Tuesday, November 24, 2015

All Saint's Day with Some Guatemalan Flair!

One of my favorite Guatemalan holidays is Dia de Todos los Santos!

This translates to the more familiar "All Saint's Day" and takes place every year on November 1st. 

Now, many people when thinking of Latin American on November 1st immediately think of Guatemala's upstairs neighbor, Mexico. Mexico has Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, which is celebrated with sugar skulls and parades. 

Guatemala's celebration is a bit different...

In Guatemala, people celebrate by flying KITES!!

Traditionally, families go the town cemeteries to decorate and picnic near loved ones graves. Then they fly kites, called barriletes, as a way to send love and messages to relatives passed away. 

Here a grave has been decorated with the traditional pine needles and a man is burning incense over it.  
This view actually shows the bright colors of the cemetery. The "buildings" are actually mausoleums for the dead. 
My favorite part of Dia de Todos los Santos is wandering among the extremely large kites at the kite festival in Sumpango, Guatemala. Using bamboo poles and tissue paper, teams from all over the country make giant kites, 

some as large as 50 feet tall,

to display. Naturally these kites are very delicate and, as November is windy season, sometimes there are mishaps.

I often run into my students enjoying the kites in Sumpango. At my school students go to Spanish class everyday. It is during this time that the Spanish teachers teach about the celebrations and traditions of Guatemala. This year they did some beautiful kite activities with the students!

While the majority of the talk in on traditions in Guatemala, they also touch on Mexico's Dia de los Muertos as well! Check out the sugar skulls!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Wanted Poster Writing Project - How Strong Are Your Ideas??

Movin' on to Ideas! I teach the 6+1 Traits and at the end of each unit we do a writing project to sum up what we learned. I make these as engaging as possible and kids really have a blast with them!! Earlier this year we did a Spy Themed get-to-know-you writing project. Check it out here!

We take this writing project through all the steps of the writing project, I made writing templates for each step to really scaffold the students (my second graders need A LOT of scaffolding at this time of the year) Click below to check it out in my TPT store. :) 

Before beginning, I make sure to explain what a wanted poster is and show them some examples. 

(Be careful with your examples, I've found that students LOVE the phrase "Wanted! Dead or alive!!" and I prefer that we not kill people in second grade, ha) 

Then we get started on the prewrite. My kids LOVE thinking up a bad guy and describing her/him in detail. The picture on the side really helps to make the description concrete. The kids creativity with this really is astounding. 

My favs this year have been: Bracila (possible the result of creativity, or Dracula with a bit of a lisp), Zombie Grandma, and Ms. GrossyWippyLolyPopySoleyEvily (I have no clue where that one came from...). 

Next, we move on to the rough draft. We spent a lot of time on how to write main idea sentences when learning about Ideas, so I have a special section in the rough draft set aside for the main idea sentence. With my kiddos I used the rough draft sheet with the conclusion sentence already written in. We don't talk about conclusion sentences until 6+1 Traits: Organization. 

After the rough draft we do a round of self checks and peer checks. I really have to teach the kids to be conscientious about checking over their work and their friend's work. 

By this point in the year, they know I get suspicious if it only takes them 4 seconds to do a writing check. 

During the peer check, the kids have to read their own story out loud, which means they catch quite a few of their own mistakes; they also love to share their writing. It's a win/win situation for all!

At this point we get to the craftivity! I try to include some kind of art project/craft with each project. It breaks up all the writing and keeps things interesting! For this project, we tea-dye our final draft papers to make them look old, like the real wanted posters. I didn't think this craft was particularly inspired, but my kids ate it up. 

(7 year olds miiiiight be a bit easily impressed..) 

Once the wanted posters have dried, we get on writing (in our NEATEST handwriting) the final copy! I always have the students write first in pencil, then after I've checked it over, write overtop in skinny sharpie. When finished, the kids erase the pencil leaving only the sharpie. 

There's always some half-hearted whining and dramatic handshaking associated with writing EVERYTHING TWICE, but even the kids will admit it looks nicer and gives it a very "final" feel.

(I love how Bracila is thinking about Bob, haha)

Finally, I always set up a photo shoot for our writing projects.

Facial expressions = spot on!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Top 3 Things I've Learned While Teaching About Insects!!

When teaching an almost month long unit about insects and keeping a small menagerie of creepy crawlies in the classroom you do tend to learn a few things.... 

Here are the top three things I learned while teaching about insects!

1. Kids are REALLY good at catching insects!

Now this might seem to be an obvious one but, let me tell you, once you've spent an entire free period scrounging around under rocks and in bushes for bugs, you really appreciate it when a pack of enthusiastic children catches 6 at recess time. 

To encourage this habit (and to preserve my planning time and sanity) we made some really simple bug catchers.

This project cost me nothing and the kids were EXTREMELY enthusiastic about it. 

If you aren't sure what tulle is, it's the stuff people make tutus out of. You can pick it up at a craft or fabric store for about a dollar a yard. I had some laying around from an old Halloween costume. 

I was soon inundated with insects. One of the cool things about living abroad is the different types of wildlife that you come across. One of my kids caught this whopper during morning recess!

This is a species of elephant beetle that is indigenous to the Latin American area. (Since I'm in Guatemala, we're smack in the middle of the range of these beetles.) We held onto this guy for two days. They are perfectly safe to hold and we passed him around the circle for those brave enough! (We only had one mini-panic when he tried to fly away.) Below you can see me handing off the bug to one of those brave souls. 

2. Some insects are surprisingly classroom friendly!

We were studying the life cycles of insects so I figured what could be more powerful than actually watching it happen in our classroom? I had never raised insects before so I was taking a leap of faith here. 

Welcome to the second grade insect menagerie!!

As you can see, we have mealworms and crickets. I picked these up from the local pet store. (Some Spanish for you: Crickets are grillos and mealworms are tenebrios. It took me weeks to get those into my head. I used to walk in and ask for insectos penquenos.) These two serve a dual purpose because I can feed them to our class pet, Larry the Leopard Gecko. The kindergartners found the grubs while they were out playing and generously gave them to us. 

If you are thinking of doing insect life cycles in your classroom, I recommend mealworms and here's why:

  • Mealworms are the easiest to take care of! Throw them in a container with some oats and a couple pieces of vegetable and they are good to go! 
  • They also don't bite, have no interest in escaping, and don't move very quickly.
  • Their life cycle has four very distinct stages and it's easy for the students to distinguish between the different stages.  
  • Crickets, while they make lovely chirping sounds during class, are Houdinis at escaping and they also make a mess in the cage. 
  • And the grubs are just creepy looking.


If you do decide to get some mealworms for your class, here's a good intro video!
Want to watch it bigger? Go to my youtube channel by clicking here!

3. Observations are key!!

My students LOVED looking at the bugs! We observed a few different insects as the hook before really getting into the unit. I created an observation sheet for the students to record what they were seeing. ANNNNNNND lucky for you, it's one of my FREEBIES! Click below to head over to my TPT store and snag it for yourself!

<<<Click here>>>

All throughout the unit we continued to do observations. This is what we did will all of the insects that the students brought in! After we introduced some insect vocabulary the students naturally began using it during the observations.

Here it is in action!!

And those are the top 3 things I learned while teaching about insects! Thanks for reading and I hope you've found something here that will be useful in your own classroom!!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Spy Writing Project!!


I present to the world........The Spy Writing Project!

Click on this pic to see it in my TPT store!

I cannot even tell you how much blood, sweat, and tears have gone into this BEAST of a writing project! Just know that once this bad boy is up and posted there will be a mountain of weight off my shoulders!

So I started doing these writing projects because I found my students were often bored by the writing process (Let's be honest, it can be pretty boring reading over your own writing for mistakes and then rewriting the WHOLE ENTIRE thing, in neat handwriting none-the-less). I wanted to jazz it up while keeping in all the steps and making sure the students understood how important writing skills are! (I use 6+1 Traits and love it!) And thus......my writing projects were born!

This Spy Writing Project is one of those get-to-know-you-at-the-beginning-of-the-year writing assignments. At the end of the process each child has a paragraph (or more, depending on the child) about their REAL IDENTITY. They write the paragraph under their made-up spy name and I like to hang mine up so the kids can try to guess each others real identity. (That adds to the interest factor! You should see them try to guard their "clues" as they work on the rough draft.)


I began the whole unit by asking them what they knew about spies. Some knew surprising little...... Then I really ramped up the interest factor by playing them this little video clip! (So much fun to make btw!)

For some reason this box is steadfastly refusing to get larger. If you'd rather watch it without a microscope you can head over to my Youtube page by clicking here!  

Afterwards, we talked about how spies have REAL IDENTITIES and SPY IDENTITIES complete with code names. This fit in nicely with the prewrite graphic organizer which focuses on the things they like to do and other facts about themselves.                                                                     Some of the kids got really creative with the categories and I got responses like,                                                                                                                                    STRUGGLES WITH                                                                       thinking of spy code names and doing a cartwheel                                                                                                                    In the next writing lesson we focused on turning the short responses from the prewrite into actual sentences in the rough draft. They actually surprised me with how quickly they caught onto it after a few examples. Because this is the beginning of second grade, I used the rough draft that already included the main idea and conclusion sentences, but in the packet I included ones without as well. I think next time, I'll let my higher ability writers come up with their own!
After the rough draft comes the hardest part to teach.......the DREADED self and peer checks!! (Dun, dun, dunnnnnnn!) I tried to make this as easy and as valuable as possible by making a simple checklist and comment section. I have to model these steps like WOAH or it just turns into a check-fest with none of the students actually looking at their own writing or their partner's. 

I usually have them do the self check first and then when they finish that, I try to strategically pair them on ability levels for the peer check. (I don't like the real high and real lows together because then the high student just redoes the paper.) I always have them read their writing out loud to their partner, cause sometimes they hear the mistakes they don't see when silently checking. 

Once the checks are past, the rest of the process is a breeze! They write the final copy in the NEATEST POSSIBLE HANDWRITING and then to really nail down the fact that this is a final copy I have them trace over their words with a skinny sharpie. (It also makes it easier to read when I post it on the bulletin board!)

During these writing projects I like to have a little craftivity of some kind to break up the hard writing bits! For this one it was quick, but exciting none-the-less! We did a fake fingerprint card for each student. I just used one of my classroom inkpads and the kids had a ball studying the patterns on their fingertips. (The ink didn't exactly wash off well though, so I'm surprised I didn't receive any disgruntled emails that night!)

Here is one of the finished products hung on my bulletin board!

My other favorite thing to do with these writing projects is stage a photo shoot complete with costumes, props and the final copy paper! It's super exciting for the kids (cause who doesn't like pictures in costume?) and it really pops when posted up on the wall! I scrounged around in the drama department for coats and hats, the science center for the magnifying glass and asked the maintenance men for some precaucion tape. (In Guatemala all of the caution tape is, naturally, in Spanish) I already owned the sunglasses. (I can totally rock those babies!) And WALA! you have a slick spy outfit!

Finally, I get to work grading these suckers! I like to keep my rubrics short and sweet. I teach the Traits throughout the year and they come to me with basically no knowledge of writing paragraphs so I use a very simplistic rubric for this project. (Focusing on periods and capital letters and other conventions mostly) In the packet, I also threw in a rubric centered around students who already had a grasp of the 6 Traits. 

Finally (finally!) after I've graded the writing, the students take one more good look at their own writing as well as what I've written on the rubric and do a real short reflection. We usually look back at this before starting the next writing project!

Before you go, check out a few of the final drafts!!

Thanks for coming by and I hope you enjoyed this Spy Writing Project!! Happy writing!!

Whoops! Almost forgot! I promised you a picture of Semuc Champey (where I went this past weekend) Here you go!

This paradise is the reason my Spy Writing Project couldn't be posted earlier!!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Internet Fail!

Hi everyone,

Sooooo I know I promised a post on my Spy Writing Project this week, but unfortunately the internet in my apartment has been down the past 4 days! As a result, I couldn't get my post ready in time. (Just a little issue you deal with when teaching abroad!) I would post this weekend, but it's a long weekend which means I'm heading out of town until Tuesday. (I'm going to Semuc Champey, a Guatemalan river full of beautiful lagoons! I'll post a pic when I get back. This is an example of a perk of teaching abroad!)

Sometimes you just gotta roll with it.

I'll leave you with a few of my favorite kid-isms to help with the pain of having to wait a bit longer for the Spy Writing Project.....

While walking down the hallway to lunch:
Me: Guys, are we walking in a line or in a hoard? 
Kid: (thoughtfully) I don't know what a whore is....

In the cafeteria:
Kid: Miss Fano, I can't eat lunch today because it's pizza and I'm not allowed to eat things that start with the letter P. The doctor said so.
Me: Oh...... well this is cheese pizza. It starts with the letter C. 
Kid: Oh! Ok!
(Don't worry. I talked with this parent. The child IS allowed to eat pizza.)

In the middle of a lesson:
I watch a child pick something up off the floor and proceed to roll it all over his face.
Me: If you found it on the floor, please don't rub it on your face!!
Kid: Don't worry it's mine. I dropped it there yesterday.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Budget Friendly Shared Supplies: Holla to the Dollar Tree!

To start, I LOVE having the kids sit in table groups! Table groups foster the collaborative environment that I strongly believe in and teach the kids the oh-so-important skill of sharing (waiting your turn for the table glue is rough those first few weeks!). In these table groups it makes sense to have communal supplies within easy reach at the middle of the tables. Over the years (with trial and error) I've figured out what works for us in the buckets. 

Here's a closer look at our table buckets (thanks Dollar Tree!!) 

Each table is color coded and each bucket includes a red cup for crayons, a pencil cup, some scissors and glue sticks as well as some big erasers. (The kids trying to figure out how to share the scissors and glue sticks is one of those classic second grade learning experiences.)

I spent less than 5$ on each set: 

Bucket = $1
Pencil Cup = $1
2 Scissor Pack = $1 (though you might be able to find these cheaper at Walmart)
Red Cups = $1 for a pack of 3

The rest of the stuff in there is either provided by the school or brought in as student supplies.

Thanks for coming back this week and because this was a bit of a short post, I'm going to sweeten it with a sneak peek at the special project that will be coming up next week!

**Special Sneak Peek**

Get ready for some getting-to-know-you writing with a secret agent twist!

And remember, if you like what you've been reading so far click the Follow Me! button up and on the right to stay updated!!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Are YOUR Students Fidgeting with Stuff at Their Seats??

Have I got a solution for that!!   Presenting..........Stuff Jail!

So in my classroom I have my desks in groups with a table bucket (more on those next post!) in the middle with all kinds of supplies in it. The kids also keep their personal supplies inside the desks so there is lots of "stuff" around. This means that little hands are always fiddling with things and by the end of last year I got fed up dealing with that nonsense. So before school started I found a good sized plastic bucket in my closet and literally spent all of 5 minutes spray painting stripes onto it and taping on a simple label. And I had (dun, dun, dun!) Stuff Jail!!

Here you can see it looking properly ominous amongst my stamps.

I introduced it during the first week of school and the kids often refer to it, especially when I gave them warnings about their "stuff". (For some reason this year, rulers are really popular...)

Below read an actual encounter:

Me: Put that pencil sharpener away please! I need to see attentive listening!

Student: (whispers, eyes wide) Or it will go in the stuff jail?

Me: Yes. Now put it away.

I've only had to use it a few times so far, but usually the stuff stays in there until the next morning or until the student reminds me that its still in there, haha.

If you want to make your own Stuff Jail, feel free to download my Stuff Jail freebie! It includes the little tag I used on the bucket and a poem to post with it!

Click the pic to grab it for yourself!

Friday, August 21, 2015

New School Year, New Classroom Decor!

Hello everyone! School is coming!!!!

One of my favorite parts of the summer is heading to the Goodwill, Dollar Tree, and Michaels Craft Store to load up on stuff I definitely (right) need for the new school year. The problem I run into though, is that I have to pack all that crap into a suitcase to haul back to Guatemala with me! No easy feat as you might imagine. (I inevitably leave a bunch of stuff behind at my mother's house. My childhood bedroom looks like a well-stocked teacher store.)

Once I got to Guatemala and then finally back to school, I got into unpacking all of my goodies and sorting through them. Here you can see the piles of stuff ALL over the tables and the half decorated room.

Uggggth, I can't stand plain white walls!

After MANY hours of work and copious use of my lamination machine (best purchase ever!) I got my room into a semblance of order. (Special shout out to Hope King for her Wild Things Brights Classroom Decor Pack!! I've labelled literally everything in my room with it. Love it!)  

Let's take a little tour...

Here's the view as you walk into the room. You can see two of my table groups, the reading/circle area, and Larry the leopard gecko's cage over on the left. My bulletin board is set up for my morning meeting routines and CAFE. Above that are my Tribes posters. 

I've turned a bit more and now you can see the Writing Center in the corner by the back door. There's all kinds of interesting stuff in that corner but I'm going to save that for another post! I love, love, love the blue batik fabric I hung under the sink and the green batik on the door! (There's no pesky fire marshal in Guatemala, so I'm actually allowed to hang fabric up.)

 Turning a bit more, we have my word wall and (currently empty) book boxes. Next is the listening center and over in the corner is my classroom door and then my computer area with the job chart and calendar behind it. All of my bulletin boards are covered by plastic table cloths (also acquired at the Dollar Tree). They are easier to put up than paper and don't fade. I've even had some up them up since the beginning of last year!

Here you can see the rest of my table groups and my whiteboard. I edged it in shredded table cloth so it would be less white on white.

And for our final vantage point, we have a close up of my shower curtain map and the Work on Words Center! I love this shower curtain from BedBath&Beyond! (20 bucks and I've used it for the past 5 years! Can't beat that!) It's perfect for referring to when discussions about various topics lead into "Where is that??" Also, its bright and HUGE!

Thanks soooo much for getting reading ALL the way down to the bottom of this (very dense) post! I promise posts in the future will be a bit more colorful and include some fun videos!! Check back soon!