August 28, 2011

Pretending to be a Cyclist

This weekend I took my NEW BIKE out for its maiden ride!!!!!  Since I'm pretty sure I would not be too successful in figuring out a bike rack, I was excited to discover that my bike fits perfectly in the back of my car.  Win for the Prius!
I haven't been doing much biking this summer (mostly because my old bike had deteriorated to the level of "May fall apart if ridden"), so I'm definitely not in the best "biking shape"!  But I did ride about 10 miles through the forest preserve.  Beautiful!  This brings me to the "pretending to be a cyclist" part...I may now have a fancy bike, but I feel like I'm an impostor because I have no idea what I'm doing (yet)!  Someone in my building lobby commented on my bike and noticed that I still have the Muddy Buddy number on my helmet (can we say lazy?).  He made a comment along the lines of that I look like a serious rider and what race did I do etc...My response was something like, "Oh, um no I'm actually pretty slow..."  :)

I definitely need to get the hang of shifting gears on this bike--I was struggling like crazy on my ride!  Seriously, I know next to nothing about road bikes and cycling.  I know I'm only supposed to use certain gears on the front with certain gears on the back...but to be honest I'm having a hard time remembering which way to shift up and which to shift down!  How sad is that???  My old (cheapie) bike had the gears numbered!  I am hoping my dad and Coach Lauren can give me a little lesson...

ANYWAYS, here's the beautiful bike & sweaty me post-ride:

At least I look the, I have to actually figure this baby out!
Sunday morning before enjoying a lovely book club brunch (we have been meeting non-stop lately, more for eats and wine and less for book talk tho!), I took my legs on a run!  I brought one of my latest purchases--a road ID!
I've been meaning to get one of these things for awhile, but now that I not only run alone but live alone too,  and no one really knows when I'm going out for a run, I figured it's the least I can do safety-wise!  After browsing the Road ID website last weekend, I settled on the Road ID Slim.  The band is comparable to a livestrong bracelet in material and thickness.  I loved that it was tiny and that I could pick a fun color.  The plate holds 5 lines, which is perfect to display my name, two emergency contact numbers, a medical condition (asthma...), and a mantra. :)  You better believe I was excited about that!  I went with "Keep Moving," one of my favorite short and sweet mantras from summer.  My wrists are pretty tiny, so I went with a size small.  I later found out that the small is really intended for kids, but it fits perfectly!  It's tight enough that it doesn't bounce around and loose enough that I can barely feel it on my wrist.  The price was totally reasonable too.  The Road ID slim was about $15, and additional bands are only $1.  I'm tempted to get one in every color...

I made it through 3 miles again this morning!  My hip flexor and IT band were tight/sore towards the end, but I was still able to get through 3 miles without too much pain.  I have to admit that I have gotten away from my daily foam rolling lately, which is probably (definitely) why my IT band is tight again, even with the strap.  I'm so happy to be running at all, though, and excited about the prospect about some fall 5Ks!  (BTW I am totally loving the end of summer wildflowers that are all over my neighborhood trails right now.  I guess there are a FEW wonderful things about the Prairie State!)

Last but not least, I got an exciting package in the mail this weekend!  I won XLMIC's Hood to Coast dvd giveaway!  I was so excited because not only was I dying to see this movie, but I NEVER win anything!  
The amazingly fabulous XLMIC is currently racing her way from Hood to Coast as part of Team Nuun!  Make sure to stop by her blog and check out her race recaps!  Thanks, XLMIC! I can't wait to watch this asap!

Did you have a great workout this weekend?
What fall races are you looking forward to?

Where the Magic Happens

I've been a bit MIA the past few must be back to school time!  Yikes.  Things have been a bit...hectic.  My class is a group of GOOD KIDS, but they are chatty to say the least.  I miss my old group who already knew my routines and expectations. :)  Gotta get this groups trained and in shape!  We'll get there.  It's past my bedtime, but I want to share a few snapshots from the first days back...
Where the magic happens... (I hate this carpeting, btw...)

Hanging at eye level in front of my desk...because some days I need a little reminder! :)
Inspired by Quantum Learning
^I definitely need this reminder daily...
Back to School yummies from my Instructional Coach!  MMMMM!
Student Drawing...
Another student's response: "Oh my gosh, it looks JUST LIKE YOU, Miss Teacher!"
Miss Teacher: "It sure does!" ;)

Anyways, like I said the first week has been hectic hectic hectic.  This class is noisy and squirrely, which reminds me of my first class...and those are NOT good memories!  After our chatty first day, I was kind of freaking out that my experiences with them are going to be like my first year, but Mrs. Mentor Teacher reminded me that I am NOT a first year teacher anymore.  Just because my kids are chatty doesn't mean the year will be like that first year!  I CAN teach them expectations and get them under control.  And it will be great. :)

My sports theme is going great so far and the kids love it!  We have been ending each day with a "closing huddle" where we put a hand in and yell, "Team (My Last Name!)" on 3.  It's really pretty cute.  We have also been talking about the Home Court which is another Quantum Learning tool to help build classroom community.  I talked with the kiddos about the reasons players perform better on their home court and about how our classroom is our home court.  We came up with ways we can make each other feel safe, supported, and like we all belong here in our class.  I'm hoping to reference it all year!  This was probably the highlight of my week. :)
And tonight I will leave you with these epic pictures of the women's faculty bathroom "lounge" at College Friend's new high school...I joined her there Friday night to watch some of her students get slaughtered play in their first football game of the year.  Note the couch from 1950 and the 3-legged footstool...

If you look closely, you'll see that there's a tiny pumpkin on the bottom shelf...
anyone wanna guess how long that's been there???

What was the highlight of your first week back in school?
What are you up to this weekend?

August 24, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Back to School Edition

(er almost wordless...)
Gifts for my teammates (My--much cuter--inspiration)

Back to school cookie???  Thanks Dad :)

August 21, 2011

Shopping Adventures

For the past few weeks, I have been adoring Sunday morning yoga.  This morning I was fully planning on going...but when I woke up, my new goal became: STAY IN BED AS LONG AS POSSIBLE.  That's right, I decided that embracing my last day of summer and lolling around in bed was more important than yoga.  I blogged, wasted time on facebook, online shopped, and finished a mindless book.  BLISS.  Eventually I decided it was about time to get out of bed, and set out with my dad on an exciting shopping mission--looking for a new bike!!!  To illustrate how necessary a new bike is, let me share with you the story of my current bike.  It is a Huffy mountain bike (read: cheap) purchased in 2001 (read: old) from Walmart.  Clearly prime craftsmanship.  My bike has served me pretty well over the years (and lasted a pretty long time, considering!).  It even accompanied me through my first Muddy Buddy a few years ago.  Check out the amazing decorations from that race:

But I am WAY overdue for a new bike.  Since the two Muddy Buddies I've raced have been pretty much the only off-road biking I've ever done, I'm pretty sure a mountain bike isn't the right bike for me.  Instead, I decided to look for a road bike.  Ideally, I wanted one that was fairly decent that I wouldn't have to sell a kidney to afford.  Which is a pretty tall order, it turns out!  Anyways, Dad and I hit up his favorite bike store and after working with a "bike guy" (technical term....) there to figure out what size bike I needed, I fell in love with this bike:
It was love at first pedal.  Because I didn't want to rush into anything, I decided to have them hold the bike for me for a few days, but even driving away from the store, I knew I'd be coming back soon with my credit card.  Hopefully in a couple days this bike will be mine!  Since running is doing me no favors lately, I'm excited to get a little more into cycling.  There is a LOT I need to learn (it turns out I even get on and off a bike the wrong way!), but I am excited!  Oh, and I have a secret: Another reason I wanted a road bike is that I'm thinking a triathlon is in my future for next summer...Any advice, triathletes?

The rest of my Sunday involved a trip to my favorite store, Trader Joe's!  Since I moved into my apartment in June, Trader Joe's is pretty out of the way for me (or even more out of the way than it had been while living with the parents), so I haven't been going there as often.  Today's trip involved the very important task of restocking my school snack drawer!!!  Last year's snack drawer:
Well, once again I went in without a list.  This time, though, instead of leaving with only 4 random items, I got a little carried away.  This always seems to happen to me at Trader Joe's...I get excited :)  Case in point: I bought a basil plant.  This was before I was even in the store.  They were set up on a display right outside the door and before I knew what was happening, I had one in the cart.  Definitely an indicator of how the rest of the shopping trip would go...
My Cart
The haul
School Eats (chocolate espresso beans are MANDATORY)
What better way to justify buying a basil plant to myself than immediately making caprese salad when I got home?  YUM.  Does this count as cooking?  I'm going to go with yes...
I did finally make it to the gym for a pathetic workout this evening.  I haven't done any real exercise since Thursday morning, but for some reason when I hopped on the stationary bike my legs were crazy sore!  I stopped after 15 minutes!   Oh body...what is wrong with you...I lifted weights and foam rolled for a little bit before just deciding to call it a day.  Some workouts you power through, others it's just best to say, "I'll try again tomorrow."

Check out my new book!  No, I'm not eating vegan, but I'm interested in hearing the case for a vegan lifestyle.  I'll let you know what I learn!

School starts this week.  WHERE DID MY SUMMER GO???
What did you do this weekend?

Introducing the Daily 5 (or 3!)

Wow, THANK YOU guys for the overwhelming response to my Word Work post!  I can't believe how many people were interested in checking out my "stuff."  You are all the sweetest.  I do want to emphasize though that my Daily 3 is ALWAYS a work in progress.  I am thinking about adding some additional word work practice this year that focuses on vocabulary skill and strategy instead of specific words.  (Ex. root/affix work, homophone work, word families, etc.)  Of course I will continue sharing with you guys when I do come up with things, but if you have independent practice ideas or activities already in place for these skills, please share!!  I will love you forever!

ANYWAYS, now for the fun stuff.  So many of the emails I got requesting my Word Work materials were from teachers looking to implement a version of the Daily 5 for the first time.  It got me thinking about when I first discovered the Daily 5.  I have a confession to make.  When I first opened the Daily 5, I did not love it.  I was a brand new teacher, fresh out of college.  My liberal arts school had taught me how to teach literature circles and interdisciplinary units.  I had heard of balanced literacy and guided reading, but had no idea how to set up either in my classroom.  When someone suggested the Daily 5 and loaned me the book, I kind of freaked out reading it.  My stream of doubts: 5 rotations?  5 teacher mini-lessons?  When will I do my shared reading?  I have to use my leveled readers!  Can I do this with my literacy series?  All the pictures in the book are of 6 year olds. I teach big kids!!!  Will this work for me???  The classrooms in the book are so big and spacious!  How can I do this in my crowded classroom??? etc. etc. etc.

Luckily, I took a few deep breaths and calmed down enough to get advice from Mrs. Literacy Specialist.  We worked hard to put some components of Daily 5 in place during my first year, and last year I continued tweaking my systems until I was pretty happy with the way things were going.  I describe my Daily 3 system and how I modify the Sisters' "vision" to work with older kiddos and a literacy series in this post, so I'm not going to drag you through all of that again!  But, since the school year is starting, I'd like to share with you how I build my Daily 3 foundation during the first weeks of school.
Last Year: Anchor Charts in progress 

 On the second day of school (This THURSDAY! Yikes!), I will start my Read to Self introduction lessons.   I literally type up scripts straight from the Daily 5 books and reference them as I teach to make sure I don't leave anything out.  I highly recommend doing this if you can be a forgetful teacher like me!  We will start the first day by talking about the 3 ways to read a book (Read the words, Read the pictures, Retell the story), and I will model using a picture book.  I use Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth because it is a really captivating little story and the pictures are unbelievable.

We will make our anchor chart (as seen in the Daily 5 book) and I will choose a squirelly student to model the correct/incorrect/correct behaviors.  Then let the stamina building begin!  During this phase, it is CRUCIAL to be insanely strict with stamina building.  The first time a student so much as GLANCES away from their book, I ring my little bell that I train them means, "Come back to the carpet."  If the time was really short, keep your tone positive!  I say something like, "Today we weren't ready to read more than 2 minutes.  We are still training our minds and bodies to read to self.  We are still learning, and that is okay!"  We reflect, revisit the anchor chart, and try again.  I track the "stamina" on the board, and make a HUGE deal out of improvements in stamina.  After every "practice," we share Celebrations & Things to Improve.  It's adorable.
Last year's anchor charts and stamina (upper right)

While the kids are practicing stamina, I do NOT walk around the room and monitor.  The Sisters say that this trains the kids to read when you are standing near them, NOT to just read regardless of what you are doing.  Since I will be seated at my guided reading table during our real Daily 3, that's where I sit while I time them.  At first I watch closely to know when to ring my bell, but as we build up our stamina I will likely read too. :)  The first day, I will fill their book bins.  After I do the "Good Fit Books" lesson from the book (the one with the shoes!), I will let them start adding books to their book bins using the IPICK guideline we will go over together.

I will also choose their spots for the first few days.  After we go over "good spots" and add it to our anchor chart, I will let them choose their spots.  (Note: Later in the year if the kids are challenged by choosing appropriate spots, I will take back this piece of control.  I will choose their spots for a few days while reteaching appropriate and inappropriate spots, and will give back that control when they are ready.)  Also, I let students read all around my room and typically let 1-2 in the hall (depending on the group of kids).  This gets them separated from their neighbors!  I have some bean bags, big cushions, and a whole bunch of little pillows that they can use.  Again, if these are used inappropriately or not shared, I take them back for awhile and reteach until we are ready.

Book Bin
I will introduce the second component, Work on Writing, the second or third week of school depending on how we are doing.  My first year, I rushed to get all of the pieces of Daily 5 (Daily 4 actually for me that year) in place, and started running guided reading immediately.  It was a mess.  Believe me when I say that this time is NOT wasted.  It is essential to build a strong foundation so that it can support your entire year of literacy instruction.  During the first weeks, I will also be laying the foundation for Writing Workshop during another part of my day, which will become intertwined with Work on Writing.  I do not do a writing mini-lesson during my reading block, but when kids choose the Work on Writing option, they will work on something from their Writing Workshop notebook.  Does that make sense?  WoW (as the kiddos call it) becomes an extension of their Writing Workshop independent time.

When I introduce Word Work in several weeks, I will start with 1-2 choices, and gradually add others as I see fit.  Choice is the lifeblood of Daily 5 (along with routines of course!), but too much choice too soon only leads to chaos.  That's why at first I choose seats, and when the kids are READY, they start choosing their seats.

My Advice:

  • Start slow--don't rush to introduce the components too quickly
  • Model, Practice, Reteach, Repeat (This goes on all year--any time my students had a rough day in Daily 3, I reminded myself that this was a signal to me NOT to complain that "my kids can't do it!!!" but instead to go back to the anchor chart and reteach!)
  • Adapt the program continuously to meet the needs of your classroom!!!  There is no one right way to do Daily 5 (or 4 or 3!).
What other questions can I answer about introducing Daily 5?

August 20, 2011

MY CLASSROOM IS FINISHED!!! (and other happenings)

I had planned on going out with a friend tonight, but when Friend got sick and cancelled, I ended up at Caribou working on my first week's lesson plans.  Not the most exciting night, but I think they are about done!  
Page 1 of my plans...
2 more institute days Monday & Tuesday, and then let's get this party started!  I am feeling MOSTLY ready. I say mostly because my plans are done, my room is ready, and my team has already had some great collaborative meetings that have really given me a positive feeling about our year....buuut at the same time, who wouldn't love a few more weeks of summer??  Anyways, here is my room!
View from the doorway...Library and small group area
Another library shot...and check out my baseball themed board for "Out of the Park Work" :)
Even more library and my currently empty Writing Workshop board...
My desk...I LOVE having it against the wall.  
Big time space saver, and I never sit there with the kiddos anyways!
Sorry for the blurriness...This is the side board with my desk, schedule, homework, clip chart, and rules.
Front of the room--I'm placing my gathering place in the front instead of the library this year because I hope to use it with my new LCD projector (!!) in addition to the easel.
Guided Reading table

Side Views (those desks in the corner are on their way out...)
NOTE: I made this sign by compiling ideas I saw on several other bloggers' sites.  
However, I recently learned the original design was created by Mary Musel.  
Visit her etsy site here.

Whew!  That's about it for the classroom!  I'm sure I will rearrange many times this year--I always do--but so far I'm happy with it!  The true test, of course, is how it feels once I get some kiddos in there!!!  This week I also made some time to stop by and visit Mrs. Literacy Specialist's new classroom!!!  She is a classroom teacher this year at another school in the district.  How cute is she with her affirmation sign?!  (She was trained in Quantum this summer too!)
 In the Running World...
Unfortunately, I have very little to report.  My hip flexor is still killing me!  I ran about 2.5 miles Thursday morning, and it's still tight!  I've been doing a lot of lunges and yoga stretched to loosen it up...any other ideas??  Good parts of the (way too early 5am) run were testing out these awesome new compression sleeves that Coach Melinda gave me!!!  Isn't she the sweetest??
How silly do I look with the sleeves and IT strap...just cover me in bandages...
Coach Lauren got a pair too, and we are obsessed.  They are WAY tighter than my zensah ones!
Another perk of a 5am run is that I also caught a pretty great sunrise...
Pain aside, it was worth the early morning. :)

Hope you're having a wonderful weekend!!  Check back tomorrow for a post about implementing the Daily 5!

August 17, 2011

On Being a Vegetarian: 10 Simple Steps to Make the Transition Easier

Some of my recent reflections on vegetarianism and my diet:

Becoming a vegetarian was an easy choice for me, and I haven’t looked back since I stopped eating meat almost 4 years ago.  However, it is not an easy choice or transition for everyone.  I’d like to share some of the things that made the transition easier for me both initially and over the past few years.  (Oh, and the pictures really have nothing to do with the text--they are just some of my recent vegetarian eats! :) )

1. Be confident in your decision before you share it with others, and be prepared to explain it politely to those who ask about your motivations.
Some people will be very supportive of you, others will think this is just “an experiment” and question your seriousness, and still others will let you know quite frankly that they think you are crazy.  Be prepared to calmly and politely give a quick explanation for your choice, but know that you don’t have to defend it, and understand that some people may never understand.
2. Let yourself gradually transition meat out of your diet if that is easier for you than going cold "tofurkey."
College Roommate and I actually chose to become vegetarians right around the same time at the end of a school year(without even discussing the decision with each other!), and while she was very successful at immediately “quitting” meat, I gave myself a summer to make the transition.  I hadn’t eaten red meat for years, but gradually phased poultry out of my diet, followed by seafood over the course of a summer.  I decided that when I returned to campus to start classes in fall, I would be completely finished with eating meat.  The gradual approach worked REALLY well for me, as I felt like I needed to “say goodbye” to a few favorite foods.

3. Remember that you create the rules for your own diet.
There are so many gray areas for vegetarians—I talked about them in this post.  Remember that you need to decide what works best for you.  Initially for me, that meant abstaining only from animals.  This past year I gave up gelatin as well, and I’ve considered saying goodbye to eggs and dairy recently, although I’m not *quite* ready for that jump.

4. Educate yourself about nutrition.
It’s pretty easy to get enough of the nutrients you need on a veggie diet (contrary to what some meat eaters may try to tell you), but make sure, especially in the beginning, that you are getting enough protein and iron.  It’s as simple as being aware of what you are eating.

5. Find meatless ways to recreate favorite recipes to avoid cravings.
While I rarely miss meat, I do find myself experiencing a few “comfort food cravings” from time to time.  The biggest one of these is chicken nuggets.  I don’t use “fake meat” very often, but I buy Morningstar Chicken Nuggets frequently.  They are DELICIOUS and are exactly what I need when I’m craving nuggs after driving by a Wendy’s. J (And they are WAY healthier than the alternative, which is an added bonus!)  Additionally, I’ve always loved grilled chicken with barbeque sauce.  I realized after becoming a vegetarian that it’s really barbeque sauce that I missed, so I found other things to slather it on like baked potatoes and grilled tofu.  Yum!

6. Look at menus online before dining out, especially with friends.
This one has been a big help for me.  Depending on where you live, many restaurants may not have vegetarian entrees on their menus.  If you are invited to a specific restaurant, it’s helpful to check the menu online (or call if it’s not available).  If there aren’t veggie options, decide how you will handle this.  Is there an entrĂ©e that can have the meat easily left off? (You can often ask for a reduced rate if this is the case.)  Is there the possibility of swapping an ingredient in a dish for another?  Are there veggie side dishes?  The more prepared you are, the more pleasant your dining experience will likely be.

7. Offer to bring a vegetarian dish to parties.
If you are invited somewhere for dinner, make sure the host knows you are a vegetarian and offer to bring either a dish to share or something for yourself.  For example, when I’m invited to a barbeque, I usually bring a veggie burger in a ziplock bag for the host to throw on the grill.  For a bigger event, I may prepare a dish to pass.  It will set your mind at ease knowing there will be something you can eat, and also keeps you from being an inconvenience to your host.

8. Be clear about what you do and do not eat when hosts inquire.
It’s important to be polite as a guest, but if someone asks what you eat when inviting you over, tell them!   This might save you from feeling obligated to eat an ingredient you avoid for fear of hurting your host’s feelings.

9. Carry a high-protein snack with you.
Sometimes a veggie meal isn’t going to be readily available—this is especially true when traveling.  When I take a trip, I try to throw some nuts or high-protein granola bars into my suitcase so I have them if I need them.

10. Give yourself permission to change your personal “rules” at any time.
Like I said, I recently decided I was no longer okay with eating gelatin, 3 ½ years after going vegetarian.  I’ve always said that I make the rules for my diet based on what I feel comfortable with and what works for me at a given time.  I’ve been thinking about trying a vegan diet lately, and if and when I do, I will fully give myself permission to make my own rules for it based on health, nutrition, and what I feel capable of doing.

August 15, 2011

Daily 3: Word Work

**Edit 8/2/12: The activities described in this post are now available for a FREE DOWNLOAD on my brand new Teachers Pay Teachers Store!

Awhile back I did a post about how I run Daily 3 (modified Daily 5) in my classroom, including how I manage my materials.  Since I showed my Word Work choice board, I've received some questions about what exactly my students do for their independent Word Work.  Well, fasten your seat belts, it's Word Work time!!

When I first started learning about the Daily 5 a few years ago, I struggled with the word work piece.  The examples that The Sisters outline in the book are really better suited to primary students.  Also, they are predominantly based on spelling practice.  When I became unhappy with those choices, I reverted to having my students do vocabulary context sentences for their word work.  Not only were these sentences torture for the students to do, they were also torture for me to grade!  BORING.  Also, they totally neglected the choice element that is so much a hallmark of the Daily 5.  Midway through last year, I decided that there must be something better out there.  I scoured the internet and my own brain and came up with several short, meaningful vocabulary practice activities and graphic organizers.  Some are my original work and others are adaptations of vocabulary practice activities I came across at one time or another!

First, the set-up:
Materials management is an important part of any smoothly functioning classroom, and is an especially important part of a Daily 5 classroom.  The kiddos need to be able to access any materials they may need during a rotation without interrupting my guided groups.  I have all of the choices displayed on one of my cabinets:
Below, all handouts and instruction cards are stored in a bin of hanging files:
Here's a closer look inside the file bin:
At the very front is a folder with the Weekly Word List.  Even though the words are displayed, I provide copies of the words and their definitions so there is no confusion.
Also mounted on the cabinets are two pocket charts with the weekly words:
The blue pocket chart has the 8 weekly words from our literacy story.  The red pocket chart has our science/social studies words as well as a couple of "real-life" words.  (The literacy words are the focus for the Word Work activities.)

Next, the activities:
Inside the hanging file bin are neatly labeled folders, one for each activity.  Inside each folder are two laminated copies of the instructions for that activity, as well as the handouts to go along with it.  Students can go up to the bin and grab the instructions and handout they need to work independently.  Here are the activities I use...
Connect To:
For this activity, students attempt to make as many connections as they can between the vocabulary words, with the end goal being to link them all in a chain.  For example, if three words were "rigid," "tyrant," and "physical," the students might connect them by saying, "Rigid is connected to tyrant because a tyrant has very rigid rules.  Tyrant is connected to physical because a tyrant might order physical pain to be inflicted on someone who broke the rules."  This one takes a little creativity!

Vocabulary Story:
In this folder, I keep the instructions as well as colored "stationery" (aka lined paper with a pretty boarder I make in Word and copy onto pretty colored paper).  Every Thursday, I assign a writing prompt relating to the weekly literacy story and require students to use their vocabulary words in their written response.  This is pretty much the same thing, except I let students write about any topic they want.  Their only requirement is to use at least 5 of the words in their writing.  This is a popular one among my avid writers!

Vocabulary Sort:
This one is a little bit of a higher-level activity.  (These activities lend themselves well to mixed-ability classes, because students pick their own activities.  No matter the challenge-level, they all accomplish the goal of practicing the words!)  Students analyze the words and come up with 3 categories.  They might have to do with part of speech, definition, word structure, etc.  They sort the words and then explain the category and why it works in the bottom of each column.

Four Square:
This is by far the most popular activity.  Students choose four words to work with.  For each word, they write a detailed sentence and illustrate.  The sentence and illustration really need to show the meaning of the word.  I love seeing the pictures and sentences they come up with!

Own the Word:
Probably the most basic activity, the kids just fill out this graphic organizer about the word.  They usually use the dictionary and thesaurus to find the part of speech and synonyms/antonyms.  It's not complicated, but it gets them thinking about the words and offers an opportunity to practice using reference materials.
Word Detective:
This one is pretty basic too.  The kids find the vocabulary word in their literacy text book and write down the sentence that uses the word.  They then fill out the graphic organizer looking at the context clues, and write their own sentences using context clues to show the word's meaning.

Assessment & Grading:
cloze, usually a story related to the weekly theme.  We grade these as a class immediately.  This is a win-win I think.  It's less grading for me, and it's a better assessment.  The weekly work is the formative, ungraded assessment, and the quick quiz is the summative.  It's been working really well!

Word Work Outside the Literacy Block:
I implemented a "Word Watcher" program towards the end of last year, and it was really popular with my students!  
Anytime they saw or heard a vocabulary word (past words and content area words count too!), they were able to fill out a Word Watcher slip and put it in the bucket.  I would pull a slip or two a week to raffle off a homework pass.  This year I may also add some component where, when I hear kids USING a vocab word, they can also enter their name in the raffle.

PHEW!  I think that sums it up!  Be sure to visit my Teachers Pay Teachers store to download these materials (for free!) and check them out for yourself!  If you have any questions email me at juiceboxesandcrayolas AT gmail DOT com.  If you have any other ideas for independent vocabulary practice that you use with your kiddos, I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to hear them!!!!  Please share them in the comments section!  My system is by no means perfect, and I would love new ideas!
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