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Mentor Texts Your Students Will LOVE in October

As you know, mentor texts are a great way to allow your students to practice reading skills quickly and in an engaging way. This month, I share a few great October themed (or just fun!) books to get your students working on plot, theme, synthesis, and prepositions. 

If you don't have any of the books listed below, you can click each picture to find them on Amazon!

How to Knit a Monster

This story is super odd and a little random, but it is also perfect for showing a clear problem, solution, and parts of a plot. It also fits in with a fun October-y theme without being over the top with Halloween.

The Cat from Hunger Mountain

This book reminded me of a Halloween at first, but it really isn't. It just looks interesting and spooky. In this book, the Cat from Hunger Mountain is rich and has many people who serve him every day. After an unfortunate turn of events, the cat finds himself starving and going down from the mountain to find food. What he finds it a lesson and a change of mindset. It's perfect for teaching your students to see a synthesis and change in thinking. 

Pumpkin Fiesta

We couldn't go the entire month of October and not read a pumpkin themed book, right?! In this book, Old Juana winds the pumpkin growing contest every day. Her pumpkins are the biggest, roundest, and orangest pumpkins in all of San Miguel. Foolish Fernando watches her and learns all he can in order to beat her in this year's pumpkin contest. The lesson that he learns, in the end, is amazing. 

There's a Hole in the Log on the Bottom of the Lake

Notice how there isn't a graphic organizer in the picture? Well, this book doesn't really have a great reading skill to share, but it does serve as an excellent opportunity to discuss prepositions and making sentences LONGER! It has a sing-song style that would allow you to model fluency, while searching for prepositional phrases. 

A Place for Pluto

Although this is a fictional book, it would be the perfect addition to any space unit! It utilizes facts and science history to tell how Pluto felt when he discovered he was no longer a planet. This book has a great plot that would allow students to recognize the introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. 



If you are interested in the graphic organizers that I used in the pictures for this post, you can find them in my TpT store. Included in the file, you find both digital and printable versions of each graphic organizer.

Kindness: a Week of Random Acts for Fifth Graders

Often times, I have these random ideas that explode into a huge "thing". This post shares my small, random idea that turned into one of the best weeks of my teaching career so far. That particular year, I had a really great class. I also had 36 students! When doing my lesson plans, I planned to use a few passages about police officers for our weekly reading skill of summarizing. I thought that it would be great to read these passages and work to create a thank you basket for our local police officers as a type of service learning project.

When I went to the grocery store that Sunday afternoon, I thought that it would be fun to give them a little gift as a way to surprise them. Then, it was like the ideas just flowed. I could "pay it forward" by giving them a little something special, and they could do the same to someone else. 

After receiving their little gift, we all wrote little inspirational messages to the fourth graders and slipped them into their lockers while they were at special. 

We also wrote notes for previous teachers and let them on their desks! We did similar tasks for our custodians, cooks, specials teachers, administration, and office staff.

We also began planning something special for our local police officers, which was the original spark of inspiration I had.

They calculated what we would need, how much it would cost, and began deciding who would purchase each item or donate money. They also contacted local businesses to get donations. 

We delivered our baskets on Friday. But, the BEST part is what happened AFTER we delivered our baskets and really showed my students how kindness comes full circle. Our local police station is within walking distance of both our school and a local restaurant that serves milkshakes. Our plan was to deliver our baskets and walk to the restaurant for milkshakes. Each student had brought in money ahead of time. It was the perfect way to spend a Friday afternoon. 

When we arrived, a kind older gentleman bought all of our milkshakes! It was well over $100, and he paid for all of it. He didn't know that we just finishing up our act of kindness. He didn't know that we spent the entire week doing kind deeds around our school. It was the perfect lesson for my students to pay it forward. 

4 Simple & Easy Games for a Classroom Halloween Party

I love to make holidays special. And let's be honest, whether you get on board with the Halloween traditions and excitement, your students will. Likely, they'll be a little crazy. I like to use STEM activities and little creativity to make a classroom Halloween party something that both my students and I can survive. 

Strongest Tower

I love using holiday parties to do STEM activities.  I like to give my students gummies, toothpicks, a few structural requirements, and send them on their way. I usually like to use pumpkin shaped spice drops, but I can't always find them. It seems to vary by the year.

I required them to have a minimum of two stories and hold as much weight as possible! The winning team will have the structure that holds the MOST weight! I've used this cauldron full of candy corn pumpkins, real pumpkins, and textbooks to weigh their structures. It is a fun way to get them thinking, problem solving, and working as a team. One year, I had a team build a structure that could hold TWO of our Journeys reading books!

Mummy Wrap

This picture speaks for itself! I love giving my students a four pack of the CHEAPEST toilet paper I can find and having them work as a team to create a mummy out of one of their classmates. The aspect of cheap toilet paper makes them really work patiently, but quickly, to create their mummy. 

You can create teams of two or more. I like having four people on a team, but do what works for your classroom and budget. The more teams you have, the more toilet paper you have to buy.

Cookie Eating Race

I love when simple and low prep meets FUN! This game is exactly that--simple and LOW prep. Grab a pack or two of cookies in a fun Halloween theme. Have students place the cookie on their forehead. When you say GO, students will attempt to get the cookie from their forehead to their mouth, without using their hands and without dropping it.

Halloween Bingo

I love this Create Your Own Bingo Board for students to use on the day of Halloween. I usually give this to them as morning work and have them start creating their board in the morning. They can cut out and arrange their pieces in any order. Then, during our afternoon party, I have my students get snacks and play Bingo after our other games. 

I love it because we can plan a round, or two, or TEN! It doesn't matter. I usually just play it by ear based on the amount of time that the other games have taken. It's a fun and easy game for students to play! You can grab this free printable Bingo board by clicking here!

Halloween Party Planner

I also love to help my students practice real life math skills by planning their own Halloween Party! This is differentiated to help your students work on adding decimals or whole numbers. You can find it in my TpT store by clicking here!

Halloween Webquest

I also created a new webquest to bring a little reading and writing into our routine during the week of Halloween. In this webquest, students will scan QR Codes and watch videos or read articles to discover the history of Halloween. My students usually enjoy this and love sharing the new facts that they've learned. After learning about the history of Halloween, my students create board games, where they draft Halloween history questions, game boards, and create rules. If you are interested in the webquest, you can find it in my TpT Store! 

4th & 5th Grade Math: 5 Things My Kids ALWAYS Struggle to Master

Today's post is fairly simple, yet is written for a few very specific reasons. 
1. To let you know that you are not alone! There will be days where you are seriously wondering if you should even be allowed to teach anymore. Or at least, I know I've been there! I've thought to myself, on many occasions, "Goodness gracious, Amanda! Why can't you teach kids to divide?!" Please know, you are not alone. So many kids in these upper elementary years seem to struggle with the concepts in this blog post.

2. To tell you that you NEED to plan accordingly for this. I spiral these skills so much that I seriously feel like my kids are thinking, "Seriously?! This again?" But what do you know, we dive into it for the fourth time this school year, and they still struggle...maybe a bit less, but struggle nonetheless.

3. To help you find some fun and engaging products to help you practice these challenging skills! We all know that if we are going to repeatedly practice something, we need task cards, centers, printables, and gobs of other things to help make the practice a little less painful and a little more FUN! 

Subtraction with Regrouping

They should know this, right? Ooooh, but they don't! See, in upper grades, we often blame the younger grades. Why didn't they teach this? HOW did they teach this? Why can't these kids come to me knowing how to subtract?! In my honest opinion, I think there are several reasons. I think that the largest problem is that students often struggle to understand place value concepts. How can they remember to borrow, if they don't understand the reasoning behind it. I also believe that many of our kids lack the organization and handwriting skills to properly complete a complex problem from start to finish. Have you ever tried to find a student's error by checking their work only to get lost in their messy handwriting and numbers that are crossed out here and there? If you, a college educated teacher with years of experience cannot figure out their error, how will they?

Try using graph paper or lined paper turned sideways to help students organize their work. I'll also tell you (because I've screwed this up myself) that you'll need to model and train them to use the graph or lined paper. Otherwise, do you know what happens? They just slop down anything and everything onto that paper as they've done for years. 

Division

Dear God, I dread division. Anyone else? We teach them acronyms, like DMSB, to help them remember what to do. They can do it when walking through examples in a small group or individually. Then you ask them to do it independently, and for goodness sakes, they lose it. Suddenly, they can't remember if 4 will go into 16. Suddenly, they can't subtract 15-8. They simply lose it.

My advice to you is to step back and watch them solve the problem without butting in. Typically, students are struggling for one of the above reasons; lack of math fact memorization or subtraction. Watch them solve the problem and see what they do without your support or guidance. Then, help them address the root of the problem. Make them conscious of their pattern of errors. I often train my students to know what their common mistake is. It helps them check their work in a better, more meaningful way. 

Reducing Fractions

Is it really important, they say? Haha! Yes, it is THAT important. In my honest opinion, seeing connections between numbers is a huge problem for many of my students. When they see 2/6, they aren't noticing that 2 x 3 = 6 or that both numbers are even.

I suggest playing games, writing out even and odd numbers, and finding creative ways to memorize math facts to help your students conquer this problem. Give them rules or questions to ask themselves when reducing, like "Ask yourself, are both numbers even?" If so, you can divide by 2. Teach them other divisibility rules. We all know that numbers divisible by three are going to catch those kids all. the. time. Be prepared and do what you can to sprinkle in this type of practice as often as possible. You can download this interactive notebook freebie by clicking here! 

Decimals Ending in Zero

Does the zero stay or do you forget it? In my classroom, we talk a lot about "perfect answers" and "ok answers". An ok answer would be 0.20, but a PERFECT answer is 0.2. I often teach my students this concept using models to show that they are equivalent. We also use these terms repeatedly, so after a long while, my students are catching themselves giving "ok answers" and quickly fix it. I also like that they learn that their answer isn't incorrect, there is just something better that shows we fully understand how numbers work. 

Area & Perimeter

Is there a difference? Do I have to remember which is which?! Yes, my dear students, you have to remember them. I honestly think that many students don't remember the difference, because they haven't had many real-life opportunities to experience them. For example, if they ONLY are able to work out problems in their math book or worksheet, they aren't ever going to be able to experience taking the wrong measurement and ordering too much or too little carpet for your living room. Give them opportunities to practice both on paper and in real life (or as close to real life) scenarios as possible! 

4 Fun Games to Quickly Practice Letters and Sounds

Daily Oral Practice

​I love routines. And one of my favorite routines is orally saying these letters and sounds each day. I mix up the stack, put them on the table face down, and begin calling each letter. I point to the uppercase letter and say the letter's name. I point to the lowercase letter and say the letter's name. Then, I point to the picture and say the sound two times, followed by the name of the picture. For example, I say, "A, a, /a/, /a/, apple." "B, b, /b/, /b/, ball." We say this every. single. day. At the beginning of the year, my students are mostly mimicking what I say. Later in the year, they are able to begin saying it with me. It really helps them master both letters and sounds. 

ABC Bingo

Obviously, right? That's what I originally designed them for! I mix them up and call the letters. Since the alphabet cards have both upper and lowercase, my students can cover either one when it is called. 

Keep It! 

Who can keep the most cards? Well, you have to KNOW it to keep it! I mix up the cards and put them face down on the table. Taking turns, I show students a letter. If they know the letter and/or sound (usually depending on the time of year and their goal), they can keep the card! The student with the most cards at the end wins a sticker. If they don't know the letter, I typically tell them and hide it back in the stack.

Zap!

I always loved playing Zap with my older students, and I love it just as much with my little ones. With this game, I put all of my letters in a paper bag, along with two to four Zap cards. Students take turns pulling out a letter. If they know it, they can keep it. If they don't know it, they put it back in the bag. If they draw a ZAP! card, they have to put all of their cards back in the bag. I usually set a timer before we start. Then, when the timer goes off, whoever has the most cards wins the game. I like this game because we can play for two minutes, ten minutes, or twenty! It really doesn't matter. They love it! 

Want to download these letter cards and bingo boards? Click the image above to download them by subscribing to my email newsletter. 

Mentor Texts Your Students Will LOVE in September

September is a tricky month! For some of you, you are just heading back to school. For others, you are knee deep in content and routines. I wanted to include books that could be utilized for either season in which you are in this month. 

If you don't have any of the books listed below, you can click each picture to find them on Amazon!

Milk Goes to School

This book is one of many by Terry Border. His stories have such unique illustrations and the perfect sense of humor for upper elementary. When Milk goes to school, she appears to be "spoiled" when her classmates encounter her. Both Milk and her classmates learn a very important lesson that your students can likely stand to learn as well. 

The Thing Lou Couldn't Do

Lou can do anything...except climb a tree! When her friends are playing pretend and want Lou to climb a tree, she makes one excuse after another to avoid it. This book has a great plot, an excellent theme, and many opportunities for making connections. 

We're All Wonders

Just as R. J. Palacio nailed the book Wonder, this picture book is perfect! It's a great way to demonstrate the same theme without spending weeks reading the novel. This makes it perfect for younger students or weekly reading skill lessons. 

Flood

This is a wordless book with amazing illustrations and so many activities that can stem from it. I love relating real-life events and science content through read alouds. This book is great for showing how every story, even those without words, have an introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. 

Ecclesiastes

Maybe some would shy away from this book, but I absolutely love it. With these Bible verses from Ecclesiastes, your students can analyze the theme of how there will always be both good and bad events in our lives. Those negative times make us appreciate the happy times. As always, Cynthia Rylant books are absolutely perfect and meaningful. 


If you are interested in the graphic organizers that I used in the pictures for this post, you can find them in my TpT store. Included in the file, you find both digital and printable versions of each graphic organizer.

Mentor Texts Your Students Will LOVE in August

It's back to school time, and we all need a few books to kick the year off on the right foot! With these books, I think you can teach a lesson or two, introduce a few reading skills, and get your students discussing and growing. 

If you don't have any of the books listed below, you can click each picture to find them on Amazon!

Math Curse

This book may not appear to be something that you would use for literature, but you could definitely use it for making connections. In this book, the main character goes to math class on the first day of school and soon realizes that math is all around him! I love reading this on the first day of school because I work really hard to "curse" my students. I want them to see real life math all around them! 

Eraser

This book is just adorable all the way around! It is perfect for teaching students about story elements, dialogue, theme, and growth mindset! 

There's No Such Thing as Little

This unique book is simple to read, yet has such a deep meaning. I found this at a used book store and fell in LOVE. This book reminds me of board books we read as kids that have holes in them to peak through to the next page. In this book, the small holes show a glimpse of the next page. In each picture, the "little thing" you could see through the hole is part of something so much greater. It is perfect for teaching a great theme. 

The Book of Mistakes

Ahhh! I read this a couple of summers ago, took a picture of it so I would remember the title....then couldn't find the picture I took! When I stumbled across it on Amazon, I had to buy it! In this book, the narrator messes up when drawing the eyes on a face. That mistake inspires her to add glasses to her character. Then, she messes up again. She fixes it with something new to her picture. It's a domino effect of mistakes and corrections that allows you to see her picture grow and change. It's a book with multiple themes about making mistakes, never giving up, and learning that things don't always go according to plan. 

The Giving Tree & The Taking Tree

Many of us have read the classic book "The Giving Tree". We know it. We love it. But have you ever heard of "The Taking Tree"? I've always used The Giving Tree to teach a very introductory level of making inferences and finding themes.

One year, after reading it aloud, a student asked if I'd read "The Taking Tree". I quickly did a Google search and was able to read the book online. It was HILARIOUS! It is such a great parody that our upper elementary students enjoy so much! It also offers multiple themes and a great opportunity to compare and contrast. 

Disclaimer: I don't allow my students to flip through this book on their own. There is one part where the boy pees on the tree. I didn't want parents messaging me or emailing my principal about that part! I read it aloud and skip it. 


If you are interested in the graphic organizers that I used in the pictures for this post, you can find them in my TpT store. Included in the file, you find both digital and printable versions of each graphic organizer.