Dos and Don’ts for the State Writing Test

Test TakingThese are tips I give my students in preparation for the writing portion of the state achievement tests.

  — Read the directions.
— Make sure you understand the topic and the question.
— Stick to the topic.
— Plan!  Make a list or a web, whatever works for you.
— Organize!  Have a clear beginning, middle, end.
— Open with an attention getter: a question, announcement, or onomatopoeia. (Bang!  I’ll never forget the sound of the door slamming behind me when I was kicked out of class.)
— Use descriptive words where appropriate.
— Be clear and concise.
— Revise and edit.

  — Don’t end with “The End.”
— Don’t write a list.  Put the information in paragraph form.
— Don’t introduce new information in the conclusion.  You should restate the main idea, but in different words.
— Don’t write “that’s what…” in the conclusion. (Example: “That’s what makes a good friend.”)
— Don’t repeat, reiterate, and restate the same thing over and over again.

Most of all: DON’T WORRY! You’ve practiced writing essays just like this and you’ll do well on the test, too!

Comments Off on Dos and Don’ts for the State Writing Test
Posted in Academics,Writing by Corey Green @ Apr 29, 2010


Fort Day—the Coolest No-Cost Classroom Celebration EVER!

No-cost celebrations can become cherished memories for your students.

Remember the fun you used to have building forts at home?  Draping a sheet or tablecloth over some furniture and spending hours in the tent? It’s even more fun at school!

First: Lay down a challenge for your class:
+ Read a given number of chapter books
+ Reach your AR goal for the month or grading period
+ Memorize math facts  (when every student in your class masters multiplication facts, that is a feat most worthy of celebration!)

The reward: Fort Day.  Bring in clean sheets and tablecloths for draping over classroom furniture (tell students not to bring fitted sheets).  Desks make a good foundation, and textbooks hold the sheets in place.  Students enjoy their forts — they can read, play board games, or just hang out for an hour.

If you want to really have fun, let kids make one giant fort out of the whole classroom.  My class created different rooms and hallways, and had a blast crawling through the fort!

My experience: Fort Day should last no longer than two hours (including set-up and clean-up), usually the last hours of a Friday.  Fort Day is best as a one-time good deal.  The second Fort Day in one year just doesn’t have the same magic.

Teaching Tips:
Lay down a Fort Day reading challenge that ends right before your state achievement tests.  If students can qualify for Fort Day by reading chapter books and nonfiction, THEY WILL READ A LOT OF BOOKS.  Everyone benefits!

Build vocabulary with “Fort” words: fortitude, forte, and fortuitous all have to do with strength, just like a real fort.  Have your class look for more fort words in the dictionary.  They will find fortunate, unfortunate, fortunately—and forty.  No matter what I say, my students just won’t accept that “forty” isn’t a fort word in this lesson plan.  I back down and tell the kids they have a point—it does have “fort” in it, doesn’t it?

IMPORTANT!  Set Fort Day rules.  The most important rule: don’t fart in the fort.  You will be very sorry if you don’t make this a rule.  The girls in my class insisted on it.  The boys followed it.  Kids get very excited on Fort Day, and excited kids can be naughty kids.   I just had the offenders sit out for a few minutes, then rejoin the group.  I didn’t have repeat offenders.

I recommend blankets for the base of the fort and sheets or tablecloths for the tents.  Blankets don’t make good tents because they don’t “breathe” and the forts get stuffy.  eHow offers tips on making forts at home herehere and here.

Comments Off on Fort Day—the Coolest No-Cost Classroom Celebration EVER!
Posted in Classroom Management,Fun With Literacy,Holidays by Corey Green @ Apr 26, 2010


How to make State Achievement Test week AWESOME

Many states require that all educational posters in the classroom be removed or covered during testing week.  Removing all the posters makes for a bare, depressing room.  If you use dark paper to cover your educational posters, you will be amazed at how much light is sucked from the room.

Instead, make AWESOME posters to cover your educational posters and charts!

Have students use construction paper or butcher paper to create inspirational signs.  They might say “Rock the Test” or “Go, Us!”  After school, hang the posters up.  This way, kids are excited for testing day because they get to see how AWESOME the room looks!  During the test, students will remember the fun they had creating the signs and feel a little better.

I like to use pink paper because the color pink is calming.  Explain to your students that they can look at the pink if they feel test anxiety.  Pink has the added bonus of reflecting the light and casting a warm glow over the room.

Make testing week even more AWESOME by creating a theme.  I like Rocky Balboa.  My kids make posters that say “Go the distance” and “Eye of the Tiger.”  On test day, we get revved up with Eye Of The Tiger and dance a little.  Then we  calm down with Gonna Fly Now (Theme From Rocky).  The theme songs stick in kids’ heads, giving them a comforting thought during the test.

Comments Off on How to make State Achievement Test week AWESOME
Posted in Classroom Management,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Apr 23, 2010


Celebrate Earth Day: April 22, 2010

Celebrate Earth DaySaving the Earth with Scratch Paper

I’ve had a scratch paper pile for years, but this year my class took it to a new level.  We are saving the environment and pinching pennies.  (Our definition of scratch paper: a letter-sized piece of copy paper with writing on one side only.)

I used to have a three-inch letter tray for scratch paper.  Now I have a 10 inch tall box, and it’s always full.  We are constantly adding to it, pulling stacks to copy worksheets on, and using scratch paper for almost everything.

Many of the worksheets I assign are good practice, but they don’t need to be kept and cherished forever.  Not all of them even need to go home.  Once we review the worksheets, they can become scratch paper used for:
– Spelling tests
– Quick quizzes based on problems written on the board
– Writing sentences: “We will maintain phone silence during all phone calls.”

Scratch paper goes through the copy machine just fine.  (I usually put it in the bypass tray.)   I have been giving a lot of math timed tests (especially the Spaceship Math series from Dad’s Worksheets) printed on scratch paper.  It has saved soooo much paper!

Earth Day is about respecting our planet and acting responsibly.  It’s a day to focus on what we, personally, can do to keep our planet healthy.  Challenging your students to decide how they will celebrate Earth Day conveys this message of empowerment.

Often, the best ideas come from the kids.  Before Earth Day, pose some questions to your class:
–  How should our class mark Earth Day?
– What can we do to make our classroom more environmentally friendly?  Are there any new systems we can develop?
– What can our class do to help our school environment?
– How can we encourage others to respect the planet?
– What can we do at home to reduce our impact on the environment?
– How can we share what we learned about Earth Day with our families?

Happy Earth Day!

Comments Off on Celebrate Earth Day: April 22, 2010
Posted in Academics,Holidays by Corey Green @ Apr 19, 2010


Help! A Story of Friendship

Help! A Story of Friendshipby Holly Keller
AR Reading Level 2.3; 0.5 points
Available at

Summary: A twist on fables, this book is about a mouse who ends up stuck in a hole.  None of the animals can rescue Mouse, so they recommend asking Snake.   Mouse heard through the grapevine that his old friend Snake likes to eat mice, so Mouse won’t agree.   Ultimately, Snake ties a vine to his tail and pulls Mouse out.   Everyone learns a lesson.

Activities: This is good independent or group reading for grades 1-3.  I use it as a springboard for discussing friendship, or as a prediction lesson.  It’s also good for discussing relationships between characters and making connections to your life.  With older students, I use it as an example of a non-Aesop fable.

Comments Off on Help! A Story of Friendship
Posted in Book Reviews by Corey Green @ Apr 15, 2010


National Poetry Month: Poetry Workbooks

PoetryworkbookI highly recommend the Evan-Moor series of Read and Understand Poetry workbooks.  Each poem is illustrated and ready-to-copy.  Worksheets for each poem include both multiple choice for test prep and a variable style that encourages analysis of the poem and its figurative language.

If you are feeling unsure of your ability to teach poetry, the teacher’s guide before every poem will help you lay the foundation and teach the figurative language.  A glossary of figurative language terms is helpful for both teacher and student.

The books use well-known poems kids will enjoy.   Poets include Robert Louis Stevenson, Shakespeare, ee cummings, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg.  You can build a strong foundation for your students’ English education.  They will thank you when they know so much about these poems in high school classes!

Amazon lets you search inside the book, viewing the Table of Contents, the covers, and a sample page.  I think you’ll see how valuable these books are for the classroom:

Read and Understand Poetry, Grades 2-3
Read and Understand Poetry, Grades 3-4
Read & Understand Poetry, Grades 4-5
Read and Understand Poetry, Grades 5-6+

 A practical teaching tip:  you might want to buy more than one level of these workbooks.  Start the year with poems below grade level.  By the end of the year, students may well be working above grade level.

Comments Off on National Poetry Month: Poetry Workbooks
Posted in Academics,Book Lists,Fun With Literacy by Corey Green @ Apr 12, 2010


National Poetry Month: Serious Poems for the Classroom

Teachers, include serious and sad poems in your National Poetry Month celebration.  Elementary students like feeling they are big enough to read grown-up poetry.  Students know that life isn’t all sunshine and daisies, and they appreciate poems that address serious aspects of life.

Here are some poems I liked in elementary school and have found that my students enjoy:

If by Rudyard Kipling: The ultimate character education poem.  I share this with every class! 

In Flanders Field by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD

Grass by Carl Sandburg

Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

A Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes

Annabel Lee by Edgar Allen Poe

There is no frigate like a book by Emily Dickinson

Sonnet 116 by Shakespeare (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds/Admit impediments…)

The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes.  This is a classic ballad with a strong storyline.  Explain the story to your class, then read the poem with them.  I used this poem when I taught fifth grade, but I don’t think I’d share it with third graders.

For a grand finish, play “The Highwayman” set to music and sung by Lorena McKennitt—it is haunting and beautiful and perfect for the text.  I recommend that students be able to see a copy of the poem while they are listening.  A YouTube version of the song is available (it’s a ten-minute long clip).  You also can download the song at iTunes or buy the album, The Book of Secrets, through

Next post: Poetry Workbooks.

Comments Off on National Poetry Month: Serious Poems for the Classroom
Posted in Fun With Literacy by Corey Green @ Apr 9, 2010


National Library Week, April 11-17, 2010

The American Library Association celebrates National Library Week April 11-17, 2010.  Use this opportunity to teach your students about the many treasures at their public libraries.  It’s good to get the conversation started now so students are well familiar with the library’s resources and will use them during their summer break.

bookWhat’s at the public  library?
—classic books, fun books, comic books, every kind of book!
Magazines—read your favorite titles for free!
CDs—many of your favorite recording artists!
DVDs— collection of popular new movies, documentaries, classic movies, and anything your students might want.
Databases—Older students will appreciate the research databases public libraries offer.
Events— Movie showings, author visits, story time, crafts activities, and summer reading programs.

Teach your students how to use your public library’s online catalog.  Students can reserve books to be sent to their branch library.  The library’s request system is like valet service for an incredible array of free entertainment materials.  This works well for students whose parents have the resources to take kids to the library.

What about other students?  I remember an author visit I made to a library in a low-income neighborhood of hardworking immigrants.  I was surprised that children could not check out books because they did not have library cards.  Talk to your local library to see if there is a way to assist your students in getting library cards for the summer.

Comments Off on National Library Week, April 11-17, 2010
Posted in Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Apr 7, 2010


National Poetry Month: Fun Poems for the Classroom

Celebrate National Poetry Month in your classroom!  Children love the rhyme, rhythm and repetition of funny poetry.  Teachers will love the opportunity to teach literary devices and figurative language.  Here are some of my favorite fun poets:

bookShel Silverstein: I divide poems from Where the Sidewalk Ends into categories of easy, medium and hard, which I name Tall, Grande and Venti after Starbucks.  Students practice and perform poems at their level.  Let your class visit Shel’s website and hear him read his poems.  Warning: many sound downright bizarre!

Jack Prelutsky: another classic!  Children love his books.  You will love that his website features easy-to-print .pdfs of some of his favorite poems for the classroom.  Check out his new book of poetry, Something Big Has Been Here.

Linda Knaus: I discovered her poems while searching for fluency material.  Perfect!  Print a few poems from her “Funny Poems” category and you’re ready to go!

I’ll have another post about serious poems later this month.

Comments Off on National Poetry Month: Fun Poems for the Classroom
Posted in Fun With Literacy by Corey Green @ Apr 5, 2010


April is School Library Month

Laurie Halse Anderson“School libraries are the foundation of our culture, not luxuries.”
Laurie Halse Anderson
Official Spokesperson for School Library Month

Now more than ever, it is important to recognize School Library Month.  School libraries and school librarians are vulnerable when states and districts face budget cuts.  Show your school’s students, teachers, staff, parents and friends how important the school library is to education.

Activities for School Library Month:
 — Make posters advertising the school library.  (Learn about techniques of persuasion while you’re at it!)
 — Create video or audio announcements about school libraries to show on the school announcements.
 — Imagine a school without the library.  Have your students write about what this would be like, and the opportunities they would lose.
Make a class book about reading and the library.  Have each student write and illustrate an essay, poem or letter.  Have your class vote on a theme.  Examples: “Reading Takes us Places,” “Choose Your Freedom, Learn to Read,” or “Readers are Leaders!”

About Laurie Halse Anderson: She is a bestselling author of such novels as Speak, Fever 1793, Wintergirls, Catalyst, and Chains.  Many of Laurie’s books are YA (Young Adult) and are not written for the elementary classroom.

I have used Fever 1793 for fifth graders.  Students enjoy this story of the Yellow Fever epidemic in Phildelphia.  It connects especially well to lessons on American History and the American Revolution.   Laurie says she gets the most fan mail about her Vet Volunteers series, written for fourth to sixth grade students.

Comments Off on April is School Library Month
Posted in Fun With Literacy by Corey Green @ Apr 2, 2010