Bookmark this idea for next Christmas. In fact, go buy the clear plastic ornament sets at a major discount at Michael’s Crafts right now, so you are ready to make these next year. That’s what I did. Even two weeks before Christmas, Michael’s had already marked down the ornament sets to 50 cents (originally $1.29). I bought a class set, so my students could make personal Mason jar toppers to take home as gifts for their families. They are fun to make, and you can fill the jars with all kinds of treats.
- plastic ornament in two halves (2.75″ diameter– fits 4 oz. and pint mason jar lids, regular mouth)
- full body photo printed on cardstock that shows above the head and below the feet (printed ~1.75″ and then cut down)
- mini trees, presents, snowmen shapes or other accessories for the scene inside the snow globe (found these at Michael’s in the snow scene section– these materials did sell out close to the holidays)
- fake snow flakes (sold in bags during the holidays– a little different than glitter)
- sparkly pipe cleaners
- hot glue gun
- Elmer’s glue
- Remove the lid pieces from a Mason jar. Separate the ring from the flat lid part. Run a bead of hot glue around the flat edge of one half of the plastic ornament. Quickly and firmly, press the dome to the edges of the lid ring. The hot glue cools quickly, so you have to move fast. If you attach the ornament part off center, carefully pull it apart, remove the cooled glue and start the process over.
- In small sections, run a bead of glue along the line where the plastic ornament half attached to the Mason jar ring. Press the pipe cleaner into the glue. Keep running a small bead of glue and press the pipe cleaner as you move around the edge of the ring. When you have finished the circle, let the glue cool and then snip the extra pipe cleaner length off.
- If you want to personalize the snow globe topper, take a photo of a loved one that shows the full body and has space above the head and below the feet. Pet pictures would work well too. To look more authentic, have the subject look cold in the photo or hold hands up like it is snowing. We added props like scarves and Santa or elf hats when taking our photos. Print the photo on cardstock or another stiff paper. Set the height of the photo to 1.75″. You will cut around the shape of the body and may need to cut the bottom part of the legs off too. Cut around the entire figure and when it is time to attach to the jar lid, you can make adjustments to the height of the picture after testing to see if it stands straight inside the plastic dome.
- Using a hot glue gun, attach the photo and scene accessories like a mini present or mini snowman foam sticker to the flat plate-like part of the Mason jar lid. Attach the objects, so they stand straight, and they should be as close to the center of the jar lid as possible. Test the height of the objects to make sure they will not get squashed down when the ring with the plastic ornament is screwed down. Cut off the the bottom of any little figures as necessary.
- Drizzle Elmer’s glue all over the rest of the flat part of the lid and around the edges of the little figures in the center. This piece of the Mason jar lid has a slightly raised edge, and it makes it easy to fill the center area. Avoid the edges of the plate.
- Scoop fake snow onto the Elmer’s glue and let dry.
- Fill your glass jar with its contents. There are many fun options– cocoa mix, cinnamon sugar, soup mix, spiced nuts, candies…
- Carefully lift the flat part of the lid with the snow scene onto the top of the jar. Gently put the domed ring over the snow scene and carefully screw the ring down to tighten.
Kids love to self-publish and there are so many fun ways to make booklets with materials you already have in your classroom or at home. One easy booklet I like to make with students uses one piece of copy paper and scissors. I call it a Tiny Book. After it is finished, the book will have six interior pages.
There are many ways students can fill the Tiny Books. I have students use these little books to practice procedural writing and make “How To” instructional manuals. When we read Danny, the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl, the students create a step-by-step guide for one of the poaching methods.
While practicing Helping Verbs and Verb Tenses, the students re-write and illustrate nursery rhymes in past, present, and future tense using a Tiny Book.
When we study colonial life, students research a specific role in the settlement and describe the colonist’s life in a tiny book. They write about clothing, food, housing, and jobs for a specific person and add illustrations with captions. It does not take too much time to complete and reinforces non-fiction text features.
For back to school, you could have students create a Tiny Book that shares facts about the student as a way to introduce each other to the group. Students could create a Tiny Book promoting any favorite summer reading they completed. I love the books because they do not involve a lot of prep and can be used for many different lessons… and they are mini, and I am a sucker for anything mini.
- basic white copy paper, 8 1/2″ x 11″, (one per student)
- Step 1: Gather your paper and scissors.
- Step 2: Fold one piece of paper in half the hamburger way. Repeat two more times. Unfold the paper and make sure you have 8 rectangles on the paper.
- Step 3: Fold the paper the hamburger way again, one time. Your paper will be 5 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ with 4 rectangles showing. From the folded edge of the paper, cut down the middle along the fold line to the center of the paper.
- Step 4: Open the paper flat. Fold it one time the hot dog way. Hold each side with one hand and push towards the center until your fingers meet. The center of the paper will push out creating 4 flaps.
- Step 5: Press down, so pages line up into the booklet shape. The finished booklet is 6 pages.
I love getting to the end of a book and reading an author’s note that provides insight into the story’s inspiration. The story is classified as fiction, but there is a seed or small moment that the author used as a starting point to create a character or event. Most recently, Miss Priss and I read Curtain Up by Lisa Fiedler and Anya Wallach. At the end of the book, Wallach explains that, like the main character in the story, she too started a theatre company in her neighborhood as a teen. That real-life experience inspired the book.
After reading The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies, I found an article where Davies explained that her two children were arguing over who had the rights to the driveway for a lemonade stand, and the idea for a lemonade war was born.
Kate Klise, the author of Dying to Meet You, responded to a letter from my students and shared some background information on her book. She told us that she read a newspaper article about an elderly couple who were selling their house with all of the contents including the dog. From that article, Klise was inspired to write a story that would include a house for rent. If you rented the house, you agreed to “rent” the owners’ child as well.
Now that most authors have websites or author’s notes at the end of books, it can be easy to locate the answer to the question, “How did the author get the idea to write this book?” Hunting down the answer to the question is a great way to inspire interest in a book or author, and it has been a great way for me to motivate readers. It also shows students how writers gather ideas and encourages students to analyze small moments in their daily lives and use that as inspiration to start writing.
Here is a short list of books that have interesting backstories into why the author decided to write his/her story. Use THIS ACTIVITY PAGE to have your students complete an author inspiration scavenger hunt to learn how or why an author created a character or plot line in their novel.
- Curtain Up (Stagestruck series) by Lisa Fiedler and Anya Wallach
- The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
- Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
- Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Betty Bao Lord
- Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm
- Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
- Frozen Fire by James Houston
- Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose
- Dying to Meet You by Kate Klise
- Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
- The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies
- Blood on the River: James Town, 1607 by Elisa Carbone
- Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin
If you want to hear from the author directly, use this freebie CONTACTING BOOK AUTHORS ACTIVITY.
It’s the end of the school year. I don’t have time to start and finish a quality novel with my students and complete reading comprehension and writing activities to support good “thinking” about the book. We get interrupted often during the last few weeks of school, and I don’t have reliable blocks of time. To maintain continued reading instruction, I switched over to short stories. Tall tale short stories to be specific. They are hilarious, and we have loved every minute of it.
One of the key traits in a tall tale is the use of exaggeration or hyperbole. Hyperbole is used to solve the story problem in a funny way. To really cement the tall tale characteristics in the students’ minds, they are writing their own tall tales. We will add their creative stories to our end of year writing portfolio as the final writing piece. It will be the perfect fourth grade writing finale!
To get the students started, we brainstormed everyday problems students might have. The students had lots of ideas. There is the common problem of not wanting to do weekly chores at your house (inspired by Sarah Cynthia Silvia Stout by Shel Silverstein and Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books). We have school problems such as bookbags that are too heavy or teachers who give too much homework (inspired by A Fine, Fine School by Creech). We also discussed pet problems (inspired by Those Darn Squirrels! by Rubin).
Once students had a place to start, they completed THIS BRAINSTORMING PAGE to gather their ideas and map their story plot. Students identified key events in their story and then made choices about how they could exaggerate the events to create humor. Using a side by side chart to outline the story plot helped the students maintain a believable “voice” while writing. It reduced the likelihood of a story that was so ridiculous that the reader lost the meaning. I’ve been conferencing with the students, and while there are some stories that are more successful than others, most make me laugh out loud.
To download my tall tale creative story brainstorming page, a rubric, and lined paper that could be used to handwrite the story, CLICK HERE.
To see the tall tale stories we used and to purchase activity ideas for tall tales, CLICK HERE to visit my teacher store.
- We typed our essays in MS Word, so I was also able to incorporate a lesson on formatting a document. Students changed font and font size. They centered the title and changed the spacing to double space. They also added images and learned about wrapping text around an image.
Sentence strips have so many good classroom uses that go beyond simply practicing handwriting and beginning sentences. I use sentence strips in my classroom to create timelines. The paper Sentence Strips are a great length and width, and they already have a straight line printed on them.
One type of timeline we complete shows the years the various explorers reached the New World. Our textbook organizes the explorers by country, so students read about Marco Polo (Italy) first. Then, move over to Portugal, followed by lots of Spanish guys, and end with England, France, and the Netherlands. The format of the book makes it seem like Spain did all of this conquering and then other people sailed across the Atlantic and explored the northeast coast of North America and Canada last. I had my students create an explorer timeline, so we could see that after Marco Polo’s great journey, the explorers of the Americas were actually all sailing and conquering at about the same time.
Another type of timeline we made showed the span of events in a story. A few books we read take place over a short amount of time with a lot of action built in. In the sample above, students used clues in the novel, Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl, to identify the exact time from the beginning of the story to the great pheasant hunt party at the end. It is nice for the students to visualize how quickly or slowly characters are solving a problem.
Story timelines are also a great tool when a story has a flashback element or the narrative order is different than the time order. The students can see the actual time of events and compare it to their reading. The Odyssey is a great example of a story that is told out of time order (in medias res), and it is easy to confuse the reader. I used the sentence strip timeline with 9th graders to summarize key events in time order of The Odyssey, and it was really helpful.
Building a Timeline
- Gather your information in notes or a chart like this EXPLORER TIMELINE NOTES PAGE. Identify the first date and the last date that will appear on the timeline. Determine the time span and then add a few years before the first date and after the last date, so there will be space at the beginning and end of the timeline.
- The sentence strips are 24″ in length. The next step is to determine the increments of time along the strip. This is the part that can confuse kids. Their first reaction is to list each event in order on evenly spaced lines, but the point of a timeline is to show how close or far apart events happened from each other. Your group will need to add, subtract, divide, and measure to determine the spacing and increments of time on your timeline. Creating the spacing on the timeline is great measuring and counting practice.
- If you note that there is a break in activity for many years, you can jump over years using a dividing line. Create a “broken timeline” by drawing a wavy line indicating a jump over years. In the image below, you can see a break near the beginning and end of the strips where we had a span of years with no events. It allowed more space in the middle years to add information we needed.
The finished timelines give a great overview of a topic in history or key events in a story. It allows students to make generalizations about a topic and synthesize several pieces of information as well as incorporate math skills. Students need more practice reading charts, tables, and graphs, so they can draw conclusions about any data presented. When students are reviewing big chunks of information at the end of a unit of study, have them create a chart or table of some kind to help visualize similarities, differences, and recall big ideas.