Classroom Library Checkout System

I am testing a new classroom library checkout system this school year. I printed fun bookmarks with student faces. Students will slide their bookmark into the empty space when they borrow a book from my classroom library shelf. The bookmark shows me the specific student who has a book, and the students know exactly where the book needs to be returned.

Create personalized bookmarks and use as placeholders in your classroom library when students check out books

I have used a variety of checkout systems in my classroom through the years. I had sign out cards. I asked students to write the book name on a board in the back of the classroom. I had a personal file card system. When I assessed my library checkout system for this year, I realized I only cared about two things. I wanted to know which students had a book. And, I wanted students to put the book back in the exact same spot where it started.

Create personalized bookmarks and use as placeholders in your classroom library when students check out books

Classroom Library Borrowed Bookmarks

  • Take individual student pictures. Each student poses with a favorite book or a book they think looks interesting.
  • Insert the pictures into THIS SIMPLE POWERPOINT TEMPLATE. Each slide has three rectangles to serve as the base of the bookmark. The photos are positioned across the end of the rectangle and cropped to fit the width of the bookmark template.
  • Print the bookmarks on cardstock or heavier paper.
  • Using a paper cutter, separate the bookmarks on each page along the black outlines of the rectangles. Let students cut around their heads at the top of the bookmarks. You can also do this step yourself if you don’t trust your students not to cut their heads off! Another option is to add a label with the student’s name or have students sign their name in the white space below the photo.
  • Laminate the cut bookmarks for added durability.
  • Keep the finished bookmarks in a cup for easy student access. For my sixth graders, I added a strip of magnet tape to the back, and the bookmarks hang on a magnetic white board in the back of the classroom. When a student wants to borrow a book, the student pulls the bookmark and slides it into the book space on the shelf. Having the personalized bookmarks in view helps me see who has a book and who does not. I’m more likely to ask about their reading status when I see the bookmark reminders.
Create personalized bookmarks and use as placeholders in your classroom library when students check out books

I have made a mental list of all the things that could go wrong with this checkout system, but I think it is worth a try. If I have to abandon the borrowed bookmarks, at least each student will have a personalized bookmark to take home.

If you need more book motivator ideas for your language arts classroom, you might like THIS INDEPENDENT MONTHLY READING program. Or, if your students need help with book genres and general library skills, try THIS RESOURCE.

Help Students Annotate Literature

A few years ago, I implemented a middle grade reading strategy to help students annotate literature more effectively. We kick off the year reading short stories in my 6th grade classroom. The group typically has not had much experience marking and highlighting fictional reading passages. So, I started printing short lists with key words and ideas. Each student receives a “What’s Important?” list prior to starting each story.

Annotating Literature

We review the list briefly, so students will take note when they see items in the reading passage that might be significant. The lists do not include items that would reveal a surprise ending or give away a big plot twist, but they are intended to help focus reading. For example, a list might have a general item like, “mark similes and metaphors.” Or, it might have something more specific such as, “highlight references to eyes.” Eyes come up a lot! I once had a teacher in a high school literature class tell me alarm bells should go off in my reader brain every time I see gardens and/or flowers on the page. If you read Shakespeare, that is definitely true– flower references are key.

Annotating Literature

4 Tips to Help Annotate Literature

  1. With brief reading assignments like a short story, create and pre-print the list for the students prior to reading. Focus ideas I typically ask students to find are descriptions of the main character, a specific figure of speech that is emphasized in the story– often similes, and one important word or idea. I mentioned the idea of eyes above. Other items might be weather, a special object a main character has, or a detail related to the setting. (CLICK HERE to see my short story resources that include these lists).
  2. If a short story is only 1-2 pages, we read through the story one time without stopping, analyzing, or interrupting. Then, as a whole group, in reading circles, in pairs… students review the list while re-reading the story a second time and annotate key features and quotes.
  3. When students mark the text, use different types of marks. Circle key words, highlight figures of speech, underline a quote with a specific symbol in it, and put stars or arrows in the margins. Use a variety of eye catching annotations and colors. I am not sure about your classroom, but my students have pencil cases overflowing with colorful pen options, so they actually like this task.
  4. For longer texts such as a novel unit, do not pre-print a list. Read a few chapters with the group and then begin keeping a list of ideas the students believe are important. For example, in The Giver, students begin to recognize references to pale eyes or the use of capitalization for things that are typically common nouns. Start tracking those items as the reading continues. In Where the Red Fern Grows, students comment early on about how often Billy cries. We immediately added that to our list and started notating scenes and quotes where Billy shows emotion. Because these types of sections in the story were marked, students created much more thoughtful essays when they later analyzed a theme from the novel (CLICK HERE to read about the theme activity).
Annotating Literature

By providing lists for shorter reading selections and then scaffolding students to build personal lists with longer texts, the learners will begin to identify essential ideas in literature independently. Rather than giving a blanket direction “to mark important things,” offering a prepared list helps students build this essential reading skill. Now that my own children are reading higher level texts in high school, I can see the importance of analyzing literature efficiently.

Daily Language and Spiral Review

Teachers have been using daily language and spiral review for years. It’s the way I start language arts class each day because it gives the students an opportunity to master different grammar and literacy skills. I watch for common mistakes on weekly grammar, vocabulary, and literature assessments and wrap those back into my daily bell ringers. We correct the 2-3 questions together and can review many skills without needing a full lesson. Daily language prompts are great reinforcement for students who have demonstrated mastery and a chance to build confidence in those students who still need more practice.

Originally, I bought a daily language review workbook from an established education publishing company. The daily questions typically focused on spelling and writing mechanics. I don’t think the effectiveness of a teacher should be judged by standardized test scores, but 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 (the daily language practice) 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 that sub-set of scores? Categorizing words. My students do well with flat out vocabulary because of all of the work we do with ROOTS AND PREFIXES. When they needed to manipulate and compare words in groups, they were not as successful. So, I started changing my spiral review routine to match the needs of my students. I incorporated questions that dealt with word categories, shades of meaning, and analogies along with the mix of standard proofreading and spelling corrections. In addition, I added writer’s craft questions.

Daily Language and Test Prep

4 Ways to Maximize Daily Language and Spiral Review

  1. DAILY QUESTIONS: Add a reasoning type question to daily language warm-up activities. Complete two sentence corrections a day and mix in an additional question style to the bell ringer activity. Complete an analogy, choose a good title for a group of words, or complete some other “word work” problem. Correct and discuss as a group. It becomes part of the students’ routine and builds a thinking habit. To download a week’s worth of free daily language questions I use, CLICK HERE.
  2. WEEKLY TESTS: Incorporate 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. I compiled some of my verbal reasoning practice questions into a test prep product for purchase HERE.
  3. LONGER ASSESSMENTS: Include a short reading passage on literature and social studies assessments. Choose a paragraph or article that is related to the content of the test but is something the students have not seen. For example, on my mythology tests this year, I would add a different version of a story that we had read as a group. After reading the new version, the kids would have to answer multiple choice questions about the content of the reading selection as well as questions about style, main idea, theme, and various literary elements.
  4. WRITING ASSIGNMENTS: When completing writing assignments, look for words that are repeated often. Generate lists in the margins that could replace overused words. Basically, create a synonym list or personal thesaurus. As 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. Students should be aware of the connotations different words create. THIS RANKING WORDS paint chip activity can be a great way to get kids thinking about shades of meaning.

A daily warm-up activity maximizes teaching time, provides effective review to boost skill retention, and establishes consistent routines in the classroom. Daily language is one piece of my language curriculum that I never eliminate as I refresh my teaching plans for the new school year.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day Activity for the Whole School

We are in the middle of finishing a Martin Luther King Jr. Day Activity for the whole school. My elementary school is creating a collaborative display in honor of MLK Jr. that involves kindergarten through eighth grade. At the beginning of the week, my sixth grade class made a presentation about Martin Luther King Day during our school assembly. We included some general information about Mr. King. Then we asked the students if they knew the way Ronald Reagan and MLK are connected. We shared the fact that Ronald Reagan was the president who signed the bill creating the federal holiday we have today. That connection between the 40th president and Martin Luther King Jr. kicked off our schoolwide activity.

Martin Luther King Day Activity

If you need a MLK Jr activity that works for elementary and middle grade students, give each class a topic that relates in some way to King. The goal is to have each class create a path from their topic back to MLK. Students need to read various articles or books to find the connection. The groups discuss any gathered information and identify the ties between the man and the topic. The information is written on cards that are pinned on a display board. Position the display in a common area at the school. Our display board is almost finished, and my school is so excited about all the connections we can see between a wide variety of people and places. It clearly illustrates ways Martin Luther King impacted others.

Steps to Organize the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Activity

  • Create a list of topics. The list should include very basic topics like Atlanta, Georgia (MLK’s birthplace) to more difficult topic like Elvis Presley (he recorded a song in memory of MLK). For a sample list, CLICK HERE.
  • Gather articles and books that will help with information for each topic. I wrote THIS GENERAL BIOGRAPHY that provides ideas for several of the simpler topics. For the more advanced topics, complete Google searches with the keywords, “MLK” and the topic name. When you find an article, print a copy. My school library also had a good section of picture books and biographies for younger readers. Below is a list of a few we used.
    • Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport
    • A Place to Land by Barry Wittenstein
    • A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr. by David A. Adler
    • National Geographic Readers Martin Luther King, Jr. by Kitson Jazynka
    • I Have a Dream paintings by Kadir Nelson
  • Assemble materials in a manila envelope. In each envelope, place 5-6 notecards, a long piece of yarn, a small handful of thumbtacks, the topic list, and a printed article and/or picture book. Each classroom teacher received an envelope with an article/book that fit the topic they were assigned.

Martin Luther King Day Activity

  • Kick off the activity at an assembly if you can. Give general information about MLK Day and share some sample topic connections. We shared the path between Ronald Reagan and King first. Then we showed a second connection between Michael King Jr. and Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Back in the classrooms, teachers and students worked together to learn about their assigned topic. Once they recognized the connection, the class created one set of notecards that showed the tie between the topic and Mr. King. The notecards are pinned to the group bulletin board, so everyone can see all the ways King’s ideas influence others, or in some cases, ways people influenced King.

Martin Luther King Day Activity

If you are looking for more ideas to help honor Martin Luther King, visit my TeachersPayTeachers store HERE and download a winter paint chip poetry activity for free.

Conversation Starter Cards

We recently created conversation starter cards at our house for a teen dinner party we had New Year’s Eve, but it’s also an ice breaker activity teachers could use in the classroom. Over the holidays, we hosted a small dinner for about eight friends. We printed a handful of funny questions and prompts to kick off conversation at the table. The questions were printed on cardstock paper and cut into roughly a business card size (~2″ x 4″). We put the stack of cards on a cupcake stand in the center of the table, and people reached for them during the dinner.

Conversation starter cards, an ice breaker activity for home or the classroom

We got the idea after opening Christmas crackers at a family dinner. When we popped the Christmas crackers, they had small papers in them with trivia questions and conversation prompts. The questions worked well for a group of mixed ages and kept everyone at the table engaged. You can create all kinds of prompts depending on the age of your audience. Since our dinner was all teenagers, THIS CONVERSATION STARTER PAGE has questions that are a mix of pop culture and general opinion.

Conversation Starter Cards

Using Conversation Starters at School

If you want to adapt this conversation starter idea for school, you can create a page LIKE THIS ONE with “Would you rather…” questions. We used this activity for a big/little mentor program we have at our school. Older grades are paired with students in younger grades. Our sixth graders met with their second grade “littles” and asked a series of questions and recorded all responses. Students polled a handful of students until they completed the question chart. After all the responses were tallied, the students incorporated math skills by creating a bar graph to determine the most popular answers.

Would You Rather questions and chart

Depending on the lunch program at your school, adding conversation cards to lunch tables encourages students to interact with peers. We assign lunch seats at our school and often students may not talk to a lunch buddy if it is someone they do not know well. By placing conversation prompts at the table, it encourages students to chat with someone different.

Conversation starters are a great ice breaker for the first week of school to begin building a community in your classroom. Or, use the ice breakers after a long break like the December holidays as a fun way to ease students back into the school routine.

To see more ideas for your classroom, visit my TeachersPayTeachers store.