Monday, November 23, 2015


I just want to take a moment to say thank you for all your support. I am beyond grateful for your inspiration. Instead of offering a teaching tip this week, I want to step aside and show you some beautiful pictures.  I took some time out of my day recently, and this is what I captured.  I hope that all of you take a moment to reflect, enjoy, and feel grateful.

I'm grateful for my family and my beautiful surroundings.  I truly feel blessed each and every day.  What are you grateful for?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thanksgiving Resources

With Thanksgiving fast approaching, I wanted to tell you about a few of my holiday resources.  I use these in my own classroom and the students seem to enjoy the activities.

I hope you have safe travels and enjoy your holiday!

Fall Holiday Figurative Language Pack

Sunday, November 1, 2015

17 Sentence Starters

Opening sentences have many labels such as topic, thesis, lead, hook, introduction, or the beginning.  Whatever we call them, we want our students to be exposed to a variety of sentence starters.  Using different starters can engage the audience and make them want to continue reading.

These are some suggestions from other educators as well as myself to vary sentence beginnings:
  1. Ask an interesting question.
  2. Start with a location.
  3. Use an appositive.
  4. Embed figurative language (simile, metaphor, etc.).
  5. Begin with a prepositional phrase.
  6. Start with an interesting thought.
  7. Capture your surroundings.
  8. Begin with a riddle.
  9. Start with a strong statement.
  10. Describe a sound.
  11. State a belief.
  12. Use a single word.
  13. Start with a fact.
  14. Use a string of adjectives.
  15. Start with a 4 or 5 word sentence.
  16. Combine two sentences.
  17. Start with an emotion.
Click here for a freebie that can be turned into posters for your classroom.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Thanks For Signing Up For My Newsletter

I want to thank everybody who signed up for my free weekly newsletter. Your responses and feedback have been amazing! If you haven't signed up for the newsletter yet, look to the right sidebar and you will see the sign up. I am offering weekly tips on writing instruction, management strategies, and freebies to use in your classroom.  You can also sign up on my website
You will be sent an email confirmation, which often goes to spam, so don't forget to check there to be a subscriber.

Thank you,

Sunday, September 20, 2015

8 Ways to Incorporate Management Strategies During Writing Instruction

I don’t know what to write!    By this point in the year, you will have prior knowledge of your students’ interests and you may pull from those experiences.

The Class Wanderer: Sometimes we get students who like, or possibly need, to wander around the class.  Through no fault of their own, maybe they get a little antsy.  You may praise, or set up a reward system, with the student when he/she is seated for a period of time.  Another solution is to give the student two seats. He/She must be on his/her way from seat A to seat B, or from seat B to seat A, only.  Giving students wiggle cushions or alternate seating that rocks/wiggles can decrease the amount of time wandering.  The goal is to give students appropriate outlets for a very real problem.

Working standing up:  I have no problem with students who choose to stand during writing time.  If standing works for the student, then it works for me.

Sharing Out/Risk Taking: Give students an opportunity to share out written pieces, or segments from an entry.  Students want others to hear what they write.  They will learn “writerly moves” from each other.  I never put anybody on the spot and this is strictly optional in my class.  Remember…when you take risks by sharing your own written work with students...they will also take risks and share out.

“Is this good?”  Students are never allowed to ask me if their work is good.  I want my students to reach for the stars.  I encourage students to ask questions such as:  “What can I do to make this writing even better than it is now?”  “How can I improve this section?”  “How can I make this narrative more amazing?”
“If better is possible, then good isn’t enough.” -Benjamin Franklin

How do you spell _______?  We practice dictionary skills early in the year.  I want my class to know how to use the dictionary independently.  If students want to know how to spell a word, then they need to use their dictionary or ask a neighbor.  You don’t want students leaving their seat to ask how to spell a word.  Students can also place their hand under their chin.   Every time their jaw drops while saying a word indicates a syllable and vowel. (Ar-i-zon-a) four drops…four syllables…four vowels

I can’t find a pencil!  I always have a group of sharpened pencils in the same spot all year long.  Students exchange their dull pencil for a sharp one.  Also, I have a suggestion for the students who always lose their pencils.  Tie one end of a string to the bottom side of the desk and the opposite end to the eraser tip of a pencil.  The pencil will always be waiting for use.

I’m done:  "When you are done, then you have just begun."  A student said that one-day and I loved the idea.  I don’t know where she heard this, but it was genius.  Students have to go back and self-regulate, edit, revise, or make any other changes to their writing when they “think” they are done.

Unlocking imaginations one lesson at a time!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

7 Tips to Organize Writing Resources

I recently received a question from Katie in California: How do you organize your writing resources, so students can easily access them? 

Katie, this is a great question and asked quite regularly. 

# 1 Class Synonym Word Wall
I select eight words my students use on a consistent basis. I boldface the word I no longer want students to use and I write five or six synonyms below that term.  I’ll post kind, nice, boring, funny, great, sad, thankful, and walked.  Students are not allowed to use the bolded word. I want to raise the bar and challenge them to expand their vocabulary.  Sheets are posted at the front of the class.

# 2 Double Pocket Writing Folders
Students are given a four pocket writing folder.  The folder stores important documents and students reference this information routinely throughout the year. Folders are created by attaching two double pocket-writing folders together.  Turn one folder inside out and attach it to the brads of the other folder.  See pictures below for details.  Click the links below for free labels for the double pocket writing folder.

Author at work- Cover label
My writing ideas label
Work in progress label
Ready for the author's chair label

# 3 Commonly Misspelled Words
I place an enlarged poster of commonly misspelled words at the front of the room. 

# 4 Reference Materials on Desks
 Students have a dictionary, atlas, and thesaurus on their desks at all times.  Each desk seats two students.  They work together by sharing these valuable resources and researching information collaboratively.

# 5 Mini-Offices
I display main writing concepts, which will enhance student writing, on folders, in a color-coded manner. Students will have instant access to figurative language, compare and contrast words, transitional phrases, descriptive terms, show me examples, parts of speech, writing time rules, and exemplary writing samples. Students open their mini-offices during writing time and have an abundance of references to view within an arm’s reach.

# 6 Writing Notebooks
Every student should keep his/her writing in one notebook.  Rough drafts, brainstorms, and quick writes are all stored in the notebook. This will reduce missing papers along their writing journey. Final copies are completed on white lined paper.

# 7 Books
Books are one of the most amazing mentor texts available.  Students must have at least one chapter/reading book at their seat at all times. They benefit from the ability to read when assignments are completed.  Students choose which book(s) they want at their desks.

Unlocking imaginations one lesson at a time!

Please send any questions or concerns my way.  I’d love to hear from you.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Free Newsletter

I wanted to let you know I have an educational website that is up and running.  In addition, I am offering weekly writing tips, lessons, strategies, and useful resources in my free weekly newsletter.  Please stop by and give my website a look.  As always, I appreciate your support!

Thank you!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Write In to The Day

I attended a district writing study last week and I got some really good ideas. There was one concept that stood out to me.  It is called Write In to the Day. Students write in to the day about an open topic.  If you would like to guide the class with prompts, ideas, or other topics, then feel free to do so.  For example, students write to quotes, lyrics to a song, a piece of information about a subject they are studying or anything else. 

It’s a quick way to get your students writing early in the morning.  I’m looking forward to using this strategy with my class!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Be Their Compass

Be Their Compass

Who are the best writers in our classes?  How did they become great?  Who showed them the way?  Are they prodigies?  Did they have a mentor, parent, teacher, peer, or author to encourage them?  Why do they have such positive attitudes?

Who are the struggling writers?  Why are they having trouble?  Did they have a mentor, favorite author, teacher, peer, or parent to emulate?  Why are they possessing poor attitudes?  How did they go from telling stories, smiling, and exploration in the younger years to shut down?  What causes this close-mindedness?  I can't!  I'm done!

Curing writing indifference isn't easy to do, but if you create a safe, caring, and nurturing environment, they will shine too!  If you show passion, guidance, and vulnerability, by then end of the year, you might not know the difference between the two groups in your class.  That's my favorite part of the job.  Give students direction by being their compass on this journey.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Presenting in Temple City

The UCLA National Writing Project sent me to Temple City today for a workshop. The main focus was narrative writing.  In addition,  I showed the teachers various strategies to get students to write.

I can't believe how engaged and involved the teachers were throughout the session.  They were respectful, understanding and willing to listen to new ideas.

It was honor to present to such an inspiring group.

Thank you!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Three Quick Ways to Get Your Students To Write


Many of us are still on summer vacation, but the school year is fast approaching for others.  I have three suggestions for getting your students to write during the first few days of school.  I know you will have to get your class management and routine started, but you can still use these practices.

# 1  On the first day, hand every student an index card.  Ask the students to write three things about themselves.  It can be things they like, dislike, places they visited, family events, etc.  It can be anything they want to share. On the back of the card, ask them to write down three songs they like.

# 2  Incorporate music into your morning routine.  Maybe you can have a song playing as they enter the class.

# 3 Students fill out the topic sheet listed below.  The topics stretch across a wide range of ideas. Additional topics may be written on the back.  Click here for your free copy.

You might be wondering why I do these activities.  The index cards will give you immediate feedback about your students. You have a starting point.  In addition, you might want to look up the lyrics to unfamiliar songs to ensure appropriate language and consider playing them for the class in the morning.  That student will beam when she/he hears her/his song. Many of the students will have the songs on CD.

We have a morning greet where the entire class walks around saying good morning to each other.  Playing music starts our day off in a positive manner.  As I walk the room, students tell me about things they like, pets, family events, sports, vacations, awards, rehearsals, and several other events in their lives.  I store this information in my head.  I follow up by asking questions in return as we are roaming the class.  I am validating that I care and I listen to what's important to them.  When it comes to writing, and they are having struggling with ideas, I can verbally bring up things they shared.  "Didn't you tell me you hit a home run?"  "I can't believe your grandmother visited? " Once you give them personal references, they have a starting point.

The topic charts will allow for several writing opportunities.  You can make copies for yourself to reference and hand the original copy to the students to store in their writing folders.  Students may reference the chart all year long for inspirational ideas.

These ideas/suggestions always come in handy at some point during the year.  When you read through their topic charts and index cards, you may write anecdotal notes, if needed.  Within the first few days of school, you will have a plethora of information and more importantly, you are validating your interest in each and every student.

I hope these suggestions help you!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Mickelson Exxon/Mobil

I attended the Mickelson Exxon Mobil STEM conference this week in Pittsburgh and I was blown away.  The organizers, presenters, faculty, staff, fellow teachers, and speakers were all amazing.  I was in awe the entire week.

I have several hands on science and math lessons I can bring to my class this year. In addition, I have a new outlook on the way I will teach this subject matter.

I was pushed out of my comfort zone and that was a good thing.  Every workshop sent me into a state of disequilibrium.  I literally stood there in amazement on more than one occasion.

If you ever get a chance to attend, I highly recommend this golden opportunity. You will make friends, learn from others and think in ways you never imagined.

Hats off to such an inspiring conference!

If you are interested in attending a future academy click here.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Why We Teach

There are those moments in our lives that make us appreciate what we do.  I have to admit I was blown away by some feedback from my third grade students this year.  I know I mentioned what an amazing group of third graders I had this year, but they still went above and beyond in so many ways.  

I can't say enough about this feedback:


Dear Mr. Killeen,

I am wholly lucky that I was in Mr. Killeen's wonderful sanctuary of a classroom for more than five minutes to drop off a piece of paper. Mr. K took me right out of my shell into the blinding spotlight of the center stage.

Mr. Killeen started the class off with quick writes/writing prompts, then Show-Me-Writing, next was figurative language and the class went directly off of the charts from there. I am on summer break and I actually long to waltz through his class again, the crisp scent of toasty Starbucks buzzing through my nose. Anyway, man, woman, or child, if you desire to become an astonishing author or you just want to find your words trek on over to Mr. Sean Killeen's and you could become the next John Green.

P.S. I wish you the best of luck publishing. I am going to give it a whirl myself. Thank you for everything. 


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Closing In On The End Of The Year

The school year is coming to a close soon.  Is it me or do school years fly by? Another summer is on the horizon.

I must admit this group did an amazing job and their effort was fantastic.  I know they'll continue to soar in fourth grade!

I always try to take any spare time in the final week to get ready for next year's early days.  Yes, September will be here before you know it, and a new class will embark on their educational journey, but it's nice to have some key things done in preparation.  A few minutes each day right now will save a lot of time in September.  These are some ideas that seem to help me:

Sharpen as many pencils as you can now as students gobble them up the first few weeks of school.  Here is a great sign for your sharpened and unsharpened pencil buckets that I will be using next year.  I got this cool freebie from Donna at Peace Love and Learning.
Click here for freebie
Go through one section in your file cabinet and ask yourself, "When was the last time I used this paper, pamphlet, copy or packet?"  

Make copies of the "must haves" for the first week of school  The copiers aren't as busy right now, but in September the lines will wrap around the office.

Take a quick inventory of some supplies you might hope to see on sale over the summer.  This might consist of highlighters, pens, pencils, erasers, folders, etc.

Jot down a few lessons that went really well this past year.  You can always go back and refer to your list at the beginning of the next school year.

Is there a read aloud book you want to showcase in the first few weeks?  Put it aside and it's one less thing you'll have to worry about later.  Here is what we will be reading next year:

When you close your door for the summer and return home, put your feet up, sit back and relax.  You earned it!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

"How To" Writing Brought to Life

Have you ever done "how to" lessons with your class?  I believe these lessons and strategies teach the students transitional or temporal words as well as the importance of sequence.

I taught my students various methods of writing a "how to" informational piece.  The students had the option to select their own topic, but they had to actually do the "how to" in front of the whole class, while following their own steps.  I know this idea has been floating around for years, but I never had the students carry out the actual "how to" in my own class.

The students followed my "how to" lessons and they completed their final drafts. The class has been doing the "how to" lessons all week and I am amazed with the creativity.  Some of the students called up volunteers to see if their sequencing worked with other classmates.  Their accuracy was amazing. This is a lesson the entire class enjoyed.

Here is a list of some "how to" ideas from the week:

* make a fortune paper
* play a song on the piano- Thanks to the piano in the cafe!
* throw, catch, and hit a baseball
* shoot a basketball
* blow up a balloon using baking soda, vinegar, and an empty bottle
* making slime This student made her own video with the necessary steps!
* origami- Shirts and pants

* how to make an origami star

* card tricks
* washing hands
* make animation
* yoga
* dance
* use a tennis racket properly
* wash your hands properly
* be a model citizen in the class
* skateboard safety
* make a volcano

Some of the highlights from this lesson included student creativity, actual demonstrations, class participation, follow-through, speaking, listening, patience from the students and overall success.

Monday, May 25, 2015

How to make unit reviews exciting

Do you ever think about unique ways to make end-of-unit reviews interesting?  I attended a CTA conference a while back and I got this awesome idea for reviewing learned concepts in the classroom. The presenter was named Big Al and this is a variation on his math game "Facts in Five" that he modeled for us.  You may use this free template/organizer for any subject matter.

I use this organizer to review and practice all the time.  Students are always engaged; some have even designed their own templates.

I created an end of the year organizer shown below.  I placed science, math, writing, social studies and language arts words in the various quadrants.

This is how the game works:

  • The teacher or game leader pre-selects a theme, word, or category 
  • Individual students call out a word
  • Students are given yes or no answers if their guesses fit the theme, word, or category
    • "Is the word in quadrant 3?"
    • "No."
    • "Is the word in quadrant 1?"
    • "No."
    • "Is the word in quadrant 4?"
    • "Yes."
    • "Is 'desert' the word"
    • "No."
    • "Is the word 'orbit'?"
    • "Yes
  • I would then continue the game with other items related to the solar system.

You can play this game several ways.  You can get the students to guess the classification of things. For example, a student selects snow, farm, rain and circle.  You inform the students he/she was correct. Next, the student has to make an educated guess as to what you are looking for in your thinking. They respond with, "I think they are multiple meaning words." I let him/her know that I indeed was was looking for terms that have multiple meanings. Ideally, you want the students to review concepts in an out of the box way.

This pattern is strictly up to you and what you want the students to focus on.  Sometimes the game will move quickly and sometimes it takes several terms to come to the correct answer.

In the end, your class will be using learned vocabulary and everyone gets to participate.  Once the class understands how to play this game, they will get the opportunity to come up and have the class guess their line of thinking.  The excitement will be high!

This year's class recently came up with the following ideas:
proper nouns
solar system
writing terms
things to do with math
words with multiple vowels
words with double consonants
multisyllabic terms

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Narrative Writing

We write personal, historical and fictional narratives throughout the year.  The students really seem to enjoy taking you on their writing journey. I feel they learn so much through a systematic approach where each learned concept builds upon prior lessons.

The following students wrote their fictional narratives in Goggle Docs.  These are their unedited versions.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Guest Speaker

I was invited to speak with several student teachers at California State Dominguez Hills this past week.  They were an amazing and engaging group. I spoke about beginning of the year writing strategies, modeling, storytelling, offering feedback, academic vocabulary, rubrics, sharing student work, show me writing, conferencing, revising and editing.   In addition, we discussed instructional implications for lessons.

For many of the strategies, I asked the group to wear two hats in the form of teacher and/or student. I wanted the group to get an authentic feel for real classroom life. They were eager and willing participants, especially when it came to writing on their own and sharing out.  It's not always easy reading your own writing sample to a group of forty, but many were up for the challenge.  As much as I hope they leaned from me...I certainly learned from them!  They Rocked!

These are some of the resources I shared last week:

Click here to download the topic chart.

Click here to download the show me writing.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Young Writers

I am piloting a writing club at my school for third grade students.  This is a creative writing group that will meet once a week for the rest of the school year.  We will write narratives, short stories and learn about other writing genres. 

We had our inaugural meeting a few weeks ago and it couldn't have gone any better!  The students were really excited for the group to begin. We went over introductions, expectations and questions. Composition books, folders, pens and pencils were handed out and the smiles continued to grow.

The students did a quick write on all things writing.  Next, we went over the aspects of Show Me Writing.  I used some student work examples as references for the Show Me and the Young Writers grasped the concept immediately. Also, we talked about figurative language and its importance in writing.  Finally, I fielded a few more questions and then the bell sounded.

I'm looking forward to our next workshop!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Editing and Revising

How do you teach your class about editing and revision?  I like to give my class options throughout the school year with editing and revising.  I teach them how to self-regulate by editing/revising on the fly.  Instead of waiting until the final copy is due, students make corrections, deletions, edits and revisions along the way.  The students are making adjustments as the write.  For example, if a student started a narrative, he/she might go back and check for a an eye catching hook, or, a student might monitor sentence variation.  Another student might check for figurative language or adding detail. Somebody else might check for the overall flow of their writing piece. The student decides what needs to be changed but you can always offer assistance and guidance.

Another editing and revising option for the class is to edit/revise when the rough draft is completed. I use ROLES (read out loud, edit and then switch their work with a partner) during this process.  As a class, we look for capitals, organizing, punctuation, flow and spelling in a writing sample. Then, the class practices this strategy with a partner.   Sure, they will miss some errors, but as the year progresses, they will make fewer mistakes.

Using ROLES, in conjunction with editing on the fly, leads to polished pieces that makes students proud.

ROLES Poster Freebie

Sunday, March 29, 2015

TpT Meet Up

A small of group of us meet last month to talk about TpT and some other cool things going on in our classrooms in Anaheim.  It was a great time and I felt like I made some real connections with new friends.

Some of the topics which were generated from that meet up centered upon our TpT stores, products, blogging styles and a little about ourselves.

I have had my TpT store for a little over two years.  I sell a variety of products.  If you visit my store, then you will find the following:

Figurative Language across all genres
Holiday themed items (MLK, President's Day, Groundhog Day, Valentine's Day, Saint Patrick's Day, Halloween, & Thanksgiving)
Mental Math Cards
Math Patterns
Daily Morning Work

The one product I am most proud of happens to be my simile and metaphor unit.  I have received great feedback on this item.
My blogging style is a combination of family and school. I like to write about what is going on in my personal life as well as all the incredible things we are doing in class.  The one major point of focus is writing.

I am currently approaching my twentieth year of teaching and it has happened so quickly.  I've taught third, fourth and fifth grade.

My son, Ciaran, a loving four year old, keeps me active.  He is an amazing little boy who brings nothing but joy.  My wife and I love to take him to the park, read, build puzzles, watch entertaining shows, travel, take walks and joke around.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Mystery Trash Item

Have you ever tried the mystery trash item in your classroom?  I got this idea from other teachers (TpT) and I really like the way it works.

The challenge may be conducted in various ways.  You may randomly pick an item on the floor that you want picked up, but the students don't know what the item is that your looking for...hence the mystery trash.  Personally, I write down the item/s I am looking for on a piece of paper.  Then, I place the mystery item it in a box for the day. Sometimes I might even add items throughout the day.   I watch closely to see which student found the item. The selected objects may range from crumpled paper to straightening out a rug. Finally, I reveal the mystery item at the end of the day to the class.

The reward system is up to you.  I have several pencils that I use as the daily prize. Students may opt for a positive school coupon.  Either makes cleaning up a fun time and gets everyone engaged.  In addition, music is always playing in the background.  The students have a blast and we all end up with a sparkling classroom at the end of the day!

Images courtesy of My Cute Graphics

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Student Presentations on Inquiry

The students did their inquiry presentations last week and they did an amazing job.  They put together Venn Diagrams, Google slides, dressed up in character, painted images, made posters, note cards, charts and they walked the room keeping the others engaged.  

It's difficult to capture the amazing moments from their oral presentations, but students routinely drew raucous applause from the others.

I am quite pleased my class went down this path of inquiry.  I am so proud of them.  

Here are a few pictures from the creative presentations:


Venn Diagram



Ocean Formations

Inquiry on Failure

Failure Inquiry

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Inquiry Presentation Week

The students have worked so hard on researching their inquiry the past few weeks.  They collected data in school via the chrome books. Students were able to use articles and other media. In addition, students were allowed to gather more information at home, if desired.

The class had to come up with the question of inquiry on their own.  I did not offer assistance in the selections of their topics.

About five to six students will present their inquiry to the class each day this week.  I'm looking forward to the creativity within each presentation.

I have listed some of the topics of interest:

What lives in the various stories of the jungle?
How are legos made?
How did oceans form?
How is glass made and what are different types of glass?
How is money made?
Who makes computers?
Why do shooting stars fall from the sky?
What causes mental illness?
How do beavers make dams?
How does water evaporate?
What's a dog's natural habitat?
How do tsunami's form?
How do people figure out where to put the capitals of every state?
Who invented school?
What color is the sky?
Who invented the internet?
How do polar bears adapt to their environment?
How do koalas adapt to their environment?
How do volcanoes form?
How many countries are in the world?
I am curious about tigers!
Why are some fish flat?
Why are some cars faster than others?

Student Questions

I'll keep you posted about their research/presentations later in the week.