Test Prep and Blog Hop

Giveaway Header ImageTesting season for many school districts is upon us. I would venture to say all teachers and parents of school aged children have opinions about student testing. I don’t think the effectiveness of a teacher should be judged by standardized test scores, but I do love to analyze my student’s test scores and compare to the previous year. I calculate averages of the whole group and look for drops and gains. One year, my class average in writing and mechanics improved 14 percentile points. I analyzed the heck out of my daily routine to figure out how to maintain gains like that. Turns out, two sentence corrections per day (DOL to the teachers out there) resulted in big success.

I noticed a drop in something called verbal reasoning. What did I miss in my curriculum during the year that created a dip in the scores? Categorizing words. My students do well with flat out vocabulary because of all of the work we do with roots and prefixes, but when they have to manipulate and compare words in groups, they were not as successful. This year, I spent more time working with word categories, analogies, and sorting words based on a given criteria. It all relates to building a bigger vocabulary and understanding the relationships between words, which creates better readers and writers.

I do not assign last minute test prep work right before testing but build activities into my daily class routine instead. I have several activity ideas that work well for my students.

verbal reasoning sample 1

Idea #1

  • Add a reasoning type question to daily language warm-up activities. I complete two sentence corrections a day, and I added an additional section to my bell ringer activity. The students complete an analogy, choose a good title for a group of words, or complete some other “word work” problem. The students complete the activity in their daily journal (a black and white composition book), and we correct together. The students see the correct answer as soon as they finish their work, and since we have a small amount of practice every day, it does not turn into a cram session. It becomes part of the students’ routine and builds a thinking habit. Click DOL and Verbal Reasoning Bell Ringer Samples to see more.

DOL verbal reasoning

Idea #2

  • Add synonym, analogy, word category, and word relationship questions to weekly vocabulary and spelling tests. Students become familiar with these type of questions and analyze how words fit together on a regular basis rather than seeing it one time during the school year– right before testing.

synonym test sample

Idea #3

  • When completing writing assignments, look for words that are repeated often. Generate word lists in the margins of writing assignments that could replace any repeated words (it’s basically a synonym list or personal thesaurus). When students edit the writing assignment, discuss which words are stronger or weaker. Rank the words in order of importance. Determine why one word might be more appropriate than another. My students just finished writing their American business research essays. The students used the word, business, many times in the essays. We brainstormed a big master list of other words we could utilize (organization, company, group, shop, restaurant, store). We discussed the difference between words like restaurant and store and why one student might use restaurant (the person researching McDonald’s), and one person might use store (the person researching Krispy Kreme). Students should be aware of the connotations different words create.

I compiled some of my verbal reasoning practice questions into a test prep product on TeachersPayTeachers. CLICK HERE to see my Verbal Reasoning Test Prep product.

Giveaway Information

Enjoy a good book and relax after a busy day of testing or buy a new read aloud for your students to enjoy during the testing days. Enter my RoomMom giveaway for a $25 Barnes and Noble gift card by CLICKING HERE. Giveaway ends March 1, 2015.

barnes and noble gift card

Click the NEXT STOP button and continue through the Warm Up and Chill Out Blog Hop for additional student testing tips, ideas, and resources as well as opportunities for more prizes to get you through this last part of winter and testing season. Prizes offered at various stops include a Starbucks gift card, Panera Bread gift card, Dunkin Donuts gift card, Amazon gift card, and great teacher materials.

Next Stop Image

 

Weeknight Dinner

tomato soup and grilled cheese dinner

My weeknight dinner efforts are fair at best. Everybody is worn out by the time we make it home and roll through the door. We have many cereal and scrambled eggs nights (much to TheRoomDad’s frustration). One weeknight dinner I can handle is tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. I usually have all of the ingredients on hand even if I have not been to the grocery store, and it takes minimal effort and time to prepare. We ate tomato soup twice last week with toasted sandwiches in the panini maker.

tomato coup ingredients

Ingredients

  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 c. canned, diced tomatoes
  • 1 T. fresh basil leaves, minced (or 1 t. dried)
  • 1-2 c. chicken stock

tomato soup carrot and onion

Directions

  • Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the onion begins to soften (~5 minutes).
  • Add the diced tomatoes and basil. Simmer about 10 minutes.

tomato soup heating

  • Add 1 c. of chicken stock. Return to a simmer.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
  • Using an immersion blender (or regular blender), puree carefully until smooth.

tomato soup pureed

  • Taste and add salt and pepper if desired. Reheat if needed before serving.

Notes

  • If you do not have whole carrots, dice a handful of pre-cut carrots sticks if you have a bag of the snack carrots in your refrigerator.
  • You can replace the basil with thyme.
  • We like the soup with grilled cheese strips an/or Goldfish.

tomato soup and grilled cheese strips

Brownie Fix

caramel brownies side view

My caramel brownies are not the only reason TheRoomDad wanted to marry me, but the chocolatey, gooey goodness is definitely a contributing factor. This is the best Valentine’s Day sweet treat I know, and in the early years of our courtship, I baked a batch of these brownies every Valentine’s Day and some birthdays too. Until yesterday, it had been many years since I served them. My kids don’t remember ever eating them! What was I thinking?

I got the recipe from one of my mom’s friends when I was about nine years old. For years, I have been under the impression that we were a privileged few who had access to the secret. Then, I did a Google search. Damn. It is not a secret. Since my recipe (and many spin offs) are available online, I am going to go ahead and share the version I use.

caramel brownies ingredients

Ingredients

  • 1 11-oz. bag light caramels, unwrapped
  • 2/3 c. evaporated milk, divided
  • 1 box German chocolate cake mix
  • 2/3 c. margarine, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1 c. chocolate chips (~6 oz.)

Directions

  • Combine caramels and 1/3 c. evaporated milk in a double boiler. Stir until melted and set aside.

caramel brownies melted caramel

  • In a medium bowl, combine cake mix, melted margarine, and 1/3 c. evaporated milk.

caramel brownies batter mixed

  • Press 1/2 of the dough in a greased 9″ x 13″ pan. Bake at 350 degrees for ~6 minutes and remove from oven.

caramel brownies bottom layer

  • Sprinkle the partially baked dough with chocolate chips.

caramel brownies w choc chips

  • Spread the melted caramel over the chocolate chips and gently spread evenly with a spatula.

caramel brownies spread caramel

  • Crumple the remaining dough over the caramel layer.

caramel brownies top layer

  • Bake an additional 15-18 minutes.
  • Remove from oven. Let cool and cut into squares to serve.

caramel brownies finished in pan

Notes

  • If you don’t have a double boiler to melt the caramels,  use a metal mixing bowl on the top of a pan of water as a double boiler. The caramels can also be melted with the evaporated milk in a microwave. Heat in 45 second increments stirring at the end of each time until the caramels are melted completely.

caramel brownies stack

Candy Prescription

RX Valentine Class Set

We could have bought a box of pre-printed cards to give to classmates for Valentine’s Day, but that would not have been complicated or original enough for my tastes. I had multiple suggestions like Paper Fortune Cookies and Button Paper Clip Bookmarks, but Mr. Star Wars and Miss Priss were having none of it. They just wanted to give a snack size bag of Valentine M&Ms or a box of candy hearts with their name written on the back in Sharpie pen.

We compromised. I cooked up these little Valentine “medicine bottles” that are filled with mini M&Ms. We printed stickers that looked like prescription labels. The labels say, “Heart Medicine” and have a use by date of 2/14/15. I got the satisfaction of a homemade, crafty Valentine, and my kids are happy because it involves candy.

RX Valentine supplies

Materials

  • Mini plastic bottles with lids (I used Bead Landing 6.3″ x 5.3″ x 1.4″ bead storage jars, sold in a box of 30)
  • Mini candies (mini M&Ms, Chiclets, candy coated sunflower seeds, Tic Tacs…)
  • Avery return address labels (2/3″ x 1 3/4″, template 5195)
  • funnel and teaspoon for filling bottles (optional)

Directions

RX Valentine labels

  • Fill each bottle full with candies.
  • Put lid on and tighten.

RX Valentine Chiclets

  • Wrap the label around the jar. The bottom of the label should line up with the base of the jar to help adhere it evenly and not overlap with the lid.

RX Valentine 3 Samples

Notes

  • I bought the plastic bead jars at Michael’s Crafts.
  • The glass jar with the cork lids that I use for many American Girl projects would be a great little bottle for these Valentine gifts. I get the jars with the cork stopper at Hobby Lobby.

XO Happy Valentine’s Day (almost).

RX Valentine finished

Poetic Inspiration

concrete poemMy fourth grade students are preparing for the annual Valentine’s Day Poetry Slam showcasing original student prose. I have this fabulous music teacher at my school who enthusiastically embraces this project every year and helps me organize the event. I used to hate to read, teach, discuss, analyze, or create poetry because my memory of studying it as a child is not filled with sunshine and chocolate. My short stint as a high school English teacher did not improve the situation. In fact, many schools handle poetry in such a dry way, we all have a bad taste in our mouth when it comes to poetry.

In the last few years, my view has changed. Poetry can be fun for students and offer a creative way to express feelings students might not share otherwise. I have also started to realize how much poetry enhances other areas of language study.

  • Many poems typically follow a pattern of some kind. There might be a rhyme scheme. Rhyming words reinforce spelling patterns and expand vocabulary. Authors might repeat words or phrases in a specific order to emphasize an idea. Identifying a repetitive word pattern demonstrates a writing style that a student can emulate in their own writing.
  • The repetition of letter sounds draws the attention of the reader to the beginning, middle, or ends of words, which supports spelling instruction. The easiest letter sound repetition to find is alliteration. In the fourth grade, I never teach assonance because I just can not bear using the word with a bunch of ten year olds.
  • Figurative language requires some brain power. A student has to activate background knowledge to interpret expressions that are not literal. When Emily Dickinson tells us that hope is the thing with feathers, students have to translate the thing with feathers to a bird and then compare the bird to hope by tapping into a vocabulary bank for the various meanings and applications of the word, hope. Without critical thinking, the poem’s message would be lost.
  • Poems use words in a creative way. Students often follow the same subject followed by verb sentence order when they write. Poems show how we can have flexibility in our writing.

Poetry can be intimidating for kids, so I started breaking down different poems and types of figures of speech into simple activities to help students create their own poetry.

  • Take a poem you love with many lines that repeat and replace with ideas from your own life. I like to use the first stanza of “Love That Boy” by Walter Dean Myers.  My students keep the beginning of most of the lines and develop their own simile (so I get to teach simile at the same time). My son, Mr. Star Wars, is actually in one of my language arts classes this year and his “Inspired By” poem made me cry. (He does not know I am reprinting his poem here.)

love that teacher poem

  • Give each child an object. I like to choose an object from nature like a cloud, mountain, tree, flower, sunset, or ocean. Have the kids write five sentences about the object, but each sentence must use personification. The cloud could offer comfort. The mountain could glare down at you. The flower could dance. The students list the five sentences to create a poem.

personification activity

  • Provide three categories for students. They could be categories like sports, food, or animals. The students choose a topic like basketball, ice cream, or dog for each category and then generate a word bank to go with the topic. The students go through the word bank and group words that start with the same letter sound. The student also attempt to add words that have the same starting sounds as words that are already in the word bank. Using words with similar sounds to create alliteration, students organize the words into lines of poetry. Voila! Instant poem. (Hint– onomatopoeia words work well with this activity too.)

Many authors have started writing books that center around poetry but are presented in novel(ish) form. They are fast reads and good stories. Here are a few titles that I like.

  • Love That Dog and Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech
  • Gone Fishing by Tamera Wissinger
  • Word After Word After Word by Patricia MacLachlan
  • Emily by Michael Bedard (picture book)

Have some fun writing a short poem this Valentine’s Day!

I have more poetry ideas for the classroom in my teacher store. Click HERE and HERE.