Maximizing the Minutes {Writing}

Well, well, well...I'm FINALLY back for the third installment in this series!

All Posts in This Series:

Today's post is all about how I maximize the first few minutes of our writing block to squeeze in essential skills to build upon.

First, I must say that I am a HUGE believer in oral language and its affect on writing.  How many times have you had a student not know how to get started on an idea/topic?  If you can first get them TALKING about the topic, it will help so much to spark the WRITING.  If you've purchased any of my writing units, you'll know that I almost always include discussion cards - whether we're working on narratives, opinions, or expository....I get them talking about ideas first.  This is helpful to all students, but especially those who struggle with ideas.

You may also know that I'm a HUGE fan of Whole Brain Teaching.  Did you know that they also put a huge emphasis on oral language and hand gestures for "air punctuation"?

Take a peek at this video of a first grade class creating an "on the spot" (unrehearsed) oral essay.

So, what do I do at the beginning of my writing block to help build oral language and story telling? There are two quickies that make a huge impact.

These little "Think, Talk, Teach" prompts from Christina DeCarbo are perfect for a one-minute talk.  I ask my students one question per day at the beginning of our writing block.  They partner up and take turns answering the question.

Students are required to answer the question in a complete sentence by "borrowing" words from the question.  Each question requires students to use a particular conjunction to join ideas in forming a more complex sentence.  So, in the sample above, students would not be allowed to answer "quietly" instead they would answer with something like, "We walk in the hallways with our hands by our sides and on the third tile."

These oral questions, when done daily, provide a very quick but valuable practice of speaking in complete, detailed sentences...adding in air punctuation is a bonus!  The habit of complete sentences and punctuation will gradually transfer to students' writing.  #happyteacher

The next four minutes of the start of our writing block is where I sneak in some inferring practice, along with storytelling.  Each day I project a photograph on our board from the fabulous Jen Jones.

The pictures are engaging and require critical thinking and inferring.  

Students continue to work with a partner as they talk about what the "story" of the picture is - what has been going on, what will happen next, etc.  They are basically forming a story around the picture.

It's amazing to listen to their creativity develop as they get more experience with "oral storytelling" and to then see it transfer into their writing.

So, that's it!  That's how I maximize the first five-minutes of my writing block.  Next up will be word study and how I use those first few minutes to build vocabulary.


Sundays in the South {My 21 Day Fix Journey}

I am soooo glad it's Sunday night!  I'm pretty sure that's the FIRST time I've ever said that! Ha!  But, today ends my 21 Day Fix Journey.  Are you familiar with 21 Day Fix?  It's a three week exercise/meal plan program that makes it SUPER easy to make sure you're getting the right portions from each food group.

A little background on me - I am a horrible eater.  Like, I have the eating habits of a six year old.  I rarely eat meat (and when I do, it's only chicken strips) and I only like a few vegetables - lettuce, cucumbers, sprouts, peppers, and onions.  That's it.  I consider myself a carbeterian (you can borrow that word) - my diet consists of potatoes, cheese, pasta, and bread.  Apparently, I have a high metabolism because this diet didn't start catching up to me until my late 30's.  Sigh.  Getting old sucks! ;P

I'll be turning the big 4-0 this summer and I'm determined to be in great shape!  So, I'd love to lose 15-20 pounds.

When I saw a friend post about the 21 Day Fix, I thought I would check it out.  Turns out, it was right up my alley!  I've tried all those apps where you enter your food for the day - not for me.  I could never keep up with all of that.  Same for counting calories.  Who has time for that??

With the 21 Day Fix, you don't calculate anything.  You have these great little colored containers for the different food groups.  If it fits in the container you can eat it!  My kind of system. :)

I must say, I was very sad with how big the veggie container was and how small the carb container was.  BUT, I'm happy to say that today is day 21 and I MADE IT!  Without cheating once.

The number of containers you get per day depends on your size, but my container allotment was 3 veggies, 2 fruits, 4 proteins, 1 carb (see how evil that was), 1 healthy fat (cheese...sigh), and 1 oil/seeds.

It's important to note that this is not a DIET.  You can still eat pretty much anything and you are NEVER hungry because you eat three meals and three snacks during the day.  It really is just a change in your eating lifestyle.

Needless to say, it was tough getting all of those veggies and proteins in each day.  Shakeology was my saving grace and is DEFINITELY something I'll continue to use daily.  Since the shake counted as one protein, I added non-fat, plain greek yogurt in it and that was an automatic 2 proteins for my day.

I purchased both the strawberry and the chocolate vegan.  I definitely love the chocolate more, but I crave them both! ;)

The plan also comes with two DVD's of workouts - one for each day of the week and then you repeat each week.  The workouts are everything from cardio, arms, legs, weights, pilates, and yoga.  I loved them all....well, cardio not so much. ;)

All in all, it was a great 21 days to get my summer fitness goals jumpstarted.  I lost 10 pounds and have way more energy.  I'm hoping that's due to the Shakeology which I plan to continue to use.  If I ate meat and veggies I would even continue with the meal plan, but as is I only had a few options (salads, eggs) to get those in and am so tired of eating them daily!  Therefore, I will be changing up my meals, but will take some of what I learned and continue to use that.  Fruit as snacks will definitely be a keeper!

So, to sum it up, if you're looking for something easy to implement to jumpstart your fitness goals, I would definitely recommend 21 Day Fix!  You can search for it on Pinterest and get lots of resources and recipes to get you started!


Budding Bloggers Showcase {ReddishAnn from The Reddish Brown Crayon}

Hello, friends!  My name is ReddishAnn.  Now usually after I introduce my self, people ask me to either repeat my name or tell where it came from.  Since y'all can simply re-read it, I'll share with you the background story of my name.  In my everyday life, I go by Reddishann.  My maiden name is Brown.  When I designed my blog, I decided to go with the story I was told about how my name came to life (I mean other than the old “I was a product of the 70’s” excuse).  Apparently, my dad’s favorite color in the crayon box as a child was the reddish-brown color.  He decided that with his last name of Brown, he was going to name his first child Reddish to go with it.  In the hospital, my mom put her foot down and added the Ann to make it sound more like a name than a color.  My original birth certificate really reads: Reddish Ann Brown
**Yup – that’s right people.  My folks were ahead of their time of these celebrities’ children names of Blue, Apple, North, etc.**
So, the new story goes "I was named after a crayon."
For some reason though, once I was enrolled in school they changed it to Reddishann.  So that’s what I’ve rolled with until this blog.
Hey -- how could you not name your teaching blog after the crayon you were supposedly named for, right?

Outside of this world of bloggers, I go by Reddishann.  I live in Cypress, TX with my family of 7 (only 6 of us in the house)!  My husband, Dennis and I have a combined family with a 19, 17, 16, 15, & 12 year-old, plus a chocolate lab and daschund.  With this family, I keep busy.  We usually are shuffling kids around here, there, and everywhere in between.  The good thing is that now we have two licensed drivers to help out.  In the middle of the fun, I like to read, blog, create, and of course do school work for graduate school (NOT). 
Last Christmas (19 year-old not with us)
I teach 2nd grade and secretly wish that this is where I can stay forever!  I can't even imagine teaching another grade level.  This will be my 14th year teaching.  I enjoy teaching everything in 2nd grade, but if I had to choose a favorite it would be Reading, of course.  It is the subject area that I enjoy most because reading is a passion of mine.  My new goal, however is to not only encourage a love for reading with my students (that comes easy) but to try to facilitate a love for Math as well.  Growing up, I was one of the kiddos that didn't get it so I didn't like it.  My summer's goal was all about Math.  So I began to think, read, and even had the opportunity to attend a giant Math conference to get me started.  I have decided that I too, can love Math.  

If you walked into my classroom on any given day, I hope you could figure out my main goal: to encourage and foster a love for learning that my students can carry with them throughout their lives all while having fun in doing so.  I use the workshop approach to all subject areas so you would most likely find learners throughout the room involved in independent, partner, or small group activities.  And I'd be mixed into the crowd somewhere or at the small group table.  

I wish I could show you their faces.  The smiles that I get to see each day is what makes those tuff days seem like nothing.  That and the little bits of reminders from parents about my impact that I sometimes get.  For example:

What a wonderful way to remind me why I'm doing this and that it is making a difference!!

One of the ways I try to create these life long learners is through a day-old resource that most teachers have at their fingertips. I think the only teaching resource I can't live with out, is access to children's literature.  I absolutely love how opening up a book and sharing an adventure with my students can create so many teaching opportunities.  I'm so lucky to have had a grandmother who instilled in me the love to read and made it a point to take me to the public library 2-3 times a week to check out new adventures for me to experience.  No matter what exposure to literature students have when they walk in my classroom, I will be sure they will know the power of written word by the time they leave.

  We have lots of fun learning adventures in my classroom.  There are so many, that it is hard to choose just one to share.  One that the kids continue to talk about with me even after they've moved into the next grade levels is our Fear Factor Challenge.  This challenge is year-long and encourages students to master their addition and subtraction facts.  We take a timed test 2-3 times a week and track our progress through each set.  At the end of the year we celebrate our growth with a true to form "Fear Factor" celebration complete with interesting snacks, awards, and prizes.  As tedious as the tests become after a few weeks, the kids walk in on the designated days eager to see if their practice pays off and they can climb to the next set.  They especially want to sign the autograph wall and show others how far they've come.
Fear Factor Shirt Prizes for the Masters!

Yummy Snacks (Fear Factor Style)

Autograph Wall (excuse the messy backpack closet and blurriness)
I want to thank you for taking a moment to read about me and my adventure.  I began this blog with the idea of making a bunch of new friends that seemed to have similar interests as mine.  I love how the world of teachers has grown into a community of sharers, supporters, friends, and even entrepreneurs.  I'm not sure if I have a main goal for my blog.  I just want to be a part of this group.  I want to learn, grow, and share.  I want to feel like the way I hope my students feel when belong to our class.  


An Alternate for Valentine's Day Parties

We're only allowed to have two parties per year in our district.  At our school, those are a winter party and end-of-the-year party.  But, let's face it.  Kids are definitely bringing valentines to school to pass out!  Which means, I need to have a system in place so that 1) students stay engaged in learning, but 2) students can pass out their valentines to their friends at some point in the day.

I plan to put my students in small groups of 2-3 and let them work on my new "Roam the Room" sets.  Now, usually, I use these holiday sets as just that - roam the room activities.  I use one or two per week throughout that holiday month.  However, on Valentine's Day (or the Friday before, this year) I plan to set these activities up as centers around the classroom.  I'll set the timer for about 7 minutes and then students will rotate to the next center.  There are 10 centers, so that will take just over an hour.  PLENTY of time for me to have a few students at a time passing out their valentines into students' bags/holders - which I will plan to line up in the hallway.

At the end of center time, students will retrieve their bags to enjoy!  Minimal chaos for passing out valentines and students on-task and engaged during the process!

Here's a little peek at the Roam the Room Centers I'll be using...all centered around Valentine's Day!

Skip Counting
This has patterns of +2, -2, +3, -3, +10, -10, and +100, -100....starting at random two and three-digit numbers for an extra challenge.

Parts of Speech
This set has students identify words in a sentence as nouns, verbs, adjectives, or adverbs.

Guide Words
This is a tough skill and my kiddos can ALWAYS use more practice with it!

This one can be used to practice making repeated addition sentences, or multiplication sentences.

In this activity, students will make a variety of words plural - /s/, /es/ and /ies/ practice.

Using Addition to Check Subtraction
Students love being the "teacher" in this activity and checking to see if the answers are right or wrong!

My kiddos have a good grasp on contractions when speaking, but were to put those apostrophes is always a bit tricky!

We haven't learned about fractions yet, but I definitely want to get plenty of exposure to basic fractions before the dreaded testing month comes around....this will be a fun start!

Compound Words
A little challenge for compound words....students have to add a word to the front or back of the given word to make a compound.  This is way harder than it sounds for some kids....I like to stretch those brains. ;)

While rounding is no longer in our standards, I still like to expose my students to it.  This little rounding to the nearest 10 activity will be perfect for that.

If you need a little sanity engagement for your students on Valentine's Day, or during the month of February, you can pick up this entire bundle of 10 Roam the Rooms for $4.99!  That's about 50 cents per activity....that's a steal of a deal, Valentine! <3  And, you'll be set for this holiday for years to come!


Budding Bloggers Showcase {Amy from Learning Lessons with Mrs. Labrasciano}

Learning Lessons with Mrs. Labrasciano

Hi everyone! My name is Amy Labrasciano.  I hail from the sunny state of Florida. I have an amazing husband that has been with me for 18 years.  We were just babies when we met at The University of Florida.  Together we have three spectacular young daughters.

When I was pregnant with my oldest daughter I decided that my career running retail stores was not conducive to raising a family.  So my husband said follow your dream and go back to school for your M.Ed.  So I went back to school.  The funny part of that story is that I work way more now than I used to.  Don't we all just imagine smiling children learning their abc's and going home early while we're in college?  None the less, I love my job.  I recently returned back to my dream position in 2nd grade.  This makes my eighth year teaching.

My partner and I departmentalize.  Departmentalizing is a must for me.  I teach our ELA block.  There is a passion that burns within me when I am teaching reading and writing.  I love to teach thematic units.  If you come in during the fall you will find apple literature, apple projects, apple science projects.  During the spring which is really our summer the kids favorite unit is always the ocean.  We have informational text centers, fiction centers, and diorama projects that are actively being made. You get the gist.  It's kind of fun to see the kids learn without knowing that they are mastering the common core standards.  They just think it's cool that they learned new facts about sharks.  However, I also have a passion for math and science. To keep up with all of my passions, I worked out a schedule with my partner to teach math and science units throughout the year.  It's great for the kids and I get to keep all of my teaching areas up to date.  On the side, I coach a math team once a year.  This is always a fun time of year because one of my girls participates on another math team while I'm coaching.  (Different grades, same school)  Our family spends a lot of time at the competition.

It is important for women, moms, and teachers to keep up with their health.  For Christmas my mom gave me a new Fitbit.  We decided to start a healthy initiative in my household.  We eat healthy and stay active.  However, I have one vice.  COFFEE!!!! I have given up everything else, but I just can't see it go.  In my mind, it's what gets me through the day.  On average I walk 12,000 steps at school.  So if you were to come in my class, you would only see me sitting during guided reading time.  I'm constantly walking to this group and that group to conference with all of the students.  It's no big surprise to see that I developed a foot problem from all of this standing and walking!  Rest assured that I will always do what's right for the kids, even if it hurts me.

The big question that I get from my interns is, "What is your must-have teacher resource?"  My teacher friends are my "must have" teacher resource.  I couldn't do it without them.  I have great friends in my school.  Our children are being raised together.  They are best friends.  We carpool with the kids.  They have sleepovers.  We know from experience if there is an emergency, we will be there to handle it.  Having time to care for ourselves and talk with girlfriends who "get it" is healing.  It makes me a better teacher.  Not to mention that I can go to them and say, "Did you hear......" and get it off of my chest.  Blogging has opened up a whole new friend pool for me.  I have teacher friends all over the country now.  I even talk to them on the phone or by text.  What a blessed life.

My blogging goal for this year is the same goal that I have across my life.  Learn how to balance it.  Focus on creative quality posts that pay it forward to other teachers.  I would love to be able to sit at the computer and get my task done quickly without checking my email, oh what's happening on Facebook, might as well do Instagram since I'm here.  If I learn how to balance my blogging, then I can be more present for my family which is always my number one priority!

Thank you so much for taking the time to learn a little more about me.

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