Eliminating Book Checkout from Lessons
My Library Plan Book
TPT Back to School Sale
Teacher Orientation

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!

IMWAYR: Economics Books

its-monday-what-are-you-reading-2a798miIt’s a holiday-day for most school kiddos and their educators. A day for reading! So on today’s “It’s Monday! What are you Reading?” we say “Thank You!!” to those that host the IMWAYR memes. It started with Sheila at Book Journeys and now Jen organizes the kid lit version at Teach Mentor Texts. Drop by to see what has inspired other bloggers who love to read children’s literature!

In my new boxes of books from Follett and Capstone I have been getting this week I received a small batch of books I chose with grant money. I wrote a grant to use picture books to reinforce economic concepts with students. I picked a selection of books for 2nd and 3rd grade to make available for students. In each book I’m adding a Ziploc bag with worksheets in the back that include activities for families to do together. One is a grocery store scavenger hunt, another a ledger for keeping track of small funds, a third a coin-coloring savings tracker, etc. I’m planning to get them translated into Spanish as well. I hope that the pages will be removed at home and used by students and families. The pages will also be available on my school website with information about each book.


Anyhoo, I read all of those books this week and they pushed aside a few others I had planned to get to. I also picked up a few gallies at NetGalley and tackled those.  I did put Rapunzel and the Seven Dwarfs on my list again this week. Last week I read it and liked it okay, but didn’t love it. This week all of my students watched it on TumbleBooks and it is downright hysterical in their read-aloud version. Our library assistant and I crack up every time we hear it!! It was worth a second week on the “I read it!” list! ALA Midwinter is coming soon and I know I’ll be picking up a few goodies to read as well as making a lot of book lists! Before that happens, I want to try and finish off a few of these:


I’m in the middle of a few of them. I’ve been booktalking Princess in Black and Rapunzel’s Revenge to 3rd, 4th and 5th graders all week. I have one more day of booktalks left and then I’m crossing these two off my list. One-Eyed Cat and One Crazy Summer are going to be my challenges. I will definitely get to The Seeker and All the Answers before those two!

One final note… because I figure if you read this blog then you must be okay with some tangents. Just like many librarians and educators, I read a lot. Does any one else struggle with what kind of reading to share? I’m not comfortable putting EVERYTHING I read on Goodreads. In my mind, it’s my professional space where I share the titles that relate to my job. I enjoy reading them and they are not all directly for the students I teach, but they’re in the right realm. I do have a love of YA novels that I would never recommend to my K-5 crowd. Sometimes for book challenges (and here we are in 2015 and many bloggers have set quotas they want to reach) I feel inferior because I have no desire to spend all of my time reading for my students. Posting pictures of my Goodreads list does help me stay on top of some of the new titles and I’m pleased with what I’ve been able to keep up with. I decided I wanted to track all of the books I read just for me as well and decided to pin those to a private Pinterest board. It’s just there for my personal satisfaction so that when the year ends I can look back and see what I truly read and not just what I read that applies to my job. Now I’m really curious how other reading bloggers handle this topic….

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 treeblocks.com 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!!!

Make-it-Take-it Library Centers Part 3

RF_Character_DialogueWay back in November, I presented at our state conference about library centers. We actually got down to the nitty -gritty and made some. Here are the last five of fifteen centers that I presented at that Make-it-Take-it session! The first ten can be found here and here.

Character Dialogue with Discarded Books

Students love to do “fill ins” where they fill in the dialogue for characters they are familiar with. Challenge students who know the text well to create new imaginative scenarios. These work great with pages put in sheet protectors with dry erase markers. You can do this with primary sources, famous paintings, or funny pictures that need captions.

RF_Shape_DominoesShape Dominoes

Students play traditional dominoes by matching the shapes. I love these Shape Dominoes because younger students enjoy creating their own rules to games. These cards are flexible and will allow students to be creative as they make their own games and rules.


This is a new one for me, and one I can’t wait to try! This triangle idea could be really versatile.  Students get a set of a few triangles cut in pieces and assemble them into the correct partnerships. You can use this example and make sets of multiple meaning words or any number of ideas. I thought I might make a set to match a capital letter, lower case letter, and a picture with that beginning sound for my Kinders. They like table puzzles like this.

Animal Measuring Stations

Animal Measuring Stations were one of the first things I made for TeachersPayTeachers. The files could probably use a little bit of revision or updating, but overall I’m fairly proud of them. You can download the Marine Iguana for free and buy the other 7 individually, or all 8 are available in a discounted bundle.

Estimation Station

An estimation station gives students practice at an important math skill. Teachers have said in our staff meetings that our students need a lot more practice with estimating. I believe it translates directly to their ability to be aware of the reasonableness of their answers. They can translate the skill directly to standardized tests by asking, “does my answer make sense?”  RF_marshmallow_estimation


P.S. Full disclosure: I really hate marshmallows! I tolerate them in hot chocolate, which is my winter addiction. And there were 514 in the jar. I know you were wondering ;)