endlessly creating

teaching, books, projects, & other things i love

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Reading Passport

During a four-hour drive yesterday, I suddenly had the idea to introduce reader’s workshop this year by talking about all the awesome places I traveled – through books! Then I thought it would be fun to post a map in the classroom, with a “books help you travel” type quote, and then keep track of all the places my students and I “visit” throughout the year. I think I would have dots/stickers of some kind (color-coded by genre?) and have students label them with title and reader’s name. I’ll post more about the map once I finalize my plan for it!

What I’m posting about today is my second theme idea: creating “passports” for individuals to track their reading. Now that I have these things in place, I want to develop a whole travel-themed approach to reader’s workshop for the year! I don’t feel like I did an effective job of helping students get immersed in literature last year, and I’m hoping this approach will help emphasize that particular benefit of reading.

I used a type of foldable one of my teachers taught me years ago and created a template for a passport that allows for 4 mini-reviews and a list of 10 additional books:

1. Cover

See below for more, including a downloadable template and a video tutorial!

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Ed Tech! Ed Tech!

I have to start by saying I’m not always thrilled with the push to get technology into the classroom. It often feels like tokenism or trying too hard to connect with “kids these days” – oh, hey, they like Facebook, so I guess if we do some computer stuff in class they’ll learn better? Technology for technology’s sake is not a magic solution for motivation/engagement/whatever you’re trying to accomplish, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be useful and fun… and I finally found a way to use it that has been super effective so far!

My sixth graders just finished a unit on feature articles, and since most of our mentor texts came from news sites and blogs, I decided I wanted their final draft to be published in blog format as well. A coworker had suggested Kidblog a few months back, so I decided to check it out.

It’s pretty simple, and one thing I loved right away was that students don’t need an email address or any other Internet “presence” – which has been a real problem in the past since many of my students are still too young to sign up for accounts without lying about their age. You create the class blog, and students can edit their password and profile from there. You have access to their accounts, which came in handy when several of them immediately forgot their passwords :) Only members can view blog posts, so you don’t have to worry about information becoming public, although we still discussed internet safety and protecting your privacy before getting started.

I posted a blog entry with the assignment details so students could check the expectations without needing to dig through their folders for a handout, and I used my own blog to teach them how to format their work and provide an example to refer back to as needed.


Not pictured: a great way to show that sentences should vary. Yikes.

My students loved posting their feature articles online. Many of them actually went and read each other’s posts when they were finished, rather than playing games or other “when you’re done” computer lab activities, and they had a lot of fun commenting on each other’s work. I randomly assigned three classmates to each student, and they had to read those three articles and post positive, constructive, and meaningful comments (we’ve gone over how to do this during other publishing activities throughout the year), but beyond that I allowed them to more casually interact with one another. Of course, I still moderated all the comments so I was able to make sure students were behaving and expressing themselves appropriately, even if they weren’t particularly academic about it.

Two things really sold me on using Kidblog in my class. First, a few students asked if they could use the blog outside of class to post other things (writing for fun?! I’m not sure if I should allow such a thing!). Secondly, some of the students who didn’t publish before the grading period ended actually went back and finished the assignment later, knowing they wouldn’t get a grade for it – they just wanted their classmates to see what they’d written!

Our next unit is drama and I hope to go on a field trip to a movie or play, so I’m thinking we’ll use the blog to write reviews or advertisements for the show. I’m also considering finding a way to use Kidblog for reading responses or book club discussions!

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Dos and Don’ts of DIY Poster Printing

I saw some ideas floating around on Pinterest recently about creating huge photo art for cheap by ordering engineering prints from Staples. They’re black and white, lightweight prints that are intended for blueprints (not really high enough quality for photos), so I decided to try making some classroom posters… and along the way I made some mistakes that I hope you can learn from :)

I had two posters in mind that I wanted to create, but I wanted the first one to be more colorful and durable so I looked into the other options available online rather than the engineering prints. You can upload your own design or customize the ones they offer, which is what I chose to do because it seemed more likely to turn out well. I wanted to express the sentiment from the poster on the left below (from the Boulder County Health Department), but I wanted the language to more directly hold students accountable and the imagery to be less LGBT-centric. Mine’s on the right!

The small-sized poster was $13.99, plus $2 to laminate. Total cost with tax: $17.31. Would have been only about $5 if I had known better! (see below)

So here’s what I learned about making this type of poster:

DO: Play around with the designs they provide. They appear limiting at first but you can move most of the elements around and resize them, etc, so most formats will probably work out for whatever appearance you have in mind! There are quite a few templates that let you add your own graphic or picture, but I chose not to do that with this one.

DON’T: Order online if you want to pick up your poster in-store. When I picked mine up the woman in the print center told me that it would have only cost about $2 to order on-site, as opposed to $13 online! I’m not sure how that’s possible, and she wasn’t either, but if you’re planning to make something like this you should find out if you can customize in-store before designing one online. You can also have it shipped to your home but I found that the shipping would almost double the cost of the poster, and that wasn’t worth it to me. Cheapest option is to order and buy in store, but again I’m not totally sure what the difference would be as far as creating the poster at Staples versus on the website. Also, the smaller print on my poster is really hard to read from a distance because the lines are so thin, and the color contrast is not as sharp as it appeared online, so make sure your font/colors are nice and bold!

Next I did my engineering print for a CHAMPS poster. This one was more of a pain to put together, mostly because I’m a perfectionist, but ultimately I’m happier with it because it turned out exactly how I wanted AND it was a great deal!

The 18×24″ print was $1.69, plus $6 to laminate. Total cost with tax: $8.34!

The poster is laminated so I can write in the activities/objectives with a dry erase marker. I’d originally planned to attach it to my whiteboard and have each guideline on a separate card with a magnet, but that seemed likely to get disorganized/irritating very quickly. I thought through some other ways of indicating expectations with magnets, but then I remembered those transparent post-its, which I think will work out perfectly. Here’s what I learned with these prints:

DO: Make sure your image is exactly how you want it before you upload – the only real “custom” options with these prints is to size the image to fit the paper. I spent forever creating mine as a Word document using text boxes and tables, but I’m sure there is a better way.

DON’T: Worry if the preview online looks grainy or blurry. I kept trying to find ways to enlarge my file and make it look right online, but when I asked an employee I was told that it didn’t matter as long as my PDF file looked right. My preview looked terrible but I’m very happy with the final product!

A final note: I got both posters laminated (Staples charges $2 per foot) so they would last – I don’t want to have to order replacements every year or semester. The engineering print is only about as thick as butcher paper so laminating it makes it much more durable, and as I said above, it works like a dry-erase board, too.

So, if you do it right, you can create great-looking posters, reusable anchor charts, etc for under $10! Or you can do it wrong like I did the first time around and it costs under $20 :)

UPDATE: I felt like it was too time-consuming to write in the activity every time we started, so I made little cards with the activities on them, and backed them with velcro dots. Much quicker and easier, and the poster/strategy has definitely been effective! Once during the second week of school I forgot to review the CHAMPS before an activity and a student actually checked the poster and asked me if the CHAMPS included talking – I love having concrete guidelines that I can direct their attention toward quickly when they need a reminder.

**UPDATE (ONE YEAR LATER): This post seems to get the most hits out of anything I’ve written, so I wanted to add some info that I’ve learned since writing it. First of all, I changed the wording of my CHAMPS poster because as I got into my routines last year I realized that some of the options were pretty much never relevant, and others were just awkward at describing what I wanted. I also made a matching poster of my expectations for this year. I printed both posters as 18×24″ engineering prints at Staples again, but with the super-money-saving alteration of NOT getting them laminated there! Did you know Lakeshore Learning offers self-laminating for just $0.29 per foot? I was lucky that they had a store a few miles away from the nearest Staples, so it wasn’t too inconvenient to pick up my prints and haul them somewhere else to laminate. And Lakeshore’s laminating equipment didn’t destroy all my posters like the one on my campus, so that’s a plus, haha. I also printed my 11×17 color posters as just color copies instead of posters. The quality is lower, of course, since it’s just regular paper, but it still looks fine, and once it’s laminated it’s plenty durable. The color prints only ended up being about $1 each, so if I’d known more last year, my Safe Zone poster would’ve added up to about $2 instead of $17!