Sunday, February 7, 2016

Strategies for Teaching Paired Texts

In the Lone Star State, fourth grade marks the time our students start being tested on paired texts. That means double the reading, double the connections, and double the thinking. Thanks, STAAR! My nine and ten year olds are TOTES ready for that... *smh*

No matter my feelings on the subject, my kids are going to be tested on paired texts. So I might as well make them fun, right?! And truthfully, I have seen some majorly awesome thinking coming from my little boos as we've started on our paired text journey.

To get our paired-texts-comparing-and-contrasting-juices flowing, I started with Venn Diagrams. This is nothing new to our kiddos, right?  They know about comparing and contrasting. But did you know how powerful Venn Diagrams are to help students understand COMPLEX ideas? As they are classifying information, they're recognizing complex relationships. As the rockstar teacher you are, make sure you're asking the deeper, higher level questioning as they're getting their Venn on. Some examples of questions/thinking stems to present to your students are: 
- How are ___ and ___ alike?
- How are ___ and ___ different?
- A similarity between ____ and ___ is?
- A difference between ___ and ___ is?
- A theme found in both selections is ____.
- How are the characters alike in ____ and ___?
- How are the characters different in ___ and ___?
- Why do you think ____ was mentioned in both stories? 
- One idea present in both selections is _____.

There are tons of FREE Venn Diagrams available for download on TPT. And Venn Diagrams don't always have to be circles... Check out all the fabulous F-R-E-E Venn-Like Diagrams from 

After some hardcore Venn-ing, we continued to explore paired texts with some super fantastic games from Jennifer Findley of Teaching to Inspire. It was such a fun way to introduce the questions students will see with paired texts in a non-test like format. Jennifer's Paired Passages Reading Centers give you FIVE paired texts with gameboards. We started with a poem and fiction pairing. We read, discussed, and strategy-ed both selections, made some connections between texts, then got our game on. The kids LOVED it!! And I did too- they were flipping between stories, proving answers and DISCUSSING both stories... Which was continuing that complex thinking AND are the exact things they need to do when kicking a paired text's butt! 

The next step I took on our paired text journey was with a straight up paired text. But about some pretty cool dudes - Lebron James and Michael Jordan. Perhaps you've heard of them? My kids sure had!! They were very excited to dig in, and I took this opportunity to introduce our paired text strategies. I am so thankful that my student teaching was in a 5th grade ELA classroom. The strategies I'm sharing are from my cooperating teacher, Kathy Brock. She was an inspiration to me! 

The first paired passage strategy I use is LABEL your passages. First passage gets a 1 and the second passage gets a 2. Pretty easy stuff for the kids to pick up. 
Why do this, you ask? A few reasons. 
- When the kiddos get around to the questions, I want them to label which story they need to flip back to for text evidence. 
- If my kiddos get confused on where to find and answer, all they have to do is FLIP TO THE CORRESPONDING STORY. I will push, push, push this during practice and PRAY they do it on their own come STAAR time. Lol. 

Here's an example of what I'll expect my kids to do using a released STAAR test from 2013. The cute red font represents the labeling strategy I'm teaching my kiddos. 

The T-Chart strategy comes in on the questions that deal with passages 1&2. Students need to find proof from BOTH stories. So I bring back the Venn Diagram thinking but in T-chart form because it's easy and quick. Here are the steps:
- Make a T chart. Label it 1 and 2 (this represents the stories)
- For each answer choice, find the proof in both stories. Record the paragraph number. 
- The correct answer will have a paragraph number under BOTH stories for "compare" questions (shown) or under ONE story on "contrast" questions. 
Pretty easy to see that the answer is A on this "compare" question!

These strategies help my kids THINK, PROVE their answers, and GET THE RIGHT ANSWER. And once they have these strategies down, they will be second nature to them. 
Paired Text? Consider your butt kicked. BOOM. 

There are so many fantastic teacherprenuers on TPT whose products have played a HUGE roll in my our paired text journey. Here are some products that I big puffy heart love. 

- Readers's Notebook Response Pages by The Thinker Builder. I use these response pages for EVERYTHING, not just paired texts. You have got to check out Michael's blog, he's like a reading genius in my opinion!! 

Paired Passages Reading Centers by Jennifer Findley. As mentioned above, my kids just LOVE these! Reading and working paired passages ALL THE TIME gets BOOOORING. Liven things up with games! Your kids can still practice their strategies but in a fun and stress-free way. 

- NBA Legends Paired Texts by Keith Geswein. Keith is Kimberley Geswein's (KG Fonts) hubby, and equally as talented! He offers paired texts on NBA, NFL and Soccer legends. Perfect for those reluctant readers in your class!! And my girls were just as stoked to read about Lebron & Michael as my boys were! 

I hope some of this info inspires and helps you! 
How do you tackle paired texts in your classroom? I'd love to hear from you! :) 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Unmotivated Reader...

A few days ago, I looked up from my guided reading group to scan the classroom. I was frustrated to see my independent readers NOT READING. A few of them were actually staring at me. Creepy. I redirected and moved on.

Fast forward to today. At our school, we do "Books and Breakfast", so after my students complete their Morning Message, they grab some grub (we eat breakfast in the classroom) and they read while they eat. Well.... we used to. Today, I looked up and noticed breakfast eaters, Morning Message-ers, but NO READERS.

I was freaking out, y'all. My READERS weren't READING. My kiddos went from telling me EVERY DETAIL OF EVERY BOOK to nada. Zilch. Nothing. I went from, "Ohhh, you made ANOTHER connection??? Really? Already?" to "Put your nose in your book!"

I knew my fourth graders were not enjoying reading.
And I knew I sounded like a JERK telling them to READ, READ, READ when they SO did not want to. I mean, isn't throwing tiny pieces of paper at your neighbor more interesting than that Big Nate book?

So I asked my kiddos to come up with some ideas to help re-motivate them (not gonna to lie, I may have "planted" some of the ideas).

My sweet kiddos said, "Bring back the reading logs!" and I thought, I reeeeaaaaally want you to enjoy reading without having to log your time because that makes it feel like something you have to do, not want to do, so I replied with, "OK, let's think of a way we can record our reading."

My sweet kiddos said, "We could summarize our chapters!" and I thought, Eh, I don't want to read 239 summaries (DON'T JUDGE ME), so I replied with, "OK, let's come up with a way to quickly summarize what we're reading."

I'm going to quickly sum up how the rest of our brainstorming session went:

Me: "What if we write book reviews!!"
Kids: *Intrigued*
Me: "After y'all read, you could summarize your book and rate it so your friends know if they should read it!"
Kids: "We could give our books stars!"
Me: "Sure! How about 3 stars!"
Kids: "Make it 5!"
Me: "Ok! 5 it is! And let's make sure we don't give away the ending... So let's just summarize the beginning and the middle"
Kids: "This sounds fun!"
Me to myself: THANK YOU, LORD! My kids want to read again! And I have a quick way to check what they're reading!

I'm not going to lie, I haven't tried out the book review thing yet... So I can't swear that it works. I'll definitely update y'all once I try it out. BUT I will say my kids are SO STOKED about reading. Like, so stoked they were ready to write reviews on sticky notes!

So yeah... I'm pretty excited to show up maƱana with these review papers. I think I might shut down the classroom for some major D.E.A.R. time so they can really dig into their books.

I want YOU to try out these, too! So I've uploaded them for you to use FO' FREE! Because all kiddos  should get all jazzed about reading! Just click the pic to be taken to the download!

If you download, PLEASE let me know how your kiddos like these review papers! They're short and to the point. Book Title, Beginning, Middle and Rating. BOOM.


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Rock and Teach Review: National Geographic Puzzle Explorer App

Hey all! Happy Sunday! And to some, happy loooong weekend! We have MLK day off (Monday) and Tuesday is a teacher work day. So next week is only three-days-of-teaching long! I'm definitely going to take advantage of the day off to SLEEP and the work day to CATCH UP on grades, data charts, anchor charts, room redecorating, etc, etc, etc... I'm thinking I may need more than one work day.... EEK! lol

I'm so excited to review an awesome new FREEEEE app that you can start using in your classroom TOMORROW. Because it's FREE. And AWESOME. Do you have students that like Minecraft? I know mine do... That's why I was SO gosh darn excited about the National Geographic Puzzle Explorer App!! 
This app allows kiddos to build puzzle mazes using different types of blocks (very Minecraft-y).

Thanks to Donors Choose and the most generous donors EVER, my classroom has FOUR iPads. WOOT! Last week I downloaded the app on all of our iPads and let my kiddos explore. The intro gave the students all the information they need to be successful with this app. My tech savvy kiddos had no problem picking up how to solve a puzzle and create a puzzle. 
Some of the awesomeness my students found was: 
   - They get to SOLVE puzzles 
   - They get to BUILD puzzles and then SHARE with their friends to see if they can solve them
   - There are CAMERAS within the puzzles that lead to cool pics and information 

Some of the awesomeness I found was:
   - When they're SOLVING puzzles, they're working on problem solving and logic
   - When they're BUILDING puzzles, they're planning, sequencing and strategizing
   - The CAMERAS expose them to gorgeous, eye-catching pictures full of informative facts

My favorite part of this app is the pictures and information my students are exposed to while "playing". Included in the FREE download is pictures and facts about the Yucatan Peninsula. Other packages include Antartica, the Himalayas, the Nile River (OMG I LOVE EVERYTHING EGYPT) and the Australian outback! Fabulous, aye mate? 

After the initial exploring, I decided to have the kiddos write down these fantastic facts they came across. We're studying information texts in reading right now, so it was a PERFECT tie in. The kids were so excited to find info their friends hadn't found yet and share with the class... They ate this fact finding activity up and didn't even realize they were getting all educational-y! And LOOK at that picture!! 
Check out some of the other fabulous features! 
- 48 National Geographic Photo Fact insights from 5 Regions around the World.
- FREE Yucatan Region; Purchase the Exploration Package with Antarctica and the Himalayas. Purchase the Expedition Package with the Nile River Valley and the Australian Outback.
- Easy to follow multimedia step-by-step maze design Instructions make creation easy and fun.
- 20 unique obstacle blocks can be mixed and match to provide thousands of puzzle designs!

I already loved the Nat Geo Puzzle Explorer App, but made me 100% decide to put this app into our iPad rotation time was the reviews my kiddos gave. Cutest part was THEY wanted to review it. One even gave it five stars!! 

Straight out'ta the mouths of my 4th grade babes: 

Wondering where you can get this fab app? iTunes, of course! Click the pic below to be taken to the iTunes preview! 

Want more information on the app? Check out the Puzzle App website HERE! There are links to info for teachers and parents!

Don't have iPads in your classroom? Then check out THIS great paper puzzle craft-ivity by Nat Geo! I see a math connection here with all those 3D shapes!! 

Are you thinking of downloading? I'd love to hear your thoughts! 
Do you already use this app? I'd love to hear how you're using it in your classroom!!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016


Happy 2016! I hope you had a fabulous holiday season!

My Christmas and New Year FLEW by. I remember there being a lot of time with family, friends and food. Like, ALL THE FOOD. And there were naps... So many sweet naps.
Over the holiday, my baby boy turned THIRTEEN! I now have two teenagers in my house. YIKES. We also spent a few days at our family ranch house gettin' our cowboyANDgirl on. All in all, it was a fantastic two weeks!

I thought a fun way to start off the year would be to host a FEEDBACK FRENZY that all my TPT, Facebook, and IG peeps can take part in!

How do you Feedback Frenzy?
The answer is simple. And awesome.

  • Download as many of my FREE products as you want (there are 22 to choose from) OR make some purchases (thank you in advance for this one!).
  • Leave feedback on the items you downloaded / purchased.  
  • 1 feeback = $1 to spend IN MY STORE! On WHATEVER! 

YES, you're reading that correctly. You can earn AT LEAST $22 to spend in my store. And that's just from the FREE STUFF! 
If you've purchased any of my products, you can earn even more than that. WHAT! 

Once you're done with all that downloading/purchasing and feedback-ing, email me at with the following info:
  - Subject line: Feedback Frenzy
In the body, please tell me:
  - Your name and email
  - How much feedback you left (example: 7 feedbacks)
  - What products you would like (feedback value must match product value)
Rules and Thangs
  - Your Feedback Frenzy email must be in by 11:59pm CST on January 10th. 
  - Please be patient, it may take me 1-2 days to get you your products :)
  - Feedback value and product value must match (products with cents in the price will be rounded to the nearest dollar). 

THANK YOU for taking time to download or purchase my products. 
THANK YOU for taking the time to read this blog. 
YOU encourage me to keep doing what I'm doing. 
YOU ARE A BLESSING. And from the top, side and bottom of my heart, I thank you! 

Now go get your feedback on! 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Motivation Math by Mentoring Minds

Texas Teachers!! I'm excited to talk to y'all today about one of my favorite math resources - Motivation Math workbooks by Mentoring Minds.

How do you teach math? What I do is teach skills in isolation. I know this not rocket science (lol) but here's an example of how I run the math thangs in my classroom.
Let's say we're in a decimal unit.
- I would start with identifying and writing decimals.
- Then we would move on to writing decimals in expanded form and expanded notation.
- Then we might do some comparing.
- After that, maybe we add and subtract.
- Then we would work on whatever my scope and sequence says to do next... ;)

Once I feel like our isolated skills are rockin' I break out the Motivation Math workbooks. Guys, these are big ol' fabulous workbooks full of every tested state standard. And thanks to my fabulous admin, each of my students have a Motivation Math workbook. THIS MEANS NO COPYING FOR ME! *insert giant smiling emoji*

The rigor that jumps out of these books and gets my kiddos' brains a'workin' makes me a happy teacher. If my kiddos rock out their Motivation Math worksheets, I know they have a solid understanding of the skill. If you've never heard of these workbooks, you have GOT to go to the website and request a sample. You WON'T be sorry!

Here are a few of the reasons I love Motivation Math.

Let's start with the obvious. State standards are listed at the top of each page. WOOT! This means no guess work for me. I can flip through the books and eyeball where I want to go OR I can use the handy-dandy index. I'm a book flipper, though. I like the mystery of it. Anyway, I get to my page, I look up top and it will tell me (R) Readiness (DO THIS PAGE) or (S) Supporting (CHILL FOR A MIN THEN MOVE ON). This also makes writing the day's objective or "I can" statements a breeze!

Motivation Math ROCKS MY WORLD because they have a build in "I do, We do, You do" model.
- Each skill starts with an Introduction page. The questions (written as word problems) are open ended which is a PERFECT way to bridge the isolated skills we've worked on into word problems.
- The next page is Guided Practice. I do a lot of "partner practice" with these pages. I model a few then I let the students work together.
- After that you've got the Independent Practice pages. This is where I see what my kiddos can do on their own. I usually assign this RIGHT after we finish the Guided Practice pages.
- I use the Assessment page in a variety of ways. I might assign it WITH the Guided Practice page. I might pull it and combine it with a few other skills for a more sizeable test.
- There's a homework page, too.
- And journal activities.
- And critical thinking problems (I assign these to my high achievers and early finishers).
- You need it - MM has it. Seriously.

Your students are NOT going to get bored with these questions. The writers of this workbook thought of SO many ways to look at problem. That's why I go back to my previous statement of, "If my kiddos rock out their Motivation Math worksheets, I know they have a solid understanding of the skill."

One of the MAJOR, MAJOR perks of using Motivation Math is YOU DON'T HAVE TO MAKE COPIES. No copying one sided to two sided. No paper jams. No toner mishaps. No stress. Just, "Turn to page ____," and get your teach on.

I am SO thankful that my administration has made sure I have a ton of resources on hand to teach my students. I use a lot of them. The ONLY one I use on a regular basis is Motivation Math.

Do you use Motivation Math in your classroom? What about Motivation WritingReading? or Science? I'd love to hear your opinions!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Merry & Bright, Bright, Bright!

Merry [almost] Christmas!!
Correction.. Merry [almost] Christmas BREAK!! Because really... what are YOU most looking forward to?? I'm definitely partial to the two weeks of relaxin'! ;)

I'm so excited to be blogging with the We Teach 3-4-5 group to bring you a fun linky with tips to keep you (and your students) MERRY and BRIGHT during this last week leading up to Christmas Break!

Kids love Christmas.
It gets them all crazy-like. 
So my tips today focus on keeping your kiddos CHILL so you can remain Merry and Bright! 

My first tip is to break out the bribes. Yes, you heard me right. BRIBES. Go to the dollar store and stock up some candy canes and pass them out to students who are making great decisions.  To REALLY get your kiddos attention, tell them if they get a candy cane they can EAT IT IN CLASS. Whoa.

Once you establish the legitness of having a candy cane, make them earn it! 

Quiet? Candy cane.
Working hard? Candy cane. 
You WERE working quietly so you got a candy cane and now you're acting a'fool? CANDY CANE GOES INTO TRASH. It only takes one thrown away candy cane to really see those kiddos behave! ;)

My second tip is to plan fun, purposeful and QUIET work. In the past, I've gotten caught up in the holiday spirit and thought, "There's no way these kids are going to work. They're too excited! I might as well just embrace the noise and plan fun Christmas activities for the last week." UH, NO. Talk about leaving after school EXHAUSTED! Now, don't get me wrong - we Christmas in my room. However, I have QUIET Christmas activities planned for Monday through Wednesday. It helps calm the cray. And you really will be able to get some quality work out of your kiddos despite the sugar plums dancing in their heads! 

Here are some fun freebies I LOVE to use (just click the pic to be taken to the product):

And a few engaging (and quiet) spirit-filled activities from my store: 


Thursday is when I finally decide to let the Christmas craziness happen. I'm talking a movie, class party and an eeeeeeeextra long recess.... But Monday through Wednesday my babies are QUIET and WORKING! Woot!


My next tip is TREAT YO'SELF! If you need some candy, forget about the guilt. Eat it. Shove it in your mouth. By golly, you deserve it. Need a little relaxation after work? Get a massage. Shoot, there are like 5 nail shops by me massage by the minute. $20 for a 20 minutes of a shoulder/foot massage? WELL WORTH IT! Saw a fabulous item in your favorite store (*ahem* Target)? Buy it. I'm all about retail therapy! You must do anything and everything to survive this week. So head out to the store and stock up on Reeses Peanut Butter Cup Trees and get your survival on, teacher! 

My last tip is KEEP THE JOY! I know my kids are going to act a little wild... But it's because they're dreaming of Santa and two weeks of no homework. I will choose to be JOYFUL even when my insides are saying, "OMG BE QUIET!"
I know I'm going to leave exhausted every day... But I also know I'm going to make sure my kids are working hard and ENJOYING the last week before the holiday! CHRISTMAS JOY!!

I actually have ONE last tip... Make sure you enter the FANTASTIC Merry and Bright giveaway from all the teachers pictured below! Winning amazing resources from amazing teachers is a surefire way to stay all merry and bright!! 

I'm giving away my Snowman Math Glyph. It's perfect to use this week OR after you return from break. It's definitely on my QUIET WORK to-do list this week! :) 

Make sure you visit all of the teachers in the link up to see their Merry & Bright tips AND add your own! How are you keeping all Merry and Bright? I'd love to hear your ideas! 

You can do it! 5 days! And here's to hoping that last day is a HALF DAY! :)" title="click to view in an external page.">An InLinkz Link-up

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Close Reading with Teaching and Tapas

Hey all! I'm SO excited to be blogging about one of my favorite TPT creators, Alyssha Swanson of Teaching and Tapas!

Back in July, my friend Robin texted me about an awesome giveaway happening on Facebook - Alyssha (Teaching and Tapas) was giving away a fourth grade Close Reading Bundle. I pretty much look to Robin as my reading teacher guru. So when she told me I HAD to enter I listened... and I WON! WHAT! I was so excited!

The first time we used one of the Close Reading texts by Alyssha was in October. On the day before Halloween... I was a wee-bit nervous my kiddos would be cray and get nothing from the lesson (they were in COSTUMES for goodness' sake) but the day was SUPER successful! We started the day reading Stellaluna, then we followed up with a passage from the Informational Close Reading Set on bats.  The best part is I had put the kids in their guided reading groups and had given them LEVELED PASSAGES. How is that possible, you ask? Well, Alyssha has an EXTENSION SET that includes the SAME passages but at a lower level. Same questions, same skills, but two levels of text. GENIUS.

My favorite part of having the kiddos using these Close Reading texts is the TEXT DEPENDENT QUESTIONS. Why do kids hate to look for text evidence?? Seriously, I can't understand it. I mean, who doesn't like correct answers!! And how do you get them? By looking in the text!! To help combat the "I don't like looking in the text" issue, I made up a text-evidence "rap". It goes like this:

Me: What do we love?
Kids: Text Evidence!
Me: I can't hear you
Kids: Text Evidence!
Me: Let's find it!
Kids: Text Evidence!
Me: Dig in, y'all!
Kids: Text Evidence!

This goes on and on and on... We clap, we stomp, and I basically act like a fool to get my kids excited about and looking for TEXT EVIDENCE! The song helps.... but so does the way Alyssha has set up the questions for the passages. She has the KIDS CREATING TEXT DEPENDENT QUESTIONS. If you're looking for rigor for your students, look no further. CREATE is the highest level of Bloom's/ a Depth of Knowledge level 4. Boom!
For each passage, kids are writing 2-3 text dependent questions. And to make sure they're really using the text, there are instructions to underline the cited text with different colors. Easy to check for me and super meaningful for the kids. Not going to lie - the first time we did this the kid's minds were blown... But two months later they are creating text dependent questions like ROCKSTARS. Me = Proud teacher!

Along with the text dependent questions, there are a gazillion other skills covered. One page of questions is dedicated to grade level specific skills and the second page is a spiral of grade level skills. Specific skills and spiraled skills?? OMG FABULOUS.

As you can see, I am LOVING these Close Reading Packs.
And the Extension Packs are rocking my teaching world...
Oh Teaching and Tapas, let me COUNT THE AWESOMENESS!
She has 1st grade sets, 2nd grade sets, 3rd grade sets, 4th grade sets, and 5th grade sets!!

I know all teachers have a range of reading levels in their room. This year, my kiddos range from an A (kindergarten) to a Q (grade level). I have about 7 on level readers in my class, so they get the texts from the Fourth Grade set. I have about 12 kids on a 2nd or 3rd grade level, so they get the lower Lexile level text from the Extension pack. The 2 students who are on kindergarten levels also get the lower level text, but I read it to them or buddy them with one of my on grade level students.

Here's what the kids see:
The texts looks similar and contain the same information. The lower level text is just written at a lower Lexile level.
Both texts answer the same questions, so the rigor remains. The Extension Pack makes my heart happy because it allows my lower level readers to be successful with grade level skills.

I know I have made you GREEN with ENVY if you don't own these packs... But don't worry... Because you can WIN a set!! Merry Christmas to you!!

----> Are you a 3rd grade teacher?? You can win the 3rd Grade Literature and Informational BUNDLE and LITERATURE and INFORMATIONAL EXTENSION PACKS!!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

----> Are you a 4th grade teacher?? You can win the 4th Grade Literature and Informational BUNDLE and LITERATURE and INFORMATIONAL EXTENSION PACKS!!

----> Are you a 5th grade teacher?? You can win the 5th Grade Literature and Informational BUNDLE and LITERATURE and INFORMATIONAL EXTENSION PACKS!! 

Best of luck, my friends!! Winner will be announced on Thursday, December 10th!