Saturday, 15 October 2016

Engage your students with Hands On Patterning Centers and Ditch the Worksheets!

I love, love, love using hands-on centers during my guided math time. What I don't love is marking the worksheet follow up pages that often accompany centers.  The more I reflect on my practice, the more I am coming to realize that there does not need to be a worksheet to keep kids accountable.

Math Centers and math activities are a huge part of my math instruction. Students need kinesthetic experiences as much as possible, especially in first grade, where I have spent most of my career.  My first math unit is always Patterning.  That is the one area in math that students all seem to come to first grade with an ability to do.  They can easily recognize and create patterns, so it sets them up for success in math right from the start and helps them approach math with a growth mindset.

Patterns are everywhere and a pattern scavenger hunt is a perfect spot to start!

Put out the clipboards and send them hunting for patterns to record and you will be amazed at what they draw and write.

Putting out any and all of your math manipulatives and loose parts is also a great way to inspire kids to pattern.

As teachers we want to document their work as proof of learning.  Having students draw to show their work is one way to do it or giving them a worksheet is another. Lately though, I have embraced technology and now have my students show their learning very frequently by taking a picture on our class I-pads.  They love to use the I-pads, so they are motivated to complete their tasks, so they can take a picture and share their work with me.  All of those pictures need a home and I found the app that makes this process super simple.

I absolutely love the app Seesaw - The Learning Journal
(I am not affiliated with Seesaw, I simply love how simple the app is for both me and my students) 

The app is a digital portfolio and so much more.  I only use the app to store their work in their own digital folder, which I can access later for planning, assessing and reporting.  If you are interested in learning more about how the app works, my good friend Erin at Mrs. Beattie's Classroom has written a terrific post about setting up the app to use in the classroom.  You can check out her post {HERE}

When I am ready to target particular expectations I somewhat move away from using any manipulatives and use more directed centers aimed at addressing particular expectations.  My favourite go-to manipulatives have to be pattern blocks when it comes to patterning.

hands on patterning centers for first grade

Clip cards are a huge hit in my class. They love the colourful clothes pins. These cards challenge students to name the pattern and another option asks students to extend the pattern, both first grade expectations you can address with this one activity.

hands on patterning centers for first grade

The ability to look closely at a pattern and discriminate between patterns and non-patterns is an important skill to develop. You can use these cards as a sorting center - worksheet free - or many students can use the same cards and colour their responses in.

hands on patterning centers for first grade

This is a more open ended activity that provides criteria for pattern creation but allows students to create with the blocks of their choosing.  It is differentiated in that your students can create a simple pattern as was created for the bottom card or they can create a more complex pattern using the same blocks for the same Make It! task card.

hands on patterning centers for first grade

Post-its are another great tool for quick and simple check in's.  Rather than using a worksheet use a post-it and have student's record their answer on it.  You can do a simple checkmark on the post-it to show you have seen it and they understood the concept or take a picture of  post-it and the center.

hands on patterning centers for first grade

Recognizing pattern rules and expressing a pattern in terms of the rule is more challenging for my students.  This is a great activity to purposefully pair stronger readers with weaker ones to create a more successful center time while sorting patterns with pattern rules.

hands on patterning centers for first grade

Sorting out patterns by names helps students to realize that any pattern can be represented in a multitude of ways.  They are always amazed as they sort that there are several cards on each of the pattern names. They have an idea that there is only one correct answer and thus only one way to make each pattern.   It helps to solidify the idea that there is not one right answer.

While there is some problem solving evident using these centers, it is not the focus. Instead we work through pattern block problem solving challenges.  I do have students complete these activity sheets but you could also project them on your interactive whiteboard and have students solve the problem with pattern blocks at their desk and take pictures of their solutions.

Patterning problem solving activities for kindergarten

I am not advocating doing away with paper pencil tasks completely but I am advocating finding new ways to document learning.  One added bonus I am finding during center time is student returning to centers they have already worked at.  This has not been the case in the past when they completed the center and accompanying worksheet.  I think once they completed the paper, in their mind they were "done" and saw no reason to return and work their again.  

I hope you have found a bit of inspiration here for your own Kindergarten or Grade 1 patterning unit. It is a great math unit to break away from traditional methods and let the kids surprise you.

Until next time,

Monday, 3 October 2016

12 Ways to Teach using Play Doh!

Play doh is something every child loves to play with.  Have you ever thought about using that love to excite your students and use it to teach?  There are so many possibilities and all of these ideas really help our kinesthetic learners.  Today I am sharing 12 ways you can use play doh in the classroom during your math and literacy times.

At the beginning of this school year I gave each of my students 2 of the mini sized containers of play doh (from the Hallowe'een section at Costco). On the first day it was a great ice breaker, all of the students were eager to transition to their desks to start playing.  On and off over the first few days we pulled those little containers out and had a great time.  I was tempted to send it home but decided it would just stay in their desk as I thought we could use it again.  I started to think about ways to use it as a teaching tool and quickly came up with the ways that I am sharing with you today.

1.  Represent Numbers

Roll out little balls to show a particular number.  It is good fine motor practice and a tactile way to show what you know.

2.  Use play doh to build a number in a 10 frame

Roll out little balls and fill a ten frame to show a number.

3.  Make your own base 10 blocks

Students can create snakes (as they call them) and break them into rods for 10's and little balls for 1's

4.  Cover up numbers on a 100's chart 

Provide students with number cards and have them find and cover numbers with little balls of play doh.

5.  Show skip counting patterns on a 100's chart 

Cover the number patterns with different colors of play doh. This makes it very easy to see what numbers are used in multiple skip counting patterns.

6.  Use as a manipulative for addition 

Use a different color for each addend to help visualize the addition problem.

7.  Use as a manipulative for subtraction

Use one color to build the first number and then flatten the balls of play doh that are being taken away.  Its a great visual and the kids will love squishing the little balls.

8. Use to create patterns 

Work with a friend and create patterns with 2 or more colours.  Work alone and create shape and size patterns with 1 color.

9.  Make 2D shapes

Roll out a long snake and form it into different 2D shapes.

10. Make 3D shapes

Create solid shapes with your play doh

11.  Make letters out of play doh

Roll long snakes and form letters and then words.

12. Stamp in play doh

I have lots of letter stamps but don't like ink pads.  The ink always gets all over everything and everyone.  This is a no mess alternative.  Flatten the play doh - I like to use old placemats or laminated sheets for a work surface. Use that flattened piece to stamp words into. It is a great no mess alternative.

All of these ideas build in fine motor practice for your shudents.  Rolling and manipulating the play doh will help build up hand strength.  Play doh can also be used a fidget for those students that need something to hold on to to help with their attention.

Are you ready to start using play doh to teach in your classroom? Download a a fun play doh themed freebie 10 frame building mat with numbers.  You can find it {HERE}

What ways do you use play doh in the classroom?  I would love to hear from you.  Share your ideas in the comments below.

Thanks for stopping by.
Until next time,

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 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 or Doghouse Rule breaker display.  

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.  The words of the week stay in this bucket all week long so we can practice reading them anytime we have a free moment while on the carpet. The idea behind putting words in a popcorn bucket is that I want my students to learn the words so well that they just "pop" into their heads like popcorn.  It's all about automaticity!

I like to show them the words one at a time and have them whisper what they think the word is into their hand.  This gives the kids who need it time to think and it also helps control those "blurters" we all have.  After a few seconds of think time I count to 3 and they open their hand and let the word out. This strategy has really helped my impulsive kids.   As each one is read it is placed in the popcorn bucket.

Rule breakers - The Word Jail and The Doghouse

The next step is to look at each word carefully and determine if it follows the rules we know for sounding out words.  

This is where they may be differences of opinions - my first graders do not know many spelling rules yet so a lot of words will go into the Word Jail or Doghouse.  They may not know the long vowel rules or sneaky silent e rules, but a second grade or third grade class would know these and a completely different set of words would be in the Word Jail.  Teachers will need to consider this and differentiate for their own students.  

Now back to putting words in the Word Jail or Doghouse.  If a student can give a valid reason why a word is a rule breaker then I place it our Doghouse and 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.  These are your rule breaker words.  We place these words on the Word Wall and also in the Word Jail so there are two places they can be found.  Why two places?  It is because these are the trickiest to learn and need extra attention and teaching. 

I have had feedback from a number of teachers about the idea of a "jail" for words and it's negative connotation for students.  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 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.  It is the exact same idea as the Word Jail but just a different format.  You can check out the Doghouse Rulebreaker Word Display by clicking {HERE} or on the image below.

Currently, I am using both the Doghouse and the Word Jail in my classroom. I have the doghouse hanging beside my popcorn bucket and we put the rule breaker words in there each week.  We are reviewing all of our words but paying close attention to our rule breaker words.  At the end of the week I take those words out, but they will remain on my Word Jail throughout the year, so it can get pretty full.  You can remove words from the jail once students have mastered a spelling rule that helps them to decode that word if you choose.  

I use the Word Jail as a means to draw attention to hard to read/hard to spell words. 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 effective, or at least not helpful until you have learned all of the rules for for different letters and combinations of letters. By giving them their own special place you can easily practice these words and draw student's 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 students will often point out the Word Jail words with a cry of excitement.  You can check out the full resource by clicking {HERE} or clicking the image below.  

One last step.  Now that we have sorted our words and have put them in the Word Jail, if they belong there, we need to get them onto the Word Wall too. We work together to place the words on the Word Wall.  I ask a volunteer to tell me what letter to put a word under and that person comes up and shows me just where to put it.  This is another means of having the students take ownership over the Word Wall because they are actively participating in putting the words onto the Word Wall.  I think this also helps them when they are looking for the word at another time because they were actively engaged in putting the words there.  

Additional Practice for those Rulebreakers! 

We do lots of practice orally but there is a place for some independent practice as well.  I created these worksheets to use with the Word Jail words.  Each of the Word Jail words I teach has it's own worksheet where students can practice finding the correct spelling, fixing the spelling in a sentence and using it in their own sentence.  All the pages follow a consistent format so once students are familiar with how to complete the sheet then they should be able to complete them independently. You can find the Word Jail Worksheets {HERE} or you can get check out the Word Jail and Worksheets bundle by clicking on the image below.   

I also have a set to of worksheets to coordinate with the Doghouse Rule breakers display.  Click on the image to check it out.  

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