Show, Don't Tell: A FREE Writing Lesson

One of my all-time favorite writing topics focuses on writing showing sentences instead of telling sentences. The anchor chart below highlights the difference between a showing sentence and a telling sentence. Basically, a telling sentence in a story is usually a short sentence that tells about an incident in a vague, uninteresting way. Simple emotion words like sad, angry, brave or embarrassed are common in telling sentences. Showing sentences, on the other hand, use vivid verbs, descriptive words, and creative details to describe an incident.
Showing vs. Telling Writing Anchor Chart! This blog post also contains a FREE Show Don't Tell Bingo game!

A few years back, I wrote a blog post describing a successful writing lesson I co-taught with third grade teachers to introduce the concept of "Show, Don't Tell" to our students. You can check it out HERE.

Recently, I decided to create a follow-up lesson. I wanted to highlight showing sentences written by published authors, so I combed through several upper elementary chapter books (The Tiger Rising by Kate diCamillo, The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, Loot by Jude Watson, and Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage to name a few) and copied down a handful of sentences that I felt were stellar examples of showing sentences. Then, I used the sentences to create a Bingo game! Of course, you can use these FREE printables any way you want, but here's my vision for how I would use them in an upper elementary classroom.

Show Don't Tell Bingo Game... FREE writing minilesson for upper elementary and middle school students!

To prepare this activity, before class you need to print the Bingo cards and calling cards, and gather markers of some sort. I created 14 Bingo cards because I would make this a cooperative activity, where students share a card with a partner.

To start the lesson, I would distribute the Bingo cards, and ask students to scan the statements on their cards and discuss with their partner whether the statements are telling sentences or showing sentences. After a brief discussion, I would tell my students that during today's lesson we are going to find showing sentences that could replace these mundane telling sentences. Furthermore, to make it just a bit more exciting, I've turned it into a Bingo game! We're going to see which pair of students can be the first to cover their entire Bingo card.

Next, I would draw a calling card, place it beneath my document camera so that it's projected on the screen and visible to the entire class, and read the card aloud. (If using your document camera, be sure to use the cards that don't have the answer printed at the bottom!) I would then instruct students to work with their partner and scan their card to determine if any of their telling sentences could be replaced with this showing sentence. After an appropriate amount of time, I would ask volunteers to raise their hand if they think they found the matching telling sentence on their card. Once the match has been identified, we would briefly discuss why this showing sentence would be so much more interesting to a reader than the telling sentence on the Bingo card.
Show Don't Tell Bingo Game... FREE writing minilesson for upper elementary and middle school students!

The game would continue in this manner until all 18 showing sentences have been presented and discussed. Here are a few more matches:
Show Don't Tell Bingo Game... FREE writing minilesson for upper elementary and middle school students!
Show Don't Tell Bingo Game... FREE writing minilesson for upper elementary and middle school students!

Finally, when the game is over, I would instruct students to retrieve their writing folder and look over a personal piece of recent writing for a telling sentence that they could revise and rewrite as a showing sentence.

If you are looking to dive a little bit deeper into this writing topic, I invite you to check out my related PowerPoint and flipbook!
Show, Don't Tell PowerPoint and Flipbook! A great writing lesson!

Thanks for stopping by today! I hope you'll be able to use a few of these writing ideas with your upper elementary students!


Recharge and Unplug, A Teacher's Guide To School Breaks

Winter break, fall break, spring break, or whatever breakin’ electric buggaloo you’ve got coming up —make sure to make it your own.  There’s nothing more exciting than coming home and realizing you have ZERO teaching to do for the next week or so.  No planning meetings or PLCs or bus duty in negative degrees. Just a bunch of days that you get to fill. For many of us they’re already planned out but you need to remember to take a couple of days for yourself.  

Call it recharging or unplugging (I even put those in the titles) or whatever cool buzzword they got for it (right, bae?). Just make it your own. I’ve spent a little time and put together some of my favorite past times that I’ve found effective.
Organize Your Classroom Before You Leave For Break
Yes, you want to fly out the door when that bell rings. Just wait. Clean up your room, throw away all those piles of papers (that will just get tossed when you get back), and get your room in working order for your return. This little prep work means you’re coming back on a clean slate.

Grab A Couple of Older Books from the School Library
Lately, I’ve found myself going back to some of the older novels I read as a kid. They’re not long reads and they still hold up. Sure, we wanna read all the brand new stuff, but those personal classics that made us fall in love with reading is where it’s really at.  Besides, it's a great chance for you to reintroduce them into your classroom once you get back. This break I’m going back to read,  How To Eat Fried Worms.

Take a Day and Binge Watch Something…Anything
I’m not a huge TV-watcher. In fact, most shows I watch are usually used in conjunction with running on the treadmill. BUT every break, I take at least one day and binge on something. This also means I don’t have the computer in front of me too. A binge day towards the back-half of a break is a thing of beauty.

This is not easy for me. I don’t like to sit and watch TV all day. Yet, the last few times Ive done it I’ve felt a little better because I took time for myself to do absolutely nothing. This includes unplugging from my phone and computer and just veg out.

If you watch all three Lord of the Ring Extended Versions you’ve got about 13 hours of couch time.

Dogfood A Project You Want Your Students to Do
What does that even mean? Dogfooding is when you test out a product/resource/project yourself. So if you’ve got a project your want your students to do, take a day and do it yourself. Figure out what works well, what doesn’t, and understand the issues students will face. 

Find a Teacher Blogger and Read All Their Work
Find a blogger you like and go read all their work (or as much as you can). With social media this isn’t always easy, so concentrate on staying with that single author. I might even suggest going through this blog and saving the links for all the ideas you're going to want to try and use in the classroom. 

Research an Idea or Topic You Really Want to Teach
Spend a day on Pinterest or blogs and find an idea that captures your attention and research the heck out of it.  Just you, a large cup of a warm caffeinated beverage, and exploration time.  It seems simple but we never really have time to do it.  It’s totally worth it.

Go To School
Seriously. Take a morning or afternoon or day and go to school when no one is around.  Then do a little work: clean, purge, redesign your classroom, reflect. This works better during winter break with more time off.

Don’t Check School Email
Just Don’t.

See What’s New At the One Spot
Target is always an option.

Or think about exercising and instead go grab a gigantic coffee.

Put Together a LEGO set
You should do this. Get yourself a set and put it together.  Make your mind work. Even if you won't play with it (even though you'll want to) you can take it up to school for your classroom.

If LEGOS aren't you're thing, go get a puzzle.

Visit A Park
Maybe you've got a National Park close by or a state one, just go find one and go check it out. Parks are awesome.

Grade Papers
Just kidding. This is the one thing I would never do.

Get A Dog
Just remember that you can’t take it back once break is over. 

Do Something Artistic or Creative
Seriously, you’ll surprise yourself and love the results.  Find a class and take a friend.

Do a Double Feature at the Movie Theater
Winter is typically the best time for this because all the movies up for awards are pushed out then. Do it. Just be careful with the popcorn, lots of calories.

Buy A Cake For Yourself
No regrets. No remorse. Besides, you've got a whole week to eat it.

Give Back
Find a charity or organization that you'd like to help.  Call them up and see if they need anything.  Our local animal shelter loves getting homemade cat toys that my daughter's girl scout troop makes.   Or take a box of cookies up to a fire department or police station. Yes, just like you see in the movies.   

Don't Sleep the Day Away
Unless you really want to, then it's cool.

Practice Your Teacher Voice in the Middle of a  Grocery Store.
Just for fun.

Listen to Yourself
When in doubt, listen to yourself and follow your arrow.

You can find more from me at Digital: Divide & Conquer where I tackle project based learning, technology, and the space in between.  BUT if you're looking for me over a school break I'll be running, practicing my poor piano skills, and reminding my kids to turn off the lights in their rooms.


Critiquing Fractional Reasoning

Teaching fractions is often one of an upper elementary teacher's greatest struggles.  Fractions, despite being very "visual" ask students to think differently about numbers and to be able to reason at a much higher level--a new kind of thinking for many of them.

Many math textbooks move students very quickly into computation related to fractions...they start teaching them to find equivalent fractions by multiplying the numerator and denominator...having them "fill in the blank" to identify which fraction is greater, and so on.  For students who learn computation easily, we sometimes miss when some other basic understandings are missing.

For this reason, I like to put my students in positions where they have to do a ton of "reasoning" and math talk to help ME learn about the level of their understanding--and for THEM to have to explain with precision their understanding.  Check out this task we did to kick off our math class last week.  I planned on 20 minutes--but we spent 45 VERY engaged minutes deepening our understanding!
fraction lessons

Although we have been working on equivalent fractions recently, I have overheard a few discussions and comments from students that led me to believe that we may have a few misconceptions remaining about the idea of equal parts.  We had already tackled a few--that you can't  divide a circle by  making vertical lines, you don't add denominators (working with "unit fractions" really helps with that misunderstanding!), and that equal parts don't all have to look the same.  Check out THIS POST and THIS POST from last week to see more fraction lesson ideas.

On this day, I gave my students some "tricky" shapes and simply asked them with a team of three to decide if they were or were not divided into equal parts.  The key?  They had to be able to PROVE it so that others would understand their reasoning.  They were told to use their piece of bulletin board paper to create a display to show their thinking.
fractions lessons
For the first few minutes I got a ton of questions....

"Can we cut them out?"  Sure.

"Can we draw on them?"  Sure.

"Can we use glue?"  Sure.

As they got to work, I circulated asking simple questions..."Are you sure?" and "Can you prove it?" and "Will others understand your explanation?".  I heard some pretty faulty logic...things like

"It looks skinnier."

"It seems about the same size."

Each time, I probed the students to find a "mathematical way" to prove their ideas.  When I passed this group, I noticed that they seemed to have a plan to prove the unequal parts of the triangle image.  I asked them what they were doing...
fractions lessons
 They explained that when they folded the flap over, that they noticed "extra" so the edge pieces could not be equal to the middle section.  They also admitted that at first they HAD thought it was divided into thirds because it "looked like it" so they were pretty excited to see that they had a mathematical explanation for something their eyes couldn't see.
fractions lessonsfractions lessons
Other groups were dismantling their shapes to use as templates to prove equal parts and had wonderful discussions about how pieces can be rotated in different directions and yet still be equal.  Other groups started to use rulers to measure sides and claim that to be equivalent, the measurements needed to be the same.  I quickly grabbed an index card and drew this:
fractions lessons
 I reminded the students that we had decided a week or so ago that this WAS, indeed, divided into equal parts because each piece was "a half of a half"--and then asked the team that was measuring if the measurements were the same.  You could see their wheels turning...and some of them even started looking for ways to use the "half of a half" theory in their posters.

One group was getting quite a bit of attention from the groups next to them for their organization.  We've been talking about making our work "accessible" to others by organizing it, labeling it, and explaining clearly so this group got lots of compliments--and it motivated some other groups to "up their game" a bit!
fractions lessons
After working for quite a while, we did a gallery walk where we checked out the work in the other groups, and then came up front.  Different students offered to explain their thinking by using the document camera--and we practiced our accountable talk stems...agreeing, disagreeing, adding on, asking for clarification, and so on.  We had a GREAT discussion and students used incredible thinking and math language to explain their ideas, to ask questions of each other, and to really force students to critique the thought processes and explanations of their classmates.  Cool stuff!
fractions lessons
So...I can't wait to continue our discussions as we look for other patterns and generalizations we can make as we move through our unit.  This lesson is a version of one of the 16 lessons in my fractions unit--all geared toward really getting students to think deeply about fractions.  Hope everyone is staying warm--and if you are teaching this next week like I am, may the force be with you!  

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Student Gifts on a Budget

I never know what to give my students as gifts.  Honestly, half the time I wait until the last minute, panic, and come up with some over the top corny gift.  What I have come to realize is that my students don’t expect anything from me, and whatever I do give them they like because it comes from me.  Here are a few cheap and free ideas that may help you, the busy teacher, out.

Word Clouds

Create a word cloud for each student using Wordle or Tagul.  Students love to read things about themselves!

Scholastic Books

Scholastic Reading Club always has one dollar books.  If you have bonus points, what better way to spend them?!?  Are you out of time and know you won't get the books before you need them?  Create a "Free Dollar Book" coupon for your students which will allow them to choose their own book on the next book order!  You can download a free printable coupon to give your students HERE.  

Board Games

Do you have old board games lurking in a closet?  I'm betting that your students do too!  Send a note home to parents asking for old board games that they would like to rid of.  Wrap them up, and then as a class open them up!  It will be like Christmas Day in your classroom.  Your classroom will inherit games that can be played throughout the year.  They'll love it, guaranteed!

Movie/PJ Day

What better way to end the last day before break with a movie day and hanging out in PJs?  My students consider this a treat and love the opportunity.

The Coupon Book

My favorite gift that I’m using for the second year in a row is The Coupon Book.  Best of all, it’s FREE to me.  The only thing that I need to do is copy, cut, and staple.  Then…ta-dah…it’s done!

Here’s how it work.  Each student receives a coupon book, and each book contains ten different coupons that students can use at their leisure.  Students can use their coupons immediately, or they can save them and use them throughout the rest of the school year. 

Coupons include:
  1. Free homework pass
  2. Choose your own class job for the week
  3. Extra computer time
  4. Lunch with teacher
  5. Be the line leader for the day
  6. Read a book to the class
  7. Sit by a friend for the day
  8. Errand runner
  9. Write in pen for the day
  10. Choose a book for the teacher to read to the class
You can download the coupon book for free HERE.  It's a gift that keeps on giving.  

The Benefits of Daily Math Review in the Classroom

Daily math review is a critical part of every math classroom. Learn the benefits of daily math review and tips for successfully implementing it into your classroom.

Daily math review is a critical component to every math classroom. Imagine learning something new and then never revisiting it.  I bet you'd be pretty rusty if you ever had to actually use your newly learned skill, wouldn't you?  This is exactly why I feel so passionate about incorporating some time in each and every day for review of previously taught concepts. Once I started doing this in my own classroom, the results were astounding. In this post, I'm going to go over the benefits of daily math review and my favorite ways to actually incorporate it into the classroom.
Daily math review is a critical part of every math classroom. Learn the benefits of daily math review and tips for successfully implementing it into your classroom.

Why Make Time for Reviewing?

Daily math review doesn't have to be time consuming. It can simply take just a few minutes of your day and be incorporated in ways to where you don't even feel like you are spending your instructional time doing it. Here are just a few benefits you will see once you begin.

1. Students will STOP forgetting what you've taught!
That's right! No more frustrating conversations with students who just don't remember what you taught them last week, let alone last month.

2. Students will gain confidence.
Consistent practice over time can be the key to helping many students master a concept. As students are briefly exposed in small doses to what they have learned, they will have the opportunity to practice, master, and retain the grade level math skills they have learned.  The better they get, the more successful they feel. Students who typically struggle in math can now feel prideful in their work.

3. Less need for strenuous Test-Prep!
Test-Prep is a terrible word! It is something all teachers and students dread. Instead of focusing on reviewing prior to "high stakes testing", using a daily math review program can be way less stressful. By the time you get to "the test", your students will already know everything they need.

4. You will always know how your students are doing!
This my favorite. Once I started incorporating daily review into my day, I always knew which students still needed help and which students totally "got it". Plus, I used my daily review practice activity to provide extra support for my struggling students. It was a win-win!

5. Test scores will increase!
I always hesitate making these kind of claims, but based on my YEARS of experience and the feedback of thousands of teachers, I feel confident in saying that using daily math review resources consistently will help increase student test scores.  Think about it...if students are consistently reviewing concepts they are responsible for, and are engaged in rigorous and thoughtful review, they are going to do better over-all. It just makes sense.

Daily math review is a critical part of every math classroom. Learn the benefits of daily math review and tips for successfully implementing it into your classroom.

Tips and Tricks for Incorporating Daily Math Review
Now that you understand some of the benefits of daily math review, let's talk about some awesome strategies to incorporate daily math in your classroom.

Daily math review is a critical part of every math classroom. Learn the benefits of daily math review and tips for successfully implementing it into your classroom.

1. Start your day with review.
Morning Work (warm-ups, bell ringers, or whatever you call it) is one of the easiest ways to incorporate daily math review. You can do something as simple as putting a handful of questions up on the board or have a weekly review sheet your students complete each day. Once you are ready to begin your day, checking through this activity is a great way to get math-time started.

2. Make it a center activity!
This is a great way to review because it literally doesn't take up any instructional time.  Again, give your students a handful of review problems or a fun review activity and have them complete it as one of their rotations. Simple!

3. Give it for Homework!
Research shows that the most effective homework is review. Giving homework on something new can lead to students learning new skills incorrectly. Solve this problem by only giving homework on concepts you have fully taught your students.

Daily math review is a critical part of every math classroom. Learn the benefits of daily math review and tips for successfully implementing it into your classroom.

4. Make it a part of your lesson.
I love adding about 5 minutes of review to my daily lessons. This works as a great way to "warm-up" and begin a lesson.

5. Keep it Simple!
Don't make your daily math review too strenuous. I try to make sure it doesn't take a student long to complete (10 minutes or so) and quickly touches on various topics. Daily review isn't "drill and kill". In fact, it's the opposite.

Grab some FREE Daily Math Review Sheets HERE for grades K-12! 

These are just a few ways I love to incorporate daily math review into my day! If you want to read more about this topic, you will definitely want to check out THIS POST from my blog.   No matter how you decide to incorporate this critical component into your classroom, just be sure to do it every day! You won't regret it!
Daily math review is a critical part of every math classroom. Learn the benefits of daily math review and tips for successfully implementing it into your classroom.

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Holiday Snapshots!! Plus, a HUGE Giveaway!!

It's that time of year again!! Who doesn't love the excitement of the holiday season?! It's so much fun to celebrate in the classroom with actvities that make students forget that they are even learning!! This holiday season we want to share some snapshots of our favorite holiday ideas and resources for upper elementary classrooms!! And to celebrate this most wonderful time of the year, we are also giving away THREE $50 Gift Cards to Teachers Pay Teachers. So, grab your hot cocoa, put your feet up (you deserve it), and enjoy these holiday snapshots!!

This STEM activity is perfect for the holiday season. Students use toothpicks and gum drops to design and build the tallest Christmas Tree!! Click HERE to download this FREE lab sheet to go along with this activity!!

In this project students will put their math skills to work planning their very own holiday party, using the guests of their choosing. It's available in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade math! Click HERE to learn more!!

This blog post walks you through an entire lesson on discovering themes in literature using a favorite winter picture book, Owl Moon. Then download the linked freebie to get all the materials to use in your own classroom! 

What is better than mixing a little STEM challenge with Christmas around the world?  Christmas Aroundthe World STEM Challenges will engage your students in the traditions of others around the world with six different challenges.
Check out this great bulletin board that celebrates reading, gets students writing, and makes an adorable display to keep up all winter long!  Students love reading about books others have read, and it is so much fun watching how creative students get while designing their snowmen.

Your students will love this fun and simple holiday craft, Shrinky Dinks bookmarks! This is a perfect way to celebrate the holiday season in your classroom. Click HERE to learn more!!

In this fun Christmas writingproject students take on the role of an unemployed elf and will have to apply for a job at the North Pole for the Christmas Season. Then, students will need to fill out a job application, have someone write a letter of recommendation, write a cover letter, and interview for the job. 

This is a great time of year to revisit topics you've already covered, like character traits! Students read 4 fun passages, and identify character traits for the elves in the stories. Then, they follow the student-friendly directions to assemble the holiday craftivity. Click HERE to learn more.

This Christmas Around the Worldfor Older Kids unit is a great way to integrate reading strategies and social studies concepts, while learning about something fun and thematic during the month of December.
Boost your students' self-esteem this holiday with these free compliment cards. Students will each get a card filled with ALL the wonderful things their classmates said about them. 

This bundle includes 15 activities to keep your students motivated through the holidays and is perfect for your literacy centers!  Each activity is also sold separately including the Christmas Around the World Web Quest. 

The social and emotional impact students have on each other  is magnified during holidays and seasonal times. That's why it's important to remind and teach students (and everyone else, too) the importance of being kind, caring, and looking out for one another. Click HERE to download this fabulous freebie!!
Your students will LOVE this 3D math puzzle freebie! Students will review addition, subtraction, and representing numbers in standard and expanded form. Click HERE to download!!

Reinforce rounding skills with Winter Edition Rounding BINGO. This FREE math game makes a fun math center!
Having your students make holiday gifts for their families doesn’t need to be messy, expensive or stressful. Families LOVE this meaningful present that encourages the children to engage in conversations about their day at school. Click HERE to learn more!!

We hope you enjoyed these holiday snapshots!! Don't forget to enter our Holiday Giveaway!!

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