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.

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.


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!

Found Friday: Marble Runs

Found-Friday_TwitterThere are so many ways to create marble runs in your library (or at home with your lovely niece and nephew who really really really need more engineering toys!!!).

I’ve  loved marble runs ever since I got my first set of Frigits. I love these things! I wish they were readily available from a current vendor. At any given time there are usually a few sets on ebay, but they run close to $100 for a set. I haven’t been that willing to expand my collection!

All of the marble runs below are fairly simple and could be made with one of a number of normal household items. What started me on this blog post though, was finding this picture on Flickr a few weeks ago.


It just looks like it would be so much fun to play with! Can you imagine building such a creation?! As I continued my search, I found this great one which is in a cafe, but looks like the perfect addition to any family kitchen. I wish I could find out if these pieces were handmade for this location or if there was a vendor for them. They would be the perfect item for a place like to carry!


If you want to try marble runs in your library as a center, I would suggest these more practical ideas! Also, if you search on Pinterest for “marble run” you will get such a variety of responses that it’s hard to stop scrolling!

I almost can’t decide which kind I want to start with! I think I like the idea of using the paper plates and toilet paper tubes because they would be cheap, easy, and fast to implement.



Over a longer term time frame I think I want to get a magnet surface put up. I don’t have one in my current library and have been meaning to get to it.



I have seen the Lego Wall ideas out there. I don’t have any wall space, but I do have some end-of-shelf space. It would be easy to put up 5 or 6 baseplates and use Legos (once I borrow some from, hopefully, our robotics club).


There’s just so much to do in so little time! And I LOVE looking at the pictures of the “so much to do” ideas! Happy Friday everyone!!!

Found Friday: Apple in a Jar

Found-Friday_TwitterYou remember my obsession with dirt and dead stuff in a tank? Frankly, I’m not sure I’ve let any year pass without at least one project in my classroom or library including one really dirty project.

Tomorrow I’m hosting a really awesome Library Centers event at my library. We’re doing a Make-it-Take-it day. We have worked on grant proposals and shared ideas, but it was going too slowly for me. A few friends and I finally decided we should just ask everyone interested to bring $20 and a sandwich and we would gather for a few hours of assembling centers.

When I found this pin, I knew it would be the perfect center to add to our lineup of centers to make. It is small, self-contained, doesn’t need a lot of supplies, and (most importantly) involves dead things.RF_FF_apple_jar

We’re going to watch an apple rot in a jar in our libraries!  I’m tempted to start a Twitter or Instagram feed with photos of my apple’s status through the year. (Hashtag: Today the Apple Is…) I won’t really, but that’s how excited I am about this simple center!

Inspired by the apple, here are some other pins of dirt or dead stuff that I found and think will be great for library centers. I hope I’ve inspired you to let your library get a little bit dirty!!





Make-it-Take-it Library Centers Part 2

RF_old_lady_jarAt our Virginia fall conference, I set up 15 stations for participants to take away a tangible copy or item for each library center I shared. I’m presenting five in three different posts. You can read about the first five here. Next week, the last five will be posted. Here are descriptions with all the links and resources you need.

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly Retelling

Retell stories with a simple structure by writing story events on craft sticks and dropping them into a container. What makes this story an awesome choice is the Mrs. Buttersworth syrup containers! You can tell the original version as well as all of the spinoffs. It’s a center concept you can get a lot of mileage from.

Would you Rather

This center can be used in a few ways. You can provide students with many Would you Rathers for them to ask each other in a small group. Or, you could post a Would you Rather of the day on a shelf top, by a door, etc. Students can respond verbally or in writing. It would make a great activity for a bit of window or wall space you have available.

Visit Cari Young’s TeachersPayTeachers site for seasonal Would you Rather sets of questions that are ready for you to use!

RF_shadow_puppet_theaterShadow Puppet Boxes

Puppets are a great way to encourage storytelling. I incorporate puppets in several different ways in my centers. My students love finger puppets, so I thought I would try this puppet theater option. The directions are great, but in a school setting the light source is important if you want true shadows to show. If you have a table where it can be darker it would increase the ability for students to see the shadows. I can turn off a third of my lights over the tables, which helps the flashlight do their work.

Reading buddies

Reading buddies are an easy and classic library center. Reading buddies can work in several ways. You can use stuffed animals in any size. I keep a bowl of beanie sized reading buddies out at the center tables. My library also has a basket of large stuffed animals for cuddling. Students take an animal out of the basket, sit down to snuggle, and read their books. I often see students crashed on our bean bag chairs with a stuffed alligator tucked in next to them. I do make sure and wash the animals a few times a year. If you have any chronic problems with lice this might not be the best kind of center to begin.

Books We Are Thankful For!

RF_books_thankful_turkeyI’m not usually a fan of ‘craftivities,’ but I like this one that allows students to recommend books. It also makes a great seasonal display! I originally saw the idea at Ms. O’s blog. (You should really be following her!) You can adapt the activity to other seasons (or wait until November to try this one!). Have students write on hearts for Valentine’s Day, write on bunny ears or flower petals in the spring. There are a lot of great upcoming opportunities.

Make-it-Take-it Library Centers Part 1

Picaria Library Center

Picaria Library Center

At the Virginia VAASL fall conference, I took a risk and presented a different kind of session. I set up 15 stations for participants to take away a tangible copy or item for each library center I shared. The session sort of worked, except the pacing for a session like this wasn’t something I was completely prepared for. I ended up talking a lot more than I had planned. It was a great opportunity to share about the library centers I use, my reasons for centers, and the way I tend to embrace chaos. I am posting links to the blogs and pins where I got the ideas for my centers and links to documents and resources for you to use.
Eyeball Pointers with Simple Texts

Students use eyeball pointers for a one-to-one correspondence with words of a text. For younger students, eyeball pointers are great for alphabet books and letter recognition or for texts they have memorized, such as nursery rhymes. For older students, pointers can be used for syllable definition practice.

Eyeball pointers can be made by gluing a googley eye to the top of a craft stick or by using Sharpie to draw one in. Over time, the eyes tend to disappear, so it’s not a bad idea to draw first and then glue.

I set out my eyeball pointers with a selection of nursery rhymes I typed in large print and then dotted for the Kindergarten students to point to each word. I got the idea from this blog.

Cardboard Sculptures

Students use cardboard sculptures to build whatever they wish. You can provide further direction to the center by providing students with a weekly challenge (i.e. make something that roars, build something that is silly). If you have enough squares available for students you may be able to put some creations on display in a temporary gallery. Students can write captions or stories to go with their creations. Sculptures can be decorated with markers.


Students use this game in pairs. It is a quick game with a pace similar to tic-tac-toe. It’s easy to make and my students love it. I found that while the directions are simple, it is better to sit with students in small groups and model the game when they are ready to learn it. I got the idea from this website.

Where’s Waldo?

Students look for Waldo’s hiding place on one of the library shelves. When they find him (shhh, it’s a secret!) they write down one call number from a book on the shelf where he is hiding. Waldo can be moved regularly and can be an activity students repeat week to week. I’ve got a TeachersPayTeachers product in the works for later in January to share the actual documents for this center. I blogged about my initial idea for Waldo and it’s implementation last spring.

Question of the Week

Students look for the answer to the question using library resources or sources from home. They write the answer and cite their source with the title of the magazine, book, website. I don’t allow “Google,” “my brain,” or “I just know it.” Jessica Lodge and I had a recent Twitter conversation about the Question of the Week and I prefer her rule for answers which is that the answer must come from a library resource. Her students, if they use an online source, use a library database such as PebbleGo, World Book, or Kids Info Bits.

I use an old Book Fair change donation box as my answer collection box. Jess uses “Zoinks” which is made from a small square tissue box. He always looks larger in pictures!

Please visit Jessica Lodge’s Question of the Week package on TeachersPayTeachers for the original set and for her Question of the Week Junior package as well. They are worth the price!!!

I’ll see you next Wednesday with Part 2!


Found Friday: A Dollhouse

Found_Friday_SmallHere’s a true Found Friday! I was perusing all the sites I check out at the end of the day and came across this wonderful picture from Kathy Hoffman, who teaches at Donald Elementary.

RF_FF_dollhousevideosDon’t you love it! Pairing everyday toys that are easy to find with a piece of technology is such a great idea. I love the idea of the stop motion video creation. You should all go and follow Kathy on Twitter and like her Facebook page!

I am going to work on my next grant to get an iPad for our library! I’m inspired! Thanks Kathy!!!