelessness. This book literally changed the course of my classroom.  It is a wordless book that I picked up to read to my students the last 10 minutes of class one day.  At the beginning of the book, we see a little boy who notices a woman, illustrated in black and white.  As the book goes on, we see that she is homeless and that the other people in the book are not treating her very well.  It is a heart wrenching book that really hit home with my students.   We had a very long discussion at the end of the day that I wasn't really expecting, to be honest.  They began to see that maybe we weren't treating those experiencing homelessness very well, and embarked on a 3 month long service project to help those in our area and school district who might be homeless.  Even if you don't plan on doing a homelessness service project, this book is worth a read.


First Day Jitters (Mrs. Hartwells classroom adventures)

This one is PERFECT for the first day of school!  I read it aloud to my students and then had them use emojis to describe how they were feeling in class that very moment.  Doing this on the first day helps the kids to see that reading is important AND their feelings have a place in school.  To read about the activity (and pick up the sheet so you can do it too), follow this link here.









Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation (Jane Addams Award Book (Awards))

This is a fabulous book about a little known or talked about chapter in American history, particularly in California.  Mexican families, in the time around WWII, were not allowed to go to school with their white counterparts.  This is the story of a family who fought against that, winning a landmark decision that paved the way for Brown vs. the Board of Education.  This book is particularly timely and makes for a great discussion with your students.  I found that my kids were very interested in this story (since many of my students are of hispanic dissent and connected with it.)






The Man in the Red Bandanna

I love this book to use on 9/11.   It talks of a real life hero who put others before himself.  He was a 24 year old man (the same age I was that day) who helped bring people down from the high floors, then went back up twice to get more.  Ultimately the towers fell on his last trip up.  This is a story the kids immediately relate to, telling them enough details of the tragedy for an upper elementary kid who wasn't around at the time to understand without getting too in-depth.  It focuses on character and acts of selflessness.  I wrote more in detail about exactly how I use this book on 9/11 in my classroom here but you can use this book at any time of the year, particularly in a study of personal character.




After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again)

This book is about failing and picking yourself up again.  It tells the story of Humpty Dumpty and what happens AFTER he fell off the wall.  It has a fantastic message that shows just because you fail once the world is not ending.  Pick yourself up and get back out there....even though it may be hard.










The Library Book

What an adorable book to kick off the joy of reading in your classroom!  It is about a little girl who has nothing to do on a rainy day, so she heads to the library.  Told in verse, the little girl finds so much joy in the pages of the books she is passing.  The characters call out to her and "join" her as she reads.  It shows what magic is available just from reading books and is the perfect way to start the year in your room.  Just read it on day one to set the tone for how you view books and your library and then let your kids loose on the books in your library!






The Whispering Town (Holocaust)

There are many stories of people who stepped up to help those being targeted by the Nazis during WWII, but this story is one that must be shared.  It is the fictionalized account of one family who, along with their entire Danish town, helped nearly every Jew living in Nazi occupied Denmark escape to the safety of Sweden.   This story shares how dangerous it was, how these people were putting themselves at great personal risk, to help the Jews escape what would mean certain death for them.  In the end, 7,200 of the 7,800 Jews were ferried to Sweden.  Through the pictures and eloquently written words, the students instantly see how working together for a cause you believe in can be worth the great sacrifice that there may be in the end.




The Word Collector

This is such a simple book but a very powerful one.  It tells the story of a little boy who loves words. She collects them, organizes them, and makes them important.  Then, he shares them with the world. The story is perfect to capture the magic of words.  It is great to introduce a writing unit or to just read on its own.  My own son was captivated by the book.  He read it over and over and over again.  It is a must have in any library.








Creature Features: Twenty-Five Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do

My kids went gaga for this book.  It shares 25 different animals and the reasons for their specific coloring patterns, facial features, etc...  Some reasons were as you would expect (i.e.: camouflage) and others were not (I won't spoil them, but they are so fun!)  My kids loved trying to guess what the reasons were and were mesmerized by the fascinating facts held within the covers of this book.  This is a great jumping off point into cause and effect and problem and solution.   If you teach an animal unit in upper grades, you could use it too.  They also could just research a different animal not mentioned in the book and write their own page in the same style.  So many possibilities with this one.




A Letter to My Teacher

Honestly, this is one that I just couldn't bring to read aloud this year as I knew it would cause massive amounts of uncontrollable sobbing to take place.  This is an end of the year book for sure, when you reflect together about how far you have all come together and how much the year meant to each of you.  But be warned.  You will cry.  



So there you have it.  10 books that I love to have in my upper grade library.  Each of these books gets read nonstop throughout the year.  My fifth graders just love them!  They are passed around constantly and I never can keep them on the shelves....which, I would say, is a win for all.  :)  What picture books are must haves in your room?

Want to read about even more books to use in your upper grade classroom?  My friends below also have joined me in writing about their favorite books.  Hop on over to read all about them!





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