Informational Text is a Hoot!

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to incorporate additional informational text and shared research into my classroom so I created Owls Are A Hoot: An Informational Text Unit to meet these these needs in an engaging way. Before the unit, I gathered a variety of leveled informational text sources, purchased owl pellets from and created these cute owl folders to hold student work. I set up a an owl research center as part of our daily reading rotations.

Owl research center

Leveled informational texts

Owl folders

Before starting the unit we brainstormed a list of questions and students completed a foldable KWL owl.

Owl foldable KWL

Owl KWL bulletin board

During reading time, I grouped students by instructional level. I provided a variety of owl informational text sources including brochures, books, poems and magazine articles. The sources provided were at a variety of levels–most were at students’ instructional level, but I also included more challenging text to increase stamina and push students to read complex text. I’ve found that when students read high-interest text, they are motivated to tackle difficult text, even if it is slightly above their level.

Owl research 1

Owl vocabulary

Students read to find answers to their owl questions, citing textual evidence with owl pointers. They recorded their information on the owl report template.

Owl pointers

Owl graphic organizer

Students edited and published their own owl report, adding craft feathers and googly eyes after completion.

Owl report 2

Owl report 3

Owl reports

During science time, students worked in groups of 2 to dissect an owl pellet. They formed hypotheses, discussed observations and recorded conclusions in their own Owl Pellet Investigation Book (included in the unit). I gave them ‘lab coats’ (a.k.a. men’s white button down dress shirts) to wear during the investigation which they absolutely loved!

Owl pellet predictions

Owl pellet observations

Owl pellet dissection 1

Owl pellet conclusions

After a thorough hand-washing session, I passed out these owl pellet snack bags using the owl treat bag topper included in the unit.

Owl pellet mix

As a culmination to the unit, students played an owl review board game. Students answered all questions on white boards, citing textual evidence to support answers.

Owl Game 1

Students had so much fun and learned so many new facts during our owl study. I wanted to display this in an engaging way so I created our O.W.L: Observe, Wonder, Learn door.

OWL door

I started with a large piece of white butcher block paper and sketched the owl using a projected image from my document camera. I used white paper because my classroom door is brown and I wanted a contrast between the two. I added large googly eyes (from Target dollar section) and colored craft feathers. I then cut brown flap feathers to hold and display our new facts. After completing the L from our KWL foldable owls, I had each student write his/her new fact(s) on a white square and glue inside one of the brown feather flaps. I then glued all of the brown feather flaps on the owl and used a glue gun to adhere the owl to our classroom door (don’t tell the janitor).

Owl Q&A door 2

Students, teachers, and parents have all stopped by and read our facts as they pass by our classroom. My students are so proud when they see someone stop to read our owl. This was a powerful closure activity, one that my students will always remember.

Download the complete unit to get your students to hoot and holler over informational text and shared research!

Owl Informational Unit


Check out some other great lessons linked up on the “Loved that Lesson” Linky!






Olive the Other Reindeer to the Rescue!


There are still a few more weeks until winter vacation, but Santa, stockings and sugar are the focus of children’s minds! Olive the Other Reindeer is coming to the rescue! Our adorable  Olive the Other Reindeer Unit will capture students’ attention while engaging them in integrated reading and writing activities aligned to Common Core Standards.  Olive the Other Reindeer is one of my favorite holiday books and my students always come to love Olive each year too!

Activate background knowledge and build excitement: To begin the unit, make a foldable reindeer KWL. Discuss why it is important to think about what we know before starting a lesson, ask questions about what we want to learn and summarize our learning at the end of the unit.

Introduce key vocabulary terms: Teach key vocabulary terms using vocabulary anchor charts and accompanying graphic organizer.

Olive the other reindeer vocabulary

Make predictions with Peter Predicting Possum: Teach students how to make predictions using background knowledge and text features and use textual evidence to confirm or revise predictions.

Making predictions with Peter

Introduce Peter Predicting possum and read his poem to teach predicting strategy. Explain that good readers make predictions before and during reading. They stop to confirm or adjust predictions based on evidence from the text. This makes reading more enjoyable and helps build comprehension.

Peter Predicting Possum Poem

Model prediction strategy by using the cover of the book. Think aloud as you explain, “I’m reading the title, Olive the Other Reindeer and looking at this picture. I see a dog hanging from a sleigh, but I know that reindeer guide Santa’s sleigh. I think that Olive is a dog who will serve as a reindeer on Santa’s sleigh. I will have to read to see if my prediction is correct.As I read, I will look for clues and evidence that support my prediction or will help me change my prediction. Then read the first two pages of the text and discuss. “Based on what I’ve read, I am going to confirm my prediction. Olive thinks the song says, ‘Olive, the other reindeer’ and so she thinks she is a reindeer.

Make predictions on the following pages:

  • Read until Olive gets to the North Pole just in time. Make a prediction–will Olive join the sleigh? Ask students to support prediction using clue from the text. After confirming that Olive will join Santa’s sleigh, brainstorm a list of dog behavior and discuss how these behaviors might be helpful to Santa.
  • Read until the sleigh crashes into the tree. Have students read the first 3 paragraphs of the page and discuss. Refer back to dog’s behavior list and ask what behavior might be helpful in this situation Students will make a prediction and then pull Post-It to read, confirming or revising prediction.
  • Turn the page and show students only the picture of falling gumdrops. (You can cover the text on opposite page with a large Post-It.) Use background knowledge about dogs to help make a prediction about how Olive will keep the sleigh safe from falling gumdrops. Remove Post-It, confirming or revising prediction.
  • Turn the page and have students stop right before, “Olive had to howl louder than the wind instruments. Cover this sentence and rest of text on page. Repeat prediction process using background knowledge.
  • Read the first paragraph on the page with North Pole Fog (the rest of the text should be covered). Repeat prediction process. Lift Post-It, read and confirm or revise prediction.
  • Read the last page and have students stop right after, “There was just one present left. It was for Olive.” (The rest of the text should be covered). Repeat prediction process.

Cover text with Post-Its

Remove Post-It to reveal answer

Students’ reactions are priceless as they reveal the Post-It to confirm or revise prediction.

Prediction reactions

Prediction reactions 2

Integrate informational text: Each student uses his/her question from KWL reindeer and records it on the question and answer reindeer printable. I set up a reindeer research center with key vocabulary terms and leveled reindeer text where students can read and research to answer the question.

Reindeer research

Reindeer question and answer

Have fun: Students can read and follow directions to make Reindeer Munch while practicing key measurement skills.

Reindeer munch

Wear your hair in a bun and add googly eyes, pipe cleaner antlers, and a red pom-pom for a festive hairdo.

Reindeer hair

Download our complete Olive the Other Reindeer unit and Reindeer In The Room Holiday Behavior System to bring these ideas to life in your classroom.


2014 Halloween Bash Blog Hop

Welcome to our 2014 Halloween Bash Blog Hop, hosted by Teaching 2 Step! To celebrate our first Blog Hop, we are having a HUGE 50% off sale on our products this week only until October 18 here!

Halloween in in the air and students become consumed with costumes and candy. Keep them engaged in learning with our Black Lagoon Halloween CCSS Unit, our 2014 Halloween Bash Blog Hop featured product!
Black Lagoon Halloween Blog Hop

hazel and the black lagoon_cover_NEW

In this 103 page unit, students learn critical comprehension strategies such as summarizing, determining cause and effect, comparing and contrasting characters and text and analyzing character traits. Students also create a new Black Lagoon character and make their own Black Lagoon story. Here are some of my favorite highlights:

Retell Bus:
Students love reading the Black Lagoon books so they are perfect for teaching key comprehension skills such as summarizing and retelling. Make a Black Lagoon Retell Bus and chart story elements after each read-aloud. I made this large retell bus using butcher block paper and enlarged Black Lagoon characters. I added some green tulle, dragon tails and other swamp plants to give it a lagoon effect.
Black Lagoon retell bus-- Halloween Blog HopBlack Lagoon Pocket Books:
Make these easy Black Lagoon pocket books to store and organize student work. I used 2 large pieces of black construction paper for each book and made a 5′ pocket on each piece by folding and stapling paper. I added these adorable covers and labels on each.
black lagoon books Halloween Blog Hopblack lagoon books 2Black Lagoon Books:
In this unit, students brainstorm new Black Lagoon characters, select a new character, and write a narrative based on typical Black Lagoon story structure.  Students then make a crayon resist cover as a finishing touch. Students draw a detailed picture of their monstrous character in the center of the cover and then paint character with black watercolor. The crayon will resist the watercolor, giving it a textured effect. Once dry, students can outline character in thin black Sharpie.

Black Lagoon covers Halloween Blog Hop

Laminate covers and bind to create published books. Place published books in a Book Browse center so students can read each others’ books. To increase accountability, include a graphic organizer for students to complete.

black lagoon published book Halloween Blog Hop

black lagoon book browse

Grammar from the Black Lagoon:
Print grammar monsters (included in unit) on color printer. Cut out and laminate. Glue small magnet strips on the back of each one. I put the grammar monsters in a small black cauldron (found at Target dollar section). Print out Black Lagoon grammar posters on color printer and laminate. Place near game for student reference. Purchase (or make) a fishing rod. I found my fishing rod at Walmart in the toys section, but it can be easily made. Set up a lagoon. I covered my horseshoe table with black paper and glued Nouns, Verbs and Adjectives labels on swamp-like ferns.

grammar fishing

Students take turns fishing from the black lagoon (cauldron). They read the grammar monster(s) and determine if they are nouns, verbs or adjectives. Require students to justify response.

grammar fishing 2

Black Lagoon Cups:
As a culmination to the unit, students will read and follow a recipe to make Black Lagoon cups. This functional text activity requires 3 ingredients (pudding cups, crushed Oreos and gummy candy) and minimal preparation, but one that students will remember.

black lagoon cups

Looking for more Halloween ideas? Download our FREE Going Batty unit here!

Thank you for joining the Teaching 2 Step Halloween Hop. We hope you enjoyed our post.  Be sure to follow like us on Facebook and Pinterest. Hop through more Bash Bloggers below.

Prize Pack_k to 2

K – 2 Giveaway Pack
a Rafflecopter giveaway
2-5 Giveaway Pack a Rafflecopter giveaway

Secondary Giveaway Pack
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Blast Off Back to School Sale!

As veteran teachers, we know that the beginning of year often means countless meetings, endless hours of preparation and a great deal of stress. Let us alleviate some of your stress with our tried and true back to school resources guaranteed to help you work smarter, not harder. Plus, everything’s ON SALE!!!!





Best of Back to School Lesson Plans & Activities:  This unit focuses on establishing procedures, explaining expectations and building classroom community while creating an organized, efficient schedule with minimal preparation. Our comprehensive first week lesson plans  include 50+ interactive, engaging activities with objectives & detailed instructions, homework ideas,daily math lessons and art projects.

Best of Back To School Preview

Golden Keys to Success Classroom Management Plan: Golden Keys to Success is an efficient behavior management program that builds character, promotes self-monitoring and ensures high behavioral expectations. This program has made a huge difference in my students’ behavior because it teaches them to be responsible for daily choices. Golden Keys to Success focuses on 5 important life skills and qualities that students need to become successful citizens. This 90 page unit includes 21 detailed lessons with essential questions and quality literature, 34 engaging activities and projects, a Weekly Responsibility Chart (for students) and a parent brochure with overview of program, consequences and helpful parent tips.

Preview Keys to Success_Page_1

Common Core Math Problem-Solving Essentials Bundle: This ultimate bundle provides an entire year’s worth of differentiated Common Core problem-solving activities to give students the strategies they need to solve word problems. Perfect for general education, special education, RTI and math intervention! This 636 page file has all of the lessons, activities, worksheets and printables you need for comprehensive problem-solving instruction. It is the perfect supplement to any existing curriculum or can be used as a stand alone resource.

Problem solving bundle preview

We hope that these products reduce that dreaded back to school stress and make your life easier.

Happy New Year!


Owl Themed Classrooms are a Hoot!

Clearly I love owls and my students do too! Here is a peek into my second grade classroom, my home away from home. Each year, I refine my classroom with special finds from Target and Hobby Lobby (my favorite!) to make it comfortable and inviting. My goal is to make the room a safe, creative space that promotes engagement and exploration.

Welcome to my classroom!
Welcome to my classroom!

This area is my students’ favorite place. Each day students attend Hazel’s Reading Roost (my guided reading group) as one of their four reading rotations. During this time, we use a woodland strategy animal as we learn and practice specific reading concepts through the context of authentic literature. Students read text at their instructional level using our Hoo Can Read? Reading Fluency and Comprehension flashcards and complete graphic organizers that accompany the strategy animals.

Hazel’s Reading Roost revolves around Hazel Hoot, a struggling reader, who comes across a magical tree one day on the way home from school. She meets 10 strategy animals who help her learn the necessary skills and strategies needed to become a successful reader. To replicate the magical tree, I purchased an inexpensive faux tree from Goodwill and gave it a dusting of gold glitter spray paint. I glued glitter foam leaves to give it an enchanted gleam and used Velcro to attach the animals. This allows for easy removal during reading group time.

Hazel's Reading Roost: Guided Reading Center
Hazel’s Reading Roost: Guided Reading Center

Our Problem-Solving Pond features 10 strategy animals that help students solve story problems. In the pond story, Hazel Hoot swoops down to eat a fish and he begs her to let him go as he is Upton Understanding Fish, the ruler of Problem-Solving Pond. Hazel lets him go and Upton introduces her to the strategy animals, teaching her critical problem-solving skills in the process. Each week students learn and practice new strategies as they complete a differentiated template in their problem-solving journal.

In order to recreate the Problem-Solving Pond, I covered a bulletin board with fadeless blue water paper and added green tulle and pond stems to border the pond. I found this stuffed animal on Ebay that looks just like Upton Understanding Fish at the top along with his problem-solving steps. As I introduce each strategy animal, I put it in the pond for students to reference.

Hazel's Problem Solving Pond: Math Bulletin Board
Hazel’s Problem Solving Pond: Math Bulletin Board

Observe, Wonder, Learn are the key themes in my room and this bulletin board is the first thing you see when you walk into the room. I made the paper using turquoise water color paint, water and white butcher block paper. I love the watercolor effect. I purchased the owl rug from Target (in the bath section) and painted thin wooden letters purchased from Hobby Lobby. I added laminated orange cardstock squares as a backdrop for student work. I change this board frequently to display our learning.


OWL Bulletin Board
OWL Bulletin Board

This area serves as our whole-group space for activities such as morning read-alouds, writing lessons and center activities. In the beginning of the year, I create a carpet seating chart. The owl rugs are the start of each row; I put horizontal lines of masking tape on the carpet and write each student’s name in his/her spot. After students are trained, I remove the tape (I’ve learned that custodians hate masking tape). I place thematic, leveled books in the bookcase and hang student work from the owl clips made from clothespins and our owl templates.

The Learning Nest
The Learning Nest
Owl clips for displaying work
Owl clips for displaying work

I used owl-shaped labels to organize and clearly mark the contents of supply baskets, book bins, and other storage containers throughout my classroom. It not only pulls the classroom theme together, but also creates a literacy rich environment.

Storage bins
Storage bins
Books bins for classroom library
Books bins for classroom library

Sometimes it’s the small things that matter most. I regularly add new owl accents, picture frames, rugs, and other items to the classroom (I might have a problem….). Ebay and Target have a wide variety of owl accents and I love the fuchsia, turquoise and apple green frames and accents found at Hobby Lobby. Here is an example of how I used masking tape and an owl rug to teach students the correct pathway to pick up their mail from their cubbies for their dismissal routine.

Perfect pathways
Perfect pathways
Owl decor details
Owl decor details

Even my newsletters, parent communication forms and behavior charts coordinate with my owl themed classroom! Here are two FREEBIE behavior chart files for you!

Hootin’ for a Great Day:

Hootin' for a Great Day!
Hootin’ for a Great Day!

Look “Hoo’s” Behaving:

Look "Hoo's" Behaving!
Look “Hoo’s” Behaving!

It is fun to collaborate and share ideas with fellow owl lovers! I’ve started an Owl Themed collaborative Pinterest board to collect inspiration for my classroom and share ideas. If you’d like to be added to the board, please follow the board and comment with your Pinterest information below and I will add you.

Owl Themed Classroom Collaborative Board
Owl Themed Classroom Collaborative Board

Thanks for stopping by!


Lights, Camera, Action!!!

We just finished filming our newest video that shares the story of how Astute Hoot came to be!  Our goal was for our mission statement, “Creating innovative learning tools to awaken the joy of learning and spark enthusiasm in all students” to come to life in this video.  Even though the finished product is only 2 minutes long, it took hours upon hours to prepare, shoot the video, and make revisions until it was just right.  It sure was a learning experience for us, but we are so excited to share our final video with you!

My favorite parts of the video are the children!  My sons, Alec and Jake and my adorable niece Miranda were the stars!  They were genuinely excited about interacting with our reading and math strategy characters so no acting was necessary.  Their pure enjoyment and curiosity about learning was able to shine through in a wonderful way.  They had so much fun!  Alec even said “I hope every classroom in the world could have the Astute Hoot animals!  Then kids would love to come to school and they wouldn’t be bored anymore!”

Jessica, Tina, and I on the other hand, had more outtakes and redos until we got it just right.  There were plenty of giggles, jumbled words, and even some strange animal sounds.  All in all, we had a blast with whole process, but are very glad it is done!

We would truly love to hear your feedback and comments!  Did our mission come to life? Is this an effective way to tell our story?  What are your favorite parts of the video?

Thanks for watching!  We’d appreciate it if you could share the video to help spread the word about Astute Hoot!


Ready to Research



We are nearing the end of the year (seriously summer can’t come soon enough) and my students are growing more hyper and less productive by the minute.  In an effort to increase engagement and keep my sanity, I channeled their love of animals into a cumulative animal research unit. Follow these steps to implement this project in your room; download the complete unit here.

1. Create a research bulletin board: I created a research bulletin board with the text features poster set from Really Good Stuff. I enlarged an American black bear printout from as my primary resource. I laminated 8 different colors of paper and hung up next to the bear printout; each color represents a different topic (i.e. anatomy, habitat, diet, etc.). I model how to record key words for each topic on corresponding card.

Research bulletin board_WEB

2. Select leveled nonfiction animal books: Look for books rich with text features (headings, captions, photographs, etc.) are best. I highly recommend selecting sets of these books for guided reading groups; this is a great way to teach children how to ask questions and effectively use text features to find answers in the text. National Geographic Kids and offer a wide range of quality, engaging options.

Research books_WEB

3. Help children find research sources: I let each student pick animal to research (this promotes ownership and engagement) and print an animal printout from These printouts are easy to read and all include a diagram and headings. I send home a letter asking parents to send in supplemental research and colored photographs to use in report (I remind parents to preview first to avoid mating details and photos.)

During our research unit, I follow these steps:

1. Read a variety of animal nonfiction books, pointing out different features of nonfiction text and their purpose(s). I also use sets of leveled nonfiction texts during guided reading groups; students ask questions about the animal and use learned text features to find answers in the text.

2. Each student picks an animal and completes a KWL chart (included in the downloadable unit).

3. Explain the report process and review the rubric with them (included in the downloadable unit).

4. Model completing research with the American black bear printout from Each day I pick one topic to research (diet, anatomy, habitat, locomotion, etc.). If the topic is diet, model finding diet in the text. Write key words on that color-coded card. I organize the key words with bullets. They should fit all key words on one card; remind them not to copy whole sentences. If there is a word that students do not know, I have them highlight the word; these words will go into their glossaries.

Animal report 9_WEB

5. Create an animal research report outline. First model how to write an interesting beginning (usually a question or interesting fact) along with a transition sentence. Model how to write a main idea and key fords for the supporting sentences. Students also write the heading above each main ideas so that it is ready for them when they draft. This outline can be completed during small group time.

Animal report  10_WEB

6. Draft, edit, revise and publish report (drafting paper, table of contents and glossary are all included in the downloadable unit). Review elements of the rubric frequently and how to score each report using the rubric so students are familiar with expectations.

Animal report 4_WEB


Animal report 5_WEB

Animal report 6_WEB

7. Share reports with class. Students can practice presenting to a partner or small-group before presenting to the whole class. This activity meets several listening and speaking Common Core State Standards. I put completed reports in the class library so students can read during silent reading time.

We’d love to hear any research project ideas you have!






Giving Back is a Hoot!


Making learning fun brings me great joy.  Some of my best teaching memories are when I saw things finally “click” for struggling students.  Knowing how hard they work to sometimes make even the simplest connections makes these little successes even better!

Working with students with special needs has been such a rewarding vocation and I am so lucky to have helped so many wonderful students.  I also have a special place in my heart for children who are sick or injured and need to stay in the hospital for an extended period of time.

When my oldest son Alec was in kindergarten, he had a complication during his recovery from a tonsillectomy.  He was rushed to the hospital in ambulance and spent two days in the hospital recovering because he had lost so much blood.  It was a very scary time for us but we were very fortunate that he fully recovered so quickly.  Other children, however, need to spend weeks, even months in the hospital.  As a mother, my heart broke for those children and families.  Our brief stint in the hospital was difficult, but I couldn’t even imagine the challenges and heartache others went through.  I knew I wanted to help, but at the time I wasn’t quite sure how.

Alec in kindergarten.
Alec in kindergarten.

Recently it dawned on me that I could help make learning fun for the children who attend the hospital school by donating several sets of our Hoo is Ready for School? flash cards.  Early learning is critical to future academic success and I knew that our flash cards could help young students learn the alphabet and important phonemic awareness skills even while in the hospital.  Parents and teachers could use our materials to provide essential practice in an engaging game-like format.

It was our sincere pleasure to donate several sets of flash cards to two local hospitals; Phoenix Children’s Hospital and Cardon Children’s Medical Center.  Thank you to Christine Birnbaum (pictured with us above), Child Life Specialist at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, for taking time out of her busy day to tell us about the wonderful programs and services available to children there.  We are thrilled that we are able to give back to our community and spark the joy of learning in children who especially need a little happiness and fun in their lives.

Hoo is Ready for School? flash cards
Hoo is Ready for School? flash cards




Settle Spring Fever with “Miss Nelson Is Missing!”


Do you ever feel like Miss Nelson, calmly asking the class to settle down while they choose to squirm, giggle and whisper instead? As spring fever hits, patience and persistence decreases and our inner Viola Swamp starts to emerge.

Can you relate? Our Miss Nelson Is Missing! Unit is the perfect way to engage students while providing effective instruction aligned to Common Core State Standards. A built-in behavior system helps keep those squirms, giggles and spring fever symptoms under control.  A preview of our favorite Miss Nelson Is Missing! activities is included below. Download the complete unit here.

1. Create a visualization and take a Visualization Venture.  During reading group time, students closed their eyes and I read the passage aloud. They then put up privacy folders and drew a visualization using key words from text.

VernVisualizing Vulture 2

Vern Vulture visual

After reading groups, we took a Visualization Venture; students silently walked around room, observing similarities and differences. They discussed observations with seat partners and then we discussed as a whole group.  The class immediately recognized that most had elements listed in the text (i.e. spitballs, paper airplanes, misbehaving students), but the details of the characters and layout of classroom were different because people picture things differently based on their backgrounds and experiences.

2. Make character analysis puppets. I glued two lunch bags together with bottom flaps on top and facing out to make a hand puppet. Students colored and cut out Miss Nelson and Viola Swamp heads and glued one head on each flap. Then they cut out descriptive phrases and glued on appropriate character. To differentiate, you could have students record their own descriptive phrases for each character, using specific evidence from the text.

Character analysis puppet 23. Use a Venn Diagram to compare classes. We used a Venn Diagram to compare our class to Miss Nelson’s class. While my class is usually well-behaved and on-task, they have been extremely talkative and hyper, two tell-tale symptoms of spring fever. One of my students   suggested that we add talkative to Miss Nelson’s class; I asked if that fits our class as well. Sheepishly they admitted it did and we reviewed     appropriate talking times. “We don’t want a visit from Viola Swamp,” I said in a stern, serious voice. “Remember what she did to the kids in Room 207? That would be horrible, especially right before spring break!” I reminded them.  While several cracked a little smile, a few looked very serious and it planted the seed for upcoming plans.

Venn diagram

4. Post Viola Swamp sign. The next morning I posted a large sign that said, “Viola Swamp Is Watching You” on my classroom door. I simply enlarged Viola’s head on the copier and colored with crayons. I typed out the text and placed around her head. Before we walked into the classroom, I showed the class and reminded them that we didn’t want a visit.  Every time we left or entered the classroom, a few would whisper, “She’s watching us!”

Swamp Sign

5. Make Viola Swamp behavior slips. Since I had a few believers, I knew I could capitalize on their naivety with Swamp Slips, behavior notes placed on a few students’ desks each night before I left school. In the morning, the few that received a Swamp Slip would immediately remedy misbehavior (disorganized desk, shouting out, loud in line, etc.).  If someone displayed symptoms of spring fever, another classmate would whisper, “You don’t want a Swamp Slip!”

Swamp Slips

6. Dress up as Viola Swamp. On Friday, the last day of our unit and the last day before spring break, I decided to dress up like Miss Swamp. I wore an old, black dress, wide belt, a curly wig and knee-high argyle socks. I placed thick, black moustaches on my eyebrows and made one into a hairy wart for my chin. The finishing touch was a large witch nose I found at a local party store—it completed my Viola Swamp transformation.

Viola Swamp gear

I had the teacher next door walk out to get my class, telling them that she hadn’t seen me all morning. She told them to get unpacked while I hid out in the school library. After 5 minutes, I swung open the classroom door and screamed, “I am your new teacher, Miss Viola Swamp!” and I rapped the nearest desk with a ruler.  The kids look horrified at first, but then one shouted out, “It’s just Mrs. Murphy!”  I kept the costume on and took pictures with each of them.

7. Make a Swamp Snack. At the end of the day, students followed a recipe to make a Swamp Snack recipe. They absolutely loved it and they were reading functional text and using measuring tools in the process. It was the perfect culmination activity!

Swamp snack 2






Celebrate Dr. Seuss & Read Across America

Use this easy, fun Cat in the Hat kabob recipe to wrap-up your Read Across America & Dr. Seuss celebration. You only need 3 ingredients—large marshmallows, red Swedish fish and kabob sticks to make this snack. (Use strawberries and bananas instead for a healthy kabob). This activity includes Common Core State Standards as students are reading functional text and answering text-dependent questions. Download kabob recipe here.

cat in hat ingredients

dr. seuss kabob 1


Here are some other easy, engaging Dr. Seuss activities:

1. Goldfish graphing: Read One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. Give each students a bag of colored goldfish and have them sort and graph colors. Students can also complete probability experiment by forming hypothesis (which color will be pulled most), pulling fish and recording results.

goldfish graphing1

2. Feet Measurement: Read The Foot Book and have students measure their feet. You can also print a variety of feet and have students measure and record. Discuss results.

Feet measurement1


3. Inexpensive incentives: These Dr. Seuss pencils, erasers, bookmarks and resuable bags are available in the Target dollar section. These are perfect behavior incentives, treasure box items or Read Across America gifts.

Cat in hat rewards


Meet Sally the Sounding Out Snake

“SSSSSSSalutations! I’m Sally the Sounding Out Snake,
Stretch each sound out and a new word you will make
Put them back together in a blend
And your reading will be on the mend.”

It is so exciting when beginning readers start to blend individual sounds together to form words.  I remember how thrilling it was when both of my boys started to read in pre-school.  I marked the day in their baby books along with their first words, first steps, and first bike ride without training wheels.

I used Sally the Sounding Out Snake’s poem and graphic organizer to teach them how to segment and blend words for reading and spelling. This tool made reading multisensory as they were able to engage the visual, auditory and tactile senses.  After seeing such success with my boys, we brought Sally into the classroom and created supplemental lesson plans, additional graphic organizers, worksheets, and flashcards.  Our students experienced the same success in the classroom.

Sally Snake 2

Your students can meet Sally too along with our other reading strategy animals in our complete Common Core Guided Reading Strategies Unit.

Individual supplemental Sally Sounding Out Snake units focus on a variety of one-syllable word combinations and are a great supplement to any general education, special education or intervention curriculum. This can be used during whole group, literacy centers, or as independent work.

Aligned with Common Core Literacy Standards in grades K-2, each unit includes the following activities and worksheets:

  • Differentiated lesson plans for sounding out words
  • Suggestions for use
  • 4 Graphic organizers for decoding and spelling
  • 7 Phonics worksheets for decoding and spelling
  • Word lists for one-syllable words (sorted by vowel type)
  • 32 Flashcards and activity ideas
  • Sounding Out Snake poster and puppet graphic
  • Decoding and Comprehension strategy poster
  • 4 Sentence writing worksheets with word banks and editing checklist
  • Customizable worksheets to allow for differentiation

Check out each “Common Core Phonics Activities for One-Syllable Words” unit below:

#1 CVC
#2 Digraphs
#3 Blends
#4 Double Letters f,l,s,z
#5 R-Controlled Vowels
#6 Silent e

Cooking in the Classroom

Cooking is a fantastic way to synthesize many skills and concepts. It promotes higher-level thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Since we want our children to function independently as they grow, what better way to develop and foster this than through cooking? Here are some of the benefits cooking provides students:

–Builds math skills (use measurement, fractions, numeric properties, sorting and classifying)

–Strengthens reading skills (teaches recipes and directions; promotes vocabulary development, use of ordinal words and oral expression)

–Creates opportunities for science exploration (use of senses, make predictions, note physical changes, identify foods)

–Promotes social studies and collaborative skills (fosters teamwork and collaboration, recreates family experiences and promotes cultural awareness)

In order to start cooking in your classroom, simply download our Classroom Cooking: Recipes & Functional Text ActivitiesThis unit contains 17 tried and true recipes tied to CCSS; all are connected to literature, focus on holidays or seasons and have accompanying comprehension questions. A parent letter is included to explain unit and request donations.  Bon Appetit!


Practical Presidents’ Day Project

Students love learning about presidents, so what better way than with this easy, adorable president report? Use Target’s U.S. Presidents flashcards (found in the dollar section) or an online source to complete shared research and written report as the one listed below.

President report with cards

Report Directions:

1. Select appropriate presidential cards. These would be the ones that students would find most interesting (cool nicknames, facts, etc.). Remove cards that would be difficult to read and understand. (Remove Nixon as his nickname is “Tricky Dick”.)

2. Model completing president report. Use information from card and think aloud as you go

3. Differentiate assignment according to students’ needs. Students can choose a president or you can assign a president to research. Partner students or have students work individually to complete the report.

4. Draw presidential portrait. Give students white paper and have them draw a pencil sketch of selected president. Trace with Sharpie and then color with crayon. Cut out and glue on top of report. You can glue on black construction paper (to look like a suit) and add arms and legs if you desire.

5. Share report with class. Possible discussions include similarities (most were lawyers), differences, occupations, facts and achievements.

6. Set up Prestigious Presidents center. Add leveled, nonfiction text, artifacts and portraits of presidents. Students can record new learnings on Post-Its or in journal. They can also complete another president report with the president cards or other sources.

Prestigious presidents


Download this practical presidential project here.

Meet Charlie the Chunking Chipmunk

“What’s up? I’m Charlie the Chunking Chipmunk.
I help you break unknown words into small chunks.
Look for little words or sounds that you know,
Put them back together as a word and you’ll be the star of the show!”

Moving from decoding one syllable words to two and three syllable words can be very challenging for many students.  As students begin reading multi-syllabic words, it is important for them to know how to break words into units larger than individual sounds.  Charlie the Chunking Chipmunk gives students the skills and practice they need to become efficient at decoding longer words.

My students love when I bring out Charlie!  When using his strategy, they feel confident and encouraged to read “big” words in isolation and in context.  Our complete, 130 page, phonics unit includes activities, worksheets, and printables for the following syllable types: Closed, closed with blends, vowel-consonant-e, -le, open, r-controlled, digraphs and diphthongs. This unit is great for guided reading, intervention, independent review, reading centers and homework.

Aligned with Common Core Literacy Standards in grades K-3, this unit includes the following activities and worksheets:

  • Differentiated lesson plan for chunking multisyllabic words
  • Suggestions for use
  • Graphic organizers for two and three syllable words
  • Phonics worksheets for decoding two syllable words
  • Word lists for multisyllabic words with various syllable patterns
  • Flashcards and multi-sensory activity ideas
  • Chunking chipmunk poster and puppet graphic
  • Decoding and Comprehension strategy poster
  • Sentence writing worksheets with word banks and editing checklist
  • Customizable worksheets to allow for differentiation

Complete Unit Preview

Download here so you can introduce Charlie the Chunking Chipmunk to your students today!


Why? The Simple, Yet Essential Question

As teachers, we are programmed to listen for the correct answer and are appeased when we hear it, assuming that students understand and are ready to move on. However, this is a serious misconception as students are missing out on a vital opportunity to explain and justify their thinking.  Asking “Why?” provides critical insight to student understanding as students give the following responses:

  • A strong explanation that describes process to class
  • An inaccurate explanation that shows a student’s misunderstanding or inability to justify an answer

Besides assessing understanding, asking “Why?” provides students with opportunities to:

  • Notice mistake(s) and self-correct the answer
  • Reveal mistake(s) or misunderstanding shared by the class
  • Take risks and build confidence
  • Strengthen communication skills
  • Give alternate explanations
  • Summarize explanations given by other students

Including this simple question has major consequences: it promotes a language-rich classroom; supports inquiry-based instruction; and builds classroom community.

Asking good follow-up questions can open the door “why-d” to learning.

Download our FREE Essential Questions & Prompts, a sneak peek at our upcoming Common Core Problem Solving Unit.

Turn Your Students Into Mad Scientists

Science projects are the perfect way to promote inquiry-based thinking, teach critical Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and motivate the most reluctant learners. Science projects allow students to: participate in shared research and writing projects; gather information from provided sources to answer questions; participate in collaborative conversations; and describe the connection between a series of scientific ideas or concepts.


Follow these 5 easy steps and turn your students into mad scientists:

  1. Select an engaging project that aligns with CCSS. My second grade class loves insects and they are required to study life cycles. So I created a life cycle of a painted lady butterfly unit for them.Older students can choose their projects to increase engagement and ownership.
  2. Set up a science center in the classroom. I created a large bulletin board complete with science project question, hypotheses graph, calendar to track observations and a vocabulary graphic organizer. I also selected a wide variety of nonfiction text (correlated to my students’ current reading levels) to use during reading group and read-aloud time. During observations, students go to a small circular table to observe the caterpillars and record results in their science journals. Magnifying glasses, rulers, pencils and crayons are available at this table to assist with journaling.2014-01-11 23.01.330592014-01-11 23.02.42
  3. Encourage dramatic role play. Scientists wear lab coats while working, why shouldn’t the students? I borrowed 5 white dress shirts from my dad, the perfect sized “lab coat” for my second grade students, rolled the sleeves and hung up at the science center. While students work at this center, they are allowed to wear the “lab coats” and they absolutely love it. They really focus on their work and are very precise and detailed with daily journal entries. I take pictures and use them for the interactive bulletin board (see below) and put one copy on the inside of the each student’s journal.
  4. Create an interactive bulletin board. My students had several questions about caterpillars and butterflies and were eager to learn the answers. I used these questions to make a scientific bulletin board. First I made magnifying glasses using brown construction paper handles, green paper plates (from Target) and a white construction paper magnifying glass lens. We brainstormed and recorded a list of questions together and then I partnered students to record and answer questions. One student wrote the question on the handle of the magnifying glass, the other wrote the answer on the white magnifying lens and glued inside the green plate. I added their pictures on top and displayed on a prominent bulletin board.054
  5. 2014-01-11 23.47.22055Hold a science fair. When the experiment is over, students can make personalized invitations for families (and possibly other classes) to come learn about the scientific findings. During the science fair, students can share journals and science report as well as show specimens and other related projects. I always put out refreshments (cookies and juice) to create an inviting atmosphere.

Download our CCSS science journal to start your new unit!

Shopping for Standards: Setting Up a Classroom Shop


Looking for a fun, easy way to strengthen students’ money skills? Set up a classroom market! This guaranteed favorite can be used throughout the year and modified according to instructional needs. Follow these easy steps to create your own classroom market:

1.Setting up shop: Visit your local dollar store for grocery baskets, cashier receipt pads, calculators and price labels. (Make sure each student in the center has a grocery basket so each has opportunity to shop.) Make a store awning using a cardboard science project trifold and cover it in fabric. A simple, inexpensive cash register can be found on e-Bay or local thrift shops.


 2. Providing products: Bring in canned products, purchase plastic play food or pull out Treasure Box trinkets. My market is   holiday-based to appeal to student interest so it changes regularly. Students can shop for Thanksgiving dinner, holiday gifts, school supplies, etc. Changing the product once a month promotes engagement as students are excited to see and purchase new items.


3. Pricing power: Price items according to students’ instructional needs. If you just introduced money, keep prices low and easy to count. This provides counting practice and builds number sense. As students become proficient counters, increase the prices and have students add more complex numbers. You can also add dollars and cents to increase difficulty.

4. Hiring help: For the first month or two, the teacher or parent volunteer will be the cashier, checking students’ totals and helping them make change. As students become proficient with these skills, allow students to be the cashiers. Students can partner up; one student will be the cashier, one will be the shopper and then they will switch roles. Another option is to allow one or two students can be the cashier(s) for the whole group.

5. Synthesizing standards: Add functional text forms to incorporate reading and writing standards into the market. Simple items such as shopping lists, receipts and inventory check-lists require students to read and write a variety of functional text, an important component of informational text.


Set up a shop in your classroom and you’re in store for endless instructional possibilities!


Going Batty!

Halloween is just around the corner and kids are focused on costumes, candy and creepy creatures–it’s enough to make you batty! Use this “Stellaluna” and Nonfiction Bat Unit to engage all learners while teaching critical Common Core Reading, Writing and Science standards. In this unit, students will:
–Retell “Stellaluna”
–Compare and contrast characters
–Identify cause and effect
–Make text connections
–Pair fiction/nonfiction books (twin texts) to increase comprehension and build nonfiction reading skills
–Identify and use text features to locate important information
–Ask and answer questions using text
–Participate in shared bat research
–Plan, draft, edit and publish bat report on enlarged bat (teachers can hang from ceilings)

Supplemental homework and cooking activities are included as well.
A literature list and directions for making a classroom “Bat Cave” for classroom are also provided.
***Common Core Standards are listed next to each activity.

Download the Stellaluna & Bat Unit here.

8 Magical Tips for Creating Word Wizards

“There is a real magic in enthusiasm. It spells the difference between mediocrity and accomplishment.”

–Harry S Truman

After being approached to teach the Spalding Method, I felt trepidation. While very impressed with the program’s research and philosophy, I was worried that my second-grade students would quickly become disengaged with the program’s repetition. I knew that I would need to spark enthusiasm and engagement or my instruction would be mediocre at best. Here are my “magic” tips for creating a successful, engaging phonics instruction block:

  1. Create a consistent schedule. Right after announcements and calendar, we complete oral and written phonogram review, followed by spelling dictation.  I selected this time because students are focused in the morning and it allows tardy students to make it to class without missing valuable instruction. Plus, it is a protected instructional time (i.e., no assemblies planned during this time). Since the schedule is consistent and predictable, students know what to expect and they become comfortable and secure with the consistency.
  2. Develop an instructional routine. Our Spalding phonics block involves 4 components: oral phonogram review, written phonogram review, guided spelling practice (see below) and spelling dictation (into spelling notebooks).  Establishing these procedures and practicing daily reinforces learned skills and promotes mastery. This repetition is critical for all learners, especially those with learning disabilities. Plus all students thrive on a consistent routine.
  3. Design practice forms and make copies for the year. Each phonics program requires some type of pencil/paper practice. Design (or modify) these forms and copy them for the entire year.  This saves hours of planning and prep time; using the same form is also beneficial for students.
  4. Give phonics instruction a special name. Phonics instruction is a valuable time, why not give it a specific meaningful name? Word Wizards is the name of our phonics block; I selected this name because students have a book of “spells” (a spelling notebook) and they learn specific rules to help them become spelling wizards.  It’s much more relevant and engaging than using the name of the program.
  5. Use props. A wizard wears a pointy hat and carries a magical wand so it’s only appropriate to include these during instruction. I purchased both props at Party City and glued foam phonograms on both. I wear the hat during instruction time (I find it keeps kids focused on me) and I use the wand as a pointer to point to specific words, phonograms or rules.

8516. Include active engagement. Every student loves white board practice, so why not customize for phonics instruction? Our class uses Sally Sounding Out Snake to help segment and blend one syllable words and Charlie Chunking Chipmunk to break apart multi-syllabic words. Create these double-sided boards and laminate them for daily practice. Read each animal’s accompanying poem to teach/review strategy and then use as a guided practice tool, just like a white board.

0317. Provide positive reinforcement. Be sure to provide plenty of praise and call students up to share their work. I select one Word Wizard each day; this is a student who demonstrated “magical” active participation, listening skills, attention to handwriting focus or other desired behaviors. The Word Wizard is selected at the end of the phonics block and given a special Word Wizard award. I reiterate reason(s) why the student was selected and show his/her work when appropriate. While it might seem like simple reward to us, students view it as a major accomplishment and cherish these colorful awards

8.Have fun! No matter how you plan your phonics instruction, be sure to have fun! Students need consistent daily instruction with opportunities for kinesthetic practice. Include these tips and you will soon see the magic!

Check out our Word Wizards Spalding & Phonics Support Kit at

Discover The Reading Teacher Within You

Does the thought of reading groups make you shudder? Unfortunately for many teachers, the answer is yes. Teachers simply don’t have the necessary resources needed to meet the diverse academic needs of students. Available resources are usually old, outdated basal readers and accompanying workbooks, none of which is engaging, differentiated or aligned to Common Core.

We understand your frustration and our Reading Intervention Essentials Bundle is your answer. With over 25 years combined experience in special education, general education and reading intervention, we have compiled our top reading products to create a 385 page complete reading K-3 reading i bundle that includes fluency, comprehension, sight words, and phonics activities. We used this bundle in our reading intervention program and our students consistently made the highest growth in our school district as measured by DIBELS. This bundle continues to make significant reading gains in classrooms across the country.

This bundle includes:
-Common Core Guided Reading Strategies Unit
-Common Core Phonics Intervention for Multisyllabic Words
-Sight Word Intervention Bundle
-Reading Comprehension and Fluency Flash cards
-Reading Fluency Progress Trackers
-Fluency and Retelling Rubric

Download our Reading Intervention Essentials Bundle to discover the reading teacher within you!

NEW! Hazel’s Reading Roost Visits the Black Lagoon

Are you looking for an engaging literature study aligned to Common Core Standards? Do your students need motivation to read and write? If so, Hazel’s Reading Roost Visits the Black Lagoon is the unit for you!

In this 80 page unit, students use Hazel’s Woodland Strategy Animals (Sharon, Summarizing Squirrel, Quinn, Questioning Quail, Chloe, Connecting Coyote and many more) to analyze Black Lagoon structure along with key literary elements. This unit includes specific lessons/activities aligned to Common Core Standards including:
–Comparing and contrasting
–Making text connections
–Analyzing character traits
–Reading twin texts (nonfiction lagoon texts)
–Reading functional text (two Black Lagoon recipes)
–Planning, drafting, editing and revising new Black Lagoon story (detailed rubric included)
–Sorting words into parts of speech lagoons

This unit also includes a parent letter introducing the unit, homework and center activities and two Black Lagoon comprehension tests. Check it out on our Teachers Pay Teachers page !

Syllable Division

Here is a multi-sensory syllable division bulletin board I made in my classroom.  Chunking Chipmunk from our Hazel Learns to Read unit helps students follow the syllabication rules to chunk words into smaller parts for decoding.  I used pipe cleaners to show how to “scoop” the words.  Students can walk up to the bulletin board and trace the scoops with their fingers while reading the words.  Using visual, auditory, and tactile senses really helps the students internalize this important reading strategy.

Test Prep Center

Motivate students to prepare for upcoming standardized tests with the creation of a fun, engaging test prep center. I created “The Standardized Testing Swamp” in my classroom. Both Tina Turtle, Troubled Test Taker and Frankie, Fumbling Fox, are posted at the center, along with test-taking tips and strategies. Test prep centers, games and activities are also housed in this special center. For even more ideas, check out Astute Hoot’s comprehensive motivational test prep unit at

Sign up for
blog updates

© 2020 – Astute Hoot. All rights reserved.