I Teach 1st....THANK YOU!

Hello from sunny...and HOT!!!....Las Vegas!  

I'm here in the city that never sleeps.  Or is that New York??  Because it should DEFINITELY be Las Vegas if it's not :)  Even the kids running up and down our hallway ALL night...screaming!!!...think so, too ;)

I had a FABULOUS day full of fun at the I Teach 1st Conference!  SO many amazing teachers here!  Thanks to all of you who came to my sessions today.  I hope you were able to take away some new-to-you ideas and activities to implement into your classroom and I hope most of what you heard today just reaffirmed all the good you're doing in your classrooms every single day!!

 I loved meeting each and every one of you!!

Here's what we were up to today....

Reader's Workshop was my first session & this is one of my favorites.  This session is all about the framework of a successful Reader'sWorkshop.  We talked all about set-up (can you believe it's almost time to go back to school?!?!), ideas for book organization, managing your time, and a few mini-lessons, too :)  

Here are the books I referred to...

When we talked about organizing our classroom library books, I mentioned I would post the printables for the parent letter and survey (if you're interested).  You can grab the downloads HERE.

This is the bookmark I had in my Reader's Toolkit.  You can grab it for free HERE: Reader's Toolkit Reading Strategy Bookmarks

As part of my Reader's Workshop, I like to give my kids a "parking lot" to stick all of their questions/notes/comments about the text(s) they are reading independently.  They love contributing to this little space of our reading corner.  You can grab your Parking Lot Thinking Stickies HERE.

I mentioned Kim Adsit's Reader's Workshop Units of Study.  I can't recommend them enough!  If you haven't started Reader's Workshop in your classroom and you don't know where to begin, these are GREAT resources chock FULL of mini lessons and ideas!!!  I HIGHLY recommend!

My 2nd session of the day was all about Anchor Activities.  You might know these better as "Fast Finishers".  Whatever you call them, these are activities that kids are engaged in when they might not otherwise be engaged :)  This session is another favorite  I love the rapid fire ideas and how very easily the activities can be created.  I broke this session up into Math ideas/activities & Literacy ideas/activities.

One of the activities we talked about was Choice Trays.  This is a super simple template that has ENDLESS possibilities!  What I have here is a combo of 2 choice trays.  As you can see, one is filled with numbers and the other with word families.  I had my kids take two post-its and crumple them up to use as their "tossers" (that's what they affectionately called them...hahaha).  Kids toss one post it into the number tray and one into the word family tray.  Let's say they land on the number "4" and the "ap" word family (as pictured).   They might choose to make a list of FOUR -ap words OR draw FOUR -ap pictures OR write a sentence with FOUR -ap words ....the list goes on!  Here's a choice tray for you to print and copy for use in your own classroom.

Here are a few of the resources I mentioned in my session.  They are 20% OFF TODAY & TOMORROW ONLY! (7/6-7/7)

My last session of the day was all about Writing!

Getting our babies to feel empowered and take charge of their writing can be a real challenge.  We basically ask our kids to start writing from scratch and then come back and do the very same thing every.single.day.  For us that may not be such a hard task, but for our kids it can feel a lot like pulling teeth!  Bless their hearts! 

This session was all about the non-negotiables for writing instruction (modeled, shared, guided, & independent) and we chatted a bit about what that framework looks like in my classroom.  We also talked about independent writing activities and resources I feel have been instrumental in the success of helping my kids become independent writers who have lots of writing stamina!!  

First up, here are a couple of resources we talked about that I keep available to my kids during Writer's Workshop.  You can grab them here:  Writing Checklist & Visuals

I also showed you guys how I set-up my Writing Center.  This is a great set-up for kids and really helps to give them that sense of autonomy in the writing process.  It's on sale TODAY & TOMORROW ONLY for 20% off (7/6-7/7).

This is one of the books I referenced in my session when I was talking about adding detail.  I LOVED using this in my classroom!    Marvelous Mini-Lessons for Teaching Beginning Writing K-3

I also referenced these books.  Such GREAT reads!!!  Engaging Young Writers / In Pictures & In Words

Whew!!!  WHAT A DAY!!!

I'll be spending the rest of the week here in Vegas attending a few sessions and....well...having FUN!!!
I hope y'all enjoy the rest of your stay here in Vegas and if I didn't see you today, I hope to see you real soon!  Safe travels!!!

Phonics Friday

Happy Friday, y'all!!

Yes!  Today is our 2nd installment of Phonics Friday!

Last week we talked a little about some important Phonics non-negotiables.  You can check those out HERE.  I also shared a couple of fun games & independent activities I like using in the classroom for phonics instruction.

Today's post is dedicated to my Kindergarten teachers.  Kindergarten is where it all begins.  We set the tone for the rest of our learning experiences in Kindergarten.  We wipe noses, zip pants, tie shoes, dry tears, and instill within our kids a love of learning.  Bless the Kindergarten teachers of the world.

I taught Kindergarten for 10 years.  It was a very rewarding, albeit exhausting, 10 years.  I love our Kinder babies.  I love their wide-eyed approach to learning.  Their excitement for everything is palpable.  One of the toughest things about teaching this age is the vast and varied experiences and abilities with which our kids come to us.  It's a challenge from day 1 to the very last day of the school year (in the best possible way, of course).

If our kids don't have a great foundation in in phonemic awareness and don't exhibit an understanding of the alphabetic principle, they will ride the struggle bus all the way to Independent Reading Town.  I don't want my kids at a disadvantage.  I want to give them EVERY opportunity I can to build a strong foundation in these skills and help them become independent, fluent readers.  Phonics instruction is just one piece of the puzzle.

Let's chat for a minute about some great phonics activities & resources I implement to build this foundation.

First things first...NO MORE LETTER OF THE WEEK!!!!

I use the McCracken order to introduce letters and start the second week of school, 3 letters a week. This formal introduction of the alphabet usually occurs at my teacher table in small group settings during our guided reading time.  By late October/early November, all of the letters have been formally introduced, practiced, reviewed and I've identified the students who will need alphabet intervention.  Almost every single student masters letter/sound recognition and letter-to-sound linking.  And I'm not talking about kids who are in affluent schools with lots of prior experience.  I've always taught in Title 1 schools and there are SO many different experience levels coming to me at the beginning of each and every school year.

I introduce ALL of the letters, letter sounds, and motions the first week of school during whole group.  We review and practice them every single day at least 3-4 times a day.  
If you would like to read more about how I introduce these letters as well as watch a video of the motions I use to teach them, check out these posts.  They're pretty detailed!!

How I introduce, teach, and reinforce letter and letter sound recognition HERE

One of our favorite small group games for reinforcing letters and letter sounds is Roll & Remove.  We just fill up our board with counters, roll the letter die, listen for the beginning sound or identify the matching letter, and remove our counters.  The first player to remove all of their counters from the board, wins!  This is so much fun to play in a small group setting.  Not only is it great for reinforcement and review, but it's great for intervention, too!!  Once my kids have the hang of this game in small group, I leave it out in their anchor tubs (fast finisher activities) for repeated practice. Consistency and repetition is the key!!

Incorporating lots of hands-on, engaging alphabet activities in centers/stations is a must.  I love to give my kids a ton of opportunities to practice and reinforce these skills.  I always include a "cheat sheet" in each independent activity, too.  This is just a visual checklist for kids to help them check their work.  I don't want them doing the activity wrong or that would defeat the purpose.  

I'm constantly switching things up in centers/stations.  I've found that when the novelty wears off, so does the good behavior :)  I love scouring Pinterest for engaging, hands-on ideas to incorporate.  There are so many I wouldn't even know where to begin!!  Haha!!!  I love having a variety of activities to engage ALL of my learners and they love having activities that get them excited about learning!!!  

Since we're talking all about the alphabet, I thought it would be the perfect time to do another Deal of the Day. Here's today's steal(s)...

If you already own ABC, It's Easy as 1, 2, 3, please make sure NOT to purchase the Alphabet Intervention Print and Practice packet.  ALL of the printables from that packet have been added to the ABC, 123 packet :)  

Have a FABULOUS holiday weekend!!!!  


We're a couple of days into July and I'm already blogging more than I did last month :)  Hahaha.  Today I thought it would be fun to link up with Farley for a little July edition of Currently...

Listening - I'm 100% obsessed with Spotify (minus the lack of Taylor Swift).  I have a million playlists and am always adding more, but right now I'm obsessed with my "Poolside Kids" tunes.  This is the playlist we can play while the kids are swimming or riding with us in the car :)  I realized a few of my playlists included some choice words, so I had to make a "radio friendly" version available for the boys :)

Loving - I absolutely LOVE summer.  I LOVE that we get lots and lots of extra time with our families.  We only get to visit my husband's family two times a year.  We're in Michigan right now for our annual July 4th weekend on the lake.  This is my favorite time of the year!!  I love that we get to spend so much quality time with our family!!!  I sure do miss them the other 49 weeks of the year!!!

Thinking - I'm thinking about the 3 presentations I have scheduled for Monday's I Teach 1st conference.  Will I talk too fast??  Will I seem distracted??  Do I have enough content?  Will the content I do have appeal to the masses??  Will anyone be disappointed?  Do I need to scratch what I have and start all over?  GAH!!!  I always get nervous before I present, but Vegas is a different beast.  I know I can't please everyone 100% of the time, but I don't want to suck it up either, y'know?!  

Wanting - I would love to have an extra week to make sure I have all my ducks in a row for Monday's conference.  Even if I did have an extra week, I'd still want 5 more after that just to cross my Ts and dot my Is.  #thestruggleisreal

Needing:  I seriously need to remind myself to breathe deep and calm right the heck down.  I'm not a perfect person and far from a perfect presenter.  I do the best I can and at the end of the day that has to be good enough.  I just hate the feeling that anyone would leave disappointed!!!  #Iseriouslyneedtochill 

All Star:  I was trying to think of something I'm good at and the only thing I could come up with is kindness.  I think I'm really good at being kind to others in any situation or circumstance.  At least I think I'm really good at this :)  

That's just a little snapshot of what life is like Currently.  Now I'm headed back out to spend more time with the family!!!   Have a great day!

July Goals

July.  You read that right.  JULY.  I know some of you are just now getting out of school for the summer while some of you are counting down the days 'til school starts again.  Target has moved in all of their school supplies (in my area anyway) and we're already getting back-to-school flyers in the mail. Seems like the rush happens earlier and earlier every year. 

While I love planning and prepping for a new school year, I love savoring every bit of summer, too.  It goes by quickly and I don't want to miss any of it!  I thought it would be fun to ring in a new month with a little list of "goals" I've set for myself.  I'm not saying I'll follow through with it all, but writing it down and being able to cross it all off makes me eager to try.  I love checklists.  They motivate me :)  

1.  Read three professional development books - I'm pretty sure I can do this.  I think.  I asked for some suggestions on Facebook and got a TON!!!  These seem to be a common theme and topics that really interest my teaching heart, so I'm attempting to read these first.

2.  Start a new Bible study - This is an important one.  Our bible study group just finished A Confident Heart by Renee Swope and I can't recommend this one enough.  I realize how important a good bible study is in drawing me nearer to the Lord.  I CRAVE His word.  Any suggestions?!?!?

3.  Perform 36 Random Acts of Kindness on my birthday - I've been DYING to do this.  I'm finishing up my list of 36 RAKS and I've asked my ENTIRE family to join me this day.  I want us all to do them together!!!  My husband did something for someone on Mother's Day that inspired me to keep paying it forward on "big days".  I absolutely CAN'T WAIT for this one!!!

4.  Wake up an hour earlier for intentional prayer time - I've been feeling really convicted lately about the time...or lack thereof....I spend with Jesus.  I pray every night and tons of time in between, but I don't start my day in prayer all the time.  I want quiet time with Him.  I want to wake up, pour a cup of coffee, open my Bible, and pray without any distractions.

5. Clean out my closet and donate clothes & shoes to a local women's shelter - I've been meaning to purge for months.  But if I'm keeping it real, I need to tell you that I've been far too lazy.  Not just too lazy to clean out my closet, but too lazy to do any real cleaning at all. #hotmess  I want to take what I have to the local women's shelter and then see about volunteer opportunities while I'm there.  

6. Take my boys to the Science/History/Art Museums - we have an AMAZING museum district here in town and I don't take advantage of it like I should.  I know my boys would love going if I would just take them.  I thought it would be neat to organize a scavenger hunt to make it really interactive.  They tend to do a lot better & get more involved when they have a goal or checklist to keep them on track....kind of like me ;) #theapplesdontfallfar

7.  Start summer theme days with the boys - I want to have fun summer theme days kind of like I would in the classroom.  Lemonade Day/Week, Bubble Day/Week, Watermelon Day/Week, etc.  I thought it would be fun to do little activities with them (math & literacy) and then follow it all up with a science experiment.  I won't do these everyday, but I do want to incorporate these here and there.  My boys would LOVE it.  I just need to get off my lazy rear and plan it!  

Do you have any goals for the month?!?!  I'd love to hear them!

Let's Talk Writing!

Is anybody else wondering how today is already June 29th?!?!  Tomorrow is the LAST day of June.  Last.  How did that happen?!  Is anyone else feeling like summer is *almost* over?!?!?!  I know I can't be the only one!!!

Tomorrow starts a  two week journey that will take us to Indiana, Michigan, and Las Vegas.  Lots of traveling over these next two weeks.  Is anybody else going to Vegas?!  I'll be presenting for SDE on Monday (7/6) and then I'll be part of a panel for the TpT Conference on Thursday (7/9).  That Wednesday night (7/8) we have a big Teacher-Blogger Meet Up planned and it's going to be TONS of fun!!!  I really hope to see you there!  Rachelle and Natalie wrote a great post about it that you can check out HERE.  Lots of great tips & words of wisdom for first timers and seasoned veterans alike!
And here are the amazingly generous sponsors who have helped to make this meet-up possible...

Exciting, right?!  A little over a week away and I can't wait!!!

One of the topics I'll be presenting in Vegas is all about writing.  As I'm going through my presentation I thought it would be the perfect time to talk a little bit about it here and show y'all what I do and what I feel helps to make writing in my classroom so successful.

First up, let's talk about some writing non-negotiables.

If we expect our kids to become fluent writers capable of producing more than just a sentence here and there, we have to give them TIME to write.  Not just 5 minutes here and there, but time for sustained writing.  Not only do we need to give them the time to write, but we need to give them the freedom to write about what interests them.  I personally feel like writing opportunities should present themselves throughout the day....during guided reading, in literacy AND math stations, in response to science/social studies topics and concepts...the list goes on.  I want my kids to value writing and see its importance and the only way I can foster that is by giving them opportunities to write.
Take this writing for example.  By the end of the year, he was writing for sustained periods of time and producing longer pieces because he was given the time to do so.  Pretty darn good, don't you think...especially for a Kindergartner!!

One area that I've always struggled with is my writing center.  I'm always trying to find writing activities that will excite and engage ALL of my learners.  Oftentimes I miss the mark.
I want them to LOVE to write.  I want them to CHOOSE to write when they have free time.  This is not always the case for every child, but I'm DETERMINED that it will be!!!

Writing is a HUGE part of our day.  We write for EVERYTHING.  We have about 30-45 minutes for Writers Workshop...then there's Shared Writing...and of course the Writing Center.  And we're writing in all other academic areas as well.  You'd think it's easy to get 'em excited to pick up their pencils.  

However, the novelty wears off.  I've noticed that when I keep doing the SAME things...keeping out the SAME writing activities....the SAME writing materials....my kids take on the "I'm over it" attitude.  And let's be real.  We're the same way.  When we do the SAME exact thing...year after year...the novelty wears off.  We need to change it up to make it exciting for both us AND the kids.  
I feel like I'm always trying to find "one more thing" to add to the writing center.  One more thing to make it fun.  One more thing to make it exciting.  One more thing to keep them engaged.  They need options.  Lots and LOTS of options.  They also need freedom.  The autonomy to choose what they want.  After all, our goal is to instill in them a LOVE of writng, right?!  

Sometimes...a lot of times...kids need a nudge.  Most of the time they need a giant PUSH.  Although they have a menu of items from which to choose when they head to the writing center, I still hear the phrase, "I don't know what to write!" from at least one of my sweeties almost every.single.day.  I was  determined to rid their vocabularies of that phrase!

This past year I came up with a way to get them excited about writing and the autonomy to choose what to write and it was a HIT!

Task cards for prompts, books, making lists, writing letters & how-tos, and vocabulary cards, too.  The vocabulary cards have been KEY in helping to increase the kids' vocabulary and they've also been an invaluable resource for them as well.   The kids are able to choose to write what THEY want.  I just loved the idea of having  a variety choices from which to choose so that the whole "I don't know what to write" is virtually non-existent ;)

I created this little resource with my 1st grader in mind and knowing how many kids come into Kindergarten at such varying stages of development I knew that differentiation and options with lots of support were necessary.  

My emerging and new-to-writing learners have writing options that give them the support they need and my more "seasoned" writers will have lots of options as well.  There are ALWAYS kids at the beginning of the year who can do SO much more than their classmates and I want to keep them excited and engaged, too!  I also love that my first grade friends will be able to utilize this resource to the fullest and offer their friends in need of more support lots of options as well.

The task cards are divided up into different writing genres....lists, writing letters, prompts, making books, and writing expository pieces.  OBVIOUSLY I won't expect Kindergarten friends to do MANY of these activities at the onset of the year.  I will probably choose a couple of task cards for the kids to work from and add more as the year progresses.  However, this is perfecect for both my 1st and 2n grader.  They've been using these prompt/task cards for writing inspiration this summer and I love what I've seen so far :)  

I LOVE that the little task cards give them ideas when they just can't think of anything to write.
I know we don't want to do all of the thinking for them, but I do think it's important to provide support.

My boy's favorite writing activities are writing lists and letters.  I made a blank list template for them to use so that they can help me with my grocery list every week :) 

One of my favorite activities from these packets is Spin a Sentence.  I didn't realize how much I would love it until I saw it in action and received many emails from teachers telling me how much they loved it, too.  Anything that involves something that is constantly changing is typically a favorite for kids. 

The writing center has definitley become a favorite!!!! 

I have these available for each month of the school year.  In light of today's post, I thought it would be the *perfect* time to make this the Deal of the Day!  For TODAY ONLY, this bundle is deeply discounted at half price!!!  Eeeeeekkk!!!!!  

Each month contains the same type of activities so that your kids are familiar with the concept and expectations...(reteaching is kept at a minimum!!!)  Each packet includes:
thematic vocabulary cards
describe and categorize printables
look and label printables
task cards (making lists, writing prompts, how-to, write a letter, write a book)
sentence scramble printables
spin a sentence spinners
spin it to end it printables
write about it printables

Hopefully this resource works as well for your kids as it has for ours!!!  

Now it's time to celebrate the birthday boy.  My oldest is turning 8 today and he's got some big plans for his big day that involve lots of food and a trip to the Children's Museum.  My kind of day!! (especially the *lots of food* part ;))

Phonics Friday!

Welcome to Phonics Friday!

My plan is to post every Friday with some fun Phonics based activities and ideas.  With a holiday weekend next week and being in Vegas the week after that, I'm not promising consistency (at least for the next couple of weeks).  But I do plan on posting more ideas for you to add to your ever growing list in the weeks to come!!!

Just like every other theory/trend/philosophy/belief in education, there are always two schools of thought.  We either think the idea/theory/trend/philosophy/belief is important and relevant and believe wholeheartedly in implementing it into our classroom OR we don't think it has any value.  And no matter what the case, we always seem divided.  Things are no different when it comes to phonics instruction.  There is some research suggesting it's irrelevant while other research strives to prove its importance.

I think much of the way we feel about different ideas/theories/trends/philosophies/beliefs are based on our own personal classroom experiences.  I often feel like mine change from year-to-year based on the kids I teach.  While there are things that work like magic one year, they may look totally different and yeild completely different results the next.  I personally tend to see the value in phonics instruction and believe it holds a very important place in the classroom.  Of course, this is all based on my own personal experience :)

Research tells us that phonics instruction is particularly beneficial for students who are at risk of learning difficulties.  We ALL have those kids and I want to give them every opportunity to be part of the successful statistics.  This is just one of the many reasons I value phonics instruction in my classroom.  Here are some things to keep in mind....

While I know some districts and schools provide their teachers with a phonics curriculum, I don't always think it's a one-size-fits-all practice.  I think the same can be said for anything we do in our classrooms...nothing is (or should be) one-size-fits-all.  I do believe that we can take any program or curriculum, implement it as we're required to do, and then adapt it to fit the needs of our kids and make it as engaging, interesting,and relevant as we can.  This doesn't necessarily require us doing MORE work, but rather thinking smarter.
Sometimes we make teaching too difficult, don't we?!?! (Can I get an AMEN?!?!)

Research tells us how important it is to get our kids decoding words in and out of context.  Here's a quick and easy way to help with that.

You can grab these little notebooks at the Dollar Tree.  Just cut the pages inside leaving space for the onsets/rimes.  The first flap is filled with initial consonants, blends, digraphs.  The second flap is filled with vowel teams and word families.  I have these little notebooks in a tub along with a phonics phone and plain pieces of paper.  I encourage my kids to flip the flaps and read the words (out of context) then determine if the words they read are real or nonsense.  A super simple and effective way to get kids decoding words.  This is a great independent or partner activity.

Speaking of decoding words out of context, I also love using blending boxes.  I created these for all the short vowels and word families.  I keep these blending boxes in a tub for kids to use during independent /partner learning (literacy stations).  While this is the exact same activity as above, I like that the format is a little different.  Keeping the exact same thing out for repeated use can wear on the kids.  When the novelty wears off, the kids become disengaged and when they become disinterested the problem behavior comes out.  Thanks, but no thanks ;)

These blending boxes...along with LOTS of other short vowel activities/printables/puzzles/games....are in my Short Vowel Ventures Bundle.  Since we're on the subject, I'm making this my steal of the day.  You can grab it for half off TODAY ONLY (Friday, June 26th)!!!!  With over 400 pages of printable games/puzzles/activities, this is definitely a STEAL!!!

This is one of my favorite whole group phonics games.  I always try to get my kids up and moving and engaged in what we're doing.  I want them to have FUN learning and this little game is just that...FUN!!!

One of the most important...and oftentimes trickiest...skills to teach our early readers is how to blend onsets/rimes/phonemes.  Here's a game that garnered rave reviews from my kids over the years.  It's a little onset/rime blending game that'll get your kids up and moving, blending sounds, and identifying real and nonsense words.   Let's play, shall we?!

Label a small set of plates with various word endings/families {rimes}.  As you can see in the pic above, I have lots of different rimes on my plates.  You could play this game using as few as 1 or as many as you want!  Label a set of index cards with different phonemes/onsets.  Place the labeled plates in a circle on the floor and hand out one labeled index card to each of your kids.  While your kids are holding their cards, direct them to stand in a circle around the plates.  

Now start the music.  Crank it or yank it.  Pump up the jam {does that date me?!?!?}  I like to turn on KidzBop when we play this game because the kids love it and I actually know the words so I can sing along, too.  While the music is playing, the kids will move around the plates going clockwise/counterclockwise {just like musical chairs}.  When the music stops, the kids stop in front of a plate.  

The kids will take their index card {onset/phoneme} and blend it with the word ending/rime they're standing in front of.  If they blend a real word, they stay in the game.  If the word they blend is nonsense, they're out.  {You could potentially have several kids out at once depending on the number of different onsent/rimes you include in the game}.  Unlike musical chairs, you won't remove any of the plates.  Start the music again, sing for a bit, stop, and blend.  Wash. rinse. repeat.  The game is all over when only one person is standing :)

I have LOTS more fun and engaging phonics games and activities to share with you, so check back every Friday to see what I have in store.  I hope you are able to use some of these activities in your classroom no matter what your beliefs about phonics instruction might be ;)