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I can't believe that it's almost fall. And with fall comes the beginning of the holidays. I don't know about your students, but for mine, as soon as October 1st rolls around, they're counting down to Halloween.
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Confession: I'm not a huge fan of Halloween (but I do love candy, especially pumpkin Reese's!). I do know that I need to capitalize on my students' excitement about the holidays to help keep them focused. Here are some of my favorite Halloween-themed ELA activities:
Just this cover gets my 4th graders excited!

1. Read aloud scary stories. My students love the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark collection. These books are great because they allow students to practice inferencing. I love turning off the lights and reading by flashlight too, just to make it a little extra scary. πŸ˜‰

2. Create a haunted house of nouns. Using a blank picture of a haunted house, have students draw and label nouns of all of the creatures they might see in a haunted house. This is a fun and easy way to fit in a little grammar practice. These also make a great hallway display of spoooooky nouns. Here's a free haunted house template for you to use with your students. 
We used this worksheet to track all of our mystery elements.
3. Watch a little Scooby Doo- and review the mystery genre. I love Scooby Doo and I love mysteries. Scooby Doo episodes are great beause they're formulaic and short. They show all of the main parts of a mystery- detectives, crime, clues, suspects, and criminals. Show your students an episode and give them a chance to be detectives and solve the crime alongside the whole gang. {Want more info for how this works? Hop over here for the whole blog post.}

4. Halloween-Themed QOTD: Are you already using morning journals or whiteboard questions? If you follow me on IG, you know I love my QOTD! These Halloween-themed questions of the day infuse just a little bit of Halloween into your daily routine, without taking away from your regular lessons. Turn their energy into a little bit of writing and community building. Grab this freebie here. 

5. Write scary stories & poems: This is one of my favorite writing projects of the entire year! First, we read a chapter from Invasion of the Road Weenies called "A Little Night Fishing," which always creeps my kiddos out. Then we talk about what makes a scary story so great (and it's not just witches, ghosts, and vampires!). Throughout the next couple weeks of our writing time, I guide my students through the writing process of a narrative- and I am constantly amazed by their ideas every year! We brainstorm, use organizers, write drafts, peer edit, and have student/teacher writing conferences before typing or writing our final drafts. The best part is the day to celebrate their writing by reading our stories by flashlight right around Halloween. Check out this project by clicking here.  

I also like using any holiday to work a little on poetry skills. Using my students' excitement about Halloween, we work on imagery, rhyme schemes, quatrains, acrostics, parts of speech, diamontes, riddles, and free verse poems in a mini- booklet- 13 Days of Halloween Poetry. I LOVE teaching poetry, so finding another way to squeeze some practice in early in the school year was a must. This booklet works great. Find it by clicking here.

This is my favorite part from the 13 Days of Halloween booklet- first students guess the answer to each of these free verse "Who am I?" poems...πŸ‘‡

...And then they get to write their own! Which are very fun to share and also to put out as a hallway display so people who pass by can guess too. πŸ˜ƒ

What's your favorite Halloween activity?

Hopefully you've already read part 1 of my mystery genre unit where I set the stage to engage with a Detective Book Mission. Here I'm going to talk to you a little about Scooby Doo and one of my favorite characters Red Herring. 
This post may contain some affiliate links, which means if you click on one of the links and make a purchase, I'll receive a small commission. You will never incur a fee or charge for this.

Pretty much everyone knows Scooby Doo and has watched the cartoon in one of its many incarnations. I love classic Scooby, but my absolute FAVORITE version of Scooby Doo is a little known version from 1988-1991 called A Pup Named Scooby-Doo. The gang are all kids and they have some great adventures solving crimes. I also decided this version would work perfectly for my lesson because I remembered Fred's sworn enemy, a character named Red Herring. As a kid, I didn't get this joke at all, but now I realize this is the perfect tool for giving my students another example of their favorite new mystery term.
Red Herring!

For our Scooby Doo lesson, I started off by asking my students to remember all of the fun mystery terms we had learned during our previous class. We wrote the list on the board as we named and defined each word- detective, crime, suspect, red herring, clue, etc. Once we were finished our verbal review, it was time to watch! 
We used this worksheet to help us gather all of our mystery data. It's included in my Complete ELA Mystery Genre Unit.

I chose "The Schnook Who Took My Comic Book" from Season 1 because I knew it featured Red Herring. While watching, I wanted my students to take notes and track all the mystery elements. We paused a few times when my students called out- "That's a clue!" We also stopped to record through the recap of clues right before the big reveal, and we took a quick vote on who we thought the committed the crime. After the episode was over, students reviewed their notes with their table groups and wrote down how the mystery was solved. I did collect their work, not for a grade, but more for myself to see if my students were able to follow along and understand the different mystery aspects. 

There were a couple things that I really enjoyed about this lesson (besides an excuse to watch one of my favorite childhood cartoons!):

1. The show follows a format that easily adheres to all of the aspects of the mystery genre, which means almost every episode works.

2. Episodes are short, so this doesn't need to take up my whole ELA time.

3. This lesson could easily work as a sub plan, or even be repeated if needed. (My class begged for us to watch more Scooby Doo!)

4. Bonus: Did you know there are Scooby Doo books? If I wanted to add in a reading aspect, or even reteach this lesson (especially for my lower level learners), I would use these books I found in our school library. Scooby-Doo and the Cupcake Caper is an example of the Level 2 reader that would work well. They're available used on Amazon for as low as 15 cents if you can't find them at your local library. 

Have you ever used Scooby Doo or another TV show in your classroom? 

Don't forget to check back for the next blog post- all about how we became novel detectives!

P.S. Interested in more mystery resources? Check out the Complete ELA Mystery Genre Unit in my TpT store, which includes this Scooby Doo printable plus the Detective Mission from my last post and more.

All teachers know that back to school is one of the most hectic, exciting times of the year. We're buying new supplies, decorating our rooms, and planning for the best school year yet. Buying all of those new things for our classrooms can get expensive, which is why I've put together this list of my five favorite back to school freebies!
This post may contain some affiliate links, which means if you click on one of the links and make a purchase, I'll receive a small commission. You will never incur a fee or charge for this.

1. Back to School Name Tent {from The Science Duo}: Instead of making name tags for desks, I started using this name tent a couple years ago. It works well because students have something to work on when they come into the classroom for the first time. I encourage my students to write whatever they want me to call them (in case they go by a nickname or middle name), plus fill out the ice breakers so we can use them to learn about each other. Each year, my students especially love the two truths and a lie part. 
2. Community Building Question of the Day: Back to School Edition {from yours truly, Cait's Cool School}: If you follow me on Instagram @caitscoolschool, you know I love using whiteboard questions daily. This free back to school set is perfect for the first week of school. Start off the year building a classroom community and getting to know your students (in addition to sharing a little bit about yourself!). I love putting a question on the board even the very first day to get my students excited and in the habit of answering our daily question.

3. All About My Selfie {from Student Savvy}: This was a fun writing & creative assignment for my students the first week of school. I used it for my ELA sections to have students write a little for me about themselves, and they could also show me their creativity by creating their own "apps" to tell about themselves.

4. Classroom Posters {from Light Bulbs & Laughter}: Buying decor packs can get expensive, which is why I'm in love with these new posters! I love the colors and how bright they are. Perfect easy decorations- they're offered in color & black/white- I just am a *little* obsessed with my Astrobrights Color Paper

5. Back to School Project Based Learning {from Performing in Education}: If you know anything about April from Performing in Education, you know she is the queen of PBLs. I LOVE using this PBL during the first week of school. It's designed as a math activity, but I think it can be used in any classroom. While I allow my students to think of different furniture than what we already have in our classroom, I try to get them to think about what's already there. It's fun to see what their ideas for a classroom design are. Sometimes I even use their suggestions and do a little rearranging. πŸ˜ƒ

What are your favorite free back to school activities? Share in the comments! 

Ever since I was a kid, I loved mysteries. I devoured as many as I could get my hands on- Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Babysitters' Club mysteries, and more. I still love reading mysteries as an adult. 

This past school year, I decided I finally needed to do what I'd been dreaming of- the ultimate mystery unit, brought to life in my classroom. Each of my fourth grade ELA sections is hetereogenous, with students of varying levels. My goal was to be able to differentiate with novels, but be able to assess my students on the same skills. The great thing about mysteries is that they cover so many standards- plot structure, character traits, inferences, etc.

So what did we actually do? First, I needed to set the stage to engage! I wanted to see what my students knew about mysteries and let them start to take on the role of being detectives. Time for a Detective Book Mission!
This post may contain some affiliate links, which means if you click on one of the links and make a purchase, I'll receive a small commission. You will never incur a fee or charge for this.
The goals of this mission: read two picture book mysteries- one to model identifying parts of a mystery and one to have students work in groups to identify parts of a mystery, all while getting students excited to read our next novel.

First I asked my kiddos what they knew about mysteries. I got a variety of answers- everything from "Nothing!" to "Detectives and clues are important!" Then, as a whole group, we read Detective LaRue: Letters from the Investigation by Mark Teague (I chose this partially because I'm obsessed with Ike LaRue and Teague's pictures are AMAZING). 

While reading, we discussed different mystery terms as we came across examples like detective, clues, suspect, and red herring. The book became our model for mysteries.

After we finished reading, I showed my students a mysterious package that had been delivered to our room. We had a book mission envelope and an envelope written to fourth grade detectives. I, of course, had no idea where these came from. πŸ˜‰ The best thing about the book mission is that my students had to take over. They were given an introductory letter, magnifying glasses (which I picked up from Amazon), copies of  Grandpa's Teeth (one for each of my 6 teams), directions, and Official Detective Notebook Paper (see pics). 

The envelope is from Really Good Stuff, & the papers were inside.
Each team received a copy of the book & everyone had magnifying glasses.
For the next 45 minutes, my students were completely, 100% engaged in reading and finding the clues to solve who stole Grandpa's teeth. (The ending of the book is hilarious, by the way.) After we were finished, my kiddos were not only hooked on being detectives, but they also showed me through their exit tickets and Detective Notebook Paper that they were starting to really understand mysteries. Plus, they liked the term "red herring" as much as I do! 

Red herring is what will lead me to our next activity...and how I introduced a little bit of my childhood to my students! To read all about it...click here.

Want to try this mission with your students, with the full lesson plan, Detective Notebook Paper, exit tickets, & more included? Check it out in my TpT store here.  

What do you do to start off a mystery genre unit? Share in the comments below!

If you're here, it's because you have the same question that I've seen so many teachers ask- what books should I use for read alouds? There are so many amazing books that it can be hard to decide. 

Here are my top six picks, including how they can be used as examples reading standards (besides just being amazing books 😜):

This post may contain some affiliate links, which means if you click on one of the links and make a purchase, I'll receive a small commission. You will never incur a fee or charge for this.

1. The Fabled Fourth Graders of Aesop Elementary School by Candace Fleming: It's always great to have a book that has "fourth grade" in the title. My students love to read a book that seems like it's written just for them. 

Beyond the grade level aspect, this book is great for a few reasons- it has quirky and memorable characters (great for character traits and text to text comparisons) plus each story has one of the morals from Aesop's Fables, which make great themes. With the first couple chapters, I usually have to guide my students to pick out the theme, but once they get the hang of it, it's always fun to end each chapter by guessing the moral.

2. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo: Who doesn't love Kate DiCamillo? This book barely needs an introduction (but I'm going to tell you why it's amazing anyway!). The hook for my students is the dog, of course. Not that I blame them, because I'm kinda, sorta obsessed with my dog, so I LOVE dog stories. 

Why is it a great story for your classroom? It's realistic fiction that provides touching characters for your students to connect with. I especially like using this novel to make inferences. Opal learns a lot about friendship and relationships throughout the story. I have also found that my students who have either moved around a lot or only have one parent really connect to Opal's story. 

3. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia) by C. S. Lewis: This book was read to me in fourth grade and I never forgot it. It's that kind of book. Plus it made me want to devour the rest of the Narnia series. And that's what it brings to your students too. Using a book from a series is a great way to get them hooked. 

What are the other reasons? This is a historical fantasy featuring the four Pevensie children. In addition to switching up the genre from the previous books, this book is full of symbolism (winter and the animals) and a variety of themes (friendship, good vs. evil, family).

4. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson: "The Herdmans were the worst kids in the history of the world." <-- that sentence gets my students (and me) every time! I love this book because it's short (perfect for December) and it touches on how Christmas is different for many kids. The narrator is Christian and grew up hearing the story of Jesus, but the Herdman kids weren't raised in a church and are new to the idea of Jesus. This opens up a conversation about how different people celebrate holidays and families come from different backgrounds. I like to bring in additional picture books and investigate holidays around the world. Besides holidays, this book is also a great example of round characters. The Herdmans change over the course of the book and show how one experience can change a person. 

5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling: I'm just a *little* Harry Potter obsessed. What's so great about Harry Potter? Um, everything. This is another fantasy book, and again, is part of a series. If you choose to use this book in your classroom, I HIGHLY recommend getting the illustrated edition. The illustrations are fabulous and really draw in even the most reluctant readers. Some of my students even get the illustrated version from the public library to follow along and stare at the pictures even longer. 

Parts of this book to use in your classroom? As Harry is learning about the wizard world, he also is faced with a mystery. I use this novel as a read aloud during my mystery genre unit. We collect the clues as Harry does. This book also has great characters to explore.

6. Love That Dog by Sharon Creech: This book is a great addition to any poetry unit. This is the story of Jack, who hates poetry, and doesn't want to talk about his dog, Sky. He slowly reveals what happened to Sky and learns about poetry from Miss Stretchberry, his teacher. This book is an excellent way to introduce your students to poetry, while giving them a character they can connect with. To read more about how I use this in the classroom, check out this blog post

Those are my top picks...and I'm always looking for new and different books to share with my students. What are some of your favorites? Share in the comments below!

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