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The Magic of Saying Hello

Starting off the day on a positive note is a good way to get buy in from the students and keep them engaged all day long.I will admit it.  I didn't always speak to my kids when they came into my room in the morning.

I know...a collective gasp of revolt and judgement just went up in teacher-land.  

But it is true.  My kids would come into the room and I would sit at my desk (or whatever space I had in the front of the room) taking attendance, lunch count, processing notes the kids gave me, or whatever other 100 things we as teachers need to do in the morning as the day begins.  My kids would get to their seats and immediately get to work on a morning packet or reading or whatever else I assigned for them as morning work that particular year.  There was very little interaction between anyone in the room.  Everyone was serious and got to work.

Now, this worked for me for many different reasons, not the least of which was that it was quiet in my classroom.  No one was off doing anything they shouldn't be doing.  No one was out of control or out of their seat.  I had complete control of the room without saying a word.

But what I didn't have was any connection at all.   My kids were doing what they were supposed to, and throughout the day they were learning, but there was no real connection between them and myself.  I was just a lady standing in front of the room teaching them stuff.  

I could have been anyone.

This year, though, I wanted to change that.  So I made ONE little modification to my morning routine that literally changed everything in my classroom.  I now say hello to the kids in the morning.

I stand by my door as the kids grab breakfast.  One by one, as they come in, I say hello to them and call them by name.

"Hello, Nico."

"Good morning, Addy"

"Hi, Cameron"

The kids then say hi back (some nod or just look at me, but they are slowly coming around ;) ) and head to their seats, unpacking, eating, reading....just as they did before.  

Now, you are probably saying to yourself, how on earth did this change everything in your classroom?  Well, you see, by acknowledging them by name I have let each child know that *I*  know that they are present and a part of the classroom.  My kids aren't wondering if I even know who they are anymore.  They feel important and seen.  Because they have a sense of import, the kids are more focused, more engaged, more involved throughout the entire day.
Honestly, before I started saying hi to the kids in the morning myself, I thought those who did were crazy.  I mean, there was just so much noise in the morning.  So much time was taken out to say hi.  The teacher was just standing in the back greeting people.  Surely the time could be used better. 

But no.   This 15 seconds I take per child in my room sets us on a positive and productive track for the entire day.  My kids are more responsive and on task.   And why is that?  Because they feel more connected to me as a person.  I am someone who notices them and cares that they are there.  I am no longer a lady standing in front of the room teaching them stuff.  I am Mrs. Moorman who knows they are there and cares.

All because of a little magic word....hello.

Marshmallow Volume

Hands-on lesson to teach the concept of mathematical volume.Introducing the concept of volume to my students is never as easy as I always think it is going to be.  I mean, I usually just assume that when I explain that volume is basically length x width x height, the kids will think, "Oh, yeah!  That's like area with one more thing to multiply!"  It never goes that way.  I mean, never.  Ever.
So this year, when I set out to introduce the concept of volume to my students, I knew I needed to do something memorable that would help the concepts sink in.  So what did I do?  I broke out the trusty marshmallows.  Yes.  You heard me right.  Marshmallows.

You see, mini-marshmallows are basically a cube shape.  They aren't perfect, but they are close enough that using them to help my students understand the concept that volume is the amount of space something takes up in cubic units was just what my students needed.  I gave each student a quart-sized baggie that was pre-filled with about two handfuls of marshmallows.  I purposefully didn't count them as I wanted all of the students to be using different amounts of marshmallows as we progressed through the lesson.

Once they had the marshmallows, I gave the students a recording sheet and we began to work.  Using a whole group  lead by the teacher method, we began on the first task.  Each of the six tasks had the students working on ideas of volume in a progressively more difficult manner.  They were introduced to the idea of dimensions, layers, "missing" cubes, and so much more.  We didn't really talk about length x width x height at all, but by the end of the tasks, the students were seeing the arrays that the marshmallows were forming and coming up with that algorithm all on their own.  It was amazing!

After the six tasks were conquered, I wanted the students to do a hands-on performance task, taking all of those ideas we learned together and apply them on their own.  I gave them another recording sheet, this time as a performance task.  They used all of the marshmallows in their baggie and needed to create rectangular prisms with specific guidelines in mind.  They were to diagram the prisms, record the dimensions, and find the volumes of each.  I *thought* this would be easy for them, given our work together on the previous six tasks, but I was mistaken.

Working on the performance task was quite a challenge for many of them.  Having to think of their own rectangular prisms, proving they were different from each other, and visualizing this concept on their own was difficult.  There was a lot of productive struggle going on as I walked around and guided the students towards creating their own rectangular prisms.  
Overall, though, once the lesson was done (which took us about 2 hours), the students really did have a much more firm grasp of what volume is.  Now, when I say layers or I ask them what the dimensions of a drawn 3-D figure is, the students are confident that they know.  Manipulating the marshmallows really helped to solidify a firm understanding of this big fifth grade CCSS concept.  

Would you like to resources I used in this lesson?  You can pick them up here.  

How have you taught the concept of volume in a hands-on way?  Let me know below!

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?  


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?

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