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The Matchbox Diary

The Matchbox Diary

A writer’s toughest task isn’t finding an idea but figuring out what to do with it

The Matchbox Diary written by Paul Fleishman is an an incredible book that can be used within the classroom as a launching point for narratives, immigration, definition of literacy, American history, industry, etc.  I used this book for a Summer writing camp and in a 2nd grade classroom.  I am sharing my lesson plan outline that I use while teaching. 

·         Sharpened pencils
·         Mechanical Pencils
·         Clipboards
·         Paper
o   Lined
o   Handwriting
o   Final copy
o   Black cardstock- to mount art
o   White thick paper- for art
·         Post-it notes
·         Plastic Sleeves--- to be used for editing if don't don't want to use post-its
·         Dry erase markers-- "
·         Socks (to use as eraser)-- "
·         Sensory word list- From Jeff Anderson book
·         Chart Paper
·         Markers
·         Cigar Box with items in matchboxes it that I can tell stories about  (i.e. seashells, bottlecap, key, dried flower, ticket stub, ring, marbles, (non-item like a paper clip)etc.)
·         Oil Pastels or watercolor
·         Painter’s Tape
·         Report covers

Before--- students bring in 5 items that have memories.  I sent this note as apart of their homework:

Special Assignment!  
We will begin writing narratives in class  for the next few weeks.  Writer’s write about what they know.  As a writer, please bring in 5 small items that trigger a memory or something important that has happened in your life.  Bring items such as a small seashell, concert ticket, bracelet, pin, medal, coin, etc.  All of these items should fit in the attached plastic bag.
Please bring your 5 items Monday.  

Day 1:  Brainstorm, First Draft

Bring in personal Cigar Box, set it and book on the table.

On a chart paper-- write LITERACY 

Ask class what it is to them.  discuss in groups-- ask the following questions as necessary.
Literacywhat does it mean?  What does it look like? How do you engage in literacy? Does being literate really only mean creating meaning from the symbols known as alphabetic letters and characters? What about reading symbols or visual images that are logos or are in advertisements? What about reading wordless picture books? Most of all, who gets to define what literacy is or isn't? 

The field of literacy has actually been pushing for quite some time against traditional definitions that are limited to reading and writing, but what do your students think? Create sticky notes on chart paper. Talk about responses and emphasize that literacy is to CONNECT through writing, stories, and pictures.  

Background Info---historic information about immigration, Ellis Island, America in the early 1920’s, or Italy, the great-grandfather’s country of origin.  Ask students what they know about Ellis Island, show a picture of the statue of liberty.  Talk briefly about what it means to be an immigrant.  Discuss some of the reasons people have for leaving their homeland, sometimes in the face of danger, to live in a new country. 

Ask who keeps a diary or a journal.  Why do they keep one?  What's in their journals?  Is it just words? What's the importance or value of a journal/diary?
Begin reading about half of the book, then paused to do a quick reviewWhat object did the girl choose to have her great-grandfather tell her about? What was inside the cigar box? Why did great-grandfather keep his diary in matchboxes and not written in a book? What was in the first box she opened? What is the story of the olive pit?before finishing the book.

Open my box, pass out boxes and let the kids open them.  Begin telling story of 1 or 2.  Then get to the paperclip
The object in box is my paperclip. I use paperclips all the time. They are really useful. I use this one to hold papers together.
Wait for reactions.  Clearly not a story.  So I ask  group what more they wanted to knowperhaps if they asked me some questions, I might find the paperclips story. Where did you get it? What makes it special? How long have you had it?

Reach for another box.  Begin telling the story.  What else do they want to know- what does my story need to feel complete? Being making a list of what a story must entail. 

In groups of 2-4 have students share items in their boxes.  Ask them and their groups to decide which item has a story they want to tell the most.

Close by sharing what item they think they will share about and what memory it holds.  

Day 2: First Draft/Graphic Organizer 

Read Wilfred Gordon by Mem Fox
What brought about the memories?  Did they have to have words?  

Model writing your first draft with one of your items.  Talk aloud using a bubble map to retrieve all of the important details-- Where was I? Who was I with? What were we doing?  Why? What happened? How did I feel? 

Give students to brainstorm about their item in their writing notebooks.

Take a picture of them with their item in their hands.

Closing:  Share about how using the graphic organizer helped with their memory.  How did they sort it?  What helped organize their thoughts or get the most detail?

Day 3: First Draft Writing

Read Art & Max
--- What happened to the characters? -- emphasize that you can change the form, add details, mix things up, and still have your original idea.  Sometimes starting again or looking things from a different perspective creates something better.  

Share with them my story
The Moose Story
                  i was walkin.  I was walking by myself.  It was late at nite.  I had to go to the bathroom. I got on my bik.  It was foggy. I saw a baby moose.  I heard a loud noise behind me.  A moose was running to me.  I was scared.  I looked for help.  i kept riding.  I went through the forest.  I fell.  I stayed there until she left.  I rode back fast!

Write suggestions on chart paper.  This becomes our checklist of features to include in our writing.
Details, sentence variety, figurative language, capital letters, punctuation, opening sentence, closing sentence, spelling, voice/point of view, transition words, adjectives

Review dialogue marks.  Pass out sensory words sheet for descriptive words. (can find online if don't have Jeff Anderson book)  

Model writing my own story with an item from my box in front of them.  Think out loud and look to my graphic organizer for details.  

Give students time to write their story.  Share with a friend what they have written so far.  

Day 4:  Finish First Draft/Revisions
Read Chester    Emphasize that the writer has the power!  Whoever has the pen decides what happens.  There's power in what they write.  When we share writing we want it to be whole and complete and that sometimes another set of eyes can help strengthen us. Re-read the moose story from the day before--- ask them to give me a strength--- something I did well.  Then, a teaching point--- something to work on.  Show them how to write this on a sticky note-- star for strength, circle for teaching point.  

Give students time to finish first drafts.  When they are ready meet with a friend and on a sticky note write strength and teaching points.  Students can also put their writing in clear plastic sheet protectors to give additional specific editing marks.  I like using the sheet protectors so that it doesn't mess up the authors writing or distract-- or on the off chance the edits aren't right.  :)  

Revise on that paper or start a 2nd draft.
Day 5:  Revisions and Editing

Read --- finish reading/editing with 2 friends.  

As students finish their revision they meet with teacher to conference and revise.   Pass out final draft paper as they finish with drafts.  Give mechanical pencils.  

Day 6: Finish final drafts and create art piece to go with it.
Read The Secret Box

Teacher models sketch and art of item or memory.

Sketch out ideas of item on post it- or small piece of paper.  Approve with me and then give oil pastels or watercolors and small squares to draw. Put in report covers, bind, etc.

In my 2nd Grade Class I had them paint with watercolor and I introduced strategies for using the paint.  They were really easy and turned out amazing.  We matted them on place pieces of paper and hung them in the hall above their writing.  

Share and celebrate!!!

How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin?

It's fun to get a little messy!  Today, we investigated the characteristics of 3 different sizes pumpkins to find out if size matters in how many seeds a pumpkin has.

Prep--- *  3 different size pumpkins with tops cut * plastic table cloths * spoons * shirts that students can wear so they don't get too messy * bag/bin to collect mess * response sheets * book How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin * paper for Pumpkin Investigation anchor chart-- anchor chart has a 4 square---- The outside is... Lines... Seeds...The inside is....
  I begin by reading the first part of the book and stop just before the kids in the book do the experiment.  I set out the pumpkins and we predict how many lines and seeds each of the pumpkins will have and write them on our anchor chart.  I divided the kids into 3 groups--- each with a different sized pumpkins.  I put plastic table cloths on the desks with trash containers and spoons.  Each kid had a clipboard with the response sheets on it. Then I let them have at it......

After students have cleaned out the pumpkins and have all of the seeds.  We discuss what is the best way to count them... in groups they decide--- 2, 3,5,10, etc.  Skip count, multiply, etc. And draw that on their sheet.

Once cleaned up... each group shares out their results for numbers, seeds, and how they counted them.  We talk about what surprised us with the seeds--- does size really matter for pumpkins?  What was the easiest way to count them... Why?  In science we continued with the life cycle of a pumpkin. In writing they wrote a how to on carving pumpkins.  I took the seeds home that night and roasted them so we could eat them for snack the next day.  

Get the response sheets here for free for the time being... :)

Dead Words Day

My 2nd grade students are really starting to take off with their writing!  The biggest part of craft is using wisdom in word choice-- but often students (and us) choose words that we're comfortable or we just don't know what our options are or take the time to think about them. So to be more intentional about words we had a Dead Words Day, to put the common words to rest and rise up with more interesting words.  Anything to get the students engaged! Let me start off my saying… this by no means is my idea.  I remember doing something like this in grade school and have seen idea on numerous blogs. 


Prior to students coming to class I have them wear all black.  Since I did this on Halloween they assume something is up and get all the more excited.  I made necklaces with words that had the dead words on them.  I had signs around the room that said "The Dead Word Zone" and caution tape on the door.  I copied tombstones onto gray construction for students to add the resurrected words on.  

I start the day telling them how proud I am of them as writers and explain that as we continue to mature we have to lay to rest what we did when we were just starting writing so that stronger and more powerful writing can emerge. I emphasize that as writers they have the power and to engage readers they need to keep them captivated using strong words. I explain that today we are going to have a memorial for the beloved words we have used so much so that we can resurrect new words into our vocabulary. I then pass out the necklaces and tell each child they are responsible for the memory and new life of that word. Throughout the day they think of words that could replace it. Depending on time and maturity they could do a word hunt in their books, use a thesaurus, etc. 

During literacy I pass out the tombstones and using the words they've collected and/or the resurrected words I've included to create a tombstone for that word. 

I gather students into a circle on the carpet to grieve the word we lost and celebrate what will rise up. Students read the epitaph- after they say the word that we are laying to rest- the rest of the class repeats that word. (reader) “Here lies ‘said’” (whole class) “said” (reader continues on) they drop the word into the bucket and place a flower into in. Depending on weather you could also do this outside and bury the words! 

Throughout the activities you could play “The Twilight Zone” or “The Undertaker” theme song... Along with the classics like “Thriller” After we complete the funeral service, students receive a small tombstone to write their word on it and a new sentence using the resurrected words. We hung those on a bulletin board and below I use the tombstones to create a new word wall so that we can add new words all year to it. I leave a marker so that students can add new words all year-- and boy will they call you out if you use them!  I went to the local craft store to make the tombstones look like a cemetery.  

Here are all of the materials I use in my class

                                              Dead Words Day

Tooth Tales

Every child has a story. And a story can be found in anything.  Writing and sharing those stories has power.  While roaming around the book store I stumbled upon the book The Lost and Found Tooth.  Losing a tooth is a big deal to kids and they always have a story to share with it.

  So to merge the two I have kids write a 'Tooth Tale' whenever they lose a tooth.  I keep the book handy at the beginning of the year and then the moment a student loses it--- I make sure I read it that day.  On one of the cabinets I have a big piece of white paper.  Every time a student loses a tooth they go the back cabinet and write - their name, time, date, and setting of where they lost their tooth.  Then during literacy block or the end of the day they share their story.  We graph them throughout the year to compare the months.

There is always the one student who doesn't loose a tooth until the end of the year and stress about it until then!  Once they lose that tooth you thought they would have won the lottery.  Tooth tales are great because it is ongoing throughout the year, involves no maintenance besides adding another piece of paper, and every student gets to share their story.  Any time we can empower children and their story... I'm down for it!

Scout, our Reading Therapy Dog

Meet Scout, our classroom reading dog.  Isn't he about the cutest dog you've seen?!? I'm usually NOT a pet person, but I CAN'T get enough of him. He comes weekly to our classroom to read with students--- especially those that are reluctant or have any problems with reading.  He is a certified therapy dog and has his Canine Good Citizen certification and his a Reading Paws Dog.  

His master is a student in my class and his family. Scout had to do quite extensive training to be allowed to be in the school.  

What exactly did Scout to do to be a reading therapy dog?
1.  He had to pass an evaluation and training to be accepted in the Therapy Arc
2.  Then Scout and his owner, Amy, had to take classes to get his Canine Good Citizen through the AKC
3. Amy had to go to training through the Reading Paws/Intermountain Therapy to get certification.

Click on the links above and for more information of the steps to become certified.

While the steps to becoming a reading therapy dog are many--- so are the benefits of the dog with our students.  
The first time Scout came to school I had Amy (the momma owner) and the student in my class share about Scout.  All kids that wanted to pet him and asked as many questions as they wanted. We set a purpose that Scout was at school to help you be a better reader.  He's here to help you read more fluently and confidently.  

I read the book A Boy and A Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz the first day Scout came.    
The book is a PERFECT tie in for the benefit of animals in our world and can lead to a launching point of so many topics--- service/therapy animals, non-ficiton, biographies, wildlife conservation, different learning types, etc.  

This book is about a boy named Alan who loves animals.  He goes to the zoo and sees the animals alone and worries about them.  Alan wants to be their champion, helper, their voice- but he himself has a sever stutter.... except when he talks to animals.  Based on a true story this is a tender tale and lends to the power that each student has no matter the circumstance! 

My students LOVE reading with Scout obvi and go nuts every time they see him.  I am a firm believer that all students should have access to reading with him!!! High, low, middle, whatever category you put on it- all students have someplace to grow and I will support them in it however I can.  I don't make students "earn" their time with him because it is usually the particularly naughty students that need him the most!!! 

All students rotate through reading with Scout in 15 minute increments.  Scout can only be doing "therapy" for about 2 hours.  Some students go in groups, while others get one on one time.  I have a few students that I have read with Scout more often because they need that extra 1:1- this includes those with reading disabilities, ELL, need that little extra encouragement, have made a big turn in their reading, Austim, and developmental delays, etc.  There is mounds of research on animals supporting students growth academically.  I have an inclusion classroom and I can attest to the growth in fluency that has occurred when students read with Scout.  It brings me to tears/severe allergies when I see one student who wouldn't even get to close to Scout and couldn't read 3 words without stuttering now let Scout put his head on his lap and reads nearly fluently to him.  

There is nothing sweeter than seeing kids snuggle up to Scout and simply read because they can.  Scout reads to other students in the school throughout the week, but this year we get the special privilege of having him as an honorary classmate.  We love you Scouty!!!!  

Are We There Already?!?!

I just clenched when I saw my calendar on my new iPhone.  It seems to say that I have to report to work in 2 weeks.  Technology these days. Gosh, guess I'll just live in denial, procrastinate, and piddle for at least another week!

I've been trying to change my personality---just a little bit.  I've been working a few hours a week throughout the Summer on getting some of my beginning of the year activities together. I hate having them all over the place (like my personality) so I bought some stupid cute clip art and put them all in one pack.  I will say that this pack is purely selfish for me and my brain, but I'm all for making things....

A lot of these activities can be used for multiple levels and abilities-- I would dare say you could use this K-6 and have pages that correspond with it.  I love having kids do things organically but sometimes you need a sheet in front of them and though I hate to admit it cutesy isn't all bad.  (Thanks Elizabeth Hall)

So here it the pack that is on TPT and then some freebies just because nice will almost always be apart of my personality :)

These things are free--- just like my bad/inappropriate jokes.  

Thank you, Mrs. Bigler

A few months ago I saw a special name pop-up on my blog.  Now this is no ordinary name.  This is a name that immediately triggers memories.  Ole' Miss Darlene Bigler- my 1st grade teacher is following my blog.  As soon as I got to Utah I got her number and couldn't wait to dial.  Now mind you-- Ms. Bigler RETIRED at the end of my 1st grade year--- 20 something years ago.  Her daughter answered the phone and I could no sooner say my name before she ripped the phone out of her and started cracking jokes with her iconic laugh.  She even shared a sweet memory of my late Aunt Paula who came to get meet me one day for lunch and I ran up to her, jumped into her arms, and wrapped my legs around her.  The little things are the big things.

We scheduled a date to meet and I went home to scour through the memory books to find a picture. While digging I found a picture of me with crimped hair and a postcard she sent to each student over Fall Break.  I also stumbled upon my report card--- making progress in all subjects--- except listening and talking.  No shock there!  I pulled up to her house, she jumped out of the seat, offered me cookies from the best bakery in town, and we chatted for hours.
She has aged much better than I have!

Our conversations were overlapping between me, her, and her wonderful daughter-- all educators.  After poking a little fun at this Utah debacle  ...

and solving all of Educations "problems"  :)  we came upon doesn't matter what technology you put in front of us, what new and improved curriculum with a shiny sticker is dropped off, how many times you are professionally developed... it all comes down to the Teacher and that Teacher's response to her students. It's a choice.

It's easy to become overwhelmed teaching as our responsibilities extend so much further than planning lessons and include endless amounts of ________, ___________,  and __________.   <---- that can be whatever it is at the moment.  As Teacher's we have got to take care of ourselves because everything we do all day flows from us.  It doesn't matter what I know and have, if I don't respond appropriately to situations people will never know/care what is in my noggin.  With my students- if I'm happy, they are happy, if I'm disorganized, they are disorganized, if I'm stressed, so are they. They respond to how I respond.  What power that holds.

I was fortunate to have incredible teachers (w/ the exception of my 3rd grade teacher- I just clenched :))  for my education experience.  After spending the afternoon with Mrs. Bigler I realized had I not had as many of those incredible models of response Ms. Sarah would be in a MUCH different place.  Another one or two of my 3rd grade teacher could have altered my educational path in a serious way.

So THANK YOU Mrs. Bigler- your power extends far beyond the classroom.  This is not because of how you taught phonics but because of your power in response in dealing with us because that's just who you were and chose to be--- which probably started with that big laugh of yours.  I can only pray that I'm as feisty as you are when I retire and that my former students will come eat cookies with me. 

I'll see you at Christmas. xx

Music for the Long and Winding Road

I have been on a mini-tour of the West the last few weeks.  What was supposed to be a quick trip in and out of Denver has now extended into a month long road trip.  After Colorado, I headed to Salt Lake to spend a few weeks with my parents.  We immediately packed our bags and headed to Yellowstone--- my favorite place on Earth.  Yellowstone National Park is the natural Disneyland and the very thumbprint of God.  One of my very wisdomous British friends informed me that Yellowstone is on an active volcano and there currently is an advert running in the UK about it.
Here the weather changes on a dime--- as I am writing this it is currently snowing in Salt Lake, yesterday it was 90 degrees.  I am always surprised at the kid that emerges in me when I am in the park- things shooting out of the ground, bubbling, animals roaming.... it's just the best.  The best of Yellowstone is seen off the boardwalks though only about 5% of visitors hit these back country trails.  My Dad and I climbed one of the mountains... and though we usually pride ourselves in being overly prepared... we learned that "pride cometh before the snowfall" and the entire hike was on top of snow... that we often fell to our waist in.   Please note my Hi-So fashion:)   

feel safe?!
The day after we got back from Yellowstone I got in the car with my brother and headed to Southern Utah. We met up with my cousin and hiked Zion NP--which has an amazing hike through the Narrows and the fattest squirrels you've ever seen.  The hike goes in and out of water and at some parts you practically have to swim while holding your gear over your head.

After Zion we hit Bryce Canyon, Grand-Staircase Escalante, and Capitol Reef.  
Capitol Reef
Petroglyphs in Capitol Reef
I gathered various types/colors of soil that I will be using in an art and writing project for our soil/rocks/mineral study (stay tuned :))

Now, this entire time I'm with my brother--- my classical musician, opposite personality, oil and water--- or vinegar and baking soda sibling.  As in all good relationships... compromise, compromise... compromise.  The big thing for us is music--- as a music teacher and classical musician his preference is ALWAYS classical and bust your ears opera while I appreciate it and enjoy it from time to time.. on most any day of the week I prefer most ANYTHING else.

Here is a prime example from our recent road trip

We took turns with playlists--one hour each and all was at peace.... and where I tie it in to education :)  

I love music--- it's playing for the majority of my day.  In the classroom---it is utterly invaluable.  I use a bluetooth speaker and am able to play music through my phone wherever I am in the room which pretty much rocks my world.  I keep my music organized in various playlists for different times of the day--- morning, lunch, line up, pack up, etc. etc.  In each playlist I have 1-2 songs that cue the kids and then afterwards I always include various albums that don't have words.  

As a fast fact-- as learned from my brother-  when students are working using the right/logical side of the brain listening to music helps to stimulate the left/creative side.  Listening to music that doesn't have words supports focus and the firing between the two halves.  As a consequence music with words distracts and can cause confusion--- because who doesn't want to sing along and forget how to use that new strategy?!

Here are the playlists I use every day so that I don't have to say a single word to my students and they have the time they need to get to wherever they need to go.  At the bottom I will include the other albums I attach on to the transition songs  playlists ( nobody likes an awkward silence or the same songs repeated over and over if the always on it teacher somehow forgets where the phone she just had is and doesn't stop the music).  

Good Morning- from Singin' in the Rain I clipped the song at 1:31-- students clean up from morning work/centers
Wake up Little Susie-- students at the carpet, greeting each other and asking 1-2 questions to each friend  
next year we will start singing Star Spangled Banner after greeting

Clean Up:
The Price is Right
Mission Impossible

Food in the Belly- Xavier Rudd

Paperback Writer- Beatles-- get writers notebook and meet me at the carpet

Handwriting Without Tears--I don't care who you are those songs are catchy!

Wednesday Wipeout- Clean out desk and sanitize using wipes:
Wipeout- Sufaris
Respect- Aretha Franklin

Line Up:
Jump in the Line- Harry Belafonte

Pack Up:  
On the Road Again- Willie Nelson
Happy Trails to You- Roy Rogers
A Little Less Conversation- Elvis Presley
Hello, Goodbye- The Beatles

Chill Fabulous Wordless Albums:
The Ballad Artistry of Miles Davis or Kind of Blue
My Favorite Things- John Coltrane
Valtari- Sigur Ros  (also beautiful Icelandic scenic videos online that connect with the music)
Dvorak: Serenades for Strings and Winds
The Ballets- Tchaikovsky
The 50 most Essiential Pieces of Classical Music- London Symphony
25 Bach Favorites-- anything by Bach is the best--- I play him during math because much of his music is mathematical, rhythmic, and repetitive.  
Chopin Nocturnes  (nocturne in Eb-- my all time fave)
Without Words- Bethel Music
Finding Neverland Soundtrack
Pirates of the Caribbean Soundtrack
Saving Mr. Banks Soundtrack
Punch- Punch Brothers....Chris Thile rocks my world and I love anything and everything he puts out on that Mandolin--- he also has a great album with Yo-Yo Ma called the Goat Rodeo Sessions and a solo album of Bach 
Beethoven:  The Complete Symphony Collection
Mozart for the Mind
Vitamin String Quartet-- for more pop songs set to strings
Silence-- is golden and sometimes necessary.

I keep all of these on one giant "Chill" playlist as well as one or 2 of these albums included after the transitions songs listed above.  I often just let the kids vote on what to listen to with these albums.  I love it when they request the musicians by name:  "Can we listen to Miles Davis or 'Chai-cough-ski'"  

I am also a HUGE FAN of this is a sight of brain breaks for kids.  The site gathers videos from other places and organizes and complies various videos and activities together so the teacher isn't left searching for something and having something not necessarily school friendly pop up.  It keeps track of time through characters that grow.... the kids LOVE IT!!!

Many song clips.. and a whole lot of transitions songs can be found at

I'm going to sign you off with a clip of my favorite musician Chris Thile and his utter genius

and I totally have his autograph :)   

 If I am am missing or need other songs on my playlist let me know!!!

Cheers to a solid summer!