In the Trenches

Thoughts and Ideas from a Classroom Teacher

Non-Fiction Graphic Organizers

Are you looking for ways to teach your students ways to tackle their comprehension of non-fiction texts? Check out this excellent resource from the Center for Urban Education. I love how the graphic organizers are simple to draw, so I don’t have to run copies ahead of time for my students. They are also broken up into different comprehension strategies and text structures, so I’m always going to be able to find one to meet my needs.

Obviously, these graphic organizers fit beautifully with non-fiction texts of all kinds and levels. But, have you thought about using them with videos or clips from Discovery Education? I love teaching the use of these organizers with video clips because we can focus specifically on the featured learning objective, like summarizing. My lower readers do really well with this activity because they can get a handle on the skill I am trying to teach before they are struggling with the texts, too. This way, they know what they are doing and what to look for, as well as how to think about it. Give it a try!


Responding to Non-Fiction

We are starting school-wide flexible guided reading groups on Monday, and I’ve been working today on my plans. I’ve found a text on clouds that addresses our current science objectives and it goes through the comprehension strategies that we’ve been studying in English/Language Arts, too. Woot! I get really excited when that happens. Some of you know exactly how awesome that is.


Any ways, one of the tenets of reading non-fiction is have purpose and focus. I love this “Responding to Non-Fiction” graphic organizer that can be used with lots of different texts. I use it frequently, and I really like how it makes the students apply background knowledge, consider questioning as a technique and analyze text features.


Check it out!

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School House Rock

Do you remember watching and learning with School House Rock as a kid? Believe it or not, despite the crazy technological advances of today, kids still love them! I knew they were all on You Tube, but my school’s filter blocks YouTube. Finally, I found this collection of many of the School House Rock videos at SqoolTools. If you click on the “filmstrip,” it will take you to the video. If you click on the song title, it will give you the lyrics. Check it out!


One idea to try with your students is to let them watch a particular video three or four times. For example, when my third graders were learning their times tables, they used the “Three Is a Magic Number” to help them out. I divided them into groups and let them come up with a routine to the song, and they made “music videos” to go with each song, which I recorded with my flip camera. They did an awesome job, not to mention mastered their three’s times tables!

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Google World Wonders Project

Are you looking for an awesome project for your students that will let them virtually explore some of the world’s greatest wonders? Look no further than the Google World Wonders Project. It ties together educational resources, lesson plans, activities, videos and Google Earth footage for sites such as Independence Hall, the Palace of Versailles, and Ancient Kyoto. They have even included teachers’ guides that are geared for secondary, but they could easily be adapted to the 3-5 classroom. I can’t wait to spend some time here this summer and to get my boys playing on the site as well!

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Olympics Fun

I always love the years that the Olympics come around because they are such a great learning opportunity for children, the world over. This summer’s Olympic games will be completed before we head back to school, so I’m trying to find ways to bring them into the classroom anyways.



Some things I might try…


  • Math Olympics game at Math Playground
  • AIMS Math Events for Olympics
  • Have students create their own graphs of the final medal counts of different countries and compare, find range, median, mean and mode
  • Calculate the distances that different athletes traveled to get to the games in London


  • Divide up the class into country groups to research about different countries that entered the Olympics
  • Choose an Olympian to research. Create a timeline of the Olympian’s life.
  • Take a virtual tour of the Olympic village.
  • Research the first Olympics in Ancient Greece.
  • Watch the Time Warp Trio’s “My Big Fat Greek Olympics” and do related activities





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Essential Standards Resources – 5th Grade Social Studies

Since I finally finished up the resources to help with the Common Core Math transition for 5th grade next year, I thought I’d compile them for the Essential Social Studies as well. Here’s the link to my shelf. I will be adding binders for…

– History

– Geography & Environmental Literacy

– Economics & Financial Literacy

– Civics & Governance

– Culture

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Books I Love : The Watson’s Go to Birmingham – 1963

As I was studying the new Essential Standards for Social Studies in NC, I was heart broken to see that the US History that we cover in fifth grade now only goes through the period of Reconstruction. While I found it totally overwhelming to try to cover everything about the United States through the ages in one year, I did always look forward to teaching a Civil Rights unit and tying in the Newberry Medal book, The Watson’s Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis. This book is a compelling, historically relevant, and relatable look at a family living in Flint, Michigan in the 1960’s. They have 3 children – Byron, the juvenile delinquent; Kenny, the socially awkward middle child; and Joetta, the youngest, sweet young lady of the family. The story chronicles their lives together and their journey to Birmingham, Alabama, in the summer of 1963.

Here are some resources to consider if you do read The Watson’s Go to Birmingham – 1963 :

Scholastic Reading Guide to The Watson’s Go to Birmingham – 1963

Excellent teacher’s guide with activities, vocabulary and background

Newspapers in Education Teachers’ Guide

Book Talk and Web Activity

Related Power Points

Enrichment Guide

Google Lit Trip


Snowball Fights

Today we had a 2 hour delay because of snow and ice. When you live on the side of a mountain, it doesn’t take much of either one to cause a bit of havoc. When I got to school, I was putting up some new science vocabulary on my word wall, and it got me thinking about one of my favorite vocabulary review strategies… SNOWBALL FIGHTS!

This one is quick and easy. Type (or write) your vocabulary words so there are two words per standard size sheet of paper. Cut the paper in half. On another color paper, I get a kick out of using yellow (heehee), write definitions or sentences that go with each of the words. Cut these in half also. Mix up the words and definitions, and hand out the papers to your students. Enjoy their faces when you tell them to ball up the paper. Explain to the students that you are going to have a snowball fight. When you call time, each student should pick up the nearest snowball, open it, and find its mate of a different color. You can repeat this several times in one session, and the kids love it. FYI, if it’s a nice day, go outside. Snowballs don’t roll under things that way.


This activity works beautifully with vocabulary words, but it’s also great for multiplication facts, math problems, standard form and word form, equivalent fractions, symbols and their meanings, and more. Your students can also make their own snowballs. If you give them two half-sized sheets of paper, they can make up their problem on one side and put the solution on the other.

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Hi. My name is Kelly. And I love a foldable.


There are so many awesome things to do with foldables in the classroom at any age and with any curriculum area. Here are my top five reasons why.


1. Once the kids learn how to make one style, it can be used a hundred times in a hundred different ways.

2. They automatically allow for differentiation.

3. They can be made with whatever kind of paper or materials that I have handy at the moment.

4. They are a meaningful “back pocket” activity, meaning that when you have to change things up at the last minute, you can always go to a foldable.

5. They work even when the copy machine does not.



Here are a few resources on foldables that I have pulled together.

My Pinterest Foldable Board

Awesome Foldables Wiki

Get in the Fold! blog

Catawba County Schools Foldables Ideas Page

Reading and Study Skills Foldables


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For the next few days, I will probably be posting about and trying out some of the ideas from DEN SciCon this weekend. Here are the archives to all of SciCon. Don’t miss out on all the wonderful ideas! Another idea that was shared yesterday was a way to provide opportunities for students to interact with media and text. I loved this AEIOU idea.

As you read a passage / watch a short video / analyze a picture, look for an

A – adjective

E – emotion

I – interest

O – oh!

U – um?

I also love the idea of using a site like PicLits to find pictures to share with students or even allow them to use it to create their own AEIOU to share. Here’s an example that I made.

PicLit from
See the full PicLit at

You could also use something like a movie trailer. Here’s another example.

A – nerve-wracking

E – excited

I – how the Hunger Games themselves will be presented

O – this isn’t quite what I imagined when I read the book

U – when does it come out?

I keep seeing ways that this can be adapted across the curriculum and across grade levels! I can’t wait to use it with my students this week!

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