Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Problem and Solution

(I can never think of clever titles!)

I have been teaching character, setting, problem, and solution to my students and saw that Mrs. Lemons from Step Into 2nd Grade had posted about a great puzzle she had made with her kids.  I found it on Pinterest – love what I find on there!

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I was struck with inspiration this afternoon while I should have been eating lunch, but was actually thinking about what I was going to do that afternoon.  I made a quick sheet by hand, ran a copy and used it with a picture book to reinforce problem and solution.

I read Apple Trouble by Ragnhild Scamell and we made the puzzles.  The kids loved it and it was a little artsy-craftsy. It also makes a cute display.


I made a pretty version for next time.  I might put it in a center. Click below for a copy.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fall Linky Party!

There are 2 fall linky parties going on!  Check out Teaching First and Teaching’ First


Teachin' First

We don’t do a lot of holiday activities at our school.  We have adapted a lot of things so they are more fall oriented than holiday oriented.  I was just thinking about making and linking up a fun little project that I have done for a couple years.

My wonderful colleague created an art and writing activity around Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert and Look What I Did with a Leaf by Morteza E. Sohi . Over the years I have expanded the activity and I use the books as a way to develop writing narratives with students.

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First, I have the students collect leave from home or bring them in myself.  We spend a lot of time observing and sorting the leaves.  I will have pairs of kids sort their leaves and leave them out for students to do a gallery walk – they walk around the room and try to figure out the rule to the pattern sort.  We press the leaves in old basals and dictionaries in the room.  I usually do this over Columbus weekend so they have a bit more time to dry.

Then I read Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert and Look What I Did with a Leaf by Morteza E. Sohi and we brainstorm a list of animals we could make with leaves.  I really point out how the artists used different sizes and shapes of leaves.  I have the students fold a paper into 4 parts and illustrate and label 4 animals they would like to make using leaves a body parts.  They do well just getting general shapes. 

Next is the fun part!  We pull out all the leaves and choose the leaves for each student to build one animal.  I have the students use liquid glue.  Last year, the leaves all fell apart in the kids’ portfolios.  My friend laminated hers.  I really don’t like laminating if I don’t REALLY have to, so I think I will make color copies and send the original home.

The San Diego Zoo has a great example.  Check out the link:



(image from San Diego Zoo:

Then students choose one animal  and show the students how to tell a story across their fingers.  I hold up three fingers and point to each finger as I rehearse my story.  I think I will try having students share their oral story with a partner this year.  Then the make a storyboard with the beginning, middle, and end of their story.  I model this before turning it over to them.  Then they have time to write their story, again I model this and they write their story, using the leave picture as their “illustration.”

I made some printables tonight for my lesson next week.  I hope someone finds this useful.  Click on the image below to grab your copy.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Daily 5 Success!!!

Whew!  I started to think about all of the things I wanted to share about Daily 5 today, then I got a call that I have a new student and the student was there to meet me.  What a day!

Our Daily 5 success was amazing and much reassuring after the rough couple weeks I have had!  We had 4 dailies up and running: Read to Self, Listen to Reading, Word Work, and Work on Writing.  I usually only have time for 3 dailies a day with 1 additional time being guided reading, but I wanted to get everyone up and going in all four centers that I typically use. Yes, I said centers.  My D5 is a hybrid between Debbie Diller style centers and Daily 5.  Sometimes I give students controlled choice, but usually I rotate group and have choices within the dailies.  I need the consistency and control to also run guided reading.  When I have done both choice and non-choice, students actually say they like the routine better.  I alternate through the year as appropriate. 


For listening, I have introduced and reviewed the use of BookFlix, a subscription site, for students to use.  Most are familiar from exposure in kindergarten, but have not used it independently.  Thank goodness I have a paraprofessional to help out with trouble shooting the earphones, log-on, and volume issues.  This week they were just listening, but I hope to add a response.  I also introduce the use of MP3s for listening later in the year.


For work on words, I gave the students a class list to practice building and writing g names.  I have 6 buckets with 2-3 activities in each bucket.  This week I had white boards, letter beads, magnets, rainbow pencils and letter stencils.  It is funny how each class seems to have their preferences.  This group LOVES the whiteboards where last year’s class went for the rainbow pencils and stencils. I change things up about every one or two weeks. And (whoo hoo) I don’t have any allergies that would prevent me from using play dough!  I bought stampers 2 years ago and have yet to use them!


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For read to self, students have 2 library books and 5 “just right” leveled books at their independent level. I had them use “reading spots” which are mini rugs I scored at Target last year, thanks to a blogger.  They are perfect to provide some boundaries.

We also did journals in work on writing.  We have done a few entries up to this point, so many students were adding to old pictures or writing.  They are pretty happy to work in their journals.  We also watch electricians use a truck with a basket on it to lift up a huge street lamp on the edge of our newly finished playground. They were fascinated and we must have watched for about 10 minutes.  The poor men doing it must have felt all the eyes on them, but hey we were having recess after all.


All-in-all, everything went very well.  I had a chance to listen to almost everyone read, which I have been dying to do.  After every center, I had the kids put their things away and stood behind their chairs to give me a thumbs up check in like The sisters do. I don’t do the full blown check in.  I also used chimes to signal it was time to switch.  Oh, my groups were just their table groups for this run.  So pleased!


I also sent home book bags for the first time!  In my building, we send home a guided reading book every night from our group that day.  I started the routine today by having students choose a book from their book basket, put their name on their bag (baggie with a zipper), and write the title in their log. I send a lengthy letter about the routine and how it will look in the coming weeks to the parents.  I really try to answer every anticipated question because it drives me crazy when I get a million calls about how a book is too easy or too hard.  I explain that it is a process of getting to know their child as a reader and that sometimes books are not a perfect match and that is okay.  I’ll try to get some pictures tomorrow.  I don’t think about it until I have already left.

The log contains all sorts of guidance for reading at home, sight words, and spelling strategies. The log lasts the entire year and has everything parents need for homework – such a life saver!  I am hoping to shape it up and maybe offer it on TPT! 

Overall, it is the first day I have really felt like myself and like the day went really well!  Here’s to many more!!!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Our Community Study

I have spent some time on Google Reader this week and have found inspiration and a few great ideas for our community unit!  In our curriculum, we have a brief study of the school community and then study our school community.  It is not an in=depth study of communities, as that is the second grade curriculum. Our study includes learning about the history of our community and comparing then and now.  It is a bit tough because we actually span 3 communities and some families living just on the fringes of our borders and attend our school even though they live in a different town.

My ideas for this week are to use Pete the Cat: Rocking in my School Shoes  to explore our school community.  Since I have 1st graders, they already know the school pretty well, so I am linking this to a map activity.  I have a school map and we are going to walk the school with clipboards to practice using a map.

Visit Harper Collins to download the song!

I am planning to do a class brainstorm of places in our school and what we do there.  Then we will complete a class book in the pattern of Pete the Cat.  Click on the link below for your copy of the class book and the t-chart for brainstorming!


Laurie at the First Grade Lyon’s Den posted a great idea to create a quilt of school community members where students took pictures of school community members, the added their names and pictures of things they need to do their job.  This is a great idea that I can’t wait to try with my class.

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The class brainstormed all of the community places they could think of.  It was interesting that they struggled with coming up with vocabulary for the post office and the ambulance station.  It also took quite a long time to add the bank and fire station.  I think I might look and see if I have some mini-books for the kids to work on that emphasize community places.

We did a writing piece about a person who works in our school community last week.  This week I plan to use the same format: class brainstorm, model personal web, students make their own web, model writing, students write and illustrate, to write about a favorite community place.  I always get a lot of kids who like to do the local ice cream shop! Click on the picture to grab your own copy.


Another project I am planning to do is one I saw on a blog, but did not pin it or save the blog name .Sad smile If anyone knows what I am talking about, please let me know.  The teacher used paper from a roll to make a street and the students designed buildings from the school community to put on each side of the street.  It looked great in the hall.

It is also fun to check out community websites.  I know the towns and villages that make up my school have wonderful websites.  You can learn the names of the people who work in the community and one of the sites even has historical pictures of the town.

We have a lovely old school house and historical museum where we take a field trip.  There are a few retired teachers who put together a wonderful program about life in the 1800’s.  All of us teachers get a kick out of the students’ faces when they learn about all the responsibilities children had at the time. They start to realize that they have it easy!

I hope to have some more ideas for comparing communities, then and now, next week.  Have a marvelous Monday!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Wonderful Word Walls for Writing

I have a large magnetic word wall in my classroom, but the boards are too high and in accessible to the students.  A few years ago I created a portable word wall for my students to use.  We use the 220 Dolch words at my school, so those are the words on the word wall.

I copy it back-to-back on neon cardstock so the students can keep the word wall in their folders.  A few other teachers print each paper and adhere them to file folders for the students to use as offices.  I like that, when I copy them back-to-back, the word walls are easily accessible and not as fussy as folders.

I introduce them by playing the game eye spy.  So I will say “I spy a word that starts with /l/”.  I have 2 or 3 kids guess, then give the next clue. "”I spy a word that starts with /l/ and has a double vowel.”  The game helps the kids to get a sense of how to use the board and calls their attention to features of the words.  I have had them play this game in centers and have suggested it to parents for play at home.

Click below for your copy.  I hope it is useful!


Thursday, September 22, 2011

One of Those Days…

This is a bit of a vent post.  Last year I felt like I had a really great year professionally and felt like I grew a lot.  I tried new lessons and had established a classroom that worked really well.  My students worked well together and learned a lot.  It was the first time I knew that I was the one making the impact and could see the results of what I was trying.  I was focused and had momentum with my instruction.  I was SO positive about the year and going into the next year.

This year, a whole 13 days in, I just feel out of focus.  For the first time in 6 years of teaching first grade, last year was the first year I was the only adult in my classroom, barring some minimal services.  Don’t get me wrong, I love working with students who need my support the most, after all I have degrees in literacy and special education.  I think I do good work in those positions.  And I have learned SO much from some wonderful support persons and teammates.  But goodness, my year last year made me realize how crazy a classroom can get when you are teaming with a gazillion adults.  I feel like I am a plate spinner and have to keep those plates spinning. There is always at least 1 adult and at times 3-4 in my room when I am teaching. I am feeling like I am on stage performing and am feeling lacking.  It is amazing how, after building my self-confidence for a year, I feel like I am starting all over again. 

My schedule has been determined, literally, by my service providers.  I have no flexibility over any timing – from snack to when I have recess, it is all locked in tight.  I almost cried when I had yet another person show up to schedule social skills lessons – a new thing this year.  I know I could not do the job on my own that I can do with all of these wonderful folks to help, but my ability to feel like I am teaching for my students is seriously compromised because of what all the adults need to do. 

My lessons are orchestrated for the support people coming in.  I remember one year when I actually did writing 3 separate times (formal instruction, writing workshop, and journals) one day a week to accommodate OT, Speech, and a special education teacher.  Another year, I had 4 teachers – one at each table, during my writing time.  Why do we even need the general education teacher in the room at that point?  The planning is never enough.  I can’t possibly plan enough with every support person to give them a clear picture of exactly what I am doing in my classroom.  Sometimes you just hope for the best.

I am sitting here thinking that I am exhausted.  I am not sleeping for the stress on my shoulders.  My mind is spinning because I constantly have someone (meaning an adult someone) asking a question, making a suggestion, or telling me something that I really need to know (I have literally been carrying around a clipboard to write on because my brain is full – please don’t stop me in the hallway or track me down during my lunch to tell me that I have a phone message).  My creativity is a big fat zero because I can’t even wrap my mind around my day, let alone create wonderful and exciting learning experiences. I need to spend so much more time in my room and planning, but I am trying to have a life again.  Ten years of living more for my job than myself has made me realize that I need to find myself outside of teaching again.

So here I am wondering how am I going to make it through this year and do the best I can for all of my students? How can I love what I am doing? How can I find my creativity again?  How can I make our days exciting and spark my students’ love for learning? I’m sure it will all work out in time.  Thank goodness tomorrow is Friday! Next week is a new week and I can try all over again.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Math Centers

We have started Daily Math in my classroom.  I started experimenting with the math version of the Daily 5 last year and intended on implementing it more regularly this year.  We have developed our rules for Daily Math and charted it.  I need to make a pretty version of it to share, but I wanted to get my thoughts out. 

As an aside, I am amazed at the amazing teachers who blog during the year.  I keep thinking of things I want to add to the blog during the day, but then I get caught up in the whirlwind of the day and forget when I am wiped out at the end of the day!

I have 5 centers with a mix of number writing, number identification, and number comparison activities. 

Center 1: reviewing formation through Power Printing, our handwriting program, on classroom computers.


Center 2: Number Writing Practice – I did a whole class practice by having the kids click on an online 10-sided die and then write the number 5 times on mini white boards.  I transferred this to a center, having the kids take turns “rolling” the die on the Promethean board. Click on the die for the link.


Center 3: Students could choose to practice writing on the wipe-off mats or play Top-It, which is the classroom friendly version of War.  The cards are just playing cards. I removed the jack, queen, and king.  The kids know the ace is 1.  I teach them how to divide the cards and take turns flipping their top cards over.  The can play where the person with the greatest number wins the cards, or the lowest.  Later I teach them to place the same game with 2 and 3 digit numbers, adding, and subtracting. The cards are kept in a gift card tin I found at Michaels.

I have a class set – enough for partners, and often use Top-It (from Math Their Way) as a morning job or early finisher activity.  Great for substitutes too!


Center 4: Number Top-It and wipe-off number writing books from the Dollar Tree. I made a pretty version of Roll, Say, Keep with all of the directions and cards to print.  Click on the game board on the right to go to the post where you can download it!

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Center 5: I pulled out the foam numbers and the dot cards from the game below to have the kids play as a matching game.  The match the number to the dot cards.  The other game is a puzzle where the match the numeral, number of objects, and number word.


We spend about 15 minutes at each rotation. I have thought about using the centers as morning work, but I also like doing 2 centers a day.  I end up with 4 children at a center, and that works well.

I hope someone can use these ideas!  I know that, by putting them on here, I will have a visual of what I did when I plan next year!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday: Where did the weekend go?

Wow!  This weekend went REALLY fast.  I managed to resist going into my classroom, but know I will pay for it this week! I have a meeting to plan this week and am not too firm on my teaching plans.  I am still planning day-by-day at this point, trying to get a feel for this group of kiddos.

I started getting ready for the week and thought I would share my routines that I have tried to develop to make my week go easier.

1. Get gas on Sunday – I have challenged myself to use 1 tank of gas per week this year.  I have only had to play catch up for 2 weeks and it has made me super conscious of how much I drive. If I get gas on Sunday, I am good for the week.image

2. Choose outfits for the week – I try to look at the forecast for the week and put complete outfits in my closet.  This includes belts, scarves, leggings, tights, etc.  I hang everything on a hanger at the front of my closet. I work hard to not iron anything. 


3. Make my lunch for the week – I buy food for a week’s worth of lunches.  Sadly, the school lunches are very expensive for adults and are just not very nutritious.  Sometimes I buy yogurt, sometimes I make salads or soups (I made lentil soup today – yumSmile), and sometimes I buy enough of a packaged meal for 5 days.

I saw a pin on Pinterest on how to vacuum pack salad for the week.  It led the site: I haven’t tried the vacuum packing, but this worked well anyway.  Plus, I like the idea of storing food in glass rather than plastic!


I also started buying things that can be stored in my classroom for lunch.  I drink Silk, rather than milk (I know, funny that a dairy farmer’s wife can’t drink milk!) and found cartons that can be stored at room temp.  They are great for snack too.  I try to keep peanut butter crackers, pop corn, oatmeal, hot chocolate, and things like that to snack on or make a meal of in a pinch.

4. Library Books - I recently started checking books out from the public library to use in my classroom rather than spending mass amounts of money to buy them.  Usually, those who can be really advanced planners get dibs on the books in my building and I hate asking around until I find what I need.  I am rather bad at actually getting the books back on time, so I designated one of my  canvas bags as my library bag.  It never comes into the house.  I order my books for the next week or two (all of the libraries in a 4 county area ship books to the one you request if you order them in advance – love this!) and when they arrive at my library, I put them in my cars and take them right to school.  When I am done with them, they go right back in the bag to go back to the library.  It’s the little things, you know…


5. Planning – I have to admit that I am not a great planner.  Five years in, it is really starting to get to me that I don’t remember the things that I have done that have worked out well, let alone where the pieces for that lesson are now.  I am guilty of dragging everything but the classroom sink home to plan and rarely ever actually pulling it out of the car.  In an effort to lighten my load, I am relying a great deal on online resources rather than materials that I have to drag home.  I bought a jump drive just to keep materials on as I plan. My thought is, if I can get myself to work early enough, I would be able to print what I need and make copies as soon as I get to work.  We’ll give this a whirl and see how it goes.  I have some tentative plans for this week.

How do you prepare for your week?


On a fun note, Abby from The Inspired Apple is having a $3.00 sale today!  I actually own all of her fabulous work on Teachers Pay Teachers, so of course I had to buy Pop Rockin' Descriptive Writing Activities.  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the ideas, but I am afraid that I shouldn’t use Pop Rocks in my classroom.  We have a pretty big strict health policy and I am sure I would get a few calls when the kids go home asking for candy because it was so much fun.  Sadly, I didn’t even dare do the wonderful Jitter Juice because even the teachers drinking soda at school is frowned upon.  Any ideas that I could use to replace the Pop Rocks in this great unit?  I was initially thinking food, but I wonder if something else might work for an alternative.

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Saturday, September 17, 2011


How can I be sick already?!?  I knew there was a stomach bug going around, but I thought I was pretty immune at this point.  No, I didn’t catch the stomach thing, but I do have a horrible sore throat and have been sneezing up a storm.  My throat actually hurt so badly that I woke up at my regular school time on Saturday Sad smile 

What drives me crazy is that I flew through the week and it wasn’t until Friday I started to feel sick. It is amazing how you can keep going until your body slows down a little and then you get hit. I’m sure all of us know how this works!

This week was bizarre!  My kiddos are sweet, but very quiet!  I finally found that science and social studies really spark their interest.  We had a 30 minute conversation about a painting of the signing of the Constitution!  They had questions galore about the time period, and I was in my element as a history lover.  The kids noticed how all of the people were wearing shades of blue and gray and red, so we talked about how stores were different and dyes were made from items in nature.  We talked about powdered wigs and horses versus cars. One of my little ones even talked about how everyone had to garden and hunt for food because they couldn’t go to the store. I think I found my hook this year!

Our wonderful librarian introduced the staff to Pete the Cat, by Eric Litwin.  Now I know many bloggers have featured Pete, but I have to admit that I just didn’t get it until our librarian sang the tune and hooked us up with the author’s website.   In the words of Babbling Abby: Oh.My.Word!  LOVE! 

I am trying like mad to cut down on my school spending, so I ordered one of the books from my public library earlier in the week and it is waiting for me to pick it up now.

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(You can download an MP3 to read the books to the students with the music, rather than trying to sing it yourself – what a saving grace!)

My plan is to use Rocking in My School Shoes as a mapping lesson.  In first grade we teaching map skills and use a school map to teach this skill.  I think Pete will be a great way to kick off this lesson and update it a bit.

As with many other schools/states, we are working on writing curriculum based on the new ELA and Math Common CORE.  I am not naturally a math person, but after writing curriculum, I am excited about expanding my own skills.  Our district just purchased GoMath.  We have never used textbooks – for anything, so to have something so comprehensive is beyond exciting.  I think a few of us even shed tears over this! 

Due to some ordering complications, we don’t have our materials yet and there is a gap between the text and our NYS CORE math.  The text does not necessarily work on counting, number formation, and number recognition for the sake of working on those skills.  However, they are specific state standards, so we decided to spend September teaching these skills.

Nothing is more boring than counting to 100 by 1s. So, I have used some wonderful ideas found in blogland!

1. Harry Kindergarten’s I Can Count to 100 video on YouTube. – My kids are not dancers yet, but some of them are getting in the groove! Harry also has skip counting, days of the week, months of the year and so much more! Now I just need to figure out how to connect to YouTube so that I only get the one video I am looking for.


2. Grade ONEderful share a game called Buzz that my class have loved! It is great for practicing counting skills!


I am also preparing a bunch of math centers for next week to practice counting and number formation.  I made a Roll, Say, Keep game using number cards for number recognition.  Click on the picture to get your own copy.


For number writing practice, I bought a collection of wipe-off books from the Dollar Tree and a center from Scholastic.

Hands-On Learning: Match, Trace and Write Numbers Mats (Scholast... Cover Art     Disney Cars Write-With-Me Numbers Book & CD     Counting 0-31 Wipe Off Book Christian books Image

Sherry Sloan from Kids Count and Jessica Meacham have great counting games and number writing printables  for centers!

Finally, I have printed and am working on laminating games from  Cara Carroll’s Teachers Pay Teachers shop (click the image for the link)zzzzplacevaluepacket[7]

If I can get this all set up, I might actually feel like we have started the year!

Have a great weekend!