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This is the first in a mutipart series about Depth and Complexity for primary students.

Today we will be covering

The Language of the Discipline, is represented by the lips or mouth icon. It focuses on content specific vocabulary or tools that we use when teaching or learning about a specific discipline.

As teachers, we often look at what words are specific to what we are learning or teaching. For example, if we were to look at a teacher's vocabulary or tools that they use during the school year, we might use words such as these...

During summer break, a teacher's tools and vocabulary might look a little bit more like this...


Funny how some of the terms stay the same all year long. :)

When applying this to students, it might look a little bit differently. Let's imagine that you are going to teach about camping, or use a camping theme. Before scrolling down, think of some content specific vocabulary that you would use related to the topic of camping.  

Was I able to capture some of the language that you had used?

So why is this important? Learning and using language pertinent to a specific discipline, subject, or topic, is essential in working toward mastery of that subject. We also know that vocabulary is a huge area in assessing, as well as every day life. 

Additionally, vocabulary and reading comprehension have very strong correlations. Students with poor vocabularies usually struggle with comprehending text. The cycle is continued when struggling readers avoid reading, thus decreasing the amount of vocabulary exposure.

So what can we do about that?

I will show you some engaging activities that are geared toward primary, but are easily applicable to any grade. I also need to point out that while Depth and Complexity was created for gifted students, these activities work very well for all learners.

Word webs or language maps are a great way to tap into what language students already have related to the topic. These work well as pre- and post assessment tools, as well. The language maps also serve as excellent anchor charts as you move through the unit you are teaching.

This cool and easy to make Fuzzy Stick Chit Chat card can be used as a whole class, independently, and with partners. Students slide the beads as they and each question and discuss each topic. The topics allow them to dig deeper into the specifics of the discipline at hand by asking questions such as "How does this discipline relate to other disciplines?" or "Tell how this topic applies to you?"

How about grabbing a beach ball and labeling it with various sentence stems and ideas related to the topic that you are discussing? Students answer the question that, let's day, their right thumb lands on. Tossing or rolling the ball across the room also helps get rid of the wiggles.  
(Be sure to set specific expectations for how the ball is to be handled ahead of time.)

Content specific vocabulary can be front loaded or as you encounter the words while teaching and learning. 

Recently during our camping unit, we came across the words bear box. That was not only a term that we had not discussed at the beginning of the unit, it was also a term I, as a desert dweller, had not heard of before. With a quick Google, we learned that a bear box is a sturdy, locked container where you pack your food and other items so that bears do not help themselves to your belongings. Bear boxes would be very important to campers who camp in highly populated bear areas. While we may all have a visual of what a bear box is, putting the name, or essential vocabulary term to the image is huge!

One of our favorite ways to teach about a specific discipline is through the Heads Above game. Students grab a card and place it inside a stretchy headband. The other students must give clues using that content rich vocabulary to help the headband wearer guess what is on the card. Super fun and engaging!

(Thank you to my amazing friend Carina for granting me permission to use this picture.)
Keeping visuals displayed in the classroom is key to reinforcing the concepts of what you want the students to learn. This poster provides a quick reference for students as they apply this to their current learning topics.

If your school allows for a little crafting time, creating these easy projects is very engaging and allows students to work on those important fine motor skills. In fact, you can add a pocket to nearly any craft activity. Provide examples and non-examples of words related to that discipline, and have students sort the words and store the words related to that discipline in the pocket. Encouraging students to add their own words to the pockets will certainly rev up their own thinking.

 (Doesn't that teacher look really, really happy? The words are stored in a pocket behind her teeth.)

As you can see, there are many benefits to using this Depth and Complexity to get your students on the path to deeper and more complex thinking. 

Have you used choice menus in your classroom? Allowing a student to work independently on a task they choose from your preselected tasks can have an enormous impact on their learning. This is a great way to differentiate for your students, engage early finishers, and, as a bonus, is easy, no prep for you.

Here is a sampling of the nine activities that students can work on to practice using the Language of the Discipline. 

If you like the activities in this post, you can grab them here.


For those of you that may not know, I have been fortunate enough to teach an accelerated second grade for three years. I took a break last year when I moved to a new school, but will be heading back to my passion of working with accelerated kiddos next year...and I couldn't be more excited!

Recently, there has been a surge in using Depth and Complexity icons, and here's why...if we are preparing our students for the future, we must teach them to think as their future selves will think.  Being "college ready" is our goal for all students as they graduate from high school, whether we follow the CCSS or not. Using the Depth and Complexity icons is a sure-fire way to assure this will happen.

Prepping our students by filling their toolboxes with ways to think deeper about topics will create in them diverse, complex thinkers who will, in turn, become natural problem solvers.

So, what exactly are we talking about here? The eleven icons developed by Sandra Kaplan and Bette Gould are thinking tools that can be applied to any subject or topic. Using the icons will allow students to become masters of the subject or topic. Often these icons are things that we as teachers incorporate into our lessons without even realizing we are doing it. :) The best part is, once you teach your students how to implement these icons into their learning, it will become second nature.

The eleven icons are: 

How many of you just thought, "Aha! I teach these things already!"? 

While these icons were developed for GATE students to use, they are easily applicable to all learners, including primary students, and I plan to help you navigate through that journey.

Over the next few weeks, we will be digging deeper into these eleven icons so that you can build your toolkit, which will in turn, allow your students to build their toolkits (WIN! WIN!).

First up will be the Language of the Discipline, which is one of my favorites because it deals with content specific vocabulary, which is truly at the core of so much of our learning. (If you want to read more about content specific vocabulary, click here.)

In the meantime, if you would like to check out some of my favorite Depth and Complexity resources, follow these links:

Byrdseed (a true fave of mine!)
J Taylor Education (for cool resources)
My (newly created) Pinterest Board

Two years ago I finally switched my math block to the morning, because I was having such a hard time integrating it into other subjects, and our daily schedule was feeling a little bit choppy. This worked well, but I felt like I needed to have a few tricks up my sleeve to transition from the housekeeping tasks of entering the room and readying for the day, to our actual learning time.

Throughout the year, I used five different things that worked very well. I switched them up periodically so that my students would not become bored. Since there are five, you could even do one for each day of the week. That choice, of course, is totally up to you.
These warm up activities also use a variety of grouping strategies to keep your students' interest level high.

Math Warm Up #1: Mission Possible Math

I am certain that you must know the most amazing Hope King. Hope blogs over at Elementary Shenanigans, and if you ever have a chance to see her in person, jump on the opportunity. She is so inspirational and motivating (plus she is a whole lot of hilarious). 

You can read Hope's post here. Basically, the students are asked to solve specific problems in a set amount of time. You can really amp up the excitement by playing the Mission Impossible theme, which is also a great way to measure the time. When I use this, I have the song loop to play through twice, which is a perfect amount of time.

I LOVE that it's called Mission POSSIBLE Math, which totally puts the idea int he mind of the students that it is absolutely possible to complete the tasks set forth before them.

Math Warm Up #2: Number Talks

I know that several people use Number Talks sometime during their day. I love gathering my students on the floor and having them talk to each other and myself about what they know about math. The fact that Number Talks uses specific routines, such as thumbs up when a student knows an answer, helps to set the structure for our math lessons.

When we use Number Talks as our warm up, we focus on the previous day's lesson. I pull problems from the day before and change them up a little, and present them as part of our Number Talks. If your district uses Common Core Standards, be sure to purchase the most recent version, as it has CCSS connections. If you are looking to purchase the book, you can find it on Amazon or check your local math resource office (if you have one).  

Math Warm Up #3: Word Problems

Word problems are such a critical way to get students to really think about their problem solving, and to experience problem solving in a variety of ways. Word problems are used in our every day lives, and often found on standardized assessments.

I noticed last year that while my class was very math-minded, they struggled with pulling out the important information in word problems, or they were unsure of what to do with the information in the problem. This led me to create monthly sets of world problems that focus purely on one skill for the entire month.

These are very low prep. Simply print, cut in half, and glue into math notebooks. If you want to go an even easier route, print out one, display it on the board, and have students work through the problem in their notebook or on a whiteboard.

Another great thing about using the word problem warm ups is that early finishers can meet together and discuss how they solved the problem of the day. I really enjoy listening to the conversations that take place during that time, and it is a excellent time to collect anecdotal records on how students are doing with problem solving.

You can grab the monthly word problems here

Math Warm Up #4: Jot and Trot
This warm up is great for students who need to get up and move. If you teach math later in the day, 
this might be a great fit for your students. 

I use the 12 x 18 construction paper and put a number, problem, or question on the paper. I use 4-5 different pages per warm up session, depending on the number of students I have. If you have a collection of math task cards, this is also a great place to use those just simply place the card on top of the construction paper and students can write on the construction paper, around the task card.

Students rotate throughout the room, "jotting and trotting". They jot down their ideas about what is on the paper or task card, and then move throughout the room working on all 4-5 problems. I allow them to go back to previous problems, as long as they are being thoughtful about what they are doing, and not using it as an excuse to zip through the room.

Often during this time, I will play soft music. I usually ask for no talking during this time, so that students can formulate their thoughts (and it reduces the instinct to play and not work).

Math Warm Up #5: Sort It Out

This idea was inspired by the amazing Ian Byrd. 

I start with a blank T-chart. I have various numbers, shapes, or problems on sticky notes spread all around the board. Students work to sort the information on the sticky notes into two categories. They must use all of the sticky notes in their sort. Then, the students then must label their two categories based upon their sort.

For example, in the picture above, the sticky notes were sorted into odd and even numbers. They could also have been sorted into greater than 10 and less than 10, or 2 digit numbers and one digit numbers. As long as the student(s) can defend their answer, and all of the sticky notes are used to successfully fit in one of the categories, then their answer is acceptable.

The options are endless. You could do odd or even sums, quadrilaterals or non-quadrilaterals, addition or subtraction problems, greater than or less than a number, 2-D or 3-D shapes, numbers you say when counting by twos or numbers you say when counting by fives...and the list goes on.

This can be done whole or small group. If you want to use it with your whole class, simply project your image onto the board (or better yet, set it up for your smart board), and have a group of students work together to sort the data.

This does take a little bit of prep, but you could create several of them at once and pull them out as needed. I assure you, this is one of my students' favorites, so the few minutes of prep work is worth it in the end.

I hope that you are able to implement one or more of these into your math block and that it inspires your students to raise it up a notch during their math time.
I am going to preface this with the following:
This is my story. It is my personal experience and not meant to give advice in any way, shape, or form.

I wish as we were wrapping up this past school year, someone would have presented me with this sign. I had no idea what was ahead, just a few days into the summer.

First, a little background. I have only taught at two schools, which is unusual in my enormous district.
At my current school I have:
  • Given birth to my son (not actually at school, mind you).
  • Watched him as he attended kindergarten through fifth grade there (minus second grade).
  • Made countless, life-long friends.
  • Taught three different grades (1-3).
  • Loved countless children and watched them grown up.
  • Learned a lot!
  • Mourned the loss of a sweet friend and coworker's baby, Chloe.
  • Mourned the loss of a wonderful coworker.
  • Grew friendships with families of students.
  • Received over 20 grants. 
  • Discovered and opened a shop on TPT.
  • Learned a LOT!
  • Helped pilot the Accelerated Learning Model for our district.
  • Taught numerous siblings from the same families.
  • Survived numerous program changes (report cards, grade books, Common Core).
  • Been supported by friends and coworkers as I was lucky enough to survive breast cancer.
  • Learned a LOT!
  • Helped plan countless events from family nights to carnivals to parent involvement activities.
  • Aged 16 years.
  • Attended quite a few retirements.
  • Decorated and redecorated my classroom 15 times.
  • Taught in 5 different classrooms in three different great rooms.
  • Attended more trainings and staff meetings than I can count.
I always envisioned myself having a nice little retirement celebration attended by former students and coworkers...right there...right at my little school (which actually wasn't so little anymore as we topped over 800 students last year). A little cake, a little reminiscing, and then an endless summer vacation.
Did I mention that Tough Decisions sign? Yep! Little did I know just a few days into summer break, literally as my friend and I were hashing out plans for me to work with her primary teachers to implement the ALM program in her new school, she would receive an email that would make that sign post get planted right in front of me.
You see, turns out, she had an opening at her school...a second grade opening...implementing the ALM program...less than 10 minutes away from my current school.
It actually was a third party who was sitting there with us that suggested me taking the job.
What? Me? But I can't!
"Why not?" asked the third party.
Because...because...because... (Refer to that list above.)

When the job was offered to me I walked around with a huge knot in my stomach, didn't sleep, made lists, and cried countless tears. You see, my school...my school was as much a part of me as I was of it.
How could I leave my amazing team?
I mean, look at these ladies...they're the best!

 Plus, I had a few long-time friends that were still at my school that would be so hard to leave.
(I mean who plans a vacation with a group of people that you work with the day school gets out?) That must be true friendship!
I cannot even tell you how much I labored over this decision. Even writing this post, my stomach is in knots. But I am thinking of it as therapy...hoping it will help.

All of this was compounded by the fact that the window to hire someone for either school if I should stay or go, was closing quickly.

My son, who was growing tired of listening to me labor over this decision, offered up flipping a coin. Oh, to be a 14 year old boy when decisions are so easy. 

Ultimately, I decided that the excitement of the new job was too enticing to resist.
I have always wanted to leave a mark on my district in some way. I had always hoped it would be opening a new school, but as you know we don't always get to choose our paths, sometimes they are chosen for us. I often think of that when I think how this new position literally fell into my lap.
So I decided to accept.

 I set upon the unimaginable (to me) task of telling my coworkers, friends, and admin.

My wonderful friend Carina sealed her fate as my life-long friend (Sorry! But you're stuck with me!) when she put all of her concerns aside and only thought of my new adventure, and said this:

I could not love that more!
I also had to take on the enormous job of packing up 27 years of teaching.
It is official...I have collected a LOT of junk important teaching materials over the past 27 years. 
Take a look.

These boxes are just the books. (Can you say hoarder!?!?!)

(I had to throw this one in, because he was so proud of his box fort!)
So now that the decision has been made, I am still awake at night. It's been a long time since I was the new kid on the block. My brain is excited, and my heart is a sad.
My brain is also full of a million questions.
Who will I sit with at lunch?
Will my new coworkers like me? 
Will they put up with my crazy, hair-brained ideas?
Whose room will I walk through every.single.morning?
How will it be to have a friend as my new admin?
What are the "rules" at this new school?
Will the office staff, librarian, art teacher, volunteers, custodial staff spoil me like I'm used to?
What am I going to do when I can't check in on my previous students so easily?
What will everyone at my former school be doing every.single.minute?
Will there be a Leticia to make me laugh and have the occasional lunchtime meetings?
Will there be a Lindsey to bring me a smoothie and listen to me go on and on?
Will there be a Kristena who can rock RTI like nobody's business?
Will there be an Erica to tell us about her wild and crazy adventures?
Will there be a Liz to make everyone know that everything will be alright?
Will there be a Kristin who is so eager to learn everything and listen to me go on and on?
Will there be a Carina to lean on when it gets too tough; to help me see things from a different perspective; to make me smile and cheer me on?
Will there be a Becky, Caron, and Laura to share life-long memories with?
Will there be a Grace to solve my computer woes?
Will there...? Who will...? What will...? How will...? Why will...? Where will...?

No, I am not leaving these ladies. They know better! We will ALWAYS be friends, but what a difference it makes when you know you won't see them every day.

This is definitely not good-bye. 

On Friday, we had Staff Development...yes, a day and a half before the school year is out, and the Friday before a three day weekend. :)

Let me preface this with the fact that we are far from traditional on our 
professional development days.

To start our day, we did a little warm up with Sid the Sloth from Ice Age.
Such and fun and easy one to do with your kiddos if you haven't already checked it out.

We Built This City
Our first real task of the day was to build a city. But of course, there were rules.
There were 200 sheets of paper (which we saved to use with our classes).
      • You could fold the paper, but you couldn't tear it.
      • You could not use anything else (tape, scissors, etc.).
      • Each city had to have two roads that connected with another city.
      • It was timed, but I can't remember how long we had (maybe 20 minutes?).
      • One person in the group had to be the recorder and tell WHY we included each building.
Here is our creation. I think we did a pretty good job.
We had all of the utility buildings (water, power, gas), a campsite, a dump, homes, schools, and of course, a Target and Starbucks! 
The best part was the collaboration and the laughter that happened while getting the job done.

Save the World
Our second task was to take a box of junk...and I mean junk...and create a contraption or device that would save the world. 

The rules for this project were:
      • You couldn't add anything else, but you could use tools (scissors, rulers, markers, and thankfully they gave us tape).
      • This invention had to have a positive impact on the future.
      • You had to try to use everything in the box.
      • We had 40 minutes to complete our task.
      • We had to work in areas away from everyone else.
So, I do not want to brag, and while the other creations were quite clever, ours truly was the best. 
Are you ready for it?
It's a time traveling utility belt! 
You can see some of the "junk" that was included in the box (which we also used) a flag, straws, file folders, pencils, cut pool noodles, string, paper plates, a stuffed fish, a water bottle, a duck necklace, masking tape, and two blue spheres. There were also cotton balls which we applied to the back so she could have a soft landing. Each group had similar items. 
And obviously this led to A LOT of laughter and collaboration.

On a side note, this amazing lady is my sweet friend Liz. She is relocating and won't be back next year. Liz, you have no idea how much your grade level is going to miss you! 
Here are two other creations that were presented.

This is a positive vibe catcher. It even had a scrolling screen in the front that turned sad thoughts happy. I thought that was pretty clever.

Oh gosh! Now that I look at this one, I'm not 100% sure that this is the food changer, but I think it is. I definitely have end-of-the-year teacher brain.
Anyway, one group created an invention that made healthy food taste good an unhealthy food taste bad. Can you imagine how skinny we would all be? LOL

Not only are we armed with some great ideas for the last day of school, but we also had a ton of fun and got to do some...dare I say it...team building activities.

This all took place in the morning. The rest of the day was filled with lunch at Panera and long range planning, which was fun, but not quite as fun as this!
Hi everyone! Well, are you still in school or have you started your summer break?
We are on the final countdown at our school!!

If you've already celebrated your volunteers this year, feel free to tuck these ideas away for next year.

So we know schools work on a very limited budget, but we also know the tremendous effort that our volunteers put in, and that they deserved to be recognized.

Every year for as long as I can remember, I have been in charge of our 
Volunteer Appreciation Celebration.

Now, I'm a theme girl...always have been, always will be!

We have done so many themes: garden, superheroes, Hollywood, Hawaiian...you name it, we've probably done it!

This year's theme...apples and chalkboards. It worked really well with our budget, too, and most of the items will be reusable for back to school or Teacher Appreciation week next year.

So, first we printed out these apple shaped invitations. My sweet son helped me cut them out. I tied them with baker's twine that I got at the Target Dollar Spot.

This year we tried a new way of keeping track of who actually showed up to the celebration and it was genius. (I'll give my principal credit for that for sure, since it was all her brilliant idea!)
I had everyone email the names of the volunteers, and what they had done to help our school. I made a master list with all of the names and the blurb that each teacher had sent. Then we made a sign-in sheet. As the volunteers signed in, I highlighted them on the master list. My principal just had to go down the list and read all of the names.

For the centerpieces, I grabbed mason jars from Amazon and just used double stick tape to wrap ribbon around the neck of each jar. We raided the supply cabinet and filled the mason jars with rulers and pencils. Super easy and super cheap.

If you mull things over long enough in the aisle of Joann's a fabulous manager may come along and offer you a discount if you say it's for your school. That's how we ended up with the chalkboard. Times like this though, I need my friend Stacey from Funky Fresh Firsties around to apply her amazing chalkboard artistic skills. Our volunteers had to settle for my slightly pitiful attempt.
For other decorations, I grabbed red lanterns from the Target Dollar Spot and following an idea I found on Pinterest, turned the lanterns into apples using construction paper for the stems and leaves. My amazing friend Carina came to my rescue when the lanterns kept tipping over, with a black "chalkboard" base made out of construction paper, and added writing with a white chalk pen.

For gifts we ordered small mason jars and filled them with caramel sauce, added an apple on top, put them in a bag and tied them up with a little note that I printed that read, "Thank you for being SWEET to the CORE!".

My amazing grade level helped get all of these ready...even when suffering from end-of-the-year exhaustion. THEY DEFINITELY ROCK!

Apple gifts as far as the eye can see!

Now, we have some above and beyond volunteers that were given an additional award. Our assistant principal's husband happens to own a trophy shop which helped save us money, but these adorable apples were only $10...not too bad...depending on the number of volunteers you have.

We grabbed all of the food and drinks from Costco. 
Apple pic, of course, brownie bites, and cookies. We just had water to drink,
 because normally it is so hot here in Las Vegas.

My principal prepared a PowerPoint with several quotes about volunteers. My class, along with my friend Carina's class, and some members of the choir were led by our fantastic music teacher in a super cute song about volunteers.

That's it!
Super simple!
Pretty inexpensive!
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