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!
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

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!!

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!
If you teach, you will eventually need this list of resources for teachers of ELLs. Pin it now, so you can find it later! Blog post from Hello Mrs Sykes.

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.
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.
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?
I'll have something teaching-related next time... most likely!  Thanks so much for listening, again.

Here's a quick roundup of 5 freebies and tutorials as you gear up for Back to School from my TPT store:

1.   A tutorial on how to create your own Chair Pockets from a person who rarely sews...

2. The Guided Reading Cheat Sheet: A handy reminder of what to do before/during/after reading:

3. The Mystery Word of the Week:  Print a free week here...

This one isn't a freebie, but you can download 2 weeks of Mystery Words free from the preview on this product...

4.  The Brain Booster Box:  Grab the instructions and a free set of open-ended questions here.


5. Do your kiddos need to learn Greek and Latin Stems?  Here's my 5 Minutes a Day Strategy:

Also, you may have heard about the upcoming BTS sale on TPT!  Shop my store now to add to your cart, and they will be 28% off (August 4 and 5) when you enter the code: BTS14  (Friendly reminder to use the code...  occasionally I forget!)
Button credits: Creative Clips by Krista Walden
Off to do some weekend errands, housework, laundry, or maybe I'll just pretend I'm still working on my blog post....  :)
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