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?

Building a Community of Writers

The article below appears in the July 2018 edition of A Teacher’s Magazine if you’re interested in ordering it and reading more! Here’s a link to a six-month subscription: A Teacher’s Magazine – August ’18 to February ’19. Here’s a PREVIEW! There are so many great articles for back-to-school that, even if you didn’t order it at the beginning of July, it is worth grabbing now or any time before school starts.

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In 1989, I was a new, fresh-faced first year kindergarten teacher who “discovered” the magic of Lucy McCormick Calkins by reading the book, The Art of Teaching Writing. I had never heard of writers’ workshop and I eagerly implemented the strategies I learned from her book into my classroom routine and her sage advice into my own philosophy. Teaching using a workshop model has always been my way.


At the beginning of every school year, whether I am teaching kindergarten or fifth grade or any grade in between, I start with building my community of writers. In order to write real pieces with voice and depth, students have to feel safe and know that reactions and feedback are coming from a place of care. They should never feel attacked or mocked. That’s why it’s crucial for students to have a lot of time to play around with and share seed ideas before they choose a seed that they want to nurture and grow into a fully developed piece. I like to spend a week or two modeling how to brainstorm and how to gather seed ideas, as well as how to ultimately choose the seed to grow into a fully developed piece. 

When launching the workshop, it is important to establish rituals and routines (of course) and to ensure that every child has a notebook. Every year that I have taught third grade or fifth grade, my students have enjoyed bringing in stickers and magazine clippings to personalize their notebooks. I also always have age appropriate magazines and a variety of stickers on hand for those students who forget or who may not have as much support at home to gather the materials they need or want in order to personalize their notebooks. After students finish decorating, I cover the outsides of the notebooks with packing tape or clear contact paper for durability. This year, since I have three classes, students store their notebooks in bins on a community shelf, but I have also had students store their notebooks in their desks when I have had one or two classes. 


In my current district, the pacing guide outlines pretty basic ideas for launching the writing workshop, but there is a lot of room for interpretation. I spend several days with students working on generating ideas across genres (what types of informational, narrative, and opinion pieces can they write about on the same topic) and with audience in mind (do they want to write a letter, a list, or a story). I also have them think about their favorite genre (which, for most is narrative) and then have them brainstorm ideas for it and for other genres. It may seem like overkill, but as the year progresses and they (inevitably) say, “I can’t think of anything to write”, I have them return to the wonderful lists they generated at the beginning of the year.

Brainstorming  Informational Narrative Opinion
Brochure Fictional Story Advertisement
Letter Narrative Nonfiction Letter
Newspaper Article Personal Narrative Newspaper Article

After spending about a week generating ideas, breaking in our new notebooks, and practicing routines, it’s time to commit to a topic! It’s time for students to really “dig in” and decide what pieces they want to write. I like for them to really analyze their options and justify their choices. It’s time to break out the sticky notes! I set them up for success by providing sentence stems such as “This is a good idea because…” for them to write on their stickies and by having them discuss their options with peers. After some chatting and sharing, I have them fill out an exit ticket that I keep on file for when I check in with them during conferences. 

Now’s the time to help them recognize and use resources (three, then me). We explicitly talk about each child’s strengths and also do a gallery walk around the room to look at anchor charts. In addition, I provide small anchor charts for them to glue into their writing notebooks in a “reference” section to use throughout the year. Over time, they all learn that John is a great speller, Mary has a phenomenal vocabulary, etc. but at the beginning of the year when we’re building our community, it helps for them to know that their peers can be resources and that they can be resources, too. Some students may need a lot of scaffolding here – particularly your reluctant writers. In this case, it’s important offer some suggestions such as: 

“I’m an expert at…” 

  • Keeping my notebook organized
  • Coming up with ideas
  • Using precise verbs
  • Trying out different points of view
  • Deleting unnecessary words
  • Adding dialogue 


During the drafting period, many students really struggle with accepting even the most constructive feedback and actually revising as they go. The temptation to say, “I’m done” is so great. It’s pretty hard to resist. As a teacher, I try to model making changes myself and accepting (and actually using) feedback, but that’s not always enough. Modeling is great, but mentor texts can also help immensely during this time. You can encourage your students to rewrite parts of their pieces from different perspectives. Now that the movie version of Wonder is out, most students have at least seen the movie and many have read the book, as well. Spending a class period talking about Via’s, Jack’s, Summer’s, Justin’s, Miranda’s, and (of course) Auggie’s perspectives can help students see how their own characters’ points of view get at (or don’t get at) the heart of their stories. Taking time to read Voices in the Park can also help students see how authors use different points of view to tell the same story.

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Another option for teaching revising during writing is to have students look at ways that they can incorporate symbolism into their stories and what better story to use to teach that skill than Beauty and the Beast. It is absolutely chock-full of symbols! In 2017, my students really enjoyed thinking about the symbols in the story. They jotted their thoughts about what the symbols represented on sticky notes (what would we language arts teachers do without sticky notes, amirite?), then placed their notes on chart paper, and finally took a gallery walk around to read and discuss the charts before they settled in to incorporate some symbols into their own writing. Were they all successful? No. Did they all try? Yes! Attempts are always important – especially when building that community. Knowing that taking risks is safe is priceless.

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Exploring a variety of leads is also a good way to revise during writing. Looking at some basic leads – action, question, snapshot, sound effect, and talking – and trying them out can help students decide how best to start their pieces. It’s also important to look at how they want to end their pieces and exploring a variety of conclusions – offering a reflection, stating a lesson learned, restating the thesis, etc. – can help students stay focused and avoid ending their pieces with “the end” or “to be continued…”

When students have really reached a point where they’re ready to write (and, perhaps, even if they haven’t quite reached it), I have them break out the laptops. I create an assignment on Google classroom and they begin typing away. They love having the option to share their work with peers electronically and being able to give and receive targeted, helpful feedback.


We’ve all heard of COPS, but I like CUPS better. CUPS stands for Capitalization, Usage, Punctuation, and Spelling and is more aligned to what I, as an adult, do when I am editing my own writing. Here, if your community has trust and feels safe taking risks, your students can help each other simply by offering a pair (or several pairs) of fresh eyes to look at each others’ pieces and make those final tweaks before printing. At this point, students can think about how they want to present their pieces. Do they want to illustrate them? Do they want to do a dramatic reading with different voices for different characters? Do they want to make a Google slides presentation? Do they have different ideas?

When I was a new teacher, I had an Author’s Chair that was a special place for one student to sit and share while everyone else sat and listened, ostensibly preparing to comment. I abandoned the Author’s Chair when I moved to fifth grade in 2011. One problem I always had with the Author’s Chair was that it was too product oriented. I wanted to focus on the process as a whole class. Writing conferences are great (and necessary), but students don’t learn as much about the process their peers are experiencing if this is the only venue for feedback in their classroom. This is (one of the many reasons) why I love Google classroom! As I mentioned, students can share their living documents and get feedback from peers as well as from me on this platform. I also like to circulate and check in with students as they write and ask (quietly), “Would you like to share that with the whole class?” as I check in. If a student responds, “No”, that’s fine. It’s an option.  


In conclusion, setting students up for success in writing at any grade level involves building a caring and supportive community of peers and teacher(s) as well as giving students plenty of time to explore genres, topics, leads, conclusions, and literary elements. Some will soar. Others might come along a little more reluctantly. Consistency is key. May you have a magical and magnificent year with your community of writers in 2018-19 and for many years to come! 

Building a Community of Writers


  • Calkins, Lucy (1986) The Art of Teaching Writing.
  • Calkins, Lucy, Marjorie Martinelli, Mary Chiarella, M. Colleen Cruz, Ted Kesler (2010) Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing. Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, Columbia University.
  • Oczkus, Lori (2007) Guided Writing:Practical Lessons, Powerful Results.
  • Ray, Katie (2006) Study Driven.

July 4th Giveaway and More!


We wanted to help you celebrate your Fourth of July 🇺🇸 with a BANG 🎆 and let you have a treat for you plus a little something for your class!  💸 We’re giving away TWO SETS of $20 gift cards ($40 TOTAL) so spread the word! 🗣 Follow the steps below to enter this great giveaway!

1️⃣Like this picture and follow me @amazingmaterials4you 💁‍♀️

2️⃣Comment below: what is your favorite way to celebrate the Fourth?! 🇺🇸

3️⃣FOR AN EXTRA ENTRY: Tag up to FIVE friends in the comments! 😍

4️⃣Tap the picture to see where to go next. When you’ve gotten back to me, you’ve completed the loop! 😃


This giveaway will close at 8 PM EST FRIDAY JULY 6TH. Winners will be announced that evening and will be contacted by @pieceofcakeinsecond. You must follow the steps for each picture to be eligible. *This giveaway is not endorsed by Instagram and is independently given by the above accounts.*

Hashtag Sales!

In addition to this giveaway, I’m participating in some hashtag sales. I hope you’ll check them out! Amazing Materials for You

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As always, I love to share some of my favorite resources with my readers. If you decide to purchase any of these books, I will receive a small commission. Thank you so much for your support.

Summer Stylin’ 2018 Giveaway


Who wants to be stylin’ this summer?☀️😎 I have teamed up with some amazing teachers to bring THREE lucky winners some fun prizes!

What’s included:

🎉 One lucky winner will receive an Erin Condren Planner and Flair Pens.

🎉 A second lucky winner will receive a $50 TPT gift card and a $10 Target gift card.

🎉 A third lucky winner will receive a teacher t-shirt, a cute tote, and Monat shampoo and conditioner!

How to Enter:

1️⃣ Follow me @amazingmaterials4you

2️⃣ Like this post Summer Stylin’ 2018.

3️⃣ Comment with emojis showing your summer plans!

4️⃣ Tap the picture and head over to @asprinkleofsecond and continue the loop until you are back to me!

‼️For additional entries‼️

🔶 Tag additional friends in separate comments.

(Each tag= 1 additional entry)

🔶 Share on your instastory and/or page and tag at least one of us!!


Giveaway ends on Sunday and the LUCKY WINNERS will be announced!! 🎉 This giveaway is not affiliated with Instagram, Target, TPT, or any of the other brands included. 

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Independence Day Giveaway!

Rafflecopter giveaway


Happy July 4th! A team of amazing teachers and I have grouped together to gift an awesome teacher with a TPT gift card to show them how appreciative we are!

1 x $150 TPT Giftcard
#1 TAG your teacher friends by adding their names in the comment section: Instagram Post
REMEMBER: each entry counts as ONE entry, the more links you complete, the higher your chances of winning!!
Raffle CLOSES: Saturday 7th July 2018 12am


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Father’s Day 2018

Happy Father’s Day.


Here I am on my first Father’s Day without my dad feeling sad, but also feeling so grateful. I was blessed for 53 years with a dad who loved my mom, my brother, my children, and me unconditionally and limitlessly. I realize that many people never have that. My dad was good man with integrity, loyalty, and humor. He was also brilliant. I always believed that my dad knew the answer to everything! I miss his insightfulness and wisdom. I miss his thoughtful sage advice.

This has been a day of reflection for me. I know that there are so many people out there whose fathers are uninvolved, uncaring, unkind, or even abusive. My dad was not perfect, but he was always there when I needed him and I learned to be accepting and open-minded from him.


I miss you, dad. I think about you every day and still cry every time a Beatles song comes on the radio. Rest in Peace.



Product Pals

In 2018, I became aware of Product Pals and, honestly, it has enriched my life and teaching experience so much. Getting to field test great Teachers Pay Teachers products  on my own students and write reviews is only the half (or really maybe the fourth) of it! I have collaborated with some extraordinarily creative and innovative educators over the course of the last few months and look forward to continuing to do so. In addition, I have gotten some great feedback on one of my own products.

Let me start with February. First of all, I should apologize to Let’s Be Franco and Fifth in the Forest because I don’t think I did their shout-outs justice! I absolutely loved their products, as did my students, but I didn’t take nearly enough pictures. Let’s Be Franco’s product is a collection of Growth Mindset lessons, posters, a slide show, and more that would be great any time of year, but would be phenomenal at the beginning of the school year.

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I also filmed my students learning something new which was an amazing, hands-on way for them to apply having a growth mindset to their own lives. Thank you, Let’s Be Franco for this great lesson.

Fifth in the Forest’s product is a Civil Rights Movement Slide Show and Study Guide that was absolutely perfect for Black History Month. My fifth graders really enjoyed taking notes like middle schoolers and high schoolers, as well as learning more about segregation, passive resistance, Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Jackie Robinson, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, freedom rides, the March on Washington, the KKK, Brown v. Board of Education, the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, and other topics. They were fascinated by the fact that Ruby Bridges is still alive and that Linda Brown was also still alive in February. They couldn’t believe that these events happened so recently. This presentation led to some great discussions and some clearing up of misconceptions. My students didn’t really understand that the Montgomery Bus Boycott was local because the Black citizens of Montgomery were protesting their mistreatment on city buses whereas the Freedom Riders’ protest was national because they were protesting the mistreatment of Black citizens on buses that carried passengers across the nation.

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In March and April, I was able to find some testers for my own Poetic Elements Gallery Walk and I absolutely loved the variety of ways the testers implemented my product! The Instagram Shout-Outs were incredible, too. Since a picture is worth 1,000 words, check these out!

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During April, I was able to test two fantastic products: Reading Trifolds and Vocabulary Graphic Organizers. The versatility of the trifold product by Miss P’s Style is outstanding. They can be printed on brightly colored paper or white paper and the teacher can decide what books or passages s/he wants to use with the trifolds.

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The range of activities in the Vocabulary Pack by Pencils and Playgrounds is so great that it is a product that could be used throughout the year for so many different units of study! My students chose their own words from their independent reading books, but a teacher could also use common vocabulary from science, social studies, math, or a class read aloud for students to study.

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In May, I jumped at the chance to test additional products from Miss P’s Style and Pencils and Playgrounds. I have finished testing Miss P’s Reading Graphic Organizers which are so versatile! My students and I loved the full color, laminated card stock sheets for reuse, but teachers could also print them in black and white on colorful paper (or white paper) for one time use. Using the graphic organizers during small group discussions was terrific. We read articles and focused on cause and effect, determining important information, and drawing conclusions, but (like the trifolds) you could use any fiction or nonfiction text for a lesson with any of these organizers. My students LOVED using the sticky notes and I’ll bet yours will, too.

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I am currently wrapping up my product test on Text-Based Evidence Reading Passages – Summer by Pencils and Playgrounds. (May is over on Thursday, right? Thank goodness for a 31 day month!) Look for my post on Instagram this week. I will say that these passages are delightful and are getting my students (and me) excited for summer. I love that both fiction and nonfiction passages are included in the packet.

Finally (you thought I’d keep going on forever, didn’t you?), I want to share feedback on products that I field tested as well as feedback I received from testers of my products. Teachers really are a fantastic group of people. I love Product Pals so much. I hope that if you’re reading this and have never participated that you will during the 2018-19 school year. I’d like to give shout-outs to people who tested my products: The Crazy CATcus LadyThe Gypsy TeacherDraz’s Class, and Memoirs of an Educator. My final shout-out goes to Thompson’s Teachings and from September to Mrs. May for coming up with this wonderful idea!

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