Cultivating a Love of Reading

2009 07 03 Old Classics sdobie via Compfight

After teaching 3rd grade for the last 14 years, this year I have moved into the role of Librarian/Technology teacher for the whole school, PreK3 – 8th grade.  It has been an adjustment to say the least, but I am really enjoying it now that I have settled in.  This job has allowed me to teach my 2 favorite things – technology and the love of a good book.  One goal that I have is to motivate my students to read everyday for enjoyment.  Here are a few of the ways I’ve tried to incorporate this goal in my new position.

  1. Read Aloud to the Children Every Time I See Them – I think it’s easy for teachers of younger students to incorporate this practice on a daily basis, but as students get older and work gets harder, it’s one of the first things teachers cut out of the daily routine.  When I was teaching 3rd grade I tried my best to read every day.  My favorite time of day was before dismissal.  I would get the children all packed up about 15-20 minutes before dismissal and then I’d read whichever chapter book we were into at the moment.  It helped to alleviate some of the craziness that can happen at dismissal and it was an enjoyable way to leave – sharing a great story together.  In my new position I see grades K-4 twice a week and grades 5-8 only once a week.  I’ve been pretty good about always starting off with a story from 4th grade down but it’s not always as easy with the bigger kids since I only see them once a week.  But read on for ideas on that.
  2. #Classroom Book A Day In my search for library lesson plans this year I can upon this idea started by Jillian Heise and based on Donalyn Miller’s #Bookaday challenge.  Her idea is to read aloud a picture book every day of the school year to students of any age.  Having been out of the picture book scene for the last 15 years or so, this has been a great resource for sharing fun, now favorite, new picture book titles like We Don’t Eat Our Classmates, Creepy Pair of Underwear, Creepy Carrots, The Book with No Pictures, Potato Pants, Nerdy Birdy Tweets and The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors, to name a few.  If you are looking for an easy way to incorporate real alouds into a busy classroom, give this a try.  You can get some book titles ideas from the Heise Reads website or by following the #classroombookaday hashtag on Twitter.
  3. Live Video Conference with an Author – When I was in grade 3, I would always be searching for author’s that would Skype with us for free.  Over the years we had live sessions with authors like Kate Messner, Mike Artell, K. E. (Kristin) Rocha, and Peter Raymundo.  There is something that motivates students to read when they talk to the author live.  I remember ending the session with Kristin Rocha where she played games and taught the kids to speak in the bear language mentioned in her Bearhaven series.  As soon as the Skype ended, I had 26 kids running for the 4 or 5 copies of the books that I had in the classroom.  It wasn’t always easy to find authors who would do the live session for free, however one great place to look is Microsoft Education’s Skype in the Classroom.  This year in my new role, I found another great resource from Scholastic.  When you host a Scholastic Book Fair at your school, you can get Scholastic Dollars as your payout.  Not only can you by books and equipment with those funds but you can also buy Skype sessions with authors.  The way it works is that you purchase a set number of books by that author and then the Skype comes with it for free.  They only post these Skypes a few times a month and they sell out fast but I was able to purchase one this year.  Last week we Skyped with Sandra Markle, author of over 200 books including the What if You Had animal series.  Now I had bought that series for our library in October after seeing a few of them at our Book Fair.  They include colorful funny pictures and facts about different interesting animals.  I had been trying to get the kids to check out the books over the last few months without much luck.  Then last week grades 1 – 4 took part in a 30 minutes Skype with Sandra.  She did some Science magic, showed photos of the books, talked about her research which included interactions with live animals and answered questions.  She ended by saying that every time the kids read her books, they will think of that Skype experience.  Each child went home with a copy of her book What if You Had Animal Eyes.  The children just loved the experience!  I’ve had several parents tell me how excited the kids were when they went home that night and now they are fighting to check out her books.

4. Hold a Book Tasting – Often times children come into the library and don’t know what to read and sometimes they are not willing to give news books a chance.  Try holding a book tasting to get them to into something new.  In a book tasting, students are given a choice of books to “taste.”  They look at the cover and book jacket, if applicable.  Then they spend 5-10 minutes reading the book.  After that they jot down whether they liked the book so far or not and why on their “book menu.”  I’ve done one with grade 2 students and I’m planning one with my grade 3 kids this week.  I tried to choose books in a series for these tastings so there would be several books for them to choose from.  Not everyone loved all of the books choices but they all found something new that they liked.  Here are a few photos.

5. Keeping Track of Favorite Authors and Making Recommendations to Others – Many adult readers love Goodreads for keeping track of their favorite books and learning about good books from others.  Recently I was looking for a similar, free, social media type sharing website for students to do the same and I found Biblionasium.  Teachers set up free accounts for their students.  You can search for a book and it will give a short summary and reading level.  Both students and teachers can write reviews for the books and recommend them to others in their group.  I just set up account for my grade 3 students as a trial and if all goes well, I’ll create accounts for other classes as well.

6. Reading free eBooks with Epic Books – One of my issues this year was finding something for the large group of children to do while I am helping small groups of students check out books. Epic books has worked out great for this.  Teachers create free accounts for their students.  Students can log in and either listen to audio books or read ebooks.  Everything is free during school hours and there are many good titles.  If the children want access at home, they would need to subscribe.  Epic Books is available as a web version or with an app.  Another great way to get students reading something new.

One of my favorite moments of this school year was when I was reading Shiloh to my grade 4 students.  I usually only read a chapter or two each class period and then we move on to either a library or technology lesson.  On this particular day I was about 3/4’s of the way through the book and when I tried to stop they kids all yelled out, “NO, please keep reading!  We have to know what happens!”  After we finished the book, I had students fighting over the chance to check out the other books in the series.  I smiled and thought, “Goal accomplished for today!”  I am looking forward to trying some reading challenges and digital book reviews later in the year as other ways to encourage young children to make reading an everyday part of their lives.

If you have any other ideas to share on this topic, please leave me a comment below.  I’d love to get some new ideas.

How Do I Find Time for Meaningful Professional Development?

I’ve been teaching 19 years and for the last 14 years, I’ve been teaching 3rd grade.  I really enjoy this age level because they are old enough to do a lot of things for themselves but they are still very excited about learning.  However, teaching the same material over and over again, year after year can be a challenge.  I always tell my parents at Back to School Night that I sometimes get bored of teaching the same lessons, and if I’m bored, I know my students are probably bored too!  So I am always looking for new ways to spice up my classroom and make learning fun for the children.  The problem is, how do I find time to fit in that professional development?  Luckily, my own 2 daughters are in their 20s and pretty much self sufficient.  However, I still have papers to grade, bulletin boards to cover, lesson plans to write not to mention laundry, cleaning, errands, cooking, exercise, and time to relax and recharge.  There aren’t enough hours in the day!  I teach in the state of Pennsylvania and we are mandated to get 180 hours of PD in a 5 year time period so that does force us to learn something new.  But for Catholic school teachers like myself, that also means paying for it out of our own pockets or doing something for free just so I can get those hours finished.  Where can I get meaningful PD?  Places to learn a new tool that I can quickly incorporate into my classroom tomorrow?

Rich Czyz has some wonderful ways to answer that question in his new book, The Four O’Clock Faculty.  This book has very easy and practical ideas for finding that spark that we teachers need to get our juices flowing again.  Some of the ideas mentioned in this book I am already doing, ie using Twitter, attending EdCamps, but he also gave a multitude of other easy ways for making connections with others to share ideas.  Here are a few of my favorites.

  1. #CoffeeEDU – This is an esay way to share ideas over coffee.  Choose an establishment, pick a topic and invite other educators to join you in your discussion.  Tweet it out with the hashtag and maybe you’ll get some folks outside of your school to join you to enrich the conversations and sharing.  Often times you can even get an educational vendor to send prizes and/or pay for the coffee!
  2. #TechMexTuesday – In this method, Rich suggests utilized those 15 minutes or so before or after school that teachers are required to be on property.  Invite teachers to come and learn or share about a new website or tool while snacking on some grab and go Tex Mex treats.  This could be a weekly or monthly meeting where the technology coach or principal share new ideas with the staff.
  3. The 1 – 5 – 15 Method by Rob Sahli – Each week Rob sends out a newsletter that contains 3 links for his staff members to continue their learning.  The first link takes one minute to review, the 2nd takes 5 minutes and the 3rd takes 15 minutes.  Maybe different educators in your building can take turns doing this throughout the year.
  4. PD during your Commute – Download an educational podcast and listen on the way to work if you have a lengthy commute.
  5. Lunch and Learn – Last year my school got a new reading series and we were all having a bit of difficulty adjusting and getting use to the new format.  Several times a week we would share our frustrations during lunch which also led to us sharing our success stories and resources we’d found to help.  At the end of the year, several teachers commented on how much they enjoyed those discussions and sharing.  Why not make this a routine?  Choose a topic to discuss and invite your colleagues!  If you have the means, bring the food too or make it a BYO.
  6. Have a Genius Hour during your next PD day. – Many of us have heard of trying this with students – giving them time to work on a topic they are passionate about – but I never thought about doing it during a teacher professional development.

These are just a few of the numerous ideas that Rich mentions in his book.  It’s an easy read with many anecdotes we can all relate to and both a summary and discussion questions at the end of each chapter. (Who’s up to do a Book Club with this book? We can even do it virtually using the Twitter hashtag #4OCF or the Voxer app as Rich suggests).  I think this book would be a good read for principals or other leaders who are in charge of professional development, technology teachers or coaches looking to share ideas with staff members, and teachers who are looking to go Rogue.  Rogue as defined by Rich is Relevant Organized Group of Underground Educators.

Some of the best educational ideas that I have gotten have been from talking to other teachers about something they are doing in their classroom.  Several years ago I became involved in the Global Classroom Project which was a group of educators from around the world who came together to provide and lead projects to connect their students globally.  We’ve since had to let go of that label due to time constraints to maintain the projects.  However, once a month there are 15 or so of us who get online and video chat about what is going on in our classrooms.  We are from different countries and different walks of life (both higher and lower grade teachers) but I really look forward to connecting with those educators and sharing our ideas.  I have come to see them as friends even though I’ve never met most of them.  When we do meet up (usually at ISTE) it’s like I’ve known them forever and we pick up our conversations right where we left off during the last Skype session.  When I have a problem or need some advice, I know they are there to help.  Every teacher needs a PLN both inside and outside of your school building.

The world (and education) as we know it is changing at lightening speed and it’s important to our students that educators change with it so that we might properly prepare them for the future.

To learn more about Rich and his book visit the Four O’Clock Faculty website.

How do you find time for meaningful professional development?

3 Easy Ways to Make Global Connections with Students

#EdublogsClub Prompt 7 – The Listicle

Becoming a global educator is very important in today’s society.  Even the youngest children can benefit from making global connections but many teachers have no idea how to get started.  Here are some easy ways to make that happen.

  • Make Connections with Blogs – Blogging is an easy way for students to get connected with other classrooms around the world.  Two of my favorite websites to use for that are “The 100 Word Challenge” and the “Student Blogging Challenge.”  Each challenge has a weekly writing prompt to give the children a topic to write about and each encourages the participants to leave comments for others.  Both of these challenges are rich with international participants which provide my students the opportunity to get into conversations with children around the world.
  • Video Conferencing – Using Skype and Google Hangouts to speak with other classrooms is a big thrill for my students.  Not only are we learning about others around the world, but the children are learning the 21st century skills of asking and answering questions.  Our favorite type is the Mystery Location where the children ask questions to figure out the location of the other school.  We’ve also done video conferences with scientists studying penguins in Antarctica, a marine biologist who works with sharks in Bimini and several authors.  One of the best places to get started finding partners is Microsoft Education’s Skype in the Classroom website.  If you’d like more information about how to go about doing a Mystery Location Skype, you can read the guest blog post I wrote a few years ago on Corkboard Connections which is linked to the photo below. 
  • Global Projects – Another way to make global connections is to take part in an organized global project.  Here are a few of my favorites.
    • The Global Read Aloud is a global project centered around the love of a good book.  This project kicks off in October.  You make connections with another class and then discuss the book as each teacher reads it aloud.
    • Projects by Jen is a sight that runs several projects throughout the year.  Our favorite is the OREO Project that runs in September.
    • The Peace Crane Project is a project that stems from International Peace Day in September but it runs all year long.  Participants each fold paper cranes with messages of peace and send them to the other school.
    • If you are looking for a more intense project, try a Flat Connections Project.  There are different projects for children ages K-12.  Each project lasts for about 12 weeks and they are rich with international participants.  Julie Lindsay and her project managers run an awesome support system for participants.  This project got me started and made me the global educator that I am today.
    • My students are just getting started in a global project called If You Learned Here.  In this project the participants create a global eBook and use it to ask and answer questions about school and life in other classrooms.

Don’t be afraid to take the plunge and become a global educator!  Trust me, once you give it a try, you will never go back.  You will see the excitement and learning opportunities for your students and realize that it’s easy, fun and totally worth it.

Favorite Free Web Tool –

Last month I signed up to take part in the #EdublogsClub – a weekly writing club for educators to blog about a different topic each week. I’ve been so busy that they are on prompt 5 and I am just having time to get started. This week’s theme is to share your favorite free web tools and I’m happy to provide my thoughts on this topic.

Online Worksheet  Our school is is a GAFE school and the students are 1:1 with chromebooks.  We are trying to get away from running off paper and doing more work online.  However, there are often times when I’d like my 3rd grade students to have a bit more practice in something that we are learning.  With, I can create a digital worksheet for my students to complete.  Once I log in, I select a theme and decide what type of question I need from a wide variety of choices which are listed below.  Some questions also offer an option for students to leave a voice recorded message instead of a typed answer.

Once I choose my question format, it is very easy to write up the questions.  At the same time I write the questions, I can also input the answers so the test will be self marking, or I can leave them open ended to review myself.  When I have completed the test, I save it.  Here is an example of one section of a Science worksheet that I recently made.

My next step is to assign the worksheet to my students.  There are several different ways to assign the worksheet using Google Classroom, Edmodo, a private link, a pin number or an embed code.

I usually assign the worksheet via Google Classroom.  At home my students log into their Google Classroom account and click on the link to view and complete the worksheet.  When they finish they hit the “Hand in Work” button at the bottom.  Then next day I log into my teacher account on and I can view each individual worksheet that a student has submitted to see how many they got correct or incorrect.

My students enjoy this format of homework much more then doing a paper worksheet.  They love using technology so this is fun to them.  I enjoy the fact that they are reviewing the material at home and we didn’t have to waste extra paper in the process.  To preview this entire worksheet, click here –  Ecosystem Science Worksheet worksheets can be created and completed on any device and it is completely free.  Some of my favorite things about this site are the variety of question types and the fact that my students don’t have to join a separate platform to complete the worksheets.  Another great option for teachers is the ability to search for and use worksheets created by other members.   I am very happy to have found this resource for this school year!

I hope this post was helpful to you!  Feel free to ask questions or share ideas by leaving me a comment.  I’d love to hear about what new web tool you are using with your students this year!

Our First Breakout Edu Game

This week in my 3rd grade classroom we tried our first ever BreakoutEdu game.  This game is similar to the Escape the Room places for adults.  In Breakout Edu, there are boxes with locks that have to be opened.  The locks are varied: directional lock, color lock (on an iPad), 4 digit lock, 3 digit lock and a word lock.  


The children work in teams and look for clues around the room to solve the puzzles and find the required information.  Once they think have all of the puzzles solved correctly, they get 2 minutes to try to open all of the locks.  This games provides practice with teamwork, problem solving, critical thinking and troubleshooting.


This first game that I tried was a Back to School themed game based on the book, If You Take A Mouse to School.  The premise was that the mouse came into our room and stole some of our school supplies.  Since I have 26 students, I set up 2 boxes and put the children into 8 teams.  So 4 teams worked on each box.  I purchased one box from the company (for about $100) and I created the other box myself using an ammo box and buying the rest of the locks at Home Depot and Amazon.

Clues for each lock where hidden around the room.  One puzzle required the students to use a UV flashlight to find hidden letters.


Another was a clue to the directional lock.


Do you see a clue to the 4 digit lock in this play about the book? (You’ll have to look closely)


Once clue was locked inside of a smaller box and it was a QR code to an online jigsaw puzzle that the students had to solve.


Another puzzle was a secret code where the students had to find the key to figure it out.


I did not want the students to get frustrated, so they were allowed to ask me for a hint if they were having a lot of difficulty.  Not too many had to get hints though.


They were very excited when they broke out!


I found this to be an awesome first day of school activity that the students really enjoyed!  Some of the things they liked best were being able to work with their friends, the fact that the puzzles were challenging, feeling great when they figured it all out, and being able to move around and talk while they worked.  Breakout Edu has many topic themed games for all age groups and the best part is that they are all FREE!  There is also a wonderful Breakout Edu Facebook group where teachers are sharing new games and ideas.  It is a great place to ask questions and get support.  I am happy that I found this wonderful resource and I look forward to trying another game with my students next month.

Skype with England

Today we had the wonderful experience of Skyping with our Flat Stanley buddies from England.  Mr. Holder and several of his students from Greenfield Primary School in Stourbridge, England exchanged Flat Friends with us by mail and have also been connecting with us via our blogs for the last several months.  As a culminating activity, we decided to do a Skype video conference with them to speak in person.  Each class prepared some information and photos to share about our country, school, hobbies, foods, sports, and more.  We talked for about 80 minutes and really enjoyed it.  Thanks so much to Mrs. Julia Skinner from the 100 Word Challenge Writing Prompt for bringing us together!  Check out the video below to see us in action.  We loved listening to their accents as I’m sure they enjoyed hearing ours as well.  What a wonderful way to end our school year!  Thank you!

Skype with England 2016 from Tina Schmidt on Vimeo.

Playing Quizlet Live – Beta Game

I’ve been using the website Quizlet for several years now to practice vocabulary with my students.  It’s great because once I create the cards, the children can search for me and play games with them at home or at school through the app or website.  Today we had the awesome opportunity to try the Beta version of the new Quizlet Live game!  I used this team based game to review Reading vocabulary words with my students.  The game was based on a set of game cards I had in my Quizlet account.  Once I launched the game via my Quizlet account, the children went to on their iPads to log in.  Students can use phones, computers or iPads to play.  They put in my game code and their name.  Then the site automatically assigned them to a team.


Teams where given cute animal names like ostrich, koala, and panda and a photo of that animal showed up on their screen.  The teams were also shown on my Smartboard.  When the students were sitting with their teammates, I started the game.IMG_5573

Each round asked 12 questions.  The same question showed up on each student’s device in a team, but the answer choices for each student were different.  The children had to read all of the answer choices between them and discuss which was correct before they submitted.


While they were playing on their individual devices, my Smartboard was showing which team was in the lead.  The first team to get all of their answers correct won the game.  If a team answered a question wrong, however, they lost ALL of their points!


As soon as one team answered all 12 questions correctly, the game shut down for everyone and they were declared the winner.  At the end of the game, teachers can see results that show what terms the students got right and which ones they struggled with.


My 3rd graders just adored this game and asked to play it over several times in a row!  It was a super fun way for them to work together to practice vocabulary words.  As I mentioned, this game is in Beta testing right now.  Only those who have a paid Teacher account on Quizlet have access.  Teachers who don’t have a paid account can go on their waiting list or get access by being invited by another teacher.  Special thanks to my daughter’s 12th grade teacher, Sharon Hartranft, for inviting me to have access and to my daughter for telling me how much the 12th graders enjoyed this new game.  I think Quizlet Live might give Kahoot a run for it’s money with this fun new game!

Watch the video below to see the game in action in my classroom.  Click HERE to get more information and instruction from the Quizlet site.

Playing Quizlet Live from Tina Schmidt on Vimeo.


Book Review Using Tellagami

This week my students used the app Tellagami to create a book review about a good story that they have read recently.  They took a photo of the book to use as the background of the Gami.  Next they changed the look of the avatar, then they recorded their voice telling about the book.  They really enjoyed this project and it was a fun way to practice our listening and speaking!  To see our book reviews, click here – Tellagami Book Reviews 


Adobe Voice Social Studies Project

This week my students used the Adobe Voice app to create a digital project about either one of the Branches of Government or a National Symbol.  I love the simplicity of Adobe Voice.  Students can search for clip art or real photos right in the app.  They can add text, choose from different layouts and themes, record their voice and add music.  I find it much easier to create a video of pictures with Adobe Voice then on iMovie.  Finished projects save to the camera roll.  I had the students submit their projects to me via Google Classroom and then I was easily able to embed them in a blog post to share.  Hope you enjoy our videos!