13 Colony Reports

Mr. Robert James, a 5th grade teacher in PA, created a solid colonial brochure project for his class and posted the guidelines along with the rubrics he uses on his class Google site. I came across his site when I started teaching 5th grade a few years ago, and I’ve been doing this project with my class since. My kiddos create a brochure, just as outlined by Mr. James for his class. The students are then able to dress up as the governor of their colonies as they present a speech to convince the parent and student audience to settle in their colony.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who will find Mr. James’s project outline helpful, so I provided links to the resources I use for my class’s 13 Colony Report below. As mentioned, the guidelines and brochure rubric are credited to Robert James. You can view his website here. I use his wording in the overview I created for my class. You will find my overview along with links to Mr. James’s overview and scripted notes below. I also provided a link to a Weebly of approved websites I designed to help students when researching.  Last, I included a video I created a few years ago to explain the project to my class while I had a substitute. I then decided to share the video with parents since it provided an overview of the project, and they found it very helpful. I now share this video with parents each year.

13 Colony Websites

Mrs. Caso’s 13 Colony Weebly  – created to help students research online

Assignment Overview, Guidelines and Rubric

Original Guidelines and Rubrics (created by Robert James) – I plan to use the feedback form on the last page this year.

Scripted Notes (created by Robert James)


Historical Fiction Book Clubs – Free WebQuest

We’re starting historical fiction book clubs in my class this week. This will be the first year I’m doing books clubs for the historical fiction genre – we read Blood on the River as a whole-class novel study and I usually move on to another genre afterwards. This year, I’m doing great on time and have the opportunity to add another club. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, and it’s one that kids tend to look over most frequently when searching for a book in my classroom.

I’m thinking I’ve found some great books to hook them! Sophia’s War, The Sign of the Beaver, The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, and Zane and the Hurricane all made the cut.

5th grade historical fiction book clubs.png

I put a WebQuest together for students to complete before beginning their assigned novel. The students click on their assigned book and then progress through four steps. Within the WebQuest, students read the information from the back of the book and analyze the cover to make predictions, learn more about the author of their novel, and learn some important historical background information. Click here to view my Historical Fiction Book Club WebQuest. It’d be a long and boring post if went through each step to complete the WebQuest, so I won’t do that. It’s self explanatory – my 5th graders completed it yesterday and all went smoothly. I had them work with partners which made if more fun. They were able to discuss each section and hear another person’s ideas; I loved the conversations I heard as I circled the room. We got through the first three steps in class and students completed the fourth step for homework. I hope you can use all or part of it with your class. Click through and explore!

I hope to post the guide I created for Sophia’s War soon. I just have to proofread it before sending it out into the world with my name on it. 😀

Looking for another 5th grade historical fiction recommendation? As I mentioned earlier, we read Blood on the River as a whole-class novel study. This is a fantastic book that pairs wonderfully with 5th grade Social Studies. If you’re looking for another great historical fiction novel to use, Blood on the River is the best! My class loves it each year.

4 Things That Happen When Your Students Know You Love Them

Take five minutes to watch this video. It might make you tear with happiness, but it will also remind you of the choices we have and the impact we can make if we act with love and compassion in mind.

One particular remark in this video got me thinking. “Teachers are supposed to have these professional boundaries and what not, but really, her heart has no boundaries.” There are two things that I wish teachers would do more:

  1. Hug their students (show some emotion!).
  2. Let their students know they love them. When you mean it, it can transform a student.

I know some schools forbid teachers from hugging their students. In graduate school, I was advised by my professors of the side-hug and that one must never actually hug a child. I began teaching with this in mind. I made sure to only side-hug and to be careful about how much I opened my heart to my students.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that censoring care, kindness, and an outward expression of love was BS. So I hug my students. I tell them that I love them. I tell them whole class. And I tell them at appropriate moments one-on-one. Here are some things that begin to happen when your students know you love them.

  1. Improved self-esteem. They smile and feel good inside. Going to school feels less painful, less of a chore. The perceptions of school can change to a safe, fun and happy place.
  2. Student motivation increases. Love is reciprocal. When students know you truly care, they work harder and take greater risks.
  3. You become a real person. Too often students don’t see their teachers as real people because they do not seem like real people; they do not share or offer real emotions. Attitudes shift when students stop seeing you as a thing or a position and begin seeing you as a person.
  4. They love you back. 

We spend a considerable amount of time with our students in the classroom, and yes, after a couple months, I love them. Why hold that back?

School isn’t all academic. Whether you have a character education program at your school or not, building character is a byproduct of schooling. And what better way to teach strong character than by example. We want kids to be kind, caring, compassionate and loving. So, mustn’t we be the same?

Don’t be afraid to tell your students you love them.

Choosing, Sharing, and Spreading Kindness

Here is a picture book for you to consider for your upper elementary classroom, as well as an activity to drive the powerful message of the story home.


About the Book: Each Kindness is a picture book about a girl, Chloe, who is unkind to a new student named Maya. One day, Maya doesn’t return to school. After a lesson about kindness from her teacher, Chloe recognizes the impact of her choices to be unkind. She hopes Maya will return so she will have an opportunity to be friendly to her. But Maya doesn’t return. And Chloe doesn’t receive another chance. Instead, she is left only with the memories of her unkind choices.

Teaching Point: This book doesn’t have a feel-good, fairy-tale ending, but it shares a wonderful message: We don’t always receive a second chance. Sometimes we have to live with our choices and we don’t get a do over. On Jacqueline Woodson’s website she shares the following explanation for why she wrote this book: “At some point in our lives, we are all unkind. At some point, we are all treated unkindly. I wanted to understand this more. I think too often we believe we’ll have a second chance at kindness – and sometimes we don’t. I do believe, as Chloe’s teacher, Ms. Albert, says, that everything we do goes out, like a ripple into the world. I wrote this because I believe in kindness.” This is a truly great message that students are ready to hear in 5th grade.

Student Response to the Story: The pictures are engaging, and the characters are relatable. My students were moved as I read it aloud. They were, however, disappointed with the ending. “What?!” they blurted. “That’s it?!” But these reactions are great, because they lead to the teaching point – we don’t always receive a second chance. You’ll be left with an excellent opportunity to discuss kindness, second chances, and choices after reading this book. If you read this book with your class or child, ask them, “How did you expect it to end?” and, “How would most authors choose to end this novel?” After discussing the ending and the meaning of the story, their final impression shifted. As we transitioned to our next subject, I overheard students talking positively to each other about the book. “That was a really good book.” “It was sad, but it’s true.” Message delivered. 🙂

Kindness Activity: After reading the book, begin a daily activity inspired by the following lines in the story,

Each Kindness

Each Kindness – By Jacqueline Woodson

Ms. Albert had brought a big bowl into class and filled it with water. We gathered around her desk and watched her drop a small stone into it. Tiny waves rippled out, away from the stone. This is what kindness does, Ms. Albert said. Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world.


At the end of each school day, have each student share a kindness. Through this activity, students become more aware of their choices and the impact they have on others. Sharing kindnesses is fun and promotes self-love as well. I enjoy seeing the pride on my students faces as they share, and I absolutely love the effect recognizing and sharing kindnesses has on the ambience of our room.



‘Tis the Season: Picture Book Fun

It’s December! Which means it’s time for my picture book advent activity! My 5th graders absolutely loved it last year, so starting on December 1st, I began the second annual Countdown to Holiday Break with Picture Books.


December Picture Book Activity – Students Open One Book Each Day

The excitement around books and reading during this month is exhilarating. Every student, yes every student, is eager to gather on the carpet after lunch. The excitement heightens as one of their classmates unwraps the book, and the enthusiasm sticks around through the next day when it’s time to open our next one. In 5th grade, we’re able to have great book talks about each story, share thoughts, opinions, or theories about the book, and draw connections to our learning in Reading and Writing. End point: it’s a valuable and fun experience for all.

I’m thrilled with my book list this year. Here it is, in order.

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  1. What Do You Do With An Idea? – By Kobi Yamada
  2. Sam and Dave Dig a Hole – By Mac Barnett
  3. Nightsong – By Ari Berk
  4. The Most Magnificent Thing – By Ashley Spires
  5. Two Bad Ants – By Chris Van Allsburg
  6. The Day the Crayons Quit – By Drew Daywalt
  7. Each Kindness – By Jacqueline Woodson
  8. Leonardo the Terrible Monster – By Mo Willems
  9. Bad Day at Riverbend – By Chris Van Allsburg
  10. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day – By Judith Viorst
  11. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick – By Chris Van Allsburg
  12. A Boy Named Beckoning – By Gina Capaldi
  13. Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla – By Katherine Applegate
  14. Henry’s Freedom Box – By Ellen Levine
  15. The Nightmare Before Christmas – By Tim Burton
  16. Bonus: The Grinch Who Stole Christmas – By Dr. Seuss (We invite our Junior Kindergarten buddies to the classroom to enjoy this book with us.)

Last year, Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, The Day the Crayons Quit and The Mysteries of Harris Burdick were class favorites – I ask my students to vote for their favorite at the end of each week. It’ll be interesting to see if the favorites are the same this year. I already know they are crazy about Sam and Dave Dig a Hole; they’ll be voting on their favorite from Week 1 tomorrow.

Last year, I wrote about Sam and Dave Dig a Hole and Nightsong. Click the links to read my previous posts. I’ll be posting about a few more books this week as well.

Do you have a favorite picture book that you like to share with your upper elementary class? I’d love to hear what it is!

My First Official (Published) Educator’s Guide! – A Teacher’s Guide to Novels by Lisa Graff

The Lisa Graff educator’s guide that I created for Penguin is out! Over the summer, I was excited to be contacted by Penguin to write an educator’s guide to 5 novels by Lisa Graff. I was told that the guide will be printed and distributed by Lisa Graff when she visits schools or attends conferences.

I’ve already been creating and sharing guides and other work on this blog just because I feel it further validates the time I put into my work. I figure if I’m working hard to create it, others mine as well be able to benefit from it too—it’s been great to see that the guides on my website have been viewed and downloaded (and hopefully used) several hundred times. The opportunity to create a guide for Penguin excited me because I’d be able to create something that could reach and help a wider audience. Considering that I also enjoy doing this sort of thing, I readily agreed.

I submitted my work to Penguin a couple months ago, and just received the finalized PDF. Since it took a little while, I’d gotten nervous that maybe something was wrong with what I submitted. BUT, I’m thrilled to see that they kept it exactly as I submitted it…guess that means they were pleased. 🙂

Lisa Graff Teacher Guide

Click HERE to view and print the entire guide. 5 guides, aligned to the Common Core State Standards, are included to the following novels: A Tangle of Knots, The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wildflower, Double Dog Dare, Lost in the Sun, and Absolutely almost. Each guide includes a short summary, theme listing, vocabulary, and breakdown of questions to ask before, during and after reading the novel. The questions in the “before” section would best be used in a discussion format and include information a child must know before reading the novel in order to best access the story. The “during” questions can be used to guide discussion groups and check grade level understanding throughout the novel. When relevant, page numbers are included to make it easier for you find answers to the discussions questions and enable you to ask questions at a suitable time. The “after” questions engage analysis and are appropriate to utilize after the completion of the novel.

I’ve posted other resources for Absolutely Almost to my blog in the past. Click the links below to access related material.

Absolutely Almost Read Aloud Guide – This guide is a bit more in depth than the one I submitted to Penguin. I completed this guide before reading the book as a read aloud with my class last year. The link to the guide is provided at the bottom of the post.

Resources to Use with Absolutely Almost – Within this post, you will find links to a few resources I created to be used with Absolutely Almost: a protagonist character web, “helpful hints” printable, and supporting character character web.

Students Write About Feeling “Absolutely Almost”

Absolutely Almost Writing Connections Printable

Absolutely Almost Author Skype with Lisa Graff – You can arrange a time and date for Lisa Graff to Skype with your class. My class had a memorable experience!

Student Poetry Activity after the Completion of the Novel

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Poet-Tree and Green Space

I can’t believe I’ve never posted about Poetry in the Park before. If you have a nearby park or even a grassy area at your school to take your students, I urge you to provide your students with these outdoor writing experiences.


I’ve read several articles about the importance and benefits of green space in learning, as well as how it can help students with distractibility. According to one article, “When kids with ADHD spend time outside or looking at nature, it increases their ability to pay attention and control their impulses”. Last year a like-minded teacher and I began bringing our students to the park once a month for an outdoor writing experience. For these trips, we give a short mini-lesson in the classroom and then walk the students to a nearby park. Once at the park, they select their own personal space to work. They separate and set in on their assignment. Students love this writing experience and I do too, as it’s very rewarding to the students and teacher; the work they produce at the park is consistently astounding! Students are so engaged. They’re encouraged to use their senses at the park to inspire their writing.

Each season, we complete seasonal “five senses poetry”. I’ll be sure to post about this later. This year, we’ve already written about Summer and we’ll be writing about Autumn next visit. On our most recent visit we wrote cinquain, diamante and windspark poetry. Pairing our writing with our current Life Science unit, students focused on environmental topics and used their surroundings and what they’ve learned in Science to inspire them. I split my class in groups so they could each visit a tree to make observations. Together, they came up with a list of adjectives to describe their tree. We then split up into our individual spaces. We called this park session “Poet-Tree”.

My class, investigating their trees.

My class, investigating their trees.

Here is my latest Poet-Tree in the park guide. I’ve provided screenshots, but you can download the document via a link at the end if you’d like.

Students visited a tree together and completed the first page of their Poet-Tree guide together. See first page below…


Students then found their own personal outdoor space and completed a poem on the palm tree they just investigated using the following guide for cinquiain poems:

Cinquain Poems

Student samples from my class:

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When finished, they went on to complete a diamante poem. They could choose to write about any environmental topic.
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Student samples from my class:

Diamante Poems

Finally, they worked on windspark poems, another poem of free choice, as long as it had something to do with the environment. These are my favorite!

Windspark Poems

Student samples from my class:

Windspark Poems

Before finding their own private space to complete their poetry and after completing tree brainstorming as a group, they received the following brainstorm list. This was provided to help trigger ideas as students completed the diamante and windspark poems.

Outdoor Brainstorm List

Click the following link to download this booklet – Poet Tree – 5th Grade.

Next Gen 5th Grade Life Science Phenomena: Plant Growth in Unlikely Places

Below is a PQP chart and phenomena video I created to target a 5th grade Next Gen Science standard in Life Science. I’m excited about the Next Gen standards, as the framework simply makes sense. Learning in Next Gen is driven by asking questions and defining problems. Units of study begin with phenomena that engage learners and pique their curiosity. Each phenomenon leads to a driving question that encourages research, investigation, experimentation and problem solving to reach a conclusion.

Feel free to use the resources below with your 5th grade kiddo(s).

Life Science – Grade 5 – 5-LS-1

PQP Chart:Screen Shot 2015-10-18 at 12.52.28 PM

Phenomena Video:

This video can be used in class or given for homework. Continue reading

4th and 5th Grade Fraction Review Games

This is a collection of fraction review games and practice activities used in my classroom. The following games target equivalent fractions, simplifying fractions, and adding and subtracting like and unlike fractions.

Topic: Equivalent Fractions   /   Game: Triplets  

Equivalent Fraction Game TripletsIn this game, students must group sets of equivalent fractions together. As the levels advance, the equivalent fractions get more difficult. After reviewing this concept in class, I provide students with a set amount of time to practice finding equivalent fractions by playing this game. Students are able to work at their own pace and receive immediate feedback. I also like that a visual is provided in each fraction set.

Topic: Converting Mixed Numbers to Improper Fractions  /  Practice Problems

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 4.00.37 PMBefore going to the Math-Man game below, I use this online tool on Math Playground. This tool allows students to practice converting mixed numbers to improper fractions while also reinforcing simplest form. Students work their way through a number of problems and receive immediate feedback after clicking the “check” button.

Topic: Converting Improper Fractions to Mixed Numbers  /  Practice Problems
Converting Improper Fractions Online PracticeSame as above, except students practice converting improper fractions to mixed numbers. A review with an example and a “how-to” is provided before starting. Like the practice activity above, this activity reinforces simplest form as well. Students receive 2 points for answers given in simplest form and 1 point for correct answers that are not reduced.

Topic: Converting Mixed Numbers to Improper Fractions   /   Game: Math-Man

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 3.32.51 PMYour students will love this game. Math-Man is played like Pac-Man, except the ghosts contain improper fractions on them, and students must find and eat the ghost that matches the mixed number given. Two versions of the game are available. The practice version allows students to play the game without moving ghosts. The other version is exactly the same, but the ghosts move around (this requires that students are able to solve problems quicker). If you are just introducing the concept, I definitely recommend using the practice version so students have time to solve it and can benefit from the math practice.

Topic: Comparing Fractions  /  Practice Problems
Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 6.32.12 PMThis is another online tool on Math Playground. This one allows students to practice comparing fractions. Students work their way through a number of problems and receive immediate feedback after clicking the “check” button. A “how-to” review with step by step directions is included for review prior to the start. If students click “restart” after completing all problems, they will be given a new set to practice.

Topic: Ordering Fractions   /  Game: Balloon Pop

balloon pop fraction gameThis is a fun and short game that reinforces comparing fractions. In this game, each balloon contains a fraction and students must pop the balloons in order from smallest to largest. If students select a balloon out of order, a buzzer will sound and they will be able to try again. The only bummer about this game is that there isn’t an option to remove the images, so I have to encourage my students to look at the fraction and not default to looking at the images to order them. I ask my students to write the order of each set of fractions down on paper.

Topic: Ordering Fractions   /  Game: Fractions Testing Room

Ordering Fractions LabThis is one of BBC’s Bitesize activities. Students are given a set of five fractions that must be put in order from least to greatest on the shelf. There is an optional testing room that students can visit to fill visual fraction test tubes to help them compare two fractions. When students click “done”, they receive immediate feedback. If the answer is correct, they will advance to the next level to try ordering a more difficult fraction set. If fractions are out of order, they will be told so and will have the opportunity to give it another try. There is an embed code for this practice activity so you can put it right on your blog or website.

Topic: Adding Unlike Fractions  /  Practice

Adding Unlike Fractions Online PracticeIn this activity, students practice adding unlike fractions. This program is similar to the other Math Playground practice acitivities litsted above. Students complete a set of ten problems and receive feedback as they check them along the way. An example and a “how to” with step by step directions is included for review before the start of the game. Students can click “restart” at the end to try a second set of addition practice problems. I love these programs because they allow students to work at their own pace, and the immediate feedback is a huge bonus. The online feedback is sufficient for most students. As a result, I’m able to give attention to students who need further instruction.

Topic: Greatest Common Factor and Least Common Multiple / Game: Fruit Splat

Greatest Common Factor Math GameEven though my students learn about GCF in our first unit, I like to spiral it back in here. I have my students practice identifying greatest common factors, as extra practice enables students to simplify fractions in fewer steps. Click here to play the same game with least common multiples. We review LCM here as well, as it’s a helpful review before adding unlike fractions.

Topic: Adding Like and Unlike Fractions  /  Game: Fruit Splat

Adding Fractions GameIn this game, students answer fraction addition problems by clicking on the fruit that contains the answer. There are six different versions of this game. Students can practice adding two like fractions, adding three like fractions, or adding unlike fractions. Each version also has an option to require answers in simplest form. For the more competitive student wanting a challenge, this game can be played in timed mode.

Topic: Adding Like and Unlike Fractions  /  Game: Math-Man

Adding Like and Unlike Fractions MathManThis game is the same as the other Improper Fraction Math-Man posted above. Now, students can practicing adding unlike fractions by playing the same game. This is a student favorite, so it’s great that it’s available to practice adding fractions, too! In 4th grade you may like to use the version that requires students to add like fractions only.

Do you have any go-to games that target these concepts? Share them in the comments below.

Teach your Students about SMART Goals

Setting goals in class promotes student independence and ownership, improves self-awareness, and boosts motivation. This post is for any teacher who wants to provide students with opportunites to develop a lasting lifelong skill–the ability to set SMART goals and evaluate success. Setting and evaluating goals is a monthly routine in my class, and I firmly believe that this acitivity significantly impacts personal growth and academic success. In addition to the short-term benefits, when done consistently, students are able to practice a real-world skill that will stick with them and can have lasting benefits throughout their lives.

I introduce my students to SMART goals in the beginning of the school year. During the month of September, we create a “Goal Setting” book. I break it up throughout the month, so students have time to digest each new vocabulary word. Below is a sample of the book we create in class.

SMART Goals Book

This activity is perfect for homeschool mamas or classroom teachers. If executed properly, I’m sure you’ll be thrilled with the growth you see once you begin setting and evaluating SMART goals!