Saturday, October 5, 2019

Learning Genres in Camp Read-A-Lot

It's finally starting to feel and look like fall outside. It's about time! This time of year I just want to throw on a hoodie and cozy up by a campfire. There just isn't a better time of year to transform the classroom into a camping theme - complete with a tent, camping chairs, a "campfire" and s'mores! "Camp Read-A-Lot" was the perfect way to introduce my class to a few new fiction genres. I like to do this project early in the year because it really sets the stage for learning about book genres all year long.

The "campout" consists of 4 stations: fables, fairy tales, poems and realistic fiction. I was lucky enough to have a parent volunteers to help with each station. The kids wear their comfy pajamas and bring sleeping bags or blankets so they are snuggly all day long. 


Obviously, this is a class favorite. Who wouldn't love hangin' out in a tent in the middle of their classroom? At this station, the kids read various fables. They learn about the characters and discuss the moral of the stories. They each make their own flipbook to take notes as they learn.


This is such an important station because we do a lot with realistic fiction in 2nd grade. I set the mood with a crackling campfire next to the carpet. You can find hours of campfire videos on Youtube. First, the group reads Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Then, they discuss why the story is realistic fiction. Finally, they write their own realistic fiction camping stories.


This station is typically the loudest because it's filled with laughter! First, the group learns about the elements of fairy tales. Then, they work together to write a fairy tale themed Madlib. The final story always turns out super funny and leaves the group in stitches!


This station might not look all that exciting, but the kids still love it. Why? Because this is where they get their treat! This year I filled baggies with the S'mores flavor of Goldfish. It has little fish shaped graham crackers, chocolates and marshmallows. Besides the yummy snack, they also do a little learning here. They read poetry together and then write their very own s'mores themed poem to take home!

The stations typically take about 15-20 minutes each. I've spend the rest of the day completing camping themed math stations or doing a read-a-thon making sure students read from each of the new genres. This year we invited 1st graders to our room to buddy read and "camp" with us for a while.

And another successful "Camp Read-A-Lot" is complete! It's such an easy and engaging day of learning. If you'd like to try this out, you can find my camping materials FREE here

Happy camping! 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Kindness Cafe Part 3: Day of Cafe & Revealing the Total

The day of our cafe my littles came in buzzing! They were so excited to finally see all of their hard work come into play!

We started by having a quick "mock" cafe with another class. The servers pretended to take orders and money. The cashiers went through the motions of organizing the money in the money box. The food prep workers practiced filling pretend orders for servers. The managers walked around checking on guests and solving their pretend problems. Finally, the bussers cleared invisible food and trash from the tables.

We talked about "service with a smile" and "the customer is always right". We discussed the fact that things WILL go wrong. For example, we could run out of the customer's favorite kind of cookie and they might have to make a new choice. This happens in the real world. They learned that even bad news can be delivered with a smile and a helping hand.

Finally, it was time for the real deal! Here are some pictures of the action:

 Each child had an official badge with their name, cafe logo and job title.

The tables were set up with place-mats, cups of crayons and tissue paper flowers for the guest classes.

 Check out the cashiers organizing the donations as they came in.

This was our food prep station where orders were filled. 

Service with a smile!  

 The place-mats were a huge hit!

This was our special table reserved for teachers who came to "dine in". 

There were many teachers who wanted to stop by and get a "to-go" order during their plan time. There were actually so many more than we planned that I had to steal a few "bussers" to help until it was time for them to start their job. Next year I'll probably assign 2-3 students as "to-go" order takers. 

You might be wondering what the students were doing when they finished their job or were waiting to begin their job. This was a definite concern of ours also! We had coloring sheets about hope and letter formats available. We encouraged all students to color a picture and write an encouraging letter to Blake. We then saved those to give to her along with the big check on the reveal day. To be completely honest, that wasn't quite enough. They did a great job with the letters but were restless after they finished. Next year I plan to add a few more time consuming activities to keep them engaged!

What was I doing during the cafe? Basically nothing! It was such fun to watch my littles take over and run things on their own. I had the opportunity to walk around and just take everything in. After all of our hard work and planning, things ran smooth as can be!

The Big Reveal:

Once the cafe was over, we totaled the money were in shock! We were hoping to raise $600 - $800, but $1847.26?! Never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined that! It just goes to show how a school community can really come together for a great cause.  We invited Blake and her family to our school. First, we shared a slideshow of photos from the cafe. Then, we revealed the dramatically large check with the total. Finally, we made the donation to their GoFundMe account right then and there! Such an emotional and exciting day!!

Here are some of my favorite pictures of the big reveal:

This one brings me to tears every time...

It's hard to see, but that is Blake's GoFundMe page. We are depositing the contribution as a class.

And this is the AMAZING crew of teachers and Kind Kids Club students who made this Kindness Cafe such a success! I'm incredibly lucky to work with teachers who will go above and beyond by taking on a project like this.

The class was even featured in the local newspaper and a magazine about nearby communities! 

If you missed the first posts about how to set up this fantastic project, here they are:

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Kindness Cafe Part 2: Prep Jobs

The prep jobs were an opportunity for all of the students to show some creativity and personality! Each group had some samples from real restaurants to study. We took time to meet and notice similarities in the products. We also discussed if the purpose was to persuade, inform, or entertain. The answer was often more than one! Then, they were on their own!

Below you will find some teaching points for each group along with our final products:


Teaching Points:
  • You are trying to persuade people to visit our cafe to support Blake and enjoy the food
  • Commercials should be entertaining
  • Introduce audience to our cafe name and our class
  • Tell audience about the cause we're supporting and donations
  • Give information about when and where the cafe will take place
  • Highlight some of the food that will be available.
  • Write a script and think about if you'll need props

We used a green screen to make the background whatever they wanted. In our commercial they chose volleyball because Blake plays volleyball. You can also add fun effects like object popping up on the screen. The idea of using a green screen was intimidating, but it's actually super easy! I used the app Green Screen by DoInk.

Check out our final commercial:

Pamphlet Creators:

Teaching Points:
  • You are trying to persuade people to visit our cafe to support Blake and enjoy the food.
  • Introduce audience to our cafe name and our class.
  • Tell audience about the cause we're supporting and donations.
  • Give information about when and where the cafe will take place.
  • Include our logo, pictures, photos and words.
  • Highlight some of the food that will be available.

Check out our final pamphlet:

Logo/Front Sign Creators:

Teaching Points:
  • Your team will need to agree on one final logo design. It might be best to make several versions and discuss what you like about each. Then, either combine ideas to create a final design or vote to decide what will be the final logo.
  • Use a simple design with very little text.
  • Include the cafe name.
  • Make it interesting - add color, excitement, connection to our purpose.

Check out our final logo:

Menu Creators:

Teaching Points:
  • Show photos of each type of food available
  • Include Prices
  • Include an area that says to ask about allergies
  • Include the cafe logo
  • Include information about the cause we're supporting

Check out our final menu:

Placemat Creators:

Teaching Points:
  • Highlight the best foods that are available. Persuade the guests to buy them!
  • Use one side to provide entertainment for guests - jokes, word searches, mazes, etc.
  • Create different versions so all guests do not have the same placemat.

Check out our final placemats:

So, what did my class really learn during this time?

Academically, they learned about and practiced using author's purpose by using words and graphics to convince potential customers to visit our cafe. They learned about supply and demand as well as services versus goods as they decided what products to offer on the menu, what products to feature in their work, and how much to price each product at.

Socially, the learning was priceless. It took a lot of cooperation and communication to work as a team and come out with just one final menu, pamphlet or logo! Honestly, some group struggled way more than others in this area. But isn't that the purpose? We need to present kids with tough situations that they can wade through on their own. Of course, when things got ugly (and it did a couple time) I was there to give feedback and help guide them into a more productive path. Finally, there was a lot of mindset work happening. They had to persevere and stay optimistic when things weren't turning out quite right. I can't even put into words the pride that these littles had for their work. Their eyes were shining when they presented their final product to the class.

Now on to Kindness Cafe Part 3: Day of Cafe & Revealing the Total!

Kindness Cafe Part 1: Introduction & Job Applications

Hopefully my initial Kindness Cafe post has lead you here. As you know, this project was such a success and I can't wait to do it all again next year! But it required a lot of planning and prep. I thought I would save you a TON of time by sharing our journey as we worked through this project. So, here we go!

Introducing and Brainstorming

I had a feeling this was going to be such a great experience for my class, but only if they were personally invested. So, I addressed them as a Kind Kids Club and allowed them to come up with the idea themselves. First, I shared some information about Blake:

Isn't she amazing?! After this, they were PUMPED to help! So I posed this simple question:  How can we help?

They had tons of creative ideas! But many of the ideas had one thing in common - raising money to help pay for her treatments. This was perfect for leading them into the idea of creating a cafe and selling food to the students and staff in our building. 

Preparing for the big day

Sharing with families:
At this point the class was SOLD on this idea and reading to start ASAP! It was time to inform the parents and get their support from home. We also needed to share about our project with other classes and staff in the building so they could come "dine" at our cafe. Here are some sample letters we sent out:

** Note: I copied the information about Blake that was introduced to students on the back of both of these papers. I think this really helped families to make personal connections to this project along with their children. 

Student Jobs:
Again, in order for this experience to have the most impact, it needed to be completely student led. This means I had to go against my nature and relinquish control to my class. Eek!! Of course, I do teach 2nd grade so I had to give plenty of structure and support whenever needed.

Each student had 2 jobs during this unit. This first was a "Cafe Prep Job". These were jobs that needed to be done in order to prepare for the cafe. This was a great opportunity to talk about student strengths and how to choose the best job for yourself. The jobs basically fell into two categories: artistic/creative jobs and advertisement jobs. We talked about the importance of both of these types of jobs for real businesses. We looked at business logos, commercials, placemats and menus. It also led perfectly into a discussion about how every one of these has an author with the purpose of persuading you to buy their product. They then stepped into that role and tried it out themselves!
The second job was a "Cafe Job". These were jobs for the day of the cafe. Again, we were able to talk about student strengths and choosing the best job. We talked about personality types. For example, if you're more quiet and enjoy conversing with only close friends you might not choose the "management" position. If you enjoy keeping things organized and are energetic, you might enjoy being a table busser or food prep employee.
After introducing each job, students filled out an application. It was so interesting to see how these little 2nd graders took this part seriously. There were FOR REAL applying for jobs. Plus, they really knew themselves - strengths and weaknesses. The jobs they chose were often so well matched to their personalities!
Now that we were all organized, it was time for the real work to begin! I can't wait to share how the next phase of our Cafe went in my next post!

Kindness Cafe Part 2: Prep Jobs

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

We Made a Difference with our Kindness Cafe !

A few years ago, I introduced Kind Kids Club in my classroom. Each year the kids learn how great it can feel to help others. They also learn the value of working as a team to accomplish even more. Most importantly, they learn that no matter how small you are, you can still make a difference!

Our class "missions" are usually pretty simple. We've made "Get Well Soon" cards that the nurse can give sick students before they go home and hidden surprise bookmarks in book in our library. We've done a stuffed animal and book drive for a local group who makes welcome bags for children in foster care and a food drive for our school backpack program.

All of these have been valuable learning experiences, but NOTHING compares to the project we just finished! A group of four teachers, including myself, heard about a sophomore girl in our district who was recently diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. Her name is Blake and she's been named "#BraveBlake" by her family and friends. She's earned that name as she's handled her daily struggles with Hodgkin's lymphoma with such strength which she gets from leaning on God to guide and support her. You can read more about her journey on her Facebook Page.

After learning more about her we knew we HAD to help in some way. So we decided to use our economics unit to turn our classrooms into cafes to raise money for her. The kids would learn first hand about consumers, producers, supply and demand. Plus, we would tie in our Kind Kids Club and they would be helping someone else. 

We spent an insane amount of time planning and working through the details. Our end result was better than our wildest dreams - we were shocked to see how smoothly things worked the day of our cafe! 

Sneak Peak: Our final total!!

Isn't it just amazing to see their faces? My heart was literally exploding on this day.

Below you will find posts explaining how we organized, planned and implemented our cafes so you can try it in your own classroom! Believe me, this will be one of the most impactful projects you've ever done!

Kindness Cafe Part 1: Introduction & Job Applications

Sunday, February 10, 2019

10 Powerful Black History Picture Books

1. Under the Same Sun

This book is about a family split between two countries - Tanzania and America. The American family visits Africa for the first time in a long time. During this visit, they go on a safari and visit the ruins of a slave trading post. One of my African students said this was her favorite part because it touched her heart. This book not only shows children what life is like for those who live in Africa, it also gives a modern day view of African American slavery through the eyes of today's African families.

2. We Shall Overcome

This book teaches how the words of this simple song led so many to bravely push for changes - from slavery, to civil rights and beyond. Make the lesson even more meaningful by showing this video: We Shall Overcome

3. Henry's Freedom Box

Henry is a brave character who hopes for a day free from slavery. After the heartbreak of looking his family, he sets out to find a way to make it happen. He decides to mail himself to the North in a crate. On the day that crate is opened safely in the North, he finally has a birthday - his first day of freedom.

4. Ron's Big Mission

Ron is an intelligent little boy with a thirst for knowledge. He LOVES reading. During this time of segregation, he is not allowed to check out books from the library because he is black. In this book he takes a stand and ends up doing his part to end segregation in his hometown library through peaceful resistance. 

5. Martin's Big Words

This book is a great introduction to the life of this important figure in history as well as his powerful words that changed America. While there are many wonderful books written about Martin Luther King Jr., I like this one because it shows how he was involved in different movements. I also appreciate all of the direct quotes used throughout the book.

6. We March

The "power of us" is definitely portrayed in this book. The reader is given a view of what the March on Washington was like for those present that day. This simple book can be read in minutes but discussed for much longer.

7. Riding to Washington

The main character in this powerful story is Janie. She's a feisty, young white girl who is trying to figure out what Dr. Martin Luther King's "dream" has to do with her. She finds the answer to this question (along with the bravery to stand up for what's right) while riding a bus with black and white people from Indianapolis to Washington D.C.  for the March on Washington.

7. Teammates

Jackie Robinson was the first black player on a Major League baseball team. After he joined the Brooklynn Dodgers, he struggled with acceptance from the public, other teams and even his own team. Thankfully, he had one fellow teammate who was willing to stand with him - literally.

8. This is the Dream

This book brings the ideas of segregation to the level of our students by showing it in places they are familiar with. It gives a brief overview of peaceful protests and finally ends with a view of our world today without segregation in the same places the book began with.

9. The Colors Of Us

I know, this isn't technically a black history book. BUT it's a wonderful tool to use when creating a classroom community that values all!  In this book, a young girl compares the skin color of people she knows to various shades of brown that can be found in nature, food, and other places. There are limitless opportunities for follow-up projects to go with this book.

Check out our beautiful shades of brown!