We Read So Much We Bought a Farm…EIEIO!


And on that farm we had a cow…and a water buffalo…and a pig…and a llama…and some flocks of chicks…and some tree seedlings.

Really! We did! (Well, not the actual farm part…but we did buy the animals and trees!)

During this past school year, my students participated in Heifer International’s Read to Feed program. It’s a reading incentive program in which kids record their independent reading minutes and get pledges for their reading time to raise money for Heifer International, an organization that provides farm animals and supplies to families living in poverty.

Image courtesy of Heifer International.
What Drew Me to Read to Feed

I actually don’t remember exactly how I heard about the program, but after reading up on it, it seemed like a perfect way to get kids reading AND helping people around the world who are in need. I feel like developing an awareness of what’s going on in the world is so important for kids, as is the arriving at the realization that our actions CAN make a difference. I loved the idea that the program would teach the kids that poverty is out there but also EMPOWER them to realize that we can play a part in breaking the cycle of poverty.

Image courtesy of Heifer International.
How We Ran The Program

At our school, we ran our program from the beginning of December through the end of Christmas vacation. I decided to make it completely voluntary – I provided the families with information about Read to Feed and spoke to the kids about the program, but no one was required to participate. I thought December was a perfect time of year in some ways – after all, it was the season of giving, and there plenty of dark evenings to snuggle up with a book – but also probably the busiest time of year for many families, and a time of year where some families have other community service projects lined up. I figured that offering the program for only those who were interested allowed us to give it a try without overburdening families that really could not take this on at the time.

The Read to Feed website provides a whole bunch of fantastic resources that you can use to get the Read to Feed program off the ground. From reading logs to videos to handouts to a webpage for online donations, most of the prep work is done as soon as you visit Heifer’s site.

We let families know about Read to Feed through our parent newsletter and through schoolwide announcements, and I also spoke to my classes about the program. There are actually several picture books out there that explain what Heifer International does, so I selected my fave, Faith the Cow by Susan Bame Hoover, as a read aloud for students in my kindergarten through grade 2 library classes. (A couple of other books for children on the subject are: Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier and Lori Lohstoeter, Flora and the Runaway Rooster by John Claude Bemis, and Give a Goat by Jan West Schrock.)

Overall, it was very low key in terms of work on my part thanks to all the provided materials, and on our first attempt, we kept things simple and utilized the free stuff available on Heifer International’s site.

How It Went

For those who participated, I think it really was an awesome experience. I remember talking to a parent who said her daughter had really been inspired by this program and actually GOT IT that even as an elementary school student, she actually could help people who didn’t have enough to eat. I feel like if the program did that for one student, it was worth running. Whether a student actually raised $5 or $200 is not as important to me as whether that student developed the idea that we have the ability to bring about positive changes in the world. Right now.

And I think that even the kids who didn’t raise any money or fill out a reading log got something from the program as well, between chatting about it with other kids, listening to my read aloud, and hearing announcements at school. Maybe it wasn’t feasible for them to participate at that time, but I feel like even being exposed to a program like this can plant seeds that might sprout later.

As you read earlier in my little Old McDonald song, my students ended up reading enough minutes to make a nice contribution to Heifer International – enough for all those animals I mentioned. At the end of the program, I sent a little survey out to the kids who participated to see what animals or other available items they would most like to donate to others, and I tallied everything up and expressed their preferences in a letter when we sent the money to Heifer. I like that Heifer explains how much each type of gift costs because it’s really cool for kids to be able to look at our donation in terms of what it could actually buy for someone else. The younger kids don’t really understand how much $500 is, but they do get it when we say that a family that did not have a cow can now have one.

Image courtesy of Heifer International.

I recommend this program, both to encourage reading and to help earn money for those in poverty…and most of all, as a way to inspire and educate your students about the world and our ability to share our blessings with others.

You’ve heard a lot from me today, but I’d love to hear from you! Has your school participated in Read to Feed or another cool service project? How do you motivate your kids to read? Is there another inspiring program out there that I should try next? Do you have an exciting way of empowering your students to change the world? Feel free to start a conversation in the comments!

**Thank you to Heifer International for giving me permission to use the images included in this post.**

The (FREE!) Review Game That My Students Beg Me to Play!

Kids can be pretty tough critics these days when it comes to educational games, so when I found a (free!) online game that my students love, I had to share! Kahoot is by far my students’ favorite way to review any school library lesson! (And it can be used in ANY subject area!)

Image courtesy of Kahoot.com
How it Works

It’s unbelievably easy to get going with Kahoot. You just go to kahoot.com, set up a teacher account (free and no hassles!), and are ready to roll.

A little info you should know before we go farther: Kahoot is usually played as a whole class game. In an ideal setup, you will project the Kahoot questions on a smartboard and each child will participate by entering answers on an individual tablet, phone, or laptop. There are ways around having a device for each child, but the idea is that everyone is engaged in and participating in the same game at the same time.

So to set the scene…as soon as you start a Kahoot review game, your class starts jamming out to the fun, groovy soundtrack it plays. First, the kids will need to sign in by entering a pin on their devices that will appear on the big screen. Once everyone has signed in, a question (which could be supplemented with diagrams or graphics if you choose) will pop up on the big screen. On the bottom of the screen, up to four answer choices will appear.  

Image courtesy of Kahoot.com

The kids’ devices show four colored squares which correspond with the four answer choices on the big screen.

Image courtesy of Kahoot.com

The children try to select the correct answer as quickly as possible and receive points for the correct response, and once everyone has answered, the big screen displays a leaderboard so the kids can keep track of who is earning the most points. The kids have each picked a “Nickname” to display in the leaderboard…which, of course, adds to the fun.

How to Prep for Your First Kahoot Session

The first step is to find or create a Kahoot quiz for your students to play. There are eleventy jillion Kahoots already out there, so it’s possible that someone else has already created a Kahoot that you can use for your students. With a quick search on site, you can find out.

Image courtesy of Kahoot.com

If you find one that is sort of what you are looking for, but not quite, one fantastic feature is the “Duplicate” function.

Image courtesy of Kahoot.com

This makes a copy of someone else’s Kahoot and then allows you to add and subtract as much as you would like until the Kahoot is perfect for your class. If you’d prefer to start from scratch, just click on “New K!”

Image courtesy of Kahoot.com

and then “Quiz” and the Kahoot site will guide you through the lovely and simple process of creating your own Kahoot quiz.

Why It’s Such a Hit

The game allows for a competitive but not TOO competitive atmosphere as kids work to make it on the leaderboard. The kids’ made-up nicknames (which, don’t worry, are censored by the game!) and the funky, video-gamey music help cultivate a vibe that is relaxed and fun. And possibly the best feature is the way the game has been designed to force the whole group to look up at the big screen. Each student participates individually, but it’s a group experience, and in my classes, EVERYONE actually wants to participate and be a part of the fun.

How Teachers Are Really Using Kahoot

Kahoot can easily be used to review any subject area, and educators are utilizing it from kindergarten on up. From second grade spelling to high school physical education, the game can be customized to meet the needs of different students across the grades. In my library classes, I have used it in grades 2-5 to review information about the Dewey Decimal system, the Caldecott Award, MLA Citations, and more.

In addition to functioning as a way to review facts or concepts, Kahoot can also be used to introduce new concepts, as explained here in the Kahoot blog’s post about “blind kahoots.” I haven’t tried this method of Kahooting yet, but I’m looking forward to giving it try at some point.

The “Survey” function of Kahoot adds even more possibilities. When you want to collect data about student understanding or opinions without making it a competition, you can use Kahoot to set up survey questions. For the school-library-dwellers like me, this allows for creative possibilities like the March Madness-style book tournament that Erin from Erintegration explains in her blog. Fun fun!

What Might Go Wrong…and How to Fix It

Okay, so literally nothing out there has a 100% approval rating, and even though it’s pretty fabulous, a few of your kids might raise some objections to Kahoot.  Here are a few things to watch out for and some ideas for how to combat them:

  • Getting kicked out.  I have had a couple of situations where some kind of sneaky internet glitch has caused a student’s Kahoot game to go kablooey. Creating a quick partnership between the kicked out kid and a neighbor usually does the trick better than trying to fix the error.
  • Too much pressure.  While I think the game does a nice job of creating a FRIENDLY competition, the ticking clock sound and time limits could be a bit anxiety-provoking for some of your kiddos. Turning the sound off could help, and a sneak peek at the Kahoot or a rundown of some of the questions could be a reasonable accommodation for kids who need it. I also highly enjoy the “Team Mode” of play, which gives the kids a couple of seconds of processing time before the counter starts so that they can, theoretically, discuss the answer choices with team members. During the last couple of times I have used Kahoot, I put it on Team Mode and allowed students to decide whether they wanted to work alone or with a buddy.

    Image courtesy of Kahoot.com
  • Bad sportsmanship.  I definitely recommend reminding kids about how to be good competitors before beginning the game. Emphasize that this is just a FUN way to review and learn, and be proactive about sharing your expectations for appropriate behavior during a Kahoot. If you think Kahoot is a tool you might use regularly, you could work with your students to come up with a Code of Conduct to be used during Kahoot time so that everyone understands the dos and don’ts of Kahoot etiquette (Kahootiquette, if I may) in your class (sorry…but c’mon, it was right there!).
It’s Time to Get Kahooting!

If you haven’t tried this fantastic tool, how about giving it a go now in preparation for the school year? Whether you are a Kahoot newbie or have been using it in your class for a while, feel free to add a note in the comments to let me know how you like it!

Throw a Book Tasting Party in Your School Library!

I had seen them for years – those awesome blog posts and Google images showing adorable book tasting parties in school libraries and classrooms. A book tasting looked like a great activity, but I was afraid it would be a lot of prep for a short event.

Then, this past May, I finally got my act together and joined in the fun!

And…it WAS fun!

And really not that much work after all.  Here is what I did.

First Things First

First, I decided on the details of how I would run my book tasting, since there are lots of ideas floating out there. My school has preschool through eighth grade with only one class per grade level, so for my very first attempt at a book tasting, I just planned on one sitting for my fourth grade class and one sitting for my fifth grade class. I decided to put one book at each seat, give students a chance to browse through that book for a few minutes, and then have the students write briefly about the book on a record sheet. Then, they’d pass the book to the right and repeat.

For the inevitable “I already read that book!” comments, I would place a pile of books in the center of the table so the kids could swap them out as needed.

The Prep Process

So I wandered around my library looking for books that my fourth and fifth graders might like but that are usually overlooked. I made sure to get enough for each student in each class and a bunch of extras for the middle of the table.

Next, I made up the handouts I would use. I made a record sheet for students to fill out with info about each book (and printed them out on red paper to add a little more color to the tables).  I also typed out the directions for the activity so I could put a copy on each table as a reminder. (And…those handouts are available below for FREE! Just keep on reading!)

The weekend before my book tasting party, I hit up my local public library to get some CDs of easy listening / jazz music to play in the background during the event, and then it was time to go shopping! I purchased tablecloths, circle placemats, snazzy glasses, and battery operated candles at the dollar store, and I also picked up some lollipops to make the event a little more exciting for the kiddos. (I figured lollipops were a non-messy, allergy-friendly treat, and that if the kids had lollipops in their mouths, they might focus on reading instead of chatting!) 🙂

On the day of the party, the setup was pretty quick and easy since I had the help of a fabulous library volunteer. Each table got a tablecloth, a circular placemat in the middle, two battery operated candles, a fancy dollar store glass full of lollipops, a little cup with pencils in it, a stack of books, and a sheet with directions. Every place setting got a record sheet and one book.

The Big Par-tay!

At party time, it was so cool to watch the kids’ faces as they came in and saw how I had decorated the library. I had the kids sit on the rug first so I could explain everything before they got to the tables. I gave them procedures for what to do during “tasting time,” “rating time,” and “switching time.”  Once the kids knew the plan, I sent them to their seats and they began the browsing/writing/passing process, which went quite smoothly. The pile of books in the middle of the table was definitely helpful because it seemed like each table did tap into those at least once.

As for the lollipops…I had mixed feelings about them. I had made them the centerpiece of each table by placing a bunch of lollipops inside one of my fun dollar store glasses. All the kids seemed excited that they were there, and one class did pretty well with them, but they did cause a distraction for the other class. I haven’t decided whether I would use them again…and if so, I might ditch the centerpiece plan and just place one at each seat.

Ultimately, the book tasting party did what I had hoped it would…it added a new energy to library class for the day, and it gave kids a chance to try out books that they normally would not have tried.

And now that I have all the materials made up and the supplies purchased, I plan to throw a book tasting party at least once a year, and maybe involve some of my older and younger students too.

Thanks for the Inspiration!

I want to take a sec to thank other teacher bloggers who have shared their fabulous book tastings. I have read numerous posts about book tasting parties over the last few years, and these are the ones I consulted when putting together my book tasting party:

A Wrinkle in Tech; Expect the Miraculous: Barrow Media Center; Teaching with a Mountain View; Sassy, Savvy, Simple Teaching; The Book Bug; Miss Liberry Teacher; Where the Magic Happens Teaching; and Three Ring Library. Check out those posts for some more fun book tasting ideas.

And Now…a Freebie for You!

Ready to party it up at your first book tasting? Let me take one step out of the prep process for you. Click here to download the record sheet and directions sheet that I made for this event.

Have you held a book tasting in your classroom or library already? Share the details of your book tasting party in the comments below!


Let’s Do This!

I am SO EXCITED to get this blog going.  Starting a blog has been on my “someday when I have time” list for awhile now, and I finally decided that despite NOT having the time, I’m going to go for it.

My house is probably going to be a little more clutter-y (if that’s at all possible).  I might miss out on a few hours of sleep.  But I actually think the things that matter – my family and my students – can only benefit if I set some time aside to write.  My family will get a version of their wife/mom whose creative side gets a little more exercise – which I think will translate to a happier, more sane wife/mom.  And as for my students, taking the time to blog about school will force me to do more reflecting and thinking about what works best…and otherwise, that reflecting often gets bumped to that “someday when I have time” list.

Win-Win.  Win.  Win.

So hopefully this will be a win-win for my family and my students.  And a win for me too.  And last but DEFINITELY not least, I hope this is going to be a win for you.  I am looking forward to connecting with you and giving you ideas and inspiring you and reminding you that you’re not alone on this crazy journey of teaching/parenting/living.  We have unlimited potential when we collaborate and learn from one another and make the most of God’s gifts to us, so let’s work together to tap into that potential. And hopefully have some fun along the way too.

Here we go!

Oh, wait! Don’t go yet!

To thank you for visiting my new blog, here is a freebie for you! I have a little slideshow of inspirational Christian graphics as the screensaver for one of my computers in my library, and as I design new graphics for it, you are welcome to download them! Feel free to make your own screensaver slideshow, use it as the background for your desktop, or print it. Here’s the newest one:

Just right click to get the .jpeg, or, if you prefer, go ahead and download the .pdf version here.

Thanks for visiting and I hope to see you soon!