Friday, October 4, 2019

Folding VKVs into the Study of Root Words

Sometime within the first few weeks of school, I always do Bio Poems with my class. Laura Candler's Buddy Bio Poems lessons are fun and produce great poems that I have on display at our fall open house. Buddy Bio Poems is a partner writing activity in which students interview a classmate and write a bio poem about him or her. This year, I seized the opportunity to do some root word study before writing the poems.

I began with our free Root Word Mix Up Bio Words cooperative word work activity. My students loved moving around and mixing up, trying to figure out together the meaning of the root word bio.

The next day, I showed my students how to make VKVs with the root word bio. The acronym VKV is short for Dinah Zike's Visual Kinesthetic Vocabulary manipulatives. They are designed to allow students to manipulate and change words and phrases. My students shrieked with delight when they saw how they could make multiple words with one folded piece of paper. I used this free template to help them understand how to fold and cut on the lines. I showed them how to first cut on the solid lines, then write the word bio before the dotted line, making sure it was close to the dotted line. Then, I showed them how to fold on the dotted lines and write their bio words.
They loved the results!

Click to get your free downloads!

Root Word Mixup:  Bio Words

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Why invest the time in teaching students academic discussion skills?

It prepares students for the world they are going to go into in the 21st century.

Using academic discussions puts the 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, flexibility, and social skills into practice. Through academic discussions, students can grow into someone who is more willing to be a diverse thinker and open to global perspectives. Students learn how to appreciate multiple points of view in the classroom and outside the classroom. Frequent practice in quality conversations helps students develop an open mindset. When students realize they learn from others during these discussions, they are so much more willing to have an open mindset in future conversations.

The skills involved in productive, quality conversations

• Taking turns
• Listening to and respecting others’ points of view and opinions
• Listen effectively in order to agree, disagree, add on, Recall and summarize
• Communicate orally thoughts and feelings and experiences
• Speak fluently and with confidence
• Build new understandings by listening to others’ opinions and ideas
• Respect and valuing others’ contributions
• Accept and provide feedback

Investing time up front to teach students how to have effective discussions will pay off with more productive classroom time!

Learning how to have effective discussions isn’t easy. It requires many skills that students have not yet developed. The time and effort that you invest into teaching and practicing discussion skills will pay great dividends. Students will grow into their ability to discuss gradually and over time productive conversations becomes a classroom norm. You will find yourself spending less time teaching the skills and more time observing, guiding and helping students hone their skills through academic conversations in all content areas. Students grow into independent learners as they begin to apply the skills learned through discussions to support their own learning.

It builds classroom community.

The biggest barrier to students getting along is lack of communication. Learning how to have effective conversations teaches empathy and the ability to listen to others’ points of view. It requires students to put their thoughts, feelings, and experiences into words that others can understand. Academic discussions helps to create a safe learning environment where they learn to share, listen, reflect, and care.

It develops executive function skills.

Effective discussions require students to apply and practice the following executive function skills

• Working memory
• Flexible thinking
• Paying attention
• Staying focused on task
• Understanding different points of view
• Regulating emotions

Are you ready to teach academic discussion skills?

We've created lessons to help you get started! 

Getting Started with Academic Discussions

Monday, November 12, 2018

Bring Characters to Life with Voki Book Hooks!

Are you looking for an EASY, ENGAGING, FUN way to use technology AND help your students improve their reading comprehension?
Make Voki Books Hooks and your students will bring their characters to life!
In this series of lessons, your students will LOVE creating a Voki, a talking avatar, which tells listeners about exciting or interesting parts of a book without giving away the ending.
Creating a Voki is simple, fun and engaging and it guaranteed to hook even your most reluctant readers.

Check out these sample book hooks created by 4th grade students!
Through the creation of Voki Book Hooks, your students will:
  • analyze book jacket blurbs and movie trailers
  • create a list of tips for “How to Persuade Others to Read a Book”
  • write a script for a book hook that builds suspense and persuades others to read a book
  • use evidence from the text to bring a book character to life
  • read with fluency and expression
  • use details from the text to create character voice
  • use technology to make a talking character book hooks

This product includes:
  • Three detailed lesson plans
  • Student printables
  • A Scoring Rubric
  • Information about how to get started on

What is Voki?

A Voki is an easy, fun, educational tool that allows users to create their very own talking character.

Voki characters can be customized to look like historical figures, cartoons, animals, and realistic characters! You can give your Voki a voice by recording with a microphone, using a dial-in number, or uploading an audio file. Voki characters can be emailed, shared on social media, and embedded on websites!

How much does it cost?

There are several membership options for new users of You can sign up for free, with limited characters and user settings. Voki also offers classroom packages, starting at 4.99 a month for a class of 30 students. It is well worth the price to purchase a classroom license, but if you want to give it try first, go with the free Basic membership. 

Friday, November 9, 2018

Students Pursuing Their Passions

The message in this book, follow your passions no matter what other people may say, provides a great starting place for a discussion about student's passions.

Rocks in His Head is the true story about author Carol Otis Hurst's father. With great affection and an appealing nostalgia, Hurst recounts the story of her father, an avid rock collector from the time he was a boy.

When people commented that "he had rocks in his pockets and rocks in his head," he would answer with an agreeable "Maybe I have," then reach into his pocket and eagerly add, "Take a look at this one."

As a young man, he opens a filling station, where he displays his labeled rocks and minerals and learns how to repair the then-new Model T. After the Depression shuts down his business, he moves his cherished collection into the attic of his home, finding odd jobs wherever he can.

The story's conclusion will prove as satisfying to readers as it was to Hurst's father: the director of the local museum offers him a dream job the position of curator of mineralogy. You can show a video of the story read aloud here. 

Follow-up this story with the question, "What is in your head?" Have students make a  mind-map of their head, placing a picture of themselves in the center and mapping things that they think and wonder aobut. Use an online mapping tool like Coggle or an app like Popplet. Follow up  with Genius Hour or Passion Projects. In our Teachers Pay Teachers store, we offer Exploration Projects:  Genius Hour Made Easy, a way for you to get started on genius hour in a more structured wasy.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Amal Unbound: 2018 Global Read Aloud Teacher's Guide

Have you participated in the Global Read Aloud? The project was created in 2010 by Pernille Ripp as a way to connect classrooms from around the world with one book. The project has grown over the years from one book to several books so that students from from kindergarten to high school can participate. 

The Global Read Aloud runs from October 1st – November 9th, 2018. Prior to that, classrooms make connections with each other, and make plans for students to virtually meet during the read aloud, through Skpe, Google Hangouts, blogs, Padlet, Edmodo, or some other technology communication tool. Weekly chapters have been assigned and as a participant you are assured that it is okay to fall behind but please don't read ahead! 

This year's 2018 upper elementary-middle school global read aloud selection, Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed, is a wonderful opportunity for your students to experience what it is like living in a place where learning to read is luxury and owing money could cost you your freedom!

Amal, a young girl living in a quiet village in Pakistan, is busy pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher one day. Her dreams take a turn when her mother becomes ill and as the eldest daughter she must stay home from school to take care of her siblings. Amal doesn’t lose hope and finds ways to continue learning. But the unimaginable happens, after an accidental run-in with the son of her village’s corrupt landlord, Amal must work as his family’s servant to pay off her own family’s debt.  Through Amal’s journey, students learn that standing up to what one knows is right and the risk taking involved in that brave act is what leads to change. 

The author of the book, Aisha Saeed, will be an active participant during the Global Read Aloud. She is offering Skype visits, Q and A sesssions, letters to classroom, and links to resources. Read about it here.

Sounds exciting, doesn't it? So how do we fit Global Read aloud into our curriculum? We know you will want to ensure that the experience is meeting your goals for your students as readers, thinkers, and learners. So we've created an Amal Unbound Global Read Aloud Teacher's Guide for you, FREE to download.  You can download it here.

We would love to hear from anyone using this guide! This is the first time we've developed activities for an interconnected project. If you used any part of this, did you find it helpful? Please let us know what you think by leaving feedback at our TPT store. 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Updated Close Reading with Salt in His Shoes: Includes Mindset for Learning Lessons

We have greatly improved our Close Reading with Salt in His Shoes resource!

We LOVE using REAL people to teach students about growth or learning mindset and Michael Jordan is a perfect person to introduce a learning mindset.

In the book Salt in His Shoes, young Michael Jordan feared he'd never be tall enough to play the game that would eventually make him famous. To lift his spirits, his mother told him that salt in his shoes would help him grow tall enough to make baskets. This heartwarming picture book, written by the superstar's mother and sister, and exquisitely illustrated by artist Kadir Nelson, teaches hard work and determination are much more important than size in becoming a champion.

We believe that it this is perfect close reading picture book because of its high interest (basketball and achieving dreams!) and it leads to an inquiry about how people achieve their goals. We’ve also found that the lessons learned from this text connect beautifully to the CCSS mathematical practice 1: Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them, and the concept of having a mindset for learning, making it an anchor lesson that can be referred to again and again over the course of the year.

Michael Jordan’s mindset played a huge role in achieving his dream of being able to make baskets. His mindset is what continued to help Michael achieve great basketball success throughout his career.

In our updated product we have lessons and posters that introduce and help students practice the Mindset for Learning traits, found in the book A Mindset for Learning by Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz.

The Mindset traits are:

Optimism: Putting aside fear and resistance to learn something new.
Persistence: Keeping at it, even when a task is hard.
Flexibility: Trying different ways to find a solution.
Resilience: Bouncing back from setbacks and learning from failure.
Empathy: Learning by putting oneself in another person’s shoes.

In our Close Reading with Salt in His Shoes resource we include:

  • Close reading questions to stick into the book Salt in His Shoes. (see our post about Post-It Sticky Notes)
  • Mindset Posters to hang up with a place under each trait for students to sign when they are "caught" using a trait
  • Eight Step-by-step lessons that include close reading for what the text says, how the text works, and what the text means
  • Student Printables
  • Intertextual Connections- nonfiction, video
  • Links to videos and challenging tasks resources
  • An inquiry lesson about Achieving Dreams
  • Application of learning through Goal Setting

Close Reading With Salt in His Shoes is a comprehensive unit with everything you need to to integrate close reading and growth mindset in an authentic and relevant way!

Students will be engaged and inspired by young and older Michael Jordan as he overcame his barriers to achieving his dreams.

Visit our Teachers Pay Teachers store to preview this incredible resource!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Inventor's Secret Teach A-Long: The Mint Mobile Challenge

Keep At It!


To infer meaning, students must understand the author’s purpose. In the story, The Inventor's Secret, understanding what it means to “Keep at it” like Edison and Ford “kept at it”, requires students to experience “keeping at it” as they go through their own invention process. Therefore, this activity contextualizes the meaning of “keep at it”, enabling students to understand the author’s purpose at a deeper level.

In this lesson, students design, build and test model race cars made from simple materials (lifesaver-shaped candies, plastic drinking straws, popsicle sticks, index cards, tape). They measure the changes in distance and speed traveled by the addition of weight or revision of design features. Students also practice the steps of the engineering design process by brainstorming, planning, building, testing, and improving their "mint-mobiles."

Note:  This lesson is part of our product The Inventor's Secret:  The Study of Two Inventors Who Changed the World.

Making the Inventor's Log Top Tab Foldable®

Before you begin the Mint Car Challenge, set a time for students to make their Inventor's Log Foldable®.

You will need different colored copy paper if possible. If not, white will also work. Cut the sheets of copy paper in half and place them with copies of the cover of the Inventor's Log on a table. I tell my students to take one of each color (I provided six different colors) along with the cover. Then, walk the students through how to cut each piece, using the cutting guide on the cover. The directions included in the unit are easy to follow. Older students may be able to follow them on their own.

 Introducing the Innovation Process

Follow the lesson steps to introduce the Innovation Process. Start by watching the National Science Foundation's video, The Science of Innovation. Use the video viewing questions found in the Mint Mobile Challenge PowerPoint to help focus your students' viewing and stimulate discussion about the process of innovation. I gave my students a copy of the questions to take notes and stopped the video at a few places for them to share their notes.

After viewing the video, students are ready to label the tabs of their Inventor's Log Foldable®. Go through the step by step directions in the unit for labeling the tabs. They connect the video to the book, The Inventor's Secret.

Start Your Engines! Designing the First Mint Mobile Model

I followed the lesson steps for the Mint Mobile Challenge but added some of the following for classroom management.

  1. Because of the nature of my 4th graders this year, I put students in groups of two and three. Mostly pairs. 
  2. I did not set up the ramp ahead of time to discourage testing while making their first model. 
  3. After students made their first model, I had them name it. I wrote the name of their cars on  index cars along with their names and placed it on a shelf, creating "parking lots". I told them that when they finish, they needed to clean up and "park" their Mint Mobile in its spot.
  4. I gave them a time limit. After about 20 minutes, I announced they had 20 more minutes to complete their Mint Mobile. 
  5. I limited the mints to six. I had extra mints that I handed out for eating while they designed their models. 
  6. I did not limit the other materials. 
  7. I had students test their models, one group at a time, during an independent work time. Other students were busy working on something else while I pulled on group at a time to test their car and record the time and distance. I had two helper students time and measure the distance. I set up the ramp under my Smartboard, so we could easily record the results on the results chart. 
  8. When you set up the ramp, test it with a Hot Wheel car first. I had two students create the ramp and test it.
  9. Be sure you have a piece of tape to indicate the starting line and the ending line. The ending line is where you will stop timing. You will measure the distance where the car actually stops. 

After the Initial Test!

After all students tested their Mint Mobiles and the results were recorded in the chart, I passed back their Inventor's Log Foldable® and their Mint Mobiles.  Under the Test tab, I had them draw a sketch of the Mint Mobile and record their test results. Together, as a class, we looked at the results. Which car was fastest? Which went the straightest? Which went the furthest? Could a car have gone further if it were straighter? I had students whose cars produced good results in these categories share their design features and explain why they thought the car did well.

Then, I reminded the students that innovators get inspiration from each other and maybe the designs will give them ideas for improving their own models.

I asked students to complete this sentence in their Inventor's Log Foldable®:  We plan to improve our Mint Mobile by ________________________.

The Final Design

Before starting their final design, I reminded my students of Henry Ford. I asked, "Do you think that with each innovation, Henry Ford built onto the previous model or did he make a whole new model?" Of course, they knew he designed a new car, using what he learned from the previous model, and with that I gave them the option of either making a whole new model or revising the old. (I had more mints).

This time, students could test and retest as they built their final design. Once they had it to where they were satisfied, they parked it in the parking lot for the final test. I followed the same procedure for the final test as I did the first test.


Debrief and Reflect

We finished our challenge by looking at the results. Everyone was happy because even if their Mint Mobile wasn't the fastest or furthest, it still was an improvement on their previous model. We filled in the last two tabs of the Inventor's Log Foldable®. Under Inspire, I asked students to write about who they inspired and/or who inspired them. Under the Reflect Tab, I asked students to answer What design feature worked? What they would do differently? and What did they learn about the Innovation process? How was the process you went through similar to Henry Ford's process?

My student LOVED this STEM challenge and I hope yours do, too.

Do you want to use the Innovator's Log Top Tab Foldable WITHOUT purchasing this unit? 


Would you like to try the Mint Mobile Challenge?

The Innovator's Log Foldable can be used with any STEM activity. We have created a product called Developing the Mindset of an Engineer, which provides everything you need to make the Innovator's Log and do the Mint Mobile Challenge with your students.

Next Post: 


Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Inventor's Secret Teach-a-long: Close Reading a Picture Book

It's time to read the book, The Inventor's Secret! In the previous lesson, students acquired background knowledge about Edison's inventions and Ford's innovations through inquiry. Today, you will read aloud the story, using close reading questions that guide students in thinking about the key ideas and details and to clarify confusions about what the text says literally. After reading and discussing the text through these questions, students should be able to summarize the text, using vocabulary from the story.


Note:  This lesson is part of our product The Inventor's Secret:  The Study of Two Inventors Who Changed the World.


  1. Print out the three pages of close reading questions (06InventorsStickyNotes.pdf) and the sticky note printing template (07StickyNotePrintingTemplate.pdf) 
  2. Place Post-it® notes on the printing template. Be sure to line them up with the outline of the squares on the template. Make sure they are lying flat to the page.
  3. Place the printing template with the Post-it® notes attached into a printer or copy machine, front side down, so that the Post-it® notes are facing down in the printer or copy machine. If using a copy machine, use the Stack Bypass setting.
  4. Copy or print the questions onto the Post-it® notes.
  5. Place the printed Post-it notes into the book at the page numbers where you will be asking the questions.
  6. Have the photographs of Henry Ford's car models, used in the last lesson. Place them in the order in which they were created, starting with the Quadricycle and ending with the Model T.

The Lesson

To introduce the story, I gathered my students on the rug and explained that today we would be reading the book, paying close attention to what the story is about. I showed them the summary worksheet that they would be completing after the read aloud, and explained that I'd be asking questions that would help them understand the details of the story.

As I read the book to my students, I pulled off each sticky note and placed it on the back cover, before showing the illustrations. I did not use every single question. I knew my goal was for students to understand the main idea and theme of this story, so as I went along I monitored their understanding by their responses.

When we read about Henry Ford's car models, starting with the Quadricycle and ending with the Model T, I posted up the photographs of his real cars onto a chart.
Image result for the inventor's secret thomas

 After we read the story, the students completed the summary. We corrected it together.

The students loved that Thomas and Henry were curious as kids and that their curiosity got them in trouble...a lot! By the time we got to the secret that Thomas shared, keep at it!, they really understood the message. So much that for the rest of the day, my students and I used the phrase "Keep at it!" when experiencing challenging tasks.

Post-it® Note Question Printing Template:  Make your own questions to print onto Post-it®Notes!

We realize that not everyone wishes to purchase the complete Inventor's Secret unit. So we have put together a product at our Teachers Pay Teachers store.  the Post-it® Note Question Printing Template. It includes a template for creating and printing custom questions onto Post-it® notes,  the questions for Inventor's Secret, ready to print, and the Inventor's Secret summary worksheet.

Join the Teach-a-long for the unit:  

Next Post: The Mint Car Challenge

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Inventor's Secret Teach-a-long: Invention Predictions Part 2

Invention Predictions:  Ford's Cars

"I have a challenge question for you! A golden ticket goes to the first person who raises a hand with the correct answer! Ready? What is the difference between an innovation and an invention?" 

That is how I started the session today. In Part One of the Invention Predictions lesson, my students had examined Thomas Edison inventions. Today, I wanted to prepare them to make some predictions about Henry Ford's car models. My goal was to quickly get their attention by offering a reward (a golden ticket) to whomever knew the answer to my question, and to have our conversation start moving into the concept of innovations. By offering a reward, I was sending the message to my students that this information is important. (What we reward or measure communicates what we value)

One of my students quickly shot up her hand and presented a precise, accurate definition. Most importantly, she emphasized that innovations made something previously invented better than before. 

Introduction:  Phone Innovations

I then invited students to join me on the floor in a circle and explained that I had some innovations of an invention that is near and dear to them, the phone. I randomly placed ten photographs of phone innovations, from the first phone to the smart phone in the center of the circle. (Note: These phone photographs are not included in the Inventor's Secret unit, but you can download them free here)

I said to my students, "Your job is to try to put these in the order in which they were made. Look carefully at the photographs. Which do you think came before the others?"

One student chose the first phone and I had him move it to the far left so that the photos would be arranged horizontally in a timeline fashion. 

I asked the student to explain why he chose that one; what in the photo provided clues? I then asked, "Which phone do you think came next? Which one made this one better?"

A student chose this candlestick phone and I asked her, "How did that phone improve the last one? What made it better?" She pointed out the earpiece, the mouthpiece, and the "candlestick" which made the phone easier to hold and use.

I continued this way until we had a phone timeline created. As we worked through the photos, other students were excited to add their ideas to other student's thinking, using details from the photographs.

Henry Ford's Cars

Then, I introduced Henry Ford's cars. Oh, first, another golden ticket opportunity! I asked, "Yesterday we learned about Thomas Edison's inventions. Who remembers the other inventor we are going to be reading about?" Of course, someone remembered Henry Ford. I said, "Edison was considered an inventor, Ford was an innovator of cars."

At this point, students had a good understanding of innovations as well as their task. They worked in their small groups to put the photographs of Ford's cars in order. I was very impressed with their focus and how well they used the details in the photos to support their thinking. As they examined the photos, I observed them making changes as they compared the cars. The conversation was always around the features that they thought made each model better than before.  

 Self Checking Their Predictions

In the lesson, it suggests that you end the lesson by going over Ford's cars with the class on the PowerPoint. I thought about that and decided it was going to be difficult for students to hold the order in which they placed the cars in their head in order to check if they were correct. I wanted instead, to have a quick self check for students. So I printed a copy of the slides handouts, 9 slides per page. I wrote the number in which they were created below the car model image. When the groups were satisfied with their order, they used this answer key to check their work.

Join the Teach-a-long for the unit:  

Previous Post:  Invention Predictions

Next Post:  Close Reading a Picture Book

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Inventor's Secret Teach-a-long: Invention Predictions

Lesson Two:  Invention Predictions


I love this lesson! Students look at real photographs of Edison's and Ford's inventions and innovations. They have to first predict what Edison's inventions are and then they have to try to put Ford's cars into the order in which they were made.

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Make inferences and predictions about a primary source, using clues from the document to support their thinking.

A critical element in an inquiry-based learning classroom is helping students learn how to effectively access and analyze primary and secondary sources. This activity serves two purposes:
  1. It provides students with some background about Thomas Edison and Henry Ford's inventions and innovations while engaging them in inquiry and;
  2. It teaches students how to make predictions about primary source photographs using the details in the pictures to support their thinking.



You should already have made the copies of the invention photographs from the Edison Ford Inventions PowerPoint (04EdisonFordInventions.ppt) when you prepared for teaching the unit. If you haven't done so yet, see this post for the details. Make copies of the Invention Prediction worksheet (05InventionsPredictions.pdf), one for each group. You will also want to print the notes in the PowerPoint that tells about each invention.
Notes Pages

The Lesson
Part One: Thomas Edison's Inventions


I divided this lesson into two sessions. In the first session, we only made predictions about Thomas Edison's Inventions. I started by sharing some of the examples of inventions and innovations students found at home.

 I then projected the first Thomas Edison invention in the Edison Ford Inventions PowerPoint (04EdisonFordInventions.ppt) and had the Invention Prediction worksheet (05InventionsPredictions.pdf) copied onto my Smartboard so that I could write in it.
I modeled how to look at the invention and fill in the Invention Prediction sheet. I had students get into groups of 2 or 3. We talked about working collaboratively, what that would look like and what I would expect to see in a group working well together. I let students decide who would fill in the sheet or if they would take turns filling it in. We discussed coming to some sort of an agreement before filling it in and the importance of really using the details in the picture to support their ideas.

After everyone finished, I projected the Edison Ford Inventions PowerPoint (04EdisonFordInventions.ppt) and went over each invention one by one. I had each group share their predictions and I asked some to share their thinking. What in the photo made them think that? Then I revealed what the invention actually is, using the notes in the Powerpoint. A note about the notes. The notes are pretty extensive. I highlighted only what I thought was most important and interesting for my 4th grade students to know. I did not read the entire notes section to my class.

My students LOVED doing this. So much that some groups wanted to keep doing it even when it was time to take a recess break. I was so impressed with the ideas that they came up with. All of their predictions were rooted in evidence from the picture as well as their background knowledge. My 4th graders definitely worked best in pairs so I made enough copies of the photos to support that grouping.

Join the Teach-a-long for the integrated unit:  

The Inventor's Secret

Previous Post:  What's an Invention?

Next Post:  Invention Predictions- Part Two