Thursday, July 24, 2014

Puzzles in the Classroom

So the other day I was raiding the Target One Spot and I found all these fabulous puzzles for only a dollar each! 

Immediately, my brain flooded with ideas as to what I could do with all these cute puzzles in my classroom!

So I took them home and got to work...

Now, I know puzzles in the classroom are not a new thing. I already have a few that the kiddos pull out during inside recess. But for some reason, I've never thought to use puzzles in an educational way before.  I'm sure every Kindergarten teacher reading this post is screaming, "DUH!"

Now, one search from Pinterest shows like a million different ways to use puzzles, but my brain immediately went to an easy grab and go center station. 

Here's a peek at what's inside my puzzle basket and how you can make your own!

First, I turned one of the flat puzzles into sight word puzzle like Melissa from over at Chasing Cherrios.  

They're soooo easy to make! Just trace the puzzle pieces onto the base board.

I lucked out... the Target ones already had indents! 

Then label each puzzle piece, and it's matching place on the board, with a sight word.

To complete the activity students match the sight word on the puzzle piece with the word on the board. When they're done they get a super cute picture to look at! BOOM! (For other sight word games, check out this post!)

For the other two puzzles I did one for contractions...

and one for antonyms...
I am already scoping out  different Targets for more puzzles so I can make a synonyms puzzle too!

Now, to keep those puzzles organized, I put each flat puzzle in it's own gallon size bag.

I labeled the bag and the puzzle with a title, number of pieces, and the target skill of the puzzle. This will help with clean up: students make sure the puzzle goes back in the right bag with the right number of pieces.

For an extension with these puzzles, I made these quick writing extension sheets.

You can grab copies of these here for FREE! I'll keep a few copies of these sheets in the gallon size bags so students can just grab them as they work on the puzzle.

In addition to the flat puzzles, I also bought 3 boxed puzzles.

Now, I loved the premise of these puzzles and thought these would make perfect puzzle "vocabulators". As students build the puzzle and work to find what's different, hidden, or silly, they could also be:

-writing down the items they find
-sorting the items into categories (ie: people, places, things, verbs)
-write a story based on the puzzle illustration
-compare and contrast the two sides of the puzzle
-explain why certain pictures are "silly"

What a great addition to my center rotation and an awesome writing component! To help guide students as to what activities they could be completing with the boxed puzzles, I made this activities sheet.

This is included in that recording sheet download too!

To keep it a quick and easy to grab center, I piled it all into this white basket I also found in the One Spot for $3!

I used this label to keep the basket earmarked for all the puzzles and attached it with small rings.

Can't wait to use these in the first few weeks of school!
Do you use puzzles? I'd love to hear how you use puzzles in your room!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Curriculum Binder: A Teacher's Right Hand Man...

Summer is starting to wind down... and the smell of Back-to-School is filling the air ( It's the smell of new crayons!) So, I'm busy trying to get ready for the new year in between naps and playtime with a toddler...

This was me this during morning nap the other day...


I've decided to update my Curriculum Binder to match my newly updated Student Data Binder. You know they HAVE to match!

(Click here or the pic to check out both of these!)

So what is a Curriculum Binder, you ask?

Well... simply put... it's a place to store all that "stuff" that you, as a teacher, need! I've been using a Curriculum binder in various forms for about 4 years and it's helped me stay much more organized! I've found that getting (and staying) organized is directly linked to having a place for things. If I have a place to keep it, then it stays organized.

No more...

"Where did I put that...?"
"Is it in this stack...?"

Believe me... it's helpful! This is coming from someone who often puts down the stapler only to not be able to find it for at least 3 days... #canyourelate.

Think of this baby as the holding place for all those important papers you can't seem to keep track of. Calendars, schedules, lesson plans, curriculum maps, meeting notes, pacing guides...can all lay to rest in this cute and organized binder.

Before switching to this method, I used to use the "stick on the filing cabinet" system. This seemed to work for about 2 years... but I kept taking things off to use them and then misplacing them...
I also like to keep them in one place so that when I'm planning at home, I can just grab the whole thing and work. No more digging through papers on my desk or on my cabinet. #happyteacher

So here's a peek at what I keep in my Curriculum Binder and how you can assemble one for yourself!

Let's start with what's in it!

First up are my lesson plans. At my school we are required to turn in a plan book at the end of the year. 

I type my lesson plans, so after I finished saving them in my lesson plans folder for the year on my laptop, I print a copy, three hole punch them, and place 'em in here. No more lost lesson plans! Then, when it's time to turn in the lesson plans book, I just take out all the print outs, bind them with a rubber band and 
turn them in.  BAM! Organized teacher saves the day! ;)

Behind that I keep grade print outs. 

I am also required to keep a grade book and turn it in at the end of the year. We use an online grade book, so I just print off the grade reports each quarter and interim and put it behind this tab. I also like to keep print outs of scores from big tests that my kiddos have taken. This is not to be confused with what I keep in my student data binder (as that is constantly being added too) but more as "light posts" through out the school year. Now there is no question as to what grade I put on your report card, I've got it right here. Those get handed in the same way as the lesson plans. Low stress at the end of the year? Yes please!

Behind the grade reports, I keep all my calendars. As a teacher, it seems we have LOTS of calendars... 

School calendars, testing calendars, meeting calendars, planning calendars... I keep them all here. I also like to keep monthly calendars so I can write down everyday things like parent conferences, theme ideas and important dates. 

I've included this simple calendar page in my Curriculum binder set.  They're not date specific, so they can used over and over again from year to year. There's also little notes section so you can include a few extra notes for the month.

In addition to the calendars, like to keep copies of schedules in this tab. We have a "master schedule" we have to follow at my school, so I keep that there along with student schedules, lunch schedules, and Special Area schedules.  If it's all  in one place, whenever need to reference a day or time, I can just cross check it against all those calendars and schedules. 

Behind the calendar tab is the curriculum maps tab. 

This is home to all those large packets of paper that tell me what I am suppose to teach
and when. Perfect to keep them all together so when I'm planning I can reference what concepts are supposed to be covered with in the next few weeks and go. Last year, we had 3 different maps just for our ELA block... so having a safe place to store them is key! Just remember to put them back in here if you pull them out... ;) 

Next up are the pacing guides...

 These are similar to the curriculum maps, but they provide a bigger snapshot for the year. 

I've included this editable planning sheet in my pack so you can see what's coming up and what you're teaching from week to week in each subject. I started using a pacing guide like this about 3 years ago and it made my planning lessons sooooo much easier! It also helped me to construct thematic units by aligning certain science and social studies units with specific reading and math units. Yeah for long term planning! 

At the back of the planner, I like to keep my meeting notes.

I've realized that if I keep them all in one place, I am more likely to go back and reference them... No more of that, "What did they say at that meeting?" because I have it stored behind this tab! 

There's even a notes taking sheet so you can organize the information as it's given. There's a place for the discussion, plan of action, and what you need to bring to the next meeting. Put these in order by date or type and you'll be the one people come to ask "What did they say about..." 

Now of course, this binder is set up to meet the needs of what I need to keep track in my classroom and for my district.

You can make your own using a plain binder with plastic sleeves.

 Like the one I used for the Student Data Binder, but not as big. I used a 1 and a half inch binder.

Then of course you make your tabs, just like I did in this post.

Print and cut out your divider and tab. Place in a laminating sleeve, arranging the tab on the back.

Laminate and trim out the tab...

and three whole punch to insert into your binder.

If you want a more detailed look at this process, head over to this post.

Now, you can always make your own dividers and tabs. they don't have to be as fancy or decorative as mine. Seriously, fun file folders that have been hole punched work just as well!

But, if you like the ones I used, you can check out the file here. I've made the tabs and dividers editable so you can add and change each section to fit your "organizational musts".

Like I mentioned before, this coordinates perfectly with my Student Data Notebook

If you're like me... and have to have everything matching, I went a head and bundled both files for you!
Click here or the pic to check it out!

Now go forth and get organized! I'd love to hear how you stay organized during the year! Comment below with your favorite organizing tips!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

5 Easy Tips for Improving Student Writings

OMG! Can you believe July is almost over? Neither can I! I've actually already started (slowly be it...) to get ready for Back-School.  I updated my Student Data Binder (which you can read about here!),

 started working on updating my Curriculum Binder (Coming soon! HERE!)

and even raided the One Spot at Target...

Seriously... run, don't walk, if you haven't already checked out yours! 

So as I'm reflecting on the upcoming school year (because that also counts as getting ready in my book!) I started thinking about student writing and how I want to really focus on more than just quick writes. 

Time for some real talk... Writing is always (I mean ALWAYS!) an area of "opportunity" for my fresh faced seconds.  I've decided that writing must be the "summer slip" for first graders. They are out of practice! 

So what could I do as their teacher to help rebuild and expand on their writings? I've found that my students have had tremendous growth and maturity in their writing when I used just  few quick tips! We're talking five paragraph essays from 8 year old's, peeps! 

So today, I thought I'd share 5 of those tips with you! 

Ok... Tip #1...
(Stay close because this one is ground breaking...Can you sense my sarcasm? ;))


I can not stress this one enough. If we want students to write, WE have to write, too. Almost every writing lesson I do, I model what I am looking for. And not just here's what it should look/sound like model. But, actual writing it out in front of them, model!

Some things you can model for your students:

 -indenting paragraphs on lined paper. 
-capitalization and using the correct ending punctuation.
-using the word wall as a resource for words I am not sure how to spell. ;)
-rereading what is written out-loud to make sure it makes sense. 
-how to use a brainstorm to shape a writing
-Beefing up a sentence using strong verbs and adjectives

When in doubt...?


So let's talk discuss how this looks in my classroom. At the beginning of the year, when we're working on a writing piece, my modeling looks much different than it will towards the end. There is a high level of scaffolding, with simple text structure and content. I expect that most of my students will copy what I am writing, so I move slowly though the process. 

Most of writing magic happens on my white board, so it's hard to share what my writings look like because I gasp erase them! I do though love this modeled writing from Mrs. Lemons over at Step Into Second Grade


The colored parts of her writing are a perfect way to scaffold how you incorporate information and still make the writing flow. Colored coded text can also be aligned to a rubric (keep reading for more on that!)

As the year progresses, I still model. It just starts to mutate into less about what I am writing and more  into what the students are writing. I might only write the grabber and an introduction sentence (more on those in a minute!) and then let the students fill in the supporting details. I may even swing back through at the end to brainstorm a few conclusion sentences and suggestions for zingers (Stay tuned!) As students are writing, I usually walk around and spot check each student's piece. This includes reading a few sentences out-loud, discussing word choice, and brainstorming ideas as needed. 

It's important that you slowly let go as you model. You don't always want to be writing a full writing piece every-time your class sits down to write. But, you also don't want to quite cold turkey. This could result in a riot! Not that I've had any personal experience with this... ;) By the end of the year, my modeled writings become something to start from and students use it as they need. I like to think of as my time to enjoy the fruit of my labor! It is a beautiful sight to see when an eight year old writes a full length expository essay with little to no help from their teacher. #teachersdream #thatcanbereallifefolks 

Tip #2
Teach a Formula

Teach a formula and stick to it! Most authors follow a formula when penning their latest novels, so shouldn't we teach an easy to remember formula, too?

Writing formulas can bend and change as the needs of what we want out of student's writing change. I've used several in the past. 

Some I've used:

B, 1-2-3, E - Stands for Beginning, 3 details, and an Ending. Works great with narratives! 
The Writing Robot- First, Then, Next, Last. Wonders for "How To's"

But my favorite and the one I currently use is what I like to call:
The Awesome Writing formula- Grabber, Introduction, 3 details, closing, and a Zinger 

I wish I could take credit for this ingenious formula that has changed my writing instruction forever! But, it is an adaption of the writing style taught by Melissa Forney. A few years ago we were blessed to have her conduct a PD at our school. In addition to inspiring me to become a better writing teacher, she also completely changed how I teach writing.You can check out more about her here

Ok... Back to the formula.  I love this formula because it lends itself nicely to just a one paragraph writing or a basis for a five paragraph writing. It can be stretched and modified so easily for almost any genre of writing and guarantees an almost perfect writing everytime! 

At the beginning of the year, I like to create this tab book foldable with my kiddos to help cement the writing formula I like for them to use.

We label each tab with a different step. Then on the inside we write what each step is and an example of what it looks like. I won't bore you with each tab (We've got five tips to share here people!)  but I'll run through and share a bit about each step!

Grabber- Something to get your readers attention. It could be a question, a sound word, an event. Something that makes your reader say, "Hey-I want to read this!"
Introduction- Tells your reader what you are writing about.
Details- Give three solid details to support your introduction. This is great because later, students can use these details to create full detailed paragraphs in a much longer piece of writing.
Conclusion-Remind your reader what you wrote
Zinger- (Side-snap!) A question, a quote, a foresight. Something that leaves your reader wondering and thinking that this was a great writing!

Once you've figured out your writing routine. Stick to it. Refer back to it. Use it every time you write. For a few of our writings at the beginning of the year, I like to have student color code the specific parts using matching markers. Once the writing formula becomes a routine, you'll find students will continue to naturally use it every time they write.

Tip #3
Use a Rubric

A few years ago, my district became obsessed with rubrics. Everything should have a rubric. How else would students know what they were being graded on? I thought this was a very agreeable argument, so I jumped on, and I'll tell you guys. I'm never looking back! If you've purchased any of my writing crafts you'll know I always include a rubric.

You can read more about this activity here!

They're such a great way to remind students what a good writing includes.

Did I mention they make it easy to grade, too? ;)

Grab this activity here!

In the beginning of the year, I create the rubric, but as the year progresses, students start to add their own input and can create their own rubrics. What a great way for students to take ownership!
Tip #4
Buddy Editing

This little tip stems from the Common Core Standard that discussing using peer editors. Now, I know what you're thinking. My littles can barely read, let alone read each other's writings. But I PROMISE it will be worth your while! Pinkie promise! Just stay with me on this one!

You can read more about this fun writing craft here!

Taking the time at the beginning of the year to teach students how to "edit" a fellow student's writing will save you hours (and I do mean hours) of editing time during your writing's workshop.

Things to keep in mind when teaching students how to edit:

-Keep it appropriate for their age. I don't teach editing symbols in 2nd grade, but I am sure I would if I taught 3rd or higher. I do teach that it's the buddy's job to make sure the writing makes sense, has good conventions (capitals and periods) and contains all the pieces in our writing formula (see tip #2). For younger students, you could have them use the "2 Stars and a Wish" technique where after sharing their writings, each student gives 2 kudos and 1 suggestion or question for the writing.

-Use pencil only! Just because you taught them how to edit, doesn't mean they'll do it perfectly every time. Pencil allows for those little marks to be erased or moved while you're editing later.

-Not all editors are created equal. Just like not every student masters a concept on the first try, not everyone will be an amazing peer editor.  Just remember that practice makes perfect. :)

and the last tip...

Tip #5 One on One Conference

So if you were to walk away from this post and only try to implement one thing I've shared with you today, it should be this: One-on-One Conferences.

What is a one-on-one conference? Well... it is basically taking the time to sit, discuss, and edit everyone's paper. I know what you're thinking: I already do this or Ummm... Ain't nobody got time for dat!
If you already do it, GREAT! You're one step ahead of the game! If not... then make time.

Personal feedback has been proven to be more more effective than any other forms of assessment. When you take the time to sit, read, and discuss a student's writing, you are telling them you care about their work, that you enjoy their work, and you want to them to do the best they can or even better than they every thought they would.

When I sit down with my students, I "edit" their paper in the traditional way (capitals, punctuation) but I also discuss word choice, use of voice, and structure. This is my time to push that little writer a little bit more-making them exceed even my expectations. Each time I sit with them, I'm given an opportunity to correct, improve, and push. This is invaluable to me.

So how do you make the time? I usually plan "editing" sessions into my writing's workshop for several days. As students finish their rough drafts, they pull out their "unfinished work" folder. This is a signal to me that they are ready for me to look over their work. I'll call them to my back table, conference, and send them on their way to work on their final copy. While students wait, they can be working on an illustration, the craft that goes with it (I love my writing crafts!) or reading a book. It's dangerous to just have students sit. Don't play with classroom management fire! Make sure you have something meaningful for them to complete while you work through the crowd.

Whew... did you get it all?! LOL! So, what is one thing you hope to implement to better your little authors this year? It could be something from my tips, or another tidbit you picked up along the way!