A “Turkey-rrific” Thanksgiving Writing Activity

It is almost Thanksgiving Week, and my kids were wondering whether we will ever do something artsy with a Thanksgiving theme, like making turkey paper crafts.  One of my 3rd graders suggested, “Let’s color some turkeys!”  Of course I did not want to let them down, so I decided  to give my lesson a Thanksgiving twist, sort of.  As a result, I titled our bulletin board, “Have a Turkey-rrific Thanksgiving!”  My students loved it!

Interestingly, my latest lesson was on CAUSE and EFFECT.  Using my Cause and Effect anchor chart, cause and effect match up game using pictures, plus a read-aloud of “If You Give a Dog a Donut,”  we discussed cause and effect relationships.  The final independent work:  A cause and effect writing activity using a turkey template, which I found from Havefunteaching.com.  I asked students to create their own stories using “If You Give a Dog a Donut” as a model.  I emphasized that their title should have an animal and food with the same beginning letters, e.g. horse – hamburger, lion – lollipop, etc.  It was amazing how my students thought of really interesting titles.  

If You Give a Dog a Donut

If You Give a Dog a Donut

The template has 3 pages:  A title page, an illustration page, and the writing page.  

Sample  "Cause and Effect" Title Page

Sample “Cause and Effect” Title Page

Sample "Cause and Effect" Illustration Page

Sample “Cause and Effect” Illustration Page

Sample "Cause and Effect Paragraph Page

Sample “Cause and Effect Paragraph Page

You can use a scoring rubric like the one I created below to grade your students’ work:

Cause and Effect Scoring Rubric

Cause and Effect Scoring Rubric

Check out the pictures below to see how my students did their writing project:

My 3rd Grade Students at Work!

My 3rd Grade Students at Work!

Writing their Cause and Effect Using a Turkey Template

Writing their Cause and Effect Using a Turkey Template

Illustration page for their cause and effect writing activity

Illustration page for their cause and effect writing activity

And this is our “Turkey-rrific” Thanksgiving bulletin board,  My students are so proud of their work:  (Note: There’s a typo error on the title, which I’m going to correct tomorrow.)

Out "Turkey-rrific" Thanksgiving Bulletin Board

Our “Turkey-rrific” Thanksgiving Bulletin Board

Thank you to havefunteaching.com for their terrific freebies!  You can visit their site here to download the Thanksgiving Writing Paper – Turkey Outline on their Holiday Worksheets page.

I just hit two birds with one stone on this project:  My kids got what they wanted:  to color  some turkeys, and I got to let them write their cause and effect stories.  Go ahead and let your students have fun before the Thanksgiving Break.

Let’s all have a turkey-rrific Thanksgiving!

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 8.28.02 PM


Story in a Box: Using Cereal Boxes for a Story Elements Project

Sometimes things at home that we are about to throw away make for a worthy classroom project or resource.  One of my teacher friends, for example, used to ask me to keep the caps of used water bottles because he is using them as math manipulatives.  In my case, I used empty cereal boxes of various sizes for a story elements project.  I rEmember using shoe boxes for a math project on area and perimeter last year.  This time I thought, why not use cereal boxes?  And so, I called this project created by my 1st Grade ESOL kids, “Story in a Box.” Their task was to summarize, recreate, and illustrate the story we read, which is titled “Alice Nizzy Nazzy, the Witch of Santa Fe.”

Here are the materials I used for this project:

empty cereal boxes

colored papers to cover the cereal boxes

plain file folders. cut into 3 rectangular pieces

construction paper, cut into half


markers and crayons

glue sticks and transparent tape

Here are the steps to creating “Story in a Box” Project:

1.  Cover the empty cereal boxes with colored paper using glue or transparent tape.  Since this is a 1st grade project, I had to do this myself to save time.

2.  Divide the class into pairs or trios.  Distribute the materials to each group.

3.  Provide clear instructions to do the following:

a.  Use the 3 pieces of file folder to draw two major characters in vertical position, and the major setting in horizontal position.  Label each drawing.

b.  Fold the  half-sized construction papers into half.

c.  Write a one-sentence “PROBLEM” on the top fold, and illustrate it inside.  Do the same thing for the other half-fold construction paper.  Write a one-sentence “SOLUTION” and illustrate it.

c.  Glue the characters, setting, problem and solution on the cereal box as shown below:

My 1st Grade ESOL Kids' "Story in a Box" Project

My 1st Grade ESOL Kids’ “Story in a Box” Project

My 1st Grade ESOL Kids at Work!

My 1st Grade ESOL Kids at Work!

Our Story Elements Anchor Chart and Projects

Our Story Elements Anchor Chart and Projects

4.  Finally, let each pair present the project by giving a summary of the story.

Go ahead and try this project with your kids!  I’m sure they will love it as my kids did!


Autumn-Themed Read-Aloud Books for Children

Hello, fellow educators!

November is a time for choosing books that feature fall harvests, apple-picking season, autumn leaves, and scarecrows.  It is the time to place our autumn-themed books in a more prominent place in our classroom library and to design our bulletin boards with the colors of Autumn.  And yes, now is also the time to set aside all our Halloween read-aloud books, which we won’t read again until next year,

I have made it a habit to visit Barnes and Noble or Books a Million with my daughter at least every other week.  She is such a big help every time I have to choose new books to add to my classroom library.  She reviews them for me, too!

 Here is a list of autumn-themed read-aloud books that we thought kids will enjoy reading,:

Best Apps for Digital Note-taking and Document-Sharing

I am one of the firm believers that traditional note-taking (using pencil and paper, that is) can never be a thing of the past.  There is a lot of brain activity – the processing, synthesizing, and distilling of information – that is going on when we take notes.  However, with the cutting-edge technology that drives 21st century learning now, we are provided with several other options to do the same – organize information, look at what’s important, chunk it into several pieces of detailed information, and summarize it – all in many different note-taking formats.  And these are all surprisingly easy-to-use digital platforms that allow for a pleasant experience and are accessible to us where ever we go.  And the best thing is we can share these notes online – an easy way to collaborate in this global age.  

As a teacher and as a parent who has watched my daughter transition from traditional note-taking to digital note-taking when she reached middle-school, here is my stand on this matter:  Let our kids master the art of note-taking using pencil and paper.  When they reach a stage when they can decide which format works best for them, then let them explore these options.  You will find that they will try these note-taking apps on their tablet or laptop, but at the same time, they will still do traditional note- taking.  At this day and age, there are so many ways to address their multi-sensory learning styles.

Here is a list of apps that I and my middle-school daughter consider as really good options for note-taking and document-sharing:

Wunderlist1.  Wunderlist –  This app is perfect for your To-Do Lists. You can create grocery lists, wish lists, and To-Dos and share them with your family, friends or classmates.   Another wonderful thing about this is the Comments feature that allows you to talk about your lists with other people.   You can even share this with the public so others can discover what other people do, see or make by just clicking the “Discover Lists.” This major multitasker is also free for all your devices.

Post-it Plus2.  Post-it Plus – Are you using Post-it notes for note-taking during class sessions, meetings, or planning days?  Try this Post-it Plus app on any of your IOS devices and take your brainstorming sessions to another level.  You can use the app to capture as much as 50 Post-it notes from your collaborative session, then organize your notes on your board, and finally,  share your organized board with your teammates.  That’s how easy it is.

Evernote3.  Evernote – This app is completely Universal. With various side apps, such as Skitch and Penultimate, you can do pretty much anything such as save PDF Files, take notes, capture handwritten notes, add pictures and web clippings, and share them with your friends.  One best thing is about this is it can transform your notes into a reader-friendly layout.

images-14.  OneNote – This app is on your phone, tablet and computer. Its similar to Evernote but more closely resembles the binders you had as a kid. Its has “Notebooks” and “Sections” with multicolored labels. You can change the font, move the text around, clip webpages, send in an email, share with your friends, make a to-do list with various features, snap pictures, and make handwritten highlights and notes.

Simplenote     5.  Simplenote – As the term itself suggests, this app has clean, easy-to-use features, the way note-taking should be.   You can back up and sync your notes across all devices and share them with others.  Your notes are easily searchable and accessible through tags.

Go ahead, and try these digital note-taking apps!

Happy cold November!

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 8.28.02 PM

Differentiated Character Traits Lessons for ELLs

One of my all-time favorite lessons to teach is identifying character traits.  It is a lesson where students can easily find connections to themselves or to other people they know.  In so many ways, a character in a text, whether it be from a fantasy story or a realistic fiction, reminds them of somebody they know in real life.  The key is to choose the right story to use for read-aloud or as a mentor text.  

There are various ways to teach this reading skill, which is part of the inferential skills that students need to be familiar with.  In 1st grade ESOL, I try to focus on terms that they can easily understand,, such as:



In 3rd and 5th grade, students are usually given a list of character traits they can use as reference when thinking about how to describe the characters in the text.  The curriculum framework mandated by my district includes a copy of this character traits.  You can also find this list on www.readwritethink.org.  As an ESOL teacher, I try to differentiate this lesson by letting them match images or pictures showing different emotions with the descriptive words before introducing the lesson.  Then,I now expand the concept with these phrases using an anchor chart:





For my ELL’s, especially those in the beginning proficiency levels, being able to use common adjectives or descriptive words such as NICE, HAPPY, or SAD is already a big accomplishment for them.  As they gain more confidence in using the language, it is important to let the students think about words to replace these ordinary adjectives.

To facilitate discussion, I use an anchor chart to identify character traits of a main character as we read the story.  Below is an example of an anchor chart I used in 5th grade using the main character from our read-aloud text, “Martina, the Beautiful Cockroach.”

Character Traits Anchor Chart

Character Traits Anchor Chart

 Here is a suggested lesson outline for 3rd grade:

1.  Warm-Up – introduce 5 adjectives.  Play a match-up game of these adjectives and a set of pictures.

2.  Whole-group activity – Introduce “character traits” using an anchor chart.  Use a mentor text to read aloud to students.  Focus on the main character to identify the character trait.  Pause each time to analyze the character’s development in the story using the anchor chart as a guide.  Chart students’ answers with Post-it notes.

3.  Group Work – Divide students into pairs or groups.  Let them choose a character from the story.  Use a graphic organizer similar to the anchor chart to analyze a character’s appearance, actions, and feelings, and inference about the character.

4.  Independent Work – Use a template to illustrate their character and write a character analysis.  You can find a lot of different templates on Pinterest.  This year I used the character selfies template as more and more young people, even us adults, are becoming more fascinated with the “selfie” trends on social media. Below are links to templates you can use, which also appeared on my previous blog:

Character Selfies template 1

Character Selfies template 2

Again, many thanks to  THE PINSPIRED TEACHER and PRINCIPAL PRINCIPLES for their great freebies.


Character Selfie from "A Bad Case of Stripes"

Character Selfie from “A Bad Case of Stripes”

OUr Character Selfies

OUr Character Selfies


Suggested Read-Aloud Books for a Character Traits Lesson:

A Bad Case of Stripes

A Bad Case of Stripes

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach

Skippyjon Jones

Skippyjon Jones

Oliver Button is a Sissy

Oliver Button is a Sissy

David Gets in Trouble

David Gets in Trouble   








Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace








Happy 1st Day of November!

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 8.28.02 PM