Even though I teach a self-contained gifted class, I have a wide range of abilities in my room. I'm sure that most of you do as well. Besides a wide range of abilities, I have students who finish things at very different times. One of the ways I've found to be sure that the fast finishers are using their extra time wisely (boy, that's teacher-talk, huh?) is through this little genius idea - The Brain Builders Club.

One bulletin board in my room is dedicated to holding task cards on many different subjects. Some I've found through internet searches and some I created myself. Each set of 30 cards has the answers on the back to make them self-checking.

If a student has extra time, they can choose a set of cards to study. Once they feel confident enough, a classmate who is also finished can give them the Brain Builders Test. Then the students check it together. If the student gets all of the questions correct they earn a Brain Bead!

My cabinet doors are covered with these command hooks. Each student's number is on one of the tags from the hook and hanging from it is a ball-chain keychain. Each time the student earns a Brain Bead I attach it for them. Each five beads earns a special reward of their choice, for example: lunch with me, a homework pass, sit by a friend pass, no morning work, free computer time, etc. It has been a very motivating activity for my students. It was actually a little too motivating. I had students who were trying to take 3 or 4 tests a day! Now we have a limit. They can study one set of cards or take one test per day. They are taking it much more seriously this way. Although for me it offers my self-motivated students a way learn new things I may not have taught yet, it's also great to review skills they should already have mastered. I can see this also being very beneficial for students who need remediation as well.

At the end of the year, students will get to take home their brain bead keychain to hang on their backpack or just keep as a little second grade souvenir. 

The little scientist on the board was made on my Cricut using the Everyday Paper Dolls cartridge - is he cute or what? I really need to use that thing more! If you'd like a copy of the Brain Builders Test sheet and the directions I have on the board, click {HERE}. In the picture below you can see the Brain Bead jar, the test form and the sticky letters I used on my cabinet (from Dollar Tree of course!).
Good luck motivating your little Braniacs!
P.S. See part two complete with a freebie {HERE}
Just poppin in for a quick minute to share my latest Shaker! If you've just joined us recently, take a gander at this post about my Synonym Shaker. <--That post will explain the project a little more in depth including how to dye the rice, which I find to be very cool!

The latest one is called Exploring Antonyms. You can download the freebie {HERE}

Have fun shakin' things up!

I am so excited to finally share my latest work of heart with you. I've been using these activities with my class for the last couple of years and I finally polished them up enough to share with you! I call them Weekly Word Wizards (well, now I do. I found a cute wizard graphic and he was quite inspiring!)

Each week I use one of these printable activities as my Language Arts focus. Once the kids are familiar with each part, it also makes a great word work center, independent seat work, bell work or even homework. I tend to do a lot of centers, projects, games and oral discussions so I really like having this printable activity to keep tabs on their mastery of these essential skills.

At the beginning of the year, there may be some concepts that are new to the kids, but it's amazing how quickly they can complete them independently! I usually complete the first week with my students just a few boxes at a time over the course of a week. Then the next week, we preview the page together and discuss the skills that are particularly new, like prefixes or suffixes. Then I allow the kids to work with partners to compete the activity. Then of course, we check it together. By the third week, I can usually start to give it to them as independent work to finish, maybe over the course of a couple of days. I also have a Helpful Hints sheet up on the board that they can refer to if they forget what one of the skills means.  This one activity will help you introduce, review and practice the 21 following skills:

  1. usage/agreement
  2. spelling
  3. parts of speech
  4. antonyms
  5. synonyms
  6. homonyms
  7. capitalizing proper nouns
  8. sentence types
  9. compounds
  10. plural forms
  11. prefix and base words
  12. suffixes and base words
  13. contractions
  14. abbreviations
  15. reference and research
  16. rhyming words
  17. pronouns
  18. analogies
  19. alphabetical order
  20. categorizing
  21. brainstorming

So, here's what it looks like:

Here are the Helpful Hints pages I post for the kids to refer to when working independently either in a center or at their seat:

If you click {HERE} you can download a freebie to try with your students. As you can imagine, to put together a year's worth of these pages is seriously time consuming. I've listed the first nine-weeks set in my TpT store for $5.00. That includes a two-page printable for each of the 9 weeks, answer keys and the Helpful Hints poster for your classroom. Click {HERE} if you'd like to purchase the set. (The freebie is completely different, so you'll be getting nine new activities)

I hope you find them as useful and time-saving as I do!

Find some more great grammar ideas here at Lori's Linky!


Today was so great. I saw a different side of my kids today and it was amazing. We took this afternoon to make our pumpkin storybook character AND we also squeezed in our October Tasty Tuesday recipe. It was crazy, busy, messy and incredible.

We decided to make The Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. I did some of the more dangerous and difficult parts, like carving holes for the nuts and bolts and anything involving the hot glue gun. I spray painted the little guy at recess while the kids watched in total amazement.

The real magic happened after the pumpkin itself was pretty much done. I asked some girls to cover a box with tin foil to make his body. Then before I knew it I had kids giving all of these suggestions for what to do next. Uh, next? I thought we were done! Not according to them. On their suggestion, we cut out and glued a yellow brick road, complete with grass peeking through each brick. We had all of the other characters in the background and then I had a group of boys make bushes to go behind all of the characters. If you look closely, you'll even spot Toto in Dorothy's arms! We also added an ax for him to hold and check out his heart! I am so proud of this pumpkin. As you will see, there are some crazy incredible pumpkins lining our main hallway, but like the Tin Man, ours truly has heart. Every single kid had a hand in creating this one and I am so incredibly proud of them!

Below are some progress photos of Tinny and stay tuned at the bottom for a slideshow of some of the other crazy incredible pumpkin characters from the other classes!

Be sure to click the cauldron for some very cool FREEBIES from the Me & My Gang Authors!

It was a little hard to come up with a door for our Just Say No decorating contest this year.  Inspiration was just escaping me! It just happens sometimes, ya know? This was quite a contrast from my mummy door a few years ago.

So, what did I do? Hop on Pinterest of course!  I soon saw these extra-super cute almost-muppet like spiders from DoodleBugs Teaching and ...bing! Inspiration!
We modified the colors a bit because the spider web I bought (just a cheapie from the grocery store) was black and I wanted the spiders to stand out. They are actually a pretty purple, but they look more blue in the picture.  LOVE those noses!! I cheated a little and punched out the black and white circles with craft punches. (That might have had something to do with the door needing to be done today!)


I may try to add some more cottony webbing tomorrow, but that stuff is a pain in the tush! If I didn't procrastinate so much I also would have had them write something on the spider...but again, it's done and it's not half bad! Thanks Doodlebug for posting your cute spiders! Visit her for your copy of the patterns and click {HERE} if you'd like those "Heed This Warning" signs for yourself.

Coming soon...my storybook pumpkin character (which also involves a bit of procrastination...I'm sensing a pattern here...)


Hey Friends!
It finally feels a little like fall here in South Florida! We had just about a straight week of rain, but then we were left with the most perfect weather ever! It's in the high 70's during the day and the 60's at night. It's actually pretty hysterical to see some of my fellow Floridians break out the sweaters and Uggs the minute the mercury dips below 80! When it gets really cold, like 60 {brrr!} we have to let the kids in early and all outside recess is canceled due to the cold. I know my peeps in Michigan and other parts north probably just spit their coffee at the computer screen, sorry about that!  I guess we're better at sandcastles than snowmen.

So, in the spirit of Halloween quickly approaching and the onset of some good hair weather, I'd like to share my hallway bulletin board. I had a parent volunteer actually staple it up and decorate it. She was making all kind of apologies for her lack of craftiness. She's crazy. I think it turned out great! In years past, I would obsess over every little detail of my board, but I've learned to let go a bit. It's up, it's cute, it's done and it didn't take a ton of time.

We used this as a way to reinforce the fact that contractions are made from two words that become one.  I printed out the houses and took about 10 minutes to actually make the proper cuts to open the windows so that the kids didn't mangle the paper when they tried to do it. I stacked a few papers on top of each other and used my cute paper slicer to make the cuts.

I had the kids color the house and then glue it on to a plain white piece of paper so that there was a back behind the windows when the shutters were opened. After they trimmed away the excess paper, I had them write the two parts of the contraction on the shutters and then the contractions underneath. Simple and fun for the kids. We cut the one long, skinny window on the left in half horizontally, so it would open in two parts like the other shutters. I love that they are really starting to put so much effort and attention to to detail into their work!

If you'd like to make some creepy contractions, click {HERE} download the house pattern and {HERE} for the title.  I'm sure there's lot of other creative uses for the blank house, so if you use them for something else, feel free to share the pix on my FB page. Enjoy!

I'm off to enjoy this beautiful day in Miami!
Hey Friends!
Just popping in for a sec to let you know about a great link-up for Halloween ideas. If you're looking for some fun stuff to fill the next couple of weeks, check out some of these great links below. Feel free to add your own!

Hey Friends!
Halloween frenzy is in full force in room 852. I can't complain though, because I totally started it. I feel pretty fortunate because our district and especially our school has a pretty lax policy about Halloween displays and candy consumption (I'm enjoying it for now, who knows what tomorrow brings!)

I tend to stay away from ghosts or witches, but pumpkins, skeletons and bats are fair game. Today we did a fun activity to reinforce parts of speech recognition. My kids are having some difficulty recognizing and categorizing them when they are in a group of mixed words. We've been working on them with these centers  and continued practicing with today's seasonal color, cut and paste activity.

I typed up some Halloween words and mixed them up on a grid. Some of the words are a bit challenging, but they were eager to read and talk about them after they realized they weren't just an ordinary set of words. Words like fangs and zombie usually perk them up!

First we read the words together and discussed the meaning. Then I let them work with partners to try to categorize them as noun, verb or adjective using an N, A or V in each box.

Then we went over the list again and made any necessary adjustments before it was time to color, cut, paste. I was so surprised at the creativity they used in gluing down the pieces! I didn't really give specific directions besides making sure they all fit before they glued. Some of them went with traditional straight lines, but some took a pretty artistic angle...even jazzing up the title!

Next time I'd give them a bigger piece of black paper, but I was trying to conserve. Our construction paper budget (along with everything else) is EXTREMELY limited. Click on the image below to download a free copy if you'd like to do this with your kiddies. This would actually make a good center activity as well.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for some mummy fun including my PRIZE winning Just Say No door decorating contest entry!

P.S. I just listed a new unit at TeachersPayTeachers. 17 pages of reading response activities for my fav Halloween book, The Hallo-wiener! Click the picture below to check it out!

Boo! It's getting close to Halloween, but I've got something to share that's actually not so scary at all. It's a fantastic new collaborative blog called ClassroomFreebies.com. Over 60 of the best bloggers have joined together to present you with a constant stream of free downloads every single day. Every post has a freebie for you! How cool is that?

I am one of the contributors, so you have probably seen most of the freebies that I've been posting there, but there are SO many more! Teachers are sharing printables in all grade levels and subject areas, so be sure to check it out and pass the word to your friends who might teach other areas.

Speaking of freebies - here's one for you! Click on the picture below to download 16 fun discussion starters for October. Fun facts about bats, skeletons, pumpkins and spiders - perfect for a center activity or to fill a few extra minutes!


I think Ashton Kutcher put it best when he tweeted 'I never thought I could be so busted up about the loss of someone I never met.'. That's pretty much exactly how I feel. I remember taking a computer class in high school. There were about 10 computers in the room, all pushed up against the walls surrounding the regular desk set up of an 80's classroom. I remember lots of blah, blah blah about Pascal, if blank then that, and writing about 200 lines of gibberish to make a green block move about a centimeter across the screen. I was not thrilled with the whole thing.

Yes, I went through college without a computer. I used a word-processor typewriter to write all of my papers and I actually micro-fiched for research! I spent hours upon hours in the library to do what today would take about 10 minutes. This was not by choice, of course. This was because the high-tech rage at the time was the "beeper". Car phones were just beginning to come on the scene and they were "car" phones. They were installed in the car and had a squirrely cord like a home phone and everything.

Then I started teaching and met my hubby to-be. He was all about MacIntosh. He showed me that computers were fun, not scary or boring. I could save something on a big ol' floppy disk and then change it later? What? Revolutionary! One of the very first purchases I made as a new teacher was my MacIntosh Performa. Oh, I loved her!
That was right around the time that America Online was born. I remember sitting in my bedroom using my own computer and chatting with people ONLINE thinking that *this* was the stuff of Sci-Fi movies and how cool was it that I lived to see it!!  I was actually one of the first AOL users, early enough to have my own screen name without a funky spelling or 17 numbers after it. We dialed into AOL through a chorus of "boing, boing, screeeach, scratch, bing" noises and tied up the phone while we were online and paid by the MINUTE to be on - but was the coolest thing EVER!

Little did I know that my first computer would lead to a life-long love affair. Well, two actually. I fell in love with my hubby and fell in love with Apple. I am a self professed Mac Girl and my hubs will proudly tell you he's an Mac Man. The quality, brilliance, functionality and cool-factor of Apple products just lures me in every time.

My hubs would get so excited to watch every Apple keynote speech or product launch. And because I was sitting on the couch next to him, I'd usually get sucked in too. Then something strange happened and I started to get excited for them myself. There was just something about seeing Steve Jobs (and the other Apple peeps) share their products with us. You could see his pride. His passion. You could see that his heart and soul was in the design of every project and at the center of that company. It was incredible to see someone who was living their dream. I've read a lot about Steve Jobs. He made no bones about being a tough man to work for and making mistakes in his life. To me that's just part of being human, of being a man on a mission. In the end, it was worth it.

I'm not sure why I feel so compelled to write about Steve Jobs here. I think because I can not imagine my life without his imprint upon it. I have a sadness that is kind of strange to have for someone I've never met. I just can't help thinking that the world got gypped. Genius, vision, ingenuity and persistence doesn't show itself very often as it did with Steve Jobs. But how lucky for us that we were able to witness that and benefit from it, even if it was for far too short a time.

Rest in Peace, Steve.

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