Friday, October 25, 2013

These Boots Are NOT Made For Walking

I teach in a school in a Northern state, but usually we do not get snow until at least November.  We'll get a dusting around Thanksgiving, for example, but our first serious snowfalls don't start until December or January.

Well, this past Wednesday we actually got a dusting of snow in the middle of October.  As I drove to work, I watched the little bits of snow turn to water when they hit the ground.  It didn't last more than an hour at the most and there wasn't any significant accumulation.

However, you would have thought the world had come to a screeching halt as far as the kids were concerned!

"Mrs. Gumby...snow!", announced a young student as he walked into the school.

"That's the first snow I've ever seen!", said a new student from Bangladesh. Etc., etc., etc.

As I stood just inside the entrance to the school fulfilling my weekly hall duty requirement, I started noticing the footwear on children's feet.  Yes, I started seeing pair after pair of snow boots!  (Hello, people!  It was just a dusting of snow!  There is no reason to send your students to school with snow boots on their feet in October!)

All day long I passed children clomping down the halls.  Clomp. Clomp. Clomp.  I saw pink boots, sparkly boots, Ugg boots, heavy duty boots with snaps, etc.

Sigh.  These boots were NOT made for walking!!  Please leave them at home.

Clomp. Clomp. Clomp.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Assessment: Body Parts

One of things I assess with my Kindergarten and emergent English Language Learners is the names of our body parts.  (How can we expect our students to let us know that something "hurts", if they don't have the necessary vocabulary?)

After assessment, we sing songs like "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" and "Tooty Ta", play a body parts Memory matching game, read an easy-to-read booklet on body parts and play Body Parts Bingo.

My students like all of the activities, but Body Parts Bingo seems to be the favorite!  And...they especially LOVE picking up the bingo chips with my "magic magnet wand"!!  (If you don't have a set of magnetic bingo chips and wand, I highly suggest that you invest in them.  Children love using them and it makes for easier game clean up!)

My magnetic bingo chips and wand are some leftover ones of my Mom's.  She bought them at a garage sale in Florida.  I think she used them occasionally when she and my Dad wintered near Sarasota in February and March.  I found the box in my parents' basement after she had passed away and my Dad and I were cleaning.  Every time we use the magnetic chips and wand I think of my Mom.  I know she would have gotten as much of a laugh out of watching my students' fascination with the "magic" wand and chips as I do.

I had some body parts assessments with line drawings and clip art, but I just wasn't satisfied with them.  So, I spent some time on Google images and created an assessment using photographs.  It wasn't hard to create a table in Word and insert the photos.  I like the assessment so much more with photos rather than drawings! 
After I finished making my assessment, I took the same images and created eight different Body Parts Bingo boards.  Again, I used tables in Word.  It took a little time, but the result was worth it.  My students love the bingo game and we've played it several times.  I also printed out copies of the assessment and the bingo boards for my colleague, Mrs. Sunshine and her paraprofessional, Mrs. Foil.  I laminated the boards and assessment and sent them over last week.  Mrs. Sunshine is great about sharing things with me, so I returned the favor!

Here's a sample of what my body part bingo boards looked like after I finished them.  It wasn't terribly hard to make them and well worth my time.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Time Timers

This school year, I've been trying to manage my instructional time efficiently and effectively.  I think I've always been decent at staying on task/on track with my instruction, but I became aware of needing to be better at staying on time throughout a lesson in order to maximize the effectiveness of my instruction.

Can you tell I just finished working on my K-12 Reading endorsement to add to my teaching certificate/license?  In guided reading lessons, we were required to break our instruction into small, timed parts such as work work for 5 minutes, introduction to the reading selection for 1-2 minutes, etc.   I tend to get deeply involved in my teaching and don't always keep track of time, so having to time everything was a big change for me.

I learned to use a timing app on my iPad called Alarmed.  It was helpful because I could preset some alarms to sound at 1, 2, 5, 10, etc. minutes.  It worked for what I needed for my two sessions of summer reading tutoring at the university.

I still use it for myself, but I found I really LOVED the Time Timer for my students.  I bought a small Time Timer and I set it for class ending time as soon as I start a lesson.  My English Language Learners are so excited about the Time Timer.  They love being able to "see" how much time is left for a project or for the class.  If I forget to set the timer, one of the students will ALWAYS remind me to do so.

"Hey, Mrs. Gumby!  You forgot the timer!"

"Mrs. Gumby, we NEED the timer!"

"I love the timer.  Watch the red get smaller!"

I know that the Time Timer company offers an app now for iPads, iPhones and Android phones. But...sometimes the original physical product is the best, in my opinion.  My little three inch tall Time Timer takes up a very small space on my table, but it works SO WELL!  I don't have to worry about forgetting my iPad.  I just reach over, set the time I need and away we go!  I love the gentle "beep" at the end of the elapsed time.  My students love watching the red area "go away" or get smaller.  ( I was afraid some of them might be distracted by watching the red disappear, but surprisingly, I haven't had a single student show any distracted behaviors.  In fact, it seems to motivate them to do their best work and stay on task.)

Yay, Time Timer!!  You make a great product!!


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Remembering the Beginning

For Aunt J
May the Lord hold you in the palm of His hand

Recently, I was standing in the copy room at school making my copies for the next week.  I tend to do my copying and prep after school so it was probably about 5 o'clock.  I copied, folded, assembled and stapled my booklets.  

We have a new Kindergarten teacher who teaches at a different school in the morning and our school in the afternoon.  She's a first year "newbie" teacher.  Miss Kindergarten walked into the copy room with some papers and started inserting them into the laminator next to the copiers.  

I smiled at her and asked how things were going with her. We chatted for a while and she told me she was hanging in there.  I told her I remembered my first year of teaching and how exhausting it was.  I told her to just keep on going, to take it a day at a time, to keep good files on what she found to be successful and that next year would be SO much better!  

She looked at me for a long time and then finally said, "Thank you.  Thank you for remembering what it was like when you first started teaching.  I wish other people were like that and could remember when they were a first year teacher."  

I thought she was going to cry for a minute.  But then she got a big smile on her face and thanked me again.  

You know, we all need to remember what it was like when we're first starting something new.  We need to take the time to reach out and encourage someone who's new.  When I first started teaching thirty years ago (yes, I am a veteran teacher), my Aunt "J" was ready to retire from elementary teaching. 

I visited her at her farm and she said to me, "Come on.  I have something for you."  

She went into a room at the front of her house where she stored things and came out with a large box.  She handed it to me and said, "Here. I know you're starting out and I think this will help." 

I opened the box and found lots of bulletin board items and seasonal decorations.  Many of the bulletin board items were hand drawn and colored!  (I was quite amazed at my aunt's artistic talents!)  I remember a very cool Tony the Tiger, a funny Christmas Elf, a big lion head, a jack-in-the-box and several others.

I was able to use many of them for a number of years before they finally wore out.  And...every time I used one of them, I thought again of the kindness of my aunt in sharing her teaching supplies with me.

So, today I challenge you to find someone new and take some time to go and talk with them.  Encourage them and show a little kindness.   

It's worth it.       

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Shhhhh...don't say "common core"!

There are several ESL(English as a Second Language) or ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) blogs I follow.  One is Fun to Teach ESL.  The author, Lori, posted a good link to a TESOL publication about Common Core Standards.  Here is the brief Lori linked to:

Overview of the 
Common Core State
Standards Initiatives for ELLs

It is well worth reading, especially for anyone involved in teaching English Language Learners.  Thank you, Lori, for posting it.

If you are not familiar with the Common Core Standards, here is a brief statement on what they are from Defining the Core:

"The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are the culmination of an extended, broad-based effort to fulfill the charge issued by the states to create the next generation of K-12 standards in order to help ensure that all students are college and career ready no later than the end of high school. This is one of the most important changes in education in the United States in the last fifty years and stands to positively affect students, parents, teachers, communities, and the workforce as we take a firm grasp on what 21st century learning truly means."

And, here are a few more links to general information about Common Core Standards


Common Core State Initiatives

and a blog entry from Patte Barth at the Huffington Post, The Common Core Standards:  Truths, Untruths and Ambiguities.

I don't have a problem with the Common Core Standards.  It makes sense to me to expect more rigorous educational standards for all students and I will do whatever I can to help my English Language Learners.  I served on a district third grade English Language Arts standards revision committee last year. We went through the third grade English Language Arts Common Core standards and mapped out a suggested pacing guide for each quarter of the school year for our third grade teachers.  Common Core is everywhere in education.  I see it cited on professional books from teacher stores, on items purchased  from Teachers Pay Teachers, and new textbooks, etc.

What really irritates me, though, is after several years of talking about the Common Core standards and how to use them, NOW we're told at school that we aren't supposed to call them the Common Core standards!!! Yes, we have curriculum night coming up on Wednesday evening, but we aren't allowed to refer to Common Core standards in our discussions with parents or on our handouts for the evening.  Our district leaders have informed us that we have to call them "[insert the name of my state here] New Learning Standards".

You say "Common Core Standards";  I have to say "Blank State New Learning Standards".

You say "Tomato";  I have to say "To-MAH-to".  Sigh.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Earth Science Vocabulary

Last year, I tried to help my third grade students with Earth science vocabulary.  It was difficult, but I tried to come up with some sort of visual organizer to help my students understand the vocabulary used by the regular classroom teacher.  Of course, I also brought in realia (hands on/touchable examples) of as many of the items as I could.

I'm sharing what I did, in case you have to do the same thing for your students.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words....

Monday, September 2, 2013

Write, Write, Write

One of the things I do daily with my students is WRITE!

Many times my class periods are limited to 30 minutes and I have a lot to do within that short time frame.  I try to get in some guided reading as well as vocabulary front-loading and practice, etc.  However, we always write, write, write.

We use Writing A-Z and the Write Source for ideas, but every student has a writing journal for their daily writing.  Frequently, we use blank composition books, especially with the older students, but I found a great writing journal with prompts for my first grade students.  It is called "My First Writing Prompt Journal" from Lakeshore. 

 My primary students LOVE these!  I started using them second semester with my first grade students last year and sent them home at the end of the school year with the directions to finish the journals over the summer.  This year, I distributed the journals to my first graders on our first day of ESL.  One of the girls in my class actually squealed when she saw her journal because she was excited to get one of her own!  (Her older sister brought her journal home in May and completed it over the summer.)

What I like about this particular journal is the interesting and child appropriate writing prompt on each page.  We read the prompt together and then talk about the choices in the word bank below.  After a brief "thinking" time, I direct the students to trace with their pencils over the blue writing prompt words and then finish the prompt with a word from the word bank.  I also expect a period at the end of their sentence.  After they complete their sentence, then they may draw a picture to accompany their sentence.  Each child reads their sentence to me as they complete it and they may tell me about their picture as they draw.

I know the writing prompt journal doesn't allow for a lot of creativity, but my students do other journal writing in their classrooms as well.  Using the writing prompt journals in my ESL class time allows me to squeeze in some writing every day.  Plus, my students really enjoy writing in these journals and will ask me for them if I forget to pull them out.  You can't beat that, in my opinion!  I love it when my students have a positive view of writing...whatever it takes.  

Friday, August 30, 2013

Gummy Gumbys!

I missed the first eight days of school this year because I went on a vacation with Mr. Gumby!  He travels frequently to Germany, but I always have to stay home.  In the past, I needed to stay home with our children or, more recently, to care for my Dad when he was ill.

However, this time when Mr. Gumby told me he was going to Germany for a meeting, I jumped at the chance to go!  I cleared the time with my principal and off I went!

Mr. Gumby and I had a wonderful time in Europe.  He took a week and a half of vacation time and we left early before the meeting.  We flew into Munich and spent three days there sightseeing.  We saw Mad King Ludwig's castles (Schloss Neuschwanstein and Schloss Linderhof) and visited Oberammergau.  We also ate pretzels and drank beer at a beer garden in the English Gardens.  We rode the S-bahn and the U-bahn and even went to a holy day Mass at the cathedral and were blessed by a retired Cardinal.

We rode the ICE train from Munich to Frankfurt and soaked up all the scenery as we flew past.  (I'm amazed at how comfortable and smooth the trains were in Germany.  Absolutely nothing like our Amtrak!)

We rented a car in Frankfurt and spent the rest of the time in Mainz.  We visited the Gutenberg Museum and walked all over the old part of the city.   Renting a car also allowed us to do day trips from Mainz.  We went to Rudesheim, Heidelberg, Frankfurt and Rothenberg.  Plus, we took a day cruise down the Rhine River and saw the famous Lorilei rock and oodles of old castles.

The highlight of our trip was meals at the homes of two of Mr. Gumby's German colleagues!  One evening we ate bratwurst and a delicious vegetable and cheese casserole.  Another evening we had spaetzle and turkey schnitzel.  It was so neat to be able to see the homes and we were very honored to be invited.

I flew home Saturday by myself while Mr. Gumby stayed in Germany for a series of meetings.

Of course, Mrs. Pokey made sure everything went fine at school while I was gone.  I had an excellent substitute teacher who completed lots of beginning of the school year assessments for me.  When I returned to school on Monday, Mrs. Pokey and I could divide up the students according to their needs and figure out our schedules.

But, when I returned to school, I found a very nice note from my substitute AND a bag of Gumby and Pokey gummy candies on my desk!!  They are hilarious!  My substitute listened my instructions when we met before I left.  I showed her the assessments I needed her to complete and told her the story of how "Semper Gumby" (Always Flexible) is the motto of our ESL department.

After 8 days of substituting, I think she understood how you have flexible when you're teaching English Language Learners!

Semper Gumby!!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

E-"U"-phoria and e-X-ercise!

Along with my new larger classroom (that contains a window!!) I am getting some new furniture!  My ESL coordinator and facilitator put their heads together and surprised me with a new desk AND a U shaped table!   Thanks, ladies!

I know....why am I getting excited about a U shaped table???  Because they are great!  Unlike the usual school issue kidney table,  a U or horseshoe table has a deeper part for the teacher.  It's easier for the teacher to reach the students who are seated around the table.  I had one a couple of years ago at another school and missed it.   I had to look through some specialty catalogs for schools to find it, but I did.

Supposedly, my new table will be delivered by Tuesday at the latest!   Oh, "U" table...I love "U"!!

Now, if I could convince them to get a "flower" shaped table for Mrs. Pokey....

Or the really cool "amoeba" shaped tables she saw recently as a STEM school she visited!   When she came back from the STEM school visit, she kept talking about the "amoeba" tables they used with students sitting on exercise balls!  ( Boing, boing, boing!!!   I'm afraid my students would never stay in one place with exercise balls to sit on.  They would have great core strength and ab muscles, but it would drive me crazy!) 

Here's a link to an article about exercise balls as seats in elementary classrooms.  

Hmmmmm.   I have some "squirrel-ly" students who might benefit from exercise balls, though. Perhaps Mrs. Pokey and I may have to look into writing a grant proposal this year for exercise balls so we can try them out.   Boing, boing, boing.... 

Monday, August 5, 2013

We've Been Skunked!!

Yes, the Gumby house reeks this morning with the smell of SKUNK!   Yikes!!!!

Mr. Gumby let Max the Wonder Dog outside this morning at 5 AM as usual.   When Max came back in the dog was gagging and foaming at the mouth.

Mr. Gumby came upstairs to our bedroom, woke me up and said, "Help me!  The dog's been skunked!"

Apparently, a skunk lives nearby and was out in the backyard at the same time Max was out.  Max got a blast in the face from the skunk and BOY does Max smell nasty!! Blech!!!

We quickly threw Max into the tub and began showering him off.  Imagine, if you will, a gagging Mr. Gumby in his underwear, a gagging bleary-eyed Mrs. Gumby in her nightgown and a pathetic looking dog all in the shower and bathtub.  We rinsed and shampooed and rinsed and shampooed and rinsed and shampooed and rinsed the dog over and over again.

I called the local afterhours veterinarian service and they suggested a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and liquid dish soap as a shampoo.  Unfortunately, I don't keep hydrogen peroxide on hand .  Guess I'll need to get some for any future skunkings!  They also suggested boiling white vinegar on the stove to help rid the house of the skunk smell.

So far, I'm not seeing any difference after boiling the vinegar.  My house stinks.  And, I've been up since 5 AM.  I am not a morning person!!  Grrrrrrrrr!  I hate skunks.


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Camel Shakes

I have a student who INSISTS that our local McDonald's carries a special camel shake!  Mrs. Reading and I have talked with her several times and tried to convince her that while McDonald's has chocolate, vanilla and strawberry milkshakes and occasionally special shakes like the Shamrock shake or Egg Nog at Christmas time...there is no CAMEL shake at McDonald's.

Since the student in question is Taxi Boy's sister (of America's Got Talons/Talent fame), Mrs. Reading and I finally gave up our efforts after banging our heads against the wall for some time.  

However, we got a pretty big laugh when we recently figured out that we THINK she was referring to caramel rather than camel!!  OK, if you take the letters "r" and "a" out of caramel, you get the word camel.  I can see where her thoughts were going with this topic.  Caramel shakes...camel shakes.  

At any rate, when I saw that McDonald's was featuring a Dulce de leche caramel shake in July, I had to text Mrs. Reading to let her know!!  "Hey, camel shakes are back, Mrs. R!"   

However, I shudder to think what Little Taxi Girl will come up with from Dulce de leche???  It boggles my mind....

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes

I really like the songs and videos available from Super Simple Songs!

They have two new videos available on You Tube for the song, "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes".  The first one is the Learn It version that introduces the body parts slowly and clearly.  (It's easy for English Language Learners to think that "knees and toes" are all one word!  KNEESANDTOES! KNEESANDTOES!)   The second video is a little faster but still clearly sung.


The Learn It version is at

The slightly faster Sing It version is at

And...for a bonus...colorful flashcards of the song are available FREE at Super Simple Songs' website.

Here's a link to the Super Simple Learning website and Super Simple's free flashcards.

Enjoy!  I can't wait to use these with my Kindergarteners and emergent English Language Learners.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Bow Wow Meow! Animal Sounds in Different Countries

I found a fun video today on Vimeo called Bow Wow Meow!  It features people saying animal sounds in 17 different languages. The languages are English, Mandarin, French, Italian, Spanish, Turkish, Hindi, Canadian-French, Romanian, Japanese, Russian, Dutch, Bengali, Brazilian-Portuguese, Colombian-Spanish, Swahili and Mongolian.   The one sound that seems to have the most commonality is the sound of a cat.  Most of the languages sound similar to our English "meow".  The other animals are dog, rooster, cow and pig.

I think this would be a great video to show students and then do a writing project on it.  I could see making our own video with our iPads, too.  Our ELL's include students who represent at least 9 different languages.  

What fun and it could be a great way to include some of our ELL parents, too! !

Here's the link to Bow Wow Meow on Vimeo.  (Note:  Be patient.  It took a while for it to download and buffer before I could watch it on my computer.) 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Organizing My Thoughts and Supplies

I've been working at school getting my new classroom organized.  It's been a slow process, but it's coming along.  I have quite a stack of empty boxes outside my room now, so I'm seeing some progress.  (In fact, one of our staff members happens to be moving soon, so she carried a bunch of the empty boxes home with her on Friday.  I look at it as the ultimate in recycling!  I reused the boxes and now Mrs. Cheeseburger can use them.)

I thought of my friend, Mrs. Bluebird from Bluebird's Classroom, as I was unpacking and consolidating school supplies.  (She blogged recently about poor quality pencils.)  As Mrs. Pokey and I are the Queens of Scavenging in our school, other teacher give us extra or left over school supplies throughout the year.  We usually get a big bonanza each June when classroom teachers are packing up their rooms for the summer.

As I sorted extra pencils, crayons, markers, highlighters, glue sticks and dry erase markers, I had an inspired thought.  Why not let my English Language Learners make their own school supply kits to take home? Many of them are on free and reduced lunch and they are given beginning of the year backpacks with school supplies for school, but frequently don't have school supplies at home.  I'm going to give each student a gallon freezer bag and have them make their own homework kits.  We'll count out three pencils, one glue stick, one highlighter and a snack baggie of crayons. Then I'll have them make their own pack of markers.  I have a box of gently used individual markers, so it will be good experience for my students to listen and follow directions as we create our own marker packs.  For example:  "Everyone make sure you have a black marker.  Now find a brown marker and a red marker, etc."  I can assess their listening skills and make sure they know their English color words at the same time.  Bonus!  Plus, I will emphasize that there is no excuse now for the the claim of "I didn't do my homework because I don't have a pencil or markers or glue, etc."

Heh, heh, heh!  I love a good plan.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Moving On Up!

Hello!  Sorry I've been absent for a while.  I'm finally finished with all my Dad's estate business and it's a huge relief.  I'm also taking classes at a local university in an effort to add a K-12 reading endorsement on my teaching certificate.  The last class starts on Monday.  The other teachers in the class and I are talking about going out for a post reading cohort "celebration" at a local watering hole after the final class.  I also get to take the fun and exciting Praxis (national test) for Teaching Reading in a few weeks.  I'm opting for the computerized version of the test versus the paper version this time.  Hopefully, I'll get my test results a little quicker that way.  We shall see!

The good news is that I am moving classrooms for this school year.  For the past four years I've been in a little closet sized room.  Now I get a much larger space next to the school library and next door to Mrs. Pokey!  It's not a full sized classroom, but is a converted conference room.  I'm super excited because it's much larger than my old space and...wait for has a WINDOW!!  Yes, a window to the outside!  I will actually have natural light and a view.  Sure, it's a view of a playground and a field, but I'm still thrilled!  A window!!!

The bad news is that I had to pack up all of my things at the end of the school year in anticipation of the move.  Ugh.  Now, I have to go in and unpack all of my stuff.  Oh well, it will force me to organize which will make Mrs. Pokey very happy.  (She's much more organized than I am and I know I annoy her sometimes with my more disorganized work space.  We get along very well in spite of our organizational differences, though.)   Our head custodian emailed me on Wednesday and told me that I could come in to school and start unpacking in my new room.  She and her assistant have been great about helping me out and I appreciate it very much.

Wooooo hooooo!!  I can't wait to get in and start unpacking this week!!  I'm doing a happy dance.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

I Thought You Were Smarter Than That!

Hello!  I have been super busy.  Yes, I'm taking classes to add a K-12 Reading Endorsement on my teaching certificate.  I'm probably crazy as a loon to do so, but I consider myself a life long learner.  I took an online Phonics course (in a very abbreviated time slot) that really kicked my rear.  So much to remember in so short of a time!  I managed to finish it AND take another reading assessment class at the same time.  I'm enjoying a short break from my studies plus our spring break is this coming week.  I'm not doing anything fun, unfortunately.  I'm cleaning my house.  Ugh!  It needs to be done.  Scrubby scrub scrub!

Now, back to the title of this post.  On Friday, my fourth grade goofy boys  (Taxi Boy and California Kid) burst into my room at the end of the school day for their ESL class time.

Taxi Boy blurted out, "It's Friday!  Can we play a game??"

"Yeah!!" interjected the California Kid.  "A game!  Please???"

Now, I had already decided we were going to play a game, but I let them "convince" me that we would play a game.  I turned on my projector and calibrated my mini Smartboard.  Then I announced, "OK, we will play a new game called the Vocabulary Quiz Game."

Immediately, the two boys looked at me like I had two heads growing out of my body.  They chimed in together.  "Vocabulary????  That's not a game. Come on, Mrs. Gumby!"  ( Talk about two pouting boys!!)

I told them to just give it a try.

Our ESL unit recently received the Vocabulary Quiz Game from Lakeshore Learning.   Here's a link if you would like to take a look at it.     It's similar to Jeopardy in format.  I let the boys choose their five categories from the following:  Definitions; Multiple Meanings; Antonyms; Prefixes and Suffixes; Using the Word; Homophones; Contractions; and Figures of Speech.   As they got to choose, the boys started to warm up to the game.

                         Vocabulary Quiz Interactive Game Show - Gr. 1-3

I told them I would be Team Mrs. Gumby and they would be Team California/Taxi.  We would see who could win.   We played two games and they won both games.  (Yes, I let them win.)  There was a lot of fist bumping and cheering coming from my room as the boys "defeated" me.

The funniest thing came when they were leaving my room.  Taxi Boy looked at me, wrinkled his nose, and said to me, "I thought you were smarter than that!"

 I smiled at him and said, "Wait until next time.  I might just "skunk" you!"

He looked at me and said, "Hey!  Is that an idiom??"

Hooray!  He finally figured out what an idiom is!  It's taken me seventeen weeks, but he's starting to get it.

Yes, I am smarter than you think I am, Taxi Boy!  Wait until our rematch after Spring Break. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Rootin' Tootin' Time

A couple of days ago I was giving the mid-year writing assessment to two of my fourth grade students.  I know it's a difficult assessment, but Mrs. Pokey and I believe strongly that it's important to assess the writing of our English Language Learners at least three times during the school year.  We do a beginning of the year assessment, another at mid-year and the third at the end of the school year.  We use the grade level tests from the Write Source writing series and also use a rubric from Writing A-Z.

I set up my small room with the appropriate materials including tabletop cardboard privacy shields (corrugated cardboard trifold boards). By small room, I mean that my room is about the size of a large closet.  There's enough room for a small round table, four chairs and a very small floor space in front of my tiny meter wide SmartBoard. It's quite "cozy" at times.

My fourth graders entered the room and sighed when they saw the set up.  They knew the privacy shields meant serious business.  My fourth graders are Taxi Boy (of the "America's Got Talons fame") and California Kid.  California Kid was new to our school at the beginning of the year and has some serious gaps in his education.  We're working on filling those gaps as quickly as we can, but he'll need lot of intervention to catch up to his classmates.

We started the test and I began to read it aloud to the two boys.  (It's intended to be a writing test, not a reading test.  Therefore, I chose to use read-aloud as an accommodation.)  After about the third question in the first "bubble-the-correct-answer" section, California Kid let loose a loud flatulent blast.  Taxi Boy looked up from his test to see California Kid's embarrassed face.  California Kid flopped his head down on the table and started to giggle.

Taxi Boy looked at California Kid for a moment and then calmly said, "Dude!"  California Kid continued to giggle. ( I thought Taxi Boy showed a lot of restraint because the "toot" in question was quite loud.)

I said something teacher-ly like, "We all pass gas now and then. It happens. Let's keep going with the test."

We continued the test and a minute or so later, California Kid snuck out another little toot.  He started giggling again.  I continued reading the test aloud.  This pattern continued for a few minutes until finally California Kid ripped out another loud flatulent emission. Taxi Boy couldn't take it any more!  He sat up straight in his chair and then leaned over the privacy shields between them and said,

"D-U-U-U-D-E!!!   SERIOUSLY??????!!!???"

I thought I was going to lose it!  I wanted to laugh so much, but I knew I needed to maintain professional decorum.

Who knew that you could have such a ROOTIN' TOOTIN' time in ESL class??

I definitely need to stock up on some air freshener this weekend when I head to the grocery!  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Pumpkin Pie and Tamales

Sorry I haven't posted for a while.  I've been busier than a one-armed paper hanger, as my dear sweet Granny used to say!

Recently, I've been reading some Thanksgiving themed books from Reading A-Z.  The books, Maria's Thanksgiving and Carlos's First Thanksgiving are a great pair for building vocabulary and background knowledge about the American holiday of Thanksgiving.  Plus, they're perfect for practicing the skills of comparing and contrasting.

In one of the books (I believe it's the Maria book) they mention eating tamales as a part of the Thanksgiving feast.  One of my students is of Mexican heritage, so she was thrilled to describe to us  the delicious tamales her mother makes.  The other student arrived from Ghana about three months ago, so he had no idea about Thanksgiving nor tamales.  I found a You Tube video to use to describe how to make tamales.   (By the way, remember to ALWAYS preview any video clip before using it in class!  I found one video that did a great job describing how to make tamales when suddenly, in the middle of the clip, the hostess/chef picked up a piece of corn husk from a pot filled with hot water and clearly said, "SH*T!!"   Oops.  I'm not using THAT video!)

After our tamale discussions, we went on to pumpkin pie.  Moonwalk Boy, my Ghanaian student, couldn't imagine what a pumpkin pie would be like.  He didn't think it sounded good to eat at all!  So, I stopped at the grocery after school and purchased a small pumpkin pie and a can of whipped cream.  I brought them in to school on Friday.  When class started, I took out the pie, cut it into slices and I talked about how not every American likes pumpkin pie.  (I used my own husband as an example.  Mr. Gumby does NOT like pumpkin pie, but our sons do.  Therefore, we always have pumpkin pie and apple pie at our house for Thanksgiving. I always try to give kids an out if they don't like the taste of something. I tell them it won't hurt my feelings if they don't like a food.)  I placed small slices of pumpkin pie on paper plates and squirted some whipped cream on top of each piece. Whoosh!  Moonwalk Boy jerked back in his seat at the sound of the whipped cream coming out of the aerosol can!!  I guess I scared him? (Mrs. Gumby...scaring English Language Learners with aerosol whipped cream since 2012!!!)    After explaining how the cream comes out of the can, I distributed the plates and we began our taste test.  Happy Girl delightedly ate her pumpkin pie and whipped cream.  However, Moonwalk Boy gently poked his piece of pie and cautiously tried a teeny tiny bit of pumpkin filling.  He decided it wasn't something he liked, but he did enjoy the whipped cream.   I could just see the look in his eyes, though.

 "Those crazy Americans and their weird traditions!  Who wants to eat that nasty orange pie?"

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Malapropism Strikes Again

Yes, the English language is complicated.  I see my students struggle every day to conquer the twists, turns and peculiarities inherent in the language.  They work hard, but sometimes the results are inadvertently funny to listen to.  I try hard not to laugh but to model correct usage/pronunciation instead.  

Here is an example of an inadvertent malapropism from one of my students.  It was shared with me last week by my neighbor, Mrs. Cheerleader.  She and I share a student, Taxi Boy.  Taxi Boy LOVES to talk and talk and talk.  Mrs. Cheerleader had Taxi Boy and a girl, Quiet Mouse, in a reading group.  They read a non-fiction book about eagles and were discussing the information found in the book.  The text in the book was about how eagles catch their prey with their sharp talons.  Next to the word "talons" was the word "claws" in parenthesis.  Mrs. Cheerleader asked Taxi Boy and Quiet Mouse what talons meant.  Quiet Mouse wouldn't respond, but after some thought, Taxi Boy piped up.

"Talons!  I 'America's Got Talons'!!!"   

Mrs. Cheerleader had the hardest time keeping a straight face as she explained the difference between "talons" and "talents"!  When she told me the story after school, she and I laughed so hard we nearly fell over.   

Yes, indeed...America's Got Talons!  

Sunday, October 7, 2012

If It's October, It Must Be Pumpkin Time

This past week, I've been working on the nursery rhyme, "Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater" with my first graders. They LOVE this rhyme!   I brought in a couple of small pie pumpkins and we cut them open.  I cut while they watched (of course!) and then we scooped out the pulpy strings and seeds.  I purposely did not make the pumpkins into jack o'lanterns because I wanted the kids to see what a pumpkin "shell" looked like.  I left the hollowed out pumpkins in my room for three days and let the students lift off the lids and peek inside the pumpkins.  We all decided that living in a pumpkin shell would not keep one "very well" at all!  We thought it would be very stinky and messy.

Last week, I found a few interesting activities to add to my Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater lesson.  I like the Itsy Bitsy book from Kidzone. ( Note:  If you haven't put together one of the Itsy Bitsy books, read the directions first.  It takes a little manipulation, but it gets easier once you've made a few.)
Thematic Itsy Bitsy Books

I thought the Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater puppets from First School were fun, too.  Puppets are always great activity to do with English Language Learners. 

Finally, I found some great graphic sequence cards on a blog called Montessori for Everyone.  I definitely will use the Pumpkin Life Cycle cards, but I see a lot more useful materials for future sequencing lessons. 

Have a great October!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Expanding Expression Tool (EET)

Continuing on the theme of teaching writing to children, I'd like to tell you about a great tool I love to use with my students!  It's called the Expanding Expression Tool or EET, for short.

The Expanding Expression Tool is a hands-on way for students to think about things they want to write about and how to describe them.  Each bead on the strand stands for a different way of looking at the item.  For example, the Green bead (with the smiling face) represents "Green - Group" or what group the item belongs to.  The Blue bead is for "Blue - Do."  It stands for "what does this item do OR what would you do with the item".  The White bead with the eyeball on it represents "what does it look like" while the brown wooden bead means "what is made of".  The Pink bead is for "Pink - Parts" (what it is a part of OR what are its parts).  The plain White bead represents "White - Where" for where would you find it or where does it reside.  Finally, the Orange bead with the question mark stands for "What else do I know".

Here is an example of two descriptions of a football.  One is written by a group before using the EET and the other description is by the same group after they used the tool.

Mrs. Pokey and I have had success using the Expanding Expression Tool.  In fact, we're going to be working with a fifth grade class tomorrow.  We have four English Language Learners in the class, so Mrs. Pokey and I will be pushing-in to the classroom tomorrow and working with the whole class along with their teacher, Mrs. Cookie.  (Yes, she makes marvelous cookies!)   Mrs. Cookie has a whole bag full of Mexican   jumping beans.  I can't wait to work with the students tomorrow afternoon on how to describe their jumping beans!  (I was in the classroom this morning talking with Mrs. Cookie.  The whole time I was in there, the beans were jumping in their little clear plastic boxes.  Click, click, click, click, click, click, click!)

To find out more about the Expanding Expression Tool, please go to their website at   I also found few good YouTube links to share with you.  

The first one is from a school district in Ohio:

The second is from Expanding Expression: 

I also found some good PDF's about EET online.  They're worth downloading and reading.  I hope you'll give EET a try with your students, too.  

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Writing A-Z

At the beginning of last school year, Mrs. Pokey and I sat down and looked at the scores of our students on our annual "Really Big Important State Tests For English Language Learners".   The "Really Big State Tests" look at the progress of our English Language Learners in four areas.  The areas are reading, speaking, listening and writing.  The students receive scores from 1-5 in each of the four areas.  The area scores are weighted and combined to make a composite score.

We use the composite scores to decide where the students will be placed in our program.  I am the ESL unit teacher and I work with the emergent and beginning students (composite scores of 1 and 2).  Mrs. Pokey is our ESL paraprofessional and she works with the intermediate and advanced students (composite scores of 3 and 4).  Under current state rules, a student who receives composite 4's two years in a row or a composite 5 after 3rd grade is exited from the ESL program.   Our goal is to keep our students advancing and eventually exiting the program.

After looking at the data, we realized that writing is the "make or break" score for our children.  It is weighted more heavily and affects the composite score.  The writing score makes the difference between a student working with me versus Mrs. Pokey AND determines whether or not they can exit our program.

Therefore, Mrs. Pokey and I decided we really needed to place a high priority on working on writing with our students.  We looked at what was available to us from the district and what was available from other sources.  Finally, we decided to try Writing A-Z, an online program from the Learning A-Z folks.

We've used Reading A-Z and Raz-Kids from the same company for several years.  We like both programs and feel they've been beneficial for our kids.  So, we piloted Writing A-Z for the school year to see how we liked it.

Well...our test results came in just before the school year ended in May.  Our students ROCKED the "Really Big Important State Tests for English Language Learners"!!!   Mrs. Pokey and I were so excited we nearly expired from happiness!   Yipppeeeeeeee!!  We were able to exit several students while others advanced up from unit level services to tutor level (working with Mrs. Pokey).  Moreover, we even had a few students who advanced TWO levels in writing.  Hallelujah!

Mrs. Pokey and I are convinced that trying Writing A-Z last year made a difference for our students.   We especially liked the way it tied in so well to Reading A-Z and Raz-Kids that we already use.  We're excited to keep moving forward with it this year as well.  Now that we've had a "shake down" year with it, we have more ideas to try.

And...the best part of all this??  The district bigwigs noticed our test scores and agreed to provide Writing A-Z to all our elementary ESL programs.  (Thank goodness I don't have to buy it myself this year! <grin>)
Stay tuned throughout the school year and I'll share some more writing tips with you.

If you'd like to check out Writing A-Z for yourself, here's a link.  They will email some free samples to you and periodically they have free trial subscription days.

Writing A-Z link

 Here's what they say on their website about Writing A-Z:  

Writing A–Z is a website offering a comprehensive collection of downloadable lessons and materials. The core lessons are grouped under five main writing genres: expository, narrative, persuasive, procedural, and transactional. Each genre category is further divided into a subset of text types with accompanying resources to teach each type. Lessons and materials are provided at four developmental levels to meet the needs of students at different writing stages, from beginning to fluent. In addition to the specific text type writing lessons and materials, the website houses a collection of mini-lessons on writing skills such as sentence and paragraph writing. There is also a collection of support resources to aid writing instruction, including writing prompts, wordless books, read-aloud books, rubrics, and writing samples.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Rest in Peace

Sorry if it appeared as if I dropped off the face of the Earth, but I have been caring for my father.  He passed away on the evening of July 2.  He fought a valiant and painful battle against pancreatic cancer, but in the won. 

Rest in peace, Dad.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Play Dough

Another kinesthetic learning activity I enjoy using with students is working with play dough.  Sometimes I buy the premade commercial version. (I admit it.  I like the smell!  It takes me back to my own childhood.)  Other times, I make my own.  Here are a some great recipes from a blog called Pre Kinders. 

I've taught students to roll the dough into "snakes"and then make letters, numbers and shapes.  They've made their names in dough and let them dry.  I have a set of alphabet "stampers" students can use to write words in slabs of play dough.  Other times, we've done life cycle representations, rock layers and other science concepts.  The possibilities are endless AND lots of fun, too!!

Finally, I wanted to share a great website with a wonderful play dough theme section.  I've used the emergent reader book and many of the activities with my kindergarten students with great success.  The website is Making Learning Fun

Monday, May 28, 2012

Oh...Wikki Sticks!

As you may know, I work with elementary age English Language Learners.  One very cool product I enjoy using with my students are Wikki Stix!  Wikki Stixs are colorful pieces of yarn dipped in paraffin wax.  They are sticky, bendable, flexible and lots of fun to use! 

I bought a set of alphabet cards that use Wikki Stix to form the letters.  My kindergarten students especially enjoy making upper and lower case letters with them.  And, once the yarn is pressed firmly to the pattern, the letters stick to the tagboard!  I can hang them up on my white board or tuck them into a sentence strip chart to display the completed letters.

According to their web site,
Wikki Stix Craft and Teaching ToolsWikki Stix are made of hand-knitting yarn enhanced with a microcrystalline food-grade, non-toxic wax, the kind used in bubble gum and lipstick. They do not contain latex, gluten, nor peanut or other nut oils or byproducts which makes them an ideal creative activity toy for children with allergies.

Simply stated…they stick! No glue, no paste, no mess. Just press them down with light fingertip pressure and they will adhere to almost any smooth surface. They are also easy to peel up and reposition so“mistakes” virtually disappear, which helps build self-confidence. There is no preparation, no clean-up, no mess. Press ‘em down, peel ‘em off… it’s that simple!

I use Wikki Stix to form alphabet letters, but after looking at the website, I can see lots of other uses for these incredibly addictive kinesthetic waxy sticks of fun!!