Sunday, November 20, 2016

First Grade Writing Templates

I hate grading writing! Wouldn't it be great to have an easy way to grade writing? Keep reading, cause I've got you covered! 

So it's that time of the year when the firsties are finally getting a handle on writing.  I've introduced a couple of different types of writing to them....specifically, writing a friendly letter and informational writing.  And they are doing pretty well.....but then......I have to grade it.  😱 

Girl!..... You know that takes some time! Settle in with a cup of tea and be prepared to sit there for a while.  And how do you grade writing???? It's so subjective. So I used to get out my trusty rubrics - you know the ones with the boxes that say stuff like:  You have a strong focus or theme that shows you understand the prompt. Your focus is strong throughout your entire narrative. 

Yeah.....and there's like 20 of those boxes on the rubric and you have to keep looking back and forth from the students writing to the rubric and comparing to see if they met all the little areas in each box.  Hmmmm, is this worth 4 points or 3 points.  Let me see, did they have a strong focus or a clear focus??????? Gahhhhh! I hate those rubrics!  

So one day I decided I was going to create my own SIMPLE, KID FRIENDLY and TEACHER FRIENDLY writing templates with rubrics built right into them.  I wanted one for every kind of writing sample and I wanted it to align to the common core: Opinion Writing, Personal Narrative, Informational Writing, Friendly Letter and just an All Purpose template for every day writing.  

And I wanted a rubric built right into the writing more looking back and forth, comparing, searching for the right rubric, copying it and stapling it to the writing sample! I needed to simplify my grading life!! Hey listen, I don't have time to sit here forever grading papers.  I have to watch The Real Housewives work on lesson plans. You know what I mean?? 

So this is what I came up simple and yet really effective.  I have been using these writing templates for years and the rubric is always right on target every time.  I have finally made it into a product that I can share with you! I hope you will check it will seriously change your grading life! You can grab your set here


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Fall Centers - It's All About DIFFERENTIATION!

Sorry that it's been a while since my last post....things got a little crazy 'round here! My November stations are up and running and I wanted to take a minute to share them with you.  The fab firsties always get so excited when I put out something new! That's one of the reasons I love stations soooo much.....the kids are engaged and learning and HAVING FUN at the same time!! The perfect trifecta! So here's what's cookin':

Math Center - Squirrelly Subtraction

This month in Math we are working on subtraction.  I found the cutest "jeweled acorns" at my local craft store and I knew I could do something with them in my class! My firsties love this little hands on subtraction game.  They can play this alone or with a the subtraction story problem about little Sammy Squirrel stealing the nuts and work the problem on their Squirrelly Subtraction Work Mat. There are three levels of questions and worksheets for struggling, on level and advanced students.

Spelling Center "Leaves" Me Happy

Remember making leave rubbings when you were a kid? Well, break out those leaves out and let your firsties try it at the spelling station! Here, my students are making leaf rubbings and then writing their spelling words with black marker on each leaf.  As always, it is differentiated into three levels with my struggling students working on 4 words, on level kiddos have 6 words and advanced students working on 8 words.  Such an easy center to set up and they love it!

Big Book Center

I love felt stories......I remember being a little firstie and my teacher had cool felt story pieces and I just loved making up stories and playing with them! This month I added a few poems and felt pieces to my Big Book Center.  I would love to give credit to the person who made these flannel board pieces, but I bought them years ago (I think maybe on etsy????) and I have no idea.  I have the story "Jamies Pumpkin" and all the flannel pieces to go with it and some other simple poems for the kiddos to read and retell. 

Writing Center

This month the firsties are working on lists of fall words and fall stories at the writing center.  There is a large word wall and also a mini word wall that the kids use as reference.  Add a few feathered pens, some colored pencils and the kids love visiting this center.

Word Word Center

This month we are planting pumpkins in alphabetical order in the pumpkin patch! I made these cute little pumpkin patch work mats and three levels of pumpkins.  My struggling firsties are working on alphabetizing letters.....while my higher level kiddos are using words and looking at the beginning letter to put them in alphabetical order.  I put velcro squares on the back of the pumpkins and the mats and my fab firsties can stick them in place.  When they finish, they can rewrite their words/letters on the worksheet that goes along with their level. 

Library / Listening Center

I have baskets of fall themed books at both my library and listening center this month.  Kids can choose these themed books or something from the leveled book boxes to read and then complete a differentiated story elements worksheet to tell about their book.  

Art Center

We're making tissue paper fall trees at our Art Center this month, but with a differentiated twist!  After they make their tree, the firsties will write about their tree. My struggling kiddos will trace a sentence, on level kids will add color words to their sentence and my advanced students will write their own sentence.  

So that's what's happening at centers this month......things are "falling" right into place!!! If you would like to use these centers in your classroom they are available in a bundle on my TPT store here.

I also have a special Fall Math Centers bundle with two additional centers included here:

Thanks so much for stopping by and I would love to hear what you are doing for your centers this month!  Do you do themed centers or do you have anything fun you would like to share?  Please comment below and let us all in on your secrets!! Hope you have a great week and stop by again....there's always something fun happening in.....


Saturday, October 29, 2016

Happy Halloween!!

Hey friends.......just wanted to send out a quick hello and wish everyone out there in Firstieland a Happy Halloween! We had our parties yesterday and had a great time.  All the Firsties came in their cute little costumes and we paraded around the school for all to see! We played some fun games, had some treats and sent them all was an early release day.  Nice! Here are some photos of our team. We always pick a theme...this year it was the:

Four Seasons

Here are a few photos of years past in case you need some inspiration!

Wizard of Oz

Candy Land Characters
(of course this is my favorite here in Firstieland......🍭)

Here's hoping you all have a sweet Halloween!! Till next time......there's always something fun happening in.....

Firstieland 🍭

Saturday, October 8, 2016

What Is Balanced Literacy? Part One - Reading

Balanced Literacy.......this is my bible, my baby, what I TRULY BELIEVE IN.....when it comes to teaching kiddos how to read.  If you do nothing else in your classroom.....use balanced literacy.  Seriously.  So what is it? Balanced literacy is simply that.....a balanced approach to teaching children how to read and write.  Children are highly engaged in the reading and writing process.  The teacher facilitates their learning using different approaches that include whole group, small group and individual instruction.

So what are the components of a good great FANTASTIC balanced literacy program? Here's the list: Read Aloud, Shared Reading, Guided Reading, Independent Reading, Shared Writing, Interactive Writing, Independent Writing.  Today's blog will focus on the Reading Part of Balanced Literacy:

Read Alouds
Why should teachers read aloud to children? First of all, because they love it! What better way to teach children to love reading than to read good quality literature to them? They get engaged in the story, they laugh, they look forward to that quiet time when they just sit and listen to a good book.  But during this time we also teach children that there is a purpose for reading...we can read for enjoyment and we can read to learn new things.  We show them different strategies to help them comprehend a story.  We teach them how to use clues in the story to figure out unknown words and new vocabulary.  And.....we teach them how to listen.

I think the key in reading aloud is choosing quality books that have great story elements - a great plot, engaging characters, rich vocabulary, interesting settings.  When you choose books like this, you can draw the children in and then WHAMMO!! teaching them reading strategies becomes easy.  After reading a story aloud, this is when I introduce concepts like plot, characters and setting.  We compare stories using venn diagrams and T charts, we list the characters and the setting.  Basically we talk about the elements of the story and why they are important to our comprehension.

Shared Reading
Ok....I LOVE shared reading. People.....this is where you really get a lot of bang for your buck! This is the step where you truly teach kids how to read! Shared reading is when the teacher and student read together from an enlarged text.  This can be a book, a chart, a poem....anything really, but at this level - and this is IMPORTANT - it must have pictures that match the text.  Using pictures clues is one of the first reading strategies to help children learn to read. Please don't listen when people tell you that pictures teach children to, no, no.  Pictures teach children to use strategies like looking at the beginning sound of a word and matching it to the picture to figure out unknown words. Without pictures the only strategy a child learns is decoding.  Decoding is fine for CVC words, but we want them to develop a sight word vocabulary.  Sight words are memorized and pictures can help them in that memorization process.  Pictures also help the child with comprehension.  We need to teach them to look at the pictures and really think about what is happening in a story.  Sometimes subtle things are happening in the pictures that may not be mentioned in the text....this is where we teach them to REALLY LOOK at the pictures and understand the story.  

When we read together in Shared Reading  all of the children can see the text and the process of reading at the same time. Children get the opportunity to read aloud and demonstrate comprehension by answering questions about the story. Children see the front of the book, back of the book, how to turn the pages, read from left to right and find sight words that they know on the pages. They are taught the difference between print and illustrations in Shared Reading. They learn how to read fluently and how to make their voices expressive. This activity also helps give children the confidence to try reading books on their own.

There are many big books on the market that you can purchase and if you have unlimited funds (NOT!) then buy away! But if you are like many of us, our funds are non existent limited and we need to come up with other creative ways to make enlarged print stories.  I usually write my stories based on our theme and sight words for the week.  So, for instance, if you are learning about the farm and your sight words are "that" and "is" you could write a simple story like: That is a cow. That is a pig. That is a horse. etc....Each page would have very big print - large enough for the child to see it sitting in a group with you at the carpet and it would also include some kind of illustration.  Sometimes I draw my own or often times I will use a coloring page or a stock photo that I find online.    I make my own "big books", laminate them and bind them and VOILA!!! instant shared reading materials!  Cost = $0......LOVE IT!!! ❤️
Remember when you are creating your materials,  they need to be at the correct reading level to really help your students advance in their learning.  A Kindergarten teacher is going to be working with Level A at the beginning of the year.....a First Grade Teacher will be working at around a level C-D at the beginning of the year.  I think that Shared Reading is valuable at both grade levels, but your materials that you are using need to be geared toward the correct level.  Making a level D big book will look different than a level A.  

Guided Reading
In guided reading, students meet with the teacher in a small group.  They are given the opportunity to read and learn with books at their own level. They are guided by the teacher and read orally or silently. They are given the opportunity to answer comprehension questions and use strategies to figure out unknown words. Guided reading helps give children the confidence to choose books appropriate for them and to read on their own.  

Independent Reading
This is where the children "show what they know"....children should always have some sort of book box or bag filled with books at their level.  During independent reading children practice reading and using strategies that they have learned in Read Aloud, Shared Reading and Guided Reading.  At the beginning of the year, in first grade, I fill a book box for each of my students.  I use the recommended level that their Kindergarten teacher sends to me, to choose books for each child.  I usually start with about 6 books for one of my firsties in their book box.  After I do a beginning of the year benchmark, I may need to tweak those books.  Some children will fall back in the summer - that dreaded summer slide -  while others will push ahead - YEA!!!  

I like to begin independent reading on the first day of school - SAY WHAT????? Yep, first day.  Ok....I get it....they can't all read yet.  That's ok....we are going to build our stamina.  That's where we learn to sit quietly and do nothing but - READ.  So we begin with 1-2 minutes of quiet reading on the first day.  I read a story aloud to them first....usually something by David Shannon like "No David" or "David Goes to School" because they love those books.  When I'm finished I ask them if they would like to be able to read about David all by themselves and wouldn't it be cool if they could pick up this book and read it??? And of course they all yell YES!! AH HA!! Reel em I have them hooked.  So this is where I introduce "Read to Self" and tell them that we are going to build up our stamina so that we can eventually read this cool book to ourselves too.  I show them their book boxes and off they go to read quietly for 2 minutes.  We come back together and talk about how it went and did we read the whole time, etc. We do this every day until we eventually build up our time to about 20 minutes of silent reading (YES, THEY CAN DO IT!).  

So that wraps up the portion of Balanced Literacy that is Reading......this is the first of a year long series that I plan to do on Balanced Literacy.  I'll be posting different monthly ideas and pictures to help you along on your journey so please check back. Next week I will be posting about the Writing Portion of Balanced will include lots of cool ideas to get you started on doing some cool interactive writing with your kids.  Here's a sneak peak......hope to see you next week and please feel free to hit me up with any questions or comments!! 



Saturday, October 1, 2016

Pinterest Worthy Classrooms......or NOT

So I've decided a good way to begin my blog is by letting you take a peek at my classroom.  I took a bunch of pictures at the beginning of the school year...some before and after shots.  Do you think I can find my "before" shots....nope. But my "after" looked pretty darned amazing, if I do say so myself.........and then I got to thinking.  How many of you browse Pinterest, like me, and feel like you are just "not good enough"?  I like to sit down on a Saturday morning with a cup of tea and look at all the amazing classrooms on Pinterest for inspiration....and although I do get inspired, sometimes I begin to feel overwhelmed too.  "Why doesn't my room look like that?"  "Oh my gosh, I am not organized enough!" "Why aren't all my stations color coordinated in cute matching boxes???????" The list goes on and on.

 Well I'm here to tell you that none of that really matters.  I mean, sure, I love all that cute stuff too and I strive to make my room as fun and learning centered as I can for my fab firsties.  But don't stress yourself out over it all.  If you are a new teacher, it's really enough just to get to know your students and the curriculum you are teaching. The best teachers really are the ones who know their students and strive to meet their needs, wherever they are.  These teachers take the time to modify their curriculum, sit with kids and really work with them and try to help them make progress.  They treat their students kindly and really listen to them.  In short, they focus on the child......not the classroom decor.

It takes time to build up that inventory of "cute stuff".  It doesn't happen over the magic Pinterest fairy comes and "sparkles" up every thing in your room and it's just perfect.  Nope.....if you are like many of us you are teaching in an older building with older furniture.  People who have been there the longest have all the "good" know how it goes.

But over time, you begin to gather a few of your own pieces.  Pick stuff up at garage sales....grab a can of spray paint.....and voila that ratty old shelf becomes this really cute piece that looks like it came straight off the pages of Pinterest!! Suddenly you have this really cute corner in your room and you love it!!! And so it goes, year after year until suddenly....your room is Pinterest worthy!!!!

So.....if you aren't there yet, don't let it stress you out.  Take it one shelf at a time.  You'll get there. And in the mean time, keep doing what really matters.  Really teaching your heart out.


Welcome to Firstie Land!

Hello to all my fellow Fab Firsties! I'm excited to be launching my blog's been a long time coming.  First, let me tell you a little bit about myself. I'm a mom to two boys, 16 and longer babies and I miss that so much! My youngest is getting ready to drive a car (YIKES!) and my oldest finished college a couple years ago and is living many states away with a wonderful career and girlfriend.  So do you know what that gives me? TIME.  I finally have time to create and write about my passion, teaching! I've been a teacher for 29 years.  I spent many years teaching kindergarten - 21 years to be exact.  I'm not sure how I kept my sanity ever left, but a few years ago I graduated to First Grade and I love it.  I work with a great team of teachers and I love my little firsties. I'm so happy to be able to share with you, in my blog,  some of the tried and true methods that I know work with kids.  Many years of experience has helped me understand what works and what doesn't.  But I am also one of those teachers that always wants to learn and try new things.  I love browsing Pinterest for new ideas, reading other blogs from talented teachers and shopping on TPT for great products that make my life so much easier.  I plan on sharing all that and more on my blog.  So thanks for reading and I hope you come along for the ride.....we have a lot of fun in Firstie Land!