Kick worksheets to the curb and engage your students!

Mid Year slump

Check this scenario…It’s March and you’re lesson planning for next week.  Suddenly, you look at what you’ve written!  It’s the same as what you have written for this week…Intro, teach lesson, practice worksheet, assign homework, moving on!  Where did the beginning of the school year eagerness and fun activities go?  I know, I know….those activities got lost in the day to day paperwork, school meetings, pacing guides, benchmark testing…and on and on!  I know because I’ve been there many, many times!  You’re draggin’ and so are your lessons!

What to do?

I decided to look back at my beginning of the year lesson and WALAA!  It was right there in front of me…activities that I used before the day to day of school dragged me down!  I want to share some ideas with you and I hope you’ll do the same for me, as I am always lookin’ to add to my own bag of “tricks”!

here we go!!!

#1  Dictionary Dash!!!  I teach reading using novels and one of my favorite is Blood on the River.  It’s a historical fiction novel about the founding of Jamestown.  The vocabulary in the novel can be a challenge, but the idea of making students sitting at their desks,  looking up definitions of unknown words and writing them in their journal gave me chills!!

Dictionary Dash to the rescue…My students, the year I created it,  were VERY competitive and this was right up their alley.  I let my kids partner with a friend and gave each pair a dictionary.  On my white board I created a chart:     Word                      Part of Speech                    Definition

I wrote the vocabulary word in the “Word” column and then I said, “Go!”  The first group that located the word got the privilege of writing the part of speech and definition on the board.  When all the words were defined and written on the board, the students then copied down the vocabulary words into their journals.  My students BEG to play this game once I have them play it.

While I have used it for reading, I have also used this game in Science and Social Studies.  Let your imagination be your guide!!

#2 Task Cards!!!! 

  Love, love, love task cards!  The cards lend themselves to SOOOO many uses and really energize my students.  I print them out on card stock, laminate, and they are ready!!

A Pass A Problem  I put one or two cards on each student’s desk.  I have my students record the number on the task card on their answer sheet and then solve the problems.  They record their answers and put their hands on their shoulders.  This lets me know and once students have recorded their answers, they move to the next desk and start the process of recording and solving the task card problem.  The students move clockwise around the room solving problems at each desk.  When the students arrive back at their desk, the game is over and now the class checks their answers.

B.  Station/center lesson  They can be differentiated to meet the needs of all your students very easily.  Print the cards on different colored paper and WALAA!  Stations/center planning done!  Here are a couple of examples I use with my class.  Click on them to check out some of my task cards or the  Upper Elementary Measurement Activities task cards located  in my TpT store.

2c. Small guided group lessons  Task cards fit really well into small group lessons.  They allowed me to really  differentiate my tasks without spending a lot of time looking for the exact activity.  Task cards made it a snap! to meet the needs of all the levels of my students and reinforce what had been taught or reviewed in the whole group lesson.

3.  Whiteboard Jeopardy!!!  My first year at a new school left me without a SMARTboard so I created a paper and pencil version of Jeopardy.  I created a grid with letter columns across the whiteboard and numbers down the whiteboard.  Within each box of the grid, I placed an index card with such messages as “100 pts.” or “Lose 25 pts.” and placed them face down on the white board with magnets.  The students were placed on two teams and each team was given a question to answer.  If correct, the students then chose a card using the grid addresses.  The message was read and points added or subtracted.  Teams also could win extra turns.  The game is only limited by the creator’s imagination.  I like to use this one for review.

I hope some of my ideas have generated some more ideas for you!  Please share what you do to overcome the mid year slump that seems to grab us every year!!!






How I Improved My Grammar Lessons By Not Teaching!

when students talk, i listen

A few weeks ago, in the midst of coming in from recess, I was given the word by several students that my English lessons were boring  less engaging than some of my other subject lessons.  Now I could have gotten angry, or bent out of shape, or any other teacher emotion that comes to mind when told a lesson was not all that it could be.  Truth be told, my lessons had gotten stale…that after holidays, after January, waiting for Presidents’ Day time of year.  I won’t lie, grammar often got the short end of the stick in the day as I tried to fit everything in, as I am a self-contained fifth grade teacher!

Students step up!

While I’ve been teaching for more than 20 years, I’m pretty open to new ideas to improve the learning in my classroom.  Trust me, I’ve known a few  “done it this way for years so why change?.” teachers.  That’s not me, so I tuned in with all ears as I entered the conversation.  “How could I fix the lessons?, ” was what I asked.  Imagine my surprise when one of my best students asked if she could teach the next lesson!  We were both surprised when the words, “Sure, let’s do this!,” came out of my mouth.  Next thing I knew, several more students volunteered to teach lessons.

How do I do this, Teacher?

I sat down with my first volunteer and together we chose the lesson…Object Pronouns!  We chose a date…three days in the future and I gave her my teacher edition.  “I’ve got this, Mrs. Mescall” was what I heard until the day of the lesson.

D-Day or should I say T-Day (teach)!  My student did an amazing job…she taught us with a fun game using large dice.  The students rolled the two dice of different colors.  Each number on one of the dice corresponded to a specific object pronoun.  The second dice numbers corresponded to a specific subject pronoun.  Students then took those two pronouns and created a sentence with both pronouns used correctly.  The students loved the game and my teacher student then walked around checking sentences and having the class read their sentences!    SCORE!!  It was a good lesson and I will totally be stealing her game for another time!!!

Lining Up!

Our second student-led  lesson was about possessive pronouns.  I again shared my teacher edition and  that Brainpop had a good videos and activities.  My second student-led class was also a success! My second student’s lesson was more digital and the class really enjoyed it.   We did so well as a class that we were rewarded with “thin mints” as we were “smart cookies”!

Have I totally given up teaching grammar and English…not really.  I do still teach them both, but I have continued to offer the opportunity to teach the class.  Several more students are eager to teach and I will certainly be letting them try out their teaching skills!




I do have some games and activities you might want to try to add some fun and spice to your English lessons!  Check out the links below!

A fun game with verb tenses!

Here are activities to help master there, their, and they’re!

Here are 3 levels of antonyms to meet the needs of all!

Do You Really Know George & Abraham?

Fact or Fib?

George Washington never told a lie.  Abraham Lincoln walked ten miles to return a nickel.  Theses are some of the “facts” I was taught about these two most beloved and celebrated presidents.  What’s the truth?

I went on a hunt for facts about both of these presidents, each of whom have wonderful, but not necessarily true stories about their lives.

sharing is caring!

As I accumulated the facts about George and Abraham, I began to think about how to share these facts with my students.  It was an easy decision to make a game of it all.  Part of why I create products is to make learning fun for my students while also making life easier for my teacher friends. Here was a perfect opportunity to share what I had learned with both my students AND friends!

Celebrate With George and Abraham

I created a “FACT” or “FIB” sort to have students read statements about each of the presidents,  and after discussion, decide whether it’s a fact or a fib.  I have included the answers for teachers.  I also thought it would be fun for students to then take their newly acquired facts and create an acrostic about either president or both!  I’ve included a short assessment or pre/post worksheet and also a Venn diagram to compare the two presidents.


Celebrate Presidents’ Day with George and Abraham!


What are some and engaging ways you celebrate Presidents’ Day?  Let me know!




How I Make Fractions and Valentines Fun !

the most dreaded fifth grade math skill…fractions!!!

After 23 years in teaching and 15 years of teaching fifth graders, both departmental and self-contained, the most dreaded standard faced by teachers and fifth graders alike is the dreaded FRACTIONS unit!

Fractions seem to be the “boogie man” of math and so I was looking for a way to combine the practicing of fraction skills  and the upcoming Valentine’s Day with a fun activity.  While we do have a small party and exchanging of Valentine’s cards, there is still an expectation of staying the course with lessons!

awkward age…Fifth Grade

Fifth graders are looking forward to middle school at this time of year…more freedom, less teacher monitoring.  At the same time, they still enjoy Valentine’s parties and the exchanging of cards.  I wanted to make an activity that my kids didn’t see as “baby-ish” and would also challenge their math skills…always an area that needs practice!

the best of both Fractions and Valentine’s day!

The result was “Fraction Operations Valentines Mystery!”  My students love to break codes and solve puzzles, so  combining that with fractions, which we are studying and reviewing, seemed a natural.

Cupid has had his bow stolen by one of his holiday symbol friends and in order to identify the thief, students have to solve 4 different coded messages by solving fractions problems using all four operations.  

I have also included a “How To Use” for teachers!  Let me help you with your lesson planning!

Last, but certainly not least, each fraction worksheet has an answer sheet to help teachers help their students solve the mystery!

You can find this newest of my store products in my store by simply clicking on any of the pictures in my blog!

What do you think?  How do you make fractions fun for your students?  Let me know…I’d love to hear from you!



Want To Get Students Excited About Reading?

Reading is no fun?  whaaaat?

As a pleasure reader myself, it’s a killer when I hear a student say, “I don’t like to read.”  I’m not talking about reading  required in school subjects, I’m talking about reading for pleasure; curl up with a good book and be whisked away to some other place and time.  Too many students see reading as a chore, to be put off as long as possible. What’s a teacher/reader to do?

Here are some things that are working with my students…

try it, you’ll like it!

I looked over my daily schedule and I found two days where I could carve out about 15-20 minutes for my students to do some independent reading.  I wrote the times onto my schedule posted on the board daily.  For me, out of sight, out of mind, so seeing “independent reading” in the schedule, helped me make it happen.  I made no requirements or demands about what my students could read.  I let them make their own choices.

Leave it to the students!

During morning meetings, several of my students, who do read for pleasure, began to share books they were reading.  Hearing from other readers, my more reluctant readers began to try books their friends were reading.  One author, Margaret Peterson Haddix, really caught their attention with her “Shadow Children” series and the excitement from the students about how good the stories were, sent my reluctant readers flying to the library!  Score!!!

Feed them and they will come

My school has signed up for the Book It! program sponsored by Pizza Hut.  When students read a certain number of books, they are “rewarded” with a certificate for a personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut.  A bribe?  YES!!!!  The program comes with a certificate book that the teacher fills out for the student who has met the agreed upon goal for the month.  By the way, I have zero, nada, no affiliation with Book It! Another score!

technology calls!!!  Let’s answer!

My school librarian turned me on to an online library that is free for teachers and students!  It’s Epic books and you can find it at  It will walk you through the set up.

I created a class within the library, and gave the class code to the students and they were fired up!  Epic is just like your local library, but in this case, the books are at the finger tips of my students on their chromebooks!  While it is a subscription website for parents, my students can read for free when connected to our school’s WIFI!  Many of my students reach for their chromebooks and Epic when their work is done.  There are many audible books for struggling readers, too!  The Goosebumps series is really popular and it’s an audible series that many of my students are flying through!


So there you go!  I’m not saying these ideas will do it for all your “I don’t like to read,” students, but as Einstein said, “When you do the same thing over and over, expecting different results…” well, you know the end of that quote!

I’m always looking for ways to encourage my students to find pleasure in reading independently, so please share what you find is working in your classroom!



New Years Is A Time For Change

Promises, Promises!

I’ve never been one of those folks who sit down on Dec. 31 and make all kinds of “promises” about changes I planned to make in the coming New Year.  So why the title?  Wellll…I can explain

As some of you may know, I have a store, Susan Mescall, where I sell lesson ready products.    While I personally may not be making any changes, I have started looking at my store products and noticing that one of my earlier products needed a makeover…in other words…A CHANGE!

Who’s That?

I’m a fifth grade teacher and my students and I often share what books are being read out of school or during independent reading.  Somehow the subject of adventure books were being discussed and I mentioned Kidnapped.  One of my students wanted to know who the author was and when I replied with Robert Louis Stevenson,  no one in my class had any idea of who he was!  Kidnapped was my first experience with a “classic” adventure book when I was a kid and it bothered me that my students had no idea who he was.

What to do? What to do?

It really concerned me that my students had heard of the book, but had no idea about the author.  I decided to introduce my students to people who had impacted the world around them, but because to time, had been “forgotten”.

I began to search for people and their words of wisdom.  I have included such well-known people as Oprah Winfrey, and Mohammed Ali.  I have also included lesser known people as Jaime Escalante and Marva Collins.


(apologies to David Bowie!)

Imagine my dismay, when I took another look at my early product and discovered errors in grammar and the fact I no longer liked the look of my product.  So I have spent time changing, and hopefully you’ll agree, improving my product.

I changed the name to “Journal Responses for Students”.  I have taken out the clip art and made the pages and font larger.  I have also enlarged the author’s picture and updated information.

  So I guess you can say that Change is in the air today!!!

                    Let me know of any other folks you think today’s students should know about!

Journal Prompts for Students