Quick Tip: Thinglink and Screencastify

The 21st century tool of the month for June is google apps. This is a quick app-smashing tip about a free google app add-on from the chrome web-store called screencastify and a free program called ThingLink.

Screencastify is a web 2.0 recording tool that gives you the option of embedding a video web-cam in the bottom right hand corner as you record your screen. ThingLink is a multi-media program that you can access on the computer or the iPad. You can use a picture of any background you choose and add  a little bullseye that contains words, videos, or links to other videos anywhere on the screen.

Here are 2 quick lesson ideas for using these tools together:

If you use Daily 5 in your classroom (or any type of reader’s workshop model), then you probably have all the students in your class create goals around a reading strategy that they are focusing on such as Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, Extend Vocabulary. In the video above, I used the “rate graph” from the book Balanced Literacy 2nd grade (a book published by Kagan). ThingLink is the perfect program to use when graphing progress over time. Because it embeds links, video, and words, you can actually record a portion of a student reading and embed the little bullseye on the correct place on the graph. This would not only give you and the student a record of their reading rate, for example, but it would also give you and the student data of the change in his/her reading fluency over time. A video placed on the scale in the appropriate place would give the student a better understanding of what it means to be a 2 or a 3 on the rate graph. When the student has 5 points of data that have been collected over time, then he/she can use screencastify to record a self reflection on his/her change over time in the area of focus.

This self-assessment strategy would work well for all reading goals or areas of focus. The Balanced Literacy book has more graphs for different aspects of fluency such as phrasing, expression, rate and accuracy. Linda Dorn has wonderful rubrics for comprehension in her book Teaching for Deep Comprehension that I have used with students, and my favorite vocabulary rubric is Vocabulary Rubrics, Templates, & Graphs for Common Core Instruction from Hello Literacy in the TpT store.

Hello Literacy has a great activity on TpT called Describing & Inferring Details with Picture of the Day: Reading Photos “Closely”. Using this idea of practicing inferring with photos, I used ThingLink and screencastify to record my thinking. This is a great way to make thinking visual! Students could record their thinking with these tools in independently or in small groups during literacy stations.

Thinglink is a cloud-based program that creates a url, which means it can be turned into a QR code. Screencastify can be saved directly to google drive or youtube, both of which create urls as well that can be turned into a QR code. By turning teacher modeling or student thinking into a QR code, you make it visible to others as well.

Hope this quick tip was useful! Please leave a comment on how you will use these 2 programs.

Monday Made It DIY #3: Discovery Journals and a Color “Wheel”

I’m a little late this week because we’ve been out of town, but I did make some things before we left! Thanks to Monica at the Schroeder Page, I discovered that office stores can cut composition notebooks in half!

Office Depot only charged me $3 to cut 12 composition notebooks in half (which gave me a total of 24 mini notebooks). Staples wanted to charge me $3 per book!

This is good news because my 2nd graders NEVER use the whole book. They are usually intimidated by the number of pages in the book and the lines that are so much closer together than in 1st grade. Some kids ignore the lines altogether and write all over the place! I’ve had 2nd graders flip to random pages to write things down, and then they never find it again. Needless to say, I’ve learned that 2nd graders need explicit instruction about how to use a composition notebook! So here is how I plan to use these mini notebooks that will be so much more manageable for my 2nd graders.

First, I thought they looked kind of funny cut in half, so I covered them with duct tape. This should make them nice and strong too! (I picked a color that I thought boys and girls would like, but there are a TON of varieties to choose from!)

Walmart had the the cheapest tape that I could find at $3.50(ish) a roll. It is called “Duck Tape,” and it comes in a variety of cool patterns and colors!

Next I made a label for the front and directions for organizing the notebook that I pasted on the inside cover. We will go over how to use our discovery notebooks in class, but I thought a reminder would help! (Click on the picture of the directions to pick up your freebie!)

We use our notebooks to make notes, observations, draw pictures, etc. in all subject areas, so we divide our notebook into different sections. I’ve tried using sticky notes to do this, and it doesn’t even last a week for most students. They get torn off or they stop sticking, so I’m trying something new this year. I’m going to modge podge labels onto foam tabs, and I duct tape the tabs on. I hope these will last all year — I’ll let you know! Has anyone ever tried anything else that lasts?

I did another project for my son that he won’t be able to enjoy for awhile, but at least that gives me plenty of time to put on the finishing touches! I saw a really cool way to display crayons and colors on pinterest, and I knew that would be the perfect addition to my art room! (I am planning on making a section of my art room kid friendly.) I started with gathering buckets for the colors.

I got my buckets from the dollar bin at Target and from amazon.com, but I don’t suggest it! Ikea has galvanized buckets that are MUCH sturdier and cheaper too! I had already bought mine, so it was too late, but I wish I had gone to Ikea first.

Ikea had this REALLY cool lazy susan that I decided to use for the color “wheel.” I spray painted the lazy susan white and each bucket a different color. I am going to modge podge color labels on next. I also put bigger buckets in the middle to hold paint, pens, pencils, etc.  My husband bolted each bucket down, so you can spin it to the color you want! I’m so excited to put it in my art room and let my son use it (someday)!

Freebie: Literacy Center Cards

As a thank you for the Really Good Classroom Blog nomination, I am sharing the Literacy Work Station Cards I made for my classroom! You can put them in a pocket chart or use a magnet to put them on the board as your students’ map for literacy centers. Just print them on cardstock or adhere them to chipboard. Places like Staples or Office Depot sell boxes of chipboard that are very inexpensive (just ask the copy center), or save the boxes your shirts come in over the holidays! I hope you find them useful!

Click here for Literacy Center Cards from my store at Teachers Notebook!

Listening Center Plus

How many times have we all said, “There’s only one of me!” Here’s a way to double your teaching time: create your own audio books with a twist.

Record your own voice reading a story, but include guided instruction for the students to follow. For example, if students are learning how to write a report on famous Americans, in your recording,  you can ask students to stop at certain points in the story to record information that they should include in their report. If you are focusing on a reading strategy such as making connections, you can ask students to stop and discuss or write about a connection to the story. It’s like having you sit right next to them!

You can also have students create their own audio book for the classroom library. If you have a guided reading group working on fluency rate or expression, they can record their reading of a book. When they have mastered the rate and expression, have those students record the story and add it to the classroom library for the other students to listen to at the listening center.

It gets better . . . creating an audio book is easy using garage band (which comes standard on most Macs). Garage band has special effects, sounds, music, and even allows you to change your voice so you can read the part of another character and sound like a totally different person! It also allows you to insert music. You can download informational songs and use them to create lessons. Due to copyright laws, I cannot share an entire story or song with you, but I can share a preview of some lessons I have created so you get the idea: click here for a sample. You can send any of your podcast creations to iTunes and burn it onto a CD for your listening center. It’s inexpensive and a powerful teaching tool !

The Creation Station: Special Feature

Inspired by Debbie Diller’s book, Literacy Work Stations, I implemented a ‘Creation  Station’ in my classroom. I am firm believer in the arts, however, I do not believe in “fluff.” I would never let my students color a bunny, for example, because it was Easter. However, I do believe that using the arts can create powerful links to learning.

In my classroom, the Creation Station is a box filled with watercolor paints, Popsicle sticks, ziploc baggies, scissors, a hole punch, pipe cleaners, and many different kinds/colors of paper.  I am using the Creation Station as a link to literacy. (See the Fairy Tale Unit for a detailed example.) The creation station can be used to create puppets for retelling stories (as described in the Fairy Tale Unit). It can also be used to make connections to spelling. I use the Rebbecca Sitton Spelling Program in my classroom. The spelling tests are stories that have missing spelling words to be filled in by students. The stories are centered around different themes. For example, the title of the story in unit 9 is called straw painting. During this unit at the Creation Station, students get to make a story called “How to Make a Straw Painting” and illustrate it with their own straw paintings. Students could also create a homophone memory game, a past tense/present tense book with irregular verbs, or a noun book at the Creation Station.

Using an 8×10 clear acrylic frame (which can be found at Walmart, Hobby Lobby, or the Dollar Store), you can create a “Special Feature” at the Creation Station in order to highlight new learning throughout the year. Just type your instructions and slide it into the frame for a new instructional focus in order to keep learning at the Creation Station from becoming “fluff.”

Fairy Tales and Fables Unit

I love it when it all comes together!

Weaving a strand of learning throughout multiple areas in the curriculum is a smarter way to teach and a more powerful learning experience for students.

Developed through the study of experts like Linda Dorn, Lucy Caulkins,  Lori Octzkus, and Debbie Diller with some of my own twists thrown in, this unit aligns to the Colorado state standards.

(Click here for the standards link: ‘Why teach a fairy tales and fable unit?)


(click on the books for more information about each title)

Fairy tales: start with the original version

You may be surprised how many of your students are not familiar with classic fairy tales. I purposely do not use the Disney version of fairy tales because they typically do not appeal to boys. I look for award winning books (because it fits in nicely with our book awards), and versions that are as close to the original Brother’s Grimm fairy tales as possible. The books above are some of my favorite versions.

Let your students in on the ‘secret’ about fairy tales. There are specific structures and patterns that make fairy tales easy to identify and easy to write. Students love it when you let them in on secrets that adult authors use! Use the fairy tale text map to identify these patterns and structures. (click here for the Fairy tale text map)

  • Setting— Fairy tales purposely do not reveal a specific setting. They take place ‘long ago,’ ‘far away,’ or ‘once upon a time.’ They do not reveal the time and place so that it can apply to anyone, anywhere. Write the first sentence of the story in the ‘setting’ box to show this vague time and place. My class refers to this as the “Once upon a time . . .” box.
  • Main Characters— Fairy tales usually have very clear ‘good guy(s)’ and ‘bad guy(s)’ because the good guys are very good, and the bad guys are very bad. The story reveals this through their appearance, actions, and words. My class refers to this as the “good guys/bad guys” box.
  • Problem–The problem in fairy tales are very big problems that usually involve death. For example, in Rumpelstiltskin, if the miller’s daughter does not spin the straw into gold, the king will kill her. In Jack and the Beanstalk if the giant catches Jack he will eat him. My class calls this “A Deadly Problem.”
  • Repeated events/words— There is a pattern of 3 that occurs in fairy tales– three little pigs, Goldilocks and the three bears, three times that Jack climbs the beanstalk, and three times that Rumpelstiltskin spins the straw into gold. The discovery of this pattern is always a favorite among students. They always find patterns of 3 that I have never noticed before! We call this “The pattern of 3.”
  • Magical Element— Fairy tales always include some sort of magic. We know that fairy tales are fictitious because they contain something magical that could not happen in real life: the fairy godmother in Cinderella, the magic mirror in Snow White, or the frog that was put under a spell in The Frog Prince.
  • Solution–Even though fairy tales usually include “a deadly problem,” there is always a way for the “good guy” to avoid it. In Sleeping Beauty the evil fairy casts a spell that will kill Aurora, but one of the good fairies changes the spell to put her to sleep instead. She will wake up if she is kissed by a prince. In Rumpelstiltskin, the queen will not have to give up her child if she can guess his name. We call this, “A Way Out.”
  • Ending–Fairy tales always have a happy ending. The ‘good guys’ win and they live the rest of their lives ‘happily ever after.’  For instance, in Rapunzel, she finds her husband, cures his blindness, and they find his kingdom where they will rule as king and queen. In The Three Little Pigs, the third little pig tricks the wolf, has wolf stew for supper, and was never bothered by a wolf again. Write the last sentence (or few sentences) in the “Ending” box to show how the good guy wins and the rest of his life is happy. My class refers to this as “Happily Ever After.”


Fables are similar to fairy tales, but they have some distinctive differences in their patterns and structures. (Click here for the Fable Text Map)

  • Moral/Lesson: Fables teach a lesson that the reader has to infer because the story usually doesn’t come right out and tell you, which means the ending is not always  a happy one. For example, the moral in Henny Penny is ‘don’t believe everything you hear,’ and she and her friends get eaten in the end. In The Magic Fish, the moral is ‘don’t be greedy’ and the fisherman’s wife loses all the wishes she was granted.
  • Character/Trait: The characters in fables are almost always animals. In order to make the lesson more powerful, fables use animals to avoid pointing the blame at a certain kind of person. Instead, the animal has a distinctive trait that the reader can relate to. For instance, Henny Penny is easily fooled, the fox is clever,  the Little Red Hen shows a lot of perseverance, and the dog, cat, and pig are lazy.
  • Problem: There is an obvious obstacle in fables that the main character has to overcome. The three billy goats gruff have to get over the bridge to get to the grass on the other side, the little red hen needs to make the bread, the frogs in It’s Mine! have to find a safe place to sit during the thunderstorm.
  • Solution: This is how the story is wrapped up. Use the ending to help you infer the moral to the story.

Author/Illustrator Study

Award winning author and illustrator Leo Lionni is considered a modern day fable writer. His main characters are critters that he was fascinated with as a child such as frogs, lizards, mice, and fish. The morals are easy for children to relate to.

It’s Mine: share

-Swimmy: teamwork (swimmy video)

-Fish is Fish: the grass is not always greener on the other side

-Fredrick: everyone has something important to contribute to the group (Frederick video)

-Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse: caring, selflessness

Standing on the shoulders of Leo Lionni, students can write fables using the same kind of characters and morals. They can also illustrate their stories using collage in the same style as Leo Lionni.

Paint blank white paper earthy colors using different textures and brush strokes. (I did some of the painting myself.  I also sent an email home asking for students to paint plain white paper at home and bring it in for our collages. It seemed too messy to let the kids do it in class!) Using these painted papers, students can cut and tear the characters for their stories or poems. Click here for a video from Leo Lionni on how to make a mouse.

Fractured Fairy Tales

Fractured fairy tales are different versions or different view points of original fairy tales. Most kids are familiar with the word ‘fracture’– they know it means to break something (because it has usually happened to at least one of them!). That’s how I explain fractured fairy tales to students. Using the same patterns and structures as the original fairy tales, one piece on the fairy tale text map is “broken” and changed. For example, in the story The Tortoise and the Jack Rabbit, the setting was “broken” and changed to take place in the desert. That caused a ripple effect in the rest of the story. The character had to be changed into a jack rabbit to fit the desert setting. The same fracture happens in the setting of different Cinderella stories around the world. The country where it takes place is “broken” and changed which causes a ripple effect culturally throughout the story. In the story The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, the characters were “broken,” and the “good guys” and the “bad guy” were reversed. Fractured fairy tales are fun stories for kids to read and write. It gives them an opportunity to do some creative synthesizing using the structures and patterns they’ve learned about fairy tales.

Guided & Independent Practice

After reading aloud different fairy tales, fables, fractured fairy tales and modeling how to fill out the text map, let your students try it. Using easy to read versions of the same fairy tales and fables you have modeled will help make these stories more accessible to everyone in your class. Students can read these stories and fill out their own fairy tale text map. Eventually they can use fairy tales and fables you haven’t already read to them. Here are some easy to read stories that I like to use:

I included e-books from Evan Moor in my list of easy to read fairy tales and fables. One book includes 8 different fairy tales and fables that are written at a 2nd-3rd grade reading level. The other e-book includes 7 fairy tales and folktales written for a K-1 audience. They are printable stories that include activities with each story. Although I would not use all the activities included in these books, I thought it was worth purchasing for the printable stories and the puppet templates.

Felt Board Center: During our fairy tales and fables unit, I include easy to read and familiar fairy tales and fables with felt characters. At this ILA (independent literacy activity) students reread one of their favorite stories, then retell it using the felt characters.

Buddy Reading Center: I make/collect multiple copies of familiar fairy tales so students can read them together. I also include reader’s theater fairy tale plays so students can practice reading different parts.

Listening center: Students listen to fairy tales and fables from an audio book. You can easily create your own audio books and include a guided lesson! Check out Listening Center Plus for more information. Click here for a sample of The Three Little Pigs.

Library Center: Students reread the fairy tales and fables you read aloud to the class and fill out their own fairy tale or fable text map.

Writing Center: Students write their own fairy tales or fables using the text maps to plan out their story before they begin writing. They can also write a poem about a character in one of the stories you have been studying.

Creation Station: Students create puppets for their favorite fairy tale or fable and use them to retell the story. In the style of Leo Lionni, students can cut and tear characters  using painted paper to construct their characters (see the example on the left).

All of these activities can be recorded on video or a podcast  for students to share. See the Make Them Movie Stars post for more ideas.

Cross-Curricular Collaboration

Don’t forget to collaborate with your specials teachers when you have a big unit of study, so they can link their expertise as well. Talk to your art teacher about illustrating like Leo Lionni. Our art teacher has a Leo Lionni unit that she teaches which covers how to create collages in a much more comprehensive way than I ever could. Our music teacher has a play that the students perform based on the book Swimmy by Leo Lionni. The librarian and computer lab teacher will be able to create a lot of connections for your students as well.

Wrapping Up the Unit

Now that your students have become experts on fairy tale and fable structures, it’s time to celebrate with a fairy tale ball!

Start by having students send a formal invitation to their families. Thanks to the creativity of some parents in my classroom, the students crinkled up invitations printed on brown paper to make it look old and worn, then (the parent helpers) hot glued sticks to the top and bottom of the invitation to make it look like a scroll. The students rolled it up, tied it with a string, and brought home their fancy invitations for their families.

Next have your students prepare the entertainment at the fairy tale ball. The activities that they did during ILAs (independent literacy activities) such as retelling stories with felt board characters and the puppets that they created, reading reader’s theater plays at the buddy reading center, writing their own fairy tales, fables, and poems at the writing center, and the Swimmy play they learned in music make great entertainment for the fairy tale ball! This year we are video taping all these activities (rather than making it a live performance) so we can all watch them together. We are hoping that it will make orchestrating the entertainment a little less stressful on the day of the big ball!

Contact parents for help organizing food and decorations for the big feast. Try having a fairy tale feast theme with (plastic) goblets, chicken wings, and fairy tale napkins! Click here for some ideas on making a fairy tale feast and decorating medieval style.

On the day of the fairy tale ball, be sure to have everyone dress in their fanciest clothes. Take pictures of the families for a wonderful keepsake of this special celebration! (Check back soon for more pictures of the latest fairy tale ball)