Thursday, August 13, 2015

Parent Survey FREEBIE

I just received my class list today, and I hear it is nearly final---maybe a couple of additions before the first day. At the beginning of the year, I think it is incredibly important to get to know each and every child. I love to hear what their parents think of them, too: their strengths, weaknesses, lovey-dovey nicknames, learning styles, you name it! In order to begin to get to know each child and understand where s/he is coming from, I send home a parent suvey. It's a couple pages front and back, but it covers just about all that I would want to know about a student. Important information about contact numbers and medical alerts are kept in our PowerSchool database, so I don't have to worry about that. This is just a get-to-know-you survey.

I often read the surveys that first week of school as students turn them in, and then I go back to them about a month later to see if I have forgotten any information that might be useful in educating, motivating, or understanding them. I find it really interesting and helpful! 

If you'd like to grab the survey for FREE, it is in my TPT store. You can also click the pictures, they are linked to the store, too. Have a great beginning of the year, everyone!! 

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Choosing a Good Fit Book

This is my third year using the Daily 5 framework, and this is one of my favorite beginning of the year lessons. After I get all of their initial assessments done (and man, are there a TON!), we sit in a large circle and we talk about our shoes. It seems super funny to them that this is the reason I have called a group meeting, but they roll with it. 

We talk about how well our shoes fit us, how we go to the store and measure our foot to be sure it fits just right. Then, once we have our shoes, we are able to do so many great things! Run, jump, hop skip, etc. We also talk about how there are different shoes for different types of performance: running, tennis, basketball, baseball, and all the other sports. 

We demonstrate how my shoes do not fit a child's foot, how their shoes do not fit my foot, how my husband's hunting boots are way too big for me and are not a good fit for running around playing soccer, and even our principal's work shoes are not a good fit for me or the kids! Unless we had our own shoes chosen specifically for us, it was hard to do what we needed and wanted to do. To get the job done right, we needed our own shoes! 

This leads into a great conversation about how we just completed running records and now we know everyone's individual level and that when we look for books at school we will choose books for various purposes: interest, topic/research, and readability for independent reading practice. Like shoes, books also come in a variety of sizes. Some are thick, some are thin, some have no words, some have lots of words. Some books have big words, some books have smaller, easier to read words. 

I convey to the class that when we focus on choosing books that will help us become better readers, it is important that we find a good fit for each child (reading level). What is good for one person is not necessarily a good fit for someone else - and that's okay! We are all here to grow and learn together, but at our own pace. This really sets a positive tone for acceptance and tolerance for a wide range of reading abilities. We reference the shoe lesson throughout the year - especially when some readers get anxious for chapter books and they've got a bit of growing to do. I monitor my students' reading levels monthly so that they can continue to see their growth and be sure to move up levels if they are ready. 

If you haven't checked out the Daily 5 & CAFE books, you should give them a try! At the very least, a lesson like this will fit any classroom and your students will definitely be giggling!! 

Happy Reading! 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Welcome Back Letters: Classroom DIY

I can't believe it is that time of summer---time to mail out the welcome back/intro letters! I like to do a welcome back brochure instead of a letter because I can pack a lot of stuff into that little tri-fold! Mine really needed an update, and a new, fresh look. So here it is! Now I'm off to stuff and sticker some envelopes!

You'll have to imagine it all folded up, but here's the front/back cover and inside flap…

Here's the inside of the brochure…

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Close Reading for K-2

I've spent some time this summer thinking about how I am going to fit close reading activities into my first grade classroom, in addition to teaching more science this year. First of all, I had to step back and ask myself: what does close reading for young, beginning readers mean and what strategy/technique and I going to use to employ them to read closely? When trying to decide what is best for my students, I try to determine how I would have learned the skill or obtained the information as a child (did it work?), and/or how would I do it now as an adult.

I immediately thought back to my high school and college days. I am a visual learner, for sure. I love to dog ear my text book pages, slap a sticky note in there, highlight, make notes in the side margins, etc. I obtained information - especially complex information - through reading, re-reading, summarizing, and discussion (for me, it was mostly listening to other people discuss and analyze, and then I formed my own opinions or conclusions). I was 'digging deep' into texts before 'digging deep' was a buzzword in academia. How else are you supposed to understand Shakespeare and Beowulf as a non-genius, young adult, who loved literature but found it sounding like a foreign language at some point? Well, you take it apart piece by piece, you make notes, drawings, etc…..any important marks that make the text meaningful so you can remember and enjoy it more! 

My district has done some "mark it up"/close reading professional development in the past for older students, and I love the concept….because that's how I learned as a student, and for me, it worked. It may have taken me a couple years to figure out how I can make those strategies work for young, beginning readers - but I think I've got it!

I've come to decide that there are multiple ways that a close reading can be done; there is no one right way. For older or experienced students, marking up text with things like "LOL", question marks, stars for important information, little eyeballs for visualizing, etc. can be a little difficult and stray the reader from the text. I think these 'think marks' are a great tool to incorporate if your students are ready. I can see using them with my students, even in first grade, to a degree! There's a great FREEBIE poster from Just a Primary Girl

 For our young students, not only do they have to read the text, but comprehend it, and be able to pull out information from the text as evidence to support their thinking. I'm pretty sure I didn't do that until high school, and here I am asking 6 and 7 year olds to do it. So….that being said, what is the best way that I feel my students will digest lots of non-fiction and gain a lot of reading practice?

Well, we already read closely and do lots of "I Spy" and hide and seek techniques when working on our sight words. We are always looking for them in text and highlighting our focus words when we see them, mostly in fiction text. I decided to take that technique to a new level when working with non-fiction text. Here's a sample: 

I have designed my close reading packs to bring non-fiction text to early elementary students so they can read, re-read, and mark the text through guided instruction! This could even be used as independent work for higher readers. 

There are two levels of text, with the lower level containing concise information, less words, and a larger font for the ease of tracking for those emergent readers. The higher level is packed with information and more difficult vocabulary words. HOWEVER, the information given is not compromised and the concepts that students search for in the text are the same! Overall, all students will be learning the same concepts but at different levels, which is the goal with differentiation - as we all know. The articles are only one page so that early elementary students do not have to flip back and forth among pages in a book searching for information. 

With engaging text about animals, students will enjoy this 'hide and seek' approach to reading for information. Important information is embedded in these texts, and students just need to find it! They are asked to mark it up by highlighting, circling, underlining, putting shapes or smiley faces next to specific facts, searching for answers to fill in the blank, understanding the meaning of vocabulary words etc. 

On top of that, they are given graphic organizers and even writing responses where they are asked for form opinions and think critically about real world issues. If you want to check them out, click on the photos below! 

I am also looking forward to getting the students warmed-up with close reading strategies by using this great resource utilizing nursery rhymes. What a great idea! I am going to add a little "mark it up" technique to these nursery rhymes from Teaching in High Heels!  

So---that's where I am at with that! 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Gobbling Up Great Writing!

I am very much looking forward to gobbling up some great writing from my students this month! There seems to be a lot of fret over writing w/ the common core and writing w/ our district provided units and how B-O-R-I-N-G it is. At first glance, it might appear that there's not much wiggle room in some curriculum/pre-packaged units. I, myself, struggled with these new teacher's manuals that are scripted word for word what to say throughout and entire lesson. I felt like someone handed it to me and w/o any words said: "Here, do this."

No teacher that teaches with a lot of style, art,  heart and flair wants to be told: "Here, do this". No teacher that wants their students engaged and on the edge of creative thinking wants to hear: "Here, do this." We want to teach with our own unique style, enthusiasm, use our own dialogue, and meet the diverse needs of our students without the script. Truth is, there are some teachers who might need that script. Even if it's to get the gist of things until they can make it their own. I know I've been there. There are some teachers that need that script all the time....although, we know if you are reading this, you are NOT one of "THEM"!

If we step back, we can read between the lines of "Here, do this" (did anyone actually ever say that out loud to you? I thought I heard it, but when I think about it, no one said "script it like a robot"....we have to differentiate our own teaching style. Administrators and districts choose curriculum based on a variety of criteria. So while new curriculum is often coming in with scripts, it doesn't mean your district wants you to stand up like a robot and read it word for word. They don't want it, you don't want it, and your students certainly don't want it. So don't do it! They want you to read it, get the gist of it, and make it your own. As always, the curriculum should GUIDE your instruction. Follow the units/concepts/pacing/vocabulary/etc. set forth by the comprehensive pack of your core curriculum...but don't forget to make it your own!

So there's no need to get your stuffing in a bunch this Thanksgiving....or at any point of the year. Simply know your district and state/national objectives, your goals for your students, and have a plan for how you're going to get them there.

I've considered the Common Core Objectives and the units from our local district writing curriculum and have intertwined that with topics that I know my students will be interested in doing. We will be engaged this year as we write, write, and write our way through the common core standards.

Bring on the small moments stories, the "how to" writings, informational writings, and opinion writings!

I've linked up to my TPT writing pack for November (click on the photo above). It touches on a variety of writing types and is aligned to the common core K-2. Look for more small moment writing opportunities coming soon! And stop being afraid of curriculum that just so happens to include a script. Think of it as an extra resource....use the script, or don't. It's up to are the professional!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Book Study & a FREEBIE

I recently purchased and fell in love with the scholastic book, Nightsong by Ari Berk. That little Chiro is the cutest little bat! This book reminds me so much of Stellaluna....and I knew it'd be perfect for a mini-book study, so I went ahead and made one with lots of cross-curricular activities. I am excited to use it with my students throughout this week.

It is currently FREE to the first 3 people to leave a comment on my facebook page for Sweet Life of Teaching. Hurry----there's only 1 taker so far! You can grab it by clicking on the photo below from TPT!

I've also committed to keeping my students writing---even during the crazy holiday week. I'm offering up a little FREEBIE for your students to write about their Halloween costume. An alternative is provided for those who do not participate in Halloween! There is a lot of writing and drawing space on the back of this file.

Happy Halloween with your students! 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Digital Storytelling & Publishing----it's the cool thing to do!

I am so proud of several of my students this week for learning how to write and publish digital stories. I am continually amazed at the quality of work that they produce when given a venue to explore and create. They have the freedom to take their learning to new heights, in the direction they choose---and they typically produce more than I could ask for! I simply introduced them to story, gave them log-in information, showed them a thing or two about adding pages to a story, and how to drag and drop pictures. I am pretty sure I could have just let them log in and they could have figured it out without any of my little tidbits! So after my little intro., I walked away to tend to some other students and let the group of storybirds dive into the world of digital story-making and publishing.

What I got in return was more than I could ever have imagined from 6-7 year olds. Not only did they choose to work on their stories over the course of the week, they created lengthy stories, intertwined characters, started new stories and begged me to show them how to publish their stories. Publish is a word we love in my classroom! We publish things all the time. I tell them that digital publishing is a quick way to share your writing and thoughts with the whole world! They know the blue publish button on & the blue publish button on to be the key to sharing their work with a wide audience---but mostly intended for their family, friends, teacher, and principal.

I loved their excitement about from the moment they logged in. I could see the gears turning. They would sit for a long time.....typing, dragging/dropping pictures, backspacing, searching for periods, wondering how to get capital letters in there, and even going back to edit a 'completed' story because they found errors when they read it out loud! One student even heard me conferencing with another storybird writer about their closing sentence. I thought the story was going to go on, but it ended so suddenly and there was nothing to give me a clue the story had come to and end. Not only did that writer go back and fix that, the student that overheard us later informed me that she stopped at the end of her story to think of a good "wrap up" sentence before she published it! Seriously?! Is this really happening in the first marking period of first grade? It really, really is! I couldn't make this stuff up! Here are a couple videos of students presenting their story. 

When we are working with paper/pencil, we are working on so many mechanics just to make it legible and intelligible. We are always working on: putting spaces between your words, using the handwriting lines as a guide to size your letters correctly and form your letters properly, start with a capital, end with a period, know where your sentence ends, etc. Not to say that we don't work on this in the digital world----but it's much easier! I can stroll by a student and point out where to find the period on the keyboard, how to hit shift 1 to get an exclamation, how to hold the shift key for a capital letter, etc. It takes 2 seconds and a quick backspace versus lots of erasing and re-writing.  Not to say that we don't have some errors with capital letters, ending marks, etc. with digital printing, but it's a quicker, different type of fix-up as the students learn and grow as writers. I love writing----and writing on paper/pencil won't be a lost art in my classroom, but we are a digital world, and we are embracing that, too! There will always be a balance, an intended audience, and meaningful, purposeful writing.

So before I unleash the links to the wonderful stories my students have created, let me also tell you that the publishing doesn't stop here. offers real hard copies of the books! I plan on using my box tops money (THANK YOU to our wonderful PTO that give us our cash back!) to purchase the PDF copy so students can print and assemble their book here at school. For a nicer copy, there are options and sizes for hard/soft cover books. Parents can visit their child's account for more information and to load up their shopping cart! are the works of he(art)!