Thursday, 18 August 2016

I am turning 2! A look back at my Top 5 Most Popular Posts!

Happy Blogiversary to me!  It is hard for me to believe that I have been blogging for 2 years as of this Sunday, August 21st.  I am trying to be a more consistent blogger and to provide content that will help you in your classroom.  To celebrate I am going to do a bit of a look back and share 5 of my most popular posts.

What would a celebration be without presents?   It wouldn't be much of a celebration at all!  Luckily I have an amazing group of friends who want to celebrate with me and we have a great opportunity for you.  We are offering you the chance to win 1 of 4 TPT gift cards!  With Back to School preparation in full swing these will come in very handy.  I for one could think of many, many awesome resources I would spend it on, but I don't get to go do!

My  blog didn't always look this way.  In the beginning I designed it myself and it looked pretty basic, but I was proud of the fact that I figured it out {mostly}on my own.  I was excited for a makeover and still love the look of my blog - I love things that are bright and colourful and the design certainly is.
Now on to the most popular posts from the last 2 years.  Click on each of the graphics to check out the full post.  


This post is filled with advice for teachers - new teachers, those about to retire and everyone in between.  Consider it a little pep talk! 

In this post I shared about my go-to resources to teach Guided Reading as well as the tools I put in the hands of my students to keep them engaged and learning during our small group time.  There are lots of great tips here to check out!  

My third most popular blog post is all about 2D geometry and the activities and centers I use to make it hands-on and fun for my first graders.  I really believe that math is so much more than worksheets and I make sure that everyday during math my students are working with manipulatives to help them to understand and to extend their learning.  

Do you struggle with your name tags?  In this blog post I share how I attach my name tags so they stay on the desk and don't need to be replaced constantly!  

I don't have just one blog post as my most popular but a series of posts. These three posts have received more traffic than all of the posts on my blog put together. That statistic kind of of blew me away!  I am a huge proponent of Word Walls and have used one since I started teaching many years ago.  In this series I am offering tips on how to get started, teaching with your Word Wall and why you need a Word Jail as well as a Word Wall. This blog series is a must read for any primary teacher who uses a Word Wall.  I will be adding 2 more installments soon - How to incorporate Word Families into your Word Wall and How to practice Word Wall words during literacy center time.  

So that's it! My most popular posts so far in my blogging journey.  I hope you will continue to visit and check out my blog.  

Now to the presents for you.  Take a moment to enter the rafflecopter and make sure you visit each of my amazing friends who are helping me out with this giveaway.  I will be announcing the winner on Monday morning.  Good Luck!  

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Simple Centers for Back To School

It's time to think about preparing for Back to School.  I do not return until after the Labor Day weekend but I know many of you have already started or will be back in your classroom shortly. I am fortunate to be part of an amazing group of teacher bloggers and it is our mission to bring you some great Back to School Freebies and tips.

I love to use centers with my students but organization is key or else your centers become a huge mess!  Something that I have started doing is putting a dot of color on the back of all my center cards. This way when students are cleaning up they easily sort the pieces out and put them in the right place. I have many sets of centers that are differentiated so several students may be working close together on different versions of the same center.  This small dot of color has save me multiple times.

No Prep Literacy Centers to practice Short A words.

When organizing my centers I am a firm believer in Ziploc bags - I swear I have shares in the company!  I love to keep everything together and the large gallon sized bags seem to fit everything without having to bend any of the materials. I have started to create and include a label that can be attached to the bag so it makes it even easier for students to return materials to the proper center bag. I keep all the pieces I need right in the bag - paper clips for spinners, dry erase felt squares, dry erase markers etc.  When we are done with the center I take out all but the center pieces and store them in the magazine boxes.

No Prep, Hands-On Literacy Centers to practice Short A words.

Using really simple centers at the beginning of the year is a great way to get students working together.  As a thank you for stopping by my blog I have a center freebie just for you!   This center is a great compliment to my new set of Short Vowel Centers - Short A is in my store but the rest of the short vowels, short vowel printables and word family posters will follow very soon.  You can check them out {HERE}

I have saved the best for last.  You have a chance to win 1 of 3 $50.00 TPT gift cards for stopping by as well.  Just think of all the resources you could purchase!  Enter in the Rafflecopter below and then be sure to hop on to the rest of the blogs to pick up more Back to School Tips and Freebies.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Giveaway time - Win a $10.00 TPT Gift Card!

Have you heard that the Back to School Sale has been announced on Teachers Pay Teachers?  I am not in Back to School mode but I do love a good sale.  This time around the promo code for 28% off of your purchases is BESTYEAR and the sale is Monday, August 1 and 2.  

How would you like some spending money for the sale?  I have a chance for you to win a $10.00 gift card to spend on the second day of the sale. You can enter the rafflecopter below and I will contact you tomorrow night if you are the winner.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, 3 July 2016

How to Set up a Word Wall that Your Students Will Use - Part 3

I hope you have come to me after visiting my two previous posts on setting up and using a Word Wall. If you have not you might want to check them out first.  Click {HERE} to read all about setting up your Word Wall - how tos and questions to think about.  Check out this post {HERE} if you want to read about how I introduce my words each week and why I think every classroom should have a Word Jail.

The focus of this post is about practicing those words!  

Ideas and activities to use with your students to review your Word Wall words or sight words daily.

A Word Wall is just a bulletin board in your classroom unless you actively use it daily and teach your students how to use it.  I am going to share with you some of my favorite ways to provide daily review of the words with just a few minutes every day.  

If you have read any of my previous posts you might know that I am a bit obsessed with whiteboards. I LOVE them!  Practicing our Word Wall words is very important but I don't need a piece of paper to see what the kids are doing.  This is a much better alternative and a win-win for me.  Besides, I don't know about your students but using whiteboards and markers makes everything a lot more fun.  

Whiteboard Games to Review

We play a number of simple games each week to review the words.  

Find and Print ~  

This is a whiteboard activity I usually do on Tuesday to ensure that my students know where to find the new words on the Word Wall.  The words are still in the popcorn bucket but I ask students to look at the Word Wall instead to find the words.  Once they have had a chance one students comes and points the word with one of my magic reading sticks and the other students all hold up their boards to show their work.  If the word is also in the Word Jail I make sure to have a volunteer show us where it is.  

To challenge those stronger students early in the year I ask some students who I know are capable to find and then print the word in a sentence instead of just printing the word.  By mid year this is the norm for all of the students as a means to practice our weekly words.  

Be a Mind Reader ~ 

This is a game I believe came from the 4 Blocks series by Pat Cunningham. This one is a bit more complicated.  I sometimes pair stronger with weaker students to play this so that those students don't get frustrated.  
How to play:  I pick a word from the Word Wall in advance of the game and prepare 3 clues that will help the students guess the word.  I give 5 clues in sequence and they write their guess after each clue.  It is probably easiest to show you. 

My word is funny (the kids would not know this in advance)

Clue 1 - My word is on the Word Wall (this is always my first clue)
Clue 2 - My word has 5 letters (this is always my second clue - the number of letters the word has)
Clue 3 - My word has double consonants
Clue 4 - My word has the bandit Y sound at the end of the word - That is what we call the Y at the end of a word that steals the sounds of I and E. 
Clue 5 - It is always a sentence that uses the word in it to confirm that they got it.   When a joke is _____ I always laugh. 

When they are finished they will have 5 words written - if they guess it early on they can keep writing the word or they can change it each time.  It is a fun game but you really have to emphasize that the point isn't to get the word the first time out but to use the clues to help.  

Talk like a Robot ~

This is not a whiteboard game but it is a good one to get them to listen to the sounds in the words. I say the Word Wall words slowly and enunciate every sound like a robot.  They guess my word and then go and find it on the Word Wall to show everyone.

Partner Practice ~  

I love having my students working together to practice their word wall words as well.  They listen very well to "student" teachers, sometimes better than to me!  You can read more about my Word Wall Pockets by clicking on the image below to go to that post. 

It Works, It Really Does!  

All of these activities require the students to actively use the Word Wall. By playing these simple games you are teaching students how to find words and how to scan the Word Wall for the words they are looking for. You are training your students to use the Word Wall so that when it is time for them to do some independent writing they will hopefully use it without prompting. 

After years and years of teaching I know that a Word Wall helps students develop their sight vocabulary but only if you put in the time and effort to use it.  It also works for my most struggling students.  I would often find them standing right in front of the Word Wall looking for a word they needed.

Looking for more ideas that pertain to the Word Wall and word work.  Check out my pinterest board for more ideas.

My next post will focus on how to incorporate Word Wall word practice into your literacy center time.  A final post will focus on how to teach Word Family words and why they are so important to teach in First Grade. Stay tuned for those in the near future.  

Until next time,  

Saturday, 2 July 2016

How to Set up a Word Wall that Your Students Will Use - Part 2

This is Part 2 in my Word Wall series.  If you have not read about part 1 - Getting Started with the Word Wall you can find it by clicking {HERE}

This post will focus on what I do on Day 1 with the words I am adding and how I use a Word Jail.  

This post is all about adding the words to your Word Wall and why you should also have a Word Jail.

Introducing the Words

On Monday, I always introduce 5 new words - 4 of the words are sight words and one word is a Word Family word with a chunk we will work on throughout the week (more about what we do with these words in a later post).  The words for the week are added to my popcorn bucket which is hanging at my carpet area.  In my classroom my Word Wall is behind us when we are seated at the carpet.  The idea behind putting words in a popcorn bucket is that I want my students to learn the words so that they just "pop" into their heads like popcorn - it's all about automaticity.  

Use a popcorn bucket as a hook to teach students to memorize their sight words so they just pop in their heads!

I like to show them the words one at a time and have them whisper it in their hand and when I count them in so they all say it together.  This has really helped my impulsive kids who like to yell it out and it gives my other students think time to figure out the word.   Next, we work together to place the words on the Word Wall.  I ask a volunteer to tell me what letter to put it under and everyone see together where the word is.  I think this helps them when they are looking for the word at another time.  They take ownership over the Word Wall because they participate in building it.  
Once all the words are added we look closely at the words and how they are spelled.  If my students notice any words that don't necessarily sound out the way they expect, using the letter/sound associations they already know, we put those words in jail, the Word Jail, that is.  

The Word Jail

So what is the Word Jail and why do I swear by it?  The Word Jail is another place to put those words that don't follow the rules when they are sounded out - they have silent letters for example or don't follow the rules as we expect them too.  We place these words on the Word Wall and also in the Word Jail so they have two places they can be found.  You can find the Word Jail in my TPT store by clicking on the image below.  

A Word Jail is a must to isolate and practice those rule breaker words that students cannot sound out.

I have the words in the Word Jail to help draw attention to them. We need students to learn these words by simple memorization.  We spend a lot of time teaching decoding but with Jail words decoding is not helpful.  By giving them their own special place you can easily practice them and draw students attention to them. Another bonus is that those difficult to read and spell words are easier to find.   Students can come up and locate a word in the Word Jail more quickly than scanning the Word Wall and they often do just that.  When we are reading they will often point out the Word Jail words with a cry of excitement.  

We practice our Jail words just as we do the rest of the Word Wall words.  I will go into detail about that in the next post.  I do have some additional practice for my Word Jail words that  I use with my first graders later in the year.  We use these worksheets to review the proper spelling of the word and use it in context.  You can check out the word jail worksheets by clicking on the picture below.  

Practice those rule breaker words with worksheets for each Word Jail word as well as an editable worksheet to create your own worksheets.

I have had feedback from a number of teachers about the idea of a "jail" for words and I totally understand and respect where they are coming from.  In an effort to provide a resource that is more friendly in terms of the language for our youngest learners I created a the Doghouse.  When words aren't following the rules they get put "in the doghouse".  I think this is an idea that many kids can relate to.  You can check it out by clicking on the image below.  

Click on the graphic below to learn more about how I make time almost everyday to practice my Word Wall Words.  

Friday, 1 July 2016

How to Set up a Word Wall that Your Students will Use - Part 1

Do you use a Word Wall?  I think that a Word Wall is an essential part of a primary classroom and WELL worth the wall space that it takes up.  There has been a lot of debate in recent years about the merits of a Word Wall.  I feel strongly that it is a necessity, but I also feel strongly that it is only beneficial if you TEACH kids how to use it.

How to get started with a Word Wall - a multi part blog series to help you set up and use a Word Wall.

This is the first post in a multi-post series about how I set up my word wall, my daily routines and how I practice, practice, practice so my students learn these words.

How to get started with a Word Wall - a multi part blog series to help you set up and use a Word Wall.

I follow the same routine each week and my students get used to my established routines when it comes to adding words and the Word Wall.  I try my best to use the Word Wall for teaching every single day.  As we all know, things don't always go as planned in the classroom and the best laid plans get set aside.  At the beginning of the year it is really important to carve out time everyday to use the Word Wall with your students so, if you are lacking time later in the year, they have a good understanding of how to use it.  

Deciding on the Words

First off, you may wonder how I decide on my words.  Our school board does not dictate our literacy programs so I don't have a series I have to follow.  I use word lists from different resources: Dolch word lists and the PM benchmark texts to determine the order I introduce the words.  There are many resources out there that are helpful. 

I have a set of word wall cards that I have had for years.  The words are different colours and cut to show the shape of the word so that students can easily notice what I call "tall, tummy and dangly" letters.  Having different colors makes it easier to help your students locate the word on the word wall with just the cue of "look for the purple word under D for Dinosaur".  This year I will be creating my own set of cards so I cards so I have exactly the cards I am looking for.  

I am also intentional about my letter headers on the Word Wall.  I have taught Grade 1 for 16 years now and it is only recently that I made a change on my Word Wall that has saved my life and teacher sanity.  At the beginning of the year a lot of my students struggle to find a word because they did not have their letter/sound associations solidified.  The letter card didn't provide any help when you said look under D because they didn't necessary know what a D looked like. I decided to create my own header cards (and name tags and alphabet cards, too) with an animal on it so that the those kids could develop an association for the letter.  This has worked like a charm.  What was even better was their Name Tag had a miniature version of the Alphabet Posters which matched the Word Wall headers

When talking to my students I can say "D like Dinosaur" and they can find the word all by themselves no matter where they look in the classroom.  It has seriously been life changing having that picture cue and having all the related resources matching.  You can find these Header Cards and all the coordinating pieces by clicking on the image below, which will take you to my TPT Store.

Choosing your Location

There has been a lot of debate in the last few years about what a Word Wall should look like as well as should teachers even use valuable classroom space to have one.  Obviously, I am in the camp that says they are essential, but as educators we need to decide what it will look like in our classrooms. You need to consider a few things:  Do I have a wall space that will work?  Will it be accessible to all my students?  Can they see it from their workspaces easily?  

How to get started with a Word Wall - A multi part blog series to help teachers set up and use a Word Wall.

I have always had a traditional Word Wall on a large wall space.  I like to ensure that there is lots of space for the words since I usually have close to 100 words on my wall by the end of the year.  This is what it would typically look like at the beginning of the year.  This is from a few years ago before I updated my header cards and Alphabet posters.  

When I talk about the Word Wall be accessible for all I mean a few things.  I like to ensure that students can see the Word Wall from any workspace in the classroom.  We have tables in our room and they are all positioned in proximity to the Word Wall.  Students often come and stand in front of it to get a closer look and I am always happy to take a word down for a student to use.  

Check out my Word Wall Pinterest board which shows some of the other options you can use for setting up your word wall.  

Click this graphic to head to Part 2 in this series.  I am sharing what I do the day I introduce the words and what my Word Jail is and why I think it is essential.  

How to get started with a Word Wall - A multi part blog series to help teachers set up and use a Word Wall.  This post focuses on adding the words and using a Word Jail.    

Do you want to learn more about the ways that I practice my Word Wall words so that my students not only learn their sight words but learn how to use the Word Wall?  Click on this image below to read more.

Friday, 3 June 2016

5 Ways to Make the End of the School Year Memorable

Are you looking for fun ways to enjoy those last school days that will cost little to no money, but leave your students with great memories? 
5 ways to make a memorable end of the school year with your students that cost little or nothing.

I have checked out many ideas on Pinterest and seen other posts about countdowns for the whole month. However, I am more a final week of excitement kind of teacher.  So today I am sharing 5 things you can easily plan to do with students that are fun and won't break the bank either!  
5 ways to make the end of the school year memorable

1.  Bubbles!  

Everyone loves to play with bubbles.  I have bought the gallon jugs of bubbles and brought my own collection of various bubble wands. Alternatively I have asked for donations of bubbles from parents. Last year I got so many small bottles of bubbles donated that I am all set for this year.  Head outside and let the play!  Have a contest to see who can make the biggest bubble o who can keep their bubble for popping the longest etc.  
5 ways to make the end of the school year memorable

2.  Sidewalk chalk!

This is another hit with kids of all ages.  You can use the chalk to create masterpieces with your students in your playground or sidewalk surrounding your school.  You could even create chalk frames and each student has their own frame for their masterpiece.  Do you want/need to make the time academic focused?  Another option is to use chalk for some skills practice.  Have students solve math questions - one student writes a question, the other student solves it.  How about having your students trace each other on the pavement and measure the outlines using non-standard or standard measurement? What about practicing word families?  Write a variety of word families on the pavement and then have students move around and add a word to each word family.  All of these activities will be great fun and they won't mind that they are learning.

5 ways to make the end of the school year memorable

3.  Pyjama party! 

Who doesn't love a pajama day!  We have Pajama Days in the winter and wear cozy pjs but why not do it now to celebrate the end of the year too?  Have students wear their PJs, bring their stuffed animals and have a pyjama party in your classroom.  Plan some additional story times during the day and make sure to have students read to their stuffies during independent reading time.  They will eat that up!  To make the day extra special bring in some sheets and blankets and let the kids build a few forts around the classroom using tables and chairs.  These can become their learning spaces for the day.

5 ways to make the end of the school year memorable

4.  Games Day! 

Fill the day with games of all sorts.  Revisit some of your student's favourite literacy and math games. Take out all of your classroom games and give them time to play.  You could also ask students to bring in favorite board games to play as well.  Another option is to go outside and play some group games like soccer or any variation of tag.  The list of games is endless.  I personally don't use technology for games on this day. Kids are inundated with devices and games outside of school so I want them to socialize with their classmates and play the old fashioned way.

5 ways to make the end of the school year memorable

5.  Outdoor Learning!

Devote a day to learn outside.  Can you imagine the excitement when you tell your students that they are working outside for the day.  It is not as hard as you may think.  If you have a class set of clipboards and a bin for all the necessities, you can have a fun day working outside.  Your students will enjoy reading and listening to a story under the shade of a tree.  The opportunities for math are many when you are outside - patterning and measurement are obvious choices. Even working on a math worksheet will be more fun if you are working outside. The connections to Science are many too.  With a little planning on your part you can enjoy a day outside with your students and ensure they are learning too.  
An additional end of the year tradition I have for the final month is to have snack outside and read them a book.  Students bring a beach towel or small blanket from home that can stay at school.  We take them out and spread them out under the shade trees in our yard and eat snack and enjoy a story. Former students still tell me that was a highlight of their year in Grade 1.  
However you choose to the end the year with your students I hope you and your students have fun and make some lasting memories together!

Check out my Pinterest board for the End of the School Year for more ideas.

Until next time,