Virginia Christmas Books

It's the last day of November which means it is officially time to gear up for Christmas. I wanted to share a few of  my favorite Virginia Christmas books to get you ready for the whirlwind that is the few weeks before Christmas break. I've used all of these books in my classroom and they are always a hit. Students love recognizing local places they have been. They are also a good tie in with some of the Va Social Studies SOLs (because we're all looking for an easy educational tie in right before Christmas break).

The Twelve Days of Christmas in Virginia by Sue Corbett

William visits his cousin in Virginia for the holidays and sends home letters with interesting Virginia historical facts and tidbits. This book mirrors the 12 Days of Christmas...Virginia style. In addition to being a super book, Sue Corbett is a local Virginia author!

Santa is Coming to Virginia by Steve Smallman

Join Santa and his reindeer as they fly over famous Virginia sites. And of course you'll always have a few students that swear they see their house in this book! You can find local versions of this book too, such as Santa is Coming to Northern Virginia and Santa is Coming to Virginia Beach. There is even a Santa is Coming to Washington DC to cover those patriotic symbols and monuments. Santa truly is everywhere!

The Virginia Night Before Christmas by E.J. Sullivan

This classic night before Christmas version is filled with Virginia references, including many UVA/VT rivalry remarks. I'm not sure if this book is in print anymore, but you may be able to snag a used copy. 

If you're not from the Old Dominion you should be able to find the first two books for your state too...they just may not be as good as the Virginia versions ;)

Do you have other Virginia Christmas books you use in your classroom? Leave us a comment, we'd love to add to our collection!

Take Flight with S.T.E.M.


On December 17th, 1903, two gentlemen who were not professional scientists or engineers, first flew their invention that would change the world. Wilbur and Orville Wright flew their plane for only a short distance that day but they started an extraordinary journey for mankind. If you want your students to  understand perseverance, curiosity, and determination, make room in your December lesson plans to study flight and to celebrate the lives of the Wright brothers. They exemplify all that is important about STEM and provide a wonderful foundation for a theme that explores the principles of flight.

 Leonardo da Vinci, through his study of the structure of birds, sketched designs for a flying machine. This fascination continues to this day. Watching planes take-off at an airport conjures up visions of exotic far away places, excitement, and freedom. As common place as hopping on a plane to get somewhere is to everyone, most people don't understand how birds and planes can fly. Discussing and experimenting with the basics of flight have always been some of the most popular STEM activities among students. However, the principles of flight are not part of most elementary or middle school curriculum. Yet, with a little creativity, these lessons can be be integrated into a variety of topics.

Animal Adaptations

The study of how animals adapt to their environment is a focus of study across many science units. This is a perfect opportunity to compare the shape of various birds wings and relate them to the different types of jets and planes, and their corresponding wing shapes.  Different birds have different wing shapes depending on if they primarily glide through the air, if they need to take off quickly to escape predators, or if they need to have time to take a running start. Engineers have studied these wing shapes and used these models for their designs.  NASA has a wonderful series of lessons that can help your student explore this aspect of animal adaptations and how humans have copied them in their pursuit of flight.
NASA Wing Design Lesson


Air pressure is one of the topics during a study of weather. A typical activity is to have students blow across a single piece of paper. The paper rises because of the difference of air pressure above and below the paper. A logical next step is to relate this phenomena to flight and a discussion of the basic concepts of lift and drag.

Science Kids : Introduction to Flight and Air pressure

Plant Adaptations

Just as animals have a variety of adaptations to help them survive, plants do too. Odd as it sounds, a variety of plants reproduce though the use of seed pods that rotate through the air just like a helicopter rotors do. While exploring flight, be sure to include the exploration of helicopters. There are lessons to show students how to fold a piece of paper so that it will rotate like a helicopter rotor. Toss it into the air and watch how it rotates as it falls back to the ground. During the study of plants and seed dispersal , bring in examples of the pods for students to explore.

STEM and Soaring with Helicopters

Flight and Language Arts
Integrating STEM into language arts is one of our favorite ways to   enrich our curriculum. Students can learn the basics of how to write a research paper while learning the basics of flight . Every program of students include biography units. Designing, building and improving on airplanes is a logical extension while studying the lives of Leonardo Da Vinci, the Wright brothers, or other titans of flight. 

Engineering Day

Another way to integrate flight into the curriculum is to have an airplane challenge as part of an Engineering Day or STEM Night. Student love to create paper airplanes and improve upon their ideas as they try to have their airplane fly further than their classmate. Check out our Great Paper Airplane Challenge. It has everything you need, including categories and certificates for winners, to run a as successful paper airplane challenge


There are many great resources available to help you integrate flight into your curriculum. The Smithsonian Museum has developed a series of lessons called "How Things Fly" and has a series of lessons to teach the basic principles of flight. We also have at our TpT store a discounted bundle of different types of STEM flight challenges.

Year after year, study units that incorporate flight and give students the opportunity to create planes, helicopters, gliders, and parachutes continue to be our students favorite lessons. More than just fun, however, it gives students opportunities to experiment with sometimes hard to imagine science concepts. By combining the exploration of the history of flight with hands on STEM activities, you will engage your students in a wonderful learning experience.

T is for Teaching Oasis
In March of 2010 I launched The Teaching Oasis! It was a platform for myself (, Christina Bainbridge ( and Sandy Fiorini ( to sell our educational resources.

After I married in 2012 my priorities changed and I decided to make the materials on The Teaching Oasis completely free! Christina moved to TpT ( and so did Sandy (

What remains on the site are the documents I created. It's completely supported by donations and I occasionally I upload new resources. The site is geared towards second and third grade teachers but I do take requests every now and then if you need something specific. For updates, follow me on Facebook, click the picture below for the link.
From Language Arts to Math to Science and Social Studies Design Briefs...stop on by and see what The Teaching Oasis has to offer!

Using Hidden Pictures in School

How many of you worked on these during your childhood? Or even as an adult?

I know many of you are out of school for the Thanksgiving holiday, but I wanted to share a quick post for something fun yet educational for our students.  At this time of year, and many times before a holiday, we are looking for something our students will enjoy and still be fun. As a reading specialist, I am constantly looking for activities like these for those two day weeks, like this one. 

My students mix up letters quite a bit and really have to think about the letters they are seeing in the words they read.  Their visual discrimination skills are lacking, so I need to find ways to help them with those.  On short weeks like these, I pull out my handy dandy little Hidden Pictures from Highlights Magazine.

My students are thrilled to see these and love working on them. But how do they help with literacy skills?


Hidden Pictures help students see things they don’t normally see. Students have to look closely to decipher where the items are hidden.  The same is true for words. When students read, they have to look closely at the letters and where they are located to decode a word. This visual discrimination activity will help students build skills in both reading and math as they look for items in the pictures.

So, break them out and have some fun!  Students love that time to work through puzzles and other brain teasers, and the benefits make it helpful for everyone!

I hope everyone has a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

VA Teacher Resource: TTAC

Hello!  This is Caitlin from Learning Ahoy.  Today I want to share with you a resource that is available to all VA teachers that I find invaluable.  That resource is TTAC.

TTAC stands for Training and Technical Assistance Center and is funded by a VA Department of Education grant. The goal of TTAC is to improve educational opportunities and add to the success of children with disabilities.  There are TTAC locations at universities throughout Virginia that provide training, classroom support, assitive technology and lots of other great stuff.  Each regional TTAC has a lending library with a variety of books and technology that teachers and parents can borrow for free.

Virginia is split into 7 different regions that are supported by different TTACs.  You can find where you fit by going to this link.  I belong to region 2 which is support by Old Dominion University and William and Mary University.  Once you get to the website for your particular chapter you can find out how to check out various items from the library.

I highly suggest checking out the various training offered by TTAC.  You can attend a training in any region.  I have attended a bunch that have been put on by TTAC ODU and all have been fantastic. These trainings count as recertification points and they are cheap  Usually the cost is around $25 which included lunch snacks, door prizes, and classroom materials.

Various TTAC chapters send out newsletters each month.  I subscribe to the one for ODU which I find to provide valuable information each month especially for students with severe disabilities and early childhood special education.  There is also a great section on assistive technology.  You can subscribe to the ODU newsletter by going to this link.

To get started with TTAC go to the TTAC online site and explore all of the awesome stuff they have to offer.  Be sure to check out these tabs in particular.
  • Resources
  • Events
  • Online Training

I hope you get as much use out of this valuable information as I do.  I would love to know if you have every used TTAC services, Please leave a comment to share your experiences.  

Blendspace - Digital Lessons Made Easy

This year I've started using a great websites called blendspace and it has made my life in the classroom so much easier!

Blendspace is a free site for educators that allows you to mix different types of media to create digital lessons. The lessons can be used in the classroom or shared for practice at home.

I use Blendspace every day for the songs we sing during calendar. Of course, these do get switched up from time to time, but you can click below to see what we are currently singing every morning.

All of these videos are from YouTube, so you may be asking why blendspace? Why not just YouTube? I've found two things that make blendspace the perfect way to share YouTube videos in the classroom - there are no ads and no continuous play lists. Ads are a total distraction for my first graders and sometimes not always the thing I want to be showing at school! When I used a playlist on YouTube to show my videos they all played one after the other without stopping. I don't always want to play the vidoes back to back and blendspace gives me more control.

What else can you do with blendspace? I've used it to make computer station work for my students. They are all familiar with how the blendspace interface works, so it was a perfect way for me to pick activities from different websites that reinforced the skills we were working on in class. 

This is a blendspace we worked on at the beginning of fall. Just click on the blue links to open the page and then come back to blendspace when you're finished. 

It is also great for creating lessons you'll teach to the whole group because you can add just about anything to your lesson - your own text and graphics, videos, games, websites. I think the possibilities for this site are endless! 

Have you used blendspace in the classroom?

Bold Beginnings and Catchy Conclusions: Taking the Tears Out of Writing the First and Last Paragraphs

In my teaching and personal experience, I find the first sentence of a piece of writing to be one of the most difficult things to create and perfect.  After all, an author really only has a sentence or two to gain the interest of their readers.  No pressure, right?  What's the next most difficult thing to write?  That would be the final paragraph in which the author has to wrap everything up in a pretty package with a bow on top.  That's no easy task, either.  So, I compiled some of my favorite openings closings to stories that I've either read or written.

Most of my favorite openings include figurative language because it can make any writing piece fun, in my humble opinion.  My top favs are:

Onomatopoeia is a fun word just to say.  Also, describing the way something sounds is appealing to the auditory learner in me.  Plus, students enjoy trying to describe the sounds to each other.

Foreshadowing is fun to use around Halloween.  It adds a creep factor to creative writing and mysteries.

Alliteration is a fabulous element to add to the title of a story.  For example, "Bold Beginnings and Catchy Conclusions" sounds much more interesting than "Opening and Closing Paragraphs".

Similes/Metaphors help your future Mark Twains party like a rock star while they are writing.  See what I did there?

Below is the first page of the model story I created to help students get into their writing.  I challenge you to see how many of my favorite story-starter elements mentioned above are included.  Spoiler alert:  I tell you how many and which ones directly after the photo.

I'll bet you guessed that there were two of my favorite story-starter elements in this part of the story: Onomatopoeia and foreshadowing.  

Below is an example of some of the other Bold Beginnings included in the rest of the story.

Conclusions don't have to be boring and routine.  My favorites are quotes and similes/metaphors.  If a summary is done properly, it can also be a good ending to a story.  However, summaries can be tricky.  If all a summary includes is the same sentences from the story, that can really put a reader out.

I print, laminate, and keep these sheets available for buddy editing and small group writing.  If you'd like to pick up a copy, click here.

How do you inspire your students to open and close their writings?  I'd love to hear how!

Turkey Tales Digital Writing FREEBIE

This month our letter is "T" which means I need to tell you about my Turkey Tales freebie. I have a FUN and EAAAASY little activity for you. Have your students practice the 5 W's with this Turkey Tales project:

Download the free iPad app, Hand Turkey. Have your students create a turkey and save it to the camera roll.

Students simply place their hand on the iPad screen to create their hand turkey. They will then have the option to customize and name their turkey.

Students can have fun watching their turkey rake leaves and watch a turkey stampede. This will help provide a mental image that will hopefully motivate them to write a creative story about their turkey.

Students will use the hand turkey graphic organizer that is included in this pack to brainstorm the 5 Ws of their story:
Next, students will write their story using the stationery that is included (two different kinds of lined stationery come in this pack in case you have students that struggle with handwriting):
Hold up for a sec! Aren't these TURKEY iPads the absolute cuuuuuuuutest??? I have to thank Erin Flanagan for these. You can grab her FREE seasonal iPad clipart in her store by clicking {HERE}.

After stories have been crafted, students can upload their turkey screenshot into an app like Educreations, ShowMe, StoryKit, Book Creator, Chatterkid (30 second limit), or Tellagami (free version has a 30 second limit) and read their story.

Here is an example I made in Chatterkid. I had to talk FAST to get all 5 of my Ws in!

Turkey Tale from Julie on Vimeo.

A rubric is included for you to grade the Turkey Tales:

Click the image below to take you to this FREE download:

Happy November!

Top Ten Signs You May Be "Teacher Tired"

I don't know about you, but this daylight savings time is killing me. When I leave for work, the sun has just come up, and by the time I get home it's already setting for the night. Add on the fact that I have a teether at home and a preschooler who's potty-training, and you end up with one very tired teacher! I decided to have some fun with a post today and give you a silly top ten

1. You've stopped walking the kids all the way to lunch and/or resource because you just can't take those extra few steps. Watch them until they get to the door, and then rush back to class to get a few extra minutes to sit and do nothing. Or check Facebook. Or blogs.

2. Homework? Don't care. In my last year as a regular classroom teacher, I didn't even grade homework for completion. I was pregnant, and I literally didn't have time for anything I deemed worthless. I still assigned it, and they still turned it in, but it went directly into the trash can and all students got 100s. I'm sure some kids picked up on it and stopped doing it, but I really just didn't care.

3. Your sarcasm is starting to cross the line. There are many reasons that I teach upper elementary kids, and one of them is because I tend to be a little sarcastic. But when I start making kids cry (not quite yet), then maybe it's time for a little break.

4. Instead of writing lesson plans, you would rather spend $50 on TPT for something that's already done for you. Guilty! I bought Jivey's Better Than Basal last year because I knew it was going to be too much work to come up with new ideas, especially while I was pregnant. This year, I have it even better. I have a whole system the school bought for me, complete with a teacher's guide!

5. Your clothes are all wrinkled, and who knows when you last washed your hair. Okay, not so much the second part (especially because we have LICE going around our school, so my head constantly itches) although I do keep it up in a ponytail all the time, which is way less work. I have been bad about giving my boys baths every night, though.

6. Wardrobe malfunctions in general. Last year, I wore a skirt backwards and didn't even realize until halfway through the day. I've had friends who've worn two different shoes and even know someone who forgot to put on their bra and had to have her husband bring it to school!

7. Dinner is mostly leftovers or fast food. If it weren't for my amazing husband who does all of the cooking, I would totally be eating Chick-fil-a, hot dogs, sandwiches, or cereal. All. The. Time.

8. You seem to be losing everything. Papers, keys, your car...I swear I would lose my head if it wasn't attached. I'm the worst about setting down papers or a book that I'm about to use and then completely forgetting where I put it.

9. You begin to almost hope your child is sick so you can take a day off. If it were winter, I would be praying for a snow day. I don't actually want my kid to be sick because that wouldn't be relaxing either, but a simple doctor's appointment in the middle of the day wouldn't be too terrible...

10. You roll in the TV for a movie day to "grade papers". Or just enjoy an hour of quiet. No judging here...

What's the craziest thing you (or a coworker) have ever done from exhaustion?

Teaching Fall Colors Interactive Notebook

 Teaching Fall Colors Interactive Notebook

Happy Fall! It's Lori from Your Teacher Assistant blogging today. 

Fall happens to be one of my favorite seasons! The weather is still quite mild in the southeast, and what's more, it is absolutely beautiful. Bursts of colors are everywhere! The colors of the trees this time of year are simply stunning. Vibrant red, yellow, purple, orange and brown leaves paint nearly every tree in sight.

What a great time of year for teaching about the colors of fall! Today I'm sharing with you how I teach the FALL COLORS to my primary ESOL and ELL students using an Interactive Notebook. Preschool and Kinders could definitely benefit from this activity as well. 

We start off building background with an easy reader that focuses on the colors of fall leaves. Students use their schema to generate a lively discussion on fall and the colors of fall. You know there's always convesation about collecting leaves and trees turning colors. Some may even mention how they go on walks to find different colored leaves, raking leaves, or even jumping in big leaf piles if you're lucky!

Using the predictable text and the pictures, it's easy for my students to review some color words and sight words as well. Students can then color, cut out and glue the color word pictures into their notebooks. 

Next, I have the students say and then cut out the sight words that we have been reviewing from the bottom of this page. After that, they arrange the squares into a sentence that makes sense on top of their desks. 

Once checked for accuracy and fluency, students can then glue the color words down into their interactive notebooks and then write the sight word sentence. 

After this, I have the students trace and write the color words, color the fall leaf appropriately and then under the flap draw their own colored leaves.

Last, I review the color words once more with the color words on the leaves. Once these are mastered, students get to color and cut out their leaves and tuck them into the Colors pocket in their notebooks for review at another time.

Finally, students trace, read and write a sentence, and draw leaves of different colors. More advanced writers label the leaves with the color words.

My ESOL students and ELLs have fun with this fall color words activity. I hope yours will as well. You can get your Teaching Fall Colors Interactive Notebook at my TpT store. Enjoy your Fall!

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