Monday, June 18, 2018

TEN Useful and Fun End of the Year Classroom Ideas!

I don't do a big countdown or anything toward the end of the year, but nevertheless, the kiddos know the end of the school year is coming!! So, I've developed some things over the years that help us embrace the chaos while still working hard and staying on track!!  I've also learned over the years, that no matter where you teach, many youngsters are NOT as excited for summer as we may be...some may be wondering who will take care of them, where/what they will eat, if they will be safe, and if they will be at the same school next year.  Others may have a stable home environment, but still miss the routines, keeping busy, playing with friends, and their beloved teacher. For those reasons, I try to keep our end of the year as "normal" as possible by still following our regular routines, having the same expectations, and continuing our academic rigor, with some end of the year reflection and fun mixed in!

Here are TEN things we do to finish the year strong:

Rainbow Dress Up Countdown

This is a fun way to work together as a class and have our own little "secret" celebration that is special for just our classroom.
With about two weeks left, I make the color schedule and send it home.  Kids can wear as much or as little of the daily color as they'd like and it's fun to see the clever ways they do it!
6 Days Left = Red Day
5 Days Left = Orange Day
4 Days Left = Yellow Day
3 Days Left = Green Day
2 Days Left = Blue Day
1 Day Left = Purple Day
Last Day = Their Choice (I don't do a dress up day on our last day because it's a half day and some parents have special outfits for pictures, etc.)

End of the Year Booklet

I introduce our End of the Year Booklet during the last 5-7 days. Students work on a few pages each day.  I introduce the pages at our meeting spot, we discuss some ideas, and then students can work quietly with friends or independently.  The book allows for some time to reminisce on our year together.  It also has some autograph pages for kids to write notes to friends.  Then, on the last day of school, they take it home for a great keepsake!
This Year Rocked! End of the Year Booklet
Some of our completed pages

Giant Wall Schedule

This started out as a tool for me many years ago, but it turns out, the kids love it...they love to see what's coming up, they love to think of things to add to it, and they like to help cross things off as we accomplish them.  I discovered it actually helps them have a smoother end of the year when they look at it as a job/checklist and there aren't any big surprises.
Blank chart...ready to go!

Fuller chart as we get closer to the end!

Readers Theater and Poetry Jam Performances

We choose several plays with about a month or so left in the year, but I've also done it with just two weeks to go and it worked well, too!  After choosing our plays and parts, students highlight their parts in the script.  They practice during literacy stations and I also give them some blocks of time when they can all get together to practice.  We spend a few days making props and costumes out of construction paper.  When we've had several days to practice, we schedule some performance time for the Kindergarten classes so they can see what my "big" 1st graders can do with their awesome reading skills!  We also invite our parents to come for our Readers Theater and Poetry Jam Performance and it's always a hit!!
The Three Billy Goats Gruff and the Troll

The poems we do come from our Poetry Journal.  Throughout the year, we do one poem per week and students are very familiar with all of them.  They choose a few friends and poems to read aloud for the audience.  Then, they practice reciting and/or adding motions or actions to their performance. Our whole performance takes place in our classroom and takes about 30 minutes, but it's a great way to wrap up their hard work and show off a bit for their parents!

ABC Chart 

One of my favorites!!  I make a big ABC Chart and the class brainstorms some great words from our year together.  Students always come up with some neat and creative words and it's another fun way to reflect on our year together.  When we are done, students may also grab a blank ABC paper and fill in their own ideas to take home.  I also end up raffling off the big chart during my big anchor chart giveaway (see below) so someone gets to take it home!
Some names blurred out, but you can see their great ideas!

Anchor Chart Giveaway

On the second to last day, I give away any anchor charts or small posters that we made together.  Charts we made about specific standards, rules for various activities, phonics charts, and any consumable type paper that I would throw away at the end of the year is up for grabs!  I tell them a few days ahead of time so they can start making plans for which ones they want.  Then, I lay all of the charts around the room on the floor or tables.  I call their names using my name sticks and they go grab what they want.  We keep going until all papers have been taken.  They are excited to take home a piece of our classroom and year together.  Most of them tell me they are going to play school with siblings or friends. It warms my teacher heart!! :)

Minute to Win It Games

This is a really fun activity we do on the last day!  I change it up a bit each year.  I look on the internet for "minute to win it" games for kids and usually choose 4-6 games to play. Find games that work for you...several of our favorites involve food as materials, but if that doesn't work for you, there are TONS of games that use cups, feathers, cotton balls, etc.
Some of the games they do as a team, other games are one kid at a time from each team.  We don't keep score, and we don't even time some of the games, but we have some good laughs and great fun together on our last day.

Some of our favorite games:
Noodling Around-Using a piece of uncooked spaghetti in the mouth, they try to scoop up two uncooked penne pasta pieces from the side of the hands allowed! (I use half a spaghetti noodle to make it a bit easier for 1st graders).  I usually let all kids do this one at the same time and see if they can do it in one minute or less.
Cup Stacking-Each team has 15 cups and stack them as fast as possible into a pyramid shape...I do several rounds of this one so each team has one kid working individually at a time
Breakfast Puzzle-I have several "puzzles" of breakfast cereal box covers and they work as a team to put them back together.  This is a race type activity.
Cheerio Stacker-In one minute, they see how many Cheerios (or other round O cereal) they can stack in a tower.  This can also be done with pennies if you choose.
Cookie Face-Everyone gets a cookie.  They lean back and put the cookie on their forehead.  Without using their hands, they try to wiggle the cookie into their mouth.  This is a difficult one, but they love it!
Tic Tac Attack-Using tweezers (or chopsticks) they transfer as many tic tac candies as they can from one bowl to another.

Ice Cream Sundae Party

This is both a celebration and an end of the year management tool.  A few weeks out, they get their Ice Cream Party Ticket and "earn" their way to our party.  At the end of each day, students color a letter on their ticket.  If they are not there or did not have a satisfactory day, they do not get to color a letter.  I leave a few days leeway so that everyone has a fair opportunity to earn all the toppings.  We vote as a class for 6-7 toppings for the students to choose from on our last day party.  I usually provide the ice cream and toppings, but I've had parent volunteers bring the supplies in the past as well.  I also have parents there to serve and clean up, so I can visit with the kiddos and keep things on track.
Ice Cream Party Tickets
The Spread!!







Photo Booth

Kids LOVE to pose for pictures and use silly props!  I found all of my props at the Dollar Tree.  Parents love to take some fun pictures during this time.  I also take pictures and e-mail and share on our class app so all parents can see the fun.
Fun Dollar Tree props and our closet as the backdrop

This year, we happened to have a family who runs a photo booth business, so they donated their booth and props to us for the last day!  So awesome!  Kids got an adorable little photo booth strip of each of their pictures to take home and it was a great keepsake!  So...keep your ears open in case you have someone with access to an official photo booth!  :)
Our special professional photo booth for the 2017-2018 school year

Summer Gifts

Ever since my very first year teaching, I've given books away as their end of the year gift!  It's evolved over the years a bit, but I give every student one fiction book and one nonfiction/informational book.  I use my bonus points that have accumulated throughout the year to purchase the books...sometimes, I go a bit over and buy some on my own, but those Scholastic bonus points are amazing!  I work hard to get each student something they will love and are interested in...I do cheat here, though!!  With a month or so left in the year, I ask them to make a list of their favorite fiction and informational books and topics.  I tell them it's so I will know which books to purchase for my library for next year, but I really use it so I will have an array of their favorites to shop for.  I also aim to pick books at or slightly above their reading level so it will be something they will use throughout the summer.

I hope you found this helpful and enjoyable!  I know the end of the year can be very stressful and exhausting, but these are some ways we try to keep sane, have fun, and enjoy each other before we say good bye!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

How to Have Structure in a Fun and Flexible Environment (Hint...Routines!)

We choose where we work and who we work with, we dance, we build, we discover, we laugh, we chat, we set goals, we have a lot of fun, and we learn a ton in 1st Grade!!  How does it all work?  Starting on the first day, and every day after that, we establish and follow routines, routines, and more routines!  Students, especially young students, thrive on knowing what is coming up and what is expected of them and I share some of my most important daily routines here.

I've listed some of MY most important and favorite routines (in no particular order) that help our 1st grade classroom run like a well-oiled machine.  Most of these can be implemented tomorrow in your own classroom.  Scroll down for details about each routine!!

  • Rules (Listening, Classroom, other)
  • Voice Level Chart
  • Attention Getters 
  • Classroom Jobs
  • Line Up Chant
  • Schedules
  • Bathroom and Drinks
  • Anchor Charts and Signs
  • Stations and Morning Tubs Numbers
  • Clear Directions
  • Goodbye Rhymes and Handshake, Hug, or High Five

Rules (Listening, Classroom, other)

  • We have assigned spots at our meeting area.  This makes for quick and easy transitions to our meeting area without arguing over who is sitting where.  I change them out several times throughout the year.  This also gives us built in partners for Turn and Talk.  I have purple and brown spots that they sit on, so we use Peanut Butter and Jelly partners built in!
  • We use this Fabulous 5 Rules for Listening chart and I review the expectations several times per day to be sure we are ready to listen and learn.
  • Our classroom rules, which basically follow the Whole Brain Teaching Rules, are posted at our meeting area.  Rule #2 is "Quiet Thumb Up to Speak", as opposed to raising your hand, at our meeting area.  This makes less distraction for others (and me!) when students are ready to share an answer or ask a question. 
  • They follow Rule #3, "Raise Your Hand If You Need Help", when they are working around the classroom at stations or independently, if they need my help.

  • Another place we use a rules chart is for Science or STEM Challenge activities.  These are usually handwritten on a letter sized paper and we come up with them together.  I keep them at the meeting area so I can pull them out for review each time before we begin the activities.

Voice Level Chart

My voice level chart is an invaluable part of my classroom.  We practice using each level on the chart when I introduce it and discuss when to use these voice levels.  I refer to the chart before any work time (stations, independent work, small groups, etc.) so students know which voice level they should be using for that activity.  I also put a clip on the voice level that is acceptable for the particular activity.  Then, if it gets too loud, I can refer to the chart and voice level again for a quick and easy redirect.  I post several of these around our classroom as well for student reference.

Attention Getters 

Attention getters are a quick and easy way to get all students' attention.  Here is a list of some that I use:
  • Clap and response
  • Bell
  • Wireless doorbell chime
  • Teacher/student callbacks...There are a TON online
  • Various can also find a lot online
  • Rainstick
  • Metal music wand

Classroom Jobs

We have a classroom job chart in our classroom.  I change the jobs each week.  It takes me about 2 minutes after school on Friday.  Students are excited to come in Monday morning and see if they have a job.  Then, the rest of the week, those jobs are taken care of by students.  I've had several set- ups over the years, but here are our current classroom jobs and their responsibilities:
  • Line Leader (1)...Leads the line.  Whenever we are heading somewhere, there are certain stopping points for the leader to stop at.  This way, my line isn't wandering and they know exactly where to go.  (i.e. Stop at the corner, stop at the hallway intersection, stop at the door, etc.)  The Line Leader also starts the Line Up Chant when students are in line, so we will be ready to go.
  • Door Holders (2)...I have two door holders that are always second and third in line (behind the Line Leader).  Their job, obviously, is to hold the doors open for their classmates. We have two door holders in case one is still busy at another door.
  • Caboose (1)...This person is my "back of the line leader".  This student keeps the rest of the line in front of them and also turns off the lights when we leave our classroom.  They are my marker so that I know when I have everyone.
  • Assistants (2)...These kids help me hand out supplies or papers, they distribute notebooks and folders, they put out stations and morning tubs, they take things to the office or other classrooms as needed.  Basically, they are my right hand boys and girls for the week.  When there is a job to be done, I don't have everyone begging for it...they all know it is the job of the assistants.  It's great practice for reading classmates' names and speaking clearly as well because they hand out folders and such each day.
  • Lunch Tub (2)...These students take the lunch tub down in the morning.  When there, they collect the lunch cards from yesterday so they'll be ready to distribute.  They also distribute the lunch cards to anyone who needs it for hot lunch...another great way to practice reading names and speaking clearly!  On the way to recess, these students take our lunch card baggie to the lunch lady along with any lunch cards that are not being used that day.
  • Custodians (2)...My custodians collect the garbage cans at the end of the day and put them by the door to make our school custodian's job easier.  When we come in in the morning, they put the garbage cans back where they belong.

Line Up Chant

Whenever we line up to go, our Line Leader does that chant to make sure everyone is "hallway ready".  You may already have one, but there are also a ton of chants and posters online if you are in need!


I have posted schedules for almost everything in my classroom!  Keep in mind, most things listed below are done with a lot of modeling, guidance, and practice before it becomes something they can do independently.  But many of these things start on Day 1, so they are running smoothly in no time.
  • We have a daily schedule that we go over at our Morning Meeting to start each day.   
  • I also have a Literacy Stations rotation schedule that we use every day.  
  • Once per week during Literacy Stations, students visit our classroom Library to book shop.  They have an assigned day and that is posted.  When we go to our first round, I say, "Wednesday book shoppers may go" and they go switch out their books.
  • For my Take Home Reader Check Out, students also go once per week.  They have different colored book pouches that coordinate with their day.  So when it's Tuesday, for example, as we come in in the morning, I say "Put Tuesday Book Pouches/Pink trim on the back table please." 
  • My math stations are by choice, but there is a schedule posted each day for students to do their online math activity. 
  •  A bit later in the year, during one of their Literacy Station rounds, students can add a goal to our Growth Goals Chart. 

Bathroom and Drinks

This is another important area that keeps us on track with fewer interruptions...
Bathroom...students may go as needed (save for any "bathroom break abusers"...that doesn't happen too often), but I try to keep it to one per gender at a time unless they really can't wait.  If we are meeting, they can do a "quiet thumb" and ask.  I either let them go immediately or ask if it can wait until instructions are finished if I'm in the middle of something.  If it's during stations, work time, or I'm meeting with groups, they go stand by the door and raise their hand to get my attention...I'm pretty good at seeing them out of the corner of my eye no matter what I'm doing.  I nod and they go.  If I need them to wait for whatever reason, I put up a finger and they wait.  If it's an emergency, they can shake their head "no" and I let them go.  We also take a whole class bathroom break on the way to specials in the afternoon.  I think the freedom to go as needed actually keeps it under control so we don't end up with kids always trying to leave to the bathroom.
Drinks...We have a drinking fountain in the classroom and they can get a drink whenever needed as long as I'm not up front teaching or meeting with the whole group.  If they are reading or working on something, they can just get up and get a drink.  Some kids bring their own water bottles and they are on the counter over in that area or at their backpack (we use flexible seating, so they don't have desks).

Anchor Charts and Signs

We make a ton of anchor charts and simple signs that help us know what to do!  When we first make a chart and are learning a new concept or routine, I keep that chart up front and we refer to it every day.  Once it becomes familiar and children have an understanding, then it is posted somewhere in the room so they can still refer to it as needed.
Small chart for Accelerated Reader Quiz rules

Our notes about our chapter book read aloud

Anchor charts for Writing, Seating Choices, and Math

Stations and Morning Tubs Numbers

When we first begin stations and morning tubs, we make anchor charts for rules/expectations and practice the routines.  But, one of the best "rules" we have is 4 people (or fewer) per station or tub.  We use this number for math, literacy, STEM activities, games, and other group activities or projects.  It becomes second nature, so they don't even need to ask...they all know the limit is 4 and can solve problems accordingly.

Clear Directions

I've taught 1st grade for most of my career and I KNOW that clear directions are a key to a smooth running classroom and student success!  Here is my basic "script" for giving any directions to my 1st graders:
  1. Give the directions verbally while giving a demo of the materials or activity if possible
  2. Repeat the directions orally with demo still available to look at if possible
  3. Write the step-by-step instructions on the whiteboard or chart (I also include what to do when you are done as part of these instructions)
  4. Students turn and talk or I take volunteers to share each step about what we are going to do
  5. Take any questions that students may still have about the instructions
  6. Review voice level and what to do if they need help...From here, I excuse students a few at a time to get started.
Once this becomes part of your regular routine, it only takes a minute or two.  It's such an important part of a smooth-running classroom and saves time in the long run because you don't have to keep repeating the same thing or helping "lost" students.

Goodbye Rhymes and Handshake, Hug, or High Five

We even have routines for how we dismiss!  This makes for a smooth dismissal because...I can see students leave individually and be sure they are going where they should be, it's one last way to have a quick and meaningful one-on-one communication with them, and it's a good closure for our school day as I turn them back over to their families for the night!
My Goodbye Rhymes are a freebie that I picked up a few years ago on TpT.  During the first week of school, we learn a new rhyme each day.  After that, I introduce a new rhyme at dismissal each Monday.  The kids love the little rhymes and also like to start making up some of their own later in the year!  I post the rhymes on our door as we learn them so they can review and choose one as we line up to leave.
I've been doing Handshake, Hug, or High Five since my very first few years of teaching.  I teach them this goodbye on the first day of school.  We review it for the first few weeks or any time we get a new student and then, it becomes part of our regular routine.

There you have it!  While this sounds like a lot, it really becomes an internalized part of your classroom that gives you more time to TEACH!!  Any questions...let me know in the comments!  Thanks!!

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.