Totem Pole Tales

We learn about the different Native American regions in social studies.  In addition to learning about the different aspects of the region, we also do an art and writing project.  For the Northwest Coast Indians, we read the book, “Totem Tale”, and created our own totem poles from a sheet of paper.

  Click on the book cover to grab a copy!


Once the totem poles were created, we wrote totem tales based on the poles.  We edited the tales, focusing on sentence beginnings, using descriptive details, and proper capitalization and punctuation.  Since we need practice typing, we types these stories and then learned how to embed clip art (just right click on the picture, hit “wrap text”, and then “square”).  Works like a charm!


The students were so proud of their work!  I have to say, they are awesome!  I have created a Northwest Coast pack, if you are interested in purchasing it, click here.  You can still do the project without it!


Why not try some totem pole writing today?


Adopt an Animal Project (Research, Writing, and Science)

I am always looking for a way to get the biggest BANG for my buck in the classroom!  Integrating the various subject areas whenever possible is a great way to do this!  The very first writing project I do with my class each year is our Adopt an Animal project with our local zoo.  Each year my local zoo offers something called a “Spotlight Adoption”.  This means that for a $65 fee you can adopt one of six animals and get a certificate, information sheet, and a stuffed animal to display in your classroom.  I start the project by introducing the class to these six animals.  Click here for the link to my local zoo’s page.


I then got a few informational books for each of these six animals.  Students begin the project by choosing their favorite animal from the six shown.  First students write nine facts about their animal.  They then must write six sentences using “Bold Beginnings” about the animal.  I use the Bold Beginnings chart from Really Good Stuff.  Once they have generated the nine facts and the six students, they will have a lot of the core writing for their persuasive essay done.  Students must use this pre-writing to then write a persuasive essay about which animal they think our class should adopt.  You can grab the packet I made for my own students from Dropbox here!

Once the essays are written, I have the students meet in their animal groups, so all of the giraffes are at one table, all of the rhinos are at another table, and so on.  In their animal groups students share their essays with one another and write one shared essay (usually grabbing parts from all of the essays) and an animal poster each.  The animal poster layout can be found here.


The groups then work to create a presentation for the class.  The goal of the presentation is to convince (or persuade) their classmates to vote for their animal.  Once all of the presentations are given, students vote by secret ballot.  Once an animal has been chosen, the students complete an informational report about the animal as well as a letter each to the zookeeper in order to ask questions, etc.

This one project combines research, science, and many different types of writing (persuasive, informative, and letter writing) and presentation skills as well as speaking & listening!  Talk about integration!  I can’t wait to see which animal we will adopt this year!

*As an added extension, students can be the ones who bring in money to pay for the animal’s adoption fee (tally, count, keep track, etc.).   I hope you try this project (or something like it) this year!

My Classroom Theme ~ Pac Man

What teacher doesn’t get both excited and nervous about the first day of school?  This year I will have a 4th/5th grade split class and I am teaching all subjects to both grades (just typing that stresses me out a little).  My room is pretty much ready.  I decided to go with a PacMan theme this year.   I like the color scheme and any video games are a hit with kids (even the old school ones).  I am not sure how I ended up with this as a theme, I ran across some items and thought, “Well, that will be different.  But, I like it!”  Hopefully my kids will like it, too!  As an intermediate teacher, most of my yearly themes are centered around a color scheme I like and I change it every year.

I started off with calendar days and month headers.

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I give each student a plastic school box to put their personal supplies in since we share table supplies.  So I made Pac Man name plates (with each of the 4 ghosts and Pac Man and Ms. Pac Man) to tape to the top of the plastic school boxes.

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I use a three drawer cart at each table for notebooks, folders, journals, etc.  I decided to redo my drawer labels since my old ones were looking pretty bad.  Each table has a color scheme (red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple).  The label for the “Poetry Notebooks/Spelling Folders” is taped to a colored magazine file that contains these items.

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Next, I made table labels and table storage tub labels.  They are identical, with one being large and one being small.


I then made hall passes.  Of course, I laminated them, hole punched them and attached colored lanyards to them.

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I must admit, the more I made, the more I loved the Pac Man theme!  We do an ice cream social and I have little goodie bags laid out for each student at their seat.  I ordered felt ghosts from a fantastic shop on Etsy.  She can make just about ANYTHING in felt!  Click here for the link.  I also found Pac Man necklaces on Etsy.  Click here for the link.

pacmanfelt    pacmanfelt2   pacmannecklace

I found some great ghost stuff on Oriental Trading, too!  Even inflatable ghosts (click here)!  They will look great hanging out all over the room!  I ordered some Pac Man pins from Amazon, too.


All of this swag will go into bags with my welcome note attached to the outside and a supply list on the inside.

Slide37    School Supply List

I even made some ghost-inspired bulletin boards.   So much fun!

pacmanboard2    pacmanboard

I am still working on everything, thank goodness I have time (we don’t start school until late August)!

What is your classroom theme this year?

First Year Teacher Tips and Resources


These days, new teachers are leaving the field at a rate of 50% – decreasing the teacher population while the student population increases. Brian and Eric of Wise Guys have used their combined experience of 40 years in the classroom to help tackle that problem, by writing an e-book to motivate new teachers along with creating a large resource guide to equip new teachers with the tools they need for success. They also created a free ebook for more established teachers to start this new school year off strong.

I remember what it was like as a new teacher.  I received my grade level and location assignment just two days before school started and I was immediately overwhelmed.  I was going to be a 5th grade teacher (thank goodness this grade ended up being my niche).  I walked into an empty classroom, just tables and chairs and a teacher desk.  We had no textbooks at the time because we were a Literacy Collaborative school.  I started putting up bulletin boards and making the room as colorful as a could.  I had little time to plan anything detailed before the students arrived, so it was a fly by the seat of my pants kind of year.  I had 34 students, and I loved every one of those kids immensely!  I rarely left before 9pm each night and slowly, but surely I started getting my feet underneath me.  I was on my own that year (no team to speak of), but I did learn to stand on my own two feet.  I fell in love with teaching and have never looked back.

I admire anyone who answers the call to be a teacher.  Even after 20 years as a teacher, I LOVE MY JOB!  I am the luckiest person on the planet.  I have been in four different buildings and I have learned a lot in each one and I still have a lot more to learn.

My tip for first year teachers:  Give yourself a chance to be successful!  Get organized and try lots of different things to see what will work for you and your students.  Check out Pinterest and other sources for ideas.

To celebrate the launch of The First Year Teacher Ebook and Resource Guide, Wise Guys are giving away $100 in gift cards to Teachers Pay Teachers plus copies of the book and guide! If you know anyone who is new to this profession, let them know about this giveaway too! For more inspirational stories, head on over to the Guys’ blog to get linked to others’ First Year Teacher reflections at

Links to check out…

Free ebook:

The First Year Teacher Ebook:

The First Year Teacher Resource Guide:

Brian & Eric’s blog post about this:

Have a great school year!

Using MAD LIBS to Teach Parts of Speech

I am a child of the 70’s and 80’s and I still love MAD LIBS!  As I was doing some Mad Libs with my own children I realized that they would be a great resource to use in my own classroom and they are really inexpensive!  I bought an assortment of Mad Libs pads from Amazon and we use them 1-2 times a week in our classroom.  Click here for the link to Mad Libs on Amazon.



These quick sheets get students identifying and writing adjectives, nouns, verbs, adverbs, etc. in a fun and creative way!  After about a month, my students work on making their own MAD LIB stories to use in our classroom.  While it may seem easy, it is really pretty challenging!

Students work in pairs or as a table group to complete the Mad Libs and once we are finished, a few groups/pairs share them with the class.  We hang them up on a bulletin board in the classroom so students can read them!

Using Writer’s Notebooks and Writer’s Talks

As I plan for the fall, I am really working on adding more to my writing lessons.  One of the biggest changes I am making is to have my students keep a daily Writer’s Notebook.  I am going to use composition books because I think they will be more durable for daily use throughout the year.

Writer’s Notebooksblog

My students will write four days a week using a prompt that I give them.  These prompts are designed to be interesting and easy to write.  They are meant to be “seeds” of writing that can be later grown and developed into larger writing projects.  I have the September Writing Prompts available as a FREEBIE in my store!  Click here to grab a copy!  If you are interested in purchasing my Writer’s Notebook prompts for the WHOLE year, click here!

september writers notebook promts

The second part of the Writer’s Notebook involves using Writer’s Talk pages.  Each one is focused on one author and they are about writing skills, tricks, questions, etc. (not biographies about the author).  I created a set to use in my own classroom based on the books we are using this year, both novels and picture books.  Here is an example of what a Writer’s Talk page may look like:


These Writer’s Talk sheets will be copied for each student and placed into their Writer’s Notebooks.  Students will respond in some way to each of the Writer’s Talk pages.  The Writer’s Talk pages are pretty easy to make, just search for the author (I looked for interviews they had done), then look for a picture of the author as well as books they have written.  I highly suggest teachers make their own, so they can choose the books, authors, and focus areas they need for their specific group of students.


We use a LOT of picture books, so I included a lot of picture book authors in my Writer’s Talks.  Throughout the year, I will have my students make Writer’s Talk sheets to share with our classroom.

Time to get WRITING!


Fish Guts! A Hands-On Lab Focused on Ocean Food Chains


This is one of my students’ favorite labs in science!  Who doesn’t love fish guts?  Students need a container of slime filled with the cut up pieces of plastic ocean animals.  The slime/creature mix is then placed into a rubber glove so it looks like a stomach.

fishgutpicThis pack includes everything you need to make your own fish guts and complete the lab!  It is a guaranteed hit with the students!  Click here for the link to the lab pack!


Students are totally engaged in the activity and they can’t wait to do the extension projects and research to find out more!