Tag Archives: third grade

My Classroom(s) Through the Years

Through my seven years of teaching one grade level (third) at two different schools, I have had four different classrooms and probably hundreds of different classroom arrangements.

My first year of teaching!

I was hired two weeks after the school year had started. I had three giant whiteboards! I redecorated my door with my students’ names every month, which I now know was silly. I dearly miss my row of cabinets and countertop, along with my walls that I could staple all over.


My Second Year: This year was very eventful. We started a school, moved into a temporary location in a strip mall (with no windows and one bathroom for 600 students.) I made myself a fake window. I didn’t even have a whiteboard or curriculum or anything. Then in January we got all packed up and moved to our brand new building. I got all unpacked and taught for four months. Then in June, I repacked everything and moved it to the gym because my upstairs classroom was going to be turned into a middle school science lab. My new classroom was going to be in the new wing of the building that had not even been built yet.

Third Year:

So we started with everything in the gym and a brand new, somewhat hastily built, classroom. I vacuumed it myself (feeling like a ghostbuster.) Then I got everything into my room and unpacked. At this point I realized how much I liked great floor spaces for kids to work on, so every time I rearranged my desks (which was often) I always did so with floor space in mind. *foreshadowing*

Fourth Year:

Still desks, but lots of floor space. This would have been the first year I would have gotten to leave everything as it was over the summer and start the year “normally” except for the fact that over the summer I decided to go…

DESKLESS!   Year Five:

So about a week before school was supposed to start I decided to try to persuade my principal to let me go deskless. I had a 25 page proposal with research and everything. Even without all the desks, I still moved the furniture around several times through the year 🙂 We did standardized testing in other classrooms this year so I didn’t have to worry about that.

Year Six: My room was not bad at all when I returned from the summer. I reworked the desklessness several times through the year. I started with the whiteboard kidney table at the floor and then moved it to be my desk that students can sit at one side. I also got a couch that was very popular.

We had to do standardized testing in my room, so I had to get many of my desks back for those few months, and afterwards I did a hybrid version of my classroom. This particular group of kids did not take to my room quite as well as the group before, so the hybrid was just as well.

Year Seven:

My group of kiddos this year has really struggled with self-control and making good choices when it comes to where they sit. My classroom is really all about them, so it was in their best interest to get many of my desks back, have some days where they choose their seats and some days I choose for them. My kiddos that need a little more structure have permanently assigned spots and are thriving in them!

Even with desks, I still treat my learning environment as a living, breathing, part of my instruction and planning. It has a huge impact on my students every day and should be treated with as much respect.


Think Aloud

“Where’s Papa going with that axe?” …wait, where IS he going with the axe? What’s he going to do? What’s going to happen? I HAVE TO KNOW!

Isn’t that just the best grabber? It sucks me right in. And more importantly, it sucks my students right in as well. You just have to love Charlotte’s Web 🙂


Read aloud is different than think aloud. If I wanted read aloud, I could just push play on an audiobook and sit down to check my email. Which isn’t a bad thing, just different. Think aloud is letting the kids in on the secret; showing them (a little bit of) what goes on inside my head while I’m reading. The predictions and connections I make, the questions I have and the things I wonder about. I’m teaching them how to think for themselves.

I have to read aloud (think aloud) to my class every day. A lot of times I have multiple books going at the same time, one in language arts class and one in homeroom, and throw in the occasional picture book for character. I think it is SO IMPORTANT that kids hear us read and know that we enjoy reading. They pick up on stuff like that.

I attended a presentation by Ellen Oliver Keene about oral language. Language development among children has been declining over the years. Listening to their teachers (and everyone) speak is modeling for them. This means we need to use sophisticated vocabulary words around our kids, and vary our pace, intensity, and expression of emotion when we speak. And reading aloud is giving us the ability to model someone else’s speech. It lets us portray many different people and their various speaking styles and dialects.

“I regret to inform you (pause) that King Glower, your father, (long pause) is dead.” …Okay, time for specials.


I love stopping at a cliff-hanger and hearing the groans and protests from my students, “just five more minutes!” That clip is from Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George.


Of course, besides the adventures there were many wonders on the island such as the mermaids and the lagoon. Oh, my! the lagoon is such a wonderful and magical place. If you shut your eyes and are a lucky one, you may be able to picture this place- a shapeless pool of lovely pale colors floating in the darkness. Then if you squeeze your eyes even tighter, the pool begins to take shape, and the colors become so bright that with another squeeze they burst into flames. But just before they do, you see the lagoon. Can you see the surf? Can you hear the mermaids singing?

I can see the surf! I can hear them singing! It’s like Peter Pan is flying right by me! Imagination and visualization are skills that still need to be taught. One of my favorite phrases I teach my kids every year is ‘get lost in a good book.’ What an amazing thing it is to be able to jump into someone else’s world that they have created and escape the troubles and difficulties of your own life.

And of course, picture books make for excellent think alouds as well as novels. It works for high schoolers too, even though they think they’re too cool for picture books. Below is a page from Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett. It is hilarious!


Books by Patricia Polacco are excellent for discussing good character as well as personal narrative writing since many of her books are stories from her own childhood.


Honey is sweet, and so is knowledge, but knowledge is like the bee that made that sweet honey, you have to chase it through the pages of a book.

And read alouds/ think alouds can be done even in a book with no words! This is The Flower Man by Marc Ludy and it is a beautiful wordless picture book with dozens of individual window storylines in this town. It’s great for discussing character and for student writing prompts.

I LOVE to read. I want my love of reading to be contagious and I want to infect all of my students. If we could spend all day, every day, silent reading, buddy reading, and reading/thinking aloud, I would be the happiest teacher in the world.



Science Day!

Our school has a K-12 Science Night every year. This year in third grade we decided to also do a science day to get the kids excited for science night.  We have just finished astronomy and just started the human body in science, so we did a combination of activities from both units. Here are some picture highlights of science day:

IMG_7176My preparation of supplies the day before. I was definitely piquing my students interest by having this out during the school day before.

IMG_7181Special guest speaker, Dr. Ken Rooks. He is an emergency room doctor and he is speaking to our kids about broken bones and x-rays.

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We build models of the hand to see how the ligaments, joints, and bones worked together to allow us to move.


Lee Carlson came to present about his work on the Mars Curiosity Rover.

IMG_7207 We made flip books about how eclipses work.


This was probably the highlight of the day: making our own “Mars Rovers.”


They were powered by balloons. It was very much a problem solving process of “why is it not working? How do I fix it? What can I change?” IMG_7189IMG_7195

Then at science night we got to see which pairs of third graders were awarded ribbons for their science fair projects.


Her shirt has it right: Science Rocks!

It’s Worth the Extra Effort

Before our students can read books to learn information, they have to learn how to read. Before they can write essays we teach them how to write their letters. Before they can find equivalent fractions we have to teach them to multiply. So why should teaching technology be any different?

We can’t expect to introduce a new technology tool and for kids to automatically know how to use it (although they may know how to use it as a toy, but that’s entirely different.) Yes, it takes extra time that we don’t feel like we have. But as far as I’m concerned, if we don’t make the time to teach technology, we are doing a severe disservice to the children whose minds have been entrusted to us.

In our standardized testing scores from last year our kids’ writing scores were quite low. We were wondering how much of that is writing ability and how much of it is our kids’ inability to type. I’ve seen kids plan a whole beautiful paragraph on a computer test and then after frustratingly hunting and pecking at the keys they give up and write one sentence. They do practice typing every week in technology class, but thinking up what you want to write while you are typing it is a very different skill. So to combat this struggle, I piloted something this week that I want to implement in all our third grade classes.


We are very fortunate to have 6 ipads in each classroom along with keyboards. So I borrowed all the third grade iPads so I had a whole set and I decided to have my kids do a writing on demand: essentially I gave them a prompt and they had 45 minutes to write a single draft of a story. So much of the writing we do is writing process, spending several weeks on one piece of writing. This is a totally different skill.

I knew I would have to start with an intro lesson. So my first day was all about how to get logged into Google Docs on the iPads, how to create a document, how to share a document, and how to type. This went great until we went to put everything away in a rush, then everything was a mess. Each teacher has an iPad cart that we got from Ikea that is labeled with their name. I knew we needed a better system for getting the iPads into and out of the cards next time. More on that later.  IMG_7134

Then that night I went in to my google drive to see how many of the kids’ docs got shared with me. (I know this whole process would be much easier on Google Classroom, but I’m just not there yet.) About half of them successfully shared docs with me (their email addresses all end in @prospectridgeacademy.org so there were spelling mistakes gallore.) I pasted the writing prompt for the next day in those docs already shared with me. That helped me the following day because the kids knew if they didn’t have the prompt in their document, they needed to reshare it with me.


The following day I implemented my cart captains. I put a student in charge of each cart, taking ipads off, putting them back on, and ensuring that each iPad was placed on the correct cart. I also assigned students to a specific cart. It was much less of a free-for-all. The majority of the students could get logged on and started by themselves. I had a handful of kids I had to help and get them to share the doc with me, but overall it went really smoothly!


I know it took a few extra lessons that I “don’t really have time for,” but I really do think this is valuable and I will definitely do it again. I’m thinking this is the start of something new for my class! (I couldn’t help it, High School Musical just had their 10 year anniversary! Haha)


Next time I think I’ll try sharing the doc with my students first, and then they won’t have to type my email address in order to share it with me. Then I really need to try out Google Classroom. This kind of this is exactly what Classroom is designed for. I also want to look into getting us an email shortcut to bypass the @ForeverLongEmailAddress.org  😉


What Teachers do over Winter Break…

I’d like to say that I take two whole weeks and don’t think about school at all, but that’s just not the kind of teacher I am 😉

First day of winter break, here is my project:

The Extrovert Ideal

Education is a constantly swinging pendulum. Phonics vs whole language, traditional multiplication algorithm vs lattice multiplication, recall of facts vs problem solving, independent work vs group work, and the list goes on and on.


One of the current pendulum swings is an emphasis on group work and team problem solving. Gone are the days of students in rows facing the front of the room with the teacher talking at them all day. Now students’ desks are in groups and they’re encouraged to learn together with the teacher facilitating, not lecturing. In an extreme example, my classroom has no desks as all. I went deskless for a myriad of reasons, one of which was to allow for more space for students to move around the room and work together in groups, which they do often.

This swing of the pendulum is proof of the extrovert ideal that our society currently holds. Even though one third of the American population is introverted, we seem to collectively think that extroverts are better, so if you’re introverted you had better start pretending not to be.  I wonder if/when the pendulum will swing back…

I’m currently reading a fantastic book: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. 


The book defines introverts as people who re-energize by being alone. Likewise, it defines extroverts as people who re-energize by being around other people. The book discusses many studies done about introverts and how they survive in today’s culture of the extrovert ideal. It give lots of statistics and examples about famous introverts throughout history.

It isn’t a book about teaching, but as I was reading I couldn’t help but think of my third graders.

I am an introvert and it has taken me most of my life to figure that out. It has taken just as long to then figure out how being an introvert changes the choices I make and how I feel every day in every situation.

It’s best teaching practice to consider our students’ differences: how they learn, their interests, their individual struggles. So why had I never before considered if they were introverted or extroverted?

I had always thought that working in groups was good for my students, teaching them social skills and conflict resolution that many adolescents lack nowadays. And to an extent, it is good for them. But it had never occurred to me that I was often forcing students to work together in a manner that I, as an introvert, always hated.

Cain has an excellent quote in her book: “At school you might have been prodded to come ‘out of your shell’- that noxious expression which fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter everywhere they go, and that some humans are just the same.”

There has to be a balance between “push students outside their comfort zone, it’s good for them to learn to work together” and “let them do whatever they want in a way that’s comfortable for them.”

Here are a few tips for teachers that I’ve gathered from various places:

  1. Balance your teaching methods to serve all the kids in your class. This is just best practice, but now you will hopefully remember to include introvert and extrovert into this consideration. Extroverts tend to like movement, stimulation, and collaborative work. introverts prefer lectures, down time, and independent projects. Mix it up!
  2. Give students choices. They do need to be pushed outside their comfort zones, but sometimes it’s perfectly fine for them to choose to work alone instead of in a group. Maybe they can choose to sit at an island desk off by itself, or in a corner on the floor. Allow choice in topics too! Let them to gravitate to what inspires them so that they can do their best work.
  3. Try some technology. Giving students an online place to post thoughts or questions is a great way for introverts to participate. And using technology is a great 21st Century skill that students will need later in their life. Today’s Meet, Edmodo, and Google Classroom are all great places to start.
  4. Encourage students to honor who they are. We are all different and we all learn in different ways, none better than the other. We need to specifically teach students how to respect those differences.

Here is some more information about Introverts and Extroverts: I love infographics! 😉


While bearing all this in mind is an excellent start, I’m also planning on talking to my third graders about it. Even having them reflect on which they might be, introvert or extrovert. I will definitely emphasize that there is no right or wrong way to be. This year in my class we are really focusing on how we are all different with different strengths and weaknesses, (see my lesson on the Marble Theory for more info.) I couldn’t find a really good questionaire for kids determining Introvert or Extrovert, so I adapted the one from Cain’s book Quiet and also using information from the Quiet Revolution website. You can download it here: introvert vs extrovert quiz for school

Ferdinand the Bull is an excellent short video to show them about being introverted.

I may also include some self reflection about learning styles. Here is an inventory I found: LearningStyleInventory


More resources for further reading: 

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

The Education Pendulum

Ten Things Educators Should Know About Introverted Students

5 Classroom Strategies That Help Introverts and Extroverts Do Their Best Work

The Quiet Revolution: for Introverts in our Extrovert Ideal Society 


IMG_6290My kiddos and I just finished reading Wonder by RJ Palacio. It’s a book about a ten year old boy named Auggie who was born with a rare medical facial deformity. He had been homeschooled all his life, but now he is going to school for the first time. As you might expect, he struggled quite a bit to find friends and fit in. Because of this, my students and I were able to have some awesome discussions about life, friendship, and good character.

There are so many activities we could do and discussions we could have because of this great story. I got most of these activities from various teachers’ blogs, so I definitely can’t claim all the credit! (credit, credit, credit.)  Here are a few of the lessons I did:

Precepts  4790600

In the book Auggie has a teacher, Mr. Brown, who gives the students precepts, or as I call them with my third graders, words to live by. He gives the students a new precept every month. They discuss what the precept is all about and the students have to write an essay about what the precept means to them. Then, after school is out, Mr. Brown encourages the students to send him a postcard from their summer travels with a precept they came across or they made up themselves. I love this concept and adapted it to use in my classroom. Character education is one of our school’s mission statements, so we have a different character trait to focus on every month. I came up with a list of different Words to Live by for every week that tied into our character trait. Then, once a month, my third graders get to choose one of our words to live bys to write a paragraph about what it means to them. January’s character trait is Courage, so here are our words to live by for that month:

  1. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Wayne Gretsky
  2. If you change nothing, nothing will change.
  3. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. Christopher Robin
  4. It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get back up. (Fall seven times, get up eight.)  

Empathy e1b0f__937

The book is written from many different characters’ points of view. I love that because it shows us what is going on in everyone’s heads throughout the book. It would have been a very different story had it only been from Auggie’s perspective. I ask my students, “Have you ever had a friend come to school one day and get upset with you over something silly, and you don’t know what you did to make them mad? Well maybe they aren’t actually mad at you, maybe they got in a fight with their brother on the way to school and they are accidently taking it out on you.” We are never able to know what battles are going on in everyone’s lives, so it’s important to always be kind. So when reading the extra Julian chapter, we see that Julian isn’t just an evil emotionless bully. He is a real person with hard stuff in his life. It doesn’t excuse what he does to Auggie, but it helps us to understand him better.

Conflict Resolution 


Mr. Browne’s September precept is, “When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.” Choose Kind has become a well used phrase in my classroom. Children, especially at this age of  eight and nine, have a very strong desire for justice and fairness. I moderate many, many arguments over small things. So teaching them to just choose kind and let their friend win when they are arguing over which game to play is kind of earth shattering. This is a sign we made for above our whiteboard as a reminder to always choose kind.

Culminating Activities 

I asked the kids to describe Wonder in one word, then I used Tagxedo.com to make a word cloud of their responses.


How We View Ourselves 
We never get to hear specifically or see what Auggie’s face actually looks like, so his face, as well as the other characters’ faces, are depicted artistically with few features. So we each created our own Wonder face and chose a precept that resonated with us.

IMG_6289 Here is mine.

Here are some of my students’.

IMG_6292  IMG_6294
IMG_6293  IMG_6296IMG_6298  IMG_6297

Describing Characters 

Lastly, we took the silhouettes of the characters’ faces and wrote inside words that we felt described them. We completed these before we read the Julian chapter, so I plan to have my students do another Julian picture after we finish his point of view to see if our understanding of him changes, which I hope it will.

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