The Sorting: Flash Cards & Games for Student Groups
Need to Read Reflection
Prevent Books from Slipping with Mailing Tubes
Lesson Planning Reflection

Library Centers at AASL, 2015

Edie Crook and I presented a session about Elementary Library Centers at AASL. Thank you to those of you who joined us in the IdeaLab and in our concurrent session! We love your enthusiasm for centers and hope they bring the joy, excitement and friendliness to your libraries that they’ve brought to ours!

As we presented at the IdeaLab, the most requested resource was a list of centers. I cannot post the video online because of student photos, but I will transcribe the video and add that list here for you.

Our presentation is below. I hope you enjoy this tour through library centers Edie and I currently do in our libraries and some we hope try in the future.

If you would like to download our new Centers Starter Kit, it is free through TeachersPayTeachers at my store. There is a centers sale currently happening through Tuesday. If you need something from my store, Cari Young’s or Jessica Lodge’s, make sure you stop in before the sale is over!

The Sorting: Flash Cards & Games for Student Groups

I was discussing strategies for assigning students to group with a friend the other day. We were in Target’s Dollar Spot. When I said I used flash cards, she gave me a quick quizzical look. I explained my strategy and told her that she may find it helpful, because she’s starting at a new school. When you know your students well it is much easier to assign them to groups. When you don’t know your students as well, then you need some random student generators.

Flashcards and card games are a great help!


Last year I used a set of Arthur cards all year. They are number cards with three cards per set. One numerical representation, one visual representation (dots), and one written word. When the three cards are put together correctly they make a picture on the back. I used the cards to put students in groups or to decide who got to use the Smart Table first during centers.

This set is great, but I want some steps that will easily divide students into pairs or into larger groups. Here’s what we found at Target.

These Frozen cards can either help you divide students into pairs (each card has a match) or into groups of four (there are six repeated colors in the set). If you start with groups of four (maybe a table group) then students can break off into pairs for specific tasks.


These Finding Nemo cards and the Crayola dino cards are identical sets of four, which is great for dividing students into groups of 3 or 4. Keep an eye on the last few cards you’re passing out and be sure you only have one of each number left, rather than two (leaving a group of just 2). The numbered cards are great if you need to rotate through stations. I usually say something like, “Twos! It’s your turn at the SMART Table!” Once students walk over for their turn, they leave their card in a little basket and then I reset the time. This helps me keep the crowd over there at a minimum. It’s a new resource and very popular. The dino cards would be more difficult to use in this way.












I saved my favorite for last! I love these Dr. Seuss cards because there are two wild cards! If you have an odd number of students and need just ONE group of three, then you can throw a wild card into the deck. The student with the wild card can choose his/her group.

When I saw these and then opened the rest, I thought the wild idea might work for some of the other sets, if you don’t have any groups where you’ll need all the cards. You can easily designate one design as the wild card.

I’m planning to laminate all of my new cards. It will be a bit of work to get them run through and then cut out, but my Arthur cards are really well worn. Even though these cards look good to go, once they’ve been handled once or twice by an entire grade level they start to get grimy quickly.

Need to Read Reflection

Amy B. of Classic Six Books and I challenged each other to get back to blogging. We’re doing it by revisiting an old post for a bit of reflection and also by posting something new during the week. Amy and I are enthusiastic, but flawed, humans. We’re already behind. I say that with a really big smile on my face. Because it doesn’t matter.

I looked at my blog archive and picked the month April 2012 to see what was going on over three years ago. The post “Need to Read” caught my eye. Maybe I’m just drawn to my own failures? I have the SAME problem I had three years ago! I don’t read enough middle grade fiction. Picture books are fairly easy to catch up with by standing in the bookstore for 20 minutes, reading blogs, and listening to others talk about their favorites. Novels aren’t quite so easy. I know about a lot of novels, but I don’t always know enough to help students find just what they need.

Three years ago, I had a stack of specific books to read. Let’s check in to see if I actually read all of these!

And the answer is…no. I did not read all of these.

This year I started reading the Readers’ Advisory Handbook. It was recommended by BJ McCracken during a workshop I attended. I read a chapter about strategies for keeping up with reading. I need to embrace these strategies, such as book walking (reading the covers, flaps, first page, last page, and a random page or two from the middle), as a positive and not as a failing. I’m meeting my needs as a reader by tackling about 250 novels a year and I’m meeting my student readers’ needs by keeping up with blogs about the best books, book reviews, book walking, and reading what I can when I can get to it.

Happy Reading!

Prevent Books from Slipping with Mailing Tubes

RF_mailing_tubes3I’ve lamented for several years about the challenge most of us face keeping fiction novels organized on the shelf. The books can get lost on deeper shelves with inadequate book ends. In a day when hundreds of students are visiting the shelves, popular series of books get moved around, fall down, and hide behind each other. I don’t have shelves with built in dividers (love them! miss them!). Book ends are a constant trial with better ones being used on priority shelves.

A friend, the wise Suzanna Panter, told me that she put mailing tubes behind her books to prevent them from sliding too far back on the shelves, but they were pricey. Getting 70 mailing tubes is more challenging than asking teachers to bring you their empty tissue and shoe boxes. I had also started eying the boxes at Costco and Sam’s. The flat produce ones are great at the back of shelves, but they don’t all match.

RF_mailing_tubes1After discussing the topic once more with a friend said she inherited a collection with paper-covered shoe boxes lining the back of her shelves, I decided to go searching for mailing tubes online. Individually they are about $4 apiece. Too pricey. I started searching for bulk purchases and found some for less than $1.50 each. The trick is finding the vendor with the lowest shipping prices. The first order I tried to total up had shipping exceeding $250! Uline turned out to the best I found from about five searches. I chose 75 4-inch diameter, 36-inch long, mailing tubes. They come in large boxes of 25 each. I could have possibly picked them up from Allentown, PA for a processing fee only (no shipping).


RF_mailing_tubes2When I got the tubes, I packed them into my car for a ride to my nearest radial arm saw. Thanks, Dad! We used a vice to add a stopper to the edge of the saw so that I wouldn’t have to measure and mark each tube. Cutting 75 tubes took me less than half an hour. I cut most of them shelf length, but then cut a few in half and in thirds for the few shelves that have a few oversize books.

In place, these 4-inch tubes are perfect on my shelves! My book ends are effective. There is enough space at the front of the shelves for most of the books. The few picture books that are on the shelves…well, I cheat. I moved them to one end or the other of the shelf and they slide all the way back beside the end of the tube.

Lesson Planning Reflection

RF_unitplansAmy B. and I challenged each other to revisit some of our past blog posts to reconnect with why we love to blog. We have both gotten to be sluggish bloggers. I LOVE to write posts for this blog, but I’ve been in a slump. It’s time to let the sun of summer rejuvenate me. Amy and I agreed to revisit a previous post and reflect on the topic once again and then to write one post with new content later in the week.

One of the first topics that interested me when I started blogging was writing about lesson and unit planning. I continue to find it difficult to successfully record what I intend to teach, plan to teach, and actually teach. I revisited three posts I wrote highlighting my approach to unit planning, sharing those units with teachers, and then writing lesson plans.

Five years ago, I came to the realization that 3-4 week units were all I could mentally handle. That remains true to this day. After 4 weeks the unit is stretched out over too much time, even if I’ve only seen the students for 2 instructional hours. I also feel at loose ends when I hop from week to week and topic to topic. This is a topic I’ve been thinking about for the past two months because I’ve spent a lot of time creating my pacing guide for next year.

I have been faced with different unit planning challenges in the last four years because I see students on a limited rotation and our fixed classes get scheduled about 12 times a year (every three weeks). Continuity is challenging. I’ve taken my grid for unit planning and planned one focus for K, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd that will stretch the entire year. Grades 4 and 5 will have two units during the year. For example, in second grade I will be focusing on nonfiction. I will teach how to find your favorite nonfiction books in the library, how we read nonfiction texts, nonfiction text features, how to use the Visual Search in the Destiny catalog, and do mini author studies of favorite nonfiction authors. In fourth grade we are focusing on accessing and organizing information (searching and note taking) for about 7 lessons during the year and then doing a memoir genre study for 5 weeks.

In 2010-2011 I was diligent about writing “Unit Shares” as a one-page flyer to let teachers know which books we were reading and what skills students’ would be practicing. This is something that I have not done since leaving that school in 2011. Differences in schedules and learning a new curriculum kept me from writing these documents after moving to Virginia. It’s something I might consider to go along with the units on my new pacing guides.

I’m hoping that with these very focused plans that I can keep up with writing lesson plans. I have changed my habits when writing lesson plans. It shouldn’t take longer to write the lessons than it does to plan them. I now keep one document with my lesson plans in a table format. I record the date, classes, learning targets, brief description with assessment and differentiation highlighted, and then a column for notes and reflection. This helps me keep up with plans and it makes it easier to submit to my principal.

Reading these old posts is a great reflection for me. I feel like I’m headed into the next year with a solid instructional plan! I’m including a snapshot of my current draft for my pacing guide. I know I love to read about how other people plan their lessons. If you read these, please keep in mind they are drafty-drafts and not fleshed out with many instructional strategies or complete objectives. In first grade, in particular, my goal is to teach with a lot of visible thinking routines. I may not have matched the right routine to the right text–I still have to read some of the books on our Virginia Readers’ Choice nominee list!








Found Friday: Story Starters for Children’s Book Week

Found-Friday_TwitterChildren’s Book Week is not until May, but I was exploring the website in anticipation of the events for the celebration. I found these great story starters created by various authors. I don’t think they are a new addition to the site, but they are new to me. I can’t wait to use them in library centers this spring!

All of the story starters are portrait oriented traditional starters with lined paper. The exception is Mo Willems, who created a graphic panel layout for his. I think this one will hold the most appeal for my students. I will make a few copies of this one to slide into sheet protectors for students to story tell writing with dry erase markers. For the others I will make consumable copies so that students can take their work with them.


These story starters would be a anchor station to use when inviting a teacher in to the library to explore centers. Give students and teachers a break from their usual writing routine to spark some creativity in the library.

I think these centers would be great companions to add for students to use and explore.

Tall Tale Card Game from Blue Orange. And ooooh, they also have a Fairy Tale version!

Storytelling GamesThere are many kinds of story telling cubes and cards that are now available. I love the ‘original’ story cubes, which has several versions available. For younger students, I love these soft foam ones as well. I’m going to have to get a set of these to add to my collection! Melissa at Imagination Soup blogged about these as well as a few others.

Finger puppets are wonderful for helping students retell stories they already know. Set up a center with some puppets from a favorite story such as The Three Little Pigs and then provide some story variations. Throw in three characters of another kind or an alternate “Big Bad.” Students can use the structure of the story they know

Jess has also blogged about some great writing centers. My students really love the graphic novel fill-ins she mentions!

Library Call Number Scavenger Hunts

RF_callnumberhunt1A year ago I posted about my Where’s Waldo library center where students search the library shelves for Waldo character cutouts. When they found the characters and objects they recorded one call number from a book on the shelf where that item was. After finding all eleven items, students’ names were posted to my “Where’s Waldo Wall of Waldo-Finders.”

I fully intended to move or take down the Waldo search, but it seemed like each week a different group of students started the hunt. It was a center that had a lot of life and vitality for several months, but students only participated once because I never moved the Waldo items.

This year I simplified the call number activity. I just hide one item, a pirate’s treasure, and I move it every other week. This gives students plenty of time to find the object and record the call number. They stay interested in the center by restarting the hunt each time I move the treasure chest and unlike last year students participate in the search more than once.

A friend of mine suggested hiding two objects in the library and having a call number hunt for younger and older students. I think that’s a great idea! It would be easy to designate which item each group is searching for and older students could participate in both.

I don’t usually give prizes for this center. I do prizes for my Question of the Week and Estimation Station. I don’t want to become too prize driven. I just post the answer (a call number range) on the bulletin board for students to check later and staple up all of the tickets of the students who got a correct answer.

I created a set of four call number scavenger hunts available at Teachers Pay Teachers. Students can search for the pirate’s treasure, the banana lost by the monkey, the bone lost by the dog or the fish that jumped out of the bowl. The set includes a direction page and answer slips along with each of the items.


IMWAYR: All the Answers

its-monday-what-are-you-reading-2a798miIt’s Monday!  A delightful January day, if I do say so myself. Let’s celebrate with a day for books! A day for reading! You can catch up with other IMWAYR readers by visiting the blogs of the meme’s hosts. It started with Sheila at Book Journeys and Jen organizes the kid lit version at Teach Mentor Texts. Drop by to see what other bloggers are reading this week.

This week I have been focusing on some of the gallies I have on my Kindle as well as keeping up with the holds that come through from my library account at Overdrive. I keep telling myself I need to stop putting books on hold, but then I see all these great books I want to read.

Tomorrow is the official book birthday of All the Answers by Kate Messner.  Let me tell you, this is a GREAT week for birthdays!! (Sorry about all the exclamation points–it’s just that kind of blog post.) I really enjoyed most of All the Answers. I think the only smidge I didn’t care for was actually perfect for the characters, the plot, and the students that will read it. Perhaps I was just feeling a bit off about it because I didn’t see the ending coming. I didn’t pick up on the foreshadowing so hopefully students will be appreciative of the surprise ending and then will love going back to find the clues. I know I always love doing that with books.


I decided to abandon The Seeker. I might pick it up next week. I think I’m weary of fantasy books that start off on an adventure with a bunch of clues attached only to vague descriptors (i.e., We need to go there to find the thing.). When the characters have more background information but aren’t revealing it to the reader I’m more frustrated than intrigued. This one could have used a bit more world building to keep me reading past the first thirty pages.

I got my first Junior Library Guild box for my new school! For this month I had forgotten to look at the shipment list ahead of time, so I was surprised by the contents. I loved Shooting at the Stars. I have a few students who I can recommend this book to right away.

My coworker in the library plucked Zoo at the Edge of the World out to read after it got returned unfinished by the first student who borrowed it. We’re going to see if we can connect it to the right reader. She reports that the first half is really interesting, but she’s not sure about the talking animals.

There are a few things rolling over from one week to the next (or multiple past week’s to the next). I’m headed to ALA Midwinter this weekend and I know that my list is just going to get longer.  I’m not even going to predict what I’ll get finished this week, but it might be one of these:


Found Friday: Maps

Found-Friday_TwitterIt’s Found Friday! I did some finding this week from some pins I’ve had in mind for awhile and some new ones I discovered. I want to get some map centers added to the library soon. These are some of my top choices!

First up is turning a lesson I did with a small group into a permanent center. Use a book like How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World where students can match an event in the book to a location on the map. Cut out symbols or pictures, laminate, and stick to the map with Velcro dots. Students can match the right picture to the right location. They can also label the map with dry erase markers if you’re using a recycled desk map.


My mom has started using her new sewing machine to embroider the names of each continent onto felt. After I cut out the continents students will be able to build a world map on a felt board. These are two I’ve mentioned before, but I still love them!

RF_FF_continents RF_FF_globe map

I love the idea of this writing center! I’ve had the idea saved for quite awhile, but had forgotten about it. I’m kicking myself for cleaning old maps out of my car and NOT saving them! I should have been a pack rat!


I don’t have much wall space, but I have a shelf end where I think I can put up a map. I’ll start with one of our local area and have students start to find our school, their house, and maybe some things in the downtown D.C. area.


If you can find a state map puzzle with pieces in the shape of each state it will be easy and cheap to create this center.


And finally, I love the idea of these fairy tale maps. I would love to sit and draw one of these! This could be turned three dimensional if you had a good collection of small hobby pieces and small characters or game pieces.


Caption Contest

RF_CaptionContest2Let me start off by saying, “I’m so glad I have awesome friends!!”

I have a running list of center ideas and one of those ideas is “caption contest,” but it has never gone farther than just being on the list. Below, Janelle is going to share about her Caption Contest. It’s a great center for student responses. I like this one because it doesn’t have to be changed weekly. As I’ve mentioned before I have to be really careful about what I commit to as far as weekly contests. I don’t change my centers weekly or even regularly. My Question of the Week is sometimes “Question of the Week After Next.” Right now I’m managing to keep up with the Question, an Estimation Station, and Where’s Waldo (which was planned to be monthly).

Janelle is truly a dream librarian. I want to be her! She’s doing fabulous engaging lessons with students through storytelling, using her SMARTBoard, and now…. a Caption Contest!!! As you can see, she can also draw!! I asked her if I could share her Caption Contest here and she wrote this up for you. I’m now so inspired by her to try my own caption contest and get my students writing and sharing in an authentic way.

I’m always on the look out for new ideas to implement in my library.  A couple of
months ago I purchased a Farmer’s Almanac; partly to see what our winter weather might be like, but also to refresh my teaching skills in regards to almanacs. As I read through the Farmer’s Almanac I was reminded how much I enjoy that particular reference source.  I love seeing new topics every time I turn the page.  One page really caught my attention though.  The Farmer’s Almanac has caption contests.  I thought, “What a great idea!  That would be so easy to replicate in my library.”

The next week I pulled out a package of chart paper, grabbed my markers and crayons and got busy.  I tried to think of images that would be fun and interesting for the children.  I tried to put those images together in a way that would provide an opportunity for a variety of responses.  I enjoy drawing and creating, so this process was cathartic for me.  If you don’t feel comfortable taking on the art work I’d encourage you to find a staff member that would you help out in that department.

I invited the students to participate by simply hanging the chart by my SMARTBoard.  They loved it!  They couldn’t wait to enter their responses even though they weren’t quite sure what the prize would be.  I had hung an image next to the chart that said, “Intrinsic Reward”.  This was a good opportunity for the children to learn a new vocabulary word, and to learn that not every contest will give out a tangible reward.  I also sent the image to the staff via email and invited them to participate in a staff contest.  The response wasn’t as overwhelming from the teachers, but there were a few that really enjoyed submitting their responses.  The very best part of the entire caption contest experience was the moment a
student walked in the library and saw that his caption had been placed on the poster, and his name was written on the bottom of the page.  I wish I had a picture of the look of sheer joy and pride he had on his face at that moment.  He definitely learned the true meaning of an intrinsic reward.  I looked at another teacher when I saw his response and said, “That one moment built more self esteem in that young man, than a dozen compliments from me.”

Here are the two contest images I’ve created so far.  I’m looking forward to seeing what inspiration strikes me for February! RF_CaptionContest1

Thank you Janelle!!! Isn’t she fabulous?? I can’t wait to start a caption contest in my library!