Monday, August 22, 2011

How to Make Grammar, Punctuation, & Spelling Practice More Interesting?

When I was teaching 4th grade I used the Daily Oral Language sentences for grammar, punctuation, and spelling practice. We weren't provided the DOL resources by the district but I was able to get my hands on a teachers manual for grade 4 with enough sentences for the year. I created a worksheet for each week that had 9-10 sentences per sheet. Each day for bellwork the student would get out their sheet and correct 2 sentences that would also be displayed on the overhead or board. As part of our morning routine we'd go over the 2 sentences together and discuss why the corrections to grammar, punctuation, and/or spelling were needed. On Friday the students were assessed by being given the same 10 sentence sheet again and they would correct them independently and be graded on their work.

I loved that this method did not take a ton of teaching time. It worked into our morning routine very fluidly. I also really liked the results I got in the improvement of the students' everyday writing. Clearly the short morning lessons paid off and the weekly assessment scores were generally high for the whole class. The skills translated well to the standardized testing that the students would take during the year too.

Even though I felt this method was very effective I have to admit it is not the most exciting way to teach/learn grammar, punctuation, and spelling! A year ago I had an idea on a way to modify the DOL method to make it more interesting to students. Kids today, especially at the middle/high school level, seem to have cell phones. Kids tend to use texting much more than talking on the cell phone. We all know that teens use "text speak" to communicate their ideas in the minimum of characters used. This wreaks havoc on conventional grammar, spelling, and punctuation! It is sometimes  painful to read! Sadly teens are allowing this "text speak" to sneak into their everyday writing in the classroom. Students need to learn proper writing conventions for application to the real working world so I decided to combine my DOL type practice with "text speak". This way students get to do the practice in a way that seems more interesting and practical to them and at the same time they are learning that even though "text speak" has its place in casual texting conversations, conventional writing rules need to be applied in the school/work world situations. It was the best of both worlds!

This idea became "Alien Text Talk" that I created for grades 5-12.

The set up is the same that I used for DOL. I have a weekly sheet with 10 sentences that need to be corrected using the proper writing conventions. Each morning as bellwork the student will correct 2 sentences on their own and then as a class we go over them as part of the morning routine. They are assessed at the end of the week.

There are 36 weeks worth of sentences to get you through a traditional school year.

Here is an example from Week 19:


As you can see it does look like some kind of Alien language! To tweens and teens it is their talk and a challenge to translate into proper English. It is almost like a puzzle to them to use the familiar text speak to get it back to regular English. It also reinforces the idea that their "text speak" is a valid form of communication and really should be acceptable among friends and casual acquaintances via texting and email but it is not acceptable for regular writing in school or most importantly in the working world. This clarifies the difference between the two.

If you are looking for a practical, more interesting way to give your 5-12th grade students some grammar, punctuation, and spelling practice check out Alien Text Talk. You can buy it by the quarter, by the semester, or for an entire year! Check it out!
Find Alien Text Talk at:

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Answer to Lack of Social Studies Instruction More Tests?

I was reading the Omaha World Herald this morning this story has me riled up:
Teachers say social studies suffers

As I was reading I totally agreed with the thoughts that Social Studies is being put on the back burner to focus more on the numerous amount of state testing that is done. I also agree wholeheartedly with the dire ramifications this will have on the next generation of Americans and what that means to the citizenship of our country.

Then I hit this paragraph, "Several board members agreed that social studies, which includes the study of history and geography, are being crowded out of the classroom. But the only way to put them on a level playing field with math and reading would be to require a state social studies test."

Really? The answer to the problem is to throw more state testing at the students and teachers? Really?

Teachers and students are already so overwhelmed with state/standardized testing that true teaching and creativity is being lost!

The No Child Left Behind Act and its excessive focus on testing has depleted the schools of true learning. Teachers are so focused on meeting those test goals and focusing only on those narrowed skills that they don't have the time to really teach and let students use their minds, imagination, and creativity.  Now many states (not NE) are adding in the Common Core Standards that adds a whole other dimension to the paperwork and hoops that teachers need to jump through. From various blogs and forums I read I see post after post of exasperated teachers that simply just want to teach again. They are so fed up with the testing and standards that are supposed to "fix" the system! Also in a climate of more and more budget cuts schools simply can't afford to spend on all this testing. Testing students costs a fortune! Wouldn't the money be better spent on additional teachers and smaller class sizes?


These educational bureaucrats are as messed up as Congress is. Sadly it is the future generations of Americans that will pay for it. As an educator that upsets me, as a parent that makes me very angry! I am sick and tired of these so called "experts" stealing my children's learning opportunities. How many of them have actually stood in front of a classroom for a school year and worked with children? It is outrageous!

The most successful teaching years I have experienced were when I had a principal with the philosophy that as college educated certified teachers we were qualified to teach. Unless he saw a problem he stepped back and let us do our job as we saw fit. He knew that we knew these kids better than any administrator or board member and he knew we would strive to take these kids as far as we could. In those years my students blossomed the most and they achieved the most. In my experience the more the board or administration gets involved the less the children succeed. Teachers are trained professionals. We have college degrees, many of them advanced. We take ongoing development courses throughout our career and we are there in the classroom every day, the closest to the student outside of their parents. We are educated, we are qualified. Let us do our jobs and teach! Save the money and the American education system and scrap all this unnecessary and excessive testing!

ETA: Here's an interesting article about a study that shows creativity is declining in our students. They discuss the overuse of testing as a possible culprit. How long are we going to let this go on?
Not your imagination: Kids today really are less creative, study says


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing in the Classroom

I taught 4th grade for several years. Every year I started out using my Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing literature unit. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume helped the students identify with being a new 4th Grader as well as help us all bond over the humor of the story.
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing is one of my favorite novels. I loved it as a child and I still love it as an adult. I so enjoy sharing this story with my new students and my own kids. There are so many ways that kids can identify with the main character, Peter Hatcher. Peter seems to have that streak of bad luck that hits us all at one time or another. Anyone who has a younger sibling (or a toddler of their own) can totally identify with the challenges that Peter's brother Fudge creates for Peter and his parents.

Some elements of the story can be a bit dated, it was written in 1972 after all, but this does not seem to bother my students in the least bit! Being from Omaha this book also opens up the discussion of what it is like to live in a metropolis such as New York City. My students always enjoy discussing how Peter's life compares to theirs and I am sure that is even more pronounced for students in more rural areas.

I originally wrote my unit in 1995, my first year teaching fourth grade. I have been selling it since 2003. Over the years my unit has evolved and this summer I took some time to give it a major overhaul. I changed and streamlined the graphics so the look is different, and hopefully even more appealing to 4th graders everywhere.





I also updated the format of the vocabulary section and added a crossword puzzle for the vocabulary words.


 Finally, I added an assessment packet that contains a multiple choice vocabulary quiz, a multiple choice comprehension quiz, a short answer comprehension quiz, and a writing assessment.



Hopefully these changes and additions will make this unit even more helpful to you in the classroom.

I highly recommend using Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing in your classroom. Not only is it an informative book, it is fun! Students will love reading this book and sharing the humor together. I am a big advocate for using humorous books to spark a love of reading, especially with boys. Students can extend their love of Peter and Fudge by reading the sequels Superfudge, Fudge-A-Mania, and Double Fudge.

Check out my teaching unit available via immediate download at Teachers Pay Teachers or Teacher's Notebook. You can also purchase this on a CD that is shipped to you at Amazon or Teachers Pay Teachers.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Don't Miss the Giant Back to School Sale!!


The giant Back to School Sale at Teachers Pay Teachers is ending soon! Don't miss out on the fantastic deals!

Use code B1T1S (valid only at Teachers Pay Teachers) for 10% off sitewide!

Many sellers are also offering sales of up to an additional 20% in their individual stores.

That means up to 30% off all your back to school needs at Teachers Pay Teachers!

Visit my The Teaching Bank Store for 20% off all downloadable products in addition to the 10% coupon from August 1-6th!

Happy Shopping!


The Teaching Bank Store at Teacher's Notebook is also offering a sale of 20% off from August 1-6th. No code needed.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Back to School Sale is ON!



Don't forget the giant Back to School Sale at Teachers Pay Teachers starts today!

Use code B1T1S (valid only at Teachers Pay Teachers) for 10% off sitewide!

Many sellers are also offering sales of up to an additional 20% in their individual stores.

That means up to 30% off all your back to school needs at Teachers Pay Teachers!

Visit my The Teaching Bank Store for 20% off all downloadable products in addition to the 10% coupon from August 1-6th!

Happy Shopping!

The Teaching Bank Store at Teacher's Notebook is also offering a sale of 20% off from August 1-6th. No code needed.