World’s Fair

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After teaching about different countries for 3 weeks, I turn the reins over to the kids.  They get to pick a country of their choice to research and teach the others, and we have a World’s Fair on the last day.  Some students choose their cultural country, and this year they went World Cup crazy!  Students take complete ownership with this project as I step back to watch the magic happen.

First we spend some time researching in the computer lab.  We talk about research skills, what information to look for, and I give them some websites to get started with.  I provide support during research and help finding information.  Then, I give them work time to create a project-poster, activity or whatever else they want to do.

It’s amazing how invested these kids become in their projects.  They use the class time to research and work, but they also go home and continue working.  Some students asked their parents for help with research, made crafts or activities at home, or brought in materials to use during class.  This year, the students went all out-bringing in soccer equipment, a cricket bat, posterboard, creating the game Pin the Tail on the Sheep, and building a diorama of cricket.  The kids were also very supportive of each other while presenting, helping one of the kid’s read his notes or listening quietly while a shy girl shared her project.  It is so rewarding to step back, watch them create, and be invested and excited about their work.  I love hearing, “I don’t want summer school to end!” This goes to show, kids really can do anything.

Pin the Tail on the Sheep-Scotland

Pin the Tail on the Sheep-Scotland

Poster about Belgium

Poster about Belgium

Playing Cricket-India

Playing Cricket-India

Stacking dolls in Russia

Stacking dolls in Russia

Diorama of Cricket-Australia

Diorama of Cricket-Australia

Mexican Restaurants-Student Initiative

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Kids never cease to surprise and amaze me.  One of the favorite projects of the summer in my Around the World class is visiting Mexico and designing their own restaurant.  Students love coming up with a name, creating a menu, and designing the restaurant by drawing it or building a 3-d  model.  This is my fourth year doing this project, yet the first where the students have created interactive restaurants.

A group of students asked if they could move desks to create their restaurant, and I said “sure”.  Then they started creating “food” and money.  The other group worked on creating multiple menus.  As the day wound down, the restaurants were still being built and were closed for business.  I told them we could continue the next day.

As the students arrived the next day off the bus, they got started right away to set up their restaurants-before class officially began!  Students who had created other restaurants joined forces with the main groups.  They got set up and opened for business.  They each had specific jobs-manager, chef, cashier-and visited each other’s restaurants to eat.  I had the pleasure of being served at both Expreso, where I ate nachos and a quesadilla, and El Espana Buffet, where I had chips and salsa and a taco.  Some students switched their employment and they all worked together.  These students are in different grades (most entering 2nd-3rd) and go to different schools (there are 4 elementary schools in the district) but have found new friendships this summer.

I sat back and enjoyed watching them create and have fun.  I also wonder how I can bring the same amount of energy and excitement to the school year.  What do you do in your classroom that gives students the opportunity to explore and learn?

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Traveling Around the World

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Last week was one of my favorite weeks in my Traveling Around the World summer school class.  Not only do we visit some of my favorite countries, but we also do some of my favorite projects.  It’s really a chance for the students to be original and creative with no boundaries.  it’s interesting to step back and watch what they do given no restrictions or requirements.  Some struggle with that much open-endedness while others take off and thrive.

We start the week off in England, where we build a famous double decker bus.



Next, we go to Italy and discuss Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel.  The students have to draw like Michelangelo.  Unfortunately the bottom of the desks aren’t smooth, so students are able to flip and rearrange the desks to draw.  The room becomes a “mess” of desks and the students are laughing while drawing because they never get to do that at school.  We end the day making and enjoying mini pizzas, a favorite Italian food.



The third day, we visit France, spending most of our time at the Louvre in Paris.  After discussing the different exhibits in the museum, students then have to make a 3-d piece to go inside the museum.  They are given a variety of materials, such as construction paper, ribbon, pipe cleaners, toilet paper rolls, and buttons, to create their masterpieces.  When they were finished, we took a gallery walk around the room so students could share and explain their artwork.



To end the week, we visited Greece, where we discussed the Olympics and Greek mythology.  Students then wrote their own myths.

It was a very fun week for both the students and myself.  It is a great reminder of how creative and imaginative students are.  That is an art I don’t want to get lost.

What’s in Lilly’s Purse?

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Last school year in first grade, we made Frosty’s Lunchbox, and I knew the project could be extended to other characters and ideas.  When planning for my summer school class, Write Like a Famous Author, I knew I wanted to do something with Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse during our Kevin Henkes’ week.  I decided to have the students make and write about what’s inside Lilly’s purse; I also gave the students the option to crete what’s in Owen (or another character’s) toolbox or bag.

After reading aloud the story, we brainstormed what items could be in Lilly’s purse.  The students came up with a great list (they did such a great job cleaning up that they erased the board before I could take a picture!)  The students were excited about the project, but didn’t know where to start.  I modeled an example and we brainstormed possible topic sentences.  Then students got started and were very creative.  They worked at their own pace with writing and drawing pictures.  I helped them with cutting the purse and figuring out where to glue the pictures so they popped up.  It took them 1.5 class periods to complete (each class is 90 minutes) but it was worth it since they were engaged and worked hard.  I was pleased with the project turned out and am excited for more creations this summer!

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Building a Diorama

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As a fun concluding reading activity, we had the students create a diorama of one of our reading stories.  They picked their favorite story from the year and chose one scene to recreate.  I also created a simple rubric and a place for them to write the title, genre, and sequence of events of the story.

Students enjoyed being creative and designing the characters and setting.  They needed to use a lot of details, which helped some of them take their time and show their artistic side.  This project was challenging for those students who are not as strong in creativity, but it was a good experience to expose them to thinking outside the box.

This was a multi-day project, but the students really enjoyed it.  It took a lot of work to create the diorama and write about it!  This was a good, culminating activity for the students to demonstrate what they’ve learned throughout the year about all the literary elements.  A lot of choice was involved in picking the story and deciding how to best represent it.  The sequence writing was also a good way for students to use a lot of details to describe what happened in the Beginning, Middle, and End of their story.

After the dioramas were done, students did a gallery walk around both classrooms to share and see others’ work.  I was very impressed with their creations and would love to have students build dioramas again!

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Principal’s New Clothes-First Grade Style!

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IMG_0601To help students write creatively using many details, we decided to do a fun project.  Especially at this point in the school year, it’s important to create engaging activities that allow students to combine and practice what they’ve learned as their minds wander outside to the spring weather.

After reading the book, The Principal’s New Clothes, students had the task of designing a new outfit for our principal.  Students picked out fabric to create a dress, blouse, skirt, or pants (note: the project requires a lot of prep work creating the paper dolls and cutting the clothes from the fabric) that they glued onto their doll.

This project worked perfectly with our skill of main idea and details as we discussed the writing part of describing our principal.  We brainstormed a list of questions we wanted to know about our principal.  After writing the questions on post-its (what’s your favorite color, do you like being a principal, do you have kids, etc) we sent them to the office and awaited her responses.

The kids were very excited she responded!  I shared the responses and we discussed how to turn the questions into sentences.  We also discussed using lots of details and descriptive word choices.  Students then went off and wrote.

IMG_0595This was a fun activity-the students have really grown as writers this year and had the chance to be creative.  And the principal definitely has some cool new clothes!





What’s for lunch Frosty?

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Even though it is March, the snow and cold make it feel like it’s still winter.  We took a break from our normal routine between reading units to complete a fun, creative writing craft.  Besides being a break, students were able to practice and apply the writing process from brainstorming to creating a final product.

The project we created was titled “What’s in Frosty’s lunchbox?”.  Students got to write, design, and create what he ate for lunch.  They were given the topic and concluding sentences.  First, students completed a brainstorming sheet with food items-a sandwich, fruit, drink, and dessert.  They also needed to use a descriptive word with each item and draw a picture.

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Then, they turned their brainstorms into a written paragraph.  These paragraphs were edited to check sentence structure and help with spelling.  Then, they wrote their final version in their best handwriting.

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Students decorated the lunchbox and drew each piece of Frosty’s lunch before cutting it out, so we could make them pop up.

This project took 3 days to complete because of all the steps, but they turned out super cute.  It is important for students to practice the writing process and create an authentic product.

This project could definitely be extended for other characters besides Frosty.  What about Father’s Day-what’s in my dad’s lunch?, Nutrition month-what’s in my healthy lunch?, even a literary character’s lunch-the possibilities are endless!!



Using Story Cubes and Creatively Writing Stories

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During Work on Writing time a few weeks ago, we introduced the Story Cubes app.  The students loved it!  It was great seeing them so excited about writing, and they came up with some creative sentences and stories!

To introduce the activity to each group, I showed them how to use the cubes and we wrote a story together.  After shaking the cubes and seeing our picture choices, we went around the table and everyone thought of one sentence.  Each person wrote the sentence in his journal, so the group had the same story.  After everyone had shared an idea and we made sure the story had a good conclusion, each person illustrated his story.  Once center time was complete, students shared their stories with the class.


Since students were so excited about writing these stories, we decided to start a traveling journal.  There were 2 copies of story cube dice, so we put 1 set and a journal in a bag to go home with 2 children each night.  They have to write a story and return the set the following day; the child shares his story with the class and then a new student takes the journal home.


I love this idea of students creatively writing a complete story and sharing it with their classmates.  They’re going to be writing the rest of their lives, so it’s important they develop a solid foundation.  Also, it’s a chance for them to be creative, which I think sometimes get lost with other demands of school and life.  I will never tell a child he cannot write a story or that there is a limit how much to write.  I cannot wait to continue reading their stories!

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Being Creative While Learning to Work in Groups

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One part of the first grade social studies curriculum is called Skills for Growing, which incorporates concepts related to social-emotional learning.  Lessons teach students about being themselves, working with others, and friendship.  While looking over the lesson I would teach about working in groups and different roles of group members, I noticed the suggested activities were somewhat boring.  I decided to adapt the activities and combine the lesson’s theme with our writing skill.  We had just discussed descriptive writing, and sometimes it’s hard for first graders to write more detailed sentences.

First, we discussed what it’s like working in a group and why students may or may not enjoy group work.  We discussed the different possible roles of group members: collector, reporter, and a member.  Then, I explained the project: each group needed to pick an animal and create a web with different descriptions of the animals, such as color, size, where they lived, and what they ate.  I randomly picked the groups, so students could work with different students in the class.  I also modeled how to create a web and we did an example together, so students knew exactly what to do.

I was impressed how well the students worked together and were enthusiastic about the project.  Each group chose an animal, and each person wrote at least one description of the animal.  Sometimes they needed prompting for more descriptions to write, but overall they came up with great ideas.  The best part was that students were completely engaged, and they didn’t want to stop working!

When students are that motivated and engaged in an activity, you know as a teacher that you’ve created a successful learning experience.  The students successfully accomplished the lesson goal of working together in a group.  Sometimes as a teacher you need to take the initiative and make the executive decision to be creative and encourage students to think out of the box!  As a result they’ll have a meaningful learning experience!

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