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Staying on Topic (Primary) - Mini-Lesson Plan & Templates


We are excited to announce our partnership with two super creative educators from The Curriculum Corner! You can expect to see more blog posts containing free Common Core aligned lesson ideas, teacher resources and templates you can easily print with your VariQuest Perfecta 2400 or VariQuest Poster Maker - just be sure you have the latest VariQuest Software v4.0

Mini-Lesson: Staying on Topic

Level: Primary 

Objectives/CCSS Alignment: 


    With guidance and support from adults, focus on a topic, respond to questions and suggestions from peers, and add details to strengthen writing as needed.

    With guidance and support from adults and peers, focus on a topic and strengthen writing as needed by revising and editing.

    Introduce a topic and group related information together; include illustrations when useful to aiding comprehension.

*Note: This lesson addresses the part of the standards highlighted in teal only. Teachers will need to address other parts of the standards in future mini-lessons.



  • Interactive Anchor Chart – Staying on Topic (Chameleon)

  • Peer Check: Focus on Topic conferencing form

Click on each image to download the PDF and print to a poster using your VariQuest Software v4.0!

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  • Make the Staying On Topic (Chameleon) interactive anchor chart into a poster.

    • A blank Staying on Topic interactive anchor chart has also been provided in case the teacher wishes the topic to be one that the class is currently studying. If the teacher chooses a topic other than chameleons, then text will need to be written to fit that topic.  The text should have a number of sentences that don’t stay on topic within the paragraph(s).

  • Copy the Peer Check: Focus on Topic page for each student in the classroom.

  • Choose a piece of work from a student who struggled with staying on topic (and one who wouldn’t be embarrassed if the work was read aloud and discussed/corrected in class).  The alternative is for the teacher to write a piece of text ahead of time that strays from the topic in places to help illustrate the focus of the mini-lesson.


  • Display the Staying on Topic interactive anchor chart for the students and read through the text together one time.

  • Ask the students if they noticed anything that didn’t seem quite right about parts of the text.  Guide them to the conclusion that some of the sentences seem out of place in the text.

  • Reread the text together and cross out the sentences that don’t fit the topic.  Be sure to discuss WHY they do not fit in the text.

  • Tell students that in their writing they need to be very careful to make sure all the sentences tell about the topic on which they have chosen to write.

  • Fishbowl Experience – (The teacher may choose to do this part as a follow up mini-lesson the next day if the interactive chart has taken more than ten minutes to complete.)   

    • Sit in front of the class across from a student (the one whose written piece was chosen) to set up a conferencing type situation.

    • As the student reads his/her piece aloud sentence by sentence, model how to fill out the Peer Check and discuss the procedures for this in the classroom.  

Did you like this lesson? Leave a comment and let us know what topics you would like us to cover in future posts and we will work on delivering free resources to help you prepare for your lessons!

Use up Classroom "Leftovers" with This End of Year Student Gift


Create an award for all of your remarkable students, but if you want to give them something a little extra (and clean out your classroom in the process), consider this great idea from Mrs. Terhune’s Classrom blog: A sand pail filled with goodies! 

Screen Shot 2014 03 28 at 11.29.38 AM resized 600Purchase plastic pails from a dollar store, and fill it with “leftovers” from the classroom: Extra workbooks, prizes from the treasure chest, extra school supplies, stickers, extra workbooks, etc. Attach a custom award using your VariQuest Awards Maker and you have a special and useful gift for all your students! And, ideally, your cost will only be the initial purchase of the buckets!

Throw in a custom bumper sticker for parents too! You can create them easily and speedily using your Awards Maker. 

Running low on supplies? Not to worry! We are running fantastic deals on our Awards Maker Recognition Kit just in time for the end of year festivities--contact your VariQuest Representative today to place your supply order and ensure timely delivery! 

Learn More About the Awards MakerRequest a Demo

The Scientific Method (Intermediate) - Lesson Plan & Templates


We are excited to announce our partnership with two super creative educators from The Curriculum Corner! You can expect to see more blog posts containing free Common Core aligned lesson ideas, teacher resources and templates you can easily print with your VariQuest Perfecta 2400 or VariQuest Poster Maker - just be sure you have the latest VariQuest Software v4.0

Lesson: Review of the Scientific Method

Level: Intermediate 

Objective: Students will review the steps of the Scientific Method.

Visuals & Materials:

  • Anchor Chart – Steps of the Scientific Method

  • Science Lab Notes

  • Five pennies – severely tarnished or “dirty” - one set for each lab group

  • Five small containers for each lab group (each big enough to hold the a penny and a small amount of liquid)

  • Tablespoon of each of the following for each lab group: water, dish soap/water mix, glass cleaner, lemon juice and taco sauce (packets from a local fast food restaurant work well)

Click on each image to download the PDF and print to a poster using your VariQuest Software v4.0

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  • Prepare “Steps of the Scientific Method” anchor chart for mini-lesson.

  • Copy the “Science Lab Notes” page for each student in the classroom.

  • Assign lab groups, including a materials handler. 


  • Pass out “Science Lab Notes” to each student and tell students their assigned groups for the experiment.  Have each group find a spot in the room to work and record the names of their group members on their notes.

  • Pass around the sets of pennies and ask students to make some observations within their groups (round, hard, have writing, flat, dirty, etc).

  • Next ask the students if they see a problem with the pennies.  Help lead them to the conclusion that they are very dirty and difficult to read.

  • QUESTION - Tell the students that the Scientific Method begins with a question to be answered.  What kinds of questions could they come up with about these pennies?  Discuss several of the questions, but help lead them to the question, “What is the best way to clean a penny?” or something similar.  Have students fill out the Ask Questions section of their notes.

  • RESEARCH – Have groups spend some time discussing what key words /phrases they can think of to search the internet to find an answer to the question and record these on their notes.  Give groups ten to fifteen minutes of simple online research, and then tell them to fill out the Research the Problem section of their notes together.

  • FORM A HYPOTHESIS – Ask the class if they have ever heard the word “hypothesis” and discuss answers (if any).  If not volunteered by a student, tell them that a hypothesis is a scientific word for an educated guess.  Help them to form a hypothesis similar to “We think that _____________ will clean the penny best because ________________.” Have groups fill out the Form a Hypothesis section of their notes together.

  • TEST YOUR HYPOTHESIS – Have each group work together to brainstorm the steps they will use to test their hypothesis using the materials provided.  Once they have each recorded these steps in their notes, discuss the Share Your Results section (described below) so that the groups know how to fill it out.  Then the assigned materials handler may gather each group’s supplies for the experiment and begin.

  • SHARE YOUR RESULTS – Give students your specific guidelines for how you want them to record their observations.  Then discuss how, in this case, the results will simply be shared on the notes page in a sentence format, but that there are other ways to share results too.  Tell groups to brainstorm what they think would be the best way to share the results they found in this experiment and write their idea on the notes page in this section.

  • CONCLUSION – At this point the teacher can choose to gather the class and discuss the conclusion as students write on their notes, or for a more self-directed group of students, the teacher can choose to discuss this section beforehand and have students work on it independently or within their groups.

Did you like this lesson? Leave a comment and let us know what topics you would like us to cover in future posts and we will work on delivering free resources to help you prepare for your lessons!

End of Year Recognition Made Easy and Affordable with your VariQuest Awards Maker!


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Spring is here, and that means the end of the year is fast approaching! Spend the last weeks in the classroom enjoying your students and tying up loose ends-- take the complexity and cost out of end-of-year recognition events with your VariQuest Awards Maker!

Use your VariQuest Awards Maker and Design Center Software to easily and cost-effectively create customized plaques for students, staff, and parents.

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Create customized:
  • Award plaques
  • Trophy plates
  • Flashcards
  • Nametags
  • Bookmarks
  • Parking permits
  • Bumper stickers


With nearly 600 customizable templates and speedy durable thermal transfer printing, the Awards Maker makes it so much easier to create a motivational environment for teaching and learning, especially at the end of the year, or, recognition season! 

Screen Shot 2014 03 24 at 11.41.09 AM resized 600Running low on supplies? Not to worry! We are running fantastic deals on our Awards Maker Recognition Kit just in time for the end of year festivities--contact your VariQuest Representative today to place your supply order and ensure timely delivery!

Interested in the VariQuest Awards Maker for your school? We also have a special on VariQuest Awards Maker Rewards Package! Get in touch with a VariQuest Representative today or click below to schedule a demo!


Learn More About the Awards MakerRequest a Demo

Check out our blog for other fun ways to use your Awards Maker as the end of the year approaches.

Character Traits (Primary) - Mini Lesson & Templates


We are excited to announce our partnership with two super creative educators from The Curriculum Corner! You can expect to see more blog posts containing free Common Core aligned lesson ideas, teacher resources and templates you can easily print with your VariQuest Perfecta 2400 or VariQuest Poster Maker - just be sure you have the latest VariQuest Software v4.0! Check out our first mini lesson on understanding and building character traits for primary classrooms!

Mini Lesson: Understanding Character & Character Traits

Level: Primary

Objectives/CCSS Alignment:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.1.7 (using illustrations and details in story to describe its characters, settings, or events)

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.2.7 (using information gained from the illustrations and words in a print or digital text to demonstrate understanding of its characters, settings, or plot)


  • Anchor Chart: Story Characters Inside Out

  • Graphic Organizer: All About the Character. 

Click on each image to download the PDF and print to a poster using your VariQuest Software v4.0!

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  • Choose a book that has fairly distinctive characters, perhaps one that has some very different types of characters. Good choices might be books by Kevin Henkes or Tommie de Paola.

  • Print the above anchor chart and graphic organizor onto a poster to use as a visual guide on the wall. Also, print the graphic organizer onto 8.5" x 11" size paper to pass to each child for independent work.


  • Set the purpose for the read aloud by introducing students to the anchor chart "Story Characters: Inside Out". Discuss the difference between physical traits (what the character actually looks like) and character traits (what the character's personality portrays). Show and discuss the traits shown on the anchor chart, and then have students share more. Add the students' responses to the anchor chart if desired.

  • Read aloud the story you chose for today's lesson. At the end have students brainstorm both physical traits and character traits for a character in the story. (You may choose to create a character map with the character's name in the middle, and then use two different colors of markers to distinguish between physical traits and character traits).

  • Explain directions for today's independent reading task: "All About the Character" graphic organizer.

  • Have students find spots to begin their independent reading time and complete the independent task

Did you like this mini-lesson? Leave a comment and let us know what topics you would like us to cover in future posts and we will work on delivering free resources to help you prepare for your lessons!

The Power of Anchor Charts


Last spring I had the opportunity to work with our district’s literacy coach in a 1-1 mentoring situation. My objective was two-fold:

1) Unpack the Common Core Standards for Reading
2) Incorporate the Gradual Release of Responsibility model into my instructional practice.

We worked together for weeks developing student-led reading groups, setting up reading response journals and implementing close reading lessons. I have continued to build upon the strategies and practices I learned from her over the course of this school year and I have seen great gains in my students’ reading responses and comprehension.

One of my greatest take-aways from our time together has been the incorporation of anchor charts in my classroom. I began implementing anchor charts for literacy, using the visuals that we develop as a class as a way to reinforce student discovery and learning. Soon, I began to integrate anchor charts into my instruction in math and English language arts as well.

Genre Characteristics
Throughout the year, my students and I embark upon numerous genre studies; some of which include historical fiction, science fiction, biography, and autobiography, just to name a few. The first step is to introduce a new genre by presenting a few mentor texts. As a class, we discuss what the texts have in common.

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After we have identified the characteristics of the genre we are about to study, we build a definition of the genre together using the Genre Characteristics poster. The poster is then posted and referenced by students throughout the unit as they continue to explore other texts of the genre either independently or in small groups.

Download the Genre Characteristics graphic organizer for use in your classroom here.

No Excuse Words
I also use anchor charts as a responsive teaching tool in my language arts class. Each time I read through my students’ writing journals, I track words that are misspelled. After the first couple of writing assignments, I have a pretty good idea about commonly used words that students have trouble spelling. To make these words visible to students, I write them on a poster and display it for students to reference when writing their journal responses.

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I introduce these words to students as “No Excuse Words,” or words that they are expected to spell correctly in order to demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English spelling when writing, which is one of the Common Core Standards for English language arts. I add to this chart continually over the course of the year. Displaying this chart provides a consistent resource that allows students to learn from their own writing mistakes.

Place Value Chart
One of the most powerful anchor charts in my classroom is my Place Value Chart. In 6th grade, the Common Core Standards for math state that students should be able to fluently add, subtract, multiply, and divide multi-digit decimals using the standard algorithm for each operation. To be honest, many of my students still struggle with understanding place value as a base ten number system and remembering the names of the place values less than one.

Place Value Chart 1

Displaying this chart provides visual reinforcement of these concepts so students can focus on the new learning that takes place as they develop an understanding of how to perform operations on decimal numbers. The Place Value Chart poster is a tool that students often reference during class discussions. Although this is not an anchor chart that I create with my students, it is something that they use as a tool yearlong.

The Place Value Chart poster template is available in the VariQuest Design Center software using ID# VIS465.

To read more about best practices incorporating instruction into your classroom download this guide published by Expeditionary Learning.

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Julia Cremin is a 6th grade Reading, Language Arts and Math teacher at O'Keeffe Middle School in Madison, WI. She is certified in Elementary Education (grades 1-9) with a minor in Mathematics. This is her third year teaching middle school.

Printing in Multiple Sizes: A New VariQuest Feature


With VariQuest Software v4.0, Perfecta™ 2400 customers now have a wide variety of output sizes to choose from! Create large, colorful, eye-catching hallway posters, medium-size instructional posters, and smaller classroom-size visuals by simply selecting your desired output size on the preview screen!

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Standard: 24" x 34"
Medium: Longest edge of poster will be 24"
13" x 19"
8.5" x 11"



Printing in multiple sizes is another top request from educators—we want to make your life easier and provide options and features that work best for your school and classroom.

One thing we love about printing posters in different sizes is the ability to create a series of posters on one wall or area, rather than being limited to one large poster. Series of ELA anchor charts, or series directly accompanying a lesson plan. In this sense, you will be able to increase visual reinforcement with a series of visuals rather than one text-heavy anchor. Also, don’t hesitate to send home the smaller posters home with students in form of prizes, study-aids, or parental involvement materials! 


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Building Character Through Student Recognition


With so many schools focusing on character education and/or Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), we wanted to highlight how one of our Super Schools, Frank W. Reilly Elementary in Chicago, is using their Awards Maker to support their citizen/character initiatives.

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We talked to school officials at Reilly Elementary to learn more about their "Student of the Month" Program, which was created this school year to honor students who exhibit key character traits each month. With an appointed committee and chairperspon, the Student of the Month Program recognizes 50+ students monthly for exhibiting that month's assigned trait. Examples include:

  • Respect myself and others

  • Shows cooperation and teamwork

  • Helpful with peers & staff

In the large school, which educates over 1200 students in over 50 classrooms daily, teachers in each room select one student per month who has consistently demonstrated that month's key trait. Selected students are honored at a monthly luncheon where school Principal, Martha G. Irizarry, presents VariQuest Award Plaques to each student in front of their peers. When asked about the Program, Mrs. Irizarry said:

Every month our teachers select a student in their class that serves as an exemplar to the character education theme of the month. The plaques look so authentic and receiving such a great award just livens our children's beautiful faces. We add pizza and juice to the mix. We serve them in the small gym which is adjacent to the cafeteria after setting up the tables with colorful table covers and balloons. This event students with great character to be recognized. In many instances its the only award they receive. The Plaque becomes a great keepsake!

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Daniel Postlethwait, Student of the Month Coordinator at Reilly Elementary also commented on the Program:

Student of the month is a terrific chance for the students at Reilly Elementary to be recognized for their citizen/character strengths. As the coordinator of Student of the Month, its very exciting to see the students faces light up as they are presented such a nice plaque with their names on it by our school principal, Martha Irizarry. Each month we have our teachers select students who demonstrate specific strengths of personal character or citizenship as a way of presenting peer role models and start conversations about the importance of these traits. The names of the students are entered into a shared school document and then we use the machine to print out the individual stickers and place them on the plaques before the special luncheon that we have every month. The award maker is very easy to use and in the matter of moments a few of us can finish all 50-60 plaques. The students really get into Student of the Month and look forward to hearing the names of who will get recognized by their teachers and the principals.  

At VariQuest, we would like to congratulate Reilly Elementary on creating such a positive program and for sharing their story with us!

How is your school using the VariQuest Awards Maker for character education or PBIS intiatives? Leave a comment and let us know!

Learn More About the Awards MakerRequest a Demo

Grades 9-12: Recognizing National Mathematics Awareness Month


The theme of National Mathematics Awareness Month, 2014 is Mathematics, Magic and Mystery. Each day in April, the American Mathematical Society (AMS) will reveal a short video introducing a theme-related activity, along with materials to support instruction at varying levels. The activities will align with one of the images on the theme poster (download a .pdf of this poster here.)


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Classroom Application Idea:

Print a poster-sized copy of the themed poster using the Perfecta and invite students to complete one or more activities as a challenge!

In addition to the Math Awareness Month poster, AMS offers a variety of other posters that promote careers in mathematics for college-bound students.

Classroom Application Idea:
Display the Women in Mathematics or Careers poster. Introduce to students some of the careers that they can pursue with a degree in mathematics. Careers include: urban designer, underwriter, actuary, banker, statistician, and many more.

Have each student select one career to research. Research questions include:

  • What does this job entail?
  • What is the work environment like?
  • What level of education is required?
  • What is the median pay?
  • What is the job outlook?

The following resources provide students access to this information:


When finished, have students give a 3-5 minute presentation to the class about the career they researched.

Grades 6-8: Exploring Pi


Engage students with this hands-on activity that leads them to understand the formula for the area of a circle.

Pi Day, 3/14, is considered a national holiday to most math instructors. To commemorate this day, or to help incorporate a tactile learning experience in which students understand the formulas for the area and circumference of a circle, use the following paper folding activity.

Cut out circles using the Cutout Maker Circle (MTH306), at least two for each student. (This will provide students with a back up circle in case they fold their original circle incorrectly.) Cut out squares (MTH319) with side lengths equal to the radius of the circle (radius squares), four for each student. Use a different color of paper for each square so that each student receives four different colored squares.


Provide each student with one circle and four different colored radius squares: The side length of each square should be equal to the radius of the circle. Give each pair of students a copy of the Explorations with a Paper Circle Activity (pages 1-3). (Download Explorations with a Paper Circle .pdf).

Have students work through the Defining a Circle and Developing the Area Formula for a Circle activity in partners, recording the answers to questions 1-10 on a separate piece of paper. Questions 8-10 will guide students to see that the area of a circle is equal to a little more than three (π to be exact!) of the radius squares.

Discuss the activity as a whole group. As an extension of this activity, have students continue on with the Exploring Areas of Other Polygons section.

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