Sunday, August 20, 2017

How I Use Wonder (by R.J. Palacio) to Cultivate my Classroom Community



Wonder by R.J. Palacio is my absolute favorite children's book. Whenever I introduce the book to the class, I tell them about the first time I read it.

It was summer vacation, and I was on a plane on the way to Europe, and I heard great things about this book, so I decided to jump in and read it (not knowing much about it) since I had about 10 hours to kill, and I thought at least I might get a good start on the book. Now I'm the kind of person who, even when seated in the middle row, falls asleep on a plane before flight attendants even go over the safety procedures. I then wake up, drooling, as we prepare for landing (I know, #blessed). I started the book as I was waiting to board, giggling, as I imagined how my students would react to the fart story in the book. Fast forward what seemed like just a couple minutes, and I was in my seat hiding my Kindle as the flight attendants walked past (I know, guilty, don't tell). I just couldn't put the book down. Auggie's character just drew me in, and I needed the know his story. THEN I got to the Via chapter and realized that this book was in multiple perspectives. Game changer. I was so invested in this book, and so thankful that I had hours left of my flight to read it. It was an emotional roller coaster. At a few points I had to put on my sunglasses because I was sobbing. My brother was so embarrassed.

Now this is where my students interject, "WHY WOULD WE WANT TO READ A BOOK THAT MAKES US CRY?!"

Well, some of the time I was crying because I was so happy. Some of the time I was crying because I was sad. At some points, I felt angry, or guilty, or just extremely connected to one of the characters. I always tell them that if a book can make you have a kind of reaction like that, it's worth reading. I finished reading Wonder that flight. Didn't get a blink of sleep, and was totally jet lagged for the first day or so.

As an adult, this book helped me empathize with students in a way that I really hadn't before. From the variety of themes found throughout the book, to the different perspectives children get to see, I feel that this book is a must read for children in elementary school. Wonder is just one of those books that makes you think...which is why I used this book to help cultivate my classroom community.

I started with designing a positive learning environment. 

I made some paintings for the classroom of memorable lines from the book. 



I posted these around the classroom to spark discussion and get students thinking. Whenever we get to the part in the book when one of these quotes is stated, I see about 10 hands shoot up, "HEY!! THAT'S WHAT IT SAYS ON THE PAINTING!!" Cue the in-depth discussion. 

For those who are not artistically inclined (or just less obsessive), these printables get the job done, too. 

Click Here
Click Here



As a pre-reading discussion, I did the crumpled paper activity.

After doing the crumpled paper activity, I ask students to listen for times in Wonder where a character may feel like this piece of paper. 


I created a positive reinforcement plan inspired by Wonder

Together we brainstorm ways to be kinder than necessary or ways to be Wonderful students. I mention that a lot of times it's easy to focus on or draw attention to the negative, so I challenge students to be on the lookout for positive things their classmates do. When they catch a positive act, they fill out a Wonderful student card and put it in a box. At the end of the week we empty the box. The Kindness Ambassadors (student job in the classroom) will read the anonymous Wonderful student cards. Students will then be given a sticker that says, "Ask me why I'm Wonderful." When they wear that sticker, other teachers and staff, family members and other classmates are brought into the picture. Students get to share what good deeds they did! I really feel that this has made the biggest impact on my class. It's such a special time of the week, and the smile on these students' faces when they are told that they are wonderful is so rewarding.

Click Here to Purchase
Be on the lookout for a post that describes this positive reinforcement plan more thoroughly:
  • How to ensure EVERY student feels Wonderful
  • How to avoid students just writing Wonderful student cards for their friends
  • How to encourage bigger acts of kindness
  • SUCCESS STORIES: How "attention-seeking" students flourish! 

As I get to powerful parts of the story, I do a close reading activity. 

With our reading curriculum, we unfortunately do not have the time to do an entire novel study on this book. I found that doing these quick close reading activities helped students understand these crucial parts more deeply, it was a nice way to switch up the reading workshop routine a little bit, AND they meet the fourth grade standards!

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And I mean, come ON. Look at the quality you get from these kids!! 


I've also had students log a Precept journal on year (they literally begged me to let them do this). I do, however, find this tricky to keep up with on a daily basis, so read to find out how I plan to modify this to make it work for my fourth graders. 

Click Here 


I dressed up like the book.

Ok, unfortunately this was only one time. Our theme one year for staff Halloween costumes was superheroes, so I got a little punny and became WONDER WOMAN! The class LOVED it, and enjoyed brainstorming what super powers Wonder Woman would have! 
Fun Fact: I tweeted this at R.J. Palacio, and she favorited it. I was STARSTRUCK! :-P

I researched book signings in the area to include family in the wonder of Wonder

I was SOOOOO devastated that I had already booked a flight to visit my family the ONE time she came to the area! Luckily a family generously got me a signed copy, and told me all about what R.J. Palacio had to say! It was so great to hear how much fun the families had!


I have Wonder themed Literature Circles & library organization.

I haven't had a student yet who doesn't love this book...but even a great book like this doesn't flick that switch in some readers' minds that reading is AWESOME. I think we can all agree that a community that supports being lifelong readers is SO important. 

Often times I'll hear, "Well I like WONDER, but there aren't any other books that good." 

I have a whole book bin (or two) in my library labeled, "If You Liked Wonder..." Those books are usually checked out within 2 days of starting the read aloud. I also have literature circles with books with similar themes. I've listed some of my favorite titles below:
  • Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
  • Fish in a Tree by Lynda Hunt
  • Rules by Cynthia Lord
  • Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea
  • Ungifted by Gordon Korman 
  • Rain Reign by Ann Martin 

I relate the story to anything and everything.

Literally. Content? Student disagreements? Writing styles? EVERYTHING relates!

I integrate Wonder into the curriculum. 

Second Step is a social-emotional program for students, and our writing program allows for some flexibility, so I merged the two together to make my FAVORITE writing project of all time. Here's the gist:
  • Students pick a character to empathize with.
  • Students pick a moment from the book that this character experienced. 
  • Students write about that moment from that character's perspective, being sure to quote text from previous chapters to tie in the perspectives. 
Click Here 

But wait, there's more!

With the excitement of the movie coming out, I see this school year as my LAST CHANCE to have that raw and authentic reaction with the book and my class. SAD...But I also see it as an opportunity to really take my Wonder obsession to a new level. Here's my Wonder bucket list for this year: 
  • Wonder Certified Kind Classroom Challenge!!! - I am SO excited about the different activities provided. We're going to design the kindness shirts the first couple days, implement the kindness jar right away, and do the discussions throughout! 
  • Precept Picker - This is my new classroom job. Each week one student will get to pick a precept out of the 365 Days of Wonder book.  They will write it up on the bulletin board, and students will have the week to put post-its up of their thoughts and reactions about this precept (so it's more of a collaborative bulletin board). During our weekly meeting we will reflect on what this precept means to our class. The Precept Picker will document this in a book for our class. 


  • Mystery Meet Ups (AKA Mystery Skype) - I'm calling it a meet up because I'm using Google Hangout instead. I plan to connect with multiple classes around the US (MAYBE internationally if we get lucky) to discuss different parts of the book. I have been so excited about it, I already created some forms to help me organize it. 
Click here to download, and comment below if you'd like to connect!! 

  • Classroom Community Service - I'd love to do a community service project with the class. One that doesn't require raising a ton of money (I don't want to put the pressure on families). I plan to brainstorm ideas with the class to see what they come up with. Has anyone done a community service project with their class before? Suggestions? 
  • Engineering Design Project - You've probably heard of Novel Engineering, but I want to tie in more of an empathy theme. I'd love for students to be able to design something for someone who is viewed as different. This is a work in progress -- YAY for having an Advanced Learning Facilitator who is just as excited about the book! 
  • Incorporate Related Nonfiction Text - I found this website, Common Lit, that has Nonfiction text that relates to Wonder. What I love is that you can search by novel!! Only down side is that I think most of the text is going to be a little too tough for my fourth graders, but there's gotta be at least one article that will work! 
  • Kindness Ambassador - This is another classroom job that I currently have. Their role will continue to be sharing the kind gestures from classmates, but I want to add another component to it -- almost like an upstander of the week who has a challenge to spot something good in an assigned individual as well as the other classmates. I also want them to come up with good deeds! I don't know exactly how it's going to work, but I'll post about it once I have a better idea. 
  • Fabulous Bulletin Board Ideas - Sorry, no spoilers..you'll see soon! 

How do you use R.J. Palacio's Wonder in your classroom? 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

SPOOKTACULAR [Common Core] Way Keep the Learning Going Around Halloween Time!

Candy? Costumes? Parties? Parades? Spooky stories? Staying out until dark? 

Can you blame them for being a little rowdy this time of year? 

Grab a Pumpkin Spice Latte, and relax. 


This Halloween Close Reading lesson requires students to read nonfiction passages from National Geographic about unique, spooky animals. Each of the animals have qualities that are similar to either a vampire, ghost, or monster. Students will then be expected to infer which animal is considered a vampire, ghost, or monster, and provide evidence from the text to support their claim. 


These passages are fascinating, and had my students saying, "MS. MILLER, DID YOU KNOW...?!" 

Have a Spooktacular time, and be sure to spruce up your room with some banners as well by stopping by my TPT Store! 

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Friday, August 15, 2014

DIY Class Decor in 5 Minutes: How to Make Hanging Tissue Paper Decorations!

Have you gotten classroom envy from some of these Pinteresting teachers and their elaborately decorated classrooms, too? These quick tissue paper crafts will spruce up your room. They're super easy, too! In fact, I had my coworker's first and third grade boys help me. She's REALLY thankful I taught them, too, because now she has some new decor in her house ;).

She also gets to enjoy a little reminder of me ;) haha. 



So funny! Anyway, here's how to make these lovely little guys! 



Here's what you need:

  • 4 pieces of tissue paper 
  • scissors
  • glue gun
  • glue stick or Elmer's glue
  • string/ribbon
  • 1 pipe cleaner (cut in half) or 2 pipe cleaners
Step 1: Get two pieces of tissue paper and line them up. 

Step 2: Fold the tissue paper like an accordion or fan (about 1 inch thick).





Step 3: Repeat steps 1 and 2 to create a second tissue paper "fan."


Step 4: Fold each fan in the middle and wrap a pipe cleaner around it. 




Step 5: Put the middle parts together, and tie a long piece of string or ribbon around. This is the ribbon that the pinwheel will be hanging from. 




Step 6: TRIM so they're all the same length, then GLUE the sides together. 




Step 7: Spread out to create a circle. 




Step 8: Glue ribbon in place. 


Step 9: Hot glue sign in the middle. 




TA DA....Tissue Paper Pinwheels! 

The puffy ball shaped ones (which my coworker's children called, "Cha-Cha Balls," are just as easy! 
Here's what you need: 
  • 7+ pieces of tissue paper (I usually use 8-10 with bigger puffs to make it more full)
  • scissors
  • string/ribbon
  • 1 pipe cleaner 


Follow steps 1-4, but instead of creating two fans, you are creating ONE fan with 7+ pieces. 

Steps 1-4: See above.



Step 5:  Cut round edges on both ends of the fans. 


Step 6: Pull individual pieces of the tissue paper toward the center, but BE CAREFUL! It rips easily! Alternate sides as well. 

Side 1
 Flip -- Side 2

Step 7: FLUFF, and make it full!!



And...TA-DA...CHA CHA BALLS!



Download the table number signs from my TpT store in the "Back to School" section! 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Teacher Hack: Easy Way to Get FREE Clipart for REUSE!

I've really enjoyed my experience with Teachers Pay Teachers, and have been pleasantly surprised with how successful my sales have been. Ever since, I've been convincing any teacher who will listen to start an account on Teachers Pay Teachers. 

The most common excuse not to was, "I use a lot of clipart, and I'm nervous about Copyright infringement!" And, "I don't want to pay for images." 

Fear not my fellow cheapskate teachers! I, too, am not a fan on spending money to make activities that will hopefully sell...unless it's REALLYYYY CUTE. Then I'll buy it. 

 This trick just takes a minute: 



  1. Go to Google Images and type in the image you'd like to search
  2. Click "Search Tools" 
  3. Select "Usage Rights" once the menu drops down
  4. Choose "Labeled for Reuse"
Obviously, this limits your search, thus limiting the cuteness of the clipart, but sometimes you'll find a gem. For me, this is a guilt free method if I need to add a little somethin' somethin' to a worksheet. 

It's so easy that I started to have my students do this. I stress the importance of citing sources and not breaking any copyright infringement. Any time they publish something online, I make sure they filter out any images not labeled for reuse.