Friday, July 31, 2015

Favorite Fifth Grade Classroom Read Alouds

Fifth Grade Freebies friends,  are you looking for the best 5th grade read aloud books?

If you're like me you probably enjoy switching up your read alouds once in awhile and trying something new.  But finding that something new can be a lot of work. When I'm looking for my next read aloud I ask my coworkers for ideas, scour my favorite celebriteacher blogs, stalk the Nerdy Book Club blog, and take recommendations from my fellow literacy fanatics on Instagram.  All of these steps take time and I'm spending this time over and over again throughout the year. Why is finding the perfect read aloud always so hard?

Cue lightbulb -

and then it hit me.........

I realized that instead of repeating this process continuously, I needed to put all of these AMAZING recommendations into a list that I could refer to whenever needed.  AND even better, that I could share with all my fifth grade teacher friends like you!!!

So, here it is friends!!  The BEST fifth grade read alouds - chosen by those who know best.  You!!!


All of these recommendations were gathered through your responses on my Wild About Fifth Grade and our Fifth Grade Freebies facebook pages.  I threw in some of my own personal favorites as well.


Happy back to school season!!!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

10 Little (and FREE!) Things That Make a BIG Difference

“Will the kids like me?  Will the teachers like me?  Will my principal like me?”  We all remember having these thoughts as we lay wide awake in bed on the eve of the first day of school as kids.  We probably never realized that our teachers were having the same anxiety-filled, sleepless night!  Going on to my eighth year of teaching, I still have these same fears… However, I have come up with some easy tips and tricks over the years that have helped me build relationships with even the most challenging students… and parents!  

Kids LOVE to show off.  (At least my students always do!)  Even in fifth grade, kids are craving to “show ‘n’ tell”.  

I don’t make a structured schedule; but when my kids come and tell me something exciting that happened over the weekend, I ask if they would like to share with the class.  

After doing this a couple times, my kids start to seek me out.  Sometimes they bring in photographs or videos they want to show; sometimes they want to show a dance or sing a song; sometimes they just want to tell a story of something they experienced.  

Regardless, I get to learn so much about my students this way, and I can relate to them on a personal level.  By intertwining their personal lives and school lives, I notice my students and I have a stronger bond.  

Easy. Quick.  Free.  FUN!

My first principal—Barb Elson—gets the credit for this one!  When doing a PD on Love & Logic she stressed the importance of having daily positive interactions with each and every student.  

Personally, I have a difficult time giving the same amount of love to all my students.  I don’t do it consciously, but there are so many students who I know don’t get the loving from me that they need… especially with my students who are typically superstars.  I expect them to always be on their A-game, so when they aren’t, I get on their case.  I’m more conscious of trying to give positive feedback to my students who do struggle behaviorally, academically, or emotionally.

My former principal gave us such a great tool for this!  She made a laminated class list for each of us, so that we can check off every time we have a positive interaction with a student.  This helped me to become aware of whom I am spending all my positive interactions on, and who needs more lovin’!  

She also told us that the ideal ratio of positive to negative interactions we have with students each day should be 4:1.  So for every negative interaction, we should have four positive ones.  I don’t recall where she got that “magic ratio” from, but I found some research and information on it at Orange County Department of Education (2011) in case you are interested!  

This one is pretty self-explanatory.  Our kids are involved with so many extracurricular activities—sports, music, dance, gymnastics, etc.  It’s impossible to make it to everything, but you will notice there are a handful of students who REALLY are persistent about asking you to come see them in action.  There are also some activities that give you the most “bang for your buck” where you have a whole group of students at the same dance studio or basketball team.  Even staying at the school a little later to see the orchestra or band concerts honestly MAKE THEIR NIGHT.  Coming to any of these events instantly puts you at CELEBRITY STATUS!  The kids (and parents) are SO excited to see you… and even more excited to brag about it the next day at school.  The bond that I have with my students after seeing them at their extracurricular activities instantly skyrockets!  

Just like the students think of us as celebs when we see them outside of school, they get just as starstruck seeing us in the cafeteria or on the playground during lunch/recess time.  Just like all teachers, my lunch consists of answering urgent parent emails, taking attendance I should have taken hours ago, helping students find their jackets, figuring out what I’m doing in the afternoon, and IF I AM LUCKY—take a bite of my lunch!  However, I try to make at least a couple days where I go with the kids to lunch or out to recess.

Aside from just building relationships with the students this way, I get to see how they interact with one another in social situations.  I get to see who are the leaders and who are friends with whom.  I get to see what the kids like to do for fun.  No matter how well I feel I know my students, I am always shocked by some of the things I find when I am with them in their natural habitat!  

Another alternative is having the kids stay in with me at recess and/or lunch on occasion.  We had a tradition last year called Friday Funday.  On these days, the kids would stay in and we would pump up the jams and have a full on dance party in the room.  IT WAS A BLAST… not to mention the best workouts I got all year!  ☺

I know social media makes some people nervous—and I also know different districts have different rules.  However, I LOVE using social media and apps to keep in touch with my students.  Here are some apps I use and how I use them:

  • BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS - INSTAGRAM - #6b.pngINSTAGRAM:  This past year with my fifth graders, I noticed Instagram was probably the most popular form of social media.  I use Instagram with my kids in a few ways.  My favorite way is by having them hashtag our team name.  When we go on field trips, I always remind them to hashtag any pics they post on Instagram to #brankebunch.  Then, I can see all the pics the kids are taking as we go.  It’s also cute to see students start to post class inside jokes or memes on Instagram.  As they do this, we bond more and more!
    ***NOTE:  If your students are private, only their followers will be able to see their pics on Instagram.
  • ooVoo:  This is a group video chat app.  I love this app because I can work with students from home when they need it.  This year, on one of our “snow days”, my students were so bummed about not having our book club that they had me ooVoo the group and do the reading group ON A SNOW DAY from home.  IT DOESN’T GET BETTER THAN THAT!  Also, I can help my kids with their homework—especially with math when they need to be able to see my examples.  
  • BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS - TEXT - #6a.pngKik:  This is a group chat app.  My students have group chats with dozens of the students on our team in it… and they love to include me!  I typically keep them on “Do Not Disturb” or else my phone will NEVER stop blowing up.  However, if I want to get out some quick information OR if I just want to let them all know I’m missing them, I shoot out a quick Kik.  I can also catch when students are being hurtful, and it leads to a good social skills lesson.  But I’m also in on most of the inside jokes.  It makes me seem PRETTY COOL—not to mention, helps to build our relationship on another level!
  • Text:  I don’t give my cell phone number out to my students… but I do give it out to their parents.  There will be times when parents are texting me about homework, and I will just have them put their kid on the phone.  Here is an example of how I use text to help students with their homework.  (I was having this conversation during a dinner party… probably NOT the best table manners… but doesn’t this text make it all worth it?!?!)

My teaching partner and I have worked hard to pretty much brand our team name – Branke Bunch.  Branke Bunch has become more of a mindset or attitude than a team name to us.  I can’t tell you how many times a day one of us says, “ONLY IN THE BRANKE BUNCH…” when we see students being silly or not afraid to be themselves or other things that set our team apart from others.  

Boy wearing a purple tutu!?  Only in the Branke Bunch!  Got a shipment of hundreds of new books?!  Only in the Branke Bunch!  Teachers doing cartwheels?!  Only in the Branke Bunch!  

Some ways we have done this is by putting our team name on EVERYTHING.  We buy team shirts with our logo and all the kids names on the back each year.  (Want to make a great custom shirt?!  Go to … they are the BEST!) We incorporate our school colors – PURPLE – with everything!!!  We also have certain traditions that are unique to our team… kind of like summer camp.  We have our own “Branke Bunch Beat”; musical transition songs; brain breaks; etc. that my students relate to the Branke Bunch and make it our own special little world.  The more we do this, the more my students feel PROUD to be part of our team… and the closer we all get!

I only do this a couple times of year… but kids LOVE it, and PARENTS love it even more!  Before a big unit test, I will have “weekend office hours”.  I will let the students/parents know which weekend I will be at the public library, and they will sign up for 20 minute time slots.  I will spend the whole day working with students one-on-one to review for the upcoming unit test.  This only takes up a couple weekends of my year, but this is one thing that parents/students will remember me for years down the road.  They absolutely LOVE it.  PLUS, I love getting to give students my 100% undivided attention without having to worry about everyone else in the room.  It’s amazing how excited the students get as well to work with me over the weekend!  (When in reality, I started doing this because I could never fit all I needed to fit into the given school days… ☺)

THIS IS KEY!  I try to make as much of these as possible.  ESPECIALLY at the beginning of the year.  

Let’s be honest… nobody LIKES making those dreaded parent phone calls about all the “poor choices little Jimmy John made in class today”.  At least I don’t!  Making those phone calls makes ME feel like a bad teacher; makes the parents feel like bad parents; and makes the kid feel like a bad kid.  There are obviously times when those calls are necessary.  However, making those phone calls after a handful of positive phone calls makes it a WHOLE LOT EASIER!  

One mistake I always make is using “I’m going to call home” as a threat.  Let’s be honest… the students who we say this to are typically NOT the students who this threat will actually work for.  Then, I have a choice… 

A) I DON’T CALL HOME… failing to follow through, losing credibility, and continuing to make empty threats… OR
B) I DO CALL HOME… and have to deal with the dreaded negative conversation, taking up my time I like to save for luxuries like going to the bathroom!

TIP:  I started being proactive.  I would pull the student aside in the morning, give them a hug, ask how their evening went the night before.  Then I say…

I can tell today is going to be a GREAT day!  I have to call your parents later, and I look forward to telling them how today went.  Think about some things you can do today that you will want me to share with them.  I can’t wait to tell them all about it!!!

After that, throughout the day, I have noticed that my students make an extra effort to have a good day in class.  Sometimes they slip… but then at least I know my conversation with them can have enough positives to outweigh any negatives that may have occurred.  It’s a win-win for everyone!

This is another biggie to get parents on my side!  By sending out regular (daily or 3x/week) emails, I win over my parents every year.  Not all of the parents read everything I send out… but they know it’s there if they need it.  And I have a handful of parents who absolutely couldn’t live without my regular emails.  

What do I include in these emails?

Homework, updates, upcoming dates/events, celebrations, testing information, fundraising, etc.  

I also often times just copy and paste important parts of my school/district listservs into my class emails.  

How do I have the time?!  Well, I don’t make my emails formal… I even warn the parents at the beginning of the year that in order to send out frequent emails, I need to be excused for typos or errors!  ☺

1.  TALK!!!

And my #1 TIP FOR BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS… just TALK!  Talk to the students.  Talk to their parents.  Talk about school.  Talk about home.  Talk about goals.  Talk about fears.  Talk about hobbies.  Talk about friendships.  Talk about life.  JUST TALK!  

~Elyse Jahnke~

FREE Titanic Activity Packet

Hello everyone!
This is Jessica from "Joy in the Journey" here.
Today I'm here to share a new *FREEBIE* with you:
Last year my students were Titanic-crazy
so I decided to build on their interest and do a week-long unit on the tragic sinking of the RMS Titanic.
This FREE packet includes a summary article
and graphic organizers
and you can download it for FREE here:
and if you download it, please leave feedback :)

Looking for more Titanic fun?
Check out the full 40-page MEGA packet:

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Free Apps and Websites for Your Classroom

Today I'm here to share some free websites/apps with you that I used in my class last year.


Class Dojo - Well, technically, I didn't used it this year, but my daughter's teacher did. She had enabled it to send weekly reports to us so we could see how she did during the week. As a teacher, I was not aware that this could be done, so maybe you didn't know that either! Look at my perfect angel ;)

Go Noodle - I love the stretching exercises for the morning. All of my students were bus students, so some of them were a little wound up by the time they got to school. They rolled their eyes at Maximo, but I know that deep down they loved him ;)


Spelling City - I've used SC for a while now, and I've always upgraded to the premium account so that I could give my students more game options and track their progress. One day I was messing around, and I noticed that THE LISTS FOR WONDERS ARE ALREADY ON SPELLING CITY! How did I miss that?! I published the on-level, had the kids take a practice test then tell me which level they want to do that week. Then with a few clicks, I took them off of the on-level one (if needed) and assigned them to the approaching or beyond. What a time saver!!!

Computer Skills

Typing Web - This was recommended to me by my team, and I started using it with my class. It was really easy to set up, and I liked that I can see in real-time what everyone is doing on one screen. Here is one of the reports that you can get (I cut off the student names).

I obviously had some kids that were keyboarding at home! - I absolutely love this site, and so do the students! I worked with a group of great kids on Course 2 of the K-5 courses. It was just the right mix of challenging and motivating. My room was completely silent for a solid half-hour. Once in a while I heard "This is hard", but absolutely no one gave up. They saw it as a challenge to solve. There are some off-computer lessons where we talk about algorithms, programs, looping, and debugging. The site can be a little tricky for teachers to navigate just because there are SO many options, but this might be the most engaging thing that I've done with technology all year.

Here was my group's progress:


Front Row - This is a nice alternative if you don't have an IXL account. It's even a nice option if you do! This assigns my kids randomly to a "team", so when they solve problems, they earn points for their team. Like IXL, it lets the kids progress at their own rate. You can also have them practice specific math strands. I couldn't get a decent screen shot without having to block out a bunch of names, but there are also some really nice grouping features and reports.

XtraMath - It's for mastering basic facts. Set up was pretty easy. You can print a certificate of accomplishment whenever a student masters an operation, so that's pretty motivating. I also gave them a brag tag for mastery.


Kahoot - You know those bar trivia games where you look at the screen and try to be the first to correctly answer a question? That's Kahoot! All you need is a device to project the game and devices in the students' hands to answer the questions. I use my laptop, and they students use either our Chromebooks or iPads. When I've created a quiz, I launch the game and project it. Students go to and enter the special code for that game. Then they choose a team name (and you can easily delete any that are a little questionable ;) ), you start the game, and then the fun begins! After a few uses, then I have had the kids write their own Kahoots and share them with me so I can project them. Some are better than others, but they are so proud of their quizzes.

If you have discovered any wonderful websites, please feel free to mention them in the comments!

Monday, July 20, 2015

School Year Calendar Freebie

I've been hard at work on my summer to-do list.  How quickly time goes by and how few things get checked off that list!  Well, I needed a little break from the heavy duty curriculum work I was doing, so I decided to have some fun and make a cute school year calendar with some of my new Melonheadz clip art.  Is there such a thing as clip art therapy?  Here are some of my favorite pages...

You can grab this calendar for free at my TPT Store!  If you download it, I'd love some feedback from you!


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Do Your 5th Graders Know How to Give Each Other Feedback?

Collaboration can work wonders in a classroom when we teach students what it means to work together.  One essential skill students need to learn in order to work together is providing effective feedback.

Hi, I'm Mercedes from Surfing to Success.  My district values Project Based Learning and my school is a STEM school and an SFA school, so collaboration is key to our success.  When our students present a project with their group, their classmates give them feedback keeping our Feedback Protocol in mind.

While the concept seems very simple, it can be a great tool to get 5th graders to think before they speak.  Students tend to naturally say things like, "I liked your presentation."   With be specific in mind, they say things like, "I like the way you made eye contact with the audience while you were presenting."

This practice of giving effective feedback starts to influence the ways students work together.

I had the opportunity to attend PBL World put on by the Buck Institute and one of my favorite moments was watching this video where we see students practicing giving feedback and how it leads to a better project.  If you've never seen Austin's Butterfly, it is worth your time.

If you are interested in Project Based Learning, there are tons of free resources at BIE .

If you'd like a copy of the feedback protocol, you can find it here.  I'm a bit font obsessed so there are several versions.


Surfing to Success