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Character Education

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Digital Learning

Make History Come Alive

My first read-aloud in fourth grade is an amazing book by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock called Gifts From the Sea. This snippet of historical fiction reels kids in from the first shocking and highly emotionally-charged sentence: "A northeast wind was blowing the day we buried Mama on a hill overlooking the sea." Your entire class will be on the edge of their seats, riding the emotional roller coaster with Quila from the first to the final pages of this book.

Quila MacKinnon lives alone with her now widowed dad on Devil's Rock Island, off the coast of Maine. Quila's dad is the lighthouse keeper and they live a lonely life there in 1858. When Quila finds a living baby strapped between mattresses and washed up on the shore, life for her little family changes so much for the better. They name the baby Celia, which means "a gift from the sea".

One of my students last year who asked me with tears in her eyes on the first day why I had chosen such a sad book to read to our class was the first one who came to the carpet for read-aloud every day thereafter, begging me not to stop reading! I promise that you and your students will fall in love with this book!

I was fortunate to meet the author several times, and my favorite part of her presentation is when she tells the students how the story came to written. She was working in her studio on another project when Quila's persistent voice was heard in her ear over and over, saying, "Tell my story. Tell my story now!" You can use this juicy tidbit any way you choose! Was it an idea for a character that was so strong that the author could concentrate on nothing else until that story was told, or was it something more? Perhaps a voice from beyond?

This particular book can be related to Keep the Lights Burning, Abby by Peter Roop, which tells the true story of a horrific storm off the coast of Maine and the bravery of a young girl in the lighthouse. Can also be related to a study of immigration in the 1800's particularly the plight of those fleeing the Irish Potato Famine.

I love to use this read-aloud as a springboard to Historical Fiction and Narrative Non-Fiction book clubs. For a complete resource to get your Book Clubs started, take a look at my Book Club Survival kit, which includes Historical Fiction reading lists for grades 3 through 5.

I have found that my students love to hear what I'm reading outside of school. A grownup book that is closely related to the story in Gifts From the Sea is The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. Emotionally charged, and worth taking a look at!

You may enjoy using these resources from Rainbow City Learning as you make history come alive in your classroom!

So excited to share this post with a special group of blogging friends! Sharing is Caring!


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A Keepsake Portfolio

The school year is almost over. Most of us are still testing, and it seems as if that's all we've done all year long: prep for the test and then test some more. Yet, we are longing for something beautiful that our students can take away from this year, and have sweet memories whenever they gaze upon it. My guess is  that they won't be gazing upon  those test score printouts with too many fond memories, even if the scores are high.

My Bright Idea for April is a Keepsake Portfolio. You still have time to create something beautiful to hold some precious moments from this one special year! Here are answers to some questions you may have:

Where will I find pieces to include in a portfolio? It's almost May!

Mine the writing pieces that your students have already done.

Your students have been writing all year. Maybe you have used daily journals, weekly reflections, or interactive notebooks. Time to mine those collections for keepsake-worthy pieces! Use some of your ELA time to have students go through their notebooks and folders for pieces they have written that they are especially proud of, or that would benefit from a rewrite for publishing.  

Students can literally tear those pages right out of their notebooks and save in a folder for their keepsake portfolios, or they can dog ear the corners or mark the pages with sticky notes. Many parents simply dispose of all those interactive notebooks at the end of the school year anyway, so why not just tear out some pages to improve on?

OK, so I've got a bunch of torn pages in folders! What makes this a keepsake?

Edit and rewrite (or type) the pieces on pre-decorated paper (ask for donations from parents and office supply stores). Students may also decorate the pages themselves. These turn out really beautiful! 
You may also want to have students reflect on each of the pieces and add that reflection to the page facing the piece. Some possible prompts for reflection:
I used to think, but now I know (or think)....
I chose this piece because...
This piece reminds me....
This is an example of how I...

Is there anything else I can add?


April is Poetry Month! Include any poems that your students might have written during a poetry unit. Write some new poems about Spring or about your school year. Acrostics are easy and quick. Students love them! Why not write an acrostic about each season, using school year events as the focus?
Add some other poems that can easily be written following templates, such as haiku, diamante, and cinquain.

Add a drawing or diagram to accompany each writing piece.

Add a letter to "Your 4th grade Self" (or whichever grade you are in this year), written as an adult looking back. Include predictions in the letter about the person who is writing (career, family, thoughts on how 4th grade influenced the person he/she has become).

Add a letter to your self from the beginning of the year about how the year has been. 

If you have pictures from field trips, assemblies, etc., print them out for students to include in their keepsake portfolios, and they can write short pieces about those pictures. 

Students can add an "About the Author" page with biographical information.

A Table of Contents and a dedication page are two other pages that my students always enjoy adding.

Reflecting on the work done in academic and special subject areas also make nice additions to this portfolio. Pieces such as "The hardest math problem I solved this year was...", "My favorite art project this year was...",  "My best day in gym class was.." , "My favorite song learned in music class was..."

A page where classmates can write a sentence about what they liked best about sharing the year with each of the other students is also a fun addition.  

What will the finished portfolio look like?

It can be as simple or elaborate as you have the time, resources, and preference for. 

You can ask for donations of pizza boxes from a local pizzeria or restaurant. Students can decorate the boxes and then mount their writing pieces on scrapbook paper or construction paper cut to fit inside the box.

Using the same "mount on scrapbook or construction paper" plan, simply make a cover page,  punch holes, and string together with ribbon. If you have a binding machine in your building, you can bind the book that way. Notebook rings or plastic "ring-its" can also be used to hold the pages together.

"Bare Books" (available from Treetop Publishing) make a beautiful presentation. Students can decorate the covers with markers, crayons, or colored pencils, For the ultimate presentation, you can include a life-cast face mask or hand mask to personalize the cover. Attach with a hot glue gun. 

Glitter, ribbons, sequins, and star wire also add beautiful finishing touches to any of the above suggestions!

Where to start?

For ending this year, you may want to start small, and then start the new school year off with a plan to have exactly the collection you would like at the end. You could simple mine those journals and notebooks and collect some things to rewrite and pretty up. Have your students make a cover and bind them simply with rings or ribbons.

For next year, plan a more extravagant keepsake portfolio. I'll be offering suggestions for organizing the process and creating the life cast masks in future blog posts. I hope you'll join me!

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