Florida Industries
We worked so hard on our opinion writing pieces that we held an open house.  (Actually, I figured out that students tried a lot harder if they knew other people were coming to see their work.)  We scheduled the open house after our award ceremony, so we had a good parent turn out.  We also invited third grade to come see our work. 

To prep for the open house, we spent 2-3 class periods designing and creating posters.  Students had to sketch out their poster on a piece of paper and show that they included all of the required parts.  Once that was approved, they received a poster board and designed it.  Most students were able to complete this in one class period.  (I did allow students to print our pictures at home and use them if they did not want to draw pictures.)

The open house was a huge success.  Parents enjoyed seeing what the students did, and I was able to go around to each student and ask them about Florida’s economy and their chosen industry.  I was impressed by how much most of the students understood.  Some students knew a lot more about their industries then they had on their poster, and other had some misconceptions that we could clear up in a quick discussion.  

In the end, the project was a huge success.  Next year, I would definitely add in more support during the ranking and analysis sections, as some students really needed more examples.  I would also spend a class period or two investigating the economy.  I found that the book mentioned economy and what it was, but it really didn’t stick with students.  Other than those two areas, students worked on many higher level thinking skills, public speaking, opinion writing, and social studies skills throughout this project.  Students showed a sense of ownership and accomplishment during the open house!

Florida Writes

If you are interested in the steps we used to research and write our opinion essays, please read opinion writing posts part 1 and part 2.

Have you held a successful open house?  What did you do?
We recently worked on a project that integrated text-based writing with Florida history.  In this post, you will learn how the students formed an opinion, selected their evidence, and wrote their final essays. This project helped students both learn Florida history and improve their evidence-based writing skills.
How to Integrate Opinion Writing in Social Studies - Post discusses how a teacher integrated opinion writing with Florida history in a fourth grade classroom. The unit helped students to use text-based evidence in an opinion essay.

Make an Outline from the Notes

Once student completed their rankings, we worked on creating an outline for our essays.  I created a guide sheet that explained how to organize a topic sentence, evidence, analysis, and a conclusion.  Before we even began our essays, we went over the parts of our essay and glued the sheet into our notebooks.  (I am very big on gluing everything down.  If it is glued in the notebook, it doesn’t get lost!)

Select the Evidence

After we did that, I returned the ranking sheets to students.  I had them place that sheet on their desk next to their open notebooks.  We walked through our essay outline together.  On my outline, I labeled each sentence so students could see the pattern in our writing.  This helped a lot of students, although some did need more support as they worked on their own essay. 

First, I showed my ranking sheet and created a topic sentence.  For example, “Agriculture is the most important Florida industry.”  Short and sweet.  Did I allow students to copy that and change the industry as needed?  I sure did.  This is our first big essay with evidence, and if students needed that support they could use it. 

Next, we discussed what we needed to do to convince people that our industry was indeed the most important.  We pretended that we worked for the governor and had to convince him that our industry needed his support.  I asked students to help me pick a fact that would help convince him. 

Hint: We had them written down as our reasons for supporting our ranking.

Yes, some smarties figured that our quickly and pointed it out to the class!  Oohs and aahs all around when students understood that they already had their evidence written down – they just had to copy it!

How to Integrate Opinion Writing in Social Studies - Post discusses how a teacher integrated opinion writing with Florida history in a fourth grade classroom. The unit helped students to use text-based evidence in an opinion essay.

Analyze the Evidence

The hardest part of the essay was the analysis.  We did some of the evidence and analysis together, then students worked on it alone.  Students selected the fact from their ranking sheet and write it down as “evidence.”  Under that, students wrote the analysis. 
In order to help them understand why they needed to analyze, I pulled out my analogies again.  We talked about when they really want something from the store, how do they convince their parents to get it?  What works and what doesn’t?  For example, my son wants fancy headphones, and he has been trying for a while to convince me that he needs expensive ones.  Clearly, his argument is lacking because he doesn’t have them yet. 

“My sister broke them.”  Well, he has no proof of that, so it isn’t very convincing. 

“The cat chewed the cord.”  Why did you leave them out where the cat could get them?

Students understood pretty quickly how fast his evidence was getting dismissed.  So we talked about how he could make his evidence more convincing.  Eventually students decided that if he explained in more detail what happened, he had a better chance.  BINGO.  More detail.  That is the purpose of the analysis – explaining why the fact proves your opinion.  

How to Integrate Opinion Writing in Social Studies - Post discusses how a teacher integrated opinion writing with Florida history in a fourth grade classroom. The unit helped students to use text-based evidence in an opinion essay.

Write the Essay

Once students completed their outlines, I showed them how their essay was completely written for them – they just had to write it as a final paragraph.  (We did this another day.  I find fourth graders do not have a lot of stamina for writing in the first quarter.)  

In part 1 of this series, I discussed how we got started on our research and organized our notes.  In my next post, I will talk about our open house - the parents loved it!
The integrated unit I used with my class is available in my TPT store.
For many students, opinion writing is really difficult.  All of them have opinions, but they don't know how to support it with facts.  Learning standards require students to use text-based evidence in their writing, so teachers should support students while they master the skills needed to integrate research into their opinions. 

Recently, my class worked through a research project that required students to read for evidence, analyze the material, and form an opinion based on the evidence.  At the end of the unit, we held an open house for our families.  
How to Integrate Opinion Writing in Social Studies - Post discusses how a teacher integrated opinion writing with Florida history in a fourth grade classroom. The unit helped students to use text-based evidence in an opinion essay.

Read the Information & Take Notes

We study Florida history, and my county has us start with Florida today.  To start our unit, students used the social studies textbook to take notes on the economy and the major Florida industries.   After we had our notes, students used task cards I created to further their research of the four of the major Florida industries.  They used a note sheet to help organize their information.  

How to Integrate Opinion Writing in Social Studies - Post discusses how a teacher integrated opinion writing with Florida history in a fourth grade classroom. The unit helped students to use text-based evidence in an opinion essay.
Once students completed their notes, we discussed them as a class and made sure everyone had accurate notes.  (The notes were a terrific way to check reading comprehension – and it was pretty obvious who needed more support.) 

Analyze the Facts

After that, we discussed ranking the industries.  I used some analogies to help students understand the concept.  For example, who wins a cross country race?  Whoever is the fastest – simple, one measurement.  You are either the fastest or you aren’t.  What about a bake-off at the country fair?  Judges use more than one measurement – color, taste, texture.  So, in order to determine which industry was the most important to Florida’s economy, we would first have to determine which facts we felt were the most important. 
How to Integrate Opinion Writing in Social Studies - Post discusses how a teacher integrated opinion writing with Florida history in a fourth grade classroom. The unit helped students to use text-based evidence in an opinion essay.
I did not make students focus on a particular fact.  In hindsight, I would give students more guidance in this area.  We talked about using how much money an industry made as a factor or how many people were employed in an industry.  Students also discussed other information, such as the number of companies involved in the industry.  For their ranking sheet, all I really wanted to see was that they had some logic behind their rankings.  That is why the fact sheet made them justify their first and last place rankings.  Those reasons helped me to understand what they were using for their judgements – or if they were just randomly writing down facts.

In my next post, I discuss how we moved from our ranking sheet to our essays.  In the last post, I explain how we organized an open house for students to showcase their projects.

This integrated unit is available in my TPT store.
Do you struggle to fit in all the standards you need to teach? Are you required to plan curriculum units but aren't sure how to start? Do you want to use integrated instruction but aren't sure how to start? Let me help!  In this post I will explain how I map out my curriculum units. A free template is included in this post to help you get started.
How to Develop a Unit Plan - Post discusses the steps used to develop a curriculum unit using backwards design. A sample unit  and a free template are included.

Okay, hopefully you are excited about Back to School.  I have actually already started setting up my room, as my district starts teacher inservice on August 5th this year.  Getting into my room really helped get me excited about back to school.  I can't wait to read everyone's favorite BTS activities!

Getting Organized

I take the first 2-3 days to really work on learning students names and establishing some basic routines.  (Okay, routines take a lot longer than that, but I get a good start on things that need to be in place fast!)  Here are some ideas for you for your first days of school:

Family Information Cards & Student Survey 

These are great things to leave for morning work on the first day.  In upper grades, most kids can complete at least some of the information independently, and teachers can see who doesn't know their phone number!

Supply Sort

I always forget this at the beginning of the year, but every student walks through the door and tries to hand the teacher all of their supplies.  Get boxes or other containers ready so that students can sort supplies without asking you.

Getting Over the Nerves

Everyone is nervous on the first day of school - both students and teachers.  I think it is really important to begin creating your relationship on the first day.

Read a Book

Some teachers may chose to start their read aloud, but you could also select a short
book that you really love.  Don't worry about it being about the first day of school - show your personality!  Select a book that connects to you, your family, your interests, etc.  I plan to read the book "Sparky" by Jenny Offill because it reminds me of my daughter,

Morning Meetings

If you plan to hold class meetings, start the first day!  It will help you to begin establishing your class expectations and routines.  On the first day, you could have students share something about their summer, what they want to learn this year, etc.  Class meetings will help establish your class community.


Honestly, I usually run out of time on the first day.  There is just so much organizing and hustle and bustle that I can't remember things - and neither can your students.  I like to send home an icebreaker as "homework" on the first day.  My favorite icebreaker is one I created, called "Guess Who?"  You only need copies of two pages, plus glue, scissors, and a pencil.   I prefer to have students complete it at home so other students do not see their answers.  Students complete the activity, naming their favorite colors, hobby, food, etc.

Over the next few days, I randomly select a few completed forms and read the answers.  The class has to try to guess who it is before I run out of clues.  Students absolutely love this activity - it is high engagement, even if the class thinks they know each other.  I usually give a small prize (eraser, pencil, etc.) to students who stump the class.  Once I read a Guess Who? form, I hang it on the hallway bulletin board - perfect for Back to School night!

What is your best back to school activity?

Usually I am really excited to go back to school, but this year the summer really flew by!  (I am pretty sure getting up at 6AM to take my daughter to cross country practice had something to do with that.....)  I spent a lot of time reflecting on what worked and didn't work in my classroom.  For my BTS resources, I will highlight what I felt went really well last year.

Teaching Social Studies

My brother and I are both social studies teachers at heart, and it just kills me to see how often social studies gets put off due to time constraints.  When it does get taught, often we tell students to "use the book."  Honestly, that just doesn't work.  Let me explain why.
Most kids don't know how to find things in a text.

There.  I said it.

As some of you know, I have been helping my son struggle through vision therapy this past year.  Experts estimate that at least 10% of students struggle with an undiagnosed vision problem.  For students like my son, their eyes cannot track.  At all.  Seriously.  Imagine him trying to read a question at the end of the chapter and looking back through the multipage lesson for the answer.

Yep, that isn't happening.

Then think about students like my daughter,  Dream student.  Perfect behavior, loves overachieving, always gets her work done, but hates social studies.  (Brings me to tears, you have no idea.)  Unless you make social studies interactive, she is in la-la-land.

Using Interactive Notebooks

I resisted the interactive notebook.foldables bandwagon for a long time.  I thought, "Who has time to get these kids to cut and glue?!!!"  I kept seeing blog after blog talk about these interactive notebooks, and I really wondered what kind of utopia people worked in.

Until the overachieving daughter came home and said she was bombing the end of course practice exams for civics.  And the exam was in a week.

At that point I figured I should really try something new, because her friend wasn't coming either and wanted to join our "class in a week."  I began designing foldables specifically tailored to the EOC content.  Now, my girl hates to cut and glue, but she was actually remembering the material.  (They both scored in the top score range, I am proud to say.)

With that success, I decided to try the foldables with my 5th grade kids.  It was May, so I figured I had nothing to lose - and I could see how well they worked.

They LOVED it.  I mean, 10 out of 10.  I couldn't believe it.  This was not the easiest class to manage, and even my complainers took notes without complaining!

Integrating Social Studies and Language Arts

Florida History

With my test run working so well, I designed foldables that scaffolded the social studies text for 5th grade, and a friend wanted them for 3rd.  The students loved them!  It did take a few weeks to train students on cutting and pasting, but really it was worth the time.

Using my foldables, I was easily able to divide the lessons and have student groups become experts
on specific topics.  The guiding questions help lower readers break down the text.  After a chapter or two, I was able to make the social studies foldables an independent activity or work with a group while the class worked on the lesson.

Students loved the INBs so much that they commented that they wouldn't get to do them with the next teacher!  Students were weighing their notebooks and asking if they could keep them.  It really wasn't til the last marking period that I realized how much ownership students took over their notebooks.
American History

I now have year-long bundles of social studies INBs for 3rd grade North America, 4th grade Florida History, and 5th grade American History.  I have a 7th grade unit that is written to support the Florida civics end of course exam.  The 1st semester of 8th grade American History is also available, and the second semester will be ready by January.  I will be working on 6th grade throughout the year.

Teaching Students About Themselves

Another popular lesson I did was my flap book on learning styles, multiple intelligences, and right & left brain.  I used this during the first week of school, and I had students complete one section per day.  We discussed what it meant to be a visual learner vs. a kinesthetic or auditory learner or
what the different intelligences meant.  Every time I mentioned study skills, we would talk about a good strategy for the different types of learners.

Included in the activity is a sort summary describing each type of learner or multiple intelligence.  For younger students, I simply copy the information and they can cut and paste it in their booklet.  For older students, teachers could probably read the information.

Multiple Intelligences

This activity also really helped me see the personality of my class.  I had a lot of kinesthetic learners last year, so I knew that I had to integrate a lot of movement!

I hope you enjoy reading everyone's linkies and get some great ideas for this year!

Daily 5

Since I will only be teaching language arts and social studies next year, I have been doing a lot of reading on best practices.  Many teachers are blogging about using the Daily 5 successfully, and I think I may give it a try next year.  When I read the book, my biggest question was what do use for Word Work in the intermediate grades.

Word Work Ideas


There are many board games that can be used, including Scrabble and BOGGLE.  However, this means that kids always need a partner.

BOGGLE Bulletin Board

I plan to teach Greek & Latin Roots this year instead of traditional spelling, so I created a BOGGLE bulletin board to accompany my units of study.  I have worksheets for each week, plus I will have the board up on the wall, so students could work on this alone throughout the week.
Daily 5

Individual Work Stations

I have decided to have a "Make Your Masterpiece" theme this year, so I wanted to find a way to tie in an art theme to word work - without having to spend a lot of money.

I have been visiting my parents and trying to help my mom clean up purge stuff that is stockpiled everywhere.  My dad had a few empty paint cans and paint sticks.  Lowe's had a sale on paint samples, so I went and bought a few colors and a can of chalkboard paint.  I also picked up a few paint color strips.  Finally I asked for paint sticks.

       I plan to use the cans as individual stations.  I painted the paint sticks with the chalkboard paint and laminated the paint color strips.  Now students can use colored chalk and Expo markers to write their words, and tissues to wipe them off.  Easy peasy - and it only cost a few bucks.

     Since it is reusable, it can be easily adapted to the level of the student.  For example, students could work on spelling by listing the words down the strip.  Students that need a harder activity could use the strips to write down the definition, type of word, meaning, etc.

What are your "go to" word work activities?

Inspiration comes in the strangest places.  Mine came in Vegas while shopping for a gift for my son.  After looking at a lot of $30 t-shirts that I was NOT about to buy for a kid that ends up wearing every meal, I was desperate.  Desperate!  I began asking everyone for ideas, and finally on the last evening someone suggested Houdini's Magic Shop in the Venetian.  As I was in need of something fast, I  asked the store clerk for help.  He brought out a whole bunch of magic tricks, and BAM!  I forgot I was buying for my son. (Seriously.)

©Arpad Nagy-Bagely/Dollar Photo Club=
I remembered my class's favorite read aloud last year was  Dorko the Magnificent by Andrea Beaty Amulet.  (If you haven't read it, get a copy right away!)  My class LOVED it - and I planned to read it again this year.  As I was watching the magician do these tricks (Levitating pencils!  Pulling lights out of your ear!), I just thought, "This is the bling that was missing from my room last year!"  My room was just missing the FUN.  I don't mean "fun", because we did a lot of crafts and kids loved interactive notebooks, but FUN - that joy and excitement from school.  I am determined to make my class a place where kids are thrilled to be there - where they never know when something cool will happen!

Now, the magician promised me the tricks are super easy, because coordination is not high in the Mezni household.  (I bought my son a trick card deck and he has been working on it for days.)  I plan to start the year off with Dorko the Magnificent and wow them by levitating their pencils (and the book, of course.)  Dorko will captivate students in 4th and 5th grade.  I know many people start with Wonder or Ivan, but give Dorko a shot.

Robbie Dorko wants to be a famous magician, but he is terrible - and infamous around his town for his performances at the school's annual talent show.  His grandma ends up moving in with them and taking over his room.  His grandma is a real character - personality plus!  The kids love her because she is so cranky.  Eventually Robbie realizes that his grandma was a traveling magician, and the reader has to infer a lot about her because she doesn't talk about her past - ever.  I won't do spoilers, but the end is a real tear jerker.  This is the book for you if you are looking for a high interest book with great literary devices.  And a few magic tricks won't hurt.

How do you plan to make this year magical?

I have to say that reading blogs and becoming part of the TPT community really helped me to find some great new classroom management and curriculum ideas.  (Okay, they were new to ME.)  Classroom management has never my best or easiest skill, and this last year was probably the smoothest I have ever had.

What Worked This Year

Classroom Jobs

I really wish I could find the blogpost that I used as the basis for my classroom system, but I have no idea which blog it was.  I know it was someone who had a free download of her Classroom Rules book.  I did not follow everything she did, but I did use many of her ideas,  I can tell that the other teacher is far more organized than I am and is great about following rules/systems.  Clearly much better than ME.

Basically she tells kids the rules, but she also gives the kids a lot of the classroom responsibility.   I found that having set structures was a definite plus.  I mean, clearly I always had some, but last year truly everything had a system.  A few routines just didn't really work for me and I will change them next year, but overall I found that my kids thrived on structure.  When they didn't have that structure, we tended to have issues.  (I had a number of kids with issues such as ADD/Autism/ODD, etc.  Structure helped.)

I recently read Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz and found myself saying, "Hey - I sorta did that last year!" quite a lot.  (I was really quite proud of myself.)  He talked about giving kids the autonomy and responsibility to run the classroom.  In my room kids applied for class jobs at the beginning of every month, and everyone was assigned a job.  It did take a few weeks to get kids trained on jobs like president, but oafter that the kids really ran the class systems.  Presidents even trained the next president!  And the best part was that the kids LOVED it!  You have to trust that the kids can do it, and they will.  If someone doesn't do his/her job, the other kids remind them pretty quickly.

Homeworkopoly & Homework Checklists

Ok, do you hate taking the time to check homework as much as I do?  Homeworkopoly is a great incentive for kids to bring in their work.  At the very least the kids who DO bring it in get rewarded.  You set the rewards, too, so you can do things like switch seats or a homework pass instead of things you have to buy.  (Things I bought were mainly erasers and fancy pencils that I bought in packs for $1.)  The treat for passing GO?  A lifesaver.  It really does not have to cost much.  There are many available but I used this one by Joey Udovich.  I did buy it, but I really felt it was worth the $3.50.

My teammate also gave me the BEST homework checklist ever!  (And I didn't check homework - my president and vice president did.)  Once I got a checklist like this one from my friend, the checking became so much easier - and I had an easy visual record of who had completed homework.
I assign numbers to all of my students (by alphabetical order.)  Instead of using Post-Its or notebooks to keep track of homework, use these checkoff sheets and file them in your binder or class folder.  You can download the checkoff sheet here or by clicking on the image.

Spiral Math Homework

I have to say that I absolutely loved using Spiral Math Homework.  There are Spiral Language Arts Homework sets out there as well, but my group really needed more support in math last year (and I was using reading logs for reading homework.)  There are so many reasons I liked using it.

- The set I used was editable, so I could change problems as needed.
- Parents and students liked it, because they had the week's homework on Monday and could plan        ahead if they had busy schedules.
 - Ease of use.  Parents knew that students had math homework every week and they knew what to  
look for in their backpacks (if needed.)

If you are interested in Spiral Homework, I used the one made by One Stop Teacher Shop, and I highly recommend it.  She now has both math and language arts homework available for many grade levels.

Interactive Notebooks

Honestly, if I could only keep one new thing from last year this would be it.  The kids LOVED it.  Seriously.  During the last few weeks of the year, different students said positive things about using the interactive notebooks.

 - "Oh, we won't get to use interactive notebooks next year."
 - "My brother and I weighed my notebook, it and was 6 ounces!"
- "Do we get to keep our notebooks?  I really like how it shows everything we learned."

How many things have you used to teach curriculum that got that type of engagement?  I used the notebooks in pretty much all subjects, but I was very good at using them in the core subjects.   I think the notebooks really helped kids to be more organized and independent.   Also, I have written my social studies  INB units with reading skills and support for my low readers.

Next year, I plan to get better at making time for student output.  Once I add that, I feel like the interactive notebooks will take my class to the next level.

If you are interested in interactive notebooks, I have many for social studies, as well as some for math and language arts in my store.

What was the best new thing you tried last year?
Have you ever had a student that struggled to identity letters or shapes?  Yes, some students do reverse letters, but I mean students that have a hard time even matching a cross with a cross or a circle with a circle.  This difficulty may be a sign that the students has trouble with visual perception.

What is Visual Perception?

Visual perception is the ability to comprehend what is seen.  A student having difficulties with visual perception can see letters and other symbols, but he cannot make sense of them.  He may not have a strong concept of up, down, right, left, etc.  This will affect the student's ability to identify and match shapes, numbers, and letters.

Signs of a Problem with Visual Perception

1.  Is he struggling to identify letters or words?  Is he not learning to read on schedule?
2.  Is she struggling to master skills in Kindergarten?
3.  Although your child is older, does he struggling to recognize letters or numbers?
4.  Is she still reversing letters frequently past the end of first grade?
5.  Does he often confuse similar words or beginnings/endings of words?
6.  Does she struggle to chunk words into syllables in order to sound them out?

What can you do?

The good news is that this problem can be easily identified with a vision exam by a therapist.  With therapy, children can improve their visual perception.

 Here are some websites with more information:

Wichita Vision Development Center

Vision & Learning Center of Northcentral PA

Eye on Learning

Read my blog post to learn more about identifying signs of an underlying problem in a struggling reader.

Have you ever had a students who moved his or her whole head when the read?  If you did, he or she looked a little bit like a chicken pecking corn. You probably wondered how in the world they could read like that.
The answer: they couldn't.

What are Eye Movements?

Head bobbing is often a sign of a problem with eye movements.  When a child has this problem, he cannot tell where his eyes are looking.  (Seriously.)  He might think he is looking at the board but he is actually looking at something else.
Another example would be a kid trying to catch a ball.  She is watching, watching, watching, but somehow the ball is totally not where she thought it was.

Signs of Eye Movement Problems

1.  Does your child bob his head while reading?
2.  Does your child frequently lose her place while reading?
3.  Does he make careless errors while reading, such as skipping small words or changing the beginnings or endings of words?
4.  Does she need to use her finger to keep her pace while reading?
5.  Does your child have problems focusing?

Next week I will talk about problems with visual perception.

Til next week!
Double vision is fairly common among children.  It is estimated that about two children in every classroom have double vision.  Double vision is also called eye teaming.
Like many other vision problems, signs of double vision become more prevalent after 3rd grade.  Why?  Small print.  Many of the vision problems become worse as the print in reading materials gets smaller and moves closer together.  Students do not often mention that they see double print, because they usually do not realize that not everyone sees this way.

Causes of Double Vision

The eyes are extremely complex.  Eye teaming occurs when the eyes can focus on exactly the same point at the same time.  Think about being "cross-eyed" - that students would obviously have vision problems, but it would also be obvious to the examiner.  If a child's eyes move apart tiny bit, that would cause double vision and not be noticeable without an in-depth exam.

Signs of Double Vision

1.  Does your child cover or close one eye when she tries to read?
2.  Does you child rest his face in his hand - and cover an eye with his palm?
3.  Does you child miss chunks of words when she reads?
4.  Does your child turn the book or his head to the side when he reads?
5.  Your child repeats letters in words when she shouldn't.  For example, spelling far "faar".
6.  He misses math problems with columns, because the columns do not "line up."

If you want to ask your child if she sees double, the book, When Your Child Struggles, Dr. David Cook recommends asking your child is the words ever "pull apart or run together."  That makes more sense to children than double vision.

Where Can Teachers Get Information

Teachers can get information for free from the Optometric Extension Program Foundation, Inc.  They have a pamphlet called the Educator's Guide to Classroom Vision Problems.

Okay, so I like to pretend that I am a craft-goddess when I can.  In my head I can make absolutely AMAZING things.  In real life....not so much.  I mean, I am not all thumbs, but I am definitely not giving Martha Stewart a run for her money.  So when I see cute but useful craft ideas marked BEGINNER, I hop right on it.
For my fellow moms that have never had two seconds to get something for your child's teacher, this easy clipboard may be for you.  I was inspired by this Michaels' project.  I adjusted their idea in order to:
1.  be more functional. (What teacher wants chalk everywhere?)
2.  be easier.
3.  be cheaper.

Supply List

- I printed off my Staples rewards and got my clipboards for free.
- Next I hit WalMart to check out their ribbon selection, and I found my ribbon there.  If your store is like mine, it gets picked over very fast.  It was really hard to find the coordinating ribbons, because the smaller size was usually sold out. (Go ahead and ask my 13 year old how long this took.  She sat down....)  Plan ahead on this.  Also, the green ribbon I bought is wired.  I found that type harder to glue than the grosgrain ribbon.  (The grosgrain ribbon is actually pink and orange, although it looks red in the picture.)
- I bought sponge brushes.  I forgot to look at WalMart, but I found a pack of six at Target.
- I had Mod Podge at home, but buy that if you need it.
- Go home and take a nap. We actually went to three stores in one trip.  That is pretty huge for me.  (At this point, my daughter would be yelling "introvert" at me, but we also had major head colds all week.  My energy is zapped.)

Assembly Tips

1.  Precut your ribbon.  If you have a lighter, you can singe the back of the ribbon so it doesn't fray, but don't get the ribbon in the fire itself or you will have problems.....
2.  Do NOT mod podge the clipboard directly.  Instead mod podge the reverse side of the ribbon.
3.  Once you have the ribbon all set, mod podge over top to seal it.
4.  If, like me, you have dried glue all over the plastic clipboard, you can use alcohol to get it off.  (Scrub hard with an alcohol soaked paper towel.)
5.  For a nice easy, no sew, no crazy direction ribbon, here is the video by Christine Kobzeff that saved me.  Okay, cheapo crafters, she says to use "floral wire."  However, a paperclip twists up nicely and hides well under the ribbon.  Smaller paperclips work better.
6.  I may buy a spray on acrylic sealer.  I am just going to watch and see how well the mod podge holds to the plastic.  If I end up doing that, I will let you know.

Let me know if you try this project - I would love to hear how it turns out!

With my son, we were very responsible.  He always went to yearly check-ups, and when he turned five I took him for his vision eye exam.  He had 20/20 vision until 2nd grade, when he was prescribed glasses for 20/25 vision.
I was so excited - maybe this was my answer!  Maybe he just couldn't see well and now he would read!
Nope.  Nothing.  Imagine my disappointment when his attitude toward reading didn't change.  (Not to mention having to buy new glasses every 3 months because he would somehow break the arms off.  You don't even want to know how much I spent on eyeglasses.)
On top of that, he would complain that it was still hard to see with his glasses on.

What is 20/20 Vision?

I am sure many parents are like I was - if my child passed the eye exam, then his vision must be fine.  The vision specialist explained it like this: the standard eye exam just means that your child can see those letters for the 5 seconds he focused on them during the exam.  That's it.
Is it worthless?  No.  Many people do have eye problems that are caught during the standard vision exam, but there are many eye problems that cannot be detected with only that exam.  In order to catch vision problems such as tracking problems, more in-depth testing is needed.
If you suspect your child has a problem, please make an appointment with a vision therapist.  After I found the vision checklist and suspected that this was the problem, I first made an appointment with our eye doctor.  He did an exam and found nothing, but said that it would be a good idea to see the children's vision specialist - even though he didn't think there was a problem.  (He is an excellent optometrist, too.  It just shows you how important an in-depth exam is for discovering these eye problems.)

What is Vision Accommodation?

Accommodation is the eye's ability to focus on objects at different distances.  In order to do this, the eye must change the shape of the lens - just as a camera refocuses when you try to take pictures of objects at different distances.  There are three different abilities of accommodation:

1.  Power - The closer that you can see clearly, the more powerful your accommodation.
2.  Flexibility - How quickly your eye refocuses when shifting its focal point.  (Looking from the board to the book, for example.)
3.  Maintenance - How long you can look at the same distance and stay focused.  (Think about reading long passages.  This problem makes it harder to keep your eyes focused.  My son has this problem.  He starts out great, but his vision gets worse the longer he reads.  At this time, we are up to being able to read for about 5 minutes.)

A student with accommodation problems may struggle to complete work, because his eyes fatigue the longer he tries to stay focused.  Having to take home unfinished work on top of regular homework means that the child may increasingly fall behind, simply because his eyes cannot keep up.
One key to understand about vision problems is that the children don't understand that their vision isn't normal.  That was so crushing for me to realize - my son just didn't understand that not everyone saw things the way he did.  That is why the kids don't speak up - they don't know.  So instead of speaking up they either resist the close work that makes their eyes hurt or they take forever to get it done.  (Guess which one my son did?  Hours and hours of screaming about the work instead of doing it.  Did I mention HOURS?  For years.)

Possible Signs of an Accommodation Problem

1.  The student reads really well at first, but makes sloppy mistakes or loses his place the longer he reads.
2.  She avoids reading or other close work (writing, columns of math problems, etc.)
3.  He mentions headaches when he reads or rubs his eyes frequently.  My son used to say his eyes burned.  (Sadly, the kid has incredibly bad allergies so I never put the burning with an eye problem.  He just did not win the genetic lottery.)
4.  She blinks a lot.  (Blinking is how children try to refocus their eyes when it gets blurry.)
5.  He complains of not being able to see even after having a 20/20 vision screening.
6.  She moves the book around while she reads.  (Imagine moving a book closer or farther away like the lens of a camera.  Again, another another to refocus.)
7.  He makes many careless errors when reading from the board.  (I can't tell you how many times I had to send my son back to his room to recopy his spelling words.  Sometimes I couldn't even figure out what the word might have been.)
8.  She doesn't seem to read as well as she should for her ability.  (I thought my son was just a slacker.  I mean, if I asked him what he should do he could tell me - he just wouldn't do it.  Think of all the kid's labelled "underperforming.")

I am using a wonderful book as my resource for this blog series - our vision therapist gave it to us when we began this journey.  In case you would like to read the book yourself, it is When Your Child Struggles: The Myths of 20/20 Vision by Dr. David Cook.  It is wonderful and easy to read.

Next week I will talk about eye teaming and double vision.

Has anyone else gone through vision therapy with their child?  Teachers, do these signs bring to mind any students?  I could have lit up a room with all the light bulbs that went off in my head when I first learned this!

Have you ever had a student that seemed bright, but just refused to read or made silly mistakes when he or she read?  That was my son.

Don't Compare Your Children

On the one hand I had my daughter. My daughter began reading about halfway through kindergarten and quickly progressed from not reading to reading chapter books.  The kid will still lay in bed and read all day.  Until middle school, I never really had to help her with any school work.

On the other hand, my son would read - but only if you read to him.  This continued on from kindergarten through second grade.  At one point he was screaming for about four hours instead of reading 10 minutes.  (I am NOT exaggerating.  Seriously.  HOURS.)  I tried everything - reading with him, offering rewards, etc.  Nothing worked.  He would always catch up enough that I didn't feel he should be retained, but every year I could just see him slipping.  I really worried that he would never like school.

The Struggle Continued

During his third grade year I began teaching at his school.  His teacher spoke with me frequently and assured me that he wasn't lazy - there were times he just didn't get it.  The boy did every after school reading program I could stick him in, even putting him on the reading programs in my room.  Again we talked about retention - but the child was doing 5th grade math in 3rd grade.  When his state test scores came back, he missed being on grade level in reading by one point  - and his math score was one point higher.  I knew at that point there was a problem.

During the summer I tried reading with him.  Just getting him to agree to read took an act of God. Once we began reading, he would only make it a few words.  We found a choose your own adventure book about World War II.  He was very interested in it, and I noticed that he didn't seem to have as much trouble with it.  I noticed that the book was written in a larger font with a bigger space between the lines. How was he reading this harder book with few problems when he would stumble on easier books?

Answers at Last!

I decided to use the power of Google.  I typed in, "Why does my child skip lines when he reads?"  Google took me to this site.

I found the self-assessment for vision issues, and a light turned on.  Honestly, my son could have been a poster child for vision problems! I knew in my gut that I had found the problem.  I was so relieved.

My A-ha Moment

Then I got angry.  I have more than twenty years experience teaching, and there are two other teachers in my family.  Why didn't we know about this?  Where was the teacher training on vision problems?

When we finally found a vision therapist, he informed us that it is estimated that more than half of  incarcerated juveniles have an undiagnosed vision problem.  Wow.  WOW.  Imagine how many students are slipping through the cracks because no one realizes that they cannot see.

Then I found a list of signs of a possible vision problem:
1.  Counting pages before beginning reading.
2.  Covering an eye with hair.
3.  Laying head on the desk and looking sideways at reading passage.
4.  Resting head on a palm - with the palm covering an eye.
5.  Rubbing eyes frequently while reading.
6.  Complaining eyes hurt.
7.  Avoids "close" work, even if it is easy.
8.  Seems to daydream.
9.  Starts strong but gives up easily.
10.  Skips or replaces easy words.
11.  Loses place while reading.
12.  Has had a vision test but has 20/20 vision, yet still seems to have problem reading.

Many students came to mind.

Spreading the Word

My son is still going through therapy.  He is finally making a lot of progress.  When we started, he truly could only read about four words before losing his place.  Now he can go about four pages.

I want to help other children to avoid the heartache my son has gone through.  There are a number of vision issues that are not detected in a common vision test.  I will focus on a different vision each week.

In the meantime, try these websites for more information:

Wichita Vision Development Center

Vision & Learning Center of Northcentral PA

Eye on Learning


Hey Everyone,
If you are like me, testing is just around the corner.  My class this year is fairly strong in reading, but not in math.  Since I am spending so much time on math, I want to make sure that I am really focusing on the language arts skills that my kids need.  
So what do they need you ask?  Writing and vocabulary.  A lot of my students do not come from vocabulary rich environments, and I decided to really spend time teaching word parts.  We recently spent a week on prefixes.
Erin at Learning to Be Awesome arranged a seller product swap.  I got to choose the product I wanted, and the prefix activity was perfect for my ELA plans.  2SpeakRight had a terrific prefix product that fit perfectly into my unit!

Day 1:  Prefix Lesson

We use Journeys in our school, and the Florida Test Power book has a great prefix lesson.  I did that lesson first.  It reviewed dis-, mis-, non-, and un-.  I am sure that your ELA curriculum has a lesson on prefixes somewhere.

Day 2-3:  Prefix Meanings Lesson

Deb Hanson recently put out an INB companion for her many ELA craftivities.  She has a great prefix project where students make a paint palette of prefixes, and she made a matching notebook piece.  I used those pages with my students.  The pages have paint cans and paint splotches.  Click here for her Interactive Notebook Craftivity Companion Freebie.

Step 1: Prep

Before the lesson, I printed a list of common English prefixes and their meanings.  Did you know that there are enough prefixes to fill 13 pages?!  The list I used can be found here.  
I made a list of the 16 prefixes that are used in the center activity (described next).  I also added in the prefixes for our first Journeys activity.  
I made 2 copies of the paint cans for each student.  On the paint cans we wrote the prefix, and we used one splotch for the meaning and the other for example words.

Step 2: Whole Class Lesson

I recommend breaking this up into two lessons.  I found it was harder for my kids than I thought it would be.  I told the class the prefix, and then they would think of example words and try to guess the prefix's meaning.  
After we completed one page of paint cans, I asked students see if any of the prefixes had similar meanings.  They worked with their shoulder partners.
Once they had determined which prefixes could be grouped, we colored the paint.  Prefixes with similar meanings were painted the same color.
After that we went on and did the rest of the prefixes following the same steps.

Day 4: Hands-On Prefix Activities

Step 1: Task Card Sort

Now that the students had the prefixes in their grammar notebooks, I had them work on Winter Prefix Practice by 2SpeakRight.  I did have kids work with a partner as some of the words can be challenging, and it is always more fun to work with a partner in fifth grade;)  I really love this center.  It is not a free product, but I will tell you that I liked it so much that I had my own fourth grader do it at home.  It comes with four prefix mats and word stems for each prefix, as well as a work sheet for each mat.  Students need to sort the stems onto the prefix mats.  Each prefix has five word stems that match.  Some mats are tricky, because the word stem could fit more than one prefix.  Students need to think it through to have five for each.  (Blank cards are included so that you can add different word stems.)  The work sheet has a place for students to write their words and then apply to word in sentences.  

Step 2: Prefix Trees

Now, not to toot my own horn, but the kids loved this and it took about 10-15 minutes of prep time!  I really love crafts, and I like to find ways to use crafts with meaning.  On the way to school I kept thinking that our prefix study needed something.   I had a pile of paper scraps on the counter and I saw brown strips - BAM.  Prefix trees.   The true beauty of this is that you just need long strips of brown paper, about 4" x 4" squares of other colors, and tape.  I decided to cut valentine colors and make heart leaves.  In March, I could use the Ellison press and cut out Shamrocks for leaves, etc.  An on-going, ever changing ELA board!
So as partners finished up, they turned in their task card answers and selected one of their prefixes to use for their tree.  I gave each group a small strip of brown to write the prefix and its meaning, then they taped that to the tree trunk.  Next, the partners had to work together to find word with their prefix (hint, hint - use the dictionary!)  I don't think my kids had been this engaged all year.  I asked each group to find at least 10 words for their tree, and I finally had to tell kids to stop so we could move on.  I told them that they could continue adding one words as they had free time.  As you can see, each tree was unique - the different groups were explaining to me why they put their leaves the way they did!  It was really amazing to see how much they liked this.  
Note:  I did have to teach how to cut paper hearts.  It is a bit shocking to me to see so many fifth graders without these skills, but many of my students do not get to do arts and crafts like I did as a child.  

Giveaway time!

The giveaway is now closed.

2SpeakRight and I are each giving away a set of the products we swapped.  Enter here and then head on over to their page to read about how they used my Box of Doughnuts book report in their classroom.  You can enter again on their blog!

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Do you have any great resources or tips for prefixes?

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