Worship Wednesday ~ Farther Along


Thank you to those of you that have joined up these past two weeks for Worship Wednesday! I have been so encouraged by reading your posts. I hope you have been, too.

I don't know about you, but I have quite a few songs that are my "go-to anthems" when I need encouragement. Well, this is one of my favorite songs ever! I LOVE Josh Garrels music, every last bit of it.  "Farther Along" helps put things back in perspective for me when I get overwhelmed by circumstances in life. I love how he reminds us that we aren't going to understand everything that happens in this life. Life isn't always fair. The time will come when all will be made known. For now, we should cherish the freedom and joy that salvation brings. My friends, give Christ the weight of your burdens and live in the sunshine.



Farther along we’ll know all about it
Farther along we’ll understand why
So cheer up my brothers, live in the sunshine
We’ll understand this, all by and by

Tempted and tried, I wondered why
The good man dies, the bad man thrives
And Jesus cries because he loves em’ both
We’re all cast-aways in need of ropes
Hangin’ on by the last threads of our hope
In a house of mirrors full of smoke
Confusing illusions I’ve seen

Where did I go wrong? I sang along
To every chorus of the song
That the devil wrote like a piper at the gates
Leading mice and men down to their fates
Some will courageously escape
The seductive voice with a heart of faith
While walkin’ that line back home

There's so much more to life than we’ve been told
It’s full of beauty that will unfold
And shine like you struck gold, my wayward son
That deadweight burden weighs a ton
Go down into the river and let it run
And wash away all the things you’ve done
Forgiveness, alright

Farther along we’ll know all about it
Farther along we’ll understand why
So cheer up my brothers, live in the sunshine
We’ll understand this, all by and by

Still I get hard pressed on every side
Between the rock and a compromise
Like the truth and pack of lies fightin’ for my soul
I’ve got no place left go
Cause I got changed by what I’ve been shown
More glory than the world has known
Keeps me ramblin’ on

Skipping like a calf loosed from its stall
I’m free to love once and for all
And even when I fall I’ll get back up
For the joy that overflows my cup
Heaven filled me with more than enough
Broke down my levees and my bluffs
Let the flood wash me

And one day when the sky rolls back on us
Some rejoice and the others fuss
Cause every knee must bow and tongue confess
The son of God is forever blessed
His is the kingdom,  and we’re the guests
So put your voice up to the test
Sing Lord, come soon

Farther along we’ll know all about it
Farther along we’ll understand why
So cheer up my brothers, live in the sunshine

We’ll understand this, all by and by



Now it's YOUR turn! 
  1. Write a blog post that includes a scripture, song, or experience that has stirred your faith this week. 
  2. Link up below. 
  3. Leave a comment on at least 2 people before you in the link-up.
This link up will go live every Wednesday. (I am doing this to challenge myself to stay in the Word even though the school year is always super busy!) Feel free to join in as often as you would like!
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My Teacher Hero


I am linking up with Jenny from Luckeyfrog's Lilypad to share about one of my favorite teacher heroes. I have had the pleasure of working with many teacher heroes, but the one I simply must tell you about is a former co-worker named Bonnie Pettay. Bonnie is now retired, but she served as a middle school intervention specialist for many years! She is a little bit eccentric and a whole lot AWESOME.

If you just peeked in her room on any given day, you would have seen...

  • Movie theater seats... because kids need a cozy spot to get lost in a book!
  • Padded rolling chairs for every student that she paid to have reupholstered herself... because kids learn best when they are comfortable!
  • Individualized water cups (with cute seasonal themes, of course) on every desk... because the brain learns best when its fully hydrated! 
  • Giant beach umbrellas... because they make any table more fun to sit at! 
Bonnie was the kind of teacher I strive to be each and every day. Yes, she was a wealth of professional knowledge... but more than that, she just loved kids and teaching with every fiber of her being. To Bonnie, teaching came as naturally as breathing. She did everything she could to get kids to fall in love with reading. She took her entire class to the movie theater to watch The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe after reading it so they could engage in a comparison/contrast discussion. She hosted an after-school book club twice a week so kids could listen to audio versions of their favorite books, then discuss them with friends. She would laugh and say, "It's a good thing my husband loves golf as much as I love teaching!" because she was often the last car in the parking lot each night. 

Bonnie always challenged us to be the best for our kids that we could be. She went above and beyond to lead our staff through professional development sessions about teaching for the whole brain... long before Whole Brain Teaching (which I love!) was a thing!  

Not only was Bonnie an amazing teacher, but she was also a loyal friend to me during some really challenging years in my life.  I will never forget how often she let me curl up on those movie chair seats and just let me pour my heart out to her. She was like a mom to me when I was so far away from my own, always ready with a steady supply of tissues or tootsie rolls... or both! Though many miles separate us and we haven't talked in years, I will always treasure her in my heart.

Thank you, Bonnie! You have touched my life in more ways than you know. And THANK YOU to ALL the teacher heroes in this world. You give of your time, resources, and energy so selflessly to bring the light of education into our children's lives.  What you do MATTERS.

As a thank you, please enjoy this free download of an inspirational quote about teaching! :D






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Why I Stopped Assigning Reading Logs for Homework



My kids struggle with being reflective readers. They often come to third grade already having negative experiences with reading logs. Traditional logs require them to read for a certain number of minutes, then list the pages read and maybe write a sentence about it. As a result, kids all over the world are faking out their teachers and parents. Parents admit to signing their logs whether they read or not... And, worst of all, kids are falling out of love with reading. 

This doesn't cut it for me! I want my kids to LOVE reading. I want them to get excited about their books. I want them to really think about what they read--connecting to the characters or events to their own lives and experiences. For this reason, I stopped giving reading logs for homework in my classroom. I just want my kids to go home and read for fun! 

This is why I designed my Reflective Detectives Reading Response Logs. Once I started using these during the school day (instead of for homework), my kids were so much more engaged!



I do still want them to stop and think about what they are reading in my classroom. But I also want them to talk about the books they love with friends and myself. I personally tie these logs in during their Daily CAFÉ reader's workshop time, but they could be used in many different ways. (Yes, you can give them for homework if you absolutely must!)  My students love when I give them time to share out with a friend at the end of their silent reading time. They get so excited to talk about what they are reading with a friend... and these prompts and graphic organizers really helped them start those conversations.  




This set of reading response prompts really challenges my students to go beyond the limits of a traditional reading log. They enjoy thinking more deeply about the text. They love that they get to talk about it with a friend. I think their favorite part is that they can mix and match the prompts so that they aren't the same each week! 



Once I started using these logs with my students in their reader's notebook binders... and most importantly, letting them CHOOSE the logs they wanted to respond to... my kids were so much more engaged in their Read to Self time during workshop. The logs are also really helpful during my individualized reading conferences with the kids! They give us so much to talk about... and isn't that what READING is all about?!  



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Worship Wednesday ~ A New Heart


Hello, friends! Thank you so much to those of you that joined me last week for my first ever linky party. This post will go live every Wednesday morning at 6 AM (EST) and be available for linkup until the following Wednesday. This means you can link up virtually anytime, even if it isn't a Wednesday! :) 

This verse is especially meaningful to me this week. I love finding hearts in nature. I feel like they are little "love notes" to me from God. He sent me my first heart (this stone in the picture below) when I was feeling so far from His presence. I was walking along the beach in Ontario, feeling abandoned and alone. I even thought to myself, "Why have you forgotten me?" Seconds later, I found this stone. Ever since then, when I find heart in nature, I feel like God is saying, "You are my precious child, and I cherish you. How could I ever forget you?"



Now it's YOUR turn! 
  1. Write a blog post that includes a scripture, song, or experience that has stirred your faith this week. 
  2. Link up below. 
  3. Leave a comment on at least 2 people before you in the link-up.
This link up will go live every Wednesday. (I am doing this to challenge myself to stay in the Word even though the school year is always super busy!) Feel free to join in as often as you would like!




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Worship Wednesday ~ Fill This House



Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart
and with the full assurance that faith brings...
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, 
for He who promised is faithful. 
And let us consider how we may spur one another on
toward love and good deeds...
Hebrews 10: 22a, 23-24

Hello, friends! I am so excited to host my first ever linky party! I was inspired by the verses above and thought this would be a fun way for us to encourage one another in our faith. Teaching is hard, but our God is bigger than any challenges that we face. Let's join together to lift one another up with verses, songs, or stories about our awesome God!

This week, I was inspired by "Fill this House" by Judah & the Lion!  I often listen to music in the background while I am working on my computer, but as this song crescendoed, it literally stopped me in my tracks. I had to stop working and just sing. I love when a song does that!




Now it's YOUR turn! 
  1. Write a blog post that includes a scripture, song, or experience that has stirred your faith this week. 
  2. Link up below. 
  3. Leave a comment on at least 2 people before you in the link-up.
This link up will go live every Wednesday. (I am doing this to challenge myself to stay in the Word even though the school year is always super busy!) Feel free to join in as often as you would like!

Oh, wait! One more thing! I made you all a little gift for joining up today. Feel free to save the image below to your phone, then set it as your lock screen.  I am going to read the verse each time I unlock my phone to help me memorize it this week. Enjoy!







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Vocabulary Strategies that Work!


Alphaboxes is an awesome strategy to get your kids talking about a text to determine important words. It activates prior knowledge, higher-order thinking skills, builds rich vocabulary, and is super versatile. You can read more about it (and download a free graphic organizer) here



Alphaboxes also transitions well into List-Group-Label. Students can use their list of words on the Alphaboxes form to categorize words into groups. After sorting the words into groups, they label the group of words and explain how they are related. I love how list-group-label encourages diverse thinking because there is not one right answer.  As long as students can explain their thinking, it is correct! You can read more about this strategy (and watch a video of it in action) here


Select Two and Reflect (STAR) is great as a standalone activity or to follow-up the aforementioned strategies. Students will select two words that are important to the text and write a paragraph about how they are related. I love the way it encourages students to make personal connections to the text and increases their overall comprehension. You can read more about it (and download a free graphic organizer) here!

These are a few of my favorite things this month. What are yours? It's not too late to join up with Teaching Trio because the linky party is open all month!





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The List-Group-Label Strategy

List-Group-Label is another one of my favorite strategies for increasing students' vocabulary. Grouping and labeling the words activates their critical thinking skills and helps them see relationships between the words. By connecting their prior knowledge to new learning, they are able to form a lasting understanding of what the words mean.

List-Group-Label is another one of my favorite strategies for increasing students' vocabulary. Grouping and labeling the words activates their critical thinking skills and helps them see relationships between the words. By connecting their prior knowledge to new learning, they are able to form a lasting understanding of what the words mean. Great for activating critical thinking skills, connecting prior knowledge to new learning, and encouraging divergent thinking!

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The Select Two And Reflect Strategy

Select Two and Reflect (STAR) is another classroom favorite for this schoolmarm. I first read about it in Strategies for Content Area Learning by Jerry L. Johns and Robert L. Berglund. I immediately gave it a try with my kids and was impressed with the results. Now, it is something I use quite often because both the kids and I love it! 



Why I love it!
  • Requires students to analyze which words are important
  • Helps students make personal connections to the words and text
  • Increases comprehension
  • Encourages diverse thinking (there is no "right" answer!)


How I use this strategy for content-area reading: 
  1. During guided instruction after reading a given text, ask students to identify two interesting and/or important words. Do not apply any criteria to selecting those words. As long as they are able to explain it, it is correct!
  2. Ask for volunteers to share the words they selected and why they selected them. Use this opportunity to discuss that some words were selected because they were important to understanding the text, some words were selected because they sounded interesting, and some words were selected because the students made a personal connection to the words. 
  3. Model how to complete the STAR response sheet by selecting two words and writing a few sentences to explain how they are connected to one another and the text. 
  4. Let students complete the STAR response sheet on their own. Be sure to give them adequate time to make connections between the two words and the text. 
  5. If time allows, have students work in partners or small groups to compare and contrast the words they each chose and why they chose them.





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The Alpha Sort Strategy

I am always in search of simple teaching strategies that are incredibly effective, and Alpha Sorts is at the top of my list! Alpha Sorts are a versatile content area reading strategy that I have seen dramatically improve my students' understanding of content-rich vocabulary terms. They give students an opportunity to classify which words are important to a text or concept, verbally express the words within context to their peers, and deepen their understandings of the words. 



I first heard about Alpha Sorts during my Reading Endorsement classes. We were expected to pick a strategy, implement it in our classrooms, then return to share about it. I was skeptical at first because this strategy seemed so simple, almost too good to be true. But I was pleasantly surprised, and now it has become a staple in my classroom!

Why I love the ALPHA SORT strategy: 

  • Activates prior knowledge
  • Activates higher-ordered thinking skills as students distinguish between words in the text that are important (not just interesting)
  • Build a rich vocabulary as students combine their schema (prior knowledge) with new learning. 
  • Provides a structure for helping students engage in discussion about the content
  • Versatile and easily extended into other activities
  • Provides me an opportunity to formatively assess students' understanding of the text, how concepts fit together, and whether they can use specific terms correctly in a sentence

How I use this as a BEFORE READING Strategy for Content-Area Reading:

  • To activate prior knowledge, introduce the topic to the class. Then have students work with a partner or small group to record the words they associate with the topic. Have students share their words with the class so you can discuss similarities and differences. This is a great alternative to using a KWL chart to record prior knowledge of specific content. 

  • To make predictions, have students work independently, in partners, or with small groups to predict specific words the author may use in the selection. 

  • To give a purpose for reading, you can instruct students the types of words you want them to find in the text. For example, if you are learning about the Constitutional Convention, you could ask students to find words in the text that describe the qualities of specific delegates that were selected to be a part of drafting the Constitution. 

How I use this as a DURING READING Strategy for Content-Area Reading:

  • To promote close reading of the text, have students use the graphic organizer while they are reading. I typically like to have my third graders read a page or section entirely, then stop to reflect on which words they think are most important to understanding the main idea of that section. At this point, they skim the text again for words that are important and record them on the graphic organizer under the correct letter. 

How I use this as a AFTER READING Strategy for Content-Area Reading: 

  • To promote deep discussion of the text, have students complete the graphic organizer on their own or as partners while they are reading the text. Afterwards, have individuals meet with a partner or have partners meet with another pair to compare and contrast the words they selected from the text. This gives students an opportunity to verbally explain which words they decided were important and provide a rationale for why they selected those words.
  • To encourage higher-order thinking processes, have students work with teams to revisit the words they selected in order to determine if any words are not as important as they originally thought and therefore need to be removed. Students can draw a line through words they do not think are important anymore. This is a great opportunity for them to verbally discuss why they are making this decision. Students may also add words that are important that they may have missed upon their initial reading. These can be written in a different color, in all capital letters, or circled/starred to distinguish that they were added in round two.
  • To extend their thinking, students can use the Alpha Sort graphic organizer as a support for written responses. For example, the Alpha Sort also doubles as a Word Bank that they can use to prepare a summary of the main idea and details. Students can use the graphic organizer to write questions that can be answered when reading the text, then swap with a partner to let that person answer the questions. It also serves as a great resource for the List-Group-Label strategy and Select Two and Reflect written responses, both of which I explain in more detailed posts.    
Alpha Sorts are an incredibly easy graphic organizer to make! If you are in a pinch, you can have students fold a piece of blank paper into 4 columns and 6 rows, then label the alphabet letters in each box. (I put P/Q and Y/Z in the same boxes so they all fit on the page.)  You can also make one really quickly with a table in a word processing document.  If you are interested in using the Alpha Sort graphic organizer that is photographed in this post, it is included in my Reflective Detectives Graphic Organizers resource (featuring 27 graphic organizers and growing) and in my Reflective Detectives Bundle (including the 27 graphic organizers and differentiated, Mix-N-Match Reading Response Logs). This is definitely a graphic organizer that I keep on hand "just in case" I see an opportunity for it arise during class. The kids also really love using it! 

Have you tried Alpha Sorts in your classroom? What are your favorite ways to incorporate it into instruction. I would love to hear about it in the comments below! 


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ZAP! A Low-Prep Word Work Center

Work work centers don't need to be complicated or take a long time to prep each week. Centers are such an important part of my classroom, but can sometimes be overwhelming to implement. I used to spend so much time prepping my centers, until I decided to start creating centers that worked for me! ZAP is a fun and super easy Word Work center that will last forever!

Stop feeling stressed out about centers and give this simple game a try! Your kids will love how fun it is and you will love how much time it saves you.

Teacher Prep Steps: 

Write the words you want kids to practice on plain wooden popsicle sticks. That's literally it. Can it get any easier than that?  I personally wrote out sight words from Fry's Hundred Lists, but you can include any words you are wanting students to practice reading more fluently.

How to Play ZAP! 

To play, all sticks are placed into an opaque cup with the words facing downwards. (The cute buckets in the dollar section at Target work perfectly!) Kids take turn pulling a word and reading it aloud. If they read it correctly, they get to keep the stick. If they are incorrect, they put it back into the cup. When someone pulls ZAP!, the round ends. Kids each read all their words on the sticks and count them. The kid with the most sticks wins. The kids will LITERALLY play this game over and over without getting tired of it.

Stop feeling stressed out about centers and give this simple game a try! Your kids will love how fun it is and you will love how much time it saves you.

Why I love ZAP!

One of my favorite things about this game is that it is really helps unify some of my lower readers with their classmates. The game is in such high demand, so they never feel like they are silly or stupid for practicing sight words. Everyone loves ZAP! In addition, the game is super versatile. It's great for helping kids practice their math facts. And did I mention it's low-prep?! I made this game more than 10 years ago and it is still in wonderful condition, even when being played over and over again.

Have you tried ZAP! in your classroom? What other ways have you used this game? Tell me in the comments below!


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