Sunday, February 7, 2016

Writing Mid-Year and a Freebie

Writing in first grade is ever changing.  When students first enter our classrooms, the range of abilities is diverse.  We have students who cannot write their names, those who don't know all their letter sounds, to those who are really writing. 
Common Core standards are written for the end of the year so it is hard to tell if students are progressing and will meet those standards.  Over the past couple of years I have been documenting student growth so I may successfully predict whether a child will meet or exceed end of year expectations.
My colleagues and I spiral writing instruction so students will remember the three major types of writing.  We enjoy teaching how-to writing mid-year in our second round of informative writing.  Students know how to write so we can focus on introduction and closing sentences as well as transition words.
I had been using various TPT products to teach how-to writing but they did not include room for topic sentences (which in first grade is just introducing the topic) nor did they include room for a closing.  First graders need to provide some sense of closure by the end of the year.
This year we focused on engaging, hands-on activities to teach writing.
First, I modeled how to make something.  Then, I broke down each part of the writing step by step.  For the introduction, I showed students what we were making and what is needed to make it.  Students told the introduction to their elbow partner and then switched.  They show me they are done like this:

oral rehearsal

Next, I model step by step.  After each step, students orally rehearse what they will write with their elbow partners.

elbow partners; informational writing

Of course, they get to have whatever it is we made!

hands on learning
Here is my good friend, Debbie.  I had her wonderful daughter, Cayla,  in my class a long time ago.  Cayla is now in 10th grade.

Oral rehearsal is imperative in writing.  If students can say it, they can write it.  This, paired with visuals, and, in some cases, actually completing the task, ensures that all students will be successful.

When we made s'mores, I gave students all the ingredients.  They wrote their introduction.  Then, we put the chocolate on top of the graham cracker and wrote the first step.  We continued to make the s'more while writing until we were done.  Students were extremely successful with this writing.

how to blow a bubble

One of my favorite how-to's is how to blow a bubble.  The students are always SHOCKED that I actually let them chew gum in school.  It is so fun watching the firsties try to blow a bubble.  I can really see who is determined and persistent and who gives up. It's a great lesson on practice makes perfect!

bulletin board; writing
This is the bulletin board we make for How to Blow a Bubble.  I give students skin colored paper and they make their face.  We tape a blown up balloon to their mouths as if they are blowing a bubble.

how to build a snowman
How to Build a Snowman
Students actually make a paper snowman

Once students know what to do, it is time for them to be independent.  Here is a great writing activity for How to Build a Snowman.  I give students all of the paper materials they need and they write a how-to.

how to build a snowman

how to build a snowman

how to build a snowman

how to build a snowman

how to build a snowman

How to Build a Snowman is a great culminating activity that is perfect for assessing your writers.

Looks fun, right?  Why don't you test it out for yourself?  All of these items are free in my TPT store!

Get it here:

Friday, January 1, 2016

5 Tips for a Happy Classroom

Let's face it: We spend a lot of time at school.  

Some days I feel like I spend more time at school than at home. 

Many of us bring school home as well.  

When you think about school, our students, our job, do you smile? 

Are you happy with what you've created in your classroom?  

Do you look forward to going to work?  

When you talk to friends and family about your classroom, is it positive?

I can honestly say that I would answer yes to all of the above.  It hasn't always been like this.  I'd like to share with you some effective, easy tips that I employ to ensure a happy classroom.

tips, greet each child

Take the time to personally greet each child every single day.  I do this by going out to the playground 3 minutes early.  I walk down the line saying good morning to each student and telling them what a great day I have planned for them.  This also gives me time to monitor moods, reassure students, talk with parents, and spread joy.
If students are tardy, I greet them as soon as they come in. I try to quickly catch them up and reassure them that we are going to have a wonderful day.

build trusting relationships

Take the time to get to know each and every student.  Learn about their families, siblings, pets, likes, hobbies...everything.
I begin at the start of the year.  I learn about 2 kids a day (1 in the morning, 1 in the afternoon).  I take notes, too. I add to the notes all year long.  Some of the notes I take are not from personal conversations. I let students talk throughout the day at appropriate times and listen.  It is a great way to learn about the people you spend your day with.

know your students

This not only helps me remember what they've told me but provide incentives, have personal conversations, and even help them come up with ideas when writing.  Children are more invested in taking risks when they know that you truly care about them.

Students know if you really care about them and this is a simple way to invest in your students.
Trusting relationships are key when building a happy classroom.  And for those few times when things may not be totally happy, knowing students on a deeper level will help you connect, remind, and reinforce behaviors more effectively.

celebrate personal growth

Children naturally compare themselves to their classmates.  They know where they stand even if you never publicly announce it.  They know who is a super speller, amazing mathematician, voracious reader, etc.
This pecking order motivates some students but not most.  For some it makes them feel as if they are not good enough or will never be good in a certain area.
Remind kids that no one's educational journey is the same.  As long as they are working hard and putting in the effort, even small gains are glorious.
 Know where your students are academically.  Help them create small, attainable goals.  Be their cheerleader.  Celebrate when they reach those goals focusing on the effort they put in.

This year I have a little guy who wrote in circles, even his name.  At first I got a few lines of circles.  With encouragement, I began to get pages of circles.  Then, with a challenge from myself, letters started appearing in the circles.  Next, we made a goal to write in only letters.  He rose to the occasion.  He wrote beginning sounds of words.  The next goal we made was beginning and ending sounds.  No problem!  In less than a week he did it.  Currently he is writing short stories that are readable.  It takes him awhile, as writing is difficult for him, but he persists.
When making the goals with the students it is easy to focus on what the students should  be doing.  Curb that desire and try your hardest to think about the most logical next step.  Break it down so the student can attain it.  Once they do, put your heads together to come up with the next goal.
Not only will this build self-esteem but it will allow children to see when they put forth effort they can do anything.

My mantra is, "Give me a hug or a high five before you leave so I can see who you are leaving with and tell you I'll miss you".  It's just as important as greeting them in the morning.
 I started this to make sure everyone was with the people they were supposed to be with, but I continue it because I think every child wants to know that you cannot wait to see them tomorrow as well as knowing they are safe and secure.

Have fun

Who doesn't like having fun?  It makes the day go by faster and helps us learn.  If elementary school feels like all work and no play, we are doing students a disservice.  I know all the new standards, tests, mandates, teacher evaluation are trying to take the joy out of teaching and learning.
I promise students will  learn more if they are having fun.

Here are some ways we have fun:
1.  Do brain breaks together (Yes, I do it, too)
2.  Make fun of ourselves
3.  Tell jokes
4.  Do chair share during Writer's Workshop
5.  Have Friday Fun weekly.  We play with play dough, dot paints, Legos, smelly markers, dance, make jewelry, play school, etc.
6. Sing our way through the day
7. Make secret handshakes
9.  Do class cheers
10. Have group hugs
12.  Play opposite day
13. Debate
14.   Play with the kids
15. Go Noodle
The list goes on and on ...

Sneak little moments of fun into your day and you will have a happy classroom!

Here is to a ridiculously amazing 2016!

Want to read more?  Click below to find out what first grade teachers are talking about!

Saturday, November 14, 2015


Hi!  I am so excited to tell you about this Swap Meet.  Heidi Martin of Droppin' Knowledge and I chose a product to trade and review. 
I chose Heidi's Speed Read (All Year Long!) because I have a bunch of young learners who need active, fun ways to learn their sight words.
 My class LOVES this product.  When I tell them we're going to do it, they cheer.  The best part is, they are learning their sight words.  I even sent copies home for students to play at home.  One of my little boys has learned 20 additional sight words since we've begun!  That's amazing.
There are 18 levels to this product for students to work their way through.  They get progressively more difficult so it is easy to use. 
Students can play with a partner, or by themselves.

Students roll the dice and then read all the words in that column as fluently as they can.
If students correctly read a column and are playing with a partner, I allow them to give themselves a point at the bottom of the column.

Students use two different colors to keep track of their points.

I love how quickly students can move up levels!

 This is such a fun, effective product and a great way for your little learners to read sight words!
Now, go and check out the rest of the hop!  Keep track of the letters on every other blog to spell out the secret word.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Trick or Treat Blog Hop

Happy October!  To celebrate this beautiful month, I am taking part in a Trick or Treat Blog Hop.  On this blog hop, you will gather tricks to help you survive this time of year as well as giveaways and freebies!  What could be better?

My trick of the trade for this time of year is to keep your schedule as close to normal as possible.  This will keep behaviors to a minimum.  There are a ton of fun activities to do but I highly recommend doing them at the end of the day or on a Friday.  We began Fall Break today, so I saved all the fun for Friday. 


 I decided to offer all of you lovely bloggers a freebie and a giveaway!

Here is my freebie:

This product Close Your Eyes and Visualize is what I am giving away.  Click the Rafflecopter link to enter to win this amazing product!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

To celebrate this fun blog hop everything in my store is on sale today and tomorrow.
Now click on the button below to continue on this fun blog hop!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Tips for Successful Parent Teacher Conferences

It is that time of year again!  Some of us love conference week while others of us dread it.  Either way, it is stressful.
We put in more hours during parent teacher conferences and need to be prepared.
I will share some of my tips for a successful conference week.

successful parent teacher conferences, tips for conferences

#1.  Use Sign up Genius to schedule conferences.  This is such an easy way to schedule conferences.  Make your schedule and send the link to your class.  Parents can sign up for a time that works for them.  You can make it so parents can swap times, too.  The site even send them reminders!  The best part is, it is FREE!

When making your schedule, think about what you need.  If you have a late night of conferences, you may want to give yourself a break.  That way you can freshen up and get a bite to eat and go to the bathroom.  I know I cannot go 4 hours without a break!

#2.  Be prepared!
Start gathering data and work samples several weeks before conferences for parents to look at.
When I first began my career I would wait for the last minute.  And then the student got sick... and I'd have to scramble to gather data.  Luckily I learned my lesson quickly and continually gather data and work samples now. 

I give the DRA2 and assess sight words.  I also use these:

I keep track of reading success via running records using this product:

In addition, I photocopy major assessments and send them home so parents know how their student performed.  If a student did not perform well on an assessment, I contact parents and we come up with a plan to intervene immediately.

#3  Think about seating for the conference.  I like to sit next to my parents.  We are a partnership working for the success of their child. Sitting higher than parents or across from them changes the mood of the conference. Also, consider spots in your classroom that would make for a comfortable conference.

#4  Don't surprise parents!  Anything you discuss should not be a surprise.  Parents want to help their children.  They will be upset if you tell them their child is struggling and they could have been helping them.  Don't assume parents realize how their child is performing.

#5 If you are going to have a difficult conference, get help!  Talk with your colleagues beforehand and consider having support.  Perhaps an intervention teacher or administrator can attend as well.
Make a plan for the conference and stick to it!  You may want to share the agenda for the conference with parents prior to the conference, too.

#6  Be positive!  Even if a student is struggling you can still be positive by having a plan to intervene.  When you know your students well, it is so easy to be positive!

#7 It is okay to not have all of the answers.  People are unique individuals and we should not expect to have all of the answers.  Sometimes it takes trial and error to help a student be successful.  And that is okay.  Give yourself permission to not know everything!

#8 Stick to your schedule.  Everyone's time is valuable and we need to honor that by sticking to the schedule.  If someone comes late, you may want to reschedule the conference so you don't leave parents waiting.  I think it's better to reschedule than to have someone annoyed that you did not honor their time.

#9 Be well rested.  I know this sounds like a no-brainer but it's true!  We need to have clear minds when conferring.  It is hard to think straight when we are lacking proper rest.  I get cranky when I am tired and that is no way to be during conferences.  Do your best to get your z-z-z-z's!

Well, I hope you enjoyed reading this and got some ideas for a great conference week!  Please let me know what other tips you have!  I am always looking for ways to have a stress-free conference week!!  When you comment below with your tip for conference week, please leave your email so I can send you one of my assessment tools for FREE!  Just let me know which one you want from the items listed in #2.