Saturday, August 16, 2014

Bright Ideas - Extending the Life of the Books in Your Classroom Library

It's time for a Bright Ideas Linky!

Today, I want to share with you a little thing I did to prolong the shelf life of my classroom library books.

If you are like me, you have a lot of money invested in your classroom library and want those books to last for a long time.

I found that using plain packing tape on the spine of my books kept them looking good for much longer. I just cut a length of tape the height of the book and applied it right over the spine, overlapping the front and back covers. If you cut the tape strip too long, just trim it after you have applied it. Easy peasy!

My books lasted much longer with less chance of damaged spines and covers.

Let me know if this idea works for you!

If you enjoyed this bright idea, please consider visiting my TeachersPayTeachers store and join me on Facebook for more great ideas.

For more bright ideas  from more than 100 different bloggers, please browse through the link-up below and choose a topic/grade level that interests you. Thanks for visiting!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Carpe Diem

I'm going to get real here. I write from experience. I have suffered from crippling depression and considered suicide. 

The news about Robin Williams hit me hard. Reading the reactions on Facebook has been troubling. It's only a short time since the news reported that Robin Williams is dead by his own hand, and the shame-blame games have begun.

He committed the ultimate sin.



And that's complete crap. Suicide is not undertaken because someone is weak or selfish. Suicide is the last hope far too many people have for ending pain. These people are not weak. They have been strong for so long, but they just can't keep on being so strong.

What people don't realize is that a person reaches a point when their own pain is so overwhelming that all they want is to make it stop. They are no longer thinking clearly; the pain is everything, all-consuming, and overwhelming. They believe they're doing what's right for everyone.

Blaming someone for having depression is like blaming someone for having diabetes. Blaming someone for needing medication to control it is like blaming a diabetic for needing insulin. We don't choose the diseases that invade us, and no one should have to defend the medications that control them.

And yet, that's what happens.

If you suffer from depression, you already know that many people don't understand depression. The things they say not only don't help, they often hurt. It doesn't help that you know it's not intentional; you're backed into a corner where nothing is really helping. Those shadows get darker, thicker, and it's just so hard to see anything where the light is, and it's so incredibly fatiguing to keep trying.

But I'm begging you to reach out.

Find those who DO know what to do, and who know the right words and the order in which they should tumble out of one's mouth.

Try to reach through that thick molasses of fog, the one that makes your arms feel like they weigh a ton and a half, and pick up the phone.

Believe me, this world is so much better with you in it than not. There are people who have been trained, who know how to help you cope, and will never, ever blame you.

And if you're one of those people who think depression is weakness, selfishness, and something that a good attitude check will fix, then listen up.

Depression is a disease. Blame doesn't help and can only make things worse.

In the U.S., call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). They also have a website

Bookmark that site.

Call if you need to.

It's okay to call.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Teachers Pay Teachers Back to School Sale

Get your wish list ready! Teachers Pay Teachers is holding their annual Back to School Sale August 4-5. My products will be 20% off. Combined with the TpT discount, you can save 28% on your purchases on those dates. Many other stores will be on sale as well.

Friday, August 1, 2014


Wow! Can you believe it's already August? Time to link up with Farley for her Currently monthly linky party.

  • Listening - I love this show - I am a proud nerd myself. These are my people!
  • Loving - I am besties with Farley's mom. This week has been our WNBA team's Breast Health Awareness Week. Farley's mom is a survivor. We are so incredibly grateful to celebrate and honor her and other survivors this week. Here's a link to a video the Stars filmed starring our friend.
  • Thinking - We are leaving at dark thirty tomorrow morning to check something else off our bucket list. We are following our San Antonio Stars to Seattle to take in a road game! I am also excited to go to Portland to visit my uncle and cousins.
  • Wanting - Tomorrow to hurry up and get here!
  • Needing - My life is pretty good right now.
  • First Day - I'll be having brunch with some other retired teachers and thinking of all of y'all.
Be sure to go check out all the other blogs in Farley's party - and don't forget the Rule of Three!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Revisiting CUPS

This post was originally published 2 years ago. I've updated it slightly based on my last year of teaching.

I want to talk to you about DOL. For my non-teaching friends who are reading this blog, it stands for Daily Oral Language. In traditional DOL, the teacher shows students some predetermined sentences that contain errors in grammar and conventions (spelling and punctuation). The students and teacher work to correct the mistakes orally.

Y'all, DOL doesn't work. Maybe the kids can identify some of the errors in those sentences, but they never transfer over that knowledge into their own writing. Correct a sentence from DOL one morning and you will still find students making the same errors over and over in their own work five minutes later.

So what to do? Students do need to be able to write with correct grammar and conventions. How do we teach them to do so without resorting to DOL?

We teach them in the context of their own writing. I use a system I call CUPS. I didn't invent it. I read about the idea about a gazillion years ago and have adapted it to work for me. The other teachers I have worked with who have implemented it also will tell you that it works.

Here's how it goes:

CUPS stands for Capitalization, Usage, Punctuation, and Spelling. Each student has a journal/composition book/spiral titled CUPS. Each morning (in my class), the students come in and write a few sentences on any topic they choose. How many? I required 3. They needed to write good sentences, not just I like my ____. When students approached me to tell me stories about what happened the night before or what they were excited about, I told them to write about it in CUPS. They need to skip lines as they wrote (this allows for editing.)

After they have their sentences written, students check them over for CUPS. This requires the student to evaluate each sentence for capital letters at the beginning and for any proper nouns; subject/verb agreement and other grammar issues (more on that later); correct punctuation at the ends of sentences and in contractions, possessive nouns, etc.; and correct spelling of grade-level appropriate words. (I encourage them to take risks by using interesting words and correct misspellings of those words without counting off.)

After they are sure they have corrected any errors, they meet with a partner. This part of CUPS is incredibly important to teach and reinforce. They must peer-edit. This is not trade-and-correct someone else's work. They must look together at one partner's work, checking for errors. If a student's partner finds an error, the partner must explain what is wrong and help the student correct it. Then the partner writes "Checked by" and signs his/her name at the bottom of the page.

After the partners check one student's work, they repeat with the other student's.

Then each child brings their work to me. I check for any errors and deduct one point for each one. Checking individually takes only a minute and affords me the opportunity to conduct a quick mini-lesson on an error. The child has an opportunity to earn 25 points each day, for a weekly total of 100. (We don't do CUPS on Friday.) It becomes a game to them to try to bring me a 100% correct entry each day.

I promised to tell you a little more about the usage part of CUPS. As I introduce grammar concepts in writing workshop, I require students to use them the following days/weeks in CUPS. For example, after we have learned about compound sentences, I tell them they must include one compound sentence in their CUPS. I also make them draw a star beside the compound sentence - just a way to double check that they included one.

CUPS works because it is editing the child's own writing. The students have a purpose for correcting errors. And the knowledge transfers over to those editing passages we have on our state tests in Texas. And one added bonus is that you will learn so much about your students from what they choose to write.

I am sure that this post is not as crystal-clear to you as it is to me, so please ask any questions you may have and I will gladly answer them.

Update: The last year I taught, I had much less time with students than in previous years. So I adapted the idea of CUPS by assigning the sentences as homework. Here is the letter I sent home explaining it to parents.

And here are the exact directions I gave students to put in the front of their CUPS folders:

  • Each night, write 3 good sentences.
  • You can write about whatever you like, so long as it is appropriate for school.
  • Use a new sheet of paper each night.
  • Put the date on the top of the page.
  • Skip lines – write on every other line.
  • Bring the journal with your completed sentences back to school the next day to edit.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Creating a Classroom Constitution

I think most teachers would agree that it is incredibly important to establish class rules early on the first day of school. The first step I always took was to read one or more books about why we need rules. My favorite is The Awful Aardvarks Go to School by Reeve Lindbergh. It is a bit over the top, which I love, and always elicited laughter. 

Here are some other books that would work just as well.

 After I read the book, it was time to discuss why we need rules. Then I introduced my Standards for Success. Here are the ones I used.

Standards for Classroom Success
Be prepared.
Participate actively.
Show a positive attitude.
Treat others politely and with respect.
Follow classroom and school procedures.

 I found that students always said they agreed with the rules, but time proved that they didn’t always understand what they really meant. So I developed the idea of writing a Class Constitution to insure student buy-in.

After introducing the standards, I divided the class into 5 groups and gave each group a sheet of chart paper with one of the standards written at the top. I then instructed the groups to work together to decide what the rule meant exactly – what it looks like, what is observable, what are the attributes. I also talked about how it is better to be positive and tell what to do instead of what not to do. Then I had them decide on a group recorder and turned them loose.

I monitored the groups to see when most were finished. Then I posted the charts in the room and we did a gallery walk. Each group had 2-3 minutes to read the work of each other group.

After we completed our gallery walk, we worked together as a class to select the most important points to be bullet points for the classroom constitution. I found that there was always some overlap and duplication, so we combined some ideas and crossed off duplicates. I tried to be sure we were specific enough so that there could be no question about what each bullet point meant.

The next day, I read We the Kids by David Catrow to the students. It is a kid-friendly explanation of the Preamble to the Constitution. Through shared writing, we negotiated our own Preamble.

After school that day, I typed up the constitution and preamble and took it to a copy shop to have it enlarged poster size. I know that many schools now have poster machines available on campus – lucky you! I brought the poster with me to school the next day, and we had a signing ceremony. I liked to show students a copy of the Declaration of Independence first and talk about adding their John Hancock to the document. I always signed it, too.

Then, throughout the year, when students broke the rules, it was easy to point to the Constitution and say, “Your signature says that you agreed to these rules.”

When we had new students join the class, their class mentor (a student I assigned to be a helper to the student the first few days) would share the Class Constitution and help the new student add his/her signature to the document.

Here is the actual document from one of my classes about 8 years ago. I dug through my old files and found it. Please notice the “fancy document” font I used. LOL You can see that I left lots of space at the bottom for the signatures. I also used the students' language as much as possible. After all, this is a shared effort.

I liked to revisit the Classroom Constitution throughout the year, especially after any long breaks from school. It is fun to read one of the books I shared above and ask the students which bullet point is being violated in the story.

If you try this, I’d love to hear all about it!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Writing Prompts to Start the School Year

I love to teach writing. But few of my students ever came to me loving to write. I knew that I had to ease them into the idea of process writing and spending more than ten minutes on one piece of writing.

What we know from research is that personal narrative is the easiest form of writing for our students. Kids have grown up with narrative, so the idea of story is easy for them to grasp. We also write best about what we know from our own lives. So I start the year every year with personal narrative, a story about our own lives.

After we set up our writer’s notebooks, I did a series of reading-writing connections: read alouds using books that spark a writing prompt that will appeal to almost every student.  Each day we read a different book and did some writing. These are the books I used, but there are others that have the same themes. Feel free to substitute books that you have in your library.

After I read each book, I modeled for the kids by thinking aloud. I told them a story that fits the prompt, then invited them to write. At the same time, I am writing. It is incredibly important for our students to see us writing and sharing our writing. I monitor the time and when it looks as if most students are finished, we share. Sharing can happen in several ways. You can invite students to share with the whole class; students can do a pair-share with the person next to them; or you can group 3-4 students to share with each other.

All kids have gotten in trouble sometime in their lives. I model for the kids by thinking aloud about the time my mom dressed my sister and me in brand new clothes so that we could meet family who had never seen us. While she was getting herself ready, we found some red paint in the garage and painted ourselves (and our new clothes!) Then I invite students to write about a time they got in trouble. This is one of the prompts that leads to some great writing.

Birthdays are memorable for kids. They’ve all encountered a good one or a bad one. I tell them about the year my sister got to invite her whole class to the Officer’s Club for a big celebration. That same year, I had the kids who lived down the street over for cake on the picnic table out back. The prompt I offer is for students to write about a memorable birthday. They know from my example that memorable can mean good or bad!

This book lends itself to two prompts. Students can write about a time they were brave or a time they encouraged another person. As usual, I share a story. Sometimes I write about how I was brave when I rode my first roller coaster. Sometimes I talk about encouraging a student. I also tell students they can write about a time someone encouraged them.

Most of us have had a time when we were happy about spending time with family. I often share about the Easter at my grandparents when somewhere around 20 cousins got together for an egg hunt. I then ask students to write about a special time with their family.

This book is about Booker T. Washington learning to read and the lengths he went to in order to achieve that goal. I tell about getting my teaching degree or my master’s degree. Sometimes I tell about buying my first home or getting my first dog. Then I invite students to write about something they want now or wanted in the past more than anything else.

After we have completed these pieces of writing, I ask students to choose their favorite to take through the writing process. In this way. I am honoring the idea of choice that is so important in writing workshop, but also meeting requirements of curriculum that says students must be able to write a personal narrative on the state test later in the year. When we reflect on our writing at the end of the year, many students say these pieces were their favorites.

I hope this gives you an idea of how you can use picture books to prompt writing. Feel free to share any books you use to spark student writing.

I know how easy it is to lose track of ideas you read in a blog, so I have compiled this information into a freebie and posted it here in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. You can also click on the cover and it will take you to the product.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at krazytownblog at or leave a comment. I’ll get back to you as quickly as possible!