Cool Tool for Creating Random Groups
At the beginning of the year, I find it hard to form groups before I really know my students and how they work together. Instead of having them count off in numbers or drawing sticks, I found this neat online tool at a site called Super Teacher Tools that will randomly group my students for me. It allows you to create a class list and then choose how many students you want in each group. It automatically creates the groups with just a click of the mouse. (In addition to Group Maker, this Web site also has cool online review games and management tools you can use with your students.)
I ask students to work in partnerships quite often in my classroom. While they have assigned partners in Reading and Writing Workshop (based on reading level and other factors), there are certainly times when I want them to quickly find a partner with whom they can complete a task or do an assignment.
Read-Aloud Books for Launching Reading Workshop
You set the tone of Reading Workshop in your classroom during your launching unit. For this reason, it is important to choose read-aloud books that both reinforce the behaviors you are teaching during your mini-lessons and promote a love of reading.
(Click on each book for more information about the story.)
I used this one today! But Excuse Me That is My Book by Lauren Child
Normally I avoid books with a TV tie-in like the plague, but this really drives home the lesson about sharing books and varying our reading diet to consume a “healthy balance” of books. Written for younger children, this is a snappy read about Lola, who is peeved because another child has borrowed her “extra specially special” favorite book. My students enjoy adopting a superior tone as they discuss why young Lola is being unreasonable, and how they are far more mature (wink-wink) and therefore understand the nuances of sharing books. (Lauren Child also wrote the Clarice Bean series for upper elementary kids, which I introduce after reading this book.)
Writing even a short poem can seem daunting to some students at the beginning of the year, so we start with a single simile sentence. I read my students Quick as a Cricket by Audrey Wood, and we discuss how the narrator uses a series of creative similes to describe himself. In my next lesson, I readMy Best Friend is as Sharp as a Pencil by Hanoch Piven to share some more complex examples of character trait similes. After immersing my students in the language of similes, we chart an extensive list of character traits that the students can pick from to write their own descriptive similes. Finally, my students illustrate their favorite personal simile with oil pastels and watercolor paints using the wax resist technique. Last year, I displayed their paintings along with their similes on sentence strips on a bulletin board in the hallway. Everyone loved learning about my students through their similes.
Have Students Personalize Their Writer's Notebook
My students write each day in their Writer's Notebook during Writing Workshop. They are given a blank composition book at the beginning of the year and I ask them, in class and with aletter to their parents, to bring things from home (photos, sticks, postcards, souvenirs, etc.) to decorate both the front and back of the notebook. While this may just seem like a fun art project, it is so much more than that! Allowing students to personalize their notebooks helps them truly take ownership of the writing that will soon cover the pages of their book. The photos and other things they choose to put on their notebooks often give them ideas for new notebook entries as well. I have parent volunteers cover the notebooks with contact paper when they are done decorating them.