Teacher Talk with Kelly and Randi

Back to School August 2019 Newsletter

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Dear Educator Friends,

Happy New SCHOOL Year! We are so excited to bring you new ideas for the 2019-2020 year. This month's newsletter is filled with ideas for prepping your classroom, building a learning community, and getting to know your new students!


We will be offering Super Saturday Virtual seminars starting in October. Thank you for your readership and we wish you a WONDERFUL school year!


- Kelly Harmon & Randi Anderson

Where Should Students Sit on the First Day?

This year my thinking was challenged when I heard the phrase "engaging students in seating challenges". My first thought was what is that? After reading the article Teaching Secrets: Get to Know Students Through Seat Challenges, I was intrigued!


A seat challenge is a whole class task that requires everyone (students) to work together the very first moment your students enter into your room. I love this idea because it gives the teacher immediate feedback as to the "chemistry, learning styles, and personality."


Day 1 can begin with students having to seat themselves in birthday order, January 1 - December 31st. Students have to work collaboratively to seat the class in order in and try to beat the timer. A timer can be set for 3-10 minutes (give or take a few). When they think they have it, they can sign for finished. (The sign for finished, looks like you are pushing something away with your pinkies. Start the sign by taking both your hands opened up and palms facing you. Flip your hands around so that you end with your palms facing out. Finished is the same sign as "all done".)


To read more engaging seat challenges, read the article by Sandy Merz!

Creating a Team Culture in Your Classroom

Effective learning communities do not rely on just one person to do everything. When citizens work together in teams to accomplish goals and share the work load, everyone benefits!


In the first weeks of school, we establish the learning community culture. We want to establish student-centered classrooms starting on day one. Everyone will need a learning job that requires thinking. We've created six roles that incorporate listening, speaking, reading, and writing.


Here's how to get started:


1. Start with teams of two. Assign students to be partner A and partner B. You can also use labels like 'peanut butter and jelly' or 'ketchup and mustard.' Practice having an A/B conversation. You may want to use talking sticks like the ones in the pictures below.

2. Introduce one role at a time. I recommend you start with either Discussion Director or Learning Monitor. Remember to teach students the critical content for each role and provide one to three minutes of practice. Ask students to explain what the role is responsible for doing and not doing. They can read the "doing" right off the card and then draw conclusions about what this person does not do. For example, the Facilitator makes sure everyone shares their thinking and uses accountable talk, but they are not the boss of the team.


3. Monitor and give students descriptive feedback after practice. On day one, have students take turns practicing the role. Be sure to give them accountable talk stems for the role.


4. Introduce the next role on day two. Have both students practice the role. Then assign each partner one of the roles. Always give descriptive feedback after the practice.


5. Introduce one or two roles each week. Go slow and make sure everyone gets an opportunity to practice the thinking for the role.


6. Roles should change daily. If you use the Kagan strategy, Numbered Heads, you can use the numbers to rotate the roles. For example, on Monday, #1 is the Discussion Director. On Tuesday, #2 is the Discussion Director.


We have FREE team role cards with the details of each role. Click here to download the role cards.

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Building a Learning Community

Building a community atmosphere at the beginning of the school year is so important for the emotional and academic well-being of your students. Here are a few tips to building a successful community of learning this year.


Identifying as a Reader & Writer

Students need to view themselves as a reader and a writer. One way to get this vision going is to promote book talks starting the first day of school. As the teacher, you can give a few short book talks on books that you personally enjoy and books that students may enjoy too. A book talk is like a short commercial advertising a book. Think of the tv show Reading Rainbow when they did the book reviews at the end of the segment. A book talk is just that! Invite students to share their favorite books from the summer or last school year with the class. This is a great opportunity for students to get excited about reading!


Another idea is to conduct reading interviews. Make it point to meet with each student for 2-4 minutes the first two weeks of school to find out what that student is interested in, whether or not they enjoy reading, what topics they want to know more about, and more!

Reading Rainbow - Jumanji
Accountable Talk

When students are working with others on academic tasks, it is important for them to have a model of what a discussion in the academic setting looks and sounds like. One way to do this is using accountable talk stems. Using the accountable talk cards helps students to discuss new ideas and hear others' perspectives. This will promote listening, speaking, & respecting others. Tape them to the desks or tables and/or make an anchor chart.


As students share their ideas, remind them to use the complete stem. For example, do not just agree or disagree. Have students extend the idea with reasons and evidence. As students use this type of talk, you can monitor and collect data about student understandings and misconceptions. Many times, students will hear or realize the misconception and teammates will help each other clear up confusions.


I cannot imagine effective instruction without great accountable talk!


Download a free copy of our generic accountable talk cards.

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Ideas for Building Strong Relationships

How will you and your students get to know each other? During the first days of school, it's important to find out about student interests, preferences for learning, and mindsets for learning. Here are a few ideas to kick off a great year.


What Do You Like?

1. What do you like? Read Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin and discuss what dragons like and dislike. Ask you students to share their preferences through a list or on a graffiti wall. You could give then an alphaboxes chart of your likes and dislikes and have students create one to share. This activity helps students see how much they have in common. Here is the link to a blank form for your students.


Throughout the year, let your students know you heard them by using the information to connect student interests with new learning, texts you think they might like, or incorporate in math problems.


2. My favorite for the first week of school is "Get to Know You Balloons!" This activity is emotionally engaging!


Get to Know You Balloons

1. Give each students a balloon and a small strip of paper.

2. Have each student write a question they want to ask a friend on the strip of paper. Examples:


  • What is your favorite place to visit?
  • What famous person would you like to meet?
  • What is your favorite thing to eat for dessert?


3. Next, have each student put their strip of paper inside their balloon.

4. Students then blow balloons up and tie at the end.

5. Meet back at the whole group meeting area and ask students to hold their balloons until you give the command to throw them up in the air.

6. On command, students toss their balloons in the air and bat them around for a few seconds until the balloons are mixed all through the room.

7. Ask students to each grab a balloon.

8. Students then sit in a circle and one by one go around the circle popping their balloon and then answering the question inside!


They will never forget popping the balloons! They will want to come back the next day to see all the crazy-fun ways they will be learning!


Here is an article that has even more great ideas for team building activities!

Using a Graffiti Wall

Graffiti walls are simple to do, but can illustrate complex thinking. I ran across an article entitled "20 Ways to Teach With Graffiti Walls" on Twitter. The ideas in the blog go so well with my goal of making learning visible! Using words and/or graphics, student can share thinking and see their classmates' perspectives. This could be in a station, a center, or to start or finish class.


My two favorite ideas from the blog are:

1. Have students create a graffiti wall to tell about themselves.


The learning target would be:

  • I can describe myself in words and pictures.

Success Criteria:

Did I include information about:

  • when and where I was born?
  • what I was like as a baby or young child?
  • where I have lived?
  • where I see myself living when I grow up?
  • what I like and why I like it?
  • what I dislike and why?
  • anything that I am into doing and why I like doing it?


2. Make it Motivational-Have an academic behavior or habit of mind for each day of the week. On a whiteboard or chart paper, have students add their thinking to the wall. For example:

  • Mindset Monday-Use a quote related to growth mindset. Ask students to explain the meaning and how they can relate it to their own life.
  • Taking Responsible Risks Tuesday-Show a picture of someone doing something daring. Have students write about the feelings of people who take responsible risks. How does it feel to try something you've never tried before? How does it feel to fail? How can we accomplish more than we think we can? We take responsible risks! Ask students to "think outside the box" about a problem. How can they face their fears?
  • Wonder Wednesday-What is the wonder of the day? Post it and see what students think they know and what questions they have. This is a great lead in to formal and informal research!
  • I think I can Thursday-What big goal are you trying to accomplish? What is your action plan? How close are you to achieving the goal?
  • Finding the Humor Friday-Post a picture or joke. Have students find the humor and show examples of the humor in their lives.


There are 18 more ways to use graffiti walls in the blog! Please send pictures of your walls. We'd love to share them in an upcoming newsletter and on our blog!

Reflecting and Revising Learning

At the end of each content block, students need an opportunity to reflect on their learning for the day.This is a great opportunity for students to validate their efforts and learning, while also giving teachers an opportunity to formatively assess who hit the target and who needs more practice time.


The goal of share time is to help students realize just how much they have learned and what they know and can do now that they didn't know earlier. Create a habit of asking one of these questions:


1. As a result of what we did today, what do you now understand better?

2. How has today's practice helped you get better?

3. How close are you to hitting the learning target? What do you still need in order to hit the target?


Varying the way students share their learning is important and will help with accountability. Choose a different strategy each day for student sharing. Here are some ideas for sharing:

  • 5*3*1 charts-Give each team or student a 5*3*1 chart at the beginning of class. Have them put a sticky note under the number that best describes where they are in relation to the learning target. 5's think they are experts, 3's are working towards mastery, 1's are novices just starting the journey. At the end of class, ask them to rate themselves now. Ask students to defend their rating using the learning target, success criteria, and their evidence of learning (products or performances created during the content block).
  • Peanut Butter Jelly Partners (pair share with accountable talk) Free Download below!
  • Exit Tickets (oral or written responses)


This is a crucial step in the learning process that is often skipped. Planning for reflection makes it likely it will be part of the learning loop.

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Great Reads for the First Weeks of School

What's your Weekly Theme Song?

Have you heard the song High Hopes by Panic at the Disco? This is 5 year old Whitten's favorite song right now. He begs for it to play on repeat. I am so glad he did, because after listening to it, it became my theme song to kick off the year! The message is ageless and the vocabulary is amazing. Students will be surprised when their teacher plays this song the first week of school!


Songs are lyrical poems that provide a great way to energize students and practice critical reading and thinking skills. Songs help students establish fluency and comprehension through phrasing, rate, and thinking about the rich vocabulary and meaning. Many songs have layers of meaning and use interesting words in new or different ways. Check out the lyrics for High Hopes. There are so many reading skills and strategies that jump out at me in this song! What is the theme? Analyze the beginning, middle, and end. How does the character change? What does the word "prophecy" mean? What does it mean to be "one in a million?"

I could go on and on!


In your classroom, have a song of the week. This can be a simple song like "Open and Shut Them" or as complex as a Katy Perry song such as "Roar". Post the lyrics on chart paper or give each student a copy of the lyrics. Each day sing/read the "song of the week". Talk about a different aspect of the song such as:

  • meaning
  • rhyme scheme
  • the author's message
  • word choice

Be sure to relate your discussion to the standards students need to master at your level. I can't think of a more engaging way for students to practice these skills and strategies!


Check out our YouTube channel Karaoke playlist.

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Starting the Year off with Writing

To get students excited about writing (or anything) we need to begin by tapping into their interests. One way to do this is by having students start the year off with expert journals. Expert journals are small books of paper that students use to record their questions, findings, and information about a topic of their choice. Think of this as an introduction to research!


Students will start by making "no cut" books as their first writing journal. Then students will choose a topic that they want to know more about. Students will then gather books and articles about their topic of choice. They can also watch videos or listen to books about their topic. Before reading, students will write questions they have about their topic. This can be the first page of their journal. They can also "drite" (draw + write) in their journals. As students read (this can be reading the pictures and text features), they will write about what they are learning.


Expert Journals can also become a literacy center later in the semester once students have had some guided practice. This is definitely a student favorite!


Below is an example of an expert journal on tigers made by a kindergartener. He wanted to read and write about tigers for his first expert journal of the year.

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What to know how to make the "NO Glue" books?

If you want a quick tutorial in book making, be sure to watch Kelly on this YouTube video.
Making No Glue Books