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Expanding Sentences Effectively

One of the areas my students struggle the most is with writing expanded sentences.  They are so very good at writing short, simple sentences with no detail.  You need an essay full of short, three word sentences and my students are your people!

But good writing isn't made up of simple sentences alone.  An author plays with sentence length to really convey meaning.  I want my students to be able to do the same.  I want their writing to sing the way that any other author's does.  However, that is no simple task!  The kids are content just writing about Jim going to the park with no further detail.

So I decided to set out and see if I could teach my students how to expand sentences in a clear, coherent way.

We have been talking a lot about how to make narratives better.  I am always asking them who did what when where why and how?    So I thought I would use that same idea to get the kids to expand their simple sentences.  I gave them a very simple sentence.  

The man went shopping.

I then asked them to draw it.  After about 2 minutes of drawing, the students shared their sketches. Every single one of them had a different drawing.  Some added a picture of Target.  Some drew the man with a car.  Others had him on a skateboard.  There were some with a grocery cart.  The sentences were so different because the sentence wasn't detailed enough.  

Working together, the kids and I started asking ourselves who was the man?  Did he have a name?  Was he old?  How did he get to the store?  By car, plane, roller-skates?  If he came by car, what kind was it?  A Corvette? If so, was the man wealthy?  The students brainstormed this and more on a simple template I gave them.  
We then began to revise the sentence so that we could expand it.  I had the students write the expansions right on top of the original sentence.  Once it was fully expanded, the students then set out and redrew the sentence.  This time around, the kids were all able to get a much more similar picture to each other!   This really helped to drive home the point that the more details there are in a sentence, the easier it is for the reader to visualize  the intended meaning.

The next day, I had the students work in pairs with the same idea.  This time, they wrote the expansion in pairs instead of as a class.  They used the same ideas from the previous day and expanded a very short sentence.  I asked the pairs to then write their sentence on a chart paper to compare what they each wrote.
Finally, on the third day, I had the students each expand a different simple sentence on their own.  They used the same expansion strategy of asking themselves Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? and then drew a picture of their expanded sentence.  Once these were all done and displayed, I made it more of an interactive activity.  The students put a sticky note over their drawing.  The other students then came up and tried to draw the pictures themselves.  They tried to see how close the pictures would match based on the expanded sentence!

Overall, this set of three lessons really have set the kids up on a great path towards more detailed sentences.  They are more conscious of what they are writing and how.  Our next step is to venture into revising using those third expanded sentences.  Making them clearer, more precise, and less long winded (because, let's face it, the kids liked to over expand at times ;) )  

If you would like my exact lessons and all of the printables, you can pick them up here.

Book Display Chains

I am always trying to find new ways to get books into the hands of my students.   I have a huge library full of great novels, but sometimes they get lost in the shelves.  Kids just don't notice them all because of the volume of books available.  So this year, I came up with a way to allow the students to notice those hidden books and get their hands on them --- Book Display Chains.

The idea is basic and simple.   I have this space under my whiteboard that was empty.  So I bought four of these Three By Three Seattle Chained-Up Ball with Chain Photo Display, Silver (41108) 
from Amazon (this is my affiliate link) and hung them on the wall.  Then, I placed between 5 and 6 books on each chain.  The books just hung there on the chain, prominently on display.  
When a student wanted to read the book, they simply walked up to the chain, took it off, and walked back to their seat to read.  I then would replace the book with another from my library that needed a little spotlight love.  The student, when finished reading the book that was grabbed from the chain, would place that book back in our library.
And that is it.  I found that by having this chain display, the students truly were reading books that they wouldn't have otherwise.  This really did help to highlight lesser known books and I really love it for that.  If you would like to see this in use (by me ;) ) you can watch this video here on my IGTV.

Have you ever used any type of display system like this?  What was it?  Please share below!

Visual Book Logs

Great way to combine Google Classroom (Slides) and reading together!Each year, I try to find unique ways to help my students display their list of books that they have read over the course of their time with me.  This year, I had the students combine their computer skills with their writing skills to create a fun display that was a hit with everyone who came across it!  (not to sound boastful or anything....they just turned out really cool.)
This year, my kids created Visual Book Logs.  

Using screenshots, the students keep track of all the books that they read for that yearTo begin, I gave my kids a template with a "tablet" on one side and empty space on the other.  Super simple.  (you can grab it here)  Using the Book Record Book Shelf that they have been keeping all year long as a guide, I asked them to search the internet to find pictures of the books that they had read this current school year, either at school or at home.  They then took screenshots of those books.  Since they are using Chromebooks, the screenshots were saved right to their drive.  They then were to insert those screenshots "collage-style" into the blank space on the tablet template.  On the tablet side, the students took, and inserted, a selfie with their favorite read from this year.  

I then asked the students to write four paragraphs about themselves as a reader.  Though I didn't provide them with any sentence frames or guided writing scaffolding, I did outline the paragraphs as so:
P1 -  How they see themselves as a reader
P2 -  My favorite read this year
P3 -  How they have grown as a reader
P4 -  How they seen themselves as a reader in the future

I did ask them to add a picture to match what was being discussed in each paragraph as well.

Then it was all printed out, the Visual Book Records were laminated, and it made for an awesome display!  This didn't take very long, just a few days of working during language arts.  The essays did take a bit longer than the screenshotting, but the kids were pretty good at writing and typing by this point in the year, so it wasn't overwhelmingly long.  I would say this project is definitely a winner and something I will do again!

Math Problem Index Card Tower: A FUN Review Game

Fifth grade math review gameI don't know if you spend a lot of time over on Instagram, but I have to say, the teacher community there is full of amazing ideas.  I am always being inspired to get out of my comfort zone and try something new.  This little review game (though I use that term loosely) was one of those things I saw on IG, tweaked, and used in my room...with much success!  So I thought I would share here on my blog with you so that you could replicate as well.

My friend Katie at Adventures of Ms Smith posted about how she had her kids create a tower of index cards using math problems to earn those cards.  I thought that was genius!  I mean, I had heard of creating tall towers using index cards only, but to have the students EARN each card they used was the perfect twist.  So I got to work to see how I could use that idea in my room.

We have been working on the various fraction operations, with subtraction specifically our focus for the week.  So, using a simple table on PowerPoint, I created 24 "task cards" with subtracting fraction problems on them.  There were three levels of problems.  The easy ones were straight like denominator problems.  Medium level were mixed numbers with like denominators (and no regrouping).  The hardest were unlike denominators.  Each level problem, once solved, could be redeemed for a certain amount of index cards.  

Easy (which I put on pink paper) = 1 index card
Medium (which I copied on blue paper) = 2 index cards
Hard (copied on green paper) = 3 index cards

I had the students get into groups of 3 and gave them all of the math problem task cards.  Solving them at their own pace directly on the task card, the students would walk their work up to me when they thought they had the correct answer.  If it indeed was correct, I handed the student the proper amount of index cards.  The students worked together to solve the problems, helping each other to make corrections along the way.  If the problems were solved incorrectly, I simply handed the task card back and told them to try again.  I did not give any hints or clues as to why it was wrong, as I wanted the collective brains of the group to work it out.  For most of the students, the problem in this particular case was that they were adding instead of subtracting OR that they did not simplify (which was specified earlier as a requirement.)
Once the kids started correctly solving problems, they then had the index cards on their table.  They could work at the building and problem solving at the same time.  The kids had to work together on the building as well, as index cards are rather flimsy, so finding the perfect way to stack them proved to be challenging.  I did not show them how to bend the cards, or even tell them to do that.  Trial and error reigned supreme once the building portion began.

Some groups decided it was best to solve all of the problems first, then build with all of the materials at once.  Others decided to hold off and see if they could build a tall tower without all the cards available to them.  It was a group choice.

After about 45 minutes of math solving and tower building, I told them time was up and the tallest tower still standing (as there were MANY falling towers throughout the work time!) was the winner.  The kids who won got a pat on the back and the satisfaction of knowing that they built the tallest tower.

And that was it.  The kids reviewed the math concepts and had a little fun while they were at it.  They were engaged and focused the entire math block.  What is really great though is that this game can be used for anything.  No topic is off limits here and the game rules can still be applied.  I foresee us playing this game many more times this year.  

Diary of a Teacher on Strike

Thoughts on the strike from an educator who went through the LA Strike 2019On January 14, 2019, the teachers in my school district went on strike.  There are many reasons why I, along with 30,000 of my fellow Los Angeles teachers, decided that walking on the picket lines in front of our schools, in the rain, to fight for the future of public education was our only option.

We were striking because our kids deserve smaller class sizes in which they can receive more individualized attention to meet their learning needs. We were striking because our kids need full time nurses and librarians. We were striking because our kids need less testing and more teaching. We were striking because public education is at a crossroads. There are those around us who would like to see public education crumble and who would love to see charters take over and let public education fall by the wayside.

But we, the teachers of LAUSD, think differently. We set out to walk the line to fight for our future and the future of the schools and the children we hold so dearly. Because a Los Angeles without public education is a Los Angeles we don’t want to see. Our children deserve more. And we walked the line for them.

The following is my day to day reflections on our strike efforts.  It is written diary style, in a sort of stream of consciousness and captures my own thoughts as to what occurred that day on the picket line with my fellow educators.  


On that first day, in the pouring rain, I walked outside my school with my signs on my umbrella, wearing my red poncho, and chanting for my students. I walked for smaller class sizes. I walked for more nurses and counselors. I walked for less testing. I walked for charter regulation. I walked to save our public schools.  And the support I felt was electric. 

Cars were honking.  People stopped to show their support for our cause and to reaffirm that what we were doing was the right thing.  Parents kept their kids home from school and brought food for us to eat on the picket line.  They walked with us, in the rain.  They called the district to show their support.  

Downtown, as we all converged together to march on the district headquarters, the sense of camaraderie was amazing.  We all were there for the same reason and you could tell.  It felt good, knowing we were there to fight the good fight for our students.  


I couldn’t be prouder of my colleagues. Each and everyone one of us is out there on that line early in the morning, coming together to rally, and represent at our schools in the afternoon with a smile on our faces and conviction in our hearts.

We all have a common purpose for our strike. We want things that really are not unreasonable. They are what every child should have in their education. We want:

Smaller class sizes.

Teaching, not overtesting.

RNs in every school every day.

Including counselors and librarians on every campus.

Kids should always come first!

End privatization.

All of these things, we believe, are essential to educating our students, the children of Los Angeles, properly. Things our children deserve.


I have never felt more like a teacher with super powers as I do now.

This strike has brought out the best in myself and my fellow teachers. We are all united by a singular mission, unwavering in our resolve. Each of us out there on the line knows we are out there for the right reasons and will continue to stay out there until our voices are heard.

We are out there for our students. We are out there for the future of public education.

We know we are on the right side of this fight. History will remember what we are doing and the effects will be felt for years to come.

If that is not what it feels like to have super powers, then I don’t know what does.


Today it rained nearly all day. Each of us was wet down to the core. Our feet are starting to hurt. We are exhausted, both mentally and physically. We are all on an emotional rollercoaster not knowing if today might just be the day we get to pack up our signs and pick up our plan books.
But even with all that, we are not backing down.

The support we have from the parents — those amazing, giving, wonderful parents — is keeping us afloat. They show up daily along with us, bring us food, walk the picket lines, and cheer us on. They set up Facebook groups and talk about ways they can help us MORE. They are incredible and I am so grateful to each of them.

The public, with their honks, their high fives, their fists in the air, give us that push we need to keep going. Each honk breathes new life into my colleagues and me.

And we can’t forget the kids on the line, at home, and in school. THEY are the reason we are out here and THEY are why we continue to fight. It is THEIR future we are ensuring and it is because of THEM that we walk this line.

So, when I am down and tired and a little bit too emotionally drained to stand it, I am just going to think about all of the kindness I am witnessing and reinvigorate myself. This strike is bringing our community together and for that, I am grateful.


The theme of the day was strength. After 5 days, you would be hard pressed to find a teacher out there on the lines who isn’t strong. Everyone, in their own way, is finding an inner fire to keep going for what we all know is right.

Our picket lines were bigger and fuller and longer and louder than they have ever been before. The noise and energy exudes strength.

The crowd at City Hall was bigger and fuller and longer and louder than it has ever been before. The feeling of community and togetherness breeds strength.

Our school community was bigger and fuller and longer and louder than it has ever been before. The love and hope and genuine concern we all have for each other encapsulates strength.

Today we are standing strong and holding our line. We are WINNING because of these lines, this community, and this strength. Our collective power is sending a message to the district that we have the resolve and will not back down. We have the strength to last one more day longer than those who wish to see us fall.

For more of the day to day action, you can visit my Highlights on Instagram.  I have documented everything in more "on the spot" and "live" style there.    

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