Sunday, February 4, 2018

Five Reasons I Do NOT Do Big, Over-the-Top Classroom Parties...and it's still "THE BEST DAY EVER!!"

1.  TIME

I already have a hard enough time fitting everything in to our regular classroom day!  If I have games, activities, all kinds of junk food, meltdowns, etc....that is taking up some very valuable instruction time for me and I just can't justify it!


One:  I feel like most kids get enough junk food in their every day life.  I don't want to contribute to it.
Two:  With so many food allergies, I'm paranoid and don't want to worry about hidden ingredients in lots of different goodies!


Kids already get excited and emotional around any sort of holiday or special event.  I don't want to contribute to the chaos.  I've seen so many little ones have emotional meltdowns around the holidays and it's no fun for anyone!


Many of the goodies that people bring (read: CUPCAKES) are SO messy and half the time the kids eat the frosting and trash the rest anyway.  Then, they're covered (along with desks, etc.) in frosting that is filled with what seems like a permanent dye of some kind!  Not to mention crumbs on the carpet, which in the desert can mean lots of different kinds of critters coming in.  Yuck.
And, back to number one, if I don't have a good parent helper in there, I get to be the one who cleans it all up when I could be:  planning, preparing, leaving, etc.

That leads to number five...


Some years, I've had great parent helpers that bring the goodies or little games, but other years, not so much...and, sensing a theme here, it would all fall on ME.


  • I ask a few parents to bring some healthy treats (apples, fruit tray, yummy veggies with ranch, etc.) and one set of cookies, after checking classroom allergies.  No cupcakes.
  • I have a few coloring pages or thematic activities for them.  Most of the holidays, I'm giving some kind of gift, so they can read their new book or work on whatever it is with friends, too.
  • We play music or something thematic on the smart board to set the ambience.  
  • My parties are generally the last 30 minutes of the day.
  • If I have parent helpers, they help serve food and wipe down tables while I visit with kids and supervise. 
  • It's pretty laid back, but I still get the comments of THIS IS THE BEST DAY EVVERRRR!  Kids don't need a gigantic production to enjoy themselves.  They like anything that is a little different from the daily classroom routine and celebrates the occasion.  

 Just my two cents on something...More power to you if you tackle big parties!!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Science Notebooks in the Primary Classroom!

Science Notebooks are my favorite part of science lessons in my classroom!  They are low-prep, can be used with any science curriculum or STEM activities, and are so meaningful and full of amazing thoughts from my 1st graders.  As a new teacher many years ago, I kind of dreaded science because I was always looking for response sheets or activities for them to do.  Later, I took a great professional development class on Science Notebooks and it made me fall in love with teaching science.  It's so important to expose our students to science, technology, engineering, and math at a young age so they will be ready for their future schooling and careers.

Here are SIX easy steps for you to get started with Science Notebooks in your classroom.


Make a cover that tells what the unit is and has a place for the student's name.  You can use store-bought notebooks, but those generally have too many pages.  I usually use 10-15 pieces of blank copy paper, choose my cover, and staple them together as my notebook.  I do this for each science unit...3-5 per year.  You can make a construction paper cover by folding the large size (12x18), but I stopped doing this a while ago to save prep time.


During our first Science or STEM lesson, I introduce our science rules.  We discuss what each one looks like and does not look like and why each is important.  I write them on a small chart that we review before each lesson.  Our rules are:
  • Level 1 Voice (Partner Talk)
  • Talk only about Science
  • Stay at your spot (sometimes this changes if they have different activities to move through)
  • Treat supplies carefully
  • Draw, write, and label in notebook
  • Please do not call the teacher's name
They always think the last rule is so funny, but with excited little ones, it's SO necessary!!  I remind them that I am constantly circulating around the room and when I get to them, they can show me their amazing discoveries!


I am very explicit with my notebook expectations from day one.  I start the discussion by talking about what scientists do when they are studying or researching.  Generally, first graders bring up things like doing experiments, taking notes, and working in a lab.  
From there, I introduce our rubric. I give them a small copy to glue into the front of their notebook for reference.  I review the rubric before notebook work as well.
I talk with my students about "scientific" drawings and what they should look like.  The drawings should show what they did and which supplies they used.  We also discuss the fact that scientists sketch and draw so they can refer to their work later and they do not draw pictures of friends, decorations around the room, rainbows and hearts, etc.  Therefore, we will need to produce accurate, detailed scientific drawings because we are scientists as well.  Here is what we have on our notebook expectations chart or rubric:
  • Date at the top of the page 
  • Sketches and drawings show scientific observations
  • Words, labels, and data are used to describe
  • Science vocabulary is used when appropriate
  • Supplies and equipment used safely and correctly 


During or after observation/exploration/experiment time, we generally pause to discuss our work and findings.  Students tell me any important scientific words to add to our chart that they may want to use in their notebooks.  If there are important concept words, I make sure those are posted.  Often, I will underline "must use" words that I expect to see in their writing. During this time, if there is something that may be challenging for them to draw, I show them how to make a simple sketch so they will not spend too much time stressing over the drawing.


Students ARE able to write in their notebook while they are working on an activity, but I've noticed over the years that young students generally like to focus on the activity at hand (ie. aren't able to focus on writing if there are cool science supplies at hand! 😊 )   So, after they've had time to complete the activity or experiment and we've posted important words on our chart or board, I give students 10-15 minutes or so of quiet response time.  I've found this is the best way for young students to produce meaningful entries.  For closure, I may share a few that had very accurate drawings, a few kids will read what they wrote, or we may meet back at the carpet and share out with our partner...just a quick five minutes, sometimes less, when they have a chance to see what other people found or made during work time.
Discovering vibrations during our study of sound!

We took science outside to make shadows!

Students had a great time making their shadows dance, have extra arms, and making animal shapes!


I circulate during their response time to remind them of important components of science writing.  If someone has a drawing, but no words, I encourage them to add labels or write a sentence about what they worked on.  If someone has sentences and words, but no sketches, I encourage them to draw and label a simple sketch to show their work for the day.
Formal feedback is given to them via my rubric labels.  My labels are simple, kid-friendly, and match up with our classroom rubric.  The kids are always excited to see their "grade" or my notes.  If they left out some important parts, we talk about how they could improve that during the next session.

Exposing our young students to authentic science and STEM activities from the start is so important because of our ever-changing world.  Their careers are likely to be very different from career choices even a few years ago.  Just reading about science or doing a science activity each Friday isn't enough any more.  They need the chance to dive in to hands-on activities, devise a plan, make and test predictions, make mistakes, work both independently and collaboratively, build, revise and make changes to their designs, experiment, and write and draw about it.  You can check out my Science Notebooks Pack to get you started.  I hope these tips will help you begin science notebooks in your classroom if you haven't before!

Friday, October 27, 2017

FIVE Quick and Easy Ways to Revise with Young Writers

Writing with my first graders is a fun, beautiful, and messy process that I love!  It's not always easy to get young writers to make important and needed changes to their pieces, so I'm here to share some of the ways we start this process at the beginning of the year with our personal narratives.
To begin, I introduce revising as "making changes to a piece to make it better" and I do a ton of modeling with my own pieces and shared pieces we've written together.  We discuss how to make our writing clear and interesting for our readers.  These strategies are introduced during my whole group writing lesson and then individualized during one-on-one or small group conferencing.

Here are five ways for you to get started:

 #1 Speech Bubbles, Thinking Bubbles, and Labels

We start on day one by adding labels to our pictures.  I use mentor texts that have "words in the pictures", I model with my own writing pieces, and we do some interactive labeling.  At the beginning of the year, we usually begin by labeling the people in our drawings:  Mom, Dad, Me, Kim.  It's a great way to draw more out of emergent or reluctant writers and make them feel successful from the start. 
This can then lead to students labeling the places that they go with either common or proper nouns:  park, store, McDonalds, movie theater, Redondo Beach, etc.
Speech and thinking bubbles are a natural and easy way for students to add meaning to their writing by adding to their picture.  It's as simple as me asking, "What did you say?" or "What was he thinking?"  They often have a lot of fun with this one and are always on the lookout for speech and thinking bubbles in our reading, too.
When students are using these daily in their writing pieces, it's easy to use as a revising tool because it's something they are already familiar with.

#2 Feeling Sentences

Feeling sentences are a great way to show a sense of closure, but we also work on adding sentences that tell how we feel throughout the piece.  Often, this looks very simple at the beginning of the year. My students usually start out with sentences such as "I felt happy" or "I was sad", but it leads to rich discussions and more descriptive feeling sentences in the future.
When they begin adding conjunctions and connecting words to these feeling sentences, we really get some great content:  "I felt really happy when I kicked the ball into the net!"

#3 Adjectives

Adding adjectives is a fun and easy way for young students to add to their pieces.  I make a simple anchor chart that tells how adjectives can describe a noun:  How many?  What color?  What size? What does it sound/look/taste/feel/smell like?  Adjectives are doable for even my most emergent writers. 
The sentence "I love my dog" can quickly turn into "I love my big brown dog."  We add "use adjectives" to our checklist and then students know they should be adding an adjective to most of their sentences in each piece.

#4 Connecting Words

Connecting words, or conjunctions, are an easy way for young writers to begin writing compound and complex sentences.  We use the Whole Brain Teaching symbol idea of linking our fingers together when we add a connecting word to our writing. 
We start with words that students use a lot when speaking and I teach them how to put them into their writing:  and, so, because, or, but, when.  These connecting words also go up on a simple chart for student reference. We do a lot of oral practice together, so that using these connecting words becomes second nature to my students.

#5 Fantastic Endings

Young students often have a difficult time wrapping up their writing and showing a clear sense of closure, but this can be an easy fix and a great place to "end with a bang!"  As a Lucy Calkins lover, I introduce endings by reminding students that they need to "stay close to the rest of the story".  Endings such as "Then I went home" or "Then I went to bed" or "The end" are not acceptable to end a story about a cool encounter with a crab on the beach or an exciting ride at the amusement park. 
We start right away with making sure our ending is still "about" the rest of the story.  Some ways to do this are:
  • Write a feeling sentence
  • Tell how that specific event ended
  • Tell what someone said
  • Share what the writer thought about the event or activity
  • State their future plan based on this event (i.e. I can't wait to try it again!)
Students love to fix up "lame" endings and are fabulous about brainstorming lots of ideas for fantastic endings!  I hope this is helpful for you!  Happy Writing!!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Friday Choice Time in First Grade

Friday Choice Time is a favorite in my classroom each week!  I instituted Choice Time my very first year of teaching.  It takes place during the last 20 minutes of our day each Friday.  Students earn this time by participating in class and meeting classroom expectations throughout the week.  It is technically part of my Social Studies time.  Students are practicing social skills, expressing creativity, and learning to work cooperatively with others.  I love to join in, too!  I enjoy teaching them how to play games they may not be familiar with, having fun and informal conversations with my students, and watching them interact with one another in a different environment than our normal day-to-day classroom. I also LOVE playing games such as Connect Four, Jenga, Memory, Hi-Ho Cherry-O, Old Maid, and more! :)  My students are 5-7 years old and it's so important for them to have this time to just be little kids!
I keep puzzles, games, art supplies, and more in the closet and place 6-8 items out each week.  I like having many different activities to switch out so it keeps it fresh and engaging for my students. Our Friday Choice Time takes place right after our weekly Sharing (Show and Tell) Time, so students may enjoy their Sharing Time items with friends as well.
I'm sharing some pictures from the past week that show a peek of my students enjoying some of our Friday Choice Time activities.  Do you do something similar in your classroom?  I'd love to hear what you do in your classroom and add to my collection!!

Plastic Animals
Various animals, insects, and other figurines allow students to use their imagination, develop language and vocabulary skills, gain self control, and learn how to share and communicate with others.
The ever-popular Dinosaur Tub
Several games are traded out each week.  Students are learning to take turns, follow rules, and demonstrate good sportsmanship when winning or losing a game.  My current collection includes Memory Match, Old Maid, CandyLand, Chutes and Ladders, Checkers, Connect Four, Go Fish, and Hi Ho Cherry-O.
A competitive Memory Match game
Chutes and Ladders...a favorite from my childhood!

Building/Design Materials
Legos/Duplos, plastic chains, and various figurines promote imagination, cooperation, engineering, and fine motor skills.
Lego Station
Lincoln Logs are a favorite from my childhood days.  They require cognitive thinking, spatial reasoning, cooperation, and engineering skills.
Jenga is another great game that allows for fine motor skills practice, cooperation, cognitive thinking, and sportsmanship.
Building with Lincoln Logs
Sharing Time Items
Students bring their prized possessions in for Sharing Time and give a short, oral presentation about their item(s).  They are always excited to show off their items to their friends and play together.
A student sharing her Shopkins with friends after her Sharing Time presentation.
Art Supplies
I get a TON of beautiful art from our Creation Station. :)  This station promotes creative expression, quiet conversation, patience, and fine motor skills.
Creation Station (Paper, fancy scissors, stencils, paper punches, coloring books, and more!)


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Bigger Isn't Always Better! AKA 2017-2018 Classroom Reveal!!

My first eleven years in Vegas were spent in large classrooms with lots of storage and 15-22 1st graders.  While I loved having all the room for furniture and kids, being as I'm a stuffer/hoarder, I usually ended up with mess piles all over the place.  Of course, it didn't look bad to outsiders or the students, but I had lots of things crammed and hidden in wardrobes and shelving units.
Fast forward to this year and my new school and classroom.  It's the smallest room I've been in here.  I was a bit nervous at first, but it's really turning in to my favorite classroom ever.  The lack of storage and places to "stuff" things is actually a blessing in disguise.  I'm forced to be more organized and I got rid of a lot of things that I hadn't used and was just holding onto for no reason!!  My flexible seating works well for the smaller space and it doesn't feel crowded at all.
I'm going to share pictures of all of my favorite parts in my classroom!  Many of these are after we've started school, so they might not be "picture perfect" but they're real!!  If you have any questions or comments, leave me a comment below!  Thanks and enjoy!
Here are some pics showing the overall classroom:
Half of the Library.  I have another of the same shelf and more tubs to the right of this one.
Star Student board and past class pictures
Sink area and more rainbow decor. 
Student seating and my small group table/teacher work area.
Several seating options, looking toward our front meeting area.
Our meeting area...sit spots, rules, calendar, easel, schedule.
Most of our book boxes...2 more are on one other shelf.
Ready for Meet and Greet
View from the meeting area toward the door....some supplies out for Meet and Greet.
Boards and displays:
Anchor chart display
Charm necklaces ready to be loaded up!
More charts for the beginning of the year...later will be student work.
Hallway board
Emoji job chart
Behavior/Participation Chart and Job Chart
Some storage options:
The colorful tubs on top will hold reading group supplies, drawers below are various supplies.
Our Take Home Readers...checkout starts next week!
The 8 thin tubs on bottom are math stations, the labeled tubs on top are various notebooks and journals storage.  

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Teaching Portfolio for Interviews

I always show up at a job interview with resumes and my (informal) portfolio.  It's a bit like a scrapbook of my teaching career and classroom environment.  I've heard that it's common in our extremely large district for candidates to show up to an interview with nothing, so I'd love to show you a quick glimpse of something fun and easy that makes me stand out and be remembered when I go to an interview.  At the beginning of the interview, I introduce my portfolio and invite principals or others in the interview to look through it at their leisure.  On panel interviews, some may browse through it during the interview, but I've also left it with principals and they've returned it to me when they come to observe a lesson.

Portfolio Binder 
I bought my most recent binder a few years ago at Office Depot.  It's attractive, has pockets to hold additional resumes if needed, and my Office Depot page protectors fit perfectly.  Within the portfolio, each page is kept in a page protector.
My resume includes the following sections:
⇒ Teaching Experience
    = Past teaching positions
⇒ Classroom Achievements
    = Curriculum and assessments used, unique programs or traditions
⇒ Key Contributions
    = Leadership positions, school clubs, special assignments, grants received
⇒ Education
    = College degrees, post-graduate credits, additional endorsements

Classroom Snapshot
⇒ Newsletter Sample
I put a few recent samples of my weekly newsletter.
⇒ Classroom
Here, I like to show some of our classroom anchor charts, book boxes, activities, a few letters from students and families and anything else that shows my classroom environment.
Each section has a cover page
A few notes from parents and classroom observers

Professional Development 
⇒ Conferences, Trainings, Clubs
A bit more detailed than my resume, school clubs/teams, additional curriculum training
⇒ Presentations
Trainings, Presentations, Staff Development, Performances
⇒ Teaching licenses, Certificates
A few important highlights

Recommendations and Evaluations

⇒ Recommendations from principals, superintendents, colleagues, and literacy strategists
⇒ Most current evaluation

I've used this format for my two most recent interviews and I was hired both times!!  😊  It doesn't take long to put together and it may be the difference for you at your next interview!  If you have any questions, leave me a comment or e-mail me at