Sunday, September 25, 2016

Step by Step Instructions for Getting Centers Started

A new school year brings us fresh new learners and fresh new challenges.  I’ve already laid out my case for using literacy centers in your classroom, but if you haven’t tried it yet, go back and read 
this post.

Teaching students how to complete centers in your classroom requires careful planning, training, and lots of practice, much like everything else at the beginning of the year! We practice everything from coming to the carpet to lining up for dismissal, so it makes sense that something as complex as our center rotation would require lots of practice.

Like most of you, I always start the year off with everything being whole group while I teach routines and procedures.  After the first week or so, though, we are ready to start getting ready for centers.  Notice I did not say we were READY for centers, just ready to get ready. 

Independent Reading Center
From Day One, we are practicing building our reading stamina.  I tell the students that our goal is to be able to read at least 20 minutes consistently so I will know they are ready for centers. I hold this “carrot” out for them because
 1) I know they are excited to start centers,
2) it sets up a reasonable goal for them to strive for, and
3) they really do need to be able to read independently for 20 minutes, since that is our typical length of each center.

Word Work Center
While they are working on building up that stamina, even with a mini-lesson, our Reader’s Workshop time does not take up its full time slot in our schedule, so that gives us a little wiggle room for adding some early center practice.

By the second full week, we have started our phonics unit (we always start off with a simple review of short vowels using Chunky Monkey’sShort Vowel Unit).  Most students remember short a from kindergarten, so it is more about learning the different facets of our phonics lessons than about learning a new sound.  Of course, there are those students who really need a good, solid review of the short vowels since they didn’t completely master them the first time around.  So I’ve found this to be a great way to accomplish both goals at once.

Since our phonics units are the same as the spelling patterns they learn each week, we start practicing our spelling centers first.  Literacy Centers will eventually involve student choice, but not at first.  I want all students to know how to complete each activity correctly initially.  So my tables of students remain static- everyone stays at their own spot while we practice simple word work centers like Disappearing Spelling Words, Letter Tiles, Dough Words, White Board Spelling, Letter Stamps, and Spelling Games.  We review the expectations for each activity and students get time each day to try out one or two centers while they practice their spelling words for the week.  I simply move the activities from table to table each day so each student practices each center activity.

Fluency Center
We practice reading One Breath Boxes and Fluency Phrases with partners as part of our beginning phonics practice, and we learn how to build the poem in our Pocket Chart whole group.  All of these activities will be completed in the Fluency Center once Literacy Centers begin in earnest, saving valuable instruction time for other aspects of phonics and reading. 

The Listening Station is also part of our Fluency Center (we are listening to fluent reading), and that takes at least one whole-group mini-lesson to introduce the concept of cassette tapes and CD’s!  I do not yet have iPads or iPods in my classroom for students to use, so I have to rely on my stash of old school listening centers from years past!  Hey, I consider it a valuable history lesson for my kiddos. Ha!

Writing Center
This center needs less prep time than the others as far as introducing the different center options, but we do practice each activity during a Writer’s Workshop session, so they understand the expectations for first grade quality work in this center.  We practice such activities as Author’s Choice (little blank mini-books they can use to create any book they want), Vocabulary Writing, Four Square, and List Writing.

By the time we’ve practiced all of these centers, it is usually the end of the 4th week of school.  The students are almost always reading for 20 minutes at a stretch, so we are ready to learn how to rotate centers.

I group my students into their guided reading groups, then give them folders to match their group’s color. 

Each group starts in the same center every day and follows a set rotation around the room designed to maximize efficiency and learning (see my previous blog post about our rotations here).  Each group visits each center every day.

Before starting, we review the expectations of centers.
Here are the expectations for literacy centers in my classroom:
1.      Stay in your center.
2.    Stay on task.
3.    Work quietly.
4.    Work the whole time.
5.    Have fun!

After reviewing the expectations, I pass out our Center Recording Sheets and teach the students how to use them.  I have them write our weekly spelling words and high frequency words on the page so they are always handy for practice or review in centers.

During the first week of Center Training, students do not have a choice in their centers, so we go ahead and mark the centers together each day before starting rotations.  I show them the activity they will be doing in Word Work and Writing, how it correlates with the picture on the drawer it is stored in, and where to find the matching picture on their recording sheet.  We then mark it with the initial of the day (M for Monday, etc.).  This is helping them practice marking which center they do each day, which is important information for me once they start making their own center choices.

Next, they are off to their first center and we get started.  We rehearse different voice levels and agree which ones are appropriate for which center.  We usually like Level 1 whispers for Fluency Center, Level 2 soft table voices for Guided Reading and Word Work (only since they have a teacher at those tables working with students- normally Word Work is Level 0).  Writing and Independent Reading need to be Level 0 to help students focus and concentrate on their literacy activities.

While students dive in to their assigned activities, I have a group at the guided reading table.  Instead of diving into guided reading, I usually take the first week to play simple games with student we will use for word work activities- word sorts, sound boxes, etc.  The reason for this is two-fold:  1) these activities will be easier and take less time if they are familiar to the students in the near future, and 2) I really need to have my focus on the WHOLE classroom to monitor how students are doing in all of the centers.  It is important to catch off-task behavior early and nip it in the bud so it doesn’t become contagious and accepted.

After about 10-15 minutes, I buzz our timer and we practice cleaning up quickly and standing at our centers until everyone is ready to switch.  I like to pass out pirate coins (our school’s token reward system since we are the Pirates!) to the group or groups who cleaned up exceptionally well.  This sets the bar high and groups quickly know what is expected of them.

To make sure they know where they are going next, I ask each group to point to their next center (we rotate in a circular pattern around the room), then it is time to SWITCH! 

Join me next time for more details about Guided Reading- I will even have a freebie for you!  You don’t want to miss it!


Sunday, November 22, 2015

5 Simple Steps for Successful Literacy Centers

Hi friends!  I am so excited to finally be blogging again!  It has been a busy fall, and my home and TPT to-do lists are constantly screaming my name, but I really, really want to share a few things with you about my Literacy Center instruction.

I have a passion for Guided Reading and Literacy Centers.  Truly, they are the backbone of my classroom instruction - the meat-and-potatoes of my first grade curriculum.  Some things can be skipped or pushed to the next day, but not these key components.  The structure and routine we have built are crazy important to me.  

The way I run these key components reflect my true beliefs about how children learn.  I strive to make these things a priority when planning and designing lessons and activities for centers.

Literacy Centers should be STRUCTURED.
Maybe some teachers can handle students working on different things each day while they randomly call groups back to the guided reading table, but not me.  That type of system just doesn’t work for me.  I need a structured routine that enables students to know exactly what they are doing now, and what comes next, at all times.

We follow a predictable schedule Monday-Thursday
 (Fridays are for spelling tests, crafts, science experiments, computer lab, and other fun things).

I have five reading groups based on their reading level, and they stick together through all 5 literacy centers every day (remember, when I say every day, I mean Mon-Thurs)…

In the next few weeks, I will be blogging about our activities in the following centers and describing how I set things up at first.  (when I’m done with each post, I will make these clickable links):

The Fluency Center
The Guided Reading Table
The Writing Center
The Word Work Center
The Independent Reading Center
Setting Up Centers at the Beginning of the Year
Changing Things Up Mid-Year

 In our classroom, our literacy centers are structured in a very intentional way to support student engagement, learning, and the needs of our learners.  Students rotate through all the centers every day in a clock-wise motion.  Working in the Fluency Center gets students “warmed up” and ready to read in the Guided Reading Center.  Each week in Guided Reading, we have a Reader’s Response that requires writing, so students frequently finish it up in the Writing Center (right after guided reading).  Guided Reading is the noisiest center since we discuss what we are reading, so it is placed on the opposite side of the classroom from Independent Reading (so those readers can have as much peace and quiet as possible to concentrate.) As you can see, a lot of thought went into the planning of our center rotation and the location of each of the centers in our classroom.

Each group starts in the same center each day, so their routine is predictable and my groups follow the same sequence at the guided reading table (important because of some students’ pull-out times for Title One reading, ELL, Speech, and other special support).  I need to get these students to my guided reading table each day, even if they miss other centers. Guided Reading is a non-negotiable in my class, and my centers routine is scheduled in a way to make that possible for every student, no matter their special out-of-the-classroom needs.

Literacy Centers should be PURPOSEFUL.
Each center has a purpose- an important purpose in Balanced Literacy.  All of the activities in each center provide a special emphasis in some type of literacy practice.  I have multiple options available for writing, word work, and fluency practice because there are so many facets of each of these elements.  I want to make sure I am addressing all of the skills needed to be successful readers, writers, and thinkers.

Literacy Centers should be ENGAGING.
Students love to work in centers when they are fun and engaging.  Sometimes it is the little things that make an activity fun for a six-year old.  Practicing writing spelling words is okay, but writing spelling words on rainbows with skinny markers is way more fun!  I try to find engaging center ideas so students will want to stay on task and complete their practice or inquiry.

Literacy Centers should allow for DIFFERENTIATION.
When an activity meets a child’s needs, magic happens.  The truth of the matter is…..all of our students have different needs!  They come to us with such a wide variety of experience, exposure, interests and skills that it is unlikely that one activity will meet everyone where they need to be.  I make sure students of every level will be engaged with SOMETHING in each center- they have many choices because their interests and skill levels are so vastly different.  For example, my lower students really enjoy the simple word work that allows them to use different tools to make their sight words (water painted on chalkboards, playdough, salt trays, etc.), but my higher students are much more engaged with Mystery Words or Dictionary Hunts- the skill levels are widely different because my students have different needs.
Drawers for the Word Work Center
Drawers for the Writing Center

Literacy Centers should require ACCOUNTABILITY.
Each center has multiple recording sheets so that I can see what they’ve been working on during their center time.  There are a few centers that don’t require a recording sheet, though.  I have students use the paper below in their Center Folder each week. 
Our Weekly Center Paper

On Monday before center time, students practice writing their spelling words, sight words, and phonics chunk, then through the week they write an M, T, W or Th in the box next to a center when they complete it.  That tells me which center they did on which day.  Students know they need to complete a variety of activities in each center to become great readers and writers.  They should only do a center once a week so they can become well-rounded.  I do want them to be able to continue working on an activity another day if they need to, though, so I allow a little flexibility in that area.

Thursday afternoon I unpack all of the papers from their center folders and peek at their work from the week before stapling them together and sending them home.  If I need to have a conversation with a student about completing work, choosing a variety of centers, or documenting their learning in a meaningful way, I pull them aside on Friday before sending home their work.  I also usually write a quick note on their center paper to remind them what we discussed (and alert parents to their child’s focus or goal for the next week). 
Our Center Folders are color-coded to match the students' Guided Reading Groups.
 We keep them together in a basket in the Fluency Center.
I also love to pull a few examples of quality work for Friday’s sharing time.  I display their center work proudly and point out the extraordinary details they used in their writing, neat handwriting efforts, or the care they took to completely finish a difficult task.  If there is a center that is being overlooked or only given half-efforts by multiple students, I’ve found that this is a great way to re-motivate students to really engage with this activity.  If students still struggle with the center after that, I may need to re-think the activity and its appropriateness.  Singling out quality work usually does the trick, though. J
The Fluency Center

Join me next weekend for a peek into our Fluency Center!

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Close Reading Giveaway!

Hi friends!  This week’s Building Back to School linky party’s topic is Reading Tools. Thanks for joining me! 

 I have been obsessed with Close Reading this past year.  Why?  Because I have been working without a reading curriculum, that’s why!  You see, my first grade team all used a basal series when I started teaching first grade 5 years ago.  An out-of-date basal series.  I did, too, for the first two years while I was learning the ropes.  My principal, though, kept urging me to try giving up the basal and using newer best practices for teaching reading.  School-wide, we were already adding Guided Reading and Reader’s Workshop for teaching comprehension strategies.  The theory was that these two areas should cover all of my students’ reading needs.  I decided to give it a shot, and jumped in with both feet. 

It became quickly apparent that my students needed two more elements to round out their reading program.  We needed a phonics program and we needed a solid, strategic plan to deal with complex text, preferably using a common story. I knew it was important for all my students to be exposed to grade level (or even a little higher) text and learn some strategies for navigating it.

After a frustrated search for a phonics program that made sense to me (and my firsties), I finally decided to create my own.  Voila! The Chunky Monkey First Grade Phonics program was born.  I spent a full year working on that program (and am happy to say it is DONE! Now I am working on matching spelling units/activities).  
Click here to check those units out.

 Same thing with Close Reading- I bought and tried out many close reading products from wonderful TPT sellers, but I felt like something was missing.  My students weren’t really engaged in the text and only having a couple of writing activities to go with each story didn’t seem like enough time with the text (not to mention my kids didn’t enjoy that much just plain writing).  After mulling it over for a few months, I finally came up with a plan.

My vision was for a week’s worth of activities to go with each story.  Interactive activities.  Drawing and making connections and vocabulary and cutting and gluing and tracing and more illustrating and writing and lots and lots of highlighting. THAT might have a shot at keeping my first graders engaged in the text and willing to keep going back to it.  Also, I knew it would take at least 4 or 5 days for most students to become fluent in the complex text, and that was important to me.  They should be able to fully understand and independently READ the text by the time they are done close reading, shouldn’t they?

I created the template for my vision and wrote 4 stories for the spring.  I test-piloted them with my students and GUESS WHAT???  They loved them!  They enjoyed each day’s activities and fluently read the text by the end of the week. After just a few weeks, they knew exactly how to go back into the text to highlight text evidence for their answers and how to use surrounding text to figure out the meaning of unknown words.  They AMAZED me.  

 The students’ favorite part each week?  Hands down, it was getting to use the different colored highlighters!  I created these labels to go with the series, and they have been very popular.

 I didn’t have enough highlighters for each student, though, so many had to use markers.  I solved that this summer by picking up 3 or 4 packs of highlighters every time I went to Wal-Mart.  Now I have enough for every student to have a set of 4 colors when we read closely!

This summer I finished the spring set of first grade stories and wrote a set for the fall.  I am almost finished with a fall set for second grade, as well.  Each set has 6 weeks of Common Core aligned close reading stories and daily activities that follow seasonally appropriate topics.  Each set includes 3 fiction stories and 3 non-fiction stories (one biography, one how-to, and one informational text).

Would you like to try one out?  I have a freebie week for you to try with your students! Just click on the cover. 

The highlighter labels are also a freebie….many upper elementary teachers have been using them for standardized test prep, which is genius (but not really on my radar, PTL). 
Click here to download those.

This week I will be giving away a FULL YEAR of my Close Reading Interactive Stories (Fall, Spring, and Winter- which is not finished but will be!).  Just enter the Rafflecopter below! 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks so much for stopping by!  

Special thanks to Whimsy Workshop for the detective clipart, KPM Doodles for Chunky Monkey, and KG Fonts!

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Best Books for Building Friendships

Hi friends!  This week’s Building Back to School linky party’s topic is Classroom Tools. Thanks for joining me!
 I think many teachers would agree….my most valuable classroom tools are my books!  Books are the BEST for teaching everything from facts about spiders to why leaves are green and how to be a good friend.  Used as engaging read-alouds, these wonderful resources touch the minds, imaginations, and hearts of my young students.

Every year, there are several go-to books I use for helping students understand what it takes to be a good friend. After all, firsties are still learning how to be a kind, considerate friend.

For the past few years, they have engaged in a lot of parallel play and their friends were probably neighbors, children of their parents' friends, or someone they sat next to in kindergarten.
Around this age, though, children become more selective about who they want to spend time with.  They are ready to think about what qualities make a good friend, and which do NOT make a good friend.

I have always loved the book, Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes, and we read it every year to demonstrate how important it is to use kind words to each other.  Every time the girls in her class are cruel to her, Chrysanthemum’s heart gets more crushed.  Even when Mrs. Twinkle cheers her up with her kind words, those wrinkles are still there in Chrysanthemum’s heart.  Those can never be fully smoothed. It is a powerful lesson for six year-olds, let me tell you.  We leave that wrinkled heart up on the wall all year long and refer back to it when needed.

I have other standby’s that we read every year, too.  Frederick by Leo Lionni, Franklin’s New Friend by Paulette Bourgeois, Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel, and several others.  Great books.  Great lessons about friendship.  Each book has a common theme, but they highlight different aspects of friendship, and I love that.

I am so excited to share with you three new books that I am adding to my friendship collection this year!  I went a little wild at Barnes and Noble….truth be told, I overspend EVERY.SINGLE.TIME.I.GO.IN.THAT.STORE.
I am powerless once I step through those giant doors.  Truly- children’s books are like my kryptonite.  Thank heavens for gift cards from my firsties each and every year (and family who knows me well at Christmas!).

Anyway, check out these great finds:

Making Friends is an Art! By Julia Cook

Poor Brown feels left out and unpopular in his box of colored pencils.  He learns that to HAVE friends, first you must BE a friend.  So he goes about befriending the other colors by being supportive, taking turns, being a good listener, and just being NICE to the other colors.  Know any young students that might need to hear this message?  Me, too!

Another great one is Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry.  In this one, Stick and Stone become friends when Stone is being bullied by Pinecone.  Stick “sticks up” for him, and they become best friends.  The big message: Together is much better than alone.

And my personal favorite:  Peanut Butter and Cupcake by Terry Border.  This cleverly photographed/illustrated story is about Peanut Butter trying to make friends after moving to a new town.  He diligently asks several other characters to play with him, but is rebuffed until he finds that one friend who is a perfect fit.  It is a great lesson in perseverance, social skills, and how to deal with disappointment. And it is FUNNY!

I can’t wait to share these books with my students this year!

As a part of this week’s linky party, I am holding a raffle to give away a new copy of Peanut Butter and Cupcake to a lucky winner!  Just follow the directions below in the Rafflecopter to enter to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Best of luck, friends!
And head on over to check out these other awesome bloggers!! They have great tips AND GIVEAWAYS on Classroom Tools in store for you!! :)

Friday, July 31, 2015

The 5 Minute Calendar and a GIVEAWAY!

Hi friends!  I have been super busy finishing some things up for TPT's Back to School Sale....and STILL need to get to school to finish setting up my classroom!  I'm sure all of you have been equally busy!   
I'm joining the Big Heartland Bloggers for a HUGE giveaway link up.  I'll be giving away my brand-new 5 Minute Calendar & Weather Workbook set!  I've been using this in my classroom for two years,  but I just put the finishing touches on it to make it TPT publish-worthy (cuter fonts, cover, etc.) to make it available for YOU.
Calendar Time used to be one of my favorite times of the day.  In my classroom, it was part of our Morning Meeting and helped us start our day off right.  Daily review was necessary for helping students understand the concepts of days, months, and year.  We also incorporated tons of math concepts for daily review so students would really, really grasp them.

Then RTI happened.  And QCI. And Leader in Me Class Meetings, Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop, Shared Reading, Guided Reading, Literacy Centers, Guided Math, etc., etc., etc. Lots of fabulous good ideas and best practices mandated by administration to help students be successful.  Don’t get me wrong- I am a huge fan of many of these practices, but unfortunately, there are an unchanging number of hours and minutes available for daily instruction.  That means something is going to get cut, and for many primary classrooms, that means calendar time is a thing of the past.

I developed The 5 Minute Calendar system as a way to quickly continue to review calendar and spiraling math concepts with my students.  We have a calendar wall in the classroom and students have a Calendar Notebook with 1/3 of a page to complete each morning as soon as they arrive.  

It really only takes them about 5 minutes to complete their Daily Page!  After a new skill is introduced on a Training Page, it is practiced for 6 days, then the other topics spiral back in for review.
I use it as Morning Work in my classroom, and the kids complete the activities independently as they trickle in in the morning (unless we are on a Training Page- we do those whole group, but it still only guessed it.  5 minutes!).  I have students who arrive by the latest bus, then eat breakfast, so by the time they mosey down to my classroom, they really only have about 5 minutes to get their work done!  

Here is a little sneak peek at what topics are covered:
I've also packaged the Weather Workbook separately, so although it is part of the 5 Minute Calendar, you can also get it on its own if that is all you need.  I've added dates on all the calendars (my firsties always struggled with getting the right date in the right box on a calendar, so that is done for them!) for this school year (2015-2016) and I'll update them each summer so you can download the new version for free each year.
To check out both of these products, just click on the covers:

 Enter the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post to win a set of these resources for your own classroom!

If you need calendar cards for the year, I have those bundled for you here:

and you can try August for free!

Best of luck!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Makeover Madness!

 I had so much fun with the first task of the TpT Seller Challenge. 
I chose to edit my Triple Scoop Writing product. It was one of my very first products, and my design style has DEFINITELY changed since creating it!  The cover was very boring and was so much fun to update!  Brand new cover, new graphics and fonts, and many updated pages inside.  This version also includes the Common Core Standards the writing activities align with for 1st-3rd grade. 

Click on the picture below to grab the updated version for HALF OFF until Sunday night!  That means it is only $1!!!

Here is a sneak peek at a few of the pages:


Pages are included for modeling, guided practice and independent practice so students can master the skills of writing topic sentences and organized paragraphs!  Check it out by clicking on any of the pictures above!
Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Little Webmix Sharing

Hello, Friends!  
I just joined a fun Gab Group on Facebook and was asked to share my Symbaloo pages (called webmixes), so I thought the easiest way would be to post them here on my blog.  I will be constantly adding new webmixes (only sharing a few today) and adding new tiles to each page as I find new amazing videos.  The best way to receive my updates is to follow me on Bloglovin'
(just click on the button on the right).

If you aren't familiar with Symbaloo, I wrote one of my very first blog posts about it.  You can read about it here.  Basically, each tile is a clickable link to a video clip or game.  I think it is the absolute easiest way to organize all of the video clips I use to teach/review phonics sounds, math concepts, cool science videos, etc.  Here is a peek at my Short Vowels page:

Knowing I was going to share these, I've been doing some updating and organizing.  Today I will share four of my phonics webmixes with you as a way of thanking you for following my little blog.  Just click on the titles below and they will lead you to Symbaloo.  Once you do, your computer will remember you and all of your pages will load every time you go to (the webmixes are organized as tabs on the website.) It's a sweet deal!  
In the next few weeks I will add the rest of my webmixes on the following topics
 All of the phonics pages follow my Chunky Monkey First Grade Phonics units-
 they are organized to compliment them.  
You can check out Chunky Monkey here.

Super E
Word Endings
Compound Words
Bossy R
Soft C & G
Building Words
Brain Breaks
Science-Life Cycles
Physical Science
Social Studies
Number Sense
Addition & Subtraction
Math Misc.

Thanks for stopping by, and don't forget to follow me to get more Symbaloo webmixes and updates!  

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