The Hidden Joy of Writing Journals

Every weekend, my students take home a writing journal with a simple writing assignment. Last year I tried to get them to write more about their life, and most pages came back filled with monotonous day-to-day, “First I woke up, then I watched T.V.” type entries.

This year I started to incorporate their writing assignments with things actually happening in the classroom.

Why should we recycle?

Who is your favorite author and why?

What did you learn about the water cycle this week?

During our last writing unit on non-fiction, one of my students was really struggling to pick an “all-about” book topic. One weekend his assignment was to write about his favorite animal. Instead of a simple journal entry, he wrote an all-about book (about tigers, his favorite animal) without even realizing it!

As I mentioned in my last post, we recently started learning about how to write fairy tales. The assignment for the weekend was to pick a fairy tale character you like the best and write about why you would want to be that character. One of my girl’s came back with an entry about how she would be Jasmine, because the thought flying on a magic carpet with the birds would be amazing. Here is a look at the end of her entry:

Reading my students’ journal entries is a highlight of my week! What kind of writing topics do you give your students?


Student Made Props Rocks!

It’s finally showtime for my fifth grade students! Today, we had our performance of Geology Rocks for the whole elementary school and besides a few small technology glitches it went pretty smoothly. I think the teachers had more fun enjoying some of the humor from the lines and songs! Tomorrow, we have the performance for the parents. 🙂

The props for the musical were all made by the students. We had the students make signs that said the name of the part and a picture of it. We worked with the art teacher, Rachel. She had them make the signs and our one big prop (a mountain) for the stage.

The art teacher had them use different mediums for the signs. Some were done with water colors, color pencils or thick crayons. The students then used black paper to cut out the words and glued them on top. Afterwards, I laminated them and hole-punched them on the top and put a string through it. Now, the students could hang them around their necks during the show.

For the rocks (igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary), they cut out signs in the shape of rocks and colored them. They came out really well too!

Thank you Ms. Rachel for all your help! We couldn’t have done it without you. We ❤ art.

“Using Tech to Enable Dreaming”

I discovered TED talks around 2007 or 2008… and I thought they were insanely fantastic. Recently, I have started to watch more and more TED talks. It may replace my “One Tree Hill” addiction.

This past December, Shilo Shiv Suleman gave a TED talk that introduces her new storybook iPad app “Khoya”. Her talk is the title of this post, “Using Tech to Enable Dreaming”. The app she created sounds amazing, it puts you inside the stories you are reading and makes it extremely interactive (there are parts where you have to GO OUTSIDE-a lost art in itself- and take pictures of flowers, or the bark of a tree, or an animal, etc.). In writing workshop I just started my unit on “Fairy Tales”, and my students could not be more excited. This app really works with that unit, the only thing is that it is rated for ages 9+ due to some fantasy violence (have you ever read the original fairy tales? they were dark!). Check out her TED talk here:

Shilo Shiv Suleman’s TED talk

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TED has created a program called TEDx. TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. I just learned this today! Anytime you seen an x, it stands for an independent and local group organizing TED talks, which is great. I have come across some really interesting presentations over the past couple days.

What is your favorite TED talk?

Math Stories for Newbies!

Our first guest blogger for two apples a day is Joelle, who is not only fluent in English, but her native tongue is French. She has taught in elementary schools in Canada, before making the plunge to the international scene. She is currently teaching third grade at an international school here in Korea and happens to be our amazing co-worker. 

Let’s make Math Journals come alive…

Yes, math journals are great ways to communicate and see what your students learned during a particular lesson.  I will not argue the importance of math journals. However, what if I offered you an idea that not only got the students writing about math, but got them excited about math?

Turning Math Journals into Math Stories

Often math journals include a math problem where students create or complete a math question. Examples are; Jenny has 8 marbles, she gives Lucas 3 marbles. How many are in total? Another one may be, what is a fraction? There are so many questions we can ask our students to see if they really grasped a concept.

What if math journals were more than just a reflection or an answer to a problem? What if journals came to life?

What are Math Stories?

Math stories are written by the students about a particular concept you are covering in class. I personally use it at the end of my unit as a review of vocabulary and concepts. At the beginning, these stories may take your students 3 or 4 (50 minute periods) to write, however, the more the students do them, the easier it becomes and eventually may only take 2-3 (50 minute periods).  For teachers, the best part of Math stories is that there is absolutely no planning involved, as long as you keep a list of key words or concepts going on Word Wall or Math Wall. This way, students can refer to this “already made list” on the board when writing their stories.

Math Stories for NEWBIES!

Model! Model! Model! Choose a math story and do a read aloud. If you are not sure where to begin, here is an excellent website with book lists for every math strand:

Afterwards, discuss with your students the various components of the story. What makes a math story? This lesson should look no different than what you do in language arts.

Day 1-2: In groups of 2, have your students start brainstorming and writing out a draft of their math story. Since the focus is on ideas, I usually don’t give them more than a period and a half to finish this portion.

Day 2-4: Using chart paper, have your students start writing and illustrating their story.

Day 5: What you do on this day is completely up to you. What I have done in the past is have students rotate to different groups and read each other’s stories.

Benefits of Math Stories

  • Students are making connections with the concepts taught in class with real life examples
  • Students who don’t like math will often find this activity amusing and not realize they are working or reviewing
  • This activity can be adapted for any grade level
  • Cooperative learning
  • Easy to prepare
  • Assessments can be made both for Math and Language Arts

Summer Technology Opportunity for Teachers

Last summer, I had a chance to go to the ISTE 2011 conference in Philadelphia. This was amazing as I heard great keynote speakers including John Medina, the author of Brain Rules, and Chris Lehman, the principal of Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. Plus, it was a great opportunity for networking and hearing about the latest trends and updates in technology.

This conference happens every year, and this year it takes place in sunny San Diego from June 24-27th, 2012.

ISTE 2012

Here’s a brief description from it’s website:

“Now in its 33rd year, ISTE’s annual conference and exposition features an amazing array of professional learning and collaborative networking opportunities. As part of your conference registration, you can choose from three inspirational keynotes and more than 700 concurrent sessions including: lecture, panel, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), model lesson, research paper, poster, student showcase, and Birds of a Feather discussion formats. Also be sure to check out our special focus playgrounds and networking lounges for even more hands-on exploration and one-to-one connecting.”

Even if you are not officially an I.T. teacher, it is beneficial for all. I do wish I could go again this year,  but things are going to be a bit busy for me this summer. Hopefully, I can go in 2013!

Celebrating Read Aloud

I still remember the Korean picture book my mom used to read to me when I was little, 101 Dalmations. I know it sounds so random, but I can still remember some of the pictures from the book and of course the story, everyone is familiar with. I used to love getting books read by my mom, don’t know why she stopped! 🙂

As I started teaching fifth grade here in Korea, I’ve really enjoyed being able to read aloud to my students. I try to spend a good chunk of time everyday reading aloud. Sometimes the read aloud might relate to what we’re learning in science. Other times we are reading through a chapter book that can last over a few weeks. I love reading picture books with great illustrations. Those are my absolute favorite.

Here is a really interesting article about the importance of read aloud by the Donalyn Miller. She’s the author of one of my favorite teacher books, The Book Whisperer.

Make Every Day Read Aloud Day Article by the Book Whisperer

Also, did you know that there’s a world read aloud day?? How cool is that.

World Read Aloud Day on March 7th

There’s also Read Across America every year, and this year it’s based on the book The Lorax by Dr. Seuss, just in time of when the movie comes out. Our school does something similar to this, but we pick our own theme that works. In the past, we’ve done Read Across Asia and Dr. Seuss theme. This year’s theme it’s Kevin Henkes. I’m sure either Melody or I will be post more about that later!

NEA- Read Across America

My friend and co-worker Elaine will be presenting at Korcos at Chadwick International School on March 7th about using read aloud in your classroom. We will be modeling and giving helpful tips! Please make sure to join us if you’re interested.

Some of my favorite read alouds!

What was your favorite book you got read to you?

What books do you like to read aloud to your students?

Google Science Fair

My good friend over at just posted this link on her facebook page.  It brings me back to my days of being on the Science Olympiad Team (I am not lying, I seriously did it all throughout high school, and I got a couple of first/second prize medals for the mission impossible category, does anyone out there feel me?!) I wish this would have been around back in the day!

Everyone has a question. What’s yours? We are after the most curious brains from the four corners of the globe. Anybody and everybody between 13 and 18 who has a fantastic idea to share can enter the global competition between now and 30 March 2012.

The Joy of Teaching Probability

I thought I would mix it up a bit and throw in a post about math. Now, if I am one hundred percent honest with you, I am not the biggest fan of teaching this subject. It might have something to do with my school’s math curriculum (I will let you know when I have the chance to teach a different one!).  I usually try to supplement the lessons from the curriculum with things I create or learn from other colleagues.

One thing I have started implementing this year is giving my students the chance to take notes at the start of every chapter. There is always new vocabulary to learn, so at the beginning of a new unit I create a handout of the key terms they are going to learn. During the first lesson I make them write down the definitions and examples to go along with each new vocabulary word. It helps them practice listening, and writing, and it gives them something to take home to help them with their homework. Win, win, win. They don’t always understand it when they are writing it, but as the unit progresses the light bulbs start clicking (my FAVORITE part of teaching? The light bulbs!).

This upcoming week we are starting our unit on probability. Here is a sample of the worksheet I am giving them on the first day:

Probability Vocabulary Worksheet

If you clicked on the worksheet you will see bags with circles, those are marbles that I am going to have them fill in with different colors, for example the square with the vocabulary word “certain” is going to have all red marbles and the sentence will be, “It is certain that you will pull out a red marble”.

I will leave you with my math word wall (because Jee Young and I just love pictures), which desperately needs to be updated… my bad!

Also, I thought it would fun to put in a plug for Jee Young ( and my ( personal blogs. Jee Young talks more about teaching and relating it to her life, and mine is more for my photography and life in Korea. If you like us here, you will LOVE us there^^ Also, why have we not gotten freshly pressed yet, (we are so all over WordPress)? I have no idea!

More Charts & Visuals for Reading & Writing

I was inspired by Melody’s post about charts to share some fun charts and visuals in my classroom that I use for writing workshop and reading workshop. I admit, I need to work on making them more creative like chartchums.

Here’s a chart that can be used across different units of study in reading workshop. Right now we are doing a unit on asking critical questions. During our read aloud time, we did a stop-and-jot. I read aloud to my students, then say stop-and-jot. The students jot down on their post-its their thoughts. I did that about three times during the read aloud after significant parts of the text. At the end of the read aloud, I had them put their post-it notes in the category that it fits in. The different categories are: wonderings, predicting, questions, connections, character traits, envisioning, author’s craft and other.

Chart to track students' thinking during reading.

Here are a few other visuals I have in my classroom for writing workshop!

Writing Process Visual

Write students' names on popsicle sticks and have them move it as they go through the writing process.

A fun way to get students excited about writing fantasy stories!

Those Shoes

After Jee Young’s hype (which is totally legit) about reading and writing workshop conferences, I thought I would share a literacy activity. This is an activity I normally do near the beginning of the year, but it can work all year round, and you can differentiate it for many grade levels.

For a read-aloud one day try reading Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts. I don’t know what it’s like at other international schools around the world (please share!), but when I read this book I have to explain most of the story in detail. My students do not know what it is like to not be able to afford… well, anything. That is why I am thankful for books like this (another book I love is A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams)  to help give my students insight into the lives of students in other parts of the world, or even their own backyard (okay, no one in Seoul has a backyard, but you know what I mean…).

After you’ve read the story and talked about it, the students get to write their own story about an experience they’ve had with shoes. It isn’t supposed to be a long story, so I only have them write one draft, and then after they’ve show me that draft they get this shoe template:

Shoe Template (yes, this link is appropriately named)

After they write their stories I encourage them to color their shoe, and then I laminate them so that their shoes can be stepping across the classroom all year long.