Salt Dough Fossils for a Dinosaur Unit

Have you considered adding hands-on engagement to learning vocabulary in reading? Consider making salt dough fossils when learning about dinosaurs or reading about paleontologists.  Find the recipe below.

Salt Dough Recipe

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup fine salt
  • ½ to ¾ cup water
  • Spoons or spatulas
  • Measuring cups
  • Mixing container

Knead all of the ingredients together by hand and roll into individual balls for each student.

Students should press the balls down on an inexpensive paper plate.  Once the balls are flat and about 1/4" thick they should press a dinosaur down into the dough.  Allow the dough to dry for 5-7 days.  For your convenience, just cut the fossils out with the plate on the back.  Students can then pull the dinosaur off with their fingers, tweezers, popsicle stick or a toothpick.

Enjoy teaching your students what something means through hands-on fun!

For instructions on making dinosaur eggs, check out my Instagram post by clicking on the picture below:

Classroom Conversations

Classroom Conversations

Some children are natural born conversationalists.  You know these children.  You usually have to read "Lacey Walker Non Stop Talker" to them.  Some children are not talkers.  They would prefer to sit to the side quietly and listen. These children pose a special consideration when it comes to having classroom conversations.  It is very important for all of us to discuss what we are learning.  It helps us to process information.  Children gain so much information from speaking and listening to their peers.They are exposed to alternative ideas.  Maybe their peers help them to consider new options or change their thinking.  While the children are having these conversations, they could be analyzing and synthesizing information that you taught them! The wonders of higher level thinking.

Talking about our thinking
If you have ever worked with or spoken to young children, you know the key to getting everyone to talk.  Just bring up something that interests them! This is the key to starting conversations in your class. Student interest driven learning.  At the onset of every school year we send home interest surveys.  One to the parent and one to the student.  We are most interested in the student.  We want to know what interests them.  If I have a classroom full of students who love whales, I will be sure to teach a standard with a book on whales.  Our district tried to throw a wrench into my plan this year by telling us that we have to teach from the basal. Oh the horror.  At this point, we switched our focus to how the students enjoy learning.  They are quick to tell us "I love projects where we get to create posters!"  Easy enough, we will be reading that basal story and creating posters.  The kids love telling us all about their posters and discussing their peer's posters.  After every unit we have the students give us feedback on their engagement.  Did their learning environment keep them happy? This is super easy.  Simply ask, "How did you like the project today?" They are easy to please, they just ask for more projects that I can tweak to meet their learning needs (which they may not consider).  They also understand that we can't do things their way every time, but we will do our best.

Once you have their interest, you can sneak in procedures for conversations.  This is where you give students talking stems.  Teach them how to start conversations about their learning.  Guide them in accountable talk.  Most importantly, teach them how to respect their peers.  If you are listening to a conversation in my class, you will probably hear "I like your thinking and I would like to add".  You may hear, "I appreciate your thoughts, but I respectfully disagree".  This happened in my 1st grade classes in years past and it happens in my 2nd grade class presently.

If you don't already hear these conversations in your class, here's how you can get started.

1.  Plan super engaging lessons that your kids will love to talk about.

2.  Discuss why conversations are important with your class.  Make sure to relate it to why it is important to the student.

3.  Set procedures and guidelines for conversations for the students.  

4.  Give the students talking stems.  Start with basics that they can use for everything.
I agree with you because…
I disagree with you because…
I like your thinking and would like to add…

5.  Once they have the basics down you can add on to their thinking stems.  Consider giving them specific stems that go well with their learning topic.

If you need more direction or want the lessons and materials all ready for you, just click on the picture below to link to my store.

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is a wonderful opportunity to bring engaging learning into the classroom! There is plenty of time for you to gather materials and make your lesson plans come alive for your students.  The books shown above are wonderful books to teach your students in k-2 key details about Chinese New Year.  The Dancing Dragon pulls out to show a huge 4' long Dragon Parade.  I've yet to find another book that captivates students the way that The Dancing Dragon does when you pull out the dragon pages.

Legend states that Buddha called all of the animals together to meet on the new year.  Twelve animals showed at the meeting and Buddha named a year after each one.  People born in these years are said to have the traits of the animals from their year.

During the new year, people wear red and celebrate.  One of the celebrations is the lantern festival.  People join together with family, friends and their community to celebrate the lantern festival.  There you will find beautifully decorated lanterns lit in a night parade.

 The highlight of the lantern festival is the dragon dance.  Elaborate dances are put together with dazzling costumes.  Firecrackers are lit to celebrate the new year.

Every year we read books about Chinese New Year in my class.  After we read about the new year, we make our own red lanterns and then we put on our own parade.  One student is selected to lead the parade with a paper mask that I made.  The rest of the students line up behind the leader with their arms on the person's shoulders in front of them.  I throw my red blankets over them.  They don't care that there are snowmen on them.  We dance through the classroom stepping on bubble wrap for firecracker sounds.  This is an excellent engagement activity.  Afterwards the kids are ready to read more books closely and respond to text dependent questions.  I only wish that we could teach this way every day!

Above you will find a freebie that I'm offering you to compare the Chinese New Year to the North American New Year.  (I didn't want to leave out my geographical surrounding friends!)  If you find yourself short on time and would like more lesson suggestions and materials click on the link below.

Election Day Lesson Ideas

Election Day is such an exciting time.  Build on the excitement by teaching your students about the process through fiction reading, informational reading and a mock election.

This year we are going to spend a couple of days reading "Grace For President" and "Duck For President".  When we are done we will find the central message of "Grace For President" and compare/contrast the two books the next day.

Election information has a lot of vocabulary that is new to students.  When reading an informational piece we read through the first time and circle new vocabulary.  Students are given a vocabulary spinner.  This helps the students to work with the words in a fun way.  They are asked to:  write the word, draw the word, define the word and use the word in a sentence.  If they still don't understand the word I have them make a 4-square vocabulary sheet that takes them through the same process as above, but in a more  linear fashion.  Once the vocabulary is mastered we move onto task cards.  The task cards have both lower level recall questions and higher level questions on them.  This helps to differentiate for students.

When we are done learning about the election process through reading students are walked stepped by step through acting out the process in class.  Each step has a fun activity to do in order to help all of the learners grasp the information.  This year we are voting on new genres for our classroom library and a snack to enjoy while reading those genres.  Such exciting times!  If you don't have time to put the materials together for your class click on the picture above to purchase this print and teach unit.

To get the students in a patriotic mood I like to give them simple and fun crafts to do for bellwork.  The directions for the above craft can be found by clicking on the picture.


Easy American Symbols Craft

A great way to get your students to buy into their learning is to let them choose their topic to learn about.  As a closing to our symbols unit the students were able to pick one symbol that they wanted to research and become masters of it.  They were able to create this quick craft to put their work on.  Total time for rubbing is a maximum of fifteen minutes.

First cut out stars for each student to have.  You can use die cuts, volunteers or the students.  If you are putting something on top of the finished paper you do not have to have stars for the middle.  Make sure to make smaller starts for the outside so that they show past the student's work.  Consider giving students a piece of paper the same size as the one they will be rubbing so they know where to lay the stars.  For students who have fine motor skill difficulties you can put double sided tape down on the paper, under the stars.

Next give the students a plain piece of paper.  Go over different designs that they might try before hand.

If students have never done a rubbing teach them how to fill in the entire paper.

The patriotic rubbing is great enough to leave on it's own, but here you can see a symbol and writing that we glued to the paper.  I plan on having students make Veteran's Day posters for our Veteran's Day signs with this rubbing too.

Teacher Anxiety and Mindful Planning

Does your teacher to-do list ever end? I didn't think so.  A HUGE part of teacher anxiety comes from the list that seems to go on forever.  I could count on one hand the amount of times I have had nothing to do during my teaching career.  (Maybe even 1 finger.)  There's always a student(s) that needs more help, a lesson that needs to be more engaging, paperwork that the office needs, something that the principal wants, parents that need to be called, colleagues that need help, and on and on and on.  Getting caught up in this to-do list creates an all consuming anxiety in teachers.  

What if I told you it doesn't have to consume you? The older I become, the more I see my happiness comes from how I handle my life.  My life isn't perfect.  I have a house full of my own children which includes teenagers (yikes). Special needs of my own children that need to be met and often I don't know how to meet them.  My house is usually messy.  I can be found driving children in my car to their needed locations from the hours of 3-8:30 Monday through Friday.  I teach and I run a small business.  My life is what I used to call controlled chaos, but now I call it simply - life.

I've been practicing mindfulness for a couple of months now with my children.  Please stay with me here and don't think this is some crazy hippie nonsense that you can't/won't do. Practicing mindfulness started as my way of disconnecting from technology and centering my family.  Mindfulness is the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.  It's super easy to practice and basically means you live in the present.  It can only take 30 seconds if you want it to.

One way to practice mindfulness as a teacher is to practice mindful planning.  Below you will see an example of my to-do list.  To be an effective educator, we must have plans to teach our students.  I teach ELA so those plans included shared reading, guided reading and writing.  To be healthy we must eat lunch. So my must do items every day are to make sure I have plans and eat.  If those things are done at quitting time, I'm done and go home.  If I finish those plans I go on to the "may do" list.  This list is accomplished usually 4 out of 5 days.  Did you know that you don't have to return every e-mail every day? We've been told otherwise, but I've tried it and the world didn't end.  I didn't even get in trouble because I chose the appropriate emails to be late to.  About once a week I can get to my "might do" list.  I try to plan one extra special engaging project/lesson for my students.  I usually think this project through during my carpool time (not while my kids are present) and write it out at school.  Planning like this helps you to be mindful of what's happening in the present and not focus on the "what-ifs" and "but everyone needs me!!!!!"  My notes section helps me to keep everything in perspective.  You must take care of yourself to be effective at anything.  You must put your family first because you need to raise kids who are equipped to handle the world.  There will always be more to do so don't sweat it.  Just remember that YOU ARE ENOUGH!  If you want a free blank copy of this list, you can find it by clicking on the picture below.

Below you will find a mindfulness technique that takes one minute and helps you center yourself in the present.  Try this when you feel anxiety coming on.

Name 5 things that you see around you.
Name 4 things that you can touch.
Name 3 things that you can hear.
Name 2 things that you can smell.
1- Now you are present in your surroundings, mindful of what is actually happening around you.

Classroom Storage Crates

I found myself in desperate need of storage for Dollar Store tubs that would store task cards and materials for my group work in class last week.  Photo boxes that craft stores sell were not deep enough to hold the materials that went along with task cards.  To fix the problem, I ordered these rulers from Amazon for 25 cents a piece and made the crates.

In order to make the crates you will need:  8 rulers, 3 pieces of wood, finishing nails, paint and wood glue.

Cut the bottom piece of wood 12" by 6".  Cut the side piece of wood 6" x 6".  After cutting them paint the wood whatever color you need.  Then use wood glue and a nail gun to put them together.  If you would like to make some for your class and you do not have electric tools you can still make the crates.  You should have the wood cut at a hardware store.  You can also nail small finishing nails through the rulers and wood with a hammer.

Below you will see what I filled my boxes with last week.  We played a Villain vs. Hero game to learn all about the power of our words.  Of course we had masks and capes to help engage us in the lesson.