The Hard Truth About Math Centers

One of my followers sent me this thoughtful review recently, and I knew I had to share it!  I asked permission.  The reviewer agreed, but asked to be anonymous.  And I can understand why. Math centers are a huge trend....and unfortunately, a huge amount of work.  Now, that is Sadsville.

This is what she said.  You can read her own words on each photo. The thoughts between the photos are all mine!

 Do you feel her pain?  Literally and figuratively?  I cut and cut.  And then cut and cut some more!

And then, this happened. Every ding danged time! My blood (finger cut!), sweat, and tears scattered and now mixed together all over the floor.  Bleck!

Yahoo for lamination!

Wasn't that the most thoughtful feedback?  I was so touched.  If these look like something you can use, I have started a seasonal set of these.  Right now I have February/ March available. I will be working on the next set soon!

 I also have them available by content area.



3 Tips: Preparing for the BIG TpT Sale!

I am sure you have already heard the awesome news!  TpT is throwing a SALE on Wednesday!  Yahoo! My store will be 20% off Feb 25th AND 26th!!!!!!

(Thank you, Krista, for the graphic!)

I don't know about you, but I am totally stoked!  I have my eye on a few things.  Here are a couple of tips to make the sale as smooth as possible.  

The first tip?  Start a few days in now, would be good ;)! Sometimes the site gets bogged down with all the activity, and it helps to reduce any traffic that is doing anything besides buying.

Make sure to get your credits for all your previous purchases!  It may be tedious, but it can help add more money in your pocket! TpT has made it even easier.  If you look on your "My Purchases" page, you can now sort your purchases by those that need feedback (the red arrow).   No more scrolling to make sure you got them all!  Yahoo!

I don't know about you, but my wishlist looks like..well, my closet.  And that is not a compliment! Many of the items no longer apply.  For example, I am no longer in the classroom so I really don't need any phonics activities (but it looks so cute!!!!!!!).  And I put the Christmas activity on my wish list so I would remember it.  It isn't really timely now. Go ahead and remove any outdated items (red arrow).

When you have picked out your purchases, go ahead and move them to your cart.  This way your cart is ready to go and you can purchase with just a few click.  MUCH easier if the site slows down!

Did these hints help? Any tips I should add or edit? 

 I have added one new item I love!

There are 6 leveled passages.  Each passage has 3 levels.  Students answer text based questions and prove their answers by color coding the text.  There are two leveled response activities for each passage as well as suggested teaching points.  Check it out here!



Bright Idea: Simple (and Cheap) Math Games for Math Workshop

I am thrilled to be back again this month sharing a bright idea!  I love all the ideas each month!

This month I sharing some really simple and CHEAP ideas for math games!

Almost all of these items I had laying around the house, but they can also be purchased at a Dollar Store.

Some great manipulatives for math centers?
  • egg cartons
  • flash cards from the Dollar Store
  • Mardi Gras beads from the Dollar Store
  • dice from the Dollar Store
  • Clear vase filler from the Dollar Store
  • Muffin tin from the Dollar Store

You can use party beads or Mardi Gras beads for tons of things.  Use them to create combinations of ten, repeated addition or multiplication centers, estimation (grab a handful and estimate), or use two colors for tens and ones and then add (or subtract).  The ideas are endless!

I love those glass stones that can be used as vase filler.  You can do a million things with them! You can get a ton of them for CHEAP.

Obviously you can use them as cover ups for bingo and counting on and such, but you can do so much more. 

 I got the muffin tin and dice at the Dollar Store. Students roll the dice. The first die tells students the number of groups.  The second die tells the students the number in each group.  Finally, students create the multiplication sentence with the stones. They can record their work on white boards!

In this activity I printed a hundreds chart.  I already had the dice in my stash!  One die tells the tens place (the big dice)- love them.  The smaller, dot die, tells the ones place.  Students can roll the die to create an addition problem.  Then, students use the hundreds chart and the stones to solve the addition problem.  The same activity could be used for subtraction!

This is another great, SUPER cheap game!  I took an empty egg carton.  Then, I numbered the bottom.  I chose to number the bottom of each spaces (0-11).  Put in two clear stones (or even beans!).  Students shake the carton.  Then, when the students open the egg carton they can add or multiply the numbers the stones (or beans) landed on.  This can be used for addition, subtraction, or multiplication. You can use higher numbers than single digits- you could number the bottoms with two or three digit numbers! 

If writing big numbers in the itty-bitty egg crate is a bit daunting, you could always write the numbers on the small, garage sale stickers and stick them in!

If you enjoyed this Bright Idea, make sure to follow my Facebook page for more fun and goodies!

For more bright ideas from other bloggers, please browse through the link-up below and choose a topic/grade level that interests you.  Thanks for visiting!

Looking for more guided math posts? Check these out!



Click here for this great pack of FREE math centers, plus get tips and updates from me!

  If you would like more ideas from me, be sure to follow me on Teachers Pay Teachers, Pinterest, and Facebook to catch all the freebies and ideas and more!



Close Reading: What Does the Research Say? (Part 3)

This is the third part in a blog series.  You can read the other posts here...

We last read about some of the debate about activating and preview the text prior to reading. We are going to delve a little bit deeper into the criticisms of close reading. That is right, not everybody loves it.  

I was shocked when I discovered a policy brief from the Literacy Research Panel of the International Reading Association that has some pretty critical points.  Knock me over with a wet noodle.  I just assumed that the IRA would love this close reading stuff.  Right?  It's reading?  What is not to love?

This was something I was wondering.  If the text needs to be a "worthwhile text" of discovering and can our beginning readers decode it?  As much as I LOVE Henry and Mudge, I don't think it would be appropriate for a close read.  At what point do we look at interactive reading verses close reading?  I don't have the answers, but I do wonder about the primary grades. Anyone have any answers or opinions?  

I thought this quote as fascinating - especially after reading all the debate about prior knowledge.  It supported my personal opinion that background knowledge is vital in scaffolding the reader.

 I am liking this point too.  It kind of reminds me of the saying "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater."  Close reading can be powerful, if done well.  However, it shouldn't nudge out the other things we KNOW to be best practice for our readers.

Text based evidence is all the rage right now.  And I am okay with  that.  I even have a product DESIGNED to help students with finding evidence in the text. However, I do think there is more to reading than just the "right there questions."  Looking at the QAR strategy, we also need to consider the other types of questions- think and search, author and me, and on my own.  Evidence can STILL be found in the text to back up these observations.  I just worry about OVER- relying on the "right there questions."

Wow.  And there it is.  The final smack down.  When I read this, I think of cardboard cutout programs, with step by step directions in "how to" teach something.  One correct answer, one correct interpretation of the text.  By over relying on this theory we may actually defeat the purpose of creating critical readers and thinkers.

I loved, loved, loved Amanda Nickerson's blog post about this very subject. She wrote so many points that I agreed with, it was all I could do to keep from fist-pumpin' "YEAH!" 

I LOVE this quote by Timothy Shanahan.  According to a brief bio "He is past president of the International Reading Association. In 2006, he received a presidential appointment to serve on the Advisory Board of the National Institute for Literacy. He was inducted to the Reading Hall of Fame in 2007. He is a former first-grade teacher."  So yeah, I think he might be pretty smart. He said on his blog

Love this.  What a thought- close reading as an OUTCOME.  Isn't that what we want from all our students?

In the next blog posts we will focus on what Close Reading can look like if you are looking for a model. I know that is what people want to see ;).

So after reading all the research, here are a few points...

Do you feel like you need more help with reading instruction?

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Valentine's Day Fun!

Hey guys!

I just thought I would pop in really quick and share a few FAST Valentine's ideas!!!

Here is a simple and cheap idea a friend of mine came up with.  I just made the tags!  Just add Golden Grahams cereal, chocolate chips and mini marshmallows! Boom!  Perfect gift for your students!

Want to work on fractions with a box of conversation hearts?  Check out this freebie!

Looking for a perfect Valentine's Day story?  Check out Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch! Super cute story ! You can watch the it for FREE on

I found this awesome cause and effect FREEBIE from Laura Candler to use with the book!

I am also doing a giveaway for this Valentine's Day BUNDLE on my Facebook page!  Hop on over to enter!



Close Reading: What Does the Research Say? (Part 2)

This is the part of a blog series.  You can read the other posts here...

Thanks so much for coming back!  On Monday, I wrote about some of the VERY basics of close reading.  There were some really great comments.

One was simply about the name. It is pronounced "close" like a close friend, or as Amanda put it, "a close race." 

I know that many people are familiar with the term "cloze reading" or cloze passages."  These are passages of text in which words are blanked out.  Students have to use a variety of reading skills (background knowledge, context clues, structure of the sentence, etc) to fill in the blanks.  This is an example of a cloze passage I wrote a million years ago (it feels, at least!) about Paul Revere.

Close reading is different.  It means to look closely at the text to unveil deeper meaning of the text while paying attention to the craft and structure. 

 If I had to make an analogy, I would relate close reading to a microscope. The first time you look at the slide (or reading passage), you might look with the naked eye.  The next look you would zoom in to look a little closer.  The next time, you would zoom in even more, uncovering more and more about the slide each time your look. 

Many of the questions focused on the implementation- especially when working with young or struggling readers.  We will get there, I promise. But, before we can get to the implementation, we need to go back to the research.  I know, that can be about as much fun as a root canal, BUT there are some pretty big implications in the HOW when reading about the WHY.

I promise. We will get to the good stuff.  Soon.

So, why should we teach students to read closely.  Check out this quote.  It unleashes a bit of a hornet's nest.

See that little point about personal connections.  Yeah. 

This relates directly back to building background with students and activating prior knowledge.  In college we always talked about giving some kind of "hook" to hang their hat on.  When they were learning something new, we needed to give them some kind of background so they could easily access that mental file and add to it or edit it.

While I was reading, I was surprised that building background is a REALLLLY hot topic during close reading.  There are a few different "camps" that have opinions about connections as well as building student schema and prior knowledge before reading. 

This is where the WHY is going to affect the HOW to close read in our classrooms.

A few articles mentioned students making personal connections to the text and how they often lead away from the text.  I did see this in my own classroom that sometimes the meaning of the text was lost because the students latched onto simple details from the story that lead them down a "rabbit hole" totally unrelated to the text.

Okay, so maybe we don't need to spend as much time previewing the text....

...and maybe making connections to the text can be valuable, we don't need to over rely on it.  But doesn't building background and activation "level the playing field" so to speak before we ever even open the text?

Well, maybe not in a way I would have expected...

Well, that is certainly something.  I had never thought of the fact, that since we are diving so deeply in the text- and for the most part strictly staying true to the text, the playing field is automatically leveled?  Hmm...

This quote brings home on why we need to read this research stuff...

I guess I would consider myself a moderate. I can't imagine completely throwing out any activation strategies.  Didn't Max Thompson cite activation as one of the strategies for Learning Focused Schools and part of the success of 90/90/90 schools ( I have gone back and tried to research this, and I will say Google is not easily turning up the research to support activation.  Maybe I am Googling wrong?).

What is YOUR opinion?

This post neatly leads up to my next post, criticisms of close reading.  I know you guys just want to know how to do it, because my guess is SOME big-wig is requiring it.  We will get there.  I just want to make sure we don't fall into a "trap" of doing what were are told without know why- they why can only help our students.


Also, I had TWO readers comment that this book is a must read on the topic of close reading.  I haven't read it yet, but it is on my list.  After I finish my trashy romance ;).

Do you feel like you need more help with reading instruction?

  Sign up to have specific tips and strategies send straight to your email for FREE! You can sign up here! Please note, this is an additional, BRAND NEW newsletter that is separate from my blog newsletter.  If you want to get these tips, you have to sign up here!

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