Saturday, February 28, 2015

Put SAID to BED! : A Writing Mini-Lesson

Our fifth grade students were preparing for their state writing test, so I taught a few mini-lessons to give them some ways to spice up their writing.  Our writing teacher does all the prep work for students, but I collaborated with her to see the areas students still needed help with.  Since I teach reading, it was nice to teach something different!

In this lesson, I taught students about how to add some sizzle to their dialogue by using other words in place of the word "said".  I've noticed students tend to overuse the word when writing dialogue. He said.  She said. They said.  You get the idea.  It gets overused!

Here's what we did:

To introduce the lesson,  I read the book The Boy Who Cried Fabulous.  It's a great story about a boy who constantly uses the word fabulous to describe everything he sees and experiences.  His parents ban him from saying the word and by the end of the story he comes up with synonyms for fabulous.  It's a great way to introduce how words can be overused, especially the word "said" when writing dialogue.

After reading the book, students broke up into small groups to brainstorm different ways they could replace the word "said" in their writing.  They jotted their ideas in their reading notebooks.  I gave the groups 5 minutes.

Share Ideas
Students then gathered in our mini-lesson to share their ideas while I wrote the new words for "said" on chart paper.  We created quite a list!  We ended up having enough words for two chart sheets!  Students can add words to their list in their notebook.

Tag Lines
After we looked at the list, we talked about how tag lines can be at the beginning of the dialogue or at the end.  For example:  Stella whispered, "Shhh, it's a surprise."  or " Shhh, it's a suprise," Stella whispered.

Add an Adverb
To add even more sizzle, students can add an adverb to show how the dialogue is being said.  For example, Stella whispered quietly, "Shhh, it's a surprise."

Practice and Share
Students then chose a new word for "said" to write a dialogue example.  They jotted their examples in their reader's notebooks.  Students shared their new spiced up dialogue with classmates.

I hope this helps your students add sizzle to their writing!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Chicken with Pasta and Creamy Tomato Sauce

Here's an easy slow cooker recipe for ya!  The sauce is creamy and delicious and the chicken is super moist.  It's perfect for a busy weeknight.  Just toss together a salad and you've got a complete meal.

Here's what you'll need:
4 chicken breasts (or 6-chicken cutlets), thawed
8 ounces of cream cheese
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can Rotel tomatoes (mild)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
penne pasta- prepare enough for 4-6 servings (I use a gluten-free brand)
1/2 cup shaved Parmesan cheese or shredded Italian cheese blend
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons water

Makes 4-6 servings.

Not pictured:  penne pasta, Parmesan cheese, and corn starch.
Here's what to do:
Spray bottom of slow cooker with cooking spray.  Layer chicken in bottom of slow cooker.  Sprinkle oregano, basil, garlic, salt and pepper on top of chicken.

Put both cans of tomatoes on top of chicken, including juice.

Cut cream cheese into small pieces and put on top of tomatoes.

Cook on low heat for 4 hours

About 15 to 20 minutes before chicken and sauce is ready, prepare the pasta according to package directions.  I use a gluten-free pasta.

Ten minutes before serving, stir cornstarch and water together.  Add to sauce in slow cooker and mix together.  Turn heat up to high for cook for ten minutes.


Serve chicken and sauce over pasta.  Sprinkle with Italian cheese blend, or Parmesan cheese.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Grandma's Potato Soup

I love recipes that are handed down from one generation to another.  This recipe for potato soup is my Grandma's.  Using her recipes is one way to remember how much I loved her. This recipe is inexpensive to make, delicious, and hearty on a cold winter night.  My Grandma showed my mom how to make it and we ate it all the time growing up.  I'm sure there are fancier ways of making potato soup, but I kept the recipe just like my mom taught me how to make it.  In fact, my mom and I made this soup together!  Cooking (and eating!) is a great way to bring generations together.
Here's what you'll need:
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
4 large Idaho potatoes
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 stick butter
1 1/2 cups whole milk
* potato flakes (for thicker soup)

For garnish:  shredded cheddar cheese, bacon bits, and chopped green onion.

Makes 8 -10 servings.

Here's what to do:

Peel and cut potatoes into cubes.  I like to leave some of the skin on.  Chop celery and onions.

Put potatoes in soup pot and cover with water.  Boil on medium-high heat for about 10 minutes.

Add in celery, onion, salt and pepper.  Cook for another 10 minutes on medium, or until potatoes are tender.

Add in 1 stick butter.  Stir until all combined.

Add in milk and stir until combined.

Using a potato masher, mash potatoes in soup four times.

If you like a thicker soup, add in 1/2 package of potato flakes.

Turn off heat and serve soup while it is warm.  Garnish with shredded cheddar cheese, bacon bits, and chopped green onions.

This soup only takes about forty-five minutes from prep time to completion.  It's even more delicious the next day as leftovers, or you can freeze leftovers and save for later!  I like to serve my potato soup with either a crusty bread, a BLT sandwich, or grilled cheese and ham sandwiches.  My mom likes her soup with saltine crackers.

I hope you enjoy my Grandma's recipe and have make memories cooking for and with people you love!

Quick Oats Pancakes

The best thing about this recipe for Quick Oats Pancakes is that it's full of healthy ingredients and that it is so quick to make!  The other day I was watching The Food Network's "The Kitchen" and one of the hosts, Katie Lee, made them. So, I decided to give them a try at home.  I didn't have any sweet potato puree, but I used the basic recipe.  The batter turned out quite thick and didn't spread when I put it on the griddle, so they looked more like mini-pancakes, which I didn't mind at all.  They were cute!  The true test was in the taste and the verdict was...they tasted great!  I think they would taste even better with the additional sweet potato puree added in. I'll definitely try that next time because I know I'll be making these again. Delicious!

Here's what you'll need:
1 cup quick oats
1 cup cottage cheese
2 eggs
1 pinch salt
(see note at bottom!)

Makes 4 servings

Here's what to do:
Heat griddle using medium heat.  Spray with cooking spray.

Combine the oats, cottage cheese and eggs until smooth.  You can use a blender or food processor.  The batter will be thick, not runny like traditional pancake batter.

Pour about 1/4 cup of the mixture onto heated griddle.  They will be more like the size of mini-pancakes. Cook about 3-4 minutes on each side, until pancakes are golden brown.

Add in 1/2 cup of sweet potato or pumpkin puree for a different flavor. Applesauce would taste great too!

Don't forget to add your favorite syrup!  Enjoy!

PS.  I made these again and added 1/4 cup of skim milk.  The batter spread better!  

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Swiss Chicken & Stuffing

What's better than the taste of Thanksgiving on a weeknight?  This Swiss Chicken & Stuffing is a creamy casserole recipe that combines moist chicken, melted Swiss cheese, and delicious stuffing.  Thanksgiving stuffing is my absolute favorite.  During the holidays, I make my own, but this recipe calls for stuffing from a box.  It makes the recipe come together in a snap.  I was really pleased to find a gluten-free stuffing mix at my grocery store.  The recipe is so easy and takes less than an hour to prepare and bake.  It's perfect for a busy weeknight.

Here's what you'll need:
4 chicken breasts
4-6 slices Swiss cheese
1 can cream of chicken soup (Health Valley Organic is gluten-free)
1 box stuffing mix (I used Glutino gluten-free stuffing)
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
4-6 pats of butter
Cooking spray
salt & pepper

Makes 8 servings.  The chicken breasts I used were large, so I cut them in two when serving. My husband, who has a big appetite, ate a whole chicken breast.  He gave it a two thumbs up, by the way.

Here's what to do:
Spray bottom of casserole dish with cooking spray.
Lay chicken breasts in casserole dish.  Sprinkle on salt and pepper.

Top chicken with Swiss cheese.

Pour cream of chicken soup over chicken.

Pour stuffing mix over chicken in an even layer.

Pour chicken stock over stuffing.

Top stuffing with pats of butter.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes covered with foil.

Bake for an additional 20 minutes, uncovered.

Hot out of the oven!


Monday, February 9, 2015

Breakfast Pizza

Ok, I'll admit, this recipe wasn't planned.  It just happened.  One Sunday morning I was scrounging around for something to make for breakfast. Ok, ok, another confession.  It wasn't really breakfast.  More like brunch.  Still, it felt like breakfast time since I had just woken up and coffee was brewing. Feeling too lazy to go out and too lazy to go to the grocery store.  I eventually wrangled up an Udi's pizza crust, a few eggs, a tomato, some shredded cheese, leftover ham, and bacon crumbles.  And, that's how it happened. Breakfast pizza was born! It actually turned out great and was easy. 

Here's what you'll need:
Pre-made pizza crust- I like Udi's Gluten Free Pizza Crust
2 eggs, scrambled
1 tomato, diced
1/2 cup shredded cheese (mix of cheddar and mozzarella)
2 tablespoons bacon crumbles
1/2 cup chopped ham (about 3-4 slices)

Here's what to do:
Scramble your eggs- not all the way though- leave them soft.  They'll cook for a little while in the oven.

Assemble your ingredients on your pizza crust- scrambled eggs, ham, tomatoes, bacon crumbles, and cheese.

Bake pizza crust as directed. Udi's pizza crust suggests baking at 375 degrees for about 5 to 7 minutes.

I suppose you could put whatever breakfast-y types of things on your breakfast pizza.  I'm thinking a Pizza Eggs Benedict would be fab. Well, that will be for another Sunday!

Hope you enjoy your lazy Sundays as much as I do.

Creamy Fruit Dip

You know I love a great chip and dip, but really I just love a great dip.  It could be a dip for anything- crackers, chips, veggies, and even fruit!  This Creamy Fruit Dip recipe is an easy one and has only three ingredients.  It tastes great with all kinds of fruit, but I especially love it with strawberries- my favorite.

I have served this dip many times at parties, baby showers, wedding showers, brunches, and sometimes just for dessert.  A dollop of creamy fruit dip with strawberries is a great sweet ending to a meal.

You can serve it with just one type of fruit, or create a beautiful fruit platter and put of a bowl of this yummy dip in the center.

Here's what you'll need:
1 block cream cheese (8 ounces), softened
1 jar Marshmallow Cream (7 ounces)
1 tablespoon ground ginger

Here's what to do:
Blend all ingredients together in a food processor.  That's it.  So easy.  If you don't have a food processor, use your mixer.

Keep dip in refrigerator.  Will keep for 3-4 days (Or probably not, because it will be eaten up!)


Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Book Introduction
I searched online and found this fantastic book introduction.  Why reinvent the wheel when there's already something fantastic out there to use?  Credit goes to Upper St. Claire High School for sharing this powerpoint online.  It gives basic information about the author, book accolades, genre, setting, and a pre-reading activity.  Plus, there's a link to the movie trailer.  It will get your readers hooked!
Before reading, I showed students a powerpoint with photos and information that answer the question, "What is the Holocaust?"  This will be a new topic for most elementary students, so I wanted to make sure they had background information before we began reading.  There are tons of slide shows and powerpoint presentations online that you can use to develop background knowledge of the Holocaust.  Many of them show primary source photos and maps so students can use authentic resources to gain a deeper connection to the topic.  You can choose the resource that is appropriate for your grade level.
Reading Workshop
While reading the novel with students, I incorporate mini-lessons that teach readers how to navigate historical ficiton. During the mini-lesson, students utilize "turn and talk" time to discuss parts of the book with their peers.  This is the time the kids do their "big thinking" as they grapple with ideas from the book, discuss character motivations, and make predictions.  We had some phenomenal conversations about the characters and the theme of the book during this time.
When I read aloud novels with students, I always make notes in my books. I keep one copy, just for me.  I like to highlight, underline, make anecdotes, and write questions to remember.  Some teachers like to use sticky notes, but for me, sticky notes just get in the way.  After we're done with the novel, I just tuck the book away on my teacher bookshelf for the next time I use it with students.
Anchor Charts
Here are some examples of anchor charts suggested by Lucy Calkins Reading Workshop to use with historical fiction.

Interactive Read Alouds
There's a plethora of books associated with this topic.  A few of my favorites are Irena's Jar of Secrets by Marcia Vaughn and The Butterfly by Patricia Polacco.  Click on the links below to see how I implemented these lessons.
Here are some other great book titles you can use to teach students about the Holocaust.
Click on the link below to get descriptions of the books:
Writing Connection
  • Big Idea Timelines:  When reading novels together, students keep a big idea timeline in their reader's notebook.  It helps them keep track of main ideas in each chapter.  
  • Reading Responses:  After reading a chapter, or group of chapters, students respond to various questions in their reader's notebook.  
  • Visual Notetaking:  Students express their ideas about the book using words and pictures.  

Click on the link below to learn more about visual notetaking and see more examples.

Discussion Questions
After we completed the book, students discussed questions with a group. Again, grand conversations occurred.  Students even made some text-to-text connections with the novel we previously read.  They connected the symbolism of the  "river" in Esperanza Rising to the  symbolism of the "fence" in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.  Great connection!  After students discussed with their groups, we shared ideas during a whole group discussion.  Students were then given time to formulate their own written answers on an end-of-the-book discussion sheet.  
In addition to using discussion sheet questions and daily work such as reader's notebooks, I created a comprehension test with short answer questions for students.  

Movie Night
To wrap up the unit, I invited students and their families to come to a 5th Grade Movie Night featuring The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.  Students had been clamoring to see the movie all throughout the novel study.  A movie night is a great way to get families involved and you're not using valuable instruction time to watch a movie in its entirety.  If I were to show it in class, it would have taken three days of instruction time.  Students are very motivated by a multi-media approach and loved comparing the novel to the movie.  As expected, the majority of students preferred the novel to the movie.  Yay!  This is what every reading teacher loves to hear!  

Click on the link to check out more ideas for another novel study using Esperanza Rising.