Did I tell you about the time I was teaching fourth grade, got really mad at my principal, and left the school to teach 7th grade English?

It was almost like teaching 4th graders, except the kids were taller and talked more (I know! Can you 4th grade teachers even believe that is possible? Trust me, it is!)

I had a super-duper teacher next door who took me under her wing and taught me all about middle school. (She did laugh at me once in a while. Like when I asked about walking kids to the cafeteria for lunch. And when I asked about escorting them to the gym and sitting them all together for the pep really. At my middle school, kids did that all by themselves! Wow!)

Anyway, in Texas, 7th graders (and 4th graders) take the state writing test. Ms. Next Door Teacher and I analyzed the results from our practice test and noticed the same thing I had noticed with my 4th graders.

Hold onto your hats, because it is a shocker.

They blew the revising part of the test.

And that was mostly because they didn't know the difference between a fragment and a complete sentence!

Exactly the same thing that was happening with my fourth graders! What a surprise, right?

So we came up with a great little thing we called SOS or Save Our Sentences. We did it in place of CUPS on Fridays.

In the beginning, we showed kids 3 "sentences." One was a fragment, one was a run-on, and one was a complete sentence. None of them had capital letters at the beginning or ending punctuation. Here's an example:

1. to the cafeteria for lunch
2. he ordered spaghetti he drank some milk
3. he put his tray away when he was through

Students had to Fix Fragments, Repair Run-Ons, and State Sentences.

In other words, they changed any fragment into a complete sentence by adding the missing subject or predicate. They got to make up what went there (gave them ownership and interest.) They had to repair run-ons by either combining them correctly or separating them into 2 complete sentences. Finally, if the sentence was already a complete sentence, they only had to state that it was.

Students did this work in their CUPS spirals, and then we had share time.

Y'all, the sentences they made up were so stinkin' funny! It became a contest to have the one that made the whole class laugh. Instead of complaining about grammar practice, they enjoyed it. They started noticing fragments and run-ons in their own writing (I know!) and fixed them!

Over time, we mixed it up - we would have 2 fragments and 1 run-on or all 3 would be fragments, but different kinds of fragments.

My 4th grade teacher friends have also used this with great success. I think you could adapt it for any grade!

Try it out and let me know how it works for you!

P.S. We got great scores in revising on that stinkin' test!


CUPS (Warning! Super Long Post)

I want to talk to you about DOL. For my friends who are not teachers 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 from my third graders and 4 from my fourth graders. 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.

To Do's and Ta Da's

Oh, my goodness! I have so much to do to get my room set up! I am moving to a new school and all my school stuff is in either my garage or a rented storeroom.

I have accomplished a few things - here are my Ta Da's:

  1. Decide on color scheme for bulletin boards (Paisley from Dots on Turquoise)
  2. Buy sheets that match said color scheme to use as fabric backing
  3. Buy borders and other materials for decorating
  4. Buy bins for classroom library
  5. Buy velcro, magnetic tape, Command adhesive strips ( I use these to hang everything! The poster size will hold all but the heaviest decorations.)
  6. Order teacher binder from Zazzle (I made it to match one of the papers from my blog design kit - I bought the kit so I could use the graphics in my classroom)

That is a great start. Now here are the To Do's:
  1. Make job chart and laminate
  2. Take all materials to school (a huge job!)
  3. Put everything away
  4. Arrange room
  5. Decorate
  6. Print and laminate labels for classroom library bins
  7. Sort books and place in bins
  8. Set up teacher binder - design and print dividers
Whew, what a list! And I know I have left a lot of things off - this is the priority list right now.

I'm linking up with Fabulous Fourth Grade Froggies' linky party. Go check everyone else's lists!

Fabulous 4th Grade Froggies


Classroom Before

I went by my new room to do some measuring today. While I was there, I took some before pictures.

This first picture is taken from the doorway looking across to the opposite wall. The orange things you see fastened to the wall are the student cubbies. I am not thrilled with the orange sponge-painted look. The black rectangle is a bulletin board.

This is taken from the front of the room looking back at the orange cubbies.

This picture is taken from the doorway and shows the front of the room. This is the only whiteboard and the projector is aimed this way, too. There are two bulletin boards flanking the whiteboard. The teacher desk goes in the right corner as you face the front - all the hookups for the computer and Elmo are in that corner. Lovely orange, isn't it? I do have 4 student computers, so yay for that!

The final picture is from the teacher desk area looking back towards the door.

It is a decent sized room, but there is one problem. There is no built-in storage besides the cubbies. 

Right now, there is some furniture missing. I am supposed to have 2 large cabinets on wheels and some more bookcases. The rectangular tables will be swapped out for desks. (I would rather have tables, but they are very difficult to work with during the state testing we do.)

I did some shopping for decorating materials and I have a trip to Ikea planned. More updates to follow!


Another Grammar Rant

Y'all, I am seeing this one more and more (and from teachers!)

I know, I know. It's two short words; why not combine them, right?

But it's wrong! Wrong, I tell you!

Alot is not one word!

You wouldn't write alittle, would you? No, it needs that space between the words.

A lot.

As in a parking lot.

That space is your friend. Using it will help to make me just alittle bit less kray kray.

Thanks for your cooperation.

Advice For New Teachers

Granted, it has been forever since I was a first-year teacher. In fact, we were still writing on stone tablets lo, those many years ago. (Just kidding! But we did use those purple ditto machines!) 

My first year of teaching was as a fourth grade teacher - in fact, I was THE fourth grade teacher at my small school. I had 34 students and taught every subject except music. (We had a teacher that came to our campus every other week so our kids could have music. Thank goodness - have you heard me sing?) I had no team mates to plan with and no clue what to do. I desperately needed a mentor.

That's why I'm linking up with Fabulously First's linky: A Teacher's Wisdom.

New teachers, hopefully you will be assigned a mentor who will be awesome. But if you aren't, find a teacher who you want to emulate. Tell him or her that you would like to "pick his/her brain." And do it! Don't be afraid to ask for help.

Get your classroom management under control. That is extremely important. There are all sorts of tools out there to help you and wonderful books full of advice. Find the system that works for you. Mine is a combination of things I've picked up from many books and teachers over the years. 

Finally, the advice I give to all first year teachers: Get through the year and want to come back. Everything else is gravy!


July Currently

I'm linking up to Farley's July Currently. Make sure you go read all the other posts!

I am anxious to get in my room and get it set up. It's the first time in 6 years I will be a regular classroom teacher, so I'm getting a bit nervous.

My favorite read-aloud is Charlotte's Web. I cry every time I read about Charlotte's death. And what a great lead, right? "Where's Papa going with that ax?" Love it!

My professional read is by Dr. Joyce Armstrong Carroll and Eddie Wilson, the project directors for Abydos Learning International, formerly known as New Jersey Writing Project in Texas. I am a gold level trainer for Abydos and this book is our bible.

Go check out Farley's blog and link up!

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