Monday, October 10, 2016

Word Problems: It's All About the Relationships {and great FREEBIES!}

Heeey you  awesome teacher friend!
I have told you a million times: I am NOT a math person.
Not at all.
I  am an avid reader.
And learner above all.
Oh and I want the best for my students.

Year after year, I look ...
I read...
I find ways...
I reflect.
About word problems.
I know you do too.

Do you feel that when you think you have done a good job teaching word problems, then your students start guessing the heck out of the answers?
Lord have mercy on my soul.
I know you can relate.
It almost seems like my efforts have been in vain.

In NC we have a document  released by the state in which the clear distinctions among the problems are made. You can find this document HERE!
There are also clear distinctions between the kind of of problems that  our students need to master by the end of Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade.

My students struggle every year with word problems. And every year I make an effort to go out of my way to teach them (and make sure that they have learned) different ways to solve them.
I am a firm BELIEVER in the gradual release of responsibility model.
Do you remember your professors in college talking about it? They were not kidding.
Well here's a picture, just in case you are a visual learner like me.

It all begins with showing the kids how "I do it."
Well, if I want to show the kids how "I do it," might as well know the how and why. Right?
I mentioned before that there are different kinds of distinctions among the word problem types.

Wait. What?
Problem types.

They are called CGI word problems. The research behind the problem types is clearly outlined on
Children's Mathematics ~ Cognitively Guided Instruction (or CGI)

Yes, I know. What a geek.
#Notageek #IjustlovewhatIdo
As I am reading this book, there were 4 guiding principles that TRULY made me aware and reflect about the way I teach word problems.

Yes. Obviously. Duuuh. Four different types of word problems.

Was I teaching my students to identify the relationships and actions in word problems?
Are you?
How to go about it?

Classifying. Relationships. Actions. Described in problems.
Drop mic.

And how come I am able to teach text structure in reading, and I was neglecting text structure in math?
Huge light bulb moment teacher friends.

So let's go back to the gradual release model.
These are  some of the anchor charts that I  have used  this year to introduce different types of word problems in whole group lessons during our math workshop time.

I color code to show my students the relationships in number bonds, bar models, number sentences, and actual sentences. Labeling everything, plays a VERY important part in conceptual understanding.  I make sure to teach my students that the number sentence comes with  understanding. We must understand before we actually figure out a "plus" or a "minus."

Bar Models

So what are the type of  word problems and what kind of strategies can we teach our students?
I really believe that there is not right  or wrong way. Our students come to us already with a great deal of experiences.
Or not.
 I do believe, however, that there are ways that make my students' understanding deeper, like bar models or number bonds.

I made this set of posters for my classroom, but more importantly for my students. These posters give us a visual, a point of reference, and a starting point to learn how to identify (and see) RELATIONSHIPS.

You can grab them for FREE by clicking HERE!! {There are 11 posters in 

So, why are word problems so hard for kids to solve?
We have to help them change the mindset of looking for the answer first. These are the set of steps that we follow in order to avoid looking for the answer  first:

1.Read the problem
2. Identify the who and the what (We label and color here)
3. Draw unit bars with the help of manipulatives (Connecting cubes win by a landslide)
4. Reread problem, double check for information, adjust the bars. (This is why connecting cubes are better)
5.  Decide on the question mark. (Label and color the question)
6. Work the number sentence out (see? this is towards the end)
7. Write a sentence to answer the question mark.

I really need to make an anchor chart with these steps and keep it up the whole year. These are the steps recommended by Singapore math experts. They are the bomb.

Let's go back to the gradual release.
I have already told you about the "I do."
I made these Color, label, cut, and paste mats to do during small groups during guided math. This is the "we do" part. It takes time and patience. The a-ha moment is priceless.

For the "you do it together" and " you do it alone",  I ask my student to apply their strategies learned from the "I do" and "we do" stages by using task cards.
Simple and effective way to check for understanding. Hello formative assessment.

So what's next?
Word problems are hard to understand. They make an important part of our classroom. As of recently, I have created a problem solving corner, where I hope that my students can see themselves as true problem solvers and mathematicians.

I hang posters with problem types that we have already practiced over and over.

There are connecting cubes, base ten blocks, coins, shapes, counters, and many other things in our problem solving corner. I hope to add more supplies based on observations and the suggestions of my students.

I continue to look for literature that supports problem solving in Math. Let me know if you have a fave!

Just in case you are interested in these activities, you may check them out from my TPT store.

You can learn more by clicking HERE!!

Thank you for reading teacher friends, I hope that you found this post useful.
Until next time!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Seven Great Activities for Charlotte's Web


We just finished reading our Charlotte's Web as a class before the end of the first nine weeks of school. I feel that this is the most beautiful read aloud ever. Year after year, my students absolutely love the characters and they love this sweet story of friendship and kindness.

In the past I have moved from read aloud to read aloud without any further ceremonies. 
This year, and in the future, I want to celebrate every single read aloud and show my students how we can take a piece of literature and make it ours.
Last Thursday we celebrated in a big way and I really wanted to show you all what we did.

On the eve of Charlotte's Web Day, I asked my classroom parents if they could come and help me get the spider web words and the "salutations" banner up. I had to leave somewhat early to get my sweet N from middle school.
While I was doing the read aloud, I went in depth about the vocabulary and the meaning of the words that Charlotte weaves to save Wilbur. So I felt it was just about right to hang the words around the classroom. Luckily we found some fake spider web to hang the words! 

We also created this great "some class" bulletin board. I wrote the kids' names on little pieces of paper and  let them pick one at random. Once they had picked one name, they wrote about the friend that they picked. Opinion writing from the heart!
They wrote the most beautiful things about each other.
Made me cry.
After they wrote,  they got to assemble a spider for each other as well.

I also made posters with memorable quotes for display.  I had the classroom parent crying too.

We also completed this craftivity where we analyzed the characters of Wilbur and Charlotte. We also reviewed theme and author's message with it!

You know how at the end of the story, Charlotte's babies (the balloonists)  fly away from the barn cellar? Well, I  figured that we could have a STEM activity where we help the baby spiders land safely. We made parachutes using ribbon, Dixie cups, paper towels and other things.
They completed a STEM mat where they recorded their attempts and illustrated their prototypes.

Towards the end of the day we had spider eggs and Wilbur's brew. Yum!!!

At the end of the day I handed "Charlotte's Web" awards. Just like  Wilbur won a special prize at the  fair, each student received a special award that tied them to a special character in the story.

We had a grand time.
I cannot wait to finish our second read aloud and celebrate!

Just in case you are interested in doing these activities with your students, they are available in my TPT store. They are perfect for any time of the year!

You can get it by clicking HERE!

Thanks for reading teacher friends, until next time!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

How to Throw a Book Tasting For 2nd Graders

Teacher friends
Desperate times call for desperate measures.
A couple of weeks ago one of my students came back from the school library with a board book.
Yes, a board book.  And don't get me wrong here. I want to empower my readers and let them choose what they want to read. But I also want my readers to challenge themselves and tackle grade level stuff. After all, there is a standard that requires us to address text complexity, right?
This is one of my most capable and skillful readers.
The next day he came back from the library with a Jack Sparrow book with a lexile level of 1070.
Yes, that is about a 7th grade level. I mean thank you for trying to challenge yourself, but 7th grade?
Speak of desperate.

I have told you all before how my school librarian, Mrs. Parker,  is the best librarian in the history of librarians.
And I mean that.
So I went up to her and told her how most of my students were not making good book choices.
And then she asked:
-Well have you shown them what series are available?
Umm no.
- Have you had a series of "just right books" lessons with them?
Umm yes.

We both came up with the idea of a book tasting event based on something that we saw on  Pinterest.
We set a date and divided on things to do.
This is what she did:
  • Decide on a genre
  • Look for 6 different series or authors who have several books out
  • The series picked needed to be within the 300 and 500 Lexile levels
  • She also  made the tasting plates

This is what I did:
  • Make props like tasting cards, a menu, and a selection sheet for students
  • Make label for trail mix
  • Get donations from parents in terms of snacks, tablecloths, and disposables.
  • Set up a parent volunteer who could come and help us on the day of the tasting.

These are some pictures:

Click HERE to download this book tasting menu. And BTW I made this menu using Canva.

Mrs. Parker decided that for our first tasting, the flavor of the month should be realistic fiction. So we made realistic fiction trail mix! 
My sweet DBo (My  former and talented assistant made the labels) you can download them by clicking HERE!

Each student got a book sample slip. After Mrs. Parker introduced each series, the students walked around the library and took a taste. After the taste, they would circle YES or NO to show if they liked it or not. Each student was also required to make a final choice. To get this sample slip, please click HERE!

All in all the kids had an absolute blast! The activity was different, enlightening, funny. Mrs. Parker has a gift for engaging audiences.

Mrs. Parker created the tasting plates. She wrote a blurb... we are are becoming true expert blurbologists.

In order to get a copy of the series-snack labels, please click HERE!!


Of course not everything was rainbows and fairies.
At the end of the day, we got back together and touched base on a couple of things before we throw our second book tasting event around Halloween time.
These are the changes that we will make:

  • No food on the tables. We noticed that some students were more focused on getting snacks than anything else. We will still keep the trail mix in a bag, and the students will get to take it home to families to discuss the contents and what they have learned.
  • We will both dress up for the second book tasting.

I still have a couple of students who are not making good choices. And I am still reflecting on how to  help them get hooked on a book they love. Hooking kids on reading takes time, and that is OK. 
I would love to hear your suggestions and the things that you do in your classrooms to reach every reader.
Thank you for reading teacher friends, until next time!