Set the Stage to Engage Q&A: Spy Headquarters

Happy Sunday, everyone! I hope you enjoyed my last post all about how I engage my students while reading nonfiction texts. If you missed that, you can check it out here

I know a lot of you had questions about lesson specifics, so I grouped some of the questions together to hopefully provide you more information about how I made this happen in my classroom. So let's get started...

1. Does this theme last a day/week/month/year? ;) Do you incorporate all subject areas into this theme or only this specific lesson? 

Part 1: Let me begin by answering the first part. The length of how long something stays up honestly depends on the theme, and how I am incorporating it into my instructional content. The spy theme was a little tricky because you literally had to walk over lasers during each lesson. It was the best workout ever, and I was completely sore. LOL! {I hope that didn't scare you away.} So for this specific lesson, I left it up for two days. The students really just got the hang of the lesson on day one, and on day two they were really getting deep into literature. 

Now this specific "flip" (as I like to call it) was only up for a short time. However, when I turned my room into a safari in 2nd grade, I left it up for two weeks throughout our entire unit of study. Here is a little peek at that. It really depends on a) how conducive the decor is to the classroom logistics and b) if it is meant to enhance a lesson or an entire unit. 

Here is a look at the safari:

Part 2: The spy headquarters was used to teach one concept in ELA. However, that concept was pretty deep, so I had to build up to that lesson. Using the same example as above when I turned my room into a safari, I integrated it into every part of our day. Interdisciplinary units can be powerful. More on that later. Not only were we studying groups of animals and their habitats/life cycles in science, I also incorporated it into measurement in math, research/reading for ELA, etc. You can learn more about my safari by clicking on the titles below. 

All of that to say...there is no one way to flip your room. It depends on how long you can handle it {until it drives you crazy} and really how long it can be used to really pull your students in and enhance, rather than take away, from your instruction. 

2. How might you modify this for other grade levels? 

This would be extremely easy to use with any nonfiction text. For upper grades, as I did with my students, I used this lesson to really emphasize the need to summarize and include all key events, details, etc. for a spy profile. 

If I did this exact concept with 1st or 2nd, I could take it 100 different directions. Perhaps they are working to simply spy on the facts of a text. Or maybe they are deciphering between facts and opinions in a lesson. That would be great for some magnifying glasses...because...well you know a magnifying glass definitely helps spot the difference. ;) Or maybe they are even working on finding text "evidence" {see...perfect for a spy unit} to support some questions about a topic. It's never too early to start that. Like I said, the list could go on. You really can just make these "flips" work for you and most importantly, for your students. Find a way to make it fit that reinforces and really challenges your students on what you have been studying. Remember...the rigor and challenge level is equally (if not MORE) important than the environment. They really should compliment one another well. 

I have also had a lot of recommendations and requests to create my Spy Headquarters for other grade levels. If you are interested, I would love to hear from you. I am thinking that I will try to split it up early elementary and upper elementary. Crossing my fingers that these will be ready by next week. 

Book recommendations for lower elementary: 

I was talking with a teacher bestie yesterday, and she reminded me about the types of books below. I used them all the time to teach nonfiction when I taught 1-2nd grades. I also loved, loved, loved my Weekly Readers from Scholastic. So did the kids. Weekly Readers would be excellent to incorporate into a lesson like this. I still use Weekly Readers for my older friends and they are by far their favorite nonfiction source.

3. How did you create the "crack the code" portion of the lesson? 

Easy! The codes identified which text structure the students were reading. Prior to cracking the code, they had to first use textual evidence to support which structure they thought they were working with after reading the passage. 

Now I couldn't just say sequencing, description, compare/contrast because they would just count the letters and guess. I had it say something like "All clues point to sequence." or "All clues point to description." 

To make the code, I simply wrote it out and either made it the letter before the actual letter or the letter after. Clear as mud, right? Here is an example of letter before. If the word was dog, it would look like this: cnf {letter "c" is before "d", letter "n" is before "o", letter "f" is before "g".} I hope that makes better sense. Then I just wrote the clue out on a piece of neon paper, and the students had to figure out the pattern and crack the code. 

4. Did you do this lesson as an introduction, mid-unit, or end of unit lesson? 

This specific lesson was done at the end of our unit on nonfiction features, text structures, and effective summarization skills and techniques. However, I have "flipped" my classroom for a variety of lessons all coming at different points in my instruction. In the safari unit that I mentioned above, I flipped the classroom right when the unit began. The kids came in and were in uproar about what we would be leaning about. It really set the tone for that unit.

5. What are the size of the black lights and how many did you use? 

I used four of the large black lights. They were probably 36 inches long. I have a relatively large room, so it was needed for a large amount of space. If you have a smaller room, two would probably do the trick! 

6. How do I black my room out? I have so much light coming in through my windows. 

Oh, that's an easy fix as well. Trash bags and a spray bottle filled with water. Those trash bags will suction straight to your window. 

Alright y'all. I hoped this helped answer some of your questions about the logistics of this lesson. I will be back next week for week number TWO of my Set the Stage to Engage Series! 

I would also like to see some of the things that you do to set the stage in your room. Post some of your favorites on Instagram and use the #hashtag below. I can't wait to add to my bag of tricks with all of your fabulous ideas! 

See ya next week! 

Spy Headquarters: Creating engaging learning environments

Are y'all ready for week number ONE of my Set the Stage to Engage series. No seriously? Are you ready? ;) 

Today is all about creating a learning environment that sets the tone and builds your students with so much excitement and anticipation, that they simply can't even help but be engaged. Really, there is no other choice. Let's not give them too many options. There is be engaged. engaged! 

...and here is why I do it! 

I have found this to be true 100% of the time. As teachers, we have to be unpredictable and....well...a little crazy. Once we step outside of our comfort zone and create lessons that are a little outside of the box, our students will be filled with anticipation and hopefully running into our doors every single day. 

I can't wait to share one of my absolute favorite lessons from the year that does just that. So, put on your best disguise and let's begin. 

{P.S. My full intention was to create a video that explains how this lesson went down for my people {like me} not really interested in reading a tremendous amount of text. It's not working exactly as I had planned, but as soon as I get it all figured out, I will post it for you! :) } 

The lesson began when each student arrived to my door with a warm { warm as a spy can be} welcome from Agent Stone. Emma Stone! I used an easy app called Finger Reader {clever title, right?} to scan each student's finger. Once they were cleared through all forms of security, they entered the spy lab one by one. 

Tip #1: have to dress the part. I hope during this little engagement series, I am able to challenge you to step outside of your comfort zone. Don't be afraid to dress in costume. Your kids will GO CRAZY. AND you totally have to be in character. The kids love when I act like I have no clue whatsoever that there was a spy in our classroom. 

Come on people! Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. This is where you need to live...the uncomfortable zone! I promise, you will grow to love it. So will your kids. 

To create the lab, you need a TON of materials. Brace yourself. You will need to make sure you have: 

1) white yarn
2) black lights I was totally kidding about the "ton of materials" thing. Thank goodness you didn't stop reading. No seriously. That's it. Two things and BAM...a state of the art spy lab. 

Tip #2: Set up: It only took about an hour to set this lab up. I tied long strands of yarn in groups of six to my ceiling. Then I simply stretched them down and tied them to desks. Super SUPER easy.

I also had push lights and disguise glasses/mustaches laid out for the students. I found both of these things at Dollar Tree. I also had this little Matrix gem playing on my Promethean and some good ol' spy music on Pandora. I think I looked up James Bond or something like that. 

Tip #3: It is amazing how a little background music can totally transform your lesson and environment. I usually try to find theme music without words so that it doesn't distract the students while they are working. Imagine walking into a silent spy lab {meh...kinda boring}. But imagine walking into this...

{Begin around 27 seconds}

Now it's time to get down to the content. I love creating the atmosphere, but let's get serious. It's not going to teach the lesson for you. One of the most important things about transforming your space is remembering to pair it with extremely rigorous content. 

The lab got them in the door and beyond thrilled about what was going to be a pretty darn difficult assignment. Once you win them over, they are willing to put in that work! 

We had been working on analyzing nonfiction texts and this lesson was really piecing everything together. The students were each assigned a section out of The Dark Game. If you teach grades 5/6, this book is an excellent nonfiction source. However, this lesson can be used with any piece of nonfiction text.

The materials on their desk looked a little something like this. {Printables resources will be included in my spy unit below.} 

The students were given the task to read that passage {pretty lengthy} about an American spy during one of the major wars. They were then challenged to create a brand new profile for the spy because our American files had been hacked and all information had been destroyed.  This required a strong understanding of summarizing information and organizing most important details.

The spy group had to first decide what text structure was used to present the information.  As a group, they discussed their reading from the night before and came to a consensus. Once they agreed, they had to work together to crack their very first spy code. Once they cracked the code, their text structure should have been confirmed. {The code told the text structure of the section they read}. 

Then they had to decide what details needed to be included, and what details were considered "fluff" and could be excluded from the file. The students created a graphic organizer {depending on the text structure} to show the most important information. Then they combined and "shrank" their list to identify the top 5 most important pieces of information about their spy. That is the information they used to create the spy profile. 

Throughout the lesson, I issued spy points for a variety of things {work ethic, cooperation, remembering my spy name ;), not touching lasers, etc.}. At the end of the lesson, we celebrated our top spy group. 

Now...who has questions? ;)

Visit my Facebook page tomorrow {June 26th} to begin leaving your questions under this graphic. I will return this weekend with some answers. 

If you are interested in the printable resources that I used for this lesson, along with some other resources that I used to teach nonfiction, I will be putting this up in my shop next week. I would love for you to check it out. 

I hope you all enjoyed week one of my Set the Stage to Engage Series. I would love to hear what you think below. 

I will be back this weekend to answer some of your questions!

For now, I am signing off! 

Agent Emma Stone ;) 

Are you coming?!? VEGAS 2015

It's that time of year! Eeeek! In just a few short weeks, hundreds of teachers will be in Vegas for a complete teacher takeover! 

Will you be there? I wouldn't miss it for the world! 

First, I'll be presenting at the I Teach 2nd Conference on the 8th. So excited about presenting my Set the Stage to Engage session. This year, I will also be presenting a little session called Mission Possible Math! 

Then I'll be presenting with my loves Michelle and Rachelle at the TPT Conference on the 9th. 

Even though I am beyond excited about the know what I am even more excited about? The massive teacher/blogger meet-up on Wednesday night (July 8th). I am always so excited to meet (and hug...right, Rachelle?) so many wonderful teachers. 

If you are going to be in Vegas, I can't wait to meet you or see you again. Here is all of the information about the meet-up AND the amazing teacher swag that will be featured this year.  

See you all soon! 

Get Ready for the 2015 Vegas Meet Up!

It's almost that time again! The time that thousands of teachers and bloggers head to Vegas for the annual SDE and Teachers Pay Teachers Conferences. To say we were excited would be an understatement! 

This year will be our 4th annual Vegas Teacher-Blogger Meet Up. What started as a fun little way to get to meet other teachers and bloggers from across the country, has turned into the BIGGEST teacher-blogger meet up ever!

Here are the details you'll want to know:

  • The meet up will be on Wednesday, July 8th, and will start at 6:30pm at the Venetian in the Galileo room. 
  • RSVP on our Facebook event page {HERE}
  • You will need to download, edit, and bring your own name tag.  Download the file {HERE!} Below is an example of how your name tag should look. 

  • You do not need to be a blogger to attend. All teachers are invited and welcome to come! 
  • Please be ready to have fun, meet people, and make new friends! Make sure to post pictures to social media using the hashtag #2015vegasmeetup.
  • Our main sponsors for this event are SDE and TPT, although we have dozens more who will be donating prizes, swag, and other fun stuff! You do not want to miss out on these awesome prizes!
  • Here is a peek at this year's DIAMOND sponsors:

Please take a look at our amazing sponsors, visit their websites, and if possible say thank you for supporting this event! We have never charged an entrance fee for this meet up and it's because of all these wonderful, generous sponsors!   



And just to help you get even more excited, here's a peek at the fun we had at last year's meet-up! This year is sure to be even 

All our happy prize winners from last year!

Can't wait to see you all there!!