The Perfect Pen Pal

In the past, I have used epals and other services to connect my students with students from other areas of the world.  I have also contacted teachers at other schools to have students write and mail letters to each other.


This year, with college readiness being at the forefront of the district’s message to students, I decided to have an adult be the class pen pal for my English Language Learner class.  I chose a good friend who works for Sony movie studios in Los Angeles, who also happens to be an English Language Learner. 


As he travels the globe promoting Sony movies, students email him questions about the country he is visiting.  Antonio responds back via class email and sends a postcard and magnet from each location.  The students write a paragraph entry about each country in their world journal, along with illustrations. We also have a map where we tack the postcard he sends from each country.


This past week the students were fortunate enough to get a surprise visit from him.  He was able to discuss his experiences, the importance of having a good education, and connect with the students on a personal level.  They were also fortunate enough to receive a free gift from him, which they will forever cherish.  The students were able to see first hand a successful English Language Learner who embodies the traits of dedication, ambition, and perseverance.  The students have become enthusiastic about learning and communicating with an adult.  It was a very powerful experience to meet the pen pal they have been communicating with all year long. 



An Internet Hotlist

Filamentality is a web site that allows the teacher to create a list of web sites for the students to access.  Whatever unit we are studying, I select a list of appropriate web sites and the students access the list to research information.  Whether it is the ocean theme, Native Americans, solar system, or a biography unit, I can use the web site to create my own list of resources.  I will have students complete a WebQuest or a Hotlist independently, or with a group.  Differentiation of material is simple because I will include sites that are geared towards the students below grade level, as well as sites for the advanced learners. 
Once your site is completed it exists as long as you would like it to be active.  You just need to log in once a year to keep the site active.  If you are not comfortable creating your own list, or are short on time, you can search for WebQuests and Hotlists previously created by other teachers.   
Click here to begin your Filamentality site!

Message Edited by maochoa on 03-17-2008 12:57 AM

Multiple Intelligences for Math

Howard Gardner’s definition of the multiple intelligences is what helps drive my math curriculum.  The math rotation I teach is composed of the lowest third graders, 8 of which are English Language Learners.  When looking at a lesson, I try to incorporate all of the intelligences to reach as many learners as possible. 



These students prefer to act out their learning and use body movements.  When teaching subjects, I try to act out as many concepts (angles, time, geometry) as I can.  Incorporating body movements helps students make that conceptual connection, such as a student acting out a clock.  Kids love taking turns being the clock.  The “clock? student can position himself and I will ask them what time it is, or the students will ask the “clock? to be a time and he has to position himself correctly.  I will also use food as manipulatives.  Students use pretzels to create different size angles and shapes, and food for fractions and measurement. 



These students have a strong verbal memory, and create associations with words.  Any type of rhyme, song, or word association coupled with the concept facilitates their learning.  For example, saying an acute angle is so cute because it is so small. “ I saw two sides that were the same – isosceles.?  I focus on the “s? sound.  Then we act out someone leaning on a triangle and say “oops…someone leaned on the scalene triangle and now no sides are the same.?



These students have a strong visual memory.  I use a lot of videos downloaded from the Internet, authentic experiences (such as going on a school hunt for shapes or measurements), and posters to facilitate their learning.  I will place word cards around the room, use different color whiteboard markers for different steps in a word problem, and display as many pictures as I can. 



These students like to work with partners or in a group setting.  Students have review flash cards for different concepts, and can work with partners for review.   Students also have the option to work with each other when completing class activities.  I try to incorporate as many cooperative-learning activities, as possible.



These students prefer to work alone, and so I also provide the option for students to work independently.  Computer centers, math challenge puzzles, and review flash cards are available for students to use.

Message Edited by maochoa on 03-10-2008 10:37 PM

Mystery Readers

This is actually an idea I saw from last year’s teacher mentor.  She discussed how parents and family members were invited to come to the classroom and read a story.  The guests were family members of the student of the week.


I loved this idea, but my school is located in an area where there is not a strong parental and family support system.  Instead, I invite local community members, family members, and staff to come and read to the students. 


On Thursday afternoon, there is a knock at our back door.  The student teacher of the week answers the door and the mystery reader enters.  After the mystery reader introduces himself/herself, the students listen to the story.  After a discussion of the story, the students interview the reader.  They ask questions about skills the reader acquired in school in order to be successful at his/her job.  Since our district focus is college readiness, our interview questions are geared towards being successful in school. 


The kids love listening to the stories, but are equally intrigued when listening about the reader’s life.  They are good role models for the students to be exposed to.  We have had readers from firefighters, to college students, to our own custodian.


What happens when I don’t have a mystery reader lined up to read?  I read…..I will show up in character as someone and read a story.  I have dressed up as Darth Vader, Mrs. Frizzle, Ms. Nelson, the Cat in the Hat……Afterwards, the students interview me about college and I answer their questions from the perspective of the character.  It is hilarious….

Read Across America

To honor Dr. Seuss for Read Across America Day, I encourage students to come to school dressed as their favorite Dr. Seuss character.  It is the only time besides a Star Wars convention a kid paints their entire face green.  Instead of Yoda, several Grinches show up to school.
Bartholomew and the Oobleck
I will read the book and then students will analyze the properties of oobleck.  Students analyze the properties of matter of oobleck as defined by solids and liquids.  I pour two boxes of cornstarch into a plastic container.  I add water tinted green with food coloring to the container until the entire cornstarch is covered.  You should be able to tap it but still be able to slowly push your finger through it.  You can pour it, break it in half, and join the pieces back together again.
Hooray for Diffendoofer Day
Students will write poetry about the staff at our own school and let's face it.......the poems are absolutely hilarious.  We also play pin the eyebrows on the principal.  I cut out two black eyebrows, blindfold the students, and have them pin an eyebrow on the face.  We measure the distance, keep a chart of the measurements, and calculate average, maximum, minimum, mode, and range.  This year I think I am going to blow up a picture of my principal and have them pin an eyebrow on him....hahaha!
For writing, students will cut out various parts of Diffendoofer Day characters to create a wacky, original character and create a story of how the person came to be.  The stories are hilarious, as well.
Read Across America
Students keep a log of how many pages they are reading.  We chart throughout the day how many pages we have read as a class.  Each page represents a mile across America.  We plot our course on a large map of the United States and mark major cities we "drive through" along the way.  Each time we pass a major city, I will reveal a few facts about that city that we record on our Read Across America log.
Click the Dr. Seuss.pdf link below to access the principal and character sheet I use for Diffendoofer Day.

Message Edited by maochoa on 02-24-2008 10:20 PM

Black History Month

Underground Railroad Simulation
The entire third grade team participates in an underground railroad simulation.  Students are given character cards: slave, slave hunter, abolitionist, etc.  Students are assigned groups and travel from Virginia to Philadelphia.  If they are caught along the way by a slave hunter, they are forced to work in the kitchen.  Students must crawl along their way to freedom in our multi-purpose room.  The lights are turned off and their conductor uses a flashlight to take them to freedom. 
Biography Presentations
Students are given a list of African Americans to choose someone to present a biography about.  The list includes a variety of movie starts, sports figures, politicians, and leaders.  Students research the figure and present an artifact, poster, or collage of work that represents that person. 
Character Counts
I order an African American booklet that outlines prominent figures that represent a variety of character values, such as caring, citizenship, and respect.  Each morning we read about a new person and talk about why he/she exhibits those character qualities.  Click here for the site to purchase the materials.
Throughout the month we sing songs ranging from Chuck Berry to Janet Jackson.  We also complete art by famous African American artists.  Students create a postage stamp highlighting their favorite figure, with an illustration and mini-bio.
Scholastic has an outstanding new interactive underground railroad unit.  Students can read about the dangers and myths of the underground railroad.  I have students record in a journal the various stops along the journey from different perspectives.  Sometimes we look at the web site whole class and sometimes I have them listen on the headphones during computer lab.  At the end of the journey students can print their own personal story.   


Message Edited by maochoa on 02-18-2008 11:30 PM


Research shows that students can learning 2 – 3 vocabulary words per day through explicit instruction.  Resource specialist Gail Adams recently gave a vocabulary workshop, and explained the 3 components to increasing students’ vocabulary:


Component 1:  Classroom Language

  • Use more complex language when speaking to students in daily conversation
  • Can you please discard, or throw away, these materials…


Component 2:  Explicit Instruction

  • Pre-teach vocab words in content areas
  • Choose words unknown to students, but that they are likely to encounter in the future


Component 3: Practice Activities

  • Engaging
  • Process word’s meaning
  • Variety of strategies: concept map, vocab log, word wall


Second Language Learners

I will introduce the word and give examples of the word in a sentence. Using our “detective eyes? students will search for clues in the sentence for the word’s meanings.  After we discuss the definition, students will come up with a body action to represent the meaning of the word.  Students make vocab cards on a hole punched index card.  On one side of the card is the word with the picture and a short definition.  On the other side is the part of speech with a sentence. Each card is added to their metal ring of vocabulary cards.


Then we will add our words to the vocabulary chart.  We will refer to the words throughout the week.  I will remove the photos, definition, or syllable count, and the students have to match it to the correct word. 


Advanced students

I enjoy reading The Weighty Word Book to my students.  It explains a vocab word for every letter of the alphabet.  Each story explains the definition of the word in a funny, creative way that allows students to remember the meaning. I will read the story, and students will record the vocab word in their vocab quilt.  I have used this as a writing exercise, by giving students a vocab word and have them come up with their own original story of the word.


Word of the week – I will introduce the word and read the sentence on the card ( purchased from Really Good Stuff ).  Using context clues, students will try and determine the meaning, which is covered by a strip.  After a class discussion, I will remove the strip and students will complete a concept map of the word.  We will write the word, part of speech, its meaning, synonyms, antonyms, use it in a sentence, and illustrate it.


Message Edited by maochoa on 02-10-2008 11:56 PM

Ready to Write



The Scholastic web site poses questions to children about various subjects.  Students can vote either yes or no.  They can view the categories of age, gender, and state.  I will read the question and summary to the class, and then students will engage in a debate about the topic.  We then submit a class vote online and view the current votes for 3rd graders.  Students record the data in a pie chart, which I place on the bulletin board, along with the class votes.  Students then write a paragraph stating their opinion and supporting arguments for their position.  Students love participating in the debates and writing about their position.



A second grade classroom operates the Valley Mail.  Students write letters to teachers, students, and administrators.  They place their stamped mail in the mailbox located in front of the school office.  Each day the second graders collect, sort, and deliver the mail to the appropriate classrooms.  Students love receiving mail and are always motivated to continue writing letters.  It is a fun way for teachers to communicate with their students from past years. 


Literature Connections

My grade level participates in reading rotations, where students are grouped by reading level.  In the afternoon, the students return to their homeroom for core literature, and all reading levels are combined.  I try to connect writing with our core literature units as much as possible.  Interviews, poetry, diary entries, letters to the character, or responses about a particular concept are just some of the ways I incorporate writing into our core literature units.  In the picture below, I took the concept of Charlotte’s magnum opus from Charlotte’s Web and had students write about their personal magnum opus.

Professional Development

As our school continues to go through the transition process of having a new principal, we are growing professionally through a collaborative process. 


Action teams

Each staff member is responsible for signing up for an action team.  The team is responsible for collecting data from staff, students, and parents.  After months of collecting and analyzing the data, the team presents the analysis to the staff at the end of the year.  Some areas action teams will be studying include discipline, instructional strategies, school climate, and assessments.  The purpose of the action teams is to develop and maintain exceptional systems in place so the school’s focus can be on universal student achievement.


Grade Level Meetings

Some of the changes that have occurred this year:

  • Each grade level has a facilitator that meets weekly with the principal as a bridge between teachers and principal
  • Each grade level developed norms to abide by for weekly meeting
  • Our grade level signed our norms poster and added Michelangelo’s motivational quote, “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that our aim is too low and we reach it.?   This reminds us that our decisions made during our meeting are for “kids first? and our expectations for each one is high.
  • I had my reading, math, and English Language Learner students sign their own norms poster, too.  The students came up with their own norms, signed it, and I put the laminated poster up before each rotation.
  • Responsibility -  Each member of the grade level team has a responsibility: facilitator, recorder, and norms enforcers


Lunch ‘n Learn

In the past, teachers have signed up to attend monthly lunch ‘n learns.  On Wednesdays, school gets out at noon, so anyone who would like to sign up for the presentation can do so.  Food is ordered and delivered to our school for those who signed up for the presentation.  While the staff is eating lunch, we are listening to a presentation by another staff member or an invited district teacher leader.  Some past topics have included differentiation of curriculum, writing, and goal setting.  Now that our budget is tighter, we are discussing bringing back the lunch ‘n learns with teachers providing their own bag lunches. 


District presentations

Some of the most beneficial seminars I have attended have been within my own district.  The presentation by one of the most successful schools in our district discussed the 5 exceptional systems that need to be in place:  collaboration, standards alignment, assessment plan, data analysis, and interventions.  As our school begins the process of analyzing our systems and modifying them to fit the needs of our school, I embrace the much-needed collaboration and shared decision-making we are working towards.


Martin Luther King, Jr.

From English Language Learners to gifted students, I use the message of Martin Luther King, Jr. to discuss the meaning of hopes and dreams. 


Munch and Switch

I give each student a bag of 5 different color M&Ms.  ( You could use stickers, popsicle sticks, or any item that is colored.)  I call out “Switch? and each student pairs up with another student.  They choose a color and then look at the overhead to see which prompt they must respond to with their partner.  If they choose a blue M&M, then they respond to the blue question.  After 1 minute, I call out “Munch? and they eat their M&M.  Then I call out “Switch? and they must choose another partner.  They choose a color they both have in common, and then they look at the board to respond to the question that corresponds with their color.


The purpose of the activity is to get students interacting with a variety of other students, while discussing different aspects of the book.  The five prompts relate to the theme, conflict, cause and effect, and connections.  After 5 switches, we discuss the five prompts whole group.   


You can choose any book/article you would like to use for the activity.  You could also use a video segment to show the class.


Read Aloud

I read the book Feathers and Fools by Mem Fox with the munch and switch activity.  It has a great lesson of friendship and accepting each other despite differences.  It demonstrates what happens to society when differences are stressed instead of accepted.



Each table group of my advanced group receives a different section of the life of MLK, Jr.  After reading the information and discussing it, each table group presents a summary to the class.  Then we listen to sections of the speech, which you can download from the Internet.  You can use any written material you have to divide among the groups.


I have them separate themselves and sit at the floor reflecting on what their dreams are for themselves, their family, and the world.  Students create deep, sincere, and heart warming responses.  They cut out the scroll and glue it to the construction paper.


English Language Learners

During ELL rotation, students discuss in table groups different dreams they have.  We make a class list and then students choose a dream to record on their paper.  They write their dream and pin it to the bulletin board. 

Message Edited by maochoa on 01-21-2008 04:10 PM

Archive Quick Links

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in archive_0708-3_5 are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.