COVID 19 and Distance Learning

The purpose of this post is to provide some links to FREE resources for both teachers and parents to aid in these trying times. That’s it. That’s the post. Some items are flash freebies and some are forever freebies, so my advice is to act now.

Flash and Forever Freebies in My TpT Store

Google Forms

At Home Activities for Elementary School Students

Elementary Teacher Resource Collaboration

Pinterest Board – Distance Learning Paperless Resources

Pinterest Board – Creative Digital/Remote Learning Activities

Pinterest Board – Distance Learning Homeschool COVID19

As a veteran teacher, I am happy to help you if you need support. Just email me at or leave a comment!


How to Help Your Students Analyze Main Idea and Theme

Teaching Main Idea and Theme

What’s a great way to teach main idea and theme that really sticks? I have found some ways that consistently work well with my upper elementary students when we are digging deep into a work of narrative nonfiction that I want to share with you. Why narrative nonfiction? Well, mainly because narrative nonfiction books have main ideas because they’re nonfiction, but they also have themes because they’re stories.

One of my favorite books to use for this lesson is Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay. Since this is a beautifully written and illustrated book, it’s important to just read it all the way through one time. After the first read, we reread and start to look at the main idea as well as topics and themes that have emerged.

Any teacher already knows that the main idea is essentially a brief summary of a book. Ada’s Violin is the story of a child who lives in the impoverished town of Cateura that grew up around a garbage dump outside of Paraguay’s capital city of Asunción. Adults in the town are concerned about the futures of the children. A man named Favio Chávez wants to give the community hope so he starts a music school. He knows that even if he can get instruments for the children that real instruments will likely be stolen so he enlists the help of Don Cola Gomez, a trash worker and carpenter, who is able to make instruments from the trash. So, what’s the main idea? My students came up with: “The Recycled Orchestra of Cateura began because the music teacher didn’t have enough instruments and the dump was full of useful materials.” Another main idea could be that Ada’s grandmother Marian wanted Ada and her sister to have a better life that she had, so she signed them up for music lessons with Favio Chávez.

Now on to theme. What’s the most effective way to “get at” theme? It’s best to focus on topics. I’m certainly not the first person to focus on brainstorming about topics to get at theme and I know this. Two of my favorite videos to help with this approach are: and What’s crucial in determining theme is inferring how the author feels about a topic in a story. For example, some of the topics in Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay are poverty, perseverance, creativity, hope, determination, recycling, respect, being thankful, optimism, and family. Students need to choose one of the topics and think about how the author feels about the topic. It helps to write “The author believes that…” as shown in the second video. One of themes my students inferred for the topic of creativity was: “Anything can be done with creativity.” Others might be: “Turning trash into treasure is a beautiful idea for the ears as well as the eyes” or “Repurposing trash is not only great for the environment, but can help energize a community” and other thematic statements. After students articulate themes, they pass their notebooks to other students and their peers provide evidence to support the themes.

In addition to reading the book, I like to show my students a related 60 Minutes Video There are also other articles and videos out there including this one from NPR:

Same Technique for Determining Theme with a Chapter Book (Wringer, Spinelli)

I use the same technique for inferring theme frequently enough that my students begin to say, “The author believes that…” before they state themes they have identified.

I have developed several lessons using these techniques. I am offering as a FREEBIE for a limited time beginning at 9 PM EST on February 20, 2020.

Other lessons include:

Rosa Book Companion:

Wilma Unlimited Book Companion:

Wringer Book Companion (Final Lesson):

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Link Up to Deep Thinking About Comprehension!

Problems and Solutions in Catching the Moon

What was it like to be the first woman to play baseball in a men’s professional league? How was a woman able to break through this barrier in the 1950s? Crystal Hubbard tells the story of Marcenia Lyle’s first experiences with baseball as a young girl in the beautiful picture book, Catching the Moon. Catching the Moon features a determined Marcenia who is confident in her abilities in the face of obstacles that might have seemed insurmountable to some. Because Marcenia faces a problem that, once solved, leads to another problem, her story is the perfect one to use to teach students the problem-solution text structure.

Teaching the Problem-Solution Text Structure

Before Reading

Before reading Catching the Moon aloud, I would do a picture walk with students. I would invite my students to make predictions based on the cover image which features a young girl with a baseball mitt on her hand who is looking out of her window at the moon. After that, I would have students make some additional inferences as I share some of the following images before reading.

Picture Walk – Catching the Moon


Discussion questions

Cover image of a young girl who is looking at the moon. What do you notice about the child on the cover? How do you think she is feeling? What might she be thinking?
Pages 5 and 6 – image of a man watching children playing on a playground. Some children are jumping rope and some are gathering on a pitcher’s mound with baseball equipment Why do you think there is a man watching the children as they play? Why do you think one girl is walking toward the boys on the pitcher’s mound? How do you think the girl is feeling?
Pages 7 and 8 – images of a girl wearing a dress and playing baseball Why do you think the girl is wearing a dress? When you look at the girl’s face on the last picture on the page, how do you think she feels?
Pages 9 and 10 – image of a girl shaking hands with a man and many children cheering; image of the children walking away What do you think the man might be saying to the girl? Why do you think a boy has his arm around the girl as they’re walking away? Does the girl look happy? How might she be feeling?
Pages 13 and 14 – image of children playing baseball Look at the girl’s facial expression. How do you think she is feeling?
Pages 15 and 16 – image of children cheering as the young girl talks to the man What can you infer about the girl’s feelings by looking at her? What do you think she might be saying?
Pages 17 and 18 – image of the girl talking to her parents; image of the girl walking away from the man and several boys In the picture on the left, the girl looks excited. Why do you think she looks the way she does in the picture on the right? What might have happened?
Pages 19 and 20 – image of the young girl looking out the window at the moon What do you think the girl might be thinking?
Note, it is not necessary to ask questions about all of the images listed. These are suggestions. The teacher may pick and choose the images that will best build anticipation.

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During the Read Aloud

After building anticipation, I would say, “Let’s read to find out what happens in this story!” When teaching the problem-solution text structure, I want to allow students time to turn-and-talk about specific problems a character faces and make predictions about how the character might solve the problems. In Catching the Moon, Marcenia’s peers see her as a skilled baseball player and a valued teammate. She has earned the respect of her friends by working hard and playing well. However, Marcenia encounters many problems due to stereotyping and sexism.

The first problem she encounters is that Mr. Street – who is the manager for the St. Louis Cardinals and is running a free baseball camp for kids – doesn’t want to accept Marcenia into his baseball camp because she is a girl. I would read up to the point where Mr. Street first says, “’But I don’t take girls in my camp’.” (p.9) and ask, “What do you think Marcenia might do now?” I would invite students to turn and talk and pose some theories before continuing to read. Students can stop and jot, as well. When we discover Marcenia’s solution (playing hard and stealing home) and Mr. Street’s response (offering her a space in the camp), we can check to see if anyone predicted this outcome or something similar.

The next problem Marcenia faces is that her family is not excited about her going to the camp and her father says that he cannot afford cleats. I would continue to read to the end of page 20 and ask, “What do you think Marcenia will do now? Do you think she will give up on her dream? What do you think will happen next?” At this point, I would have students turn and talk again and brainstorm some possible solutions. I would invite them to stop and jot in their notebooks. After this, I would continue to read and would check to see if anyone predicted that Mr. Street would give Marcenia cleats.

The final problem in the story is that Marcenia needs to get permission from her dad to attend the camp. I would stop at the end of page 24 and ask, “How do you think Marcenia’s father will react? How do you think he will feel when he sees Marcenia’s new cleats? Do you think he will allow Marcenia to go to the camp?” Again, I would have students turn and talk about possible outcomes, continue to read, and check to see if anyone predicted the outcome.

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After Reading

This book lends itself to some great discussions about determination, perseverance, and overcoming hardships. I like to discuss the societal problems of the time with my students. Marcenia faced sexism and stereotyping. We can also infer that her family struggled financially. I like to have students reflect and make a connection to their own lives by posing the questions, “In your opinion, why do some people think some things are ‘boys only’ or ‘girls only’? Have you ever wanted to play a sport or participate in an activity that was designated for the ‘other’ gender? Were you able to do it? Did people accept you?”.

Planning Ahead

If you want to save a ton of planning time, check out my narrative nonfiction bundle on Teachers Pay Teachers: I will keep adding to this bundle (even though it’s not technically a “growing bundle”) as I develop new lessons.


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Comprehension Connection
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Limited Time Offer

From today until October 31st, 2019, I am offering my Catching the Moon book companion lesson, graphic organizers, and exit ticket for FREE on Teachers Pay Teachers. In return, I would LOVE some feedback – even if it’s just a kind word or two.

Grab Your FREE Copy of my BOOK COMPANION Narrative Nonfiction – Catching the Moon through October 31, 2019!

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Why I Love Mini Posters So Much

The countdown for back-to-school has begun. Perhaps some of you have already gone back to school! I have a few more weeks, but I’m thinking about the year to come, planning and preparing, and reflecting.

As I have been reflecting, I have been thinking about anchor charts and how, on the one hand, they’re important and how, on the other hand, I do not enjoy making them. At all. Before you yell at me, let me explain. When I was a new teacher 30 (yes, literally 30 – 1989) years ago, I made tons of anchor charts. It was very time consuming and I did not enjoy it, but I knew they were important. Over the course of many many years, I have created, stored, and thrown away too many charts to count.

Fast forward to (probably) 2012, maybe? I discovered mini posters and I have used and loved them with all my heart ever since. Here’s why. I honestly see my students using them more. I rarely ever saw my students using wall charts. We would create them and then they would hang on the wall until we started a new unit. It’s entirely possible that I was doing something wrong. However, I now create mini posters by the ton because they work really well for my students and me.

When I am building community and establishing routines, I bring out the text coding and turn-and-talk posters. Then, the mini posters (I also have bookmarks) go in their notebooks for year ’round references.

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To help us remember math rules, I have even and odd, prime and composite, PEMDAS, GEMDAS, BODMAS, and BEDMAS (I use PEMDAS, but if you use one of the other acronyms, I’ve got you covered), and integer arithmetic posters for student notebooks. I’m planning to make more throughout the year, so stay tuned.

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The convenience of mini posters simply cannot be beat. I love how they’re with me all the time (on a flash drive) for easy printing and distribution. I love how I can create colorful posters and mini posters, as well as black and white mini posters since I typically have easy access to a black and white printer.

Do you use mini posters? If you do, I have some great ones for you to add to your collection. If not, I hope you’ll check them out!

Anchor Charts for Choosing “Just Right” Books 5th Grade

Anchor Charts for Choosing “Just Right” Books for 4th Grade

Turn-and-Talk Posters

Inclusive Posters for Order of Operations

Inclusive Posters for Even and Odd and Prime and Composite Numbers

Harry Potter Posters for Order of Operations BEDMAS and BODMAS

Harry Potter Posters for Order of Operations GEMDAS

Harry Potter Posters for Order of Operations PEMDAS

Harry Potter Posters for Even and Odd and Prime and Composite Numbers

Harry Potter Rule Posters for Adding and Subtracting Integers

Affiliate Links:

Technical Difficulties!

I messed up when I uploaded the link to The Tiger Rising task cards and I can’t seem to fix it. Here is the PDF.

Chapter Questions – The Tiger Rising


Using Task Cards for Novel Studies

Using Task Cards for Novel Studies

I love task cards. I use them in every subject area, but I used to always associate them with math. Not anymore. I started using task cards for novel studies this year and it has changed my life. Maybe that sounds silly, but I mean it. For many years, my colleagues and I would create and copy novel study packets for our students every week. The groups were differentiated and the packets were text dependent, so we had to precisely calculate how many packets were needed in order to not waste too much paper. So, as a language arts and social studies teacher, I had two classes every year. There were between 25 and 30 students in each class and each packet was 4 pages long. (This is starting to sound a little like “When I Was Going to St. Ives”.) Invariably, at least 5 students would lose their packets, so the teachers would have to run more copies of the packets. It was a nightmare. You get the picture.

I decided to create discussion cards for my novel studies and I’m NEVER going back. Why? Glad you asked. I type up the questions on discussion cards, print them out on card stock, laminate them, and distribute them to my students at the beginning of a class meeting or guided reading session. I have discussion questions ready for a session. Each student only answers one question to prepare for the discussion. S/he writes the answer to the text dependent question in his/her notebook. After that, we have a discussion and use accountable talk to agree, disagree, add on, and clarify. When the discussion ends, students return the cards to me and their answers remain IN THEIR NOTEBOOKS. No one has a packet to lose.

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Creating this system also helped me organize, facilitate, and model discussions with the whole class novel, The Tiger Rising, so that I could set up expectations for the rest for the year. I am excited to launch book clubs using this system.

Please enjoy the discussion cards for The Tiger Rising. I do not sell these on Teachers Pay Teachers because I did not write them, myself. I do have several sets of discussion cards, complete novel studies, and digital novel studies on TpT. All are linked below.

If you use any of my discussion cards in your classroom, I would LOVE to hear your feedback!

Happy Reading!

Chapter Questions – The Tiger Rising

Fonts by: Amanda Newsome A Perfect Blend Teaching Resources

Affiliate Links and Links to Teachers Pay Teachers Products:

Danny, the Champion of the World

Hoot – Discussion Cards

Hoot – Digital Discussion Cards for Google Classroom

The Jacket – Discussion Cards

Just Juice – Discussion Cards

Riding Freedom – Discussion Cards

Riding Freedom – Digital Discussion Cards for Google Classroom

Riding Freedom – Complete Novel Study

Riding Freedom _ BUNDLE

Wonder – Discussion Cards

Wringer – Discussion Cards in Color

Wringer – Discussion Cards in Color and Black and White

Wringer – Digital Discussion Cards for Google Classroom

Wringer – Complete Novel Study

Wringer – Launching Readers Workshop


New Year, New Commitments!

Where did I go for the second half of 2018? Well, the state of Virginia sent me a letter (actually an email) that said (and I’m paraphrasing) “you have six months to take two classes to complete your certification”. What? I thought I had three years! Well, two years had passed in the blink of an eye and I was starting the third year. Whoops. Anyway, long boring story short, I had to take two undergraduate courses: World History and Introduction to Economics. I spent the first half of the school year going to work, teaching (obviously), planning, grading (sometimes), and reading and studying for these two classes. I survived! I made an A in history and a B in Economics. I have my life back and am committing to blogging again!

My goal for 2019 is to grow. I want to continue to learn more about teaching my new grade level (4th grade) and about teaching gifted learners. I want to read more for pleasure. I want to write some pieces that truly impact others. I want to travel.

What are some of your commitments for 2019? How do you want to grow? I’d love to read about your thoughts in the comments!

Virginia Teachers Follow Loop


Hello, fellow Virginia teachers! I’ve really enjoyed participating in the follow loops that keep popping up. It’s been great to have the opportunity to connect with other educators across the country and all over the world. 

It has inspired me to create a #followloop of my own! Join in on the fun!


1. Follow your host, @amazingmaterials4you 

2. DM @amazingmaterials4you for photo and caption to post. (I’m also okay with you using a #repostapp!)

3. Click on the hashtag #virginiateacherfollowloop

4. Follow everyone who has the picture and caption.

5. Comment on their picture with a heart of any color (since #virginiaisforlovers) and give them 24-48 hours to follow back! 

6. Tag your #virginiateacherfriends, if you’d like, too!


#teachersfollowteachers #teachersofinstagram  #followloop

#virginiateachersunite #virginiateacher #virginiateachers #virginiateachersfollowloop

Virginia Teacher Follow - June.001Virginia Teacher Follow - July 2.001Virginia Teacher Follow - July 1.001Virginia Teacher Follow - August

A Quick Beach Vacation for Self-Care

Let me start by saying that I have been jonesing for an island vacation for some time now. I dream of Hawaii, Tahiti, Bermuda, and Turks and Caicos on a fairly regular basis. I drool and practically cry when I see other people’s island vacation photos on Instagram. I’ve been saying to myself, “maybe next year” for several years. Finding the passport I thought I had lost hasn’t helped either! Am I glad that I found my passport? Of course, but it’s made the wanderlust grow.

In the midst of one of my first world pity parties, I remembered that I had heard of a little island off the coast of Alabama for many years and had never been there. My mom lives in Mississippi and I was going there anyway, so I thought, “Why not check out this little island?” We did, and it did not disappoint!


The day we arrived was a Sunday. We grabbed the keys to the beach house from the realty office, dropped our luggage (and dog) off at the house, and headed straight to the beach! Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll let you look at what we found.

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After walking around and taking some pictures of this gorgeous, white sand beach with huge dunes and plenty of marsh surrounding it, we decided to go grab a bite to eat at J.T.’s Sunset Grill. We enjoyed a nice meal and these beautiful views while we ate.

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On our first full day, we were looking for the dock where dolphin and lighthouse tours launched (we didn’t find it) and just happened upon the Audubon Bird Sanctuary. Wow! We only saw one bird (a woodpecker), but the loop around the lake was so gorgeous. I couldn’t believe something so unspoiled was within easy driving distance of Northern Mississippi.

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After a walk in the woods and lunch, we headed back to the beach. This time, we headed to the end of the island where there were just a few families enjoying the water, sun, and white sand. A quick trip to Beach Planet (Treasure Trove) to shop and then we were ready to spend the evening at the beach house, researching lighthouse and dolphin tours.

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We reserved a spot on The Duke for a dolphin and lighthouse tour. Many people (including me when I was younger) think the name of the island is “Dolphin Island” and, after this tour, it’s certainly easy to understand why! We arrived at the Marina pretty unprepared (my bad), but the shop had lined canvas bags, ice, and cold drinks, so our problem was easily solved. We embarked on a “three hour tour” (cue the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song) with several different families. On the way to the lighthouse, there were a few dolphin sightings, but after we passed the lighthouse, they were EVERYWHERE! Dolphins are such delightful animals. To me, they always seem to be having such a great time.

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We rounded out our day with dinner at the beach house and a little more research on what to do next.


During the previous evening’s research, we read about the Dauphin Island Estuarium and decided that we needed to check it out. We lucked out and arrived pretty close to an 11:00 AM feeding time and got to see the different fish and reptiles eating.

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After lunch at Islanders and an afternoon at the beach, it was time to shower, get dressed, and try to catch one more island sunset. We went to Pirates Bar and Grill and enjoyed some drinks by the pool while catching a really beautiful sunset.

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Our stay here was brief, but it was just what we needed for a little self-care break. About an hour into the drive back to Mississippi, Sweet Home, Alabama came on the radio. I’ve never been a big fan and, in the past, would certainly have changed the station. This time, I let it play and smiled as we waved goodbye to Alabama. We hope to see you again, soon, Dauphin Island! Thanks for a great four days.


Do you need anything for a fun beach getaway?

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