Test Prep Room Transformation

Can You Defeat the Puzzle Master?

This room transformation was easy, cheap, rigorous, and highly engaging! I centered the theme around growth mindset and mindulness strategies that, when used together, are the puzzle pieces to success. We’ve focused on these concepts all year long in the classroom, so it made perfect sense to “put the pieces together” for test prep. The mindset concepts I used are grit, dedication, perseverance, effort, mindfulness, strategy, positivity, attitude, commitment, confidence, critical thinking, and growth mindset. I’ve added pictures of the puzzle pieces I made and hung on the walls in my classroom below.

These were pretty big, so they pretty much cover all of the free wall space in my classroom, which meant that I didn’t need to do any extra decorations. To me, the minimal decorations were also the right choice because I wanted my focus to remain on the work and being able to use these concepts and strategies for state testing.

I also hung some multi-colored dollar store table cloths on the ceiling to add some “pretty” to the room.

For the work, I needed mixed review of everything we’ve done throughout this year. I used the Reading Skills puzzle centers pictured below from TPT. These are just the right amount of challenging and confidence building for my 4th graders! My students also really enjoyed using them. (You could also use any other task cards or test questions for your subject.). These centers come with answer keys that could be used for self-checking, but I wanted my students to have to correct their thinking and try again, so I created Google Forms Quizzes (that showed a score and if the question was right/wrong, but not the correct answer). My students worked in pairs and had to get an 80% or higher to show mastery and move on to the next step. There were 9-10 pairs working on separate skills during the class time so the Google Forms were extremely helpful for keeping the students accountable (I get grades and know they did the work necessary for the group) and moving at their own pace because they didn’t have to wait on me to check their work.

Once the pair had shown mastery they got one of the following “treat puzzles” to put together (shown in the pics below). If the students were able to put it together completely they got the candy or treat that was referenced in the pun/riddle on the treat puzzle. I made these out of poster board that I got in the school section at Walmart for about $3.00 for a set of five posters. I made the same number of treat puzzles as the reading skills puzzles that I used, so the students got a different treat each time they mastered a skill. I did this for a little extra motivation, but it certainly isn’t mandatory.

In my two hour class, with a mini-lesson focused on each of our puzzle piece mindset and strategy concepts, my students were able to complete two to three reading puzzles per class.

To complete the transformation and theme, I gave each of my students these blank puzzles that I ordered from Amazon to design and keep. I could have had my students focus on a design that used our mindset concepts and success as the theme of their picture, but for destressing after testing (we did this part during the afternoon after state testing in the morning), I allowed my students full creative rights for their puzzles.  You can get the puzzles from the link here.

I had actually worried that it wouldn’t be as exciting to them as I hoped, but they absolutely loved these puzzles.

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My Revising Writing Process Week of Fun

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You know how teaching writing can be in elementary school … the students just have a hard time really working through each of the stages of the writing process with full effort.  I believe they try their best with rough drafting, but they just don’t get the process of revising.  They are so quick to just read their writing over and then say, “I’m done” without adding any details or making any necessary changes to their writing to make it better (or sometimes to even make it make sense).  So, I decided to make the revising process memorable.  To prepare, I drafted several of my own personal narratives, which is what my class is working on when I first introduce revising in the school year.  I wrote a few drafts about experiences with my family (going to Jump, going to a high school football game, and a family vacation).  I purposefully wrote my drafts to match the kind of drafting I read from my students all the time.  You know what I mean, one sentence for each part of the story, not a lot of explanation, and with no transitions or interesting word choices.

I started our revising lessons this week by adding details that answer who, what, when, where, why, and how questions we had in one of my writings.  I purposefully started with a funny story about my toddler’s socks and pants being pulled down in a foam pit at Jump (you’d have to hear the whole story).  The students had TONS of questions about this story.  They just NEEDED more information about how this happened.  I wrote all of their questions down and then went to work modeling how I’d add the answers to those questions into my writing.  Now, when we re-read this writing after adding all of the details, they drew their visual images while I read and they totally grasped the necessity of adding these details.  Next, the students went through the same process with a small group of students to start revising one of their own drafts.  They loved it, the sharing and drawing totally caught their attention during this lesson, and their revisions were successful.  So, SCORE for me AND the students on our first revision lesson.

The next day, they’d been told to wear their best, most stylish, outfits.  You know what’s coming.  When they walked into the room that day, it was turned into a red carpet fashion show.  This was a really easy, free transformation (just some red anchor chart paper and I moved my lamps and seating around to outline the “carpet”).  I also had a Kidz Bop playlist ready for the show.  Our lesson today was all about adding more interesting, descriptive words to our writing.  I read another draft out loud to them before beginning and then shared an adjectives and adverbs t-chart with them on their chromebooks.   Adjectives and adverbs are a review for fourth grade, so I didn’t need to teach the vocabulary, so I focused on choosing more interesting descriptive language for our writing.  Now, we had the fashion show.  We hooped and hollered, clapped and cheered, and we got our groove on while walking the red carpet.  Meanwhile, the audience wrote all of the adjectives and adverbs they could come up with while watching.  It was quick, ten minutes maybe, and then we focused on our writing.  We started by sharing the words they came up with while watching the show to create a whole class t-chart.  Next, we chose a few words to make more interesting by finding them in a thesaurus and choosing some synonyms that would really catch our reader’s attention.  Now, we worked on adding some more interesting words to the draft I shared with them (some could be used from our t-chart and some we came up with based on the story and used a thesaurus to find more wow version of the word the students came up with.  You see, in my county, background knowledge and vocabulary tends to be one of our common struggles, so the use of the thesaurus is especially necessary for this lesson.  Again, just like the day before, now the students worked with a partner to add some more “wow” descriptive language to their own writings.  Again, everyone was excited about the learning, and their writing benefited from this added engagement.

We focused on adding sensory details for our last lesson this week.  This was going to be the big room transformation, and the students had been told ahead of time to wear their favorite sports gear.  I transformed the room into a football stadium for this lesson.  Everything for the transformation was either made, already available at my school, or purchased at Walmart or the Dollar Tree in the party sections.  I probably spent about $25 – $30 on this transformation, and with help, it took about an hour and a half to decorate the room after school for this lesson.  I found videos on YouTube of our high school football games and prepared a draft for this experience that the students would work on revising.  We’d already discussed sensory details in our reading lessons when practicing the reading strategy of visualizing, so I didn’t need to teach these details.  We were just able to focus on coming up with the details and adding them to our writing.  I chose different parts of the game to focus on and divided the draft into those sections.  We recreated the beginning of the game (the team entering the field and chanting), and then the students were divided into several teams.  Each team had their own football on the field taped out on the floor and earned yards for the sensory details they were able to add to each part of the shared draft.  You can watch the video that was made about this lesson here.  I gave this lesson extra time since the students were responsible for revising each part of the draft (their were six different events in the draft I shared) and we included a half time for students to get popcorn (thanks to our school’s PTA).  I have a two hour language arts block and this activity took about an hour and then included “overtime” for students to begin working on one of their own drafts.

For the rest of the week, the students worked on revising their own writings that they’d been working on during this unit.  You see, I’ve divided the writing process into weeks in my classroom.  So, the students spent a week in prewriting as many personal narratives as they could (we use a storyboard for prewriting personal narratives).  Then they spent a week drafting as many of those personal narratives as they could.  I use this time to have individual writing conferences to get to know my students and their writing.  This week was all revising and so they spent two days just adding the types of details we focused on this week and I used those two days to have conferences again to check on their progress.  Next, we’ll spend another week revising to work on transitions and leads, an then we’ll spend a week editing, leading to a week of publishing.  As we work through this process in the classroom, students are often in different stages by the end of the week.  Some will go back to prewriting to add more narratives to their portfolio as they finish working on the narratives they’ve written so far.  This way, all students are busy and can work at their own pace.  It’s not quantity that counts in my classroom, but quality and I make sure the students understand that before we ever begin.

For you teachers out there, I hope this may help you in planning your own writing lessons, or spark more creative ideas to add engagement to your own classroom.  If you do something else that you’d like to share, I’d love to read your comments!

thanks for reading!

 

Eight Beach-Themed Genre and ABC Order Activities

 

Every year I wonder how I could make my reading genres unit more engaging.  I’ve tried book tastings, a powerpoint with notes, concentration games, videos, and it goes on and on.  My students never fully master this unit and I know that it’s my fault.  So … when it was time to plan the unit this year, I knew I needed more exciting and active learning.  These eight beach-themed genre activities and ABC order activities include ideas for beach volley(genre)ball, a cornhole game, building a sandcastle, and saving the baby beach crabs!  When I showed up in a lei and pineapple sunglasses, playing hula music in the background, I’m pretty sure the students thought I was crazy.  As the learning activities progressed they were so involved and excited about what they were learning, that they asked to do it again the next day!  Even more, I had students from other classes asking about what we were doing in our room!  They wanted to join us!

And you know what, my students know their reading genres! Learning was fun and effective!  Click here to get all of these fun activities and take your students back to the beach!

thanks for reading!

My Back-to-School Beach-themed Room Transformation

For those of you who go back to school in early August like I do, you know what I’m talking about when I say getting the students engaged in the curriculum while competing with Summer out the window is crazy difficult!  My solution … take your kids back to the beach.  Bring Summer inside!

It started with a pacing guide.  I begin the year teaching genres on the third day of school.  I know it’s review for my fourth graders, but it’s always a difficult unit in my class.  It’s not hard getting them to remember the vocabulary.  It’s hard getting them to apply that knowledge and use it to determine the genre when reading.  Well, with that in mind, and my own mind still having a hard time getting it’s school brain back and off the beach, I decided to use this as an opportunity.  EVERYBODY LOVES TO READ ON THE BEACH, RIGHT?  Then I looked at the pacing guide again, and this time I noticed the change from last year.  Not only was I teaching genres, but I was also introducing use of reference materials (including ABC order and guide words).  Oh no!  It’s only the third day of school!  So instead of doing the common genre book tasting that I usually start with, a simple wish that I was still at the beach turned into my first room transformation (I’m channeling my inner @elementaryshenanigans).  I had an idea … I’ll bring in my beach chairs, some yellow table cloths for sand, and an umbrella and we’ll “read on the beach” while we analyze the characteristics of the different genres.   What did I read on the beach this year, “The Wild Card” by Hope King and Wade King.

At first it felt crazy.  Why put myself through so much work, and how was I going to also include using reference materials? 

The genres part was easy.  After having the students analyze and take note of the characteristics of each of our genres, we threw a beach ball around the room (that I had written each of our genres on) and the students shared a characteristic of the genre they were reading when they caught the ball.  I used that game to create our anchor chart.  Next, I projected different book summaries and the students worked with a team to determine the genre.  Of course, each student had to write their own answer first,  before they were allowed to collaborate and generate a team answer.  The teams with the correct answer got a chance to throw in a modified game of cornhole to earn points for their team (one throw per team with the correct answer after each book summary).  They LOVED it!

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Next week, we’ll continue in reading groups by creating genre sand castles.  Students will read a summary, determine the genre, and then use the decorations key to decorate their sand castles (ex. realistic fiction = purple seashells).

As I gave it more time and thought, I realized I could use beach-themed words to change my reference materials unit.  Why not put words in ABC order in paper chains and create an octopus or a jellyfish?  We could use crab families to determine which entry words fit with the guide words.  I gave my students scenarios that centered around different beaches and ocean animals when deciding which reference material to use.  

In comparison to my usual first weeks activities, this week was incredible!  My classes entered the room dancing to hula music, smiling, and excited to find out what we would be doing each day!  At first I was worried about behavior since it was ONLY the third day of school.  I worried that it would be too exciting, too early in the year, and that my students would forget all of the expectations, procedures, and routines that we’d only barely practiced in the first two days of school.  They did just fine and we had an unforgettable first full week of school.  My students begged for more vacation time next week (okay, sure, I love the beach, why not) and are asking what I might have in mind next.  It only took borrowing from family members and a few dollars from the summer section at Walmart and I’m amazed at the difference it made.

If you’ve been considering a room transformation, or if you’ve been looking for new ideas to get your students engaged, I recommend reading “The Wild Card” by Hope King and Wade King.  And, just go for it!  Step outside of your box a little and have fun teaching!  It’s SO WORTH IT!

thanks for reading!