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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Constructed Response, Take 2

Yes, there is a way to construct a better response. Last year, I discussed the constructed response in my December 24th post. One year later, I have some new insights.

Is one paragraph better than the other? Let's analyze them.

 The first paragraph focuses on the reader's impression of the Camel. It includes a reference to the story, great support, and a strong organizational structure. The second paragraph is shorter and uses a slightly weaker organizational pattern. But it's better. Why?

In the second paragraph, the reader addresses the attribute that affects the outcome of the story. In addition, she explains how the character's actions affected that outcome.

At the beginning of the year, I taught my fourth graders how to answer questions. It was the logical first step. Readers could focus on just one part of the text to find evidence. Next, I taught them to summarize. They learned to identify the character's goal, obstacles that got in the way, and main events that led to the outcome of the story. This broad understanding of the story became the key to finding and defending a theme, describing a character (or setting or event), and defending point of view.

Today, my students are contemplating elements of each story like never before. They're writing concise responses to express key details. It's powerful stuff. Thank you, Common Core.

Enjoy teaching today! I know I will.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Bedtime Book Club

I've decided to capitalize on those 30 minutes before bedtime with Bedtime Book Club. It's geared for my reluctant readers, but the whole class is invited to join.

Click on student record sheet to download for your classroom.

Research shows that independent reading is essential to increasing students' reading levels. But getting kids to read is tough! Bedtime is the perfect time to snuggle up with a book. Bedtime Book Club challenges kids to spend 30 minutes a day reading before bed.

As an added incentive, each student in the class who meets his or her reading goal will be invited to our Readers Slumber Party.

Our slumber party will be held on the last day before winter break. As you can see, pajamas, blankets, pillows, flashlights, and snacks are encouraged. We'll be closing the blinds, lowering the lights, and reading by flashlight. What fun!

Excitement is high, and one student has already met her goal! We're celebrating with clapping and cheers each time a new student is invited. Then a new child in a sleeping bag (with the student's name) is added to our classroom display.


Saturday, October 10, 2015

Halloween Fun in Your Classroom

Would you like to have some Halloween fun in your classroom? Me too! School seems so serious. It's time to lighten up!

Halloween Writing - Writing with a Halloween twist will really grab your students' attention. My students are currently writing descriptive narratives about the Best-Dressed Witch. After a week of brainstorming and planning, they cannot wait to write. I love the excitement! 

The planning steps of this project help kids understand the importance of prewriting, particularly the development of characters, setting, and plot.

Halloween Dialogue - Narrative writing needs lots of dialogue! Unfortunately, my students aren't all that great at writing direct quotes. This year, we'll be practicing with Halloween riddles. What fun!

Halloween Reading - What kind of literature is needed on Halloween? Spooky stories, of course! My students will read several versions of The Headless Horseman then compare and contrast.

Halloween is a great time for some serious fun!


Monday, August 10, 2015

First Week of ELA - Grade 4

This year, I'll make the most of the first week of school. My students will have some fun while addressing a few simple standards:
  • RL.4.5 - Distinguishing between poetry, prose, and drama
  • W.4.4 - Writing drama and poetry
  • RI.4.4 - Finding word meaning
  • L.4.1, L.4.2 - Identifying nouns and verbs; capitalizing proper nouns; abbreviating salutations

RL.4.5, W.4.4, L.4.1, L.4.2, RI.4.4
(Click on image to grab these lesson plans!)

Reading Literature:
  • I start the year with a Beginning of Year Reading Assessment. This baseline assessment features "The North Wind and the Sun." Students answer questions and construct responses for RL.4.1, RL.4.2, RL.4.3, RL.4.4, RL.4.5, and RL.4.6.
  • We continue with Prose, Drama, and Poetry, a simple unit that teaches kids about the elements of each form of literature.

  • On the first day of school, students complete an activity page about themselves then write a paragraph about one area of their lives. This Back-to-School Writing Activity gives me an indication of students' baseline writing skills. (Many thanks to Laura Strickland of Whimsy Clips for the fantastic graphics in this freebie!)
  • We continue with two fun activities that reinforce the differences between prose, drama, and poetry. First, in groups, students rewrite "The North Wind and the Sun" as a play then present it to the class. Second, they create simple "I Spy" poetry.

  • We begin our comprehensive eighteen-week Mechanics unit with simple concepts. This first week provides instruction and practice of identifying nouns and verbs, capitalizing proper nouns, and punctuating salutations.

Reading Nonfiction:
  • Right from the start, I want my students to explore Finding Word Meaning. They learn to look between commas and parentheses, use context clues, analyze word parts, and consider related words. 

My first day of school is tomorrow, and I can't wait to hit the road running! These simple beginning of year lessons will prepare my students for more complex assignments as they move into fourth grade.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Classroom Makeover

My classroom needs a makeover! The berry-colored paint is bright and cheery, but it has chipped and peeled - - - and I have no bulletin boards. 

First step: the sink area. I found some coordinating placemats at the Dollar Store (each $1, of course), and set to work covering the unsightly dents. 

Wow! What a difference! I added some Scientific Method posters, and voila! I'll be sharing more of my classroom makeover in the coming weeks.


Friday, July 17, 2015

Identifying Text Structure

For the second part of my informational text unit, I'm tackling text structure. So far, it's been a blast! I finished the PowerPoint presentation and just couldn't wait to show it off.

description, sequence, compare and contrast, cause and effect, problem and solution

The colorful graphics and lively animations will give a kick-start to this unit! Take a look:

text structure

At the risk of repeating myself - - - I'm getting revved up about the approaching school year!


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Finding Word Meaning

Finding Word Meaning, the first in my series of informational text units, is finished! Yay! This year, I want to address nonfiction in a much more deliberate way. I better hurry up because - - - yikes! - - - school starts in just one month!

using commas and parentheses to find word meaning, using context clues to find word meaning, using word parts to find word meaning, using related words to find word meaning, finding word meaning unit

For this unit, I thought long and hard about the skills my students need. Let's face it, "Look it up in the dictionary," is not the most efficient way (and it doesn't make kids better readers). I came up with four strategies for my fourth graders: using words and phrases set off my commas, using context clues, using word parts, and using related words. This Quick Reference Guide explains it all, and I've attached it for your use. (Just click here, or on the image, to download it.)

At one time, I thought my students employed these skills naturally, but that's just not true. Teachers need to point out ways to figure out the meanings of words and terms in text, and then students need to practice them. As with my literature units, I decided to introduce the strategies with a PowerPoint presentation. After that, I'll see what they can do using an exit ticket.

using commas and parentheses to find word meaning, using context clues to find word meaning, using related words to find word meaning, using word parts to find word meaning

From there, some students will receive remediation on targeted skills with practice worksheets, and everyone else will start practicing with differentiated mixed practice worksheets. I don't know about you, but students in my class do not come to me with the same degree of readiness. Therefore, I need to make this challenging task accessible to all. 

Self-directed students who already have a good handle on finding word meaning can use Mixed Practice A. They'll read an informational paragraph, identify words that can be defined using the strategies, identify the strategy, and define the word. Middle-of-the road students will use Mixed Practice B. They get the same paragraph, but the words are listed below. Struggling students will also analyze words in the same paragraph, but theirs are chunked into smaller pieces of text on Mixed Practice C. Four sets of worksheets should do the trick . . . and the assessment is differentiated too.

Okay, I admit it, I'm getting sort of excited for school to start up again.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Fourth Day of Math & Beyond - Grade 4

In this era of high-stakes testing, I know that my students will also need to write to explain. How can a teacher find time for all of this? I've decided to layer my instruction.

On days that my students aren't playing Math Facts Baseball, I give them a little bell work that requires explaining. It's quick, easy, and effective!

The examples below require my students to discuss place value (4.NBT.1). This really makes them think! As the beginning weeks of school tick by, the Writing to Explain problem cards will also ask them to explain their reasoning for writing numbers in standard form, words, and expanded form; comparing two numbers; and rounding to the nearest ten and hundred.

These short activities require metacognition. As students think about their own reasoning, deeper understanding is achieved. I first used this strategy last year, and it really made a difference!


Friday, June 19, 2015

Third Day of Math - Grade 4

It's time to get down to business. the first half of the day will be dedicated to Math Facts Baseball. It's been a hit in my class for years! Each student takes four three-minute timed tests: addition, subtractions, multiplication, and division. Then they go up to bat. For each test that's 100% correct, they get a base. One test correct is a single; two, a double; three, a triple, and four, a home run. 

timed tests
If you want to learn more about this fun, motivational game,

After Math Facts Baseball, we begin our first math unit: Place Value. By this time, I've figured out which students in my class need to stay with basic level mathematics and which are ready for a challenge. Two sets of parallel activities and worksheets - - - one set reaching to 999,999 and the other to 999,999,999 - - - allow me to differentiate appropriately.

(Use a little Beyonce to teach this lesson.

The first topic is reading large numbers, which is easy if you break it down into periods.

Several years ago, I shared detailed ideas for teaching place value in my blog. If you'd like to read more, simply click on a topic:
Place value is the key to our number system and an essential building block for working with numbers in base ten. Once we get this down, the rest of the year is a snap! ;- )


P.S. Would you like a free PowerPoint presentation that explains how I start the year in mathematics? Click here!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Second Day of Math - Grade 4

On Day #1, I assessed my students' skills with multi-digit whole numbers with some fun task cards. Now it's time to measure their fluency with multiplication facts and start instruction.

Thank goodness for educational apps! Fact Navigator from makes timed tests easy. Simply click on Pre-Test Multiplication and up pops a 36-problem online test. When finished, the student hits FINISHED, and the test is automatically scored with the time displayed at the top. You can have kids print their tests, or, like I do, record their scores using a clipboard.

With Fact Navigator, assessing students' multiplication facts takes only a few minutes. Now it's time to move on to a little instruction . . . built into a beginning-of-year ice breaker.

What's more special to a kid than his birthday? First, I tell the class that we're going to make a human graph. We'll line up along a wall outside the building (so that a passing airplane could see our graph). The only rule is NO TALKING. What? No talking? How will we get this done? After a few minutes of confusion, someone figures out that they can hold up fingers to express the month of their birth. They move around, and pretty soon, a human graph emerges.

We move quickly back into the classroom, and each student places a cupcake on a class pictograph, like this:

For Birthday Graphing kit, click here.

We discuss different types of graphs, focusing on pictographs and bar graphs (that compare) and line graphs (that show change over time). We talk about titles, labels, scales, and keys/legends. I introduce the x- and y-axes, which will be important later in the year.

Finally, each student is asked to create a horizontal bar graph using the data from our vertical picture graph. As they finish, I hang these on the wall as well. The class is getting that lived-in look, and kids feel the ownership with their birthdays and bar graphs displayed proudly.

With two days down, my students have moved around the room to complete a set of task cards, played on the computer, created a human graph together, assembled a pictograph on the wall, and produced a bar graph. To them, math class has been fun and engaging. I'm feeling the math love as well, but in a different way. I now have baseline data for writing numbers in standard form, words and expanded form, rounding, comparing, adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing, as well as multiplication facts fluency. Whew! Additionally, I've reviewed graphs and taught one new concept: the x- and y-axes (as well as z, which I threw in for fun).

I love the the beginning of a new year in math! To share my plans with you, I've created Beginning of the Year Math Lesson Plans, a free PowerPoint presentation.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

First Day of Math - Grade 4

At the beginning of the school year, it's important to administer a baseline assessment. But testing on the first day of school? No way! To see how my students fare in Numbers and Operations in Base Ten (writing, comparing and rounding multi-digit whole numbers, as well as adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing), I turned my pretest into a set of monster-themed task cards.

Voila! My students are able to move around their new classroom with some active learning, and I get a clear assessment of the skills they can and cannot do.

It's a win-win situation! Formative assessment has never been so much fun!

What are you doing on the first day of school? Why not try these new task cards and help your students tame the math monster! Three parallel sets of task cards provide practice and assessment throughout the year.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Beginning of the Year Math Instruction - Grade 4

The first few days of math instruction are critical to student success. Which activities provide the best building blocks for fourth graders?

It's taken me a while to get it right. Now it's time to share with you!

First, let's take a look at the major concepts and skills learned by fourth graders. The statements listed below come from the Common Core State Standards, which represent topics in a typical fourth grade instructional plan.

Operations & Algebraic Thinking
  • Use the four operations with whole numbers to solve problems.
  • Gain familiarity with factors and multiples.
  • Generate and analyze patterns.
Number & Operations in Base Ten
  • Generalize place value understanding for multi-digit whole numbers.
  • Use place value understanding and properties of operations to perform multi-digit arithmetic.
Number & Operations - Fractions
  • Extend understanding of fraction equivalence and ordering.
  • Build fractions from unit fractions.
  • Understand decimal notation for fractions, and compare decimal fractions.
Measurement & Data
  • Solve problems involving measurement and conversion of measurements.
  • Represent and interpret data.
  • Understand concepts of angle and measure angles.
  • Draw and identify lines and angles, and classify shapes by properties or their lines and angles.
Which of these standards represent the building blocks of fourth grade mathematics? Yes, mastery of Number & Operations in Base Ten is prerequisite to nearly all other fourth grade concepts. In my experience, fourth graders need two things for a successful start in math: understanding of place value and fluency in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts. This is where I begin.

I've created a short PowerPoint presentation that explains how I use products from my Teachers pay Teachers store and some free apps to successfully begin instruction in my fourth grade math class. Beginning of the Year Math - Grade 4 is now available for free! Over the next few days, I'll discuss the first days in my math class in this blog as well.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Roller Coasters

What's full of physics and fun? Roller coasters!

Take a look at what we've been up to this week. First, students explored websites with information and videos related to roller coasters:
Then they began to build and test their own roller coasters in simulated online experiments:
My students were having so much fun! They didn't even realize that they were using the design process, and they began using the terms kinetic energy and potential energy to describe what they were doing.

Today was the big day: students built their own roller coasters using two meters of plastic tubing. 

The roller coaster was a tiny BB.

Using tape, books, desks, chairs, and whatever else they could find, the students experimented with hills and loops to create the most effective and exciting roller coasters possible.

Do you want to bring the excitement of an amusement park to your classroom? Try roller coasters!


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Writing Dialogue with Comic Strips

Do you want to have some fun with dialogue? Try using comics. Your students will love it!

My old PowerPoint presentation was ho-hum:

So I decided to add some comics. Frames from The Brain (a public domain comic book) really jazzed it up:

Brenda Kovich, Writing Dialogue with Comics, L.4.2.B

Wow! What a difference! My students actually applauded at the end!

Seven worksheets and a quiz rounded out my new and improved Writing Dialogue unit. A related Pinterest board provided extra practice for school or home. It's everything I need . . . and it's fun(ny) too!

Brenda Kovich, Writing Dialogue with Comics, L.4.2.B


Friday, March 27, 2015

Spring Break, Facebook, and Narrative Writing

Spring Break + Facebook + Narrative Writing = Ah-ha Moment!

My husband and I drove from northwest Indiana to Chicago Midway Airport early Monday morning. Lake effect snow was predicted, but we hoped to avoid it. Nope. The dreaded white stuff pelted down on us as we cruised north on Cicero Avenue. At the airport, it snowed harder. Would we get out?

Stop. Is this a Facebook moment? 

The snow continued to fall, but our plane to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, began to board. "Due to the weather, the plane must be de-iced," lamented the pilot. We waited on the plane. And waited. And waited. Finally, the plane rocked and liquid oozed down its windows. 

Is this a Facebook moment?

Finally, our plane took off into the wild blue yonder. Florida, here we come.

A Facebook moment?

We arrived in Fort Lauderdale and rented a bright blue Ford Escape, which carried us south toward the Florida Keys, etc., etc.

You get the picture! Telling the story of spring break within the context of Facebook will help your students understand how to zero in on that compelling event that everyone wants to hear about! Let's cut to the chase. I left the Midwest in snow; I returned in snow. That's interesting but not necessarily Facebook-worthy. We stayed at a beautiful hotel in the Keys; our room had the best view at the hotel. Hmmm. We ate some fabulous seafood. Ho-hum. 

On Tuesday, we snorkeled. Wow, that would provide some great material, but it didn't really have a climax. Just an endless stream of fish (and one really cool manta ray).

Wait, is this a Facebook moment?

Thursday morning we left the Keys and drove north to the Everglades Safari Park. The sign read, "Airboat Rides - Register Here." Wow! What an adventure! The boat cruised slightly above the level of the water, so noisy that earplugs were a necessity.

So . . . are we finally to the Facebook moment???

After the ride, we were invited to an alligator show. I couldn't believe how the trainer, Jeff, could stroke his alligator pals . . . and even stick his hand in their mouths!! Awesome!

Is it a FB moment yet?

Then, at the end of the show, Jeff announced that each of us could hold a two-year old alligator. Was I brave enough for this? Yes! 

Is this the Facebook moment? Yes! My friends loved it! 

Now it's time to write about the particulars. How much did the alligator weigh? Did he try to snap at me? How did I feel? How did his soft underside feel? What did the trainer say? ("If you don't try to kiss him, you should be okay.") Here's the story that my audience has been waiting for.

So when you're trying to help your students figure out what parts to cut and keep in a narrative, just remember one thing: Facebook! Choose that one part that's most compelling, the part that would get the most likes on Facebook.

Happy Spring Break to all of you!

Saturday, February 28, 2015


Delving into the colorful pasts of fifteen famous Americans brought the mid-1800s to life! To complete their abolitionist research projects, my fourth graders worked in pairs to discover not only biographical information, but also what caused the person to get involved in the abolition movement (or the Underground Railroad) and what made them famous.

To publish their work, students used personalized stationery featuring the abolitionist. While these could be compiled into a class book, we chose to hang ours on the wall.

My class also read By Freedom's Light, an action-packed historical novel that explores one girl's moral dilemma regarding runaway slaves. A free 55-page novel unit by Nicole Meyers provided me with a list of vocabulary and bingo game, guidance and questions for literature circles, and more!


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Organelle Trail

Introducing basic cell structures has never been more fun! Last month, my students created these wanted posters for organelles (and my student teacher did a great job with the cacti for this display in the hall).

cell structures, science display

This teaching idea has been around for a while, and you can find ready-made instructions and rubrics online. If you'd like to present the project digitally, try this unit by Mariana Garcia. Or, if you'd rather have hard copies to distribute to your class, take a look at this pdf. I also found several similar files created in editable versions. Simply search the term "organelle trail," and you'll find lots of possibilities!

My favorite website for organelle research is Cells Alive! Their interactive cell models allow students to explore organelles, their names and functions, and where they are found.


P.S. Would you like more ideas, activities (and a freebie) for teaching cells? Check out this post at my new blog, Enjoy Teaching!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Germination: A Living Bulletin Board!

Look what's growing in my classroom right now! Not only educational, this bulletin board is fun (and a great pick-me-up as we experience the cold, gloomy days of February).

My students grew their own "baggie gardens" (taped them onto their desks). They kept track of the plants' growth with this page. Want to try this in your classroom? Just click on the image below to download the observation sheet.

germination observation sheet

Helpful Hints:
  • Lima beans grow quickly. You can buy them in the bean section at your local grocery store!
  • Use sandwich bags that have flaps, not zippers.
  • Fold a sheet of paper towel in fourths. Get it really wet (but not dripping) then put it into the baggie.
  • After the beans are in the baggie, use an eye dropper to water instead of removing them every day.
  • Keep the top of the baggie open to the air to avoid rotting and molding.
  • To compare moncots and dicots, grow both bean and corn seeds.
  • Ask students to measure seeds each day and include on written observations. This gets them thinking about the importance of numeric data.
  • Ask students to label seed/plant parts on their diagrams. This image from Britannica provides terminology.
  • Plant Life Cycle Clip Art  on the bulletin board was created by Whimsy Workshop Teaching.

P.S. Additional ideas, activities, videos, and a freebie can be found on my new blog, Enjoy Teaching.

Informative Writing (In Science Class!)

Every year, students in my class wrote research papers. Some were short; some were long. But was I doing a good job of teaching informative writing? After an honest appraisal of what informative writing could be, I realized that the answer was no.

I decided to integrate expository text with my next science topic, plants. Much to my surprise, these five nonfiction text structures fit beautifully!

informative writing in science

When my list of possible writing topics was complete, I had so many great choices:
  • Description: parts of a plant, parts of a flower
  • Sequence: germination, pollination
  • Compare & Contrast: monocots/dicots, angiosperms/gymnosperms
  • Cause & Effect: results of virtually any plant experiment
  • Problem & Solution: too much or not enough water or sunlight
The authors of our science text switch text structures often, many times even from paragraph to paragraph, based on the topic. That told me that my fourth graders would benefit from writing shorter pieces, so I decided to focus on paragraphs.

The standards guided me to a clear set of criteria:

To introduce all of this to my students, I developed a PowerPoint presentation. The modeling piece surprised even me! Check out the difference between the initial piece and its polished counterpart:

Wow! I was so excited about the possibilities presented by this merger between science and writing! If it were feasible, I would have liked my students to write using all five text structures during my plant unit. But that would have been overkill. Instead, we tried only a few (and will do more with other science units). Check out our pollination writing! 

Would you like to try this activity in your class? Simply click on the stationery below to download. 

Plant Life Cycle Clip Art was created by Whimsy Workshop Teaching. This set of graphics was perfect for my worksheets, PowerPoint presentation, and bulletin boards. Check it out!