Meaningful Map Facts

Hello! I wanted to share a little activity that has helped in a big way in our class this year. This activity complements one I shared back in February, Utilizing Those Nonfiction Text Features.

During our unit on explorers, our class encountered numerous helpful maps. The only problem? With so much information on the textbook pages, I wasn't sure my students were really analyzing the maps carefully.

So we devoted one whole lesson to strictly analyzing a map.

Doesn't that always feel nerve-wracking? Like you should be covering more in a lesson? But I've learned that these really focused lessons are the ones with the biggest payoff in the end.

taking a look
At first glance, it looked at though it showed a bunch of famous explorers and their routes (I'm thinking like a 5th grader can tell, right??):

then a closer look..
But upon closer analysis, we noticed so much more. We began with a turn and talk. The partners identified tons of additional information to what we had already known so far. Explorers who had chosen similar paths. Others who claimed lands. Treaties that had to be drawn up. Unique routes to Asia. The list went on and on.

taking note
We then turned to a simple template to record a bulleted list of facts we could pull from the map. Meaningful facts...ones that tied into our prior knowledge of these explorers.

Soon the pencils were flying, filling the page up with all the things they had learned from this one map.

After sharing our findings as a whole class, we were amazed to see all we had learned from this map. 

And it gets even better!

 unexpected benefits
We had accomplished what I had hoped for in this students had analyzed the maps collaboratively and independently. They made and noted key observations, extending their understanding of this topic.

However, I didn't realize at the time how much the information would stick!

Weeks later, as we were working on our informational texts (all about explorers!) I conferenced with student after student who recalled details for their research from this map. "Remember how Magellan found that waterway in South America to get to the Pacific Ocean? It was on that map we looked at," they told me.

I couldn't have been any happier!

These connections and understandings are the kind I'm always striving to achieve with all of my students, especially my newcomer English Language Learners. Knowing that the information had stayed with my students proved how meaningful the lesson was.

I do have some more to share about using maps in Social Studies, but I will save that for next time. In the meantime...

would you like to try it out?
If you would like to grab a copy of the fact template, please click on the preview image below:
I hope it is as helpful in your classroom as it has been in ours! Thanks for visiting! :)

Don't Answer Questions

Sounds kind of unteacherly, doesn't it?

But I promise it isn't!

Before I tell you though, I must share the exciting's a new month of Bright Ideas!
And, just like last time, I'm linking up with tons of my blogging friends to bring you another month filled with teaching ideas. In a crazy-hectic year, this linky has truly become one of my favorite things to look forward to!

So. Back to the questions.

There are a lot of questions that come up during the school day, aren't there? And I love that my students are always thinking critically and know they can ask these kinds of questions during all lessons.
But I had been wondering lately...was I really answering them in the best way possible?

Sure it's great my 5th graders are asking thought-provoking questions...but in the fast-paced frenzied feeling of the school day, I felt like I wasn't taking the time to do these questions justice. I felt like I was just giving an answer back automatically.

Then, one day during a math lesson, it hit me:

Don't answer all of their questions.

So a student raised her hand and asked a thoughtful question.

I opened my mouth, stopped, closed my mouth, and hesitated.

Then I said, 

"That's a great question...I'm going to turn that back to the class."

"What do you think?"

There was a brief moment of quiet, maybe of a bit of surprise at being asked to reflect on a classmate's question. But then they got talking...and solving!

It didn't take extra time I had feared losing. It was actually quick and engaging for my students. I realized then I had a new strategy to utilize in all subjects.

Turning student questions back to the class has helped them in so many ways. This type of discussion has allowed my students to:
Students are asked to think critically about answers and solutions to these questions. What background knowledge do they have? What known strategies can they apply to answer this?

This type of questioning and answering lends itself so naturally to a Turn and Talk format (which my 5th graders are VERY fond of!). An engaged class makes a happy, learning class and THAT makes for a very happy teacher!

Student-led questioning and answering also brings a sense of belonging to an academic, collaborative community. Students know their questions are valued. They are a guiding force in the learning. I have noticed an increase in the amount of high-level, thoughtful questions asked since we have begun this format.
I realize this is probably something many others do and I do not wish to act like I've invented something new...but what I have learned from this experience has impacted my teaching in all subjects.

I've learned to listen even harder, take more time, and let my students guide their way in learning when the questions call for it.

It truly has been one of the best experiences this school I know I will carry with me into the future.
So...are you ready to read some incredible bright ideas? I have been waiting all week for this!! Just click on any of the wonderful blogs just below:


Make a Digital Plan (with

Hello dear friends! 

I have to tell you, every time I look at my blog I get this horrible-pit-of-sadness-feeling over my lack of blogging this year. 

I miss it terribly. I miss YOU all even more!

But you know how it goes I'm sure, more than anyone else does. New standards to implement, lesson planning around the clock, falling asleep in an armchair before 9:00 PM.

I know I'm not alone in this!

Anyhow...about that planning part I mentioned.

One thing has made my teaching life so much easier this year:
Oh, how I!

There are so many thing you can do with this site, starting with one of my favorite past-times...color-coding:
(as you can see, ahem, I've yet to fill out my plans for next week. But I am blogging!!!)

Each class you create has an option to choose a color:

I set mine to correlate with my students' color-coded subjects and I gray out the non-academic times like lunch and recess:

Classes can be set up to run once a week (which is ideal for our specials) or daily:

Now for the fun part (ok, the color-coding is a fun part too but THIS is my true favorite).

There are drop down menus to copy and paste lesson formats!

For instance, I have worked really hard this year to include an essential question in each lesson I teach. I also have all of my classes set up in a workshop format. makes it really easy to copy and paste this format. All you have to do is click on the little arrow on the right side of the lesson box:

Choose copy from the menu:

Then go to the next lesson and select paste to place the same formatting in this next area:

You can also select "extend" to continue a lesson into the next day:

This will make a copy of your exact plan which you can place in the next day's box, so you can continue on!

I type up all of my plans on on my laptop and access them with the app on my iPad at school. THIS is really cool because I can view my plans without lugging my computer in my bag:

It's just perfect!

I'm not blogging about this on behalf of, just out of love of the site on my own. For $12.00 a year, it is a dream of a bargain considering how much easier it has made my planning life!

I hope this was of help if you did not know about this site yet!

How do you like to set up your lesson plans?
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