Reader’s Notebook: 40 Book Challenge!

After much reading, researching, and deliberating, I have FINALLY decided on my reading incentive program for the year.  I knew that I did NOT want anything to do with AR (Accelerated Reader).  This program, while it has its benefits was not achieving my goal for the classroom, which has always been for students to love reading.

I believe I blogged about my views recently, but I’ll further explain my final program here.  First, I must give credit to the amazing people who created, published, and promulgated the idea of the reader’s notebook and book challenges.  *Note: Reader’s Notebooks, reading workshop, reading instruction, etc. ideas have been around for a long time.  I have found these three sources to be the best I have come across thus far. (Pinterest–you are amazing, but I needed to do extra research to determine how I could implement a book challenge all year.)

If you haven't read this book, go to amazon immediately and purchase it.  Loved!
If you haven’t read this book, go to amazon immediately and purchase it. Loved!
Fountas and Pinnell
Fountas and Pinnell
Check out her site ASAP if you haven't already.
Check out her site ASAP if you haven’t already.


My students were asked to bring a composition book to school for their reader’s notebook.  (Next year, I’ll be sure to specify to bring a composition book with a cardboard/paper cover, not a plastic one.  The plastic covers were difficult to adhere their pictures to, even with modge podge.)

Composition Book with cardboard cover--standard.
Composition Book with cardboard cover–standard.

After introducing the book challenge, I passed out copies of the forms to be cut and glued in their notebooks.  The forms included genre tally sheet, genre overview, characteristics of a genre (see “genre hunt”), weekly schedule accountability sheet, instructions for weekly response letter, sample of student letter, and more.  The package can be purchased in my tpt store- Reader’s Notebook Book Challenge.  

Our first lesson was introducing all the genres (genre hunt) which I blogged about already, but it was really an awesome learning experience for me and the students.  Categorizing books according to genre was more difficult then they had anticipated.  We are now in the process of sorting the entire classroom library–yikes! and yay!


So far, I am one month into my school year.  I have blocked off 15 minutes for silent reading in the morning.  (The Book Whisperer really helped in figuring out the logistics of this entire process.)  It is during this time that I conference with students individually and/or in small groups of 3.  They bring with them the book they are currently reading and their notebooks.  Sometimes I have them read to me.  Other times we are discussing the book they are reading and how it’s working for them: are they on track to complete the challenge?  If not, I try to steer them in the right direction.

As far as keeping the students accountable for their weekly response letters, I have divided the class between all five days.  I have a group of students that always turn in their notebooks on Monday, a group for Tuesday, etc.  This way I only have 6-7 students to read and respond to each day.   I’m not sure how other teachers do this, but I would never trust myself to collect all 34 notebooks on Friday and have them back by Monday.  So far, it’s working out well.  A couple of days I even took them with me to lunch and completed them before school was out.  The immediate feedback and constant writing about reading has already shown benefits.  I feel like I have learned my kids faster than I have other years.  And not simply their academic skills and abilities, but their interests and personalities.  It’s been great so I’m determined to keep it up.

The following are some photos of my students work.  I hope to see MAJOR improvements by the end of the year–fingers crossed!

IMG_6614 IMG_6613 IMG_6612 IMG_6611 IMG_6610 IMG_6609 IMG_6608 IMG_6607 IMG_6606

Reader's Notebooks decorated!
Reader’s Notebooks decorated!



Birthday Bags Done!

I’m so happy that all 34 birthday bags are finished!

I don’t know about you, but I was never good at keeping track of all my students’ birthdays.  So instead of scrambling to find some lame pencil or sticker on the day of, now I’m prepared for the entire year.  Each bag is filled with candy (that doesn’t melt–learned that the hard way), a pencil, and a homework pass.  Then each student fills out the birthday bag sign with their name and birthday.  I staple it to the bag and viola!  I am now ready for any birthday that comes my way.  🙂


My birthday coordinator is in charge of making sure each student receives his/her birthday bag on their special day.  They also make sure we sing a lively round of “Happy Birthday!”  It’s the best system ever because the pressure is off of me.  Yay!




What genre is this? Wait..what’s a genre?

The second week of school has come to a close for me, and I have to admit, I am pooped.  The kids have been awesome.  It’s just always an adjustment getting all your routines into place so everything takes A LOT longer than I planned.  Note to self:  Next year, try to plan less in the first two weeks so I don’t feel behind.

Well, I’ve been working all summer trying to figure out what my reading incentive plan is going to be this year.  I’ve tried AR (not a fan).  I’ve done the reading log each night (not a fan).  I’ve had parents sign that their child has read X amount of minutes each day (well…you get the idea).  These things have not achieved or fostered what my goal is —kids to LOVE reading!  I think maybe this is not the end goal for all teachers, especially the ones that don’t really read themselves.  They need the accountability piece; the signed piece of paper or test that “proves” that a student is reading.

I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching, asking colleagues, researching, and it all comes back to what I’ve always believed–we need to have a plan to promote literacy in our classroom that truly creates a LOVE for BOOKS!  So how do we do this?  Well, what’s worked better than anything else in my 8 years is my class book club.  Every Wednesday Mrs. Cortez Book Club meets before school.  The kids bring a mug from home and I bring the hot chocolate and doughnuts.  We have read before the meeting to an agreed upon page and then come and talk about the book.  It’s been one of the best things I’ve ever done.  There’s no test, no book report, no nothing.  It’s just a group of people getting together and sharing opinions about the story.  (I’ll post something about book club specifically later—it starts this week.)

I decided this year that I’m taking bits and pieces from reading “The Book Whisperer”, Beth Newingham (google her), Fountas and Pinnell’s reading notebook, and a little bit of my own two cents.  I am implementing the 40 Book Challenge and I’m so excited!  I’ll post about that later this week as well along with everything I created for it.  In order conquer this challenge, the students HAVE to be able to identify different genres of literature so this was the lesson.   Using “The Book Whisperer” as my guide and Beth Newinghams free downloads (genre title pages), I had the students take notes in their reader’s notebooks.  Then I gave each team scholastic book catalogs and they had to choose 15 book covers to sort.   I gave each teach one blank sheet of paper and let them “sort” it out.  Were all the sorts correct? No, but it made for some good conversation for our intro. lesson.  The kids really got it into it.

This year is off to a good start!

Putting our extra catalogs to good use.
Putting our extra catalogs to good use.

photo 2 photo 3_2 photo 4 photo 5_2 photo 1 photo 2_2

Thank you Beth for allowing us to download these awesome genre pages for free!
Thank you Beth for allowing us to download these awesome genre pages for free!
Teams presented to class and we discussed challenges, rights, and wrongs.
Teams presented to class and we discussed challenges, rights, and wrongs.
Using scholastic book catalogs the extras), each team sorted the titles by genre.
Using scholastic book catalogs the extras), each team sorted the titles by genre.

The Giving Tree

Every year I read one of my favorite stories of all time, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.   I’m sure you all know the story and if you don’t, please do yourself a favor, click on the link and just buy it.   You won’t be sorry.  I even bought myself the phone case for my birthday last year.

My birthday gift to myself
My birthday gift to myself

Anyway, my partner teacher and I wanted to create some sort of assignment with this book.  This is what we came up with and I love it.  After reading the story the students each reflect on their own life and determine who is their giving tree.  I have them write on a post-it (obviously, I have a post-it problem) who their giving tree is and the reasons why.  I also explain that the reason has to be something deeper than…”My mom is my giving tree because she buys me stuff.”–Unacceptable.  The students are trying to make a real and meaningful text to self connection at this point.

After I correct the post-it for conventions, each student is given a red apple.  (Apologize for not have it here for you to download, but it’s on my work computer.  So sorry.)  It’s basically just an image of an apple blown up and we inserted lines over the image.  I copy of red construction paper because I don’t like to spend time coloring in class, but you could just have them color it red if you so choose.

Then, each student is given a green leaf.  On this paper, they are to reflect and decide what they are going to give to the class this year and it CANNOT be any material thing i.e. school supplies.  I post these up the whole year and revisit them so I warn the students to chose something that they are truly planning on sharing with the class.



My students came up with some awesome ideas of what they are going to share this year:  teaching origami, how to throw a football, kindness, teach organization, etc.   On back to school night, parents can find their child’s apple and so many are filled with joy to see what the students said about their giving tree.  I LOVE this activity.

Thank you Shel Silverstein!  

Click on the above link for his Giving Tree read aloud.

Spaghetti & Marshmallow Challenge

Okay, so I guess I have time for one more.  Thanks to this post which contains an amazing list of different team building challenges, I did this activity for the second year in a row this week.  The kids, of course, loved it.

This team built the tallest structure that remained standing on its own!
This team built the tallest structure that remained standing on its own!
Good job girls!
Good job girls!
This team tried so many different structures!
This team tried so many different structures!

The teams were challenged to build the tallest structure using the noodles and marshmallows–nothing else.  Click on this link to my pinterest board.  It will take you to the top post where you can print out her list of different challenges to try each week!

The first month of school, I try to complete one challenge a week.  I’m truly trying to teach the kids never to give up and it’s OKAY TO FAIL!!!   See the sign I made (can’t believe I actually made it–so super easy.  I love the paint pen!).

Bought the letters and paint pen at Target, glued it all own and voila!
Bought the letters and paint pen at Target, glued it all own and voila!

The kids were so scared at first glance, but calmed down after I explained.  Next sign needed…. Mistakes are proof you’re trying!

Have a good night!

Top 5 Teacher Qualities

So I made it!  I just completed my first week back to school (year round).  There are so many activities to post, but I’m short on time so I’ll have to settle for one.  Like many teachers, my first week back to school I plan many team building/partner activities.  I am trying to build a community of learners that feels comfortable not only share their opinions, but also to LISTEN and collaborate with others.

This particular activity went really well.  I call it “What makes a great teacher?”  I propose this question to all my students and distribute the following handout.

Qualities of Good Teacher

The students read over this list silently, while I read it aloud. The lines on the bottom on the handout are there to allow the students to add any other qualities they feel are missing from the list. Next, the students must circle what they believe to be the top 5 qualities a great teacher must have. They are warned to choose carefully because they will have to defend their reasoning for choosing one quality over another.

I then have the students work with one partner. Each person shares their list and their task is to create a new top 5 list on a post-it. It’s awesome to hear the discussions that take place, trying to convince one another to agree on “their” qualities. After this is complete, I then reveal the final, most difficult challenge. They must share with the team (6 students) and agree upon a top 5 list all together. A couple students were already looking nervous because they knew how difficult is was to decide previously and that was working with just ONE student! 🙂 *Tip: It’s helpful to have some sentence frames up guiding the students how to speak in a group i.e. I agree with _________ because _________. In my opinion, _________ is an important quality because of _________.

See the picture below for the discussions taking place.  Exciting!

Great Teacher Activity

After each team wrote their top 5 qualities on some chart paper, they attached all three post-its to the paper.  I like to see the actual work on the final product.  I think it’s neat to see the thinking that goes on along the way.

Check out the lists.  I had one student from each team share out with the class and then picked a couple teams randomly to explain their thoughts in choosing one of the qualities.   For example, many of the students had “does not assign much homework” so they had to defend that.  Also, the team that chose “young” and “good looking” (there’s always one group in the class, isn’t there?), had to defend and/or explain their reasoning.  Although it was funny, they realized they must be serious and if they choose something in this class, they will be required to defend it.

I’ll post pictures of my new classroom set up soon.  I love it!  Was able to put in a couch AND a little reading cave.  It’s already getting some love from the students.

Each team decided on their top 5 qualities and attached their post-its.
Each team decided on their top 5 qualities and attached their post-its.
Note the one chart that list young and good to have one in every class, I guess.  :)
Note the one chart that list young and good looking…got to have one in every class, I guess. 🙂

Open House ’12-’13

My favorite time of year is Open House!

I know, I know, it sounds crazy because it’s so much work and stress at the end of the year, but I can’t help myself. I just love it. This is the time where the students get to showcase ALL of the hard work they have done all year long. Parents are wowed. I am wowed. And best of all, the students are blown away….at themselves! The pride I see as they walk their guests around the class is just amazing.

Below are some pictures I took of my class last year. I’ll be posting pictures of my new classroom to begin the school year soon.

This is a picture of the writing wall.  Students wrote a persuasive essay after researching the long lived “School Uniform” debate.  Each student then received a blank template to either create the ideal uniform or ideal outfit for themselves, depending on which side of the debate they were on.  Surprisingly, a handful a students preferred the uniform.

On the counter are my biography jar book reports.  This year I assigned famous African-Americans during February, but in the past it’s been a famous American in the Revolution time period.  You can see this product in my teacherspayteachers store under Two Biography Jar Book Reports. 

School Uniform Debate & Biography Jars
School Uniform Debate & Biography Jars

For the new year 2013, my students had to create some goals for themselves.  After these goals were created, they wrote a letter to their future self.  I told them they would open it with their parents during Open House to see if they held true to their goals…… It was interesting and the students got very excited to open this letter most of them forgot about.

Students wrote this letter months ago describing the goals they wanted accomplished by Open House.
Students wrote this letter months ago describing the goals they wanted accomplished by Open House.

This was an awesome game that was introduced by a fellow colleague Ms. Derus.  We played a water cycle game in which each student represented one water droplet.  First, I read the book A Drop Around the World.  Then, the students were assigned a station and played the game which you can find here.   When I do the activity this year, I will post with pictures.  It’s pretty awesome.

Finally, I made a water droplet with lines and students wrote a summary and reaction piece of their individual journey.  Attached to each droplet is the bracelet they made from the different beads they collected along the way.  (See game to understand.)

Students wrote a summary of their water droplet's journey and attached their bracelet.
Students wrote a summary of their water droplet’s journey and attached their bracelet.

I read aloud to my students everyday after lunch.  I took pictures of each student reading a book then they attached a speech bubble to their bodies.  The bubble stated which book was their favorite and why.  Last, the students folded an index card and glued their body to it to stand upright.  The display always looks so cute and it takes no time at all.  (Okay, maybe 20 minutes–students write their sentence on a post-it first.  I proofread.  Then, they write their speech bubble.)

Students chose which read aloud they enjoyed the most.
Students chose which read aloud they enjoyed the most.

Found this idea on pinterest so not sure who to credit exactly as I’ve seen it a bunch.  Students create a portrait of themselves using 1 inch colored construction paper.  I take pictures of their faces because I think photos make everything better. They then calculate the area, perimeter, and percentage of each color used—this takes longer then I thought.  Math!Area & Perimeter People

Here the students were given different quotes of figures from the Revolution. Students had to decide whether it was spoken by a Tory or a Whig. I divide the classroom in half and read each quote one at a time. Students then move to the side of the room they feel said the statement. They must then choose a spokesperson to explain their reasoning. I give the students a chance to switch sides if they change their mind before I tell them the correct answer. This activity makes for some great discussions.
Who Said It? Tory or Whig?

These are pictures of my science and social studies boards. These activities I will be uploading to my tpt store as soon as I get a chance. I’m working on the state projects and activities we do all year. Shown below are their state flip books, an alternative to a written report.
Science Board

State Flip Books

Social Studies Board
These last two are just some more views from the classroom. Hope you enjoyed and got some ideas for your class! If you do something similar or just want to share how you make your open house amazing, please do!

Entering the classroom for Open House 2013
Entering the classroom for Open House 2013

Open House 2013Coming soon…. pictures of my classroom to start this year. Yaaay!!!

I LOVE Scholastic Books!

So my summer is winding down. Who am I kidding? It’s gone. I start school on Monday (year-round) and I’m sitting in the living room revising and updating all of my beginning of the year information for parents and students. I just finished my Scholastic Parent Letter and I’m already anticipating all the new books I’ll be getting with my bonus points! I LOVE Scholastic.

To any teacher who hasn’t had success with book orders, I would just say, “Try and try again.”

I promote these book orders like crazy. Here are a few of my “sneaky” strategies:

1. This parent letter goes home with all the other important information i.e. emergency contact forms, permission slips, etc.

2. At Parent Information Night (PIN), I beg and plead to all the parents that if they just order one book this year, please make it with the first catalog. This is where teachers get crazy bonus points! Last year I was able to purchase over 50 new books!! Love.

3. When I pass out the book catalogs, I do so at the end of the day. I tell all the students to circle 3 books that interest them. They then share with their table groups the books they chose and why. In a couple of minutes, the bell rings and the students are rushed to their parents with book catalogs in hand, books on their minds….that’s my sneaky move. Never give the students catalogs at the beginning of the day.

4. I put the book deadlines on my edmodo calendar, edmodo alert, and send out group emails to all parents. What’s the worst a parent can say, “She keeps pushing BOOKS on me?” I’ll take that complaint any day.

5. When the books for the class library are finally delivered, I read aloud EVERY title and most of the summaries on the back. This way the students know what’s being added to the library and the line for checkout grows immediately. The kids all know it’s my favorite delivery.

So to all who doubt, try your hardest to talk about your book orders everyday up to your deadline. Hopefully, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Happy bonus points!

*Below is the letter I send home with my kids. Scholastic Parent Letter

Well, here goes nothin’….(gulp)

I finally decided to just “go for it” and start a teaching blog.  After many months of planning it in my head, tonight is the night.  I just finally decided that instead of following my plans of due research of how to set up a blog, checking out books and resources online to figure out how to set this up perfectly….blah, blah, etc.  I decided to just do it and learn by trial and error.  So I ask all of you teacher-blogger pros to offer up any and all suggestions/resources for a completely new and incompetent teacher-blogger. Help!  And, of course, I beg for your patience. 

Once I have this all figured out, I hope to be a source of inspiration and assistance to all of you in the teacher community.  My wish is to be able to give back to the blogging community instead of being a taker.  I have found so many wonderful, amazing teachers through pinterest (my obsession) and their ideas, lessons, etc. have given me the continued fire needed to survive this profession.  Check out some of the blogs I follow and you will find some jewels, for sure!  I particulary love and  They are so creative and generous with their ideas and my online mentors so-to-speak.  Whenever I’m in need of some creative juices, I just hit them up and just viewing their activities help me brainstorm how to teach my particular concepts.  It’s awesome!  It’s kind of like when you get the opportunity to observe or walk through other classrooms, even if it’s a completely different grade level, it gets your teacher mind flowing—“Oooh, this could work in my classroom” or “No, this doesn’t work for me, but if I tweaked it……”.   

So again, any suggestions or first time blogger advice would be much appreciated.  I’m currently on summer break from teaching 5th grade at a year round school.  Hopefully, I’ll take some time this month to work out inevitable kinks. 

We’ll see how this goes…. Wish me luck world! 

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