Just a quick post to share the letters my students use when we Build Words. The vowels and consonants print on separate sheets so you can copy them on colored paper, if you wish. I usually use colored paper for vowels, since it helps us make sure our words always contain a vowel. Enjoy!
Click here to download for free from Google Drive!
There are many ways to use these - I usually keep a few laminated sets at my small group table. They are handy to pull out and demonstrate a concept quickly with a small group.

Another way I use them is as an accommodation for students with disabilities. I have had several students with reduced muscle tone, so I try to modify assignments that involve cutting for their benefit. My problem? They loved to Build a Mystery Word. My solution? They have their own set of letters in their pencil pouch, and when we Build a Mystery Word, they can participate without stressing over the cutting.

I'm sure you can think of other uses for these cards! Have an excellent rest of the week, y'all!




I'm a teacher. I know teachers don't make much; I knew it when I began teaching in '98. I never got into teaching for the paycheck. I want to make it clear that I am *not* complaining. I am a very fortunate person with a family who makes me laugh every day.  :)  I feel a huge gratitude to have a job that helps me feel as though I am making a difference in the world. Teachers have lean times like everyone else, and we have times that we are overcome by the goodness that comes from the world. That being said, today I want to tell you what a relief to be able to walk into a grocery store and spend an unbudgeted $45 without guilt. By the way, I know unbudgeted is not a word, but you know what I meant.

Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Well, here’s my journey to that $45: it is 3 weeks until Christmas, and the only people I've been shopping for are my kiddos. I have a little health issue, so I'm working half-time this year. The budget is key to keep away from the credit cards, since I've already given Citibank and Chase enough money. I took today off to attend health appointments. I was going to go to an appointment, then visit my own kiddos for lunch before the second appointment. I was pretty happy at the prospect of a day to myself, to tell the truth.

Instead, one kiddo was picked up sick from school yesterday, so she stayed home today. This morning, we ran out of oatmeal and peanut butter, aka little guy’s breakfast and lunch. No problem; grocery trip done after the appointment. Splurge and get a couple of foodie treats, spend extra $. An hour later, I have the unexpected someone-just-puked-and-it’s-cold-and-flu-season trip to the store. The kind of trip when the grocery store clerk asks, "What happened?"

There’s the $45. We never know when we will need it, but it bought me peace of mind knowing that I am able to walk in the grocery store and know that I’m able to buy whatever I needed without guilt. I don't feel like I should have spent it on new tires, or my health insurance, or a visit to my therapist. Even better, I didn't feel any post-purchase remorse for my morning splurges. Nutella is essential, right? After taking a sick day (which I feel fortunate to have), visiting the doctor, buying essentials, and $45 bucks worth of carpet cleaner and disinfecting wipes, I still don’t have to worry about the grocery budget. I am one of the lucky ones. 

In our house, it seems that unexpected expenses are usually around $50, $200, and $400. It might be paying the deductible for an emergency room visit, or repairing the dryer (with a ton of help from Hubby and Dad!). Today, I feel thankful to have a job and a business that helps to absorb bumps in the road, and let me take the time I need to take care of my family, to disinfect the house – ick! and to take care of myself.

I know I haven’t been blogging much lately. My depression was back, and I’ve spent the last month getting everything back on track. I’ve got additional support in place – including a light therapy machine! I am enjoying it so far, and it definitely isn’t hurting anything. I’ll fill you in another time. Thanks for listening, y’all.

Just a little more, then I'm through - promise. I wanted to give a huge hug to the teacher-blogging community. I'm feeling the love, and it helps so much to connect with all of you, both near and far. I'm already planning for Vegas in July, to see y'all again with a ton of hugs! <3  Thanks!

Welcome to the November edition of the Bright Ideas Link-Up! This one is a special one! Over the past 10 months, we have shared thousands of great ideas through our monthly Bright Ideas event. This month, we’re re-capping all of those great ideas, just in case you missed any!


Back in August, I wrote about ways to use classroom magazines effectively, which you can read all about here:

In July, I shared my most popular Bright Ideas post, all about my Brain Booster Box:

In May, I shared Bright Ideas for Word Work. I was so happy to share the little tricks I use to keep Word Work fun and organized!

Back in April, I shared my eco-friendly Reminder Bracelets! This tip saves me so much time, and is a great way to keep the lines of communication active between home and school.


March was Cheap Ways to Tame the Clutter: (And what teacher doesn't have stacks of clutter everywhere?? I can't be the only one!)

Last, but my favorite, is from last February - Use Pinterest for Transitions!


There are so many Bright Ideas out there! I hope that you found an idea (or a few ideas!) that you can use in your own classroom. Be sure to check out the link up below for tons more fabulous ideas from my bloggy friends! Have a great day!


The ultimate goal of literacy is to help students become life-long readers, so they can be educated citizens. The child's first and most influential teacher is their parent and/or guardian. With that in mind, it is crucial to give families the tools they need to help this child, as well as other children in the household. {Here's a link to an article from The Atlantic: How Family Game Night Makes Kids Into Better Students} I love to invite families to school for Literacy Night. I've helped organize, prepare, and lead Literacy Nights at least 8 times over the course of my teaching career, and I plan to continue this for years to come. Here are my tips for an easy and successful Literacy Night in Upper Elementary classrooms.
Need activities for parents? Make and Take Literacy Activities for grades 3-5 are minimal prep - just print, copy, and go! Link to freebie in blog post from Hello Mrs Sykes

Make and Take for Literacy Night, grades 3-5


At a recent Literacy Night at my school, the parents met in the gym to see a quick presentation about state testing. The students went to the media center to watch a video, learn how to do the Make and Take literacy activities, and prepare to teach their parents.

Need activities for parents? Make and Take Literacy Activities for grades 3-5 are minimal prep - just print, copy, and go! Link to freebie in blog post from Hello Mrs Sykes
Want to plan your own? Click here to check out this editable set of 4 Literacy Stations

We learned how to play Boggle {one of my favorite games to teach students to reinforce many essential skills}. We used a document camera to project my Boggle game, and we spent about 5 minutes learning how to play, then moved off to the next activity.

Need activities for parents? Make and Take Literacy Activities for grades 3-5 are minimal prep - just print, copy, and go! Link to freebie in blog post from Hello Mrs Sykes
Click here to see Boggle on my affiliate link from Amazon.
Remember Cootie Catchers? Or did you call them Fortune Tellers? Either way, they are fun! We used them for comprehension activities for the families to take home. We practiced using a familiar story.
Need activities for parents? Make and Take Literacy Activities for grades 3-5 are minimal prep - just print, copy, and go! Link to freebie in blog post from Hello Mrs Sykes

Note: I used Jack and the Beanstalk. I didn't read the book, we just reviewed it as a group:
Mrs. Sykes: Raise your hand if you've heard of the story Jack and the Beanstalk.
Hands shoot up all around. 5 excited kiddos start calling out. Pandemonium might break out any minute.
Mrs. Sykes: Great! We have so many people who know the story. Turn to someone and tell them about the story.
Excited talking. Some jumping up and down. After 15 seconds, I get everyone's attention.
Mrs. Sykes: Let's just review it together. Let's start: Jack and the Beanstalk is a story about a boy named... pause
Kiddos: Jack!
Mrs. Sykes: Jack trades his cow for a pile of... pause
Kiddos: Beans!
This continues for about less than a minute, and we all know the basics of the story. Then, I model using the Cootie Catcher with the story, and we practice a couple of times, using the document camera so everyone can see.

 Next, we practiced "Read it Like..." which is a fun and quick way to work on fluency with repeated readings. We practiced saying the name of the school and our teacher's names using silly voices. {Like a buzzy bee, like you are underwater, and like a pirate - AARGH!} We were silly, and had a few laughs while practicing.

Need activities for parents? Make and Take Literacy Activities for grades 3-5 are minimal prep - just print, copy, and go! Link to freebie in blog post from Hello Mrs Sykes

Finally, the parents arrived. We told the students it was their job to show their parents how to do the activities, and showed them quickly to the parents. Teachers circulated to answer any questions, and the families circulated to collect the materials. After about 20 minutes, it was time for everyone to go. We thanked them for coming, and everyone went home. The only prep work was printing/copying the take home activities, and trimming the paper for the Cootie Catchers to make them easier to fold.

Need activities for parents? Make and Take Literacy Activities for grades 3-5 are minimal prep - just print, copy, and go! Link to freebie in blog post from Hello Mrs Sykes
Click here to see this editable set of activities in my TpT store

Interested in hosting a low-prep Make & Take Literacy Night? Click the picture above to see the set in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. How do you support family literacy in your classroom?

Not sure, but you'd like to try it out for free? Click the picture below to download a free set of comprehension Cootie Catchers, then leave feedback to let me know what you think!

Need activities for parents? Make and Take Literacy Activities for grades 3-5 are minimal prep - just print, copy, and go! Link to freebie in blog post from Hello Mrs Sykes




Y'all know I love my Mystery Word of the Week sets, right? It's not just me - my students *love* this, and we are linking unknown words to known words, using definitions, visual cues, synonyms, antonyms, and context clues. I have seen the effect this has on the vocabulary (and test scores!) of the struggling readers I have worked with in grades 2-6 over the years. Here's an opportunity to get 60 weeks at a deal!

The bundle was 40 weeks, and now it includes 60 weeks! And the price didn't go up... actually, it went down (for the rest of October.) I know it doesn't make much business sense for me to lower my price when I add more content, but hear me out.

I decided to add all 12 existing sets (including the science sets) of the Mystery Word of the Week to the 40 week bundle.Now includes all 12 Mystery Word of the Week sets!! That's 60 weeks of Mystery Words (a $48 value) for the SALE price of $20.00 through the month of October. The price will increase Nov. 1 to $35. At least 6 more sets will be added to this bundle during the 2014-2015 school year, and the price will rise as more content is added. Purchase the bundle in October to get all future Mystery Word of the Week sets for this super-low price, then come back and download the updated sets from your purchases.

Want to see more? Click on the picture below to view this bundle in my TPT store, and check out the *huge* preview to try the Mystery Word of the Week in your class tomorrow.

60 weeks for $20 - Ends 10/31/2014
Print, post, discuss.  Enjoy!

The Reality of Oral Reading Fluency

Often, teachers are asked to give too much importance to a bit of data. The current trend is a focus on Fluency in struggling readers, particularly in grades 2-5. The Oral Reading Fluency score (ORF) is simply a look at how many words the student read correctly in a minute.  If it is below the magic number, the teacher needs to take a closer look.  The magic number varies, depending on the grade of the student, the time of year, and if you are using DIBELS, mClass, EasyCBM.com, etc.

Here comes the tricky part - looking past the oral reading fluency to why the student is struggling. Too many teachers are being asked to provide an intervention in fluency, when that might not be the issue at all. Teachers and parents spend tons of time reading (and timing their students!) with the goal of reading faster.

That's right. The goal is to read faster. They chart it, celebrate when the numbers rise, and fret when the numbers stay the same. All with one purpose: read faster.

As parent and a teacher, this is scary. Often, the problem isn't fluency. It's from gaps in phonics skills. Student, teacher, and parent - stressing over how fast the student reads, and it isn't the underlying cause. Worse, the underlying cause is never addressed, which leaves the student at risk for a long time.

Look Past the Numbers ~ Dig Deep

What's a teacher, administrator, and parent to do? Dig Deep by going beyond the fluency score.  It takes a bit more time, and that is important to consider.  No teacher has enough hours in the day, between returning phone calls, helping a sick student, attending meetings, and teaching.

Here's my answer: take the time to Dig Deep and find out what they need. This time is well spent. If you identify an area of deficit, like long vowels, simply provide your intervention on this one area. Need help? Click here for my blog series: Supporting Struggling Readers in Grades 3-5.

Observe Your Struggling Reader

Once you've Dug Deep to pinpoint their area of need, take the time to observe and listen to your struggling reader at least several times per week.  Extra points if you can do this daily. ;)  Do not underestimate the power of your anecdotal notes. Pull them out, look them over, and see what the group (or the student) needs.  Here are a few examples:
 My R5 Group: Rydell needs to work on chunking unfamiliar words and attending to endings of words.  Ellington uses the beginning of a word to identify an unknown word, and needs to work on "Does this make sense?"

 My 90210 Group: Brenda's pencil grip is really forceful - OT referral? Dylan is using visual cues (beginning of the word) to identify unknown words.  He needs to work on: "Does this make sense?" Brandon uses meaning cues, and needs to work on: "Does it look right?"

Molly Lou Mellon is in a different group, where I happen to use one page per student. {This helps me look for patterns in the students over time.} Molly Lou is working on attending to word endings, while asking herself: "Does it sound right?"

If you're having trouble analyzing the anecdotal notes to see what they need, here's a free Word Work Cheat Sheet for Struggling Readers in Grades 3-5.

As you work with students, remind yourself to dig deep, observe, and listen. Happy Teaching, Friends!
In chatting with teachers, I often get questions about how to support struggling readers in my upper elementary grades. Here are the top 6 ways I support struggling readers in grades 2-6. Thought I would pass them along.  If you find them helpful, I appreciate your sharing this post with your colleagues.  Thanks, y'all!!

  • Find out their interests, then help them find tons of cool books on that topic.  If the books are way too difficult a text, but have rich, engaging pictures, let them keep them in their reading box.  If the majority of their books are at their reading level, let them keep a few that are interest-based, even if they are far too easy or difficult.
  • Find out their needs, then help them find materials they can keep in their reading box.  If they can't tie their shoes, find a preschool book with the big, chunky laces, and let them quietly practice during reading time.  Yes, sometimes 4th graders don't know how to tie their shoes.  It gives them practice with a life skill, they'll be using the pictures as a diagram to follow the directions.  Win-Win!  Books about telling time, tying shoes, and counting money are some I have used in the past.  When you have a 9 year old 2nd grader who reads on a F&P level D (instead of J), you get creative.  
  • Find out what they are good at, and build their self-esteem.  Particularly in Upper Elementary classrooms, struggling readers *know* they are struggling.  They often feel frustrated at school because they are continually struggling, since they need to use their reading skills in math, social studies, science, health, etc.  One year, I had an 3rd grade student who was already pulled for three acronym classes: ESL, CCR, ALP.  When she qualified for speech, the class began during the last 5 minutes of our recess.  I fought to keep those 5 minutes, arguing that she needed the time with her classmates. Here's my secret: I wanted to keep her there for every moment of our recess because this was the time of day when she was able to outshine her peers. (She was - and still is - an amazing athlete)  Her joy at winning in kickball helped her stay engaged in our school community, and built her self-esteem.  Let them have time to show their talents.
  • Protect *uninterrupted* chunks of time to read independently.  This is so important, because this is when they can practice the decoding, accuracy, and fluency strategies we are growing.  Our struggling kiddos are having such a hard time transitioning from the Speech room to the English as a Second Language class to the Special Education class, and then back to the classroom.  Often, the biggest loss is in their focus - how can you stay focused on that book if you don't get much time to read it? (or reread it!)
  • Play games together.  Pick one game and play it a few times a week for 2 weeks.  Pick something quick, like Boggle (Click here for my classroom rules) or fun Word Games for Vowels.  Spend 5 minutes a day, 3 times/week for a couple of weeks, to encourage a joy of looking at words.  Tip: I often make sure we "run out of time" before we have a winner.  They ask, "Who won, Mrs. Sykes?" I answer, "It's a game where we have fun with words, not a game where we have to have a winner each time."  Then we move on...
  • Most importantly, love them, celebrate their successes, and help them to love learning.  It's why we choose to work with children, right?

Great news!  I finally finished my "Back to School" stuff.  :)  I've been back at work for 4 weeks now...  I've finished most of my beginning of the year assessments, analyzed my data, and am ready to dig deep into learning to fill the gaps of my struggling readers.  (If you want to read about how I do this each year, check out my series: Supporting Struggling Readers in Grades 3-5)

One of the most important things I needed to do was to make sure my classroom is inspiring, even though it is *not cute!*  I do have touches of cuteness, but it is always functionally cute, not just cute.  Here are a few examples of functionally cute from the Upper Elementary Literacy Room:

Common Core Rules for Discussion from Jen Jones @ Hello Literacy.  These are a fantastic resource for my students, and are posted in a spot that we refer to as needed to remember to make eye contact, respectfully agree or disagree, etc.

What's Your Graduation Year? Freebie from me @ Hello Mrs Sykes - To inspire my students to graduate high school on time!!  My kiddos are all at increased risk of dropping out since they are struggling readers in grades 3-5.  They love informing their parents when they will graduate high school, and it helps spark some thoughts about what to do after graduation!  Win-Win!

 Mystery Word of the Week - I love having this as a part of our routine, and my students are always excited to solve the Mystery Word.  Since I don't tell them until Friday if they are "right," this always leads to interesting discussions as the clues are revealed one day at a time...
An old pic of the Mystery Word of the Week in the Literacy Room

Academic Word Walls - Actually, these words get used a ton, and not just stuck on the wall like wallpaper!  We play games with them, practice our fluency with them, and post one daily as a word of the day.  We then try to remember to share the word with our families at dinner.  I love when students come in the next day telling me that their parents were impressed at their vocabulary!!!  :)


Guided Reading Cheat Sheet - This one is for me.  I'm a visual person, and I refer to this sheet when  redirecting students (reminding them what they are doing before/during/after reading.)  I lost the one I printed last year, so I need to laminate another one before returning to the Reading Room tomorrow!


The really easy notebook (free, since it's made with construction paper and notebook paper from the supply closet, and cute, since students decorate them using permanent markers!)

For an absolutely hysterical post about a non-cute classroom, check out this one from my buddy Casey @ Second Grade Math Maniac.  Have a wonderful week!!

Omigoodness, y'all!  What a surprise this morning to see my Mystery Word of the Week in the TpT newsletter!  To celebrate this personal milestone, it's 20% off for the next 24 hours at my Teachers Pay Teachers store.  :)
Yep, I tried for 2 years to get this in the newsletter.  Got it today!!  :)
Happy Labor Day Weekend, everyone!!  :)

Hello!  If you are lucky enough to have a subscription to classroom magazines, then you know how easily they can slide from being effective to being something else to take care of.  (If you don't have classroom magazines, be sure to check your Scholastic book catalog at the beginning of the year - they usually have a deal where you can "try it for free in your classroom.")   

Here are my top tips for using Classroom Magazines effectively.
 
 I know... slap a post-it on there to help you remember that this is a great article for summarizing, casue/effect, etc.  That will save you a bit of time in the future.
 I have class sets of several classroom magazines that I received ages ago.  I love, love, love using these magazines with my Upper Elementary kiddos, because they have great content that can used for close reading (annotate with sticky notes), reader's theater (I just love watching them prepare to perform; they don't realize they are practicing fluency!) and poetry studies.
Occasionally, we aren't able to get to all of the things I have planned.  I make sure to clip them together, slap on a sticky note for instructions, and keep it in my sub tub.  It's always a great idea to keep some "extras" in the sub tub, in case they need something to do unexpectedly.

Any other ideas?  Feel free to leave them in the comments below.  For more Bright Ideas, consider browsing the link-up below for topics and grade levels that apply to you.  Happy Weekend, everyone!!


If you are a teacher, you will eventually need to have resources to help you teach students who are English Language Learners.  Here's a quick round up of my favorite go-to resources for working with ELLs.  Enjoy!

Ugh.  One of the worst parts of having depression is that sometimes, for no reason at all, everything stinks.  This happened to me last spring.  It started with being a bit tired/unmotivated.  A month later, I realized I had neglected housework, the yard, and things I am usually passionate about - like this blog.   At the same time, I felt completely overwhelmed. by. everything.  I got through it with a lot of rest, time, support from friends, love from my family, and learning not to be so hard on myself.  I am working on my gratitude, and seeing the blessings present in my daily life as a way to beat depression, including opening myself up to new friendships and opportunities.
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As we gear up to begin a new school year, I just want to remind myself (and all of you) to be gentle on yourself and each other.  We truly don't know what personal struggles each other face, and we need to be mindful.
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Teachers are a resilient bunch, and I am no exception.  I am hoping that reducing my hours (again) and spending more time with my family and friends will keep me on an even keel.  Unfortunately, since I don't feel right taking medical leave, it means a bit of increased stress financially.  It is scary, but what is life without a bit of risk, right?
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I'll have something teaching-related next time... most likely!  Thanks so much for listening, again.

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