Saturday, November 26, 2016

Who Wants to Win a $10 TpT Gift Card?

Tis the season to be thankful and give!!  Who wants to win a $10 TpT store gift card?!  

Head on over and enter on both Mrs. Renz Class IG and Mrs. Renz Class on FB.  

There's 3 ways to enter:
#1 “like this post” for 1 entry, 
#2 share this post on your feed/wall tagging Mrs. Renz class for 2 entries, 
#3 tag a friend for another entry!!  

That’s a total of 8 entries if you enter on both FB and IG :D  

One winner will be announced Nov 27th at 6pm PST (just in time for cyber Monday)  

Happy Holidays and Merry Shopping to you!!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

(Really) Invite Parents into Your Classroom at Open House and Back to School Night

It's a brand new year with brand new students and families and you want the year to get off to a great start.  You may have a large class size and so much to do each day prepping, organizing groups, learning new curriculum, working with colleagues, setting goals, grading and evaluating student work and, oh yea . . . teaching.  And then trying to have a life outside of school.  You might not have the luxury of having an educational assistant to work with you.

HOW will you get it all done?  Open House and Back to School Night is your chance to create a partnership with parents.  Make a great impression and recruit parents as your classroom volunteers. Invite the parents into your classroom and make them your partner in their child's education.  It's a Win-Win!  Parents get to see their child and you get the advantage of having extra help in the classroom.
Tip 1:  Make your room look amazing!  You will want your room and hallway to look great, so make sure your students have put their best foot forward with great work on display.  My students will create a poetry project at the end of the year and to get the unit kicked off, I always begin the year with a poem.  It's a three-stanza "I Am" poem with three purposes.  First, its a way I can assess students' writing abilities.  I instantly learn about students' spelling, punctuation, and writing skills.  Second, it will be an art/writing lesson that's beautiful to display for Back to School or Open House Night.  Third, and probably the most important for me, the information students share as they write the poem really helps me to understand the child as a person and get to know him/her.  I couldn't learn as much in such a short time without this writing task.  We save and include this poem in the poetry collection book students create in May.

I also begin with a graphing and surveys "Get to Know Us" math unit on mean, median, mode, minimum, maximum and range.  This unit has lots of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing in it and of course I am watching again to assess student skill levels.  Students design and create a survey question, then students take each other's survey.  The surveys are tallied and results displayed. This is a great bulletin board display that shows our class likes and favorites.
Tip 2:  Make your classroom an inviting and efficient space in which to work and learn.  If you're like me, you've spent a big chunk of your summer making and planning for your room to be organized, labeled, with everything strategically placed for efficient learning to take place.

I love my reading corner with books organized into tote boxes by topic.  If you can, add a rug and some camp chairs and a lamp to cozy up your corner.  Here's an old photo of my reading area.

My math tools area is all organized and labeled to quickly locate what we need.
Learning posters like your character traits expectations and math word wall posters need to be displayed. We use the character traits posters daily and it is a big focus of our "Student of the Week" and "Wise Owl Student of the Month" award system.  
Another must-have for me is my math word wall definitions.  The photo shows my (really) old word wall posters. I've completely re-made them and they're much prettier and more complete now.  :)  I post and organize my posters alphabetically and we refer to the wall daily.  My word wall is functional and it is readable from across the room.  Why put up posters if you can't read them from a distance?  If they're really intended for students to use, they must be readable from the child's seated location.  
Tip 3:  Make a great Back to School or Open House PowerPoint or SMART Board slideshow.  Once I got my SMART Board, I made my parent presentation in SMART Board format so it was interactive.

When it's parent night, I want parents to see how their children begin their day so I make a slideshow so parents do an attendance sign in just like students do.  Students teach their parents how to touch and move their name to answer the back to school question.  The sign ins are a great way for me to teach math skills each and every day and I want parents to know how it works and why it's important for students to be at school on time.  Students work with the attendance data, computing the fraction, decimal and percent using the question of the day as the focus.  Everyone loves the sign ins, but you'll love how well your students will be able to convert fractions to decimals to percents.  Parents are amazed at the math their students are doing.
Your presentation is your chance to help parents understand your rules and routines, procedures for absences, the curriculum and projects you'll be teaching, and so much more.  Make sure as you discuss the importance of parent volunteers that you explain how you will be using parent talents and skills to enhance the lives of all of your students.  Some parents will be great working with student groups, some will feel more comfortable running off and preparing student materials, some will be guest speakers or guest readers, and some will be your field trip chaperones. It's important that parents feel they are welcome in your classroom at any time.  I set out my volunteer sign up sheets and call every parent or better yet, have a lead parent organize your volunteers for you!  I seriously consider parents my teaching partners. 
Tip 4:  Feed them and they will come!  Our school puts out refreshments and treats in the common lunch area and that helps get parents to school.  If your school doesn't offer that, you may want to offer peanut fee snacks.  Everyone likes a treat!
Tip 5:  Offer a drawing for a free lunch for two lucky students who attended the parent night.   This encourages and rewards the effort parents make to come learn about their child's school year with you.  Each student is given a coupon for attending the open house with his/her parents.  The next school day, have your "Star of the Week" draw two names and treat them to a lunch.  My teaching partner and I did this together and we called the order in to a Subway sandwich shop close by then we picked it up during our prep period.  We set a table cloth and a vase of flowers on the table and our four students ate together in the common area.  Students loved it and it wasn't too expensive using coupons.

You want students know that learning in your classroom is fun.  And best of all, you've got parents partnering with you and helping you teach their children.  That's a big win for you!

Below are the links to the materials and programs that I use and to the materials that work for me. Maybe they  can help you, too. 😊
What do you do that works well for you for Open House and Back to School night?  I'd love for you to share it here!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Use Back to School Activities That Help Teach Character Traits

It's time for back to school and that means planning fun back to school get to know you activities that students haven't done before.  Plus, the first week activities you plan set the tone for your year.  I want students to know that they will be working together, doing projects and activities with other students and collaborating.  It's important to establish rapport and teach students how they are expected to treat each other, with dignity and respect.  We also value and teach character traits.

On day one I want students to be see what their year will be like.  I want them working together, talking, and getting to know each other.  Yes, I teach routines and rules, too, but I want students interacting. I want to hear laughter. I want to see smiles on faces.  I want new friendships to blossom.  I want students to accept each other.  Through play, this process begins.
I recently designed a great set of activities that can be used for the first four days of school.  They best part is they are Cootie Catchers.  Who doesn't love making and playing with the?  Best of all, they let the teacher talk about four character traits each day so by the end of the fourth day, 16 traits have been discussed as a class.  Teachers can reinforce why the traits are important to creating a positive class culture.  The first Cootie Catcher gets students paired up and allows for the game playing to be non-threatening because the questions students ask each other are non-personal.  Each of the next Cootie Catchers gradually ask more questions that are more and more designed for students to share more about themselves.  Hopefully by the end of the week students will have new friends with things in common.

Here's some examples of the questions designed to gradually allow students to become comfortable sharing.
Cootie Catcher #1 - These are a few of my favorite things : 
  • What is your favorite food? 
Cootie Catcher #2 - Get to Know Me! 
  • Do you celebrate holidays? If so, what’s your favorite?
Cootie Catcher #3 - More About Me! 
  • What do you like to do for fun on weekends?
Cootie Catcher #4 - Wishes, Hopes and Dream
  • What is one thing you wish people knew about you?
This activity is designed so students can play the game with one to four partners so that over the course of the first week, students know at least four students really well.

What are your favorite back to school ice breakers and get to know you activities?  Have a great school year!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Back to School One Day Savings

Teachers, save 28% today only on all of my teaching materials in my TpT store!  
Use the code: oneday at checkout!
Have an amazing school year!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Back 2 School Already? Yes, But a SALE Helps!

Hey teacher friends.  Can you believe the back to school sales are in full swing in the stores?  That means it's time to start getting ready so you can hit the ground running.  BUT, enjoy the last days of summer and take time or YOU and your family!

Teachers Pay Teachers is sponsoring their BIG Back to School SALE August 1-2 by adding 8% onto everything in my store that's marked 20% off so that means huge 28% off savings for you!  Just use the promo code: BESTYEAR at checkout.

I like to give lots of value in my products because I know how much you spend during the year.  It's scary to add it up at tax time!  I've joked about changing the pricing structure to lattes.  Many of the projects and products are 2-3 latte priced.

Stock up on some great teaching items (mostly grades 3-6) that your students will love and save yourself precious planning and family time.  Whether it be poetry, poetry analysis, math word wall posters, biography project, state project, Oregon Trail simulation and other materials, science fair, word stems and roots year long program, math data and vocabulary sets, or desk name tags, teacher binder setsmemory books, or more, I've done the hard work for you.  With over 30+ years in the classroom, I hope you can use my work to make your teaching life easier.

Check out the graphics created by Caboose Designs!  Her work is adorable and ridiculously inexpensive for the quality you get!  She is soooo talented!  She drew my avatar.  :)

Monday, July 4, 2016

Teach the Math Operation Key Words

When students know what the words mean, they can easier solve math word problems.

This set is designed with choice of colors in mind so you can color coordinate with your decor.

Here's some examples:
Enjoy all things math!

Monday, May 23, 2016

3,000 Follower Give Away Thank You Celebration

In celebration of 3,000 amazing TpT followers, I want to thank all of YOU who make this possible.  Two lucky winners will receive the product of their choice from my TpT store for FREE! One giveaway is on Facebook and one on Instagram.  Make sure you enter both for your best chance to win!!  :)

Hurry on over because the contest is open May 24 to May 28 at 9 pm PST.  The winner will be announced on Facebook and Instagram on May 29 by 7 pm PST. 

** Bragging Time!  I have to say I LOVE my personal avatar with my dog designed just for me by Caboose Designs!  The Golden Retriever looks JUST like my dog!  Head to her store to see her beautiful and creative artwork.  She's a new graphics seller so be sure to follow her because she's just getting started!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Currently May 2016

All good things must come to an end, and Farley's Currently is one of them.  I wanted to say a heartfelt thank you to Farley for hosting her Currently all these years!  This fun blog linky party has become a monthly favorite to connect teachers. It's a time to laugh and appreciate that teachers have a real life outside of the classroom.  It's been fun getting to know so many of you!  So for that, I thank you, Farley!  (((Hugs)))

Here's what I've been up to:
Listening:  After 33 years in the classroom, I get the fun of working and creating from my living room and the Today Show is always on first thing in the morning while I work.  Someday I will be holding a sign in NYC as I visit the show in real life.

Loving:  I love getting outside kayaking.  It fuels my soul!  This is a photo of our trip yesterday through the basalt canyons of Lake Billy Chinook near our home.  We paddled between 6 and 8 miles up a river that feeds the lake on a 75ish temperature day.
Thinking:  Teachers have enjoyed Farley's Currently linky for YEARS.  It's been a staple beginning of the month way to connect with other teachers.  It's ending, and I totally get that.  It's time to give a huge thank you to Farley.  You're awesome!

Wanting: I have so much TpT work to do and it's time for students to begin recording their memories. I've made memory books with my students and added all kinds of photos to the books over the year we spent together.  I'm updating all of my memory books and am more than half way there!  All of the most popular choices are finished.  I need to keep working!

Needing:  Our (only) daughter will graduate next May as a Doctor of Physical Therapy and her dad and I couldn't be prouder!  We offered to plan a graduation trip somewhere for her and a friend to celebrate her hard work.  She turned right around and said she wanted my hubby and me to join her.  I just love that kid!   We're so proud of her.

Truth:  Speaking in front of adults is not my favorite thing to do!  I can do it, but it's not fun for me.  I love teaching kids and can be as silly as I need to be get students excited about learning.  But put me in front of adults and I become the shy kid in the room!  You'll never see me presenting at conferences!  I'm quite happy to share what worked for me in my classroom with other teachers through TpT.  :)

Join in the linky fun!  Thanks, once again, Farley!  We love you!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Guiding Readers and Writers - It's What's On My Bookshelf

I'm linking up with The Literacy Maven to share what's on my teacher bookshelf.  Please excuse the well used book photos but that's the sign of a book that's tried, tested, and used as a must-have reference.
I'm talking about the book, Guiding Readers and Writers, by Fountas and Pinnell.   I took a professional development course from the authors and it was time well spent.  Let me tell you, this book is the Bible of teaching literacy and it's a must-have for your professional bookshelf.  Any teacher new to the profession would love this structure that this program provides to your literacy program. I only wished I'd learned of this book when I first got my teaching degree but, hey, better late than never!  You're never too old to learn!
My grandma used to write notes in her cookbooks (which I cherish and now have) and I learned from her to write notes all over my books!  When you need that page or chart right away, you can find it.  Who cares if it's not pristine.  It's got history and I love that.  I also have sticky notes that are faded over the years of use that I just can't replace with new ones.   It just wouldn't be the same!

Be sure to check out chapter 9 for "Getting Started: the First 20 Days of Independent Reading.  It's great stuff!  I love this book!
Below is a photo of the title page that has publisher information.  I'm not earning anything for promoting this book for the company, but I just love the book and want you to be able to find it if you're interested.  Here's their website.

So now it's YOUR turn.  Leave me a comment to let me know what's on YOUR bookshelf!  Join the linky fun and share what works for you! 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Birthday Cards for Your Students {FREEBIE}

It takes very little to make a child feel special and remembering the child's birthday is one simple gesture that means so much!

Another thing I did to recognize each child's birthday was to use a fun Internet site that sings a song to the child.  Birthday Song  To go along with the song, I made a simple animated SMART Board slide and played the song in at the same time.  Students LOVE it!

Visit my TpT store to get a cute and colorful {FREE} birthday card set.  There are 8 cards with various wording and graphics to choose from.
I also created a birthday banner set that is colorful, simple to display, and lets you prepare ahead of time.  Using the editable flags, you can type the child's name and birthdate using PowerPoint.  Print the banners, then organize them by date and store them in a file folder.  Simply string the month's birthdays onto a piece of jute or string and you're ready!  I included a sign so you can also store the banner in a manila envelope.
The birthday banner can be printed any size you want (directions included).
How do you celebrate student birthdays?  I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, February 15, 2016

4 Steps to Analyzing Poetry With Students

Do you like teaching poetry?  What kinds of poems do you enjoy?  If you teach fourth graders,  you'll want to use poems that will connect with students, and I've found that means humor!  If I can get students to read and write poetry, I'm doing a happy dance!
So how DO you begin teaching students how to analyze poems?  I recommend starting by reading your favorite poems aloud.  Dig out your childhood poetry books.  What poems do you remember from your childhood?  Can you recite any poems?  What were your favorite poems?  Who were your favorite authors?  If you share your love of poetry, students will see that. 

Bring poetry books from the library into your classroom and set up a big display area.  Use post-it-notes with arrows and put them on the pages of the poems you enjoy and write things like, "Great use of alliteration!"  and "The author repeats the word, 'thump' three times." etc.   This simple task shows students what's in your mind when you read the poem.  Talk about the message of the poem.  Talk about what the poem is about.  Reread the poem, listening for patterns and for the overall flow of the words.  Do any words stand out?  What words?  Why do you think the author chose the words she or he did to convey the meaning?  Read the poems more than once.  With each reading, you'll discover things not seen before.  These pieces of the puzzle help create the mood, feeling tone, and message of the poem.  Most importantly, do this process with students so they realize you can't read a poem once and "get" the meaning on the first go-round.  It takes many readings.

One of my favorite poets to read aloud with students is Shel Silverstein.  Possibly my favorite poem is, "Sick" with reasons that . . . "Little Peggy Ann McKay cannot go to school today.  She has the measles and the mumps, a rash, a gash, and purple bumps."  {You have to put on your silly acting hat and use a great voice when you read this poem!}  At this point all of the students are with me!  {Yessss! Insert another teacher happy dance!}   Next up, I read Silverstein's poem, "Sarah Cynthia Silvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out."   Video of the Poem Read by Shel Silverstein.  Now students are hooked!  The walls of resistance are coming down.  All students can connect with these two themes of being sick and not wanting to take the garbage out.  {Yay!  A text to self connection.}
The fun part of analyzing poetry is figuring out what the poet was trying to say.  This is where the use of figurative language comes in.  It's what makes the poetry have that music-like rhythm and flow.  It's the flow of the words, the rhythm of the beat, the pattern of the syllables, it's the words carefully chosen to create images in the reader's mind.  THIS is the fun part of poetry.  Finding all these written treasures!

I must say that my personal experience with analyzing poetry as a high school student was not easy. Flashback to my 10th grade year; one of my most challenging years because I attended school that year in England.  My uncle, aunt, and cousins were kind enough to let me live with them to get the foreign exchange student experience of a lifetime but that year was far and away one of the hardest academically.  One of my favorite teachers taught English literature, but I had never ever analyzed poetry and his class was a university-bound level literature class.  My English classmates had lots of previous experience analyzing literature.  We analyzed two of Shakespeare's poems and it took us ALL year.  Yes, we  spent the entire year on those two poems!   I remember translating the meaning of each word in every line.  I had notes scrawled in between the lines to decipher Shakespeare's meaning.   We analyzed "King Richard II" and "Anthony and Cleopatra."  To help us learn, my teacher took our class to see Shakespeare's birthplace at Stratford Upon Avon and we watched a Shakespearian play in the theater in London.  What an experience it was.

Elementary school students today are being taught to analyze poems early on in their school career and as a result, I can tell you, today's learners will be much more prepared to tackle Shakespeare's works one day because of it.  
Another key to success is you really delving into the poem and understanding it before you attempt teach it to students.  Teaching children to analyze poetry isn't one of those things you can just pick up and teach; some poems really are hard for adults to understand, let alone ask students to understand. You really need to spend time thinking, reflecting, asking questions about what you've read, and really understand the poem yourself.

If you teach the Common Core curriculum, your fourth and fifth graders will read nine poems on the task exemplars list.   (CCSS-ELA Task Exemplars: pages 66-70)  I happen to LOVE poetry and spent two weeks reading these nine poems with a critical eye and decided to do the hard work that teachers don't have the time to do.  I set out to create 4th and 5th grade poetry analysis task cards for each of the nine poems on the exemplars list.

Here's how I would suggest learning about poems.  First, learned all about the life of the poet to get a sense of his or her background and life.  Next, search the web for online links that you can use to show students the poem.  Next, read all you can about the poet and his or her life.  Understanding the time period the poem the poem was written and the background of the poet is essential to drawing conclusions about the poem's meaning.  Then read the poem line by line, searching for words that students need to understand.  Now search for underlying meaning.  Look for metaphors, use of similes, alliteration, and other figurative language that is used to convey meaning and paint the visual picture.  Now come up with lists of questions you can ask students about the poem.  Next, list possible answers students might come up with.  Determine the mood and theme.
Next up in importance to teaching students to analyze poetry is giving them time to become poets and write their own poetry.  Teach students that poetry doesn't have to rhyme.  Let them experience the fun of writing their own poems about what interests them.

If creating your own poetry tasks isn't your thing or if you are just flat out of time (I get it!!), I have you covered!  I created a huge bundle of Poetry Analysis Task Cards that are ready to print and use!   You will get analysis task cards for each of the 9 poems on the CCSS Text Exemplar list, teacher summary, poem web links, task cards and answer keys, a recording booklet you can use for all of the responses, poet biography, how to read a poem, and more!   Poems included are: "The Echoing Green,"  "The New Colossus,"  "Casey at the Bat,"  "A Bird Came Down the Walk,"  "Fog,"  "Dust of Snow," "Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf,"  "They Were My People,"  and "Words Free As Confetti."   I've done the hard work so you don't have to!  Heres a small peek at the materials.
To see the full bundled set on TpT, click HERE.

In my TpT store you can find lots of poetry products like poetry vocabulary posters with definitions and examples, PowerPoint slideshows, an interactive notebook set of figurative language foldables, Cootie Catchers that practice figurative language, 33 poetry vocabulary terms and more. The bundled poetry project gives 5 poetry products to give you everything you need to teach a 6-week poetry unit.

My independent poetry project teaches students about different poem forms, gives the definition, and examples so students get the hang of the poetry form.  At the end of the unit, hold a "Poet Celebration" and have people review the poems students have written.  I taught and refined the unit and the set on TpT is my best selling item and is a loved favorite by students, teachers, and parents. Here's a peek at some of the poetry project pages. It comes in black and white as well as color.

Teach, love poetry!

Monday, February 1, 2016

A Polygon Family Tree & Definition Card {FREEBIE}

Hi friends!  Students work with 2-D shapes early on and later learn to classify them according to their attributes.

I made a fun polygon family tree chart {FREEBIE} that serves as a reference and helps students learn the names of shapes and look for attributes.  You can get this 6-page PDF freebie in my TpT store.  I appreciate your positive feedback!  Thank you tons!
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