Social Studies Archive
Preventing Invisibility: Guest Post

The following lesson is a guest post by my amazing friend Laura.  She’s a school counselor at my former elementary school and has some really great lessons.  Her recent one on bullying really touched my heart and I think it would be an amazing one to do with your students now and also in a few months as a refresher.  It can be worked into your character education program or just pulled out when you feel like your students are starting to really bother each other (which can also happen around the holidays).  I tied it in to some Common Core standards, but you can really connect it to even more based on how in-depth you take the lesson.  My comments are in italics and the rest is all Laura.  


Introduction and Standards

CCSS ELA Connections for Grades K-12

Anchor Standard – Reading

Key Ideas and Details

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.3 Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Anchor Standard – Speaking and Listening

Comprehension and Collaboration

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.


The lesson starts out by reading The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig.  The story is about a boy who has been excluded for no apparent reason but finds a way to cope and eventually gains acceptance.  After students read the book and discuss some main ideas and themes from it, they move on to the activity portion.

All the kids gather around for a “science experiment.” Here’s how it works:

1. In a plate/flat container that’s full of water I pour in pepper. I ask the students to think of the pepper as people. We call them our “pepper people.” I ask them to notice that the pepper is floating together, almost like a family or a community This is a good place to discuss people coming together in the community, at school, etc. You can ask them to think of all the different ways people work together.

2. Then I introduce the “soap.” Put the soap in the middle of the pepper. In previous lessons I have introduced the soap as a “bully,” however this time I asked them to just think of the soap as a person.


3. As you will notice when you put the soap in the water the pepper immediately darts away from the soap. I asked the kids to tell me why the pepper would be running away from the soap. Some said that the soap was a bully, others said they were scared, etc. This time I asked them to imagine the soap was not a bully, perhaps a new student or even a student they have known a long time. I then asked them again, why would the pepper run away?

4. This was a good place to introduce our vocab. words of the day: exclusion and inclusion. I explained that the pepper were all off by themselves and the soap was left alone. We discussed the word exclusion here, when one student noticed that some of the pepper had stuck to the soap. She commented that if the soap were a bully perhaps they were joining the bully or maybe trying to stop him.

5. Next we talk about inclusion and that it’s important to include everyone and it just takes one “sugary sweet” random act of kindness to make a big change. As I talk about this I pour the sugar where the soap was and slowly you will see the pepper coming back together.


This is a great time to make connections between our experiment and the book; looking for pepper people, the soap, and the sugar. Laura also asked them to make text-to-life connections. She says when she did this portion of the lesson, that many of the students really opened up!

Next we played “Quiz Quiz Trade” using the discussion questions in the back of the book. I had a student demonstrate with me how to play and model how to restate an answer. I asked everyone to show their listening skills by restating what they heard and repeating it each partner. They did a great job, I loved the “I heard you say that you think…” or “So you are saying that….” It was amazing.  I also added a few like: “What do you think exclusion is?” and “Do you think exclusion is bullying?


Exit ticket/Post-test: To leave the room I gave each student a post it note and asked them tell me what stuck with them.




Follow up and Future Connections

I would like to follow this up with a lesson on bullying, specifically focused on having the students develop a definition of bullying. This could then lead into a lesson on what to do to stop bullying and practice using “I” statements.

You could also have students incorporate a writing piece to this lesson.  Have them do a free write about a time that they felt excluded or left out.  Have them write how they worked through this problem and how they would act differently next time.  By sharing their stories you are also allowing other students to connect with them and share feelings and ideas about how to support their peers in the future.

Thanks Laura for sharing such an amazing lesson.  Please make sure to visit her blog and check out other ideas for the elementary classrom!

Grant Writing 101

I’ve written a lot of grants throughout  my years in the classroom.  Some were successfully funded and others weren’t.  It took a few years, but I think I nailed down a formula that seems to help me get grants funded every single time.  And I’m here to share!

In my absence of blogging (sorry guys) I thought about things that teachers can really use.  I’ve always wanted this blog to be a space for me to share personal and professional tools, tricks, and suggestions.  And one thing I constantly hear from teachers is, “that’s such a great idea, but I don’t have _____” (fill in the blank with supplies, technology, materials, a SMARTBoard, etc).  I don’t want you to be discouraged by things that you don’t have and in turn, your students can’t have.  So let’s get to writing!

Where to find a grant?

I’m sure your district or area has local grants and those are the best ones to apply for.  They are smaller grants and really have an emphasis on providing supplies locally, so you have a better chance of getting your project funded.  I’m not saying don’t go for the national ones, but your odds are just better when you stay local or even state-wide.

Once you find a grant you want to apply for, thoroughly check out the guidelines.  Make sure you are eligible for the grant and that it fits the need for what you want.  I’ve seen teachers want SMARTBoards so badly that they apply for one in every grant opportunity.  I hate to tell you this, but an organization that wants to fund science projects is not going to buy you a SMARTBoard, no matter how much you try to convince them that it will benefit your science instruction.  So find a technology grant and go for it.  Otherwise, hold off.

I have a good idea.  Now what?

So you have something that you really want for your classroom.  Now what?  Well you have to do a little research on the front end first.  Let me use myself as an example:

In the spring of 2010, I wanted to purchase Simple Machine LEGO kits to help my students with their “forces of motion” unit.  Problem was, the kits were $115 each and I needed at least 4.  Our district had a business partnership grant where local businesses would fund grants for the schools in the district.  This was perfect!  I could find a business that encouraged elementary engineering and teamwork in the classroom and appeal to them.  But I needed to think about the total cost of this project, including the kits plus shipping and handling.  I also had to think about how many students this would impact.  We all know how sturdy LEGOs are, which means they will last for a long while.  Ultimately, I could meet the needs of 2,600 students over the life of these supplies!  Wow!  That’s a lot better investment than supplies that just meet the needs of 20 students in one classroom for one year.  As business owners, I knew they would see the value in that number and really appreciate the quality of these supplies.

This brings me to my next point… know your audience.

Most people who read grants aren’t teachers.  They are usually members of a company who don’t know education lingo and terms.  Also they don’t have a lot of time to read some long and drawn out explanation about all of the facets about how this will help your classroom.  They want to get straight to the point, know how much it will cost, and see a good reason why they will fund it.  Period. 

So if you know that those people are your audience, you can easily write a grant that will target your audience.  Take off your teacher hat when you write your grant.  Pretend you’re in the marketing division of a large company and you are trying to market your idea to the CEO.  And as much as you want to put in a little history of Common Core or list out every single center you can use with these supplies, don’t.  They’ll stop reading before they get to the good stuff and you won’t get your money!


So what do I need to include in my grant?

Well each grant is different.  You need to review the guidelines for your specific one.  But I’ve found that you need a few key components in every grant to make it appealing to the reader, which is how you’ll find success.

1. Goal – what do you want to do with these supplies?  Sounds like a simple question but I’ve read lots of fellow teacher’s grants and when I get finished, I have no idea why they want these materials.  (SMARTBoard example… just because it’s “cool” doesn’t mean it will best benefit your students)  So really think about why you need these materials or this technology.  And make a case for it in the first paragraph or two of your grant.

2. CCSS Correlation – obviously your materials must connect to the standards.  Common Core is a big buzzword right now and you need to connect them to your grant.  I wouldn’t go into tremendous detail, but you need to highlight how your idea will encompass these standards in your classroom.  Keep it short and to the point, but make sure they’re in there.

3. Budget – probably the most important part of your grant.  As I said before, these business men and women who read your proposal want to know one thing: how much will this cost?  So get right to it.  List out all of the costs up front and don’t leave anything out.  Also it may be helpful to break down the cost per student.  Often when we see this number it can make a big impact on someone reading your grant.  For example, a SMARTBoard is on average $1400.  If you use it for 180 days, that’s around $7 per day.  And if you divide that by 20 students who will use it, that’s 38 cents a student.  If I was the investor, I would think that I’d be getting my money’s worth when I look at all of the benefits of this piece of technology for only $7 a day.

4. Maximum Participation – like I said in the LEGO example, you want to reach the maximum amount of students possible.  So if you are applying for a consumable product that can only be used for one year or only one time, you probably won’t get it funded.  Because that isn’t a good investment.  But if you can find something that will reach the maximum students each year and will last several years, that’s a much better investment.  So do this research and spell it out.  With the LEGO’s, I planned on sharing the kits with the other three first grade classes.  So that’s 80 students total in first grade that would use it each year.  Plus we could partner up with the kindergarten and second grades, since they have similar learning objectives about force and motion.  So that’s an additional 160 students.  Then if you think of the life expectancy of a LEGO kit being 5-10 years, we have the potential to service 2,400 students over the life span of this project.  That’s a pretty powerful statistic.

5. Summary – finally summarize your project one last time.  Think of it as the abstract for your total grant proposal.  It should be one paragraph that really describes the impact this idea will have on your classroom and classrooms to come.  Also I think it’s important to mention how the students needs aren’t being met without these materials.  That way the investors have one final reason to fund your grant.

So to sum it up, here’s a quick checklist.


As I said, you may have more things you need to include like a timeline of the project or demographics of your school, so make sure you read the fine print.  And if you don’t have a lot of grant opportunities in your area, you can follow these same guidelines to present a project on  You are still trying to appeal to people who will want to invest in your project, so the same rules apply.

And finally, before you submit your grant have another educator AND also a non-educator look over it.  While teachers can give you clarity on the project details, they aren’t the ones who will be reading it (usually).  My husband would read my grants and give me feedback because he is a business guy.  So if there’s something in the grant proposal that was too “education-y” or confusing, he could point it out.  Then I could avoid the actual grant readers from being confused when I submitted it.

Please feel free to let me know what questions you have in the grant writing process and don’t hesitate to apply.  You have nothing to lose!  And practice makes perfect.  So the more you enter, the better you’ll get at writing them.  Good luck!



Writers Workshop Wednesday: Memory Boxes

I wrote a post last year on the Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman and some end of the year activities you could do with it.  But when I did, I made a note to myself to talk about it again in the beginning of the year.  I think this is a great lesson to roll out once your students have begun writers workshop, but before they get into the meat of their writing.  Let’s recap a little:


[All images in this post are © Paul Fleischman and Bagram Ibatoulline (Candlewick Press).  They may not be reproduced or sold.  All rights reserved.]

The Matchbox Diary is the new book by Newbery winner Paul Fleischman (Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices).  Fleischman has written one of my favorite adaptations of Cinderella, Glass Slipper Gold Sandal.  His books are beautifully written and illustrated and this story is no exception.  The illustrations are by Bagram Ibatoulline who was also responsible for the illustrations in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (Dicamillo).  I think this would make an amazing beginning of the year story to launch your writers workshop.  Read on.

Here is a summary from Candlewick Press:

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When a little girl visits her great-grandfather at his curio-filled home, she chooses an unusual object to learn about: an old cigar box. What she finds inside surprises her: a collection of matchboxes making up her great-grandfather’s diary, harboring objects she can hold in her hand, each one evoking a memory. Inspired by each matchbox she opens, the great-grandfather tells of his journey from Italy to the United States, before he could read and write — the olive pit his mother gave him to suck on when there wasn’t enough food; a bottle cap he saw on his way to the boat; a ticket still retaining the thrill of his first baseball game. With a narrative entirely in dialogue, Paul Fleischman makes immediate the two characters’ foray into the past. With warmth and an uncanny eye for detail, Bagram Ibatoulline gives expressive life to their journey through time — and toward each other.

Fleischman said that he wanted to write this story after seeing a matchbox journal of his friend, over two decades ago: “A writer’s toughest task isn’t finding an idea but figuring out what to do with it.”  After years of thinking about this idea, he decided that a story could be created around a character who used the Matchbox diary to communicate.  The story weaves the themes of immigration and family history into its beautiful dialogue style.  Each matchbox the little girl holds in her hand evokes a specific memory for the grandfather.  As you read, you can just imagine him using all of his senses to describe each memory and how important it was for him to save these for that purpose before he was able to read or write.

Lesson Ideas

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Candlewick Press has an amazing study guide that goes along with The Matchbox Diary, including alignment with the Common Core Standards.  Some of their ideas include investigating immigration in your own family, interviewing grandparents and great-grandparents to hear memories of a time when they were younger, and compare and contrast their lives then to the way we live now.  There can be quite a number of social studies and geographical tie-ins that you can investigate with an older group of students.  Even just discussing the text once you have finished reading can be a valuable time for students to ask questions and make connections about conversations or stories and traditions they may have heard in their family.  Common Core Connection: RL.3.7. Explain how specific aspects of a text’s illustrations contribute to what is conveyed by the words in a story (e.g., create mood, emphasize aspects of a character or setting). 

An obvious idea though is to have students create their own Matchbox Diary, which is a great artifact to use throughout the year in Writers Workshop.  I would have my students keep this in their writers cubby and use it when they were stuck on a story idea or how to further a story they already had begun.

When I first read The Matchbox Diary, I immediately also thought of The Memory String by Eve Bunting, where a little girl uses the buttons on a string to evoke memories of her family.  Again, I think both would be great to launch a writers workshop in the beginning of the year.  Students can bring in photos, artifacts, and other various memories from vacations, outings, or even special memories that they would like to write about*.  I could do this in collaboration with my “small moments” unit during Writers Workshop.  I would even collaborate with the art teacher to have students create their own memory boxes.  She would be able to help me with the artistic piece that I am lacking in the classroom.

Once students brought in their artifacts to represent their memories, I would have them write about each one, using all five senses.  I want them to be able to share with the reader how they felt in that memory, so that when they share the experiences, they will be put right back into it as if it was yesterday.  You can discuss with the students how easily the grandfather was able to recall his memories after many decades had passed.  You want them to be able to do the same.  They will create a piece of published writing that will go along with their memory boxes and can even present it to their peers.  Their memory boxes will be able to be used throughout the year as they recall information and pieces of a story that is an important memory to them.

*I realize that it may be difficult to find exact pieces from the children’s different experiences.  So, much like in the story, students are to find something that evokes a memory not necessarily an artifact from the actual field trip or project, etc.  It can be something as simple as a box of matchbooks but just so each item can recall the feelings they had in that memory itself.

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And of course, you could use this as a social studies tie-in, as I mentioned above.  Having students interview their relatives or their elders in the community is a great way to teach primary sources and also to hit some Common Core standards too.  Also check out Paul Fleischman’s website for additional information and activities to go along with the text.

The Little Free Library

I am sure you may have seen this on Pinterest, but I am obsessed with the simple idea of the Little Free Library.  So obsessed that I think we are looking into getting one for our little neighborhood (Eee!) and you can think about getting one outside your school or your home or your community too!

I didn’t know much about the Little Free Library when I first pinned it, but since doing some research, I just love the entire grassroots concept.  Their mission is amazing: To promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwideTo build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations.

Let’s break it down.


The Little Free Library is a beautifully designed, weatherproof wooden house mounted on a wooden post and a mounted sign that reads “Take a Book, Return a Book.”  You can buy one from their site or you can build your own (they provide the plans).  Install the library on a piece of land that you own or that you have permission to use, that is accessible for people to get to.  Encourage your friends and neighbors to fill it with 20-30 books.  If you see something you would like to read, take it and share it.  But, remember to also leave a book to continue to build the ever-evolving collection.  Then put the coordinates of your library into Google Maps so others can find your Little Free Library.  Amazing, right?  But that’s not the best part…

The best part is about paying it forward.  The Little Free Library organization is built around the idea that it’s nice to help others.  Putting books into the hands of people that may not have access to it is a huge mission of mine.  Eventually I’d like to partner up with an organization who has this exact cause because I am so passionate about it.  You can donate to the Little Free Library to help out a number of causes… help donate to those who can’t afford a library, donate to help bring books to people in other countries, donate to own a share of a Little Library or endow one to support reading programs and partnerships in your community.

The idea is so simple: Share.  Give.  Build community.  I just want to be a part of that for children and adults alike.


There may already be one in your neighborhood.  Check out the map to see.  And if there is, I encourage you to go and visit it today.   Wouldn’t this be a cool project to do with your class?  You could tie in literacy and social studies.  Think about all the math standards you would hit if your students actually built one!  Then you could map it using coordinates and write about it for your local newspaper.  The possibilities for this project are endless in the classroom!  And it serves a community service aspect as well.  Your students could visit one in your community and take a book or just leave a book.  I’m sure we all have some to spare.

And I’ll keep you posted about the progress I’m making here in my community.  Hopefully by the end of the year I can say we have our own Little Free Library too!

This or That: Evidence Based Writing

This lesson comes from some amazing teachers that I also call friends.  Evidence-based learning is a large part of the new Common Core standards and this lesson incorporates compare/contrast, cause/effect, opinion and evidence based writing, as well as a research based debate.  Students are held accountable for providing evidence to support their learning with the new CCSS standards.  These books are a fun way to squeeze the last bit of learning in at the end of the year.

Sarah Svarda and Angela Bunyi collaborated on this lesson using the This or That debate books. Each book is filled with questions to pose to your students in a “Would You Rather” type way.  For example, would you rather cross a river with piranhas or would you rather cross a river with caimans?  Sarah put a page from the book up on the SMARTBoard (you could use an ELMO or take a picture and project it too).  She went through the two sides with her second graders.

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As she read each side, she would underline words and phrases that would provide evidence as to who she’d rather swim with (using evidence from the text), talking through her ideas as she worked.  She then looked at her two sides and would add checkmarks and X’s for both the good and bad points (you can use smiles and frowns, stars and hearts, whatever) then she literally added up each side.  The one that had more good points was the one she was going to go with.  I imagine she talked through it like this:

Okay as I read through the piranhas side, I first see that they rarely bite humans.  And it says here that if you are attacked by a piranha, you would be eaten in minutes, which could be a good thing because it won’t last that long.  Although your chances of escaping an attack are zero.  Those aren’t good chances.  Let’s look at the Caiman side.  Oh it says here that there’s a small chance you may be able to get away!  Hmm, but if it does attack you, you’ll lose an arm and a leg, if you don’t drown first.  Well that doesn’t sound very good because it seems like it would be a slower attack than the piranha.  Let’s add up the bad and the worse points on each side with a checkmark or an X.  So on the piranha side, I have two checkmarks because it rarely bites humans and the attack is fast.  On the Caiman side, I only have one checkmark because I may get away, but it’s only a small chance.  So I suppose if I had to choose, I’d choose to cross a piranha filled river.


Finally she models how to put this into evidence-based writing by authoring a paragraph stating her opinion and backing it up with evidence from the text.  She does this by using a formula that Angela has come up with.  The formula goes like this:

State which choice you’d rather choose
Evidence from text #1
Opinion statement tying in or expanding based on evidence
Evidence from the text #2
Opinion statement tying in or expanding based on evidence
Restate choice you’d make

Here’s how the piranha/caiman example would look:

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The second graders then had a passage from the text, that were just copies from the book.  Sarah had them take the passage and highlight text that provided evidence from each side.  Then, they weighed the evidence, made a choice, and wrote about it.  She says that by following the format that Angela created, the second graders wrote amazing evidence-based paragraphs!

With older grades, they weren’t given the formula for the paragraph.  Once they read it together with Mrs. Svarda, then they figured it out on their own.  She used this lesson for 2nd-6th with different passages for each grade level pertaining to their standards.  Second grade read about deserts, fifth about gangsters, and sixth about ancient samurai fighters.  The books have something for every age level and interest and by using the Capstone website, you can even choose you state and immediately see the matched standards for various grade levels.

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There are more debate choices at the end of each book.  You could even have your kids brainstorm their own, research, and write about two choices!  This would be a perfect bonus activity or tie in to your Non-Fiction research unit.  Another extension activity would be to create a web for a topic that they had done some additional research on.  Here’s an example of a desert web that Sarah shared with me that Mrs. Cook created.

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But the best part about this lesson, Sarah says the books are FLYING out of the library.  She hasn’t been able to keep them in stock since she introduced them.  This lesson is completely worth it if it means that kids are that excited about reading.  And I know you’re winding down your school year, but I also remember what it was like to try to fill those last few days with something other than “pajama day” or “movie day”.  So try this one out these final few weeks of school and squeeze in some last minute learning!



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