Friday, August 10, 2018

10 Ways to Get Kids Reading

Have you ever wondered how to keep kids interested in reading.  Here are a few ideas to help you make reading a wonderland in your classroom!

1. Comfortable Seating

Where is your favorite place to read at home? Chance are you aren't going to mention a hard metal chair...but that's what most of the seating is in a typical classroom.  But we want kids to WANT to read, right? So the first thing you need to do is offer some cushy, comfortable places for them to relax.  Maybe you have an old couch you could tuck in the corner of your classroom or a couple of bean bag chairs How about some big pillows.  Add a few simple places like this in your classroom so that kids can stretch out and really get comfy while reading their favorite book.

2. Interesting Books

How is the selection of books in your classroom library? Do you have enough books at many levels so that every child can pick something good to read?  If you want the students in your classroom to read, you need to have a great selection of books for them to choose from.  But what if your budget doesn't allow for that? Take a visit to your school or public library.  You can check out a huge box of books - for free - and let kids browse through those.  After a week or so, return them and get new books.

It's important to keep the books fresh and new.  Try having a box of books that's just for the holidays and change it out every month.  Offer some fun pop up books.  Kids LOVE those!

3. Cozy Nooks

Do you remember when you were a kid and your mom would make a fort out of blankets? I would crawl in there and read for hours! Kids in your classroom will do the same thing.  You can make fun little cozy areas in your classroom simply by throwing a sheet over a table or squeezing some pillows between a couple of filing cabinets.  Maybe you have a kids teepee or small tent you could put in a corner of your room? Head to your local appliance store and ask them to save you an old refrigerator box.  Cut a hole in the side and you have an instant fort that didn't cost you a dime.  I guarantee, the kids in your room will love it!

4. Flashlight Friday

One of my students favorite times to read is Flashlight Friday.  Pick up some cheap flashlights at your local department store (or have kids bring in their own), turn out all the lights and let your students read with a flashlight.  How fun is that? Guaranteed you won't hear a peep in the room....except pages turning.

5. Read With Technology

Although, in my opinion, there's no substitute for a real book, occasionally it's fun to let your students read books on tablets or computers.  Kids love any kind of technology.  Show them that they can read books on tablets too!

6. Fireside Reading

Ok, you're probably wondering what classroom has a fireplace? Well chances are, unless you are a student in the 1800's, no classrooms today have a fireplace.  But most of us have some kind of smart board or interactive board in our classrooms.  So how about a digital fireplace.  Head on over to  YouTube and you can find all kinds of tranquil scenes to project onto your board.  Your students will love the peaceful atmosphere of a crackling fireplace or a babbling brook.

7. Give Your Students Variety

Books are great, but if you really want your kids to be interested in all kinds of reading you need to offer them many types of things to read.  Have a basket of children's magazines like Ladybug or National Geographic Kids.  Kids love poetry too.  A basket of poems with cute pointers can make reading more fun.  Another great option are big books.  There's just something about putting a huge book on a chart stand and reading it with a pointer that makes it way more interesting.  Suddenly you have kids engaged in reading!

8. Get Out Of Your Classroom

If you want kids to really be engaged, get them out of your classroom once in a while.  Take them to your building library and let them sit among the stacks and read.  If it's a beautiful day, let them take a few books outside and lay in the grass and read.  Sometimes a change of scenery is all it takes to get kids excited about reading.

9. Buddy Reading

Enlist the help of some older students in your building or even high school kids.  Have them come and read with your class.  Students look up to those older kids and it gives the big kids a chance to shine.  Get together with another teacher of older students and arrange for a regular weekly or monthly buddy reading date. Your students will look forward to this special visit.

10. Celebrity Reader

Do you have a connection to any celebrities? Chances are the answer to that is no, but how about a local celebrity? Maybe you have a news anchor for your local news station that would be willing to come in and read to your students.  How about the mayor of your city? Or even your superintendent of schools? Reach out to people in your community or even bigger names and see if they might be willing to come in a read a story or two for your class. Having a celebrity reader is a great way to connect with kids and your students will be thrilled! 

I like to keep track of my students books with monthly reading logs. I send them home in their weekly homework folder and students write or color the books that they have read each week.  

This set includes 45 reading logs for each month and an all purpose log for any time.  There are three different versions.  
~ There is the simple style with space for only the title of the book.  This is perfect for kindergarten or beginning first grade students.  
~ There is also a log that includes space for the date, minutes read and the title of each book, which is great for elementary  students of all ages. 
~ There is also a coloring version where students color in a picture for each book read. Want to try it with your students? Grab the September logs here for free! 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Read To Self From the First Day of School

Building stamina and reading to self can start on the very first day of school, but where do you begin?  Follow these steps to build accountability and have your students reading in no time!

#1  Determine Each Child's Reading Level

The first thing you will need to do is review each students reading file from the prior year. Hopefully, you have a fantastic team of teachers in the grade before you (like I do at my school 😊)  and they gave your students a good foundation from the start. Grab this free editable chart to track students beginning of the year reading level.

#2 Book Boxes (or Bags)

Next, you'll need individual book boxes or bags for each of your students.  I personally like to use plastic boxes because they are sturdy and last forever.  But if that isn't in your budget or you don't have space, a large gallon size ziplock bag works fine too.

Label the boxes or bags with your students name or number (read more about why I give my students a number here) and now you are ready to fill them up!

#3 Choose "Just Right" Books For Your Students

Now it's time to fill those book boxes.  To save time, sort your students boxes by level.  We use Fontas and Pinnell leveling system at our school, so for the sake of this article I will be using those levels, but you can do this with any system that you use.

Sort all the Level A students book boxes on one table, Level B on another and so on.  Put 4-6 "just right" books in each students book box.  Even though you don't really know your students yet, you can find books that they will enjoy simply by filling their box with books that are the right level for them. Put about 4 books that are on their independent reading level and about 2 challenge books - 1 level higher.

At the very beginning of the year,  you might consider bumping your students back one level to account for the dreaded "summer slide".  You can adjust this as needed but for the first week or so it's better to give students books that they can read than have them frustrated from the start.

#4 Start Reading On The First Day Of School

Now you're ready to start reading! At some point in your day - I usually do this right after recess as a way to calm down - introduce your students to Quiet Reading Time.  You can call this whatever you want.  Some people call it Silent Reading or Read To Self. Choose a name that you will use throughout the year so that students know when it is time to read.

Gather your students together at your carpet and talk about what Quiet Reading Time looks like.  Make a T Chart together and write their ideas on the chart.

Pass out students book boxes (pre-filled by you with just right books) and let them choose a place to sit in your classroom.  I like to let my students sit anywhere they want.....under tables, on the floor, bean bag chairs, classroom library.  You name it, they sit all over the place.  But there are 2 rules they must follow during Quiet Reading Time:

1. Sit by yourself.  Do not sit by a friend that will distract you.
2. Read the whole time.  This is not a time to look out the window, play or whisper to your friends.

#5 Start Out Slow

Tell the students that in order to do this right, they need to begin building their stamina. Don't expect students to sit down and read quietly for 30 minutes on the first day of school.  You will be setting both you and your students up for failure.

Begin with quiet reading for 2-3 minutes.  Yep, you read that right. Only 2-3 minutes.  You want the students to be reading the WHOLE time.  They need to understand what is expected during quiet reading.  When the time is up, call all the students back to the carpet to discuss how they did.

#6 Rate Their Reading

Talk with the students about what quiet reading should look like. Refer back to the chart that you made together prior to starting.  Did they read the whole time? Were they distracted? Did they have books that were just right for them?

I like to use this little freebie that I found on Mrs. Ricca's Kindergarten to rate our reading.  Ask each student how they did....Okay? Strong? or Superhero? We use hand signals for each of these: Okay is shaking our hand back and forth like you would to say "so, so".  Strong is a thumbs up.  Super Hero is two arms up like you are showing your muscles.

Each student will rate their quiet reading out loud.  If they answer with an okay, ask them what was the problem? Were they distracted? Do they need to choose a different spot to read next time? Were their books too hard? Too easy? Do they need different books in their box? Help them figure out a way to make their reading time Super Hero.

#7 Practice Every Day

Now that your students understand how to do this, you will need to practice every day.  Find a specific time in your day for Quiet Reading Time.  For the first two weeks, meet at the carpet to review your chart and discuss what quiet reading time looks like, before you begin.   Each day, add 1-2 minutes to your time.  At the end of quiet reading, always come back together to rate their reading.

If you find that students are not able to sit and read for that long, back it up.  You never want students to be off task or fooling around during this time.  Train them to understand that during this time they are quiet and READING THE WHOLE TIME.

#8 Keep It Fresh

Students will need to change out the books in their book boxes regularly.  We change out books every Friday afternoon.  In the beginning, you will need to help students choose books.  Guide them to the books that are just right for them.

Usually for the first few weeks of school, I will change the book boxes myself because the students aren't ready to choose for themselves.  After that, they can begin to fill the boxes themselves.

Students should always have 6-8 books in their box at all times.  They need enough books to keep them reading and on task for 15-20 minutes. If you find that they are finishing their books early, they might need a different level.  I usually suggest to them that they put 6 "just right" books in their box and 2 challenge books (one level higher).

It's fine for the students to read the same books over and over for a week.  Practice makes perfect.

If you follow this plan, you will see students begin to be excited about Quiet Reading Time.  They will look forward to a certain book that they want to read.  They will be excited and proud as they move into new levels of books.  They will suggest books to their friends and ask to borrow a book that someone else is reading.  Within a couple of months, your students will be sitting for 20-30 minutes reading quietly and you will watch with wonder in your eyes! It's a beautiful sight to see!

Monday, July 23, 2018

3 Reasons To Try Flexible Seating In Your Classroom

Flexible seating is all the buzz on social media! Are you ready to jump on the bandwagon and try this classroom management technique for yourself?

Well, I'm here to tell you that I started using flexible seating in my classroom a few years ago and don't plan on ever going back to traditional seating.  Here are a few reasons why I love it so much!

#1 The Kids Love It!

Students love having choice. Let's face don't get lots of choices in their lives.  They are pretty much told what to do, when to do it and how to do it by adults in their lives.  So, when they are given the option of a choice in anything...what to eat, bedtime or where to sit in the classroom...they love it.

Students enjoy having the freedom to pick a seat that works for them in the classroom.  They feel more in charge and engaged in their learning.

#2 Some Kids Need To Move!

Have you ever had that student that just seemed to wiggle all day long? Sitting on their knees. Rocking in their chair. Rolling around on the carpet. Have you found yourself telling that student to sit down, stop wiggling, stop moving....over and over....and they just don't stop?

That's because they can't stop.  They need to move.  Their little body just won't stop no matter how hard they try.  Those are the kids that not only love flexible seating - they need it.  These are the students that will do well sitting on a yoga ball or a wobble stool.

They will actually learn better if they are able to bounce or rock gently in their seat. Offering alternative seating choices at centers or their regular seat, gives them that freedom.

#3  Parents love it too!

I have seen a huge decrease in behavior problems in my classroom since implementing flexible seating.  Those wiggly boys that used to get in trouble are more engaged and on task when they are able to move around while learning. I am no longer yelling at kids for rocking in their chair or standing when they should be sitting.

Given the choice, students will sit next to other kids that they get along with and behavior problems decrease.  Some children want to sit alone while others like having a partner.  Parents like the fact that their kids are happier, more engaged and learning!

Making Good Choices

So how do kids know if they have chosen a good seat for themselves? We use a Flexible Seating Reflection Notebook.  At the end of each day, we meet and talk about our seating choices for that day.  The students answer questions like "Was it a good choice for you?", "Were you able to stay on task and do your work?", "Was there anything you didn't like about that seat?". When we are finished with our quick discussion, the students complete a page in their notebook.

Students mark their seating choice for the day, whether it was a good choice or not and write a few sentences telling how they felt about their seat.  They do this for about a week until they have had a chance to try out all the different seating choices in the classroom.  At the end of the week, students are free to choose any seat each day and are ready to begin their flexible seating journey for the year.

Would you like to try the Flexible Seating Reflection Notebook in your classroom? Grab your FREEBIE here!  Want more ideas to help you implement flexible seating in your classroom? Hop over here to read 10 Things You Should Know About Flexible Seating.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Morning Calendar Routine

What is your morning calendar routine? Can I just say how much I LOVE ours?  It really starts our day off right and I look forward to it as much as the students do!

Are you looking for an easy morning calendar routine for kindergarten or first grade? Teachers will love this smart board calendar that is perfect for your morning circle time and linked to the common core standards.#calendar #morningroutine #circletime #firstgrade #teachers #classroom

After my students do their morning chores, we meet at the carpet for our Calendar Time.  I can honestly say that I have done calendar with my kiddos every day for my entire career and I would never give it up.  I really feel like I get a lot of "bang for my buck" out of this little 15 minutes of time.

I used to have my calendar on my bulletin board and it looked like this:

Although it was a great routine, it took up a lot of space in my room and when I moved classrooms a few years ago I no longer had this much space to devote to my calendar.  What was I going to do?  I LOVED my calendar time and I didn't want to give it up! But the only bulletin board I had available was about 3ft X 3ft.  That wasn't going to cut it. my new classroom I had an interactive board......woah!! We have entered the 21st Century!!! So I decided I needed to do my morning math routine in a more updated I created my Calendar Math Editable Powerpoint.  

So, how does the calendar work?  The first slide is the actual calendar.  It's completely interactive so the students can move things around, which they LOVE ❤️. Your students can move the date into place and move the days to show Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.  Choose a child to use an expo marker to actually write the date - both the long version and the digital date. This gives them good practice in writing the date, which is actually one of our writing standards.  We also sing our "Good Morning Song", which is such a positive happy way to start our day.  There's a link to the you tube video and it's embedded right into our calendar.  How cool is that????

The next slide is counting how many days we have been in school.  Students can make the days with tens and ones and also make it in tallies.

On the third slide students practice telling time and making graphs. The teacher chooses a question, for the "Graph of the Day" and the students drag their answer into the graph.

The fourth slide is about the "Shape of the Week".  Teachers can choose one "shape" to study for the week.  I usually begin with the 2 dimensional shapes like triangle, circle square, etc.  We learn how many vertices and faces the shape has, as well as if it is an open or closed shape.  These are all part of our Math standards.  Eventually, you can move on to the three dimensional shapes like cube, cylinder, cone and sphere.

The last slide has addition, subtraction and number bonds.

Wow.....that's a ton of stuff!!! You're probably wondering how you can all that in 15 minutes. I don't suggest doing every page, every day.  We always do the first two pages - calendar and counting how many days in school.  The rest of the pages we do occasionally.

If you'd like your students to follow along, there are even backline maters of the calendar that you can make into a book for your kids to work in!

In the beginning of the year , you can start off with just a page or two.... add more as the year goes on.  We never do all 5 pages in one day...that would take too much time and I try to limit our calendar time to 15 minutes a day.

My students and I really do love our new calendar's streamlined, 21st century and doesn't take up any valuable bulletin board space.  If you'd like to take a closer look, I made a little video of the calendar which you can watch here. 

So, are you ready to go digital with your morning calendar?  Your students will love it and so will  you! If you're ready to make the change you can grab your own Calendar Math Editable Powerpoint here.

Calendar Math - Owl Theme            


What do you do for your morning calendar math routine?  Please share your ideas below....I'd love to hear them!!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Classroom Library Organization

Do you need some ideas for your classroom library organization? Here are 5 tips to help you set up a system that will be easy for you to manage and the students will enjoy!

1. Books, Books, Books - Where do I get them?

Scholastic Book Club

First things need books for your classroom library.  And you need lots of them! So where do you start?

One of the best things you can do is send home monthly Scholastic Book Orders with your students.  It's a great way for kids to get books of their own that are high quality and inexpensive.  Parents love to buy books for their kids, especially for holidays, and when you send these order forms home you make it convenient for them to shop.

But the best part for you? When students order books, you earn bonus points that can be used to get free books for your classroom.  I have a classroom library with hundreds of books and most of them were earned with Scholastic Bonus points! It's totally free for teachers to sign up, so get on over there and make an account!

Garage Sales and Thrift Stores

Garage sales and thrift stores are another great place to buy bargain books for a fraction of the original cost.  Summer is a great time to get out and hunt for these bargains.  You can often find great books for your library for only .25 each!


Don't underestimate the power of asking for donations.  Send a letter home to parents or even make a Facebook post.  Often times, people have children's books laying around that are no longer being used after kids grow up.  They would love to donate them to your classroom and know that they are being put to good use!

2. How do I store all of these books?

Ok, you've got your what do you do with all of them?  You will definitely need some bookshelves and plastic bins to store your books.  While you're out there hunting for books at garage sales...keep your eye out for some old books shelves.  Remember, a can of spray paint can make even the oldest, dingiest shelf look clean and refreshed!

The best place I've found for plastic storage bins is your local Dollar Tree or every teachers favorite store, Target! Dollar stores have the perfect size plastic tubs in bright colors that are great for your library storage and the best part? They are only $1 each! Which is great, because you are going to need a lot of them once you get that library built up!

3. How do I arrange the books in my library?

Now you have your books and the boxes.....but how should you arrange them? There are lots of ways that you can do this. Some of the more popular ways to sort books in an elementary classroom are by genre, level, author and holiday.  And the good news can do all four if you want to! 

I really feel that the classroom library should be a focal point of any classroom. This is the place where children will go to relax and read with a friend or by themselves.  This is where they will look for a book when they are doing research for a report.  This is also where they will get books to fill their own personal book boxes as well.  They may even check books out of your library to read at home.

For this reason, you will need to give your library some space in your classroom.  I have two large bookshelves in my classroom that sit in an L shape and my books are sorted in several ways.  I have one section that is sorted by our favorite authors.  Another area is sorted by genre and a large portion of my library is devoted to books that are sorted by level.  I keep my holiday books in a file cabinet and bring those out each month in a special basket, which we'll talk about in a few paragraphs.  

4. How do I keep my library organized?

Label Your Books

You may be thinking, that's a lot of books! How can I make sure that the students keep them organized? 

The best thing I have found is to label every book in your library.  Now that may seem like a daunting task, but once you have them all sorted by genre, author, level, etc and in their separate book boxes, it's pretty easy to flip through the books and label them.  

I have seen people label their books in different ways.  Some people will simply write with marker on the cover of the book.  Others will use some colored sticker dots on the covers.  This is what I did when I first started my library.  But I soon had too many books and not enough colors of dots to suit my needs! 

The best thing that I have found is to use address size labels with all of the various holidays, genres, authors, etc preprinted on the label.  I simply print out a sheet of these labels and stick them on the top front corner of each book.  I like to put my labels on the front of my books so that when students are flipping through the bins they can easily see if a book is in the correct box, and replace it if needed.  

You can grab your book labels here.  This HUGE FREEBIE  includes over 70 pages of labels.....pretty much everything I could think of for an elementary classroom library!

Create Library Rules

One of the first centers I like to open at the beginning of the year is our classroom library.  But in order to do that, we need to establish some ground rules.  The last thing you want are your books destroyed or so mixed up that you can't find anything!

Some of our library rules are:

1. Only take one book out at a time.
2. Keep all the books facing forward in the box.
3. All books must go back where you got it from.
4. Handle books with care.
5. If you find a damaged book, put it in the Book Hospital. (the Book Hospital is a special basket that sits at the library and it is devoted to damaged books.  Once a week or so, I will check the Book Hospital to see if I need to repair any books and then put them back in circulation)

Create A Check Out System

Are you planning on letting students take books home? If so, you may want to consider creating a check out system.  One way of doing this is the old fashioned (but still works great) library pocket in the back of the book.  You can buy self adhesive library pockets to put in each book. Simply write the name of the book on an index card and put it in the pocket in the back of the book. 

Create a bulletin board with another pocket for each student.  When students want to check out a book, they simply take the card out of the back of their book and put it in their own pocket on the bulletin board. This way, you know exactly who has each of your books.  It's a simple system and one that is easy to maintain.  

5. How do I encourage students to use our library?

You've put all this work into your library, the last thing you want is it to sit idle with nobody using it! So how do you keep the kids coming back to the library all year? 

Make It Inviting

Make your library a cozy place where kids will want to visit.  Add some comfy chairs or cushions and maybe even some stuffed animals.  We call these our reading buddies and kids can read a story to a stuffed animal.  How about adding some soft lighting with a cute lamp? I found all of these items at a garage sale one summer for just a few dollars!

Rotate Your Books

Some of the books in your library will stay there all year, such as your leveled books.  But others can be rotated in and out of your library to add interest.  I like to bring my holiday books out at the beginning of each month.  We put them in a special box to make it interesting. In October, I put my Halloween books in a cauldron and add some witches fingers as pointers.  The kids love that! 

Another idea is to have an author showcase.  Each month you can showcase a different author.  Maybe have a special bulletin board with the author's picture and some of his/her books.  You could even read a book to the class each day to spark interest in this author. 

Add Fun Stuff

Another way to keep your classroom library fresh and inviting is to add fun stuff to your library.  Fun pointers and crazy glasses or hats are a fun addition to any library and make the students want to spend time there!

So now you have lots of ideas to get your classroom library up and running! You can take a look at how I run all of my other centers here. If you have other tips that teachers might like, please leave them in the comments below.