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Pangrams: a no prep fun activity for writing enrichment

What You Need:
  • paper
  • pen/pencil
  • Thesaurus and/or dictionary (optional)
What You Do:
  1. Show the students the following example of a common pangram: “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”
  2. Explain that a pangram uses all of the letters in the English language in a single sentence. At this point, the kids will probably underestimate how difficult writing a pangram can be. They’ll find out soon!
  3. Challenge the kids to write their own pangram! Once they get the hang of it, they can compete to see who can write the shortest pangram that makes sense. Students can work on their own, but this activity really lends itself to collaboration and is best in partners or small groups. If kids as they get stuck, you can help them by giving ideas for words they can add to their pangram in order to incorporate some of the less common letters of the alphabet.
  4. Award the kid whose pangram has the fewest letters, the kid whose pangram has the fewest words, and the kid whose pangram makes the most logical sense.

You can also extend this activity and have your students make pangram posters using construction paper and markers. They can write their pangram in marker along the bottom of the poster, and then illustrate the pangram on the rest of the poster board.

If you need more fun activities for spelling and writing, check out this list of activities from education.com. I always find great ideas, worksheets, and resources to help my kiddos there! 

3 Realistic Tips for Guided Math Success

I'm just going to come right out and say it: guided math is one of my all time best teaching decisions. This is my fifth year using the guided math model in my classroom (to varying levels of success!) and I have to say, my kiddos are engaged, on task, and making great progress. I'm not going to pretend it isn't without challenges- sometimes we have to go back to the beginning and review all our expectations (repeatedly). One year we could only handle one station per day, other years we can do four stations a day. Most years are somewhere in-between. There are definitely some things that have made a difference for me, though.

1. Make your plans work for you
Don't plan 4 stations a day each day. Make sure you have some stations with staying power! Look at what your grade level fluencies are in the CCSS, and find activities that target those skills. In fifth grade, one of our fluencies is multi-digit multiplication using the standard algorithm. You better believe we practice that every week! I found lots of games and activities that help to reinforce this skill at varying levels, and I rotate them in and out. Very low prep! Another station is intervention, which is with me and whiteboards. Here, I only need to know what skill I am targeting. No need to copy or prep anything! The other two stations are typically either problem solving, literacy in math, a game, or a math "exploration" of a topic that the kids chose.

2. Find what works in your room, and do it. Be flexible!
Don't listen to the 42 other people that can be super human and plan 4 differentiated lessons per math period per day. That isn't real life! Figure our what works for you and your kids and stick to it. If you are having success with two stations per day, great! Work it, girl. If you can swing three or four, more power to you! If you are struggling to get one station in, that is ok. It is a starting point, and it is definitely better than nothing. Don't try to keep up with the Jones'. You are a professional, and you know your kids best. Do what works.

3. Set clear expectations
Seriously, I can't stress this enough. I go over my rules and expectations for math workshop repeatedly when we start. When I think I've done it enough, I do it twice more to be sure. Then, I am an evil, wicked, mega-strict teacher and make sure that I watch the kiddos like a hawk and address it every single time they don't follow the guidelines. I post a big copy of our expectations and then give every kiddo a small printable copy to keep in their math folder. We create the expectations together so the kiddos feel invested, and then every single person in the classroom signs the poster to agree to follow it.  I don't even start working with groups until I am sure that the expectations are clearly understood and being followed. Finally, I ask each kiddo to fill out an accountability sheet each day after each station. They tell me how well they understand the math and how focused and on task they think they were. Of course, 11 year olds can inflate their effort level a bit, but with some training they are decent at self reflection!

It's over simplified, I'm sure, but it's what works for me. If you do guided math, I'd love to hear what works for you!

Equivalent Fractions on a Multiplication Chart

There's no getting around it, fifth grade math can be really challenging- especially for kids that are still struggling to understand the foundational skills. I have had so many kiddos over the years that could not master adding and subtracting fractions with unlike denominators just because they did not know their math multiplication facts. Math facts are super important, but as a teacher I always felt it was my duty to find a way to help them understand the more abstract concept of equivalent fractions. So, I started using multiplication charts to help my struggling learners understand and create equivalent fractions- but maybe not in the way you are thinking.

We all know that kids who haven't memorized their math facts benefit from multiplication charts. That is no surprise! The process for using a multiplication chart to find equivalent fractions is time consuming, though. You have to find the correct product for 2 numerators and 2 denominators- that is 4 separate math problems to solve before you can even begin to solve the problem. That is a challenge for kids with low attention spans, processing speed issues, or even just kids who are easily distracted. Instead, I have my kiddos use the multiplication chart as a reference sheet for equivalent fractions for benchmark fractions.

If you look at the chart, you can use the factors listed on the left hand side as the numerator and denominator. In my example above, the rows colored red show fractions that are equivalent to 1/2: 2/4, 3/6, etc. The rows that are colored blue show fractions that are equivalent to 3/4, yellow shows fractions equivalent to 5/6, and so on. I train my kids to find the benchmark fraction they are looking for, and then look at all the equivalent fractions shown for the original fraction. We talk about why this works, too, which is an incredibly important part of understanding so this doesn't become just a "trick" that they will memorize without any value or meaning behind it. Since both the numerator and denominator are multiplied by the same number, it creates an equivalent fraction. To deeper understanding for all of my kiddos, we talk about the identify property of multiplication and the fact that it relates to all numbers- fractions included! Since you are multiplying both the numerator and denominator by the same number, for example 2, that is the same as multiplying the whole fraction by 2/2, or 1 whole. 

In the past, I have printed a blackline box on cardstock to help kids track the fractions. The guide works to help kids with tracking issues to follow the equivalent fractions across the page. It also helps students with focus or attention trouble stay on task with a reduced amount of visual "clutter." On the colored multiplication chart, I like to use a white guide and on a white multiplication chart I like to use colored cardstock.

If you want to give this idea a shot, I've created a freebie with a blank multiplication chart, a color coded chart, and several variations of those. The freebie also includes a template to cut the paper guides to help students track the fractions across the page!  To download it, click here.
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