Wednesday, July 29, 2020

How I Use Boom Cards™ in My Classroom and for Distance Learning

Although we might not know what it will look like yet, one thing is certain: School will soon be in session.

And while we're still sorting all the pieces of this ongoing puzzle, we also realize that the teaching resources we choose must be as adaptable as we are.

Fellow teachers, may I please present my favorite resource that helped me successfully teach in my classroom AND online during the 2019-2020 school year?

Drum roll, please...

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Boom Cards™!

And I do seriously GIVE you Boom Cards with this FREE set! Simply click here to go to this FREEBIE on my TpT Store. You can also click here to go straight to my store on Boom Learning.

Disclaimer: This is NOT a sponsored post, I just really believe in the resources and the Boom platform. In full disclosure, I do sell Boom Cards now, but the information I discuss in this post is applicable to any of the fine resources available from a variety of sellers.

How I got started using Boom Cards™.  I had been a middle school ELA teacher for 17 years when I moved back to my hometown to help my mom who was experiencing some significant health challenges. The only available teaching job at the time was in fourth grade. Y'all, I have not taught in an elementary setting for nearly 20 years, but a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. I also thought it would be a fun change of pace for a year.

Whooee! Can I just say that elementary school has changed significantly in the past two decades?! I was scrambling trying to keep up with learning the scripted curriculum AND finding resources for the twice-a-day intervention time.

Every day, I would be responsible for re-teaching skills to nearly 20 kiddos of varying abilities. Although we had scripted curriculum for math and reading, we didn't really have materials for intervention time per se, and I did NOT want to use any more of that prescribed stuff than I already had to.

And did I mention we were limited to how many copies we could make each month?

Yeah. So digital resources became my friend LONG before we began distance learning last March. 😉

This is another FREE deck of cards available in my TpT store for you to try. (Click on the picture)

Starting the process. One day as I was scouring the TpT website during my lunch, I happened upon a store offering a resource with a free deck of Boom Cards. 

As much as I wanted to try them out, I was nervous. I used Chromebooks all the time with my students in middle school because we were 1:1. I hadn't tried using our grade-level set of computers yet because honestly, I wasn't ready for the hassle. I was barely treading water already because everything was new, and my fourth graders didn't have a whole lot of experience with technology. Would it just be an absolute disaster?

Still intrigued, I went home that night and searched YouTube. I wanted to see people actually using these Boom Cards with their own students. When I saw Della Larson successfully using them with her kindergartners(!) I knew I had to try.

I watched Melissa Bennett's videos on setting up a Boom account and setting up a Boom class and I was ready to roll. (BTW, they both have phenomenal resources available in their TpT and Boom stores!)

Getting the kiddos started. I had three paras help me the first day that kids logged on. I had assigned the decks through Google Classroom, and the hardest part was getting the kids to remember their Google account information. 😂

I greatly appreciate the security features Boom Learning provides and so did my administrators and parents. My kiddos did not have to log into the Boom Learning site with their own information. Rather, they logged in using my unique classroom username and password. I then had them listed on my classroom roster with their first name and a password I provided. From that moment on, we were unstoppable!

Students' reactions. I am not exaggerating when I say that my students were hooked from the very first day. Kids that did not like doing paper and pencil work happily skipped into my classroom the next day. "Do we get to do Boom today?" they asked. They literally cheered when I said yes! 

They loved using the technology and the fact that they were working at their own pace. The kids also appreciated having the immediate feedback the Boom Cards provided them, and so did I. They thought they were playing a game, so who was I to spoil the fun?

How I used Boom Cards in my classroom. Our school has a 50-minute intervention time where we target specific skills and standards for a few weeks at a time. Since Boom Cards are digital interactive task cards, they provide great practice for our featured skill of the week or month. 

Every day during target intervention time, I would give a brief mini lesson about a particular skill to the whole group. We would then break into smaller groups to practice the skill. Once I felt confident that the kids had the general idea, they would move into independent practice at a literacy center (or math center). I used Boom Cards as a digital literacy or math center and it was truly life changing! No more creating or buying task cards, printing them, laminating them, cutting them, or storing them. My paraprofessional and I whooped for joy!

We also didn't have to grade or track the data because all of that was taken care of on my Boom Learning classroom!

Reports were immediately available and told us information on every student that we could never have derived from typical paper and pencil means, such as time on task.

I also used Boom Cardsfor early finishers, absent students, and indoor recess.

Total aside: As a middle school teacher, I had never experienced the "joy" of indoor recess before. Let's just say that Boom Cards were a welcome change from Legos and art supplies!

Distance learning. When we moved to online learning in March, I was very thankful for these digital task cards. The kids were already familiar with them and that helped make the transition easier--they needed a few constants in their lives. I would still present a mini lesson each day, but now it was on Zoom. During their independent work time, kids would do a lesson assigned on Google Classroom or Nearpod, and then they would have Boom Cards they practice on. 

I am excited to hear from the fifth grade teachers this year on my students' progress. I expect to hear great things about computational fluency because my kiddos LOVE math, and they "played" their Boom Cards over and over again. In fact, this summer they have still been emailing me asking me to assign new decks of cards!

Are you ready to give them a try?  If I have piqued your interest, (and I certainly hope I have--you can thank me later!) you can go directly to the Boom Learning site to sign up for a membership.

You can also browse the Teachers Pay Teachers website for Boom Cards to get you started on this digital adventure! There are lots of free Boom decks available from a multitude of sellers, and once you download a resource, there will be a link to the Boom Learning site to set up a free trial account.

Once your account is set up, you can begin adding resources to your Boom library and that's where the fun--and learning--begins!

Monday, July 27, 2020

"What Do You DO with Picture Books in Middle School?"

Every year I have people--especially administrators--ask me, "What exactly do you DO with picture books in middle school?" 

The bold, moody colors of these illustrations just make my heart swoon! It's a terrific biography to share with students, too. It does take a couple of days to read, however.

That's a fair question, and I have to say there's no one right answer. Depending on the year, the grade, and the curriculum I'm dealing with, I have changed my routine over the years. But if you're looking to implement picture books in your class, I'm happy to share some ideas.

One Book in One Week Plan

Last year, I had a very strictly enforced scripted curriculum. (Boo!) Because my schedule was so rigid, I found I could only effectively do a book a week. It was what it was, and there was no sense fighting it, so I developed a weekly plan. 

During the last fifteen minutes of our ELA block, we would do our picture book as soon as everyone had their desks cleared off. (This is great motivation for dawdlers!)

I would put the picture book under the document camera so everyone could see the pictures and the words. 

Note: If you have a projector but not a document camera, you might want to check out Vooks ( or Epic (

Students learned what a postmark was called when we read this book, and we also reviewed the parts of a friendly letter.

Here's a rough schedule for the week:

Monday: Read book aloud to class (we might have to continue on Tuesday for a longer book)

Talk about it Tuesday: Discuss plot, characters, and setting (or finish reading longer book)

Word Wednesday: Look back at the text. Have students point out examples of imagery, figurative language, dialect, new vocabulary, etc.

Think about it Thursday: As a class, determine possible themes, author's purpose, illustration critique, character development, etc.

Favorite/Fix-It Friday: Have students discuss their favorite part of the book OR if there was an aspect of the book they didn't like, how would they fix it?

Now, even though we spent a week on each book, we certainly didn't discuss every single one of those literary topics. I would choose ahead of time which points I felt matched the book well, and we would go from there. 

Please note: The fastest way to kill the love of any book is to beat it into the ground. Seriously! I have taught with people who had to examine every nuance a book could possibly have, and their students ended up despising some great books because of it. Please just pick a point or two each day and let students savor those little nuggets. 

This is one of my all-time favorite books to review imagery!

One Book Each Day (More or Less) Plan

While we definitely went in more depth with the book-a-week plan, we covered far more books with the book-a-day method. Both ideas have their pros and cons. And don't let the name fool you--sometimes it takes a couple of days to get through some of the longer books. The main idea with either of these plans is that as a class, we read and learn from a picture book each day. Students learn a great deal about fluency and reading with expression by having a more experienced reader model it on a consistent basis. Plus, it's something they look forward to and can count on every day!

Again, I  choose the concepts I feel a book highlights especially well and use those as discussion topics each day. I try to pair it with what we learned in class that day, but that doesn't always happen. 

Here are some of the topics I like to cover with my kiddos after we've read a picture book together:  (Again, I choose one or two to discuss)

-Plot development
-Character development
-Word choice, figurative language, vocabulary
-Dialect, dialogue
-Author's purpose
-Point of view
-Vivid verbs
-Rhythm, repetition
-Sentence structure 
-Context clues
-Types of conflict
-Illustration /Elements of art
-Parts of a book (cover, title page, end papers, etc.)
-Dedication page
-Author / illustrator information

....just to name a few!

Once you start collecting picture books, your classroom library will grow by leaps and bounds!

For those of you wanting to incorporate picture books into your middle school classrooms, I hope these ideas help. My list is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully it will be a useful starting point for your own picture book program.

Happy reading, friends!

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Why I Use Picture Books in My Middle School ELA Classes

Although the use of picture books seems to be a fairly recent phenomenon, like many things in education, it is actually a recycled trend. My favorite college professor used picture books with us my senior year, and I vowed to do the same no matter what age group I taught.

And I have...for the past twenty years.

I've taught preschool, freshmen in high school, and almost every grade in between. And I've shared my favorite picture books with ALL of them.
One of the best books EVER for teaching rhythm and repetition! I don't care how old you are--you will be chanting the words to this marvelous book all day!

And not surprisingly, they've shared their love and enthusiasm for picture books with me.

Have I gotten pooh-poohed by students that think picture books are beneath them? Absolutely, but they soon come around and look forward to reading them.

Have I been quizzed and ridiculed by administrators, parents, and even other teachers before? You bet! I've been lectured on rigor, high expectations, test scores, college prep--you name it! 

But I just learned to listen, smile, nod my head, and then share the same rationale I'm about to share with you.

Who says picture books are for little kids? How many little kids know what a "cautionary tale" is?

I use picture books in my classroom because...

Engagement is EVERYTHING. If kids aren't engaged, they aren't learning. Think about it. If you aren't paying attention to someone when they are talking to you, are you fully grasping what they're saying, the tone they are using, or what the message they're trying to get across? Nope. Students who aren't engaged in a lesson aren't likely to remember the content discussed or retain the concepts taught. Period. The end.

There is absolutely no doubt that picture books capture our attention. The colors, the illustrations, and the carefully crafted text all work together to draw the reader in. I can't say that about many secondary textbooks.
In relatively few pages, we can find out about the backstory of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the talented architect who designed it.

Brevity is key. Have you ever sat through a speech or sermon and had your mind wander? As the speaker drones on and on, you think to yourself, "Okay, buddy, wrap it up. I could have made that point in five minutes."  And so it is with a picture book.

Novels definitely have their place in ELA classrooms, but for quick, daily review of literary concepts I rely on picture books. Instead of plowing through 225 pages of complicated text to illustrate the idea of the plot diagram or to discuss theme, I can read at least 15 picture books in the same amount of time. That's 15 times and 15 different ways that students are exposed to the same literary concept as opposed to the one time with a novel. By the end of the school year, my students have practiced many of our state standards dozens of times as opposed to just a few times.

The brief storyline of picture books is also helpful for students with attention issues. The fifteen minutes a day that we devote to our picture book reading and discussion is the perfect amount of time to keep everyone on board and attentive.

Finally, as I alluded above, the time we spend on these books and lessons is brief. We usually spend the last 15 minutes of class on our picture book of the day. Why the end of class? To be completely honest, it's the best motivator I have for kids to finish their daily work! I rarely have students sit idly because they want to turn their assignment in and get ready for our reading time. I also like it at the end of class because I try to tie our book to what we just learned in class, so it's good closure. 

AND having the reading time at the end of the period puts my administrators at ease because they know we won't go on and on and take up "valuable" learning time. 

Can I just say I think my kiddos learn MORE from our mini lessons at the end of class than from our district-mandated curriculum? But don't even get me started...

We love it when the author illustrates his/her own work. This way we can see EXACTLY what they were picturing as they wrote the story.

They reinforce good reading habits. Every year I teach my middle school students that when they are reading their novels they should be picturing what's happening in their minds. Some of the most exciting moments of the year occur when students come up to me and share that they finally saw "the movie in their head" that I keep talking about! Picture books show one artist's (or possibly more) interpretation of the characters and events in the story. Let me tell you, my kiddos get ALL worked up if the illustrator doesn't stay true to the author's description. "Nuh-uh! That's not right! Harris is supposed to have blonde hair and in the pictures he has brown!" Those are always such proud teacher moments for me because they've absorbed the details of the story and are now applying them to what they're seeing in the pictures. 

We also teach kids to make connections with the text they're reading. Who can't relate to Dixie when she loses her Knuffle Bunny or Beekle when he searches for a friend? These are all life experiences most kids have had by the time they're in middle school and they're highly relatable. 

Which brings me to my final point...

This is such a great book for discussing mood and for reflecting a bit on perfectionism. 

They have an SEL component that is needed in classrooms. Let's face it, being an adolescent is tough! Not many of us would chose to relive our middle school years and with good reason. Picture books can teach us with light-hearted wisdom how to handle some of the rougher stuff that comes our way. Because the characters and stories are so relatable, kids internalize some of the great advice and lessons offered in these insightful tales.

I cannot tell you how many times I've heard my students reference something from one of our picture books. "I just realized I was being a bucket spiller. Sorry!" or "It's been a terrible, horrible, no good day! But some days are like that..."

And that, my friends, is why I use picture books in my middle school ELA classroom. It's good teaching practice, but most of all, it's good for kids.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Using Picture Books in Math Class

If you read my last post, you know I'm a huge advocate for using picture books in the upper grades. Today, I'd like to discuss the benefits of using these fun books in math class.

Picture books are great way to review concepts at the end of a unit.
While I prefer using children's books to introduce concepts in social studies and science, I like to use them to review content in math and ELA.

This book is part of my district's required math curriculum for fourth grade. We use it as an introduction to our geometry unit. Let me just say that it was WAY over my fourth graders' heads, but sixth grade students that I tutored loved it. What was the difference? Part of it was the age difference, but I think the biggest part was that the older kids understood the concepts better. It's hard to find the humor in anything or follow a story-line if you're wrestling with basic ideas.

Just out of curiosity, I read it to the class again before their final geometry test. The kids enjoyed it a whole lot more because they understood it and could explain the ideas behind the humor. The first time I had read it, I may as well have been reading a book written in another language because...I basically was! I was using unfamiliar vocabulary that described concepts they had not yet learned. From that point on, I started using picture books as a tool for review in math. 

By the way, if you are not familiar with the Sir Cumference series, you are definitely going to want to check them out! (This is not an affiliate link). Middle school students will love the humor and the application of mathematical ideas. 

Picture books appeal to both sides of the brain. 
I don't claim to know the full science behind left-brain and right-brain learning, but I do know that as educators we should try to appeal to a variety of learning styles. Most mathematical processes tend to occur in the analytical left side of the brain, while creative processes tend to be more of a right-brain activity.

Mathematical computation + creative pictures illustrating concepts = big time learning win for students!

I also think it's important for students to see that math, reading, and writing are not exclusive subjects--they intertwine in school and in real life. 

Picture books show the practical application of math in the real world.
It's important for kids to see how the vague, mathematical notions they learn in school actually apply to the real world--their real world. Children's authors and illustrators do a fabulous job taking math concepts and applying them to things kids can relate to. 

Learning about fractions? Hershey candy bars are something most kids love and know a thing or two about. My kiddos couldn't get too excited about the textbook's egg carton diagrams, but boy howdy, did they love learning about fractions when candy bars entered the picture! It led to a great discussion about other fractions in real life.

Children's books can definitely be a great teaching tool in math class. They appeal to different learning styles, help kids see how math is related to writing and reading, and bring a little fun to the classroom.

Can you think of a math lesson or unit that you can improve by including a picture book? Go ahead and give it a try!

Friday, July 3, 2020

Why Picture Books Belong in Middle School Science & Social Studies Classes

Fellow teachers, please raise your hand if you have ever personally learned something from an article or picture book that you've read with your students?

I imagine by now most hands are raised high and maybe a few shouts of "Oh yeah!" are echoing in the air. That's because picture books do an AMAZING job of taking a complex topic and breaking it down into understandable bits...and they use gorgeous illustrations to complement that information!

It reminds me of the quote attributed to Albert Einstein: "If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself." Wow! Isn't that exactly the purpose of nonfiction picture books in a nutshell?

With that thought in mind, I'd like to elaborate on the reasons why picture books can and should be used in a middle school (or even high school) setting. Today we'll just focus on social studies and science classes and how children's books can help with the comprehension of the technical type of information taught in those subject areas.

Informational picture books can be helpful learning tools in secondary education because...

1. Just the most important facts are presented. 
Rather than face tiny print and challenging textbook vocabulary, older readers can be introduced to new topics with informational children's books. Learners are able to grasp the general gist of the facts and build a solid foundation of understanding for further instruction.

I remember having to write a paper on the Electoral College during my senior year in high school, and I felt completely overwhelmed by the topic. It made no sense to me. (Truth be told, it still doesn't make sense to me for a whole lot of other reasons...but I digress.) At the time, I worked at our local public library in the children's department. My boss noticed that I looked stressed and asked what was wrong. I explained my dilemma to her, and she suggested I read a new children's book we had on the Electoral College.

Seriously? I thought. 

But I didn't want to hurt her feelings, so I took it home with me. And by nine o'clock that evening, I decided the woman was a genius! 

Obviously, I couldn't use the book as a resource for my paper, but it helped me understand the topic enough that I could logically outline my research and organize my thoughts for said paper.

From that point on, I have always made it a practice to read children's books on new topics and work my way up the ranks of difficulty from there.

2. The information is presented in a user-friendly format.
In children's books, there isn't page upon page of tiny text for readers to wade through. Publishers break up the writing with helpful pictures, captions, and other text features.  Illustrations and photographs tend to be larger than what is featured in traditional textbooks.

The information is still factual, but it is not intimidating for most readers. If there are struggling readers in class, they don't have to feel stigmatized because everyone is looking at the easy-to-read format. My advanced readers in middle school also appreciate the opportunity to look at picture books. If we can appreciate children's books as adults, why do we think teenagers won't?

3. They pique interest in assigned topics.
Because they are designed to entertain while educating readers, children's books can open the doors to a whole variety of interesting topics. While the "Who Is.." or "Who Was..." titles aren't considered picture books, they spark curiosity about many different historical figures. I try to order multiple copies of this series from Scholastic each year, and when we discuss someone in social studies or science, I leave the applicable titles on the chalk rail of our white board.

Total aside...can it be called a "chalk rail" if it is indeed a marker board? Marker rail just doesn't sound right...

Anyway, if I have easy-to-read materials available in easy-to-grab areas of the room, I always have kids reading about our current topics. This is a great option for early finishers!

I also have had other adults visit our classroom and ask to borrow a book that has piqued their interest! Once the snowball begins rolling, it is incredible how readers want to read everything available on a subject. And after all, isn't that our whole goal as educators, to want students to become lifelong, self-motivated learners? Well then, I say, "Mission accomplished!"

If you aren't already using children's books in your secondary classroom, I encourage you to take the leap. Even if it's for one lesson or one unit, please give it a try. You'll be glad you did..and so will your students!