3 Books to Read When You Want to Feel Re-energized about Teaching!

Looking to feel re-energized about teaching? Need a little inspiration?

I’ve got 3 great books to share with you today!

I will warn you—this post includes an odd medley of texts! 🙂

I’ve included a memoir, a professional development book, and a children’s book. While these three texts are very different from each other, they have one important thing in common: they will help re-energize your teaching!

These 3 great books about teaching will help you feel re-energized immediately!

Photo Credits: Tiplyashina Evgeniya, Shutterstock

Note: Amazon affiliate links are included in the images in this post.

1. Educating Esmé: Diary of a Teacher’s First Year (Esmé Raji Codell)

Esmé Codell recorded her experiences as a first-year teacher in Chicago Public Schools in a diary—and published it for us to enjoy!

While my teaching personality is very different from Esmé’s (she makes her students call her Madame, and she roller skates down the hallways), I couldn’t get enough of this book. It’s infused with her bright, idealistic, caring approach to teaching. She faces some real challenges during her first year, but she does some amazing things to get through to her at-risk students.

Parts of it are funny, sad, and heartwarming. Her first year is a rollercoaster, and you feel like you’re experiencing it right alongside her as you read the book.

It’s been too long since I’ve read this one—I think it’s time to read it again!

2. Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning (Peter H. Johnston)

Yes, this is “just a PD book”—but it inspired me in ways that not many books have.

It’s all about how we talk to our students. There is SO much power in our words! Our words affect how our students view their learning, themselves, and the world.

Choice Words is an interesting AND informative read—I highly recommend it.

3. Thank You, Mr. Falker (Patricia Polacco)

This is a children’s book, but I can’t even describe how much I love it as an adult reader!

I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s about a girl named Trisha who struggles with dyslexia. She’s fortunate enough to have a very special teacher, Mr. Falker, who goes far out of his way to help her learn.

If you haven’t read this one…read it now!!

Your Turn

These are three of my favorites—what would you add to this list?

Happy teaching!

4 (Non-Religious) Ways to Celebrate the Holidays in Your Classroom

During the holiday season, students have a WHOLE lot of energy! If you channel that enthusiasm into classroom activities, you can really engage kids in learning.

But what if you teach in a public school and are not able to do Christmas activities? Here are 4 engaging, inclusive ways to celebrate the holidays in your classroom:

Read this post for 4 different ways to honor the holidays in your classroom

1. Teach students about holidays around the world.

Teaching students about holidays around the world has become a tradition in many classrooms. It’s a great way to honor students’ diverse backgrounds and help them understand cultural differences.

Here are some photos from my Christmas & Holidays Around the World Literacy Activity pack. This pack teaches students about holidays celebrated all over the world – not just during the month of December. These materials require no preparation or gathering of books – you just print and teach!

During the holiday season, you can teach students about how Christmas is celebrated in different countries. Click thru to the post to read more ideas about non-religious ways to celebrate the holidays in your classroom!

During the holiday season, you can teach students about how Christmas is celebrated in different countries. Click thru to the post to read more ideas about non-religious ways to celebrate the holidays in your classroom!

Also, last year I created a Symbaloo with sites that students can explore independently to learn about holidays around the world. You can access it here.

Of course, learning about other cultures definitely shouldn’t stop after the holidays are over. It’s easy to fall into a “holidays and food” rut, where we teach students about the holidays and foods of other cultures, while neglecting to present other aspects of the cultures. Here’s a great book list to help you teach students about other cultures throughout the entire year.

2. Focus on the concept of traditions.

When it comes down to it, celebrating the holidays is all about traditions. This is a great time for students to share their family traditions with one another – whether they are related to the holidays or not. Here are some different ways to honor students’ traditions and help them learn about others:

  • Invite students’ family members to speak to the class about their family traditions (holiday or not holiday related)
  • Make a class book – each child creates one page about his or her family traditions (could be done at home or school)
  • Have children interview family members about traditions they celebrated as children

Here’s a FREE template that you can use to have students and their families write about holiday traditions:

FREE family traditions page! Great for the holidays!

3. Use students’ interests to guide learning.

You may not be able to read books about Santa Claus or the Christmas story, but you can still engage students by studying related topics! For example, students might be interested in learning more about reindeer at this time of year. Grab a few books from the library and pair them with my Reindeer Vocabulary Companion Pack:

Reindeer cloze passage

Reindeer vocabulary photo

The kids will be excited to learn about something related to the holidays, but you’ll still be respecting the diverse traditions and religions of your students.

4. Engage students in serving others.

The holidays are a great time to teach students about giving. You might have students decide upon a community service project, like:

  • Collecting pennies for a local cause, like toys for a children’s hospital
  • Holding a class-wide or school-wide food drive
  • Making holiday cards or crafts for residents of a nursing home
  • Singing at a local nursing home or hospital

Having students lead the project lends itself to many learning opportunities – simple research, writing, organizational skills, planning, and even math. To support students in planning their community service project, you can use materials from my K-2 Giving Project Unit:

Poem from The Giving Project, a unit for K-2 students about generosity

How do you celebrate the holidays in your classroom? Do you have any ideas to add to this list? Please comment below!

Happy teaching!

3 Engaging Literacy Activities For Your Community Helpers Unit

I love teaching primary students about community helpers! It’s such a relevant, engaging topic for little ones, and it lends itself to lots of valuable learning activities.

I start out my unit by teaching students about wants and needs. Once they understand the difference, we move on to talking about people who help us meet our needs (i.e. safety, a place to live, etc.). And those people are – you guessed it – community helpers!

Firefighters, police officers, and doctors/nurses help us meet our need to stay safe and healthy. We focus on these three community helpers for the first part of the unit.

Then, student choice guides the additional community helpers we study. I bring in tons of books about different community helpers and jobs, and they get to choose which ones we study in depth.

Throughout the whole unit, we read lots of books about community helpers. I also have students read about community helpers during guided reading, using these books:

During our community helpers unit, students read these leveled books during guided reading time.

Although books are an essential part of any unit I teach, there are tons of other ways to integrate literacy into a unit like this one. In fact, the more I can integrate the unit with our literacy block, the better! The kids get so excited when we study a topic throughout the day – during reading, writing, social studies, etc.

Read on to find 3 types of literacy activities that I use in conjunction with my community helpers unit – you can integrate them into just about any unit you teach!

This post has 3 different activities you can do to integrate a community helpers theme with your literacy block! Click through to read about vocabulary activities, shared writing activities, and more.

1. Vocabulary study and categorization

Learning about community helpers requires students to learn many new vocabulary words! I’ve found that my students best learn and understand new words when they are placed into groups or categories.

The majority of the vocabulary words we learn during our community helpers unit falls into these four categories:

  • Tools (used by the community helpers)
  • Uniforms (worn by the community helpers)
  • Transportation (used by the community helpers)
  • Jobs (tasks or work done by the community helpers)

When we read books and watch videos about our first community helper (firefighters), I create an anchor chart with four squares and model how to place new words into each of those categories.

When we study the second community helper (police officers), students take a more active role in categorizing vocabulary words. The photo below shows a picture vocabulary sort that my Kindergarten students completed with a partner:

Students sorted pictures (matching the vocabulary we studied) into categories during our community helpers unit.

Using this same four-square organizer to study different community helpers enabled students to make connections between different jobs. It also helped them better understand why particular vocabulary words were important to know when learning or talking about community helpers.

When I taught this unit with 1st grade students, we also did a written-word vocabulary sort. I prepared slips of paper with vocabulary words on them. At the end of the unit, students had to sort the vocabulary words by community helper (i.e. placing the word “hose” under the “firefighter” category). This activity is also included in my community helpers unit.

2. Shared writing experiences

I always planned special experiences for my students during our community helpers unit. Although we were not able to take any trips (a fire station trip would have been awesome!), I did have firefighters and police officers come to visit our classroom. I also had my two best friends (who are nurses) visit when we studied doctors/nurses. (Side note: Not only did the kids love getting free band-aids, but my friends thought the kids were hilarious and helped me pick up the entire shelf of toys that two boys knocked over during a visit one year. Win-win-win!)

Anyway, special experiences like field trips or class visitors really lend themselves to shared writing experiences. This is when you compose a text as a class, based upon the special experience. One way to accomplish this is by using the Language Experience Approach (read more about it here).

Something I loved to do with my Kindergarteners after the firefighters’ visit was to create a class book about the experience. The firefighters always showed us how they put on their gear, and I took photos of each step.

Afterward, I printed out the photos for my students and had them tell me how to put the photos in the correct order (a great opportunity for practicing using transition words orally). Next, we did some shared writing. The students worked together to compose a sentence to go with each picture (i.e. “Next, the firefighter put on his boots.”).

When the book was finished, we read it together a few times, and eventually placed it in the classroom library (sometimes I also made additional copies because it was a “hot read”!). The kids just loved being able to see their own words and experience come to life in the book.

3. Independent writing activities

A great way for students to show what they’ve learned (throughout and at the end of the unit), is to have them write about their new knowledge. Young students should also be asked to draw to share their ideas, because sometimes their drawings can reveal more about their understandings than their writing.

There are tons of different, authentic writing activities to incorporate into a unit like this one. One activity I did was to have my students write a book about different community helpers they’d learned about. I instructed them to include some sort of main idea statement at the end of the book, to encourage them to think broadly about what community helpers do / what their importance is in the community.

Students wrote about what they'd learned during the unit in this community helpers book.

Another fun, end-of-unit activity is to have students write about what job they’d like to have when they are older (and to explain their preference with reasons – a great opinion writing activity!). The writing activity below is in Spanish, but it says “When I grow up, I want to be…”

"When I grow up, I want to be..." writing assignment


The next time you’re planning a unit in science or social studies, go beyond readalouds when you’re thinking about incorporating literacy activities! The kids will love the opportunity to extend their learning in a variety of ways.

To learn more about my community helpers unit featured in this post, click on the image below.


Happy teaching!

3 Engaging Questions to Explore During Your Farm Unit

When I taught Kindergarten, my farm unit was a staple each fall! We visited a farm and pumpkin patch every October, so after our friendship unit, we started learning about farms right away to prepare for the field trip.

For many of my students, our field trip to the farm was their first experience visiting one. They could name a few farm animals, but beyond that, they really didn’t understand what a farm was for.

When I began designing the unit, I knew I wanted to go beyond just teaching about farm animals. I wanted my kids to understand how very important farms are to their daily lives. I also wanted my students to use their knowledge about food to make healthy choices.

So I designed a unit that addressed all of these concepts: a farm-to-table unit that taught students about where food comes from, why farms are important, and how kids can make healthy food choices.

Read on to see photos and an outline of our unit activities, as well as the 3 essential questions we explored during our unit!

Ideas, activities, and engaging questions for your farm unit!  Perfect for preschool, K, or first grade.

1. Where does food come from?

Food comes from the grocery store, of course! At least that’s what my kids always told me at the beginning of our unit. 🙂 Some of them knew that milk comes from a cow, but that was about it. During our farm unit, I worked to deepen my students’ understandings about where different foods come from.

Some of the topics we discussed included:

  • Foods that come from plants vs. foods that come from animals
  • How different fruits and vegetables grow
  • Where eggs and dairy products come from
  • How people process crops to make new foods (i.e. bread)
  • How food gets from the farm to our tables (transportation)

I used this sheet to have my students' demonstrate their understanding of where these two foods come from!

A little formative assessment I use to check and see if kids grasp the “farm to table” concept

Learning about where food comes from leads us to our second question…

2. How do farms work, and why are they important?

Another misconception my students had was that farms are places where animals live. They were so surprised to find out that some farms don’t even have animals! During this part of our unit, students learned about:

  • The purpose of a farm
  • Where farms are located (urban vs. rural – download the free Google Earth software to visually show students the difference between urban and rural landscapes, and they will be amazed!)
  • What the role of a farmer is
  • The names of different farm animals and crops
  • The needs of different farm animals and crops (food, water, etc.)
  • Tools farmers use (i.e. tractors)

Farm Unit Images.040

Vocabulary cards from the unit – students practice reading and making these words with magnetic letters

Farm Unit Images.049

A farm plants vs. farm animals sorting activity

Farm Unit Images.054

A page from one of the leveled readers we used during guided reading

After we had learned all about farms, then we explored our last question…

3. How can we make healthy food choices?

All of the units I create have actionable, real-life outcomes. My ultimate goal is for students to be able to apply their learning in a meaningful way.

For this unit, I wanted my students to take their knowledge about food and use it to make healthy choices. I also wanted them to be able to share that information with other children at our school.

During this final part of the unit, students learned about food groups and balancing food choices. The FDA MyPlate website has some great activities you can use when teaching about food groups and healthy eating. The photo below is a cut and paste activity from my unit that uses the FDA MyPlate concept for sorting foods.

This cut and paste activity addresses the food groups, which we also learned about during our farm unit.

After learning about the food groups, students evaluated daily menus to determine if they were healthy or not, and they created their own healthy menus.

Farm Unit Images.124

One of the daily menus my kids evaluated – the checklist in the corner helped them determine if all food groups were included

After learning all about healthy foods and how to make good choices, students took their new knowledge and shared it with others. They created posters with healthy eating tips, and we hung the posters around the school. During the morning announcements, our assistant principal talked about the posters so that other students in the school would take note of them. My kids were always so excited to hang up the posters!!

As you can imagine, learning about all these different topics took quite a while! I usually spent about 6-8 weeks on our farm unit. But all the time we spent was definitely worth it! My students’ vocabulary increased, as did their depth of knowledge about food and farms. Food and farm related topics also popped up frequently in the emergent books that they were reading, so this unit gave them the background knowledge they needed to be successful with the books.

If you’re interested in using the lessons, printables, and centers materials that I used, click on the image below to read more about my farm unit.

Farm unit for preschool, Kindergarten, or first grade!

Happy teaching!

My Life As A Chicken: A Writing Project for Easter or the Chicken Life Cycle

Teaching your students about the chicken life cycle or Easter?

This blog post has a free downloadable activity you can use!

I love connecting the content areas (science, in this case) with my literacy instruction. When I first started teaching my chicken life cycle unit, I had my kids create nonfiction books about the stages in the chicken life cycle. They liked doing this, but the activity only lasted a day or two.

So then I started thinking, “How could I bring more writing into this unit?” And then the “My Life As a Chicken” writing project was born!!

Chicken Life Cycle Writing Project

In this free writing project, students write pretend journals from the point of view of a chicken. Have your kids imagine that they’re tiny baby chicks inside eggs, trying to peck their way out.

You might ask your students…

  • What would you be thinking inside your egg?
  • How will you feel when you finally hatch and see the world for the first time?

My kids’ journals turned out SO cute! And they loved the project because they already loved books like Diary of a Wimpy KidDiary of a SpiderDiary of a Worm, etc. 

If you want to do a similar writing project, you might prep your kids by first teaching them about the stages in the chicken life cycle. You might show them this video of baby chicks hatching. You may want to read aloud Diary of a Worm (Doreen Cronin) or a similar book so that they can get an idea of what diary/journal writing sounds like.

If this writing project sounds fun to you, click on the image below to download it for free!

Included are two different versions of the project (one for younger kids and one for slightly older kids), so you can choose the one that works best for you. If you try it out, I’d love to hear how it goes!

s u m m e r  t i p s

Happy teaching!

Butterfly Symmetry Lesson

Life cycles are one of my favorite topics to teach, and what better time to teach them than spring?  I usually focus on the butterfly, frog, chicken, and plant life cycles, and I integrate literacy and math topics, too.

Learning about butterflies lends itself nicely to teaching kiddos about symmetry!  Watch this short video to see an easy craft you can do to help students understand that a butterfly’s wings have a symmetrical pattern:

After we do the butterfly craft, I ask the kids to talk with a partner about what they noticed.  Then, I reconvene with the entire class to listen to their thoughts, and I introduce the concept of symmetry.  Here are a few additional ideas you could use to extend the symmetry lesson:

In the past, I’ve made symmetry anchor charts with my kids, on which we listed or drew things that are symmetrical.  You can include alphabet letters, shapes, and numbers on this list, as well as classroom objects.  You could even make the anchor chart interactive, like this one from Mrs. T’s First Grade Class.  It looks like she used cut-out shapes and actually folded them to help the kids see if they were symmetrical or not.  Neat!

While browsing Pinterest for more symmetry activities, I found this one from Teaching Tales Along the Yellow Brick Road.  I’d definitely have to model a less complex pattern for my Kinders, but it looks fun!

I found this photo on Education.com.  After creating the popsicle stick halves, you could give one to each child in the class and have them try to find their partners!

If you want to incorporate another craft, how about this darling paper plate ladybug from Cocktails with Mom?!  Another great Pinterest find!

And last but not least…I love teaching math through literature, and here’s a book about symmetry in nature that looks great:

The butterfly symmetry printable handout is from my butterfly life cycle unit.  You can get this and other life cycle units individually, or in a bundle here:
Do you have any other fun ways to teach symmetry?  Please share below!

Happy teaching!

Ideas for a Life Cycles Unit

I love teaching my life cycles unit in the spring!  In this post, I share some of my favorite ideas and resources for teaching animal and plant life cycles.

Life Cycles Image 3
When I teach life cycles, I like to teach the butterfly, frog, chicken, and plant life cycles one after the other.  I encourage the kids to make connections between the different life cycles so that they understand the “big idea” that all living things grow and change.  I start off the unit by having the kids each bring in a baby photo.  I collect them all, spread them out on the tables, and have the kids rotate through the tables like centers.  They try to guess whose baby picture belongs to who!  After we finish the baby pictures activity, we talk about how they have grown and changed since they were babies…both physically and in their abilities to do “big kid” stuff.  Soon after that lesson, we talk about the difference between living and nonliving, and I explain that we are going to be learning about how living things grow and change.  

The next day, I launch into teaching about the butterfly life cycle.  I read The Very Hungry Caterpillar during the first lesson, since most of them have already heard it and already know what happens at the end.  We focus on the butterfly life cycle for about 2 weeks, during which they learn lots of vocabulary, including the body parts of an insect.  Here are just a few of the learning activities and crafts that we do as part of this mini-unit:
My students write down their observations about our classroom butterflies in this journal! I also give them the vocabulary cards to support them with the academic vocabulary.Butterfly Life Cycle Observation Journals 

(The kids use these with the butterflies we have in our classroom and use the vocabulary cards shown above the journal to support their writing)
Butterfly Life Cycle Pasta Craft
Give students this template and have them use q-tips to paint one side. When they fold over the paper, they see the symmetry of a butterfly's wings! 
Butterfly Symmetry Painting
(I have the kids use tempera paint and q-tips to design one side, then fold and see what happens to the other side – read more about how to do this craft HERE)
Kids love putting together these butterfly vocabulary puzzles as a center! They can also use the puzzles to write about the butterfly life cycle.Butterfly Life Cycle Vocabulary Puzzles
I integrate our science unit on life cycles into guided reading with these butterfly life cycle leveled texts!
Butterfly Life Cycle Leveled Readers
After the butterfly life cycle mini unit is over, we move on to the frog life cycle!  One of my favorite things we do during this part of the unit is to make the frog life cycle out of playdough.  I wish I had some photos of this – the kids get really into it!  You can have them work in partners to get them using the vocabulary while they talk about how to make each stage in the life cycle.  Here are a couple of the other activities that we do during this part of the unit:
My Kindergarten and first grade students put together these frog life cycle puzzles and then explain the frog life cycle to a partner!
Frog Life Cycle Puzzles
We use these venn diagrams during our life cycles unit to compare the body parts of a frog and tadpole.
Venn Diagram to compare the body parts of a tadpole and frog
We always sing this so-cute song called “Tadpole Blues” by Peter Combe.  
Okay, so after the frog life cycle part is done, we move on to the chicken life cycle (if I time things right and the holiday doesn’t fall too late, we do this right around Easter!).
I have my Kindergarten and first grade students do this chicken life cycle cut-and-paste activity around Easter! It's also perfect for a life cycles unit or chicks in the classroom.
Chicken Life Cycle Cut and Paste
(As with all the other life cycles, we do cut-and-paste practice – and I have the kids write labels for each picture when they’re finished)
Students sort these animal pictures to show whether they are oviparous or viviparous animals!
Oviparous vs. Viviparous Picture Sort
(Once we’ve learned about the chicken life cycle, we learn about other animals that come from an egg, as well as the terms “viviparous” and “oviparous”)
And last but not least, after the chicken life cycle mini-unit is finished, we move on to the life cycle of a plant (I also hit on plant parts here, too.)   
Have students color in the picture and label the parts of a plant!
Parts of a Plant Color & Label
 To wrap up the whole unit, we do some comparing and contrasting of the different life cycles, and the kids do a final project to demonstrate their learning.  
All of the materials shown are found in this bundle:
The bundle offers the biggest discount, but you can also purchase the units individually:
 And now for some fun, free Internet life cycles links to explore:
– Interactive sequencing game for the butterfly life cycle:  http://www.sheppardsoftware.com/scienceforkids/life_cycle/butterfly_lifecycle.htm
– Time lapse video of the monarch life cycle:  http://www.neok12.com/php/watch.php?v=zX5e6d74677163757b450e45&t=Metamorphosis
– Frog life cycle sequencing interactive game:  http://www.sheppardsoftware.com/scienceforkids/life_cycle/frog_lifecycle.htm
– Video about the life cycle of a frog:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ce5_Vk_yNcY
– Animated video of the chicken life cycle:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQaA2f4eZrA
– Real video clips from the life cycle of a chicken:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsI63OrMEEQ
– Time lapse of a seed growing:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPTJ3qD1ikk&feature=fvwrel
– Plant life cycle sequencing game:  https://jr.brainpop.com/science/plants/plantlifecycle/sequenceorder/
I hope you enjoy the links!  Happy teaching, and here’s to an early spring this year!

The Giving Project

So, did you survive Halloween?  I personally really enjoyed the fact that it was on a Friday this year. 🙂

Now that Halloween is over, I’ve started thinking ahead to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the holidays in general.  It’s always such an exciting time of year for the kiddos!  Unfortunately, I think it’s all too easy for kids to become too focused on the “gifts” part of the holidays.  The media and advertising play a big role in this.  BUT I do think we, as teachers and parents, can definitely do something about it! 

I think it’s important to teach kids about all the ways that people can give to one another.  Giving doesn’t have to involve gifts – giving can include helping people in intangible ways, using kind words with others, etc.  I recently finished a mini-unit that focuses on just that – teaching kids the many ways that people can give to each other.  Read on for some ideas and books about teaching kids how to give, and for more details on the unit!

The unit starts by having kids discuss their prior knowledge about giving (which likely includes giving gifts).  You’ll make a class chart and/or give students a drawing/writing task to see what students believe about what it means to give (at the end of the unit you’ll give the same assignment to see how the kids have grown!).

Then, you’ll use readalouds and writing activities to open kids’ eyes to all of the ways that people give to each other.  You definitely won’t need all of these books for the unit, but here are some of the options that you can choose from:

Books About Giving Tangible Items:
The Mitten Tree (Candace Christiansen)
My Most Favorite Thing (Nicola Moon)
The Elves and the Shoemaker (Jim Lamarche)

Books About Giving Help:
Frog and Toad All Year – “The Surprise” (Arnold Lobel)
The Berenstain Bears Lend a Helping Hand (Stan Berenstain)
My Friend is Sad (An Elephant and Piggie Book) (Mo Willems)
When You Are Happy (Eileen Spinelli)
The Lion & the Mouse (Jerry Pinkney)
A Sick Day for Amos McGee (Philip C. Stead)

Books About Giving Kind Words:
One (Kathryn Otoshi)
Chrysanthemum (Kevin Henkes)
Ish (Creatrilogy) (Peter Reynolds)

Books About Helping the Community:
Boxes for Katje (Candace Fleming)
Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen (DyAnne Disalvo-Ryan)
City Green (DyAnne Disalvo-Ryan)
A Castle on Viola Street (DyAnne Disalvo-Ryan)

In addition to the reading and writing activities, the kids will practice giving to their friends and families through a few different activities.  They’ll make a “helping chain” with ideas about how they can help others:


They’ll also make a coupon book for their families (with ways that they can help out around the house):

After these and a few other activities, they will (with your guidance!) plan and implement a very simple community service project.

By the end of the unit, the kids should have a more complex and complete understanding of what it means to give to others.  

The lessons are great for teaching around Thanksgiving, Christmas, winter holidays, Valentine’s Day – or any time at all!  The unit also includes supplementary literacy materials like a poem, student reader, and reading passage.  Click on the image below to find out more:

Happy teaching!

Community Helpers Unit

I am one happy teacher right now…it’s Sunday night and I don’t have the Sunday night blues!  I’ve got a week of spring break ahead of me!

Before break started, we finished up our unit on Community Helpers.  I’ve taught the unit in both English and Spanish, but this year I taught it entirely in Spanish.

There are so many community helpers that we could study, and I do introduce the kiddos to many of the different jobs in our community.  However, the unit really focuses on firefighters, police officers, and doctors/nurses.  This way, the kids learn vocabulary and more in-depth information.  Better than going a mile wide and an inch deep, right??

Lots of reading and writing activities are included in the unit, and the unit even has leveled books to use during guided reading!  The kids love it when our guided reading books connect to what we’re learning about in social studies.  They also do lots of writing as part of the unit:

Vocabulary is a big part of the unit, too.  I want students to learn the technical terms for the tools, uniforms, and transportation that firefighters, police officers, and doctors use.  Since I teach dual language, it was especially important for my students learning Spanish to have lots of opportunities to practice the vocabulary!  One of our favorite games was “Firefighter Simon Says.”  I had them spread out throughout the room and said things like, “Simon says…climb up a building on a ladder,” and the kids had to act that out.  They loved it!  I guess we were a little too enthusiastic with our “Simon says ‘turn on the fire engine siren!'” because they heard us next door…oops! 🙂  We also played a 20 Questions sort of game.   One student would pick a community helper and the other students would have to guess who it was.  They would alternate asking yes/no questions “Does she work in a fire station?” and guessing the community helper.  

Vocabulary picture sorts were also helpful.  In this sort, they had to cut, sort, and paste pictures that were related to police officers.  The categories were jobs, uniforms, tools, and transportation.  The kiddos also labeled each picture.

I think the kids’ favorite activity was “Community Helpers Memory.”  This game incorporated all kinds of community helpers – not just police officers, firefighters, and medical workers.  The object was to find matches that had the correct vocabulary word and the corresponding picture.  I made them read each word / name the picture on the card for every single card they turned over, correct or not…and it paid off!  By the end of the unit, they were able to read all of the words and really remembered the vocabulary.  

At the end of the unit, students chose a community helper that they wanted to be when they grew up.  Most of my boys chose police officers!  They drew a portrait of themselves as the community helper and also wrote a little paragraph about what they wanted to do as that community helper.

All in all, a good unit.  Even though the photos show materials in Spanish, the exact same materials can be found in my English version of the unit.  Click {here} for the English version, and {here} for the Spanish version.

Time to go revel in the fact that I don’t have to go to work tomorrow!! 🙂

Parts of a Plant & The Plant Life Cycle

This week, we started one of my favorite units – parts of a plant and the plant life cycle!  I usually have the kids grow their own plants as part of the unit, so I really need to get around to buying supplies.  Here’s one of the activities we did this week:

I also wanted to share some of my favorite (free!) online resources for teaching this unit:

Graphics and fonts by Erin Bradley, Jen Jones, and KG Fonts.

– For a sequencing game that has kids practice ordering the stages in the plant life cycle, click HERE.

– For a time lapse video of a seed sprouting (pretty cool!), click HERE.

– For a little video about planting seeds (animated), click HERE.

– For a Dr. Jean song about the parts of a plant, click HERE.

– For a collection of activities for teachers and kids from PBS (with some great videos!), click HERE.

– For plant-themed lesson plans and materials for teachers, click HERE.

If you have any other favorite links, please leave a comment!  And if you’re interested in a complete unit on the life cycle of a plant, click on the picture below.  In addition to lesson plans and no-prep printables, the unit has extra goodies like leveled books (at a PreK-1st grade level), observation journals (if students are growing their own plants), and materials for plant-themed centers.

Here are some photos of the kids working on their parts of a plant worksheets and plant life cycle cut-and-paste:
I love integrating science with literacy, so we always use the leveled books that go with the unit during guided reading:
And here’s one of the kids’ favorite games that goes with the unit:
Do you have any other great plant-themed teaching resources to share?  Comment below!
Happy teaching!

Life Cycle Activities

Spring is just around the corner – I hope!  Here in the midwest, it is feeling a lot like winter (boo), even though spring break is just a week away (yay!).

I’ve been getting together my materials for our upcoming life cycles unit, so that we’ll be all ready when our caterpillar eggs arrive!  I begin the unit by teaching my kiddos the difference between living and nonliving things.  We discuss how living things change throughout their life cycles, and the kids bring in baby pictures to jump start a discussion about how they have changed since they were small.  From there, we move onto the butterfly life cycle, then the frog life cycle, then the chicken life cycle, and finally the plant life cycle.  The unit lasts a good 6 weeks or more, but the time is well spent because the kids really develop their science-related vocabulary and understand the “big idea” that living things grow and change throughout their lives.

Here are some of my kids’ favorite life cycle activities from the unit:

Vocabulary cards:


Lots of graphic organizers:
Printable books, ranging from easy…
…to more difficult:
Printable worksheets and assessment options, like this parts of a plant worksheet:
Crafts, with step-by step directions and photos for easy assembly:
I really do love this unit, and I get excited about teaching it every year!  
Click here or on the picture above to check out the bundle!

Worms Galore!

So if you happened to read this post, you already know that we have been learning about reducing waste in the past few weeks!  We had our grand finale of the unit this week when we set up our compost bin.  Check it out!

It’s basically just a plastic tub with air holes punched in it (thanks, Mr. Lilypad!) filled with dirt.  We put some food waste in it, as well as keep the worms watered daily.  I’ve also read that putting in shredded newspaper is good.

People who are real serious about composting also put things in like tea, egg shells, and try to maintain a certain balance of the foods they put in.  However, my goal was just to teach the kiddos something they can apply to their own gardens at home, so we keep it simple!

Here are some useful links about composting – before I ever brought the worms in, I read a nonfiction book aloud to them about worms, and we watched a few videos about composting.  They were in charge when it came to setting up the bin!


Happy composting!  (And please cross your fingers for me that the worms don’t die / escape!!)