5 Classroom Hacks

Last year I moved out of my colorful ginormous classroom into my new little reading room.  I wanted my room to be a little more "Fixer Upper" and farmhouse, so I went for burlap and light colors.  In my quest for a whole new look, I spent over a thousand dollars on bins, new chairs, extra Ikea shelves, fabric, etc.  So when it came to curtains, I was about out of funds.  I looked everywhere for burlap curtains and they wanted a small fortune.  Luckily, I purchased the rolls of wide burlap below at Walmart for a board and ended up not liking it on the boards.  I hated to waste the rolls, so instead of packing them away, I starting cutting small slits across the top and feeding it through the tension rods I bought for the windows.  It worked perfectly.  The fabric was easy to cut, it bunches up nicely on the rods and looks just like the expensive curtains I had intended on purchasing.  This took me only 3 rolls to do the whole wall of windows and since there was no sewing required, it was about a 10 minute project. 
 In 2011 when I posted pictures of my room, my guided reading table was being pinned on Pinterest quite a bit. I needed a place to organize the 5,000 supplies. In order to make these tools convenient and save space, I took the wheels off my drawer organizers and slid them under my table.  They fit perfectly.   I also make sure to have a chair pocket on the back of all my guided reading chairs.  I store student's white boards, markers and erasers in the pocket for easy access when they need them during our small group time.  
 Another way I save space and my sanity is through my HELPERS.  These are two sheets packed with information that might be found on a desk nameplate.  Only let's be real, kids don't really use their nameplates, and many times they end of picked at, written on and peeled off.  I also hate wall clutter. So to eliminate all of this my kids have their Helpers, two sheets, laminated back to back, where my students go to find their color words, phonics reminders, number words, 120's chart, mini word wall, math concepts and more.  So how does this helper save my sanity? Well, how many times do your student ask you to spell a word, or to get up and look at the 120's chart, etc.  After teaching students about all things on their helper, they are then reminded to use it, to make them more independent.   In addition, I've also created mini anchor charts to save wall space. I believe in making anchor charts with your students during your teaching, but hanging giant charts all over is unrealistic.  And if you layer them, then students can't see them.  So, I hang these small versions like the "Characters" chart below on a special wall where students can reference them. 
 Use frames y'all! I love my framed 100 chart and birthday chart.  I got really tired of hanging cupcakes and candles every year. Now I just erase the old names and write the new names in each month.  EASY!!! And my 120's chart, is my favorite.  We can circle numbers, count forward, count backward, easily explain adding 10 and then erase the marks for the next lesson.  We also fill in our place value chart, we write our expanded notation, etc. and we can erase it the next day.  
When in doubt, use metal.  You never have to worry about magnets falling down.  They sell metal at Hobby Lobby, Home Depot, Menards, some heating and air businesses, and even Dollar Tree cookie sheets.  My word wall, lunch boards, and this math board, are all metal.  And it's the best investment I've ever made.  
Happy decorating and teaching!


Classroom Management: Call and Response

Well friends, 2 years ago our principal hired this teacher:
Meet Emily Schweppe. Former kindergarten, turned first grade teacher.  In fact, Ms. Schweppe took my job, when I became our Reading Specialist and I couldn't think of anyone better to replace me. I seriously love this girl. She's hilarious, she lets me teach her firsties, so I can get my fix, and she has the cutest darn call and response ideas.  

Last year while modeling morning meeting for her, I might have completely rearranged every bulletin board in her room in a matter of a few minutes and she was totally cool with it.  She's so eager to learn new things, but the best part about hanging with her is that I learn too. I love hearing the ways she gets her kiddos attention and how they respond so eagerly.

Emily and I both believe in introducing calls throughout the year but having a core few in the beginning. We also both recommend practicing, practicing, and practicing some more, when they are first introduced. It's funny because we both practice with our kids in the same way. We encourage kids to pretend like they are talking and working. It's quite comical to see these little first grade actors.  Emily said, "When we do the calls “for real” I always wait until EVERYONE is doing what they’re supposed to be doing. It takes a lot of time in the beginning but it’s worth it. "

So I asked Emily to share a few of her ideas in the post below.
1. Crew!?
I say, “Crew!?” “Aye, Aye Captain”  a couple years ago we extended it. At the beginning of the year I tell the kids to pretend like we’re on a Pirate Ship (I’m going to use a Pirate Hat this year, make it more interesting), and I ask who they think the captain would be? I then tell them sometimes on board a ship, the captain has to call for his crew. I ask the children who they think the crew is? Sometimes, I’m going to need to get the attention of my whole crew, so WHENEVER I need their attention we’re going to do the same that pirates do. Now, if we’re on board a ship and the crew is carrying a big box, is he going to say “Hold on Captain, I’m busy?” No Joe! So that means, whatever you are doing, safely place down your materials and salute the captain with your right hand. You’re going to use “pirate talk” so instead of saying “Yes, Captain” you will say, “Aye, Aye Captain!” 
Let’s practice!
Teacher: “Crew!?”
Students: (Immediately stop what you’re doing and salute the captain): “Aye, Aye Captain!”
(Make sure everyone pauses and is saluting you. My biggest thing is that no matter where they are at in the room, they must stand up and make eye contact with me. If they don’t I tell them we have to try it again…and again, and again :) Once everyone has the salute down I move on to teach them that they CANNOT move until I give the next direction. If they move before I say “At Ease” then we try it again. )
Teacher: “At ease”
Students: “At ease”

It’s great because the kids love it and as the year goes on, I may forget to say “At ease!” and I will have 5 or 6 awesome direction followers who are still standing in their salute position and say, “Ms. Schweppe you didn’t say At ease!” 

2. All clear! 
Another call and response we do is the All Clear. I explain that I was talking to my uncle last night who is a pilot and he was having a hard time getting his crew to listen to something important. I ask the students, "do you think it’s very important to listen to the pilot when he has something to say?" They respond, "YES!"  So he told me that what pilots do is say, “All clear!” and everyone takes their hands off the steering wheel, the crew places down the drinks or food they’re handing out and they respond with their hands in the air, “All clear!” I will say what I need to say and when I’m finished I say, “back to biz.” They love saying that! 

3. Tootsie Roll, Lollipop!
This is a fun one! I think a lot of people may have heard…but not Schweppe style!
Teacher: "Tootsie Roll, Lollipop"
Students: “We’ve been talking now we stop!” 
Their direction for this call is the same as “All clear!” They must safely place down all of their materials and put their hands in the air. 
Teacher: “Rootsie Toll...”
Students: “Back to the show!"

4. Problem solving
Last year, I think I used “problem solver” or “solve that problem” more times than I can even count. Obviously it’s more fun to sing something so this just popped in my head one day last year. When there’s a problem that I want everyone to see solved, or, even after a problem was solved and I want that student to share I will call this out. It’s a play on Vanilla Ice’s song “Ice, Ice, Baby.”
Teacher: “If there’s a problem…” 
Students: “Yeah, we’ll solve it!” 
Together: “Let’s watch and learn how 1st grade resolves it!” 
***Before I teach this call, we discuss problem solving and what the word “resolve” means #vocabmoment

5. I.Y.A. 
This isn’t a call out, but a song I made up - and I love it. I realized that one day, I really needed to teach students to sneeze or cough into their elbow.
I’ll make a big deal about this using a spray bottle and sneezing and showing them how the germs go everywhere when we don’t cover our mouths!! 
I like acronyms so I first wrote the acronym and taught what that meant: 
“I.Y.A.” - In Your Arm (even though it’s more like in your elbow, but IYA makes more sense :) )
I had everyone practice 3 times, saying I.Y.A. each time they put their face in their inner elbow - first in the right, then in the left, and back to the right. 
Then I taught them the call: 
Teacher: “What ya gonna do when you cough or sneeze?”
Students: “IYA, IYA, IYA, PLEASE!”
Teacher: “Please don’t share those germs with me!” 
Students: “IYA, IYA, IYA PLEASE!”

The best part is after they learn it the acronym turns into a verb: “Ms. Schweppe! Braxton just IYA’d!!” 

I have to say, I hope you all get to teach with a "Schweppe."


My Classroom for 2016-2017

Day 2 of this school year and I'm already exhausted. Tomorrow the kiddos come and that is when the real fun begins. I have to admit, not being a first grade teacher anymore makes setting up a classroom a little less fun. No cute birthday chart, calendar, etc. But I do love my little home away from home, even if it is a tiny intervention room.  
In the morning I share my room with two part time teachers who help with our morning intervention program.  Therefore, I had to fit not one, but three guided reading tables in the room, along with all the other essential items it takes to do reading intervention with grades K-4.
So here it is...My room for 2016-2017

Welcome to my classroom in a sweet little town in Ohio. 
 My "Check it Out" board will be for any student in the school who wants to stop by and borrow a book. I have my best sellers in the buckets below. 
 New charts will go here. 

 My desk.

 Boxes full of intervention games.
 My guided reading table and word wall.

 Books, books and more books.
 Our chairs with erasers, dry erase markers and white boards.
 Our reading strategies.

 Another Word Wall
In addition to finishing my classroom up yesterday before Meet the Teacher, I also quickly set up a photo background for our students.   Totally forgot to do a little chalkboard writing on the black paper, but for last minute, it worked. 
Happy New School Year!

What's Your Name?

Our first full week back our theme is names. We only have two days the week before and I like to spend plenty of time, practicing and celebrating the names in our classroom.

The poem we use this week, is Everybody Has a Name. It's a super cute poem I found my first year of teaching. I find almost all my poems HERE at CanTeach Poems and if I can't find one, I write one.
This week we also focus on the book Chrysanthemum.
There are so many great things you can do with this book.
I've created a unit of activities that are fun and hit several standards. Here are a few:
Here are some other fun name activities for the week:
After reading, The Name Jar we'll be making these fun name tags stating why their names are special.  They'll be hung up after we cut them out. 
 We'll be making words with the letters in their first and last names.
 After decorating their names, we'll cut the sheet in half and display all student's names in alphabetical order.
We'll also do this cute sheet from my friend Mel.
Want the name freebies pictured above? You can grab them by subscribing below.
To see my full lesson plans for this week, download the plans below and click on the images.  

To find more back to school ideas visit my pinterest board below.

Reader's Workshop: Mentor Texts

I think we are all very good at teaching our kiddos strategies to figure out tricky words and how to retell, but how do you teach kids to really think about reading?  Reading comprehension is a tough one.  So I thought I’d post about the comprehension strategies, some books that are great to use for teaching them, and give a you a freebie. 
   I'll cover the following comprehension strategies:
  1. Making Connections
  2. Visualizing
  3. Questioning
  4. Inferring
  5. Determining Importance
  6. Synthesizing     
When I first started teaching the comprehension strategies Reading With Meaning: Teaching Comprehension in the Primary Grades was my bible! If you haven’t read it. It’s a must. 
Another books that helped me build my lesson was Kathy Collins, Growing Readers.

Here are the books I use to teach these very important strategies.
1. Making Connections:  
Kiddos need to read and know how to think about their reading as well. The easiest place to start is to teach your students to make connections.  Using their prior knowledge or "schema" is extremely important. A great book to teach Text to Self connections is Ira Sleeps Over. While, Amazing Grace and Oliver Button is Sissy work really well for comparing two texts or making Text to Text connections. And finally, The Lorax is a wonderful book for making Text to World connections and comparing the book to taking care of our environment.
2. Visualizing: 

This is one of my favorite comprehension strategies to teach.  Having kids turn words in a book or poem into actions or pictures is so much fun to watch.  I use many poems, as well as excerpts from chapter books like Charlotte’s Web to have my students make meaning.  My kids learn to use all of their senses to make mental images.  I use Creatures of Earth, Sea and Sky by Georgia Heard for lots of great poems. I also use the Napping House to teach my kids how to hear what is going on in a 

story and I love to use the poetry book Commotion in the Ocean for my kids to act out the words.

3. Questioning: 

Kids are full of questions so this unit is fun one. I love to hear the questions they come up with to help themselves clarify meaning, predict what is yet to come and locate specific answers.  Along with questioning you also have to remember to teach your students how to find the answers to their questions. Will they be able to find the answer right in the text, will they have to infer, or do they have to do more research.  It’s funny, and also very interesting to see what they wonder. One of my favorite books and lessons uses the book Grandfather Twilight.  Just the cover elicits a number of questions and leads us to a  discussion on making inferences.  I always end this unit with a book called The Wise Woman and her Secret.
4. Inferring: 

Inferring and Questioning go hand in hand.  I love teaching kids to infer the meaning in words and inferring meaning in books.  I always tell my kids inferring is like figuring out a mystery. It’s what the author wants you to get out of the book without telling you.  My kids become book detectives and it’s so much fun! To start my unit, I wanted an easy way to introduce the concept of inferring.  So I created these cardsA book I always use for inferring words is The Royal Bee. And I love to use Creatures of Earth, Sea and Sky by Georgia Heard and Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting for inferring meaning.
5. Determining Importance: 

This is so big, especially with the Common Core.  I really do love to teach my kids how to find the key details in nonfiction text and teaching them the conventions of nonfiction books is so important.  A great and easy way to teach little people to find information without overwhelming them in the beginning is to use Scholastic News, NEWSELA or  Storyworks.
6. Synthesizing: 

Last but not least is synthesizing.  It’s taking all of the things you’ve learned to help you develop an understanding of what you’ve read.  I absolutely love the book Charlie Anderson for this! Your thinking changes throughout the story and then you make a final conclusion as to what the author wants you to understand.  This book is a good one. But also be prepared for those few kiddos that don’t get it. They make our job interesting!

For lots of great reader's response sheets to accompany these books click below.


Morning Work that Works

As a first grade teacher for 14 years, I struggled with morning work and finding something that not only reviewed standards, but also was more than a worksheet.  If anyone tells you that kids love to come into a worksheet in the morning, then they are lying to you!!!! There isn't an elementary child around that comes running into your classroom to see what worksheet is sitting on their desk.  I would greet my kids at the door, with a cute little song playing in the background and a smile on my face, and then totally rain on their little parades with a worksheet awaiting them. 

I knew they were dreading that work and I was dreading grading it.  So I had to come up with a way to give my kids more choice in the mornings and give them tasks that were great review and could be completed in a reasonable amount of time.  I also had to try to remedy the problem of those kids that came in 20 minutes before school started and those that came in 5 minutes before.  That's when I created my Morning Menus.   

Each table has a basket with 40+ tasks that cover everything from phonics and reading comprehension, to writing and fractions.  The tasks are completed in their morning notebooks. 
Some tasks require only their pencils or crayons and some have interactive sheets that can be glued into the notebook.  The prep is very minimal.  Other than making their notebooks to record in for two months, and the few interactive pieces I store in the folder of their basket, you don't do anything for two months, except check on your kiddos and enjoy them as they preform the tasks they choose.  
Giving my kids choice and making the tasks varied, makes for a lot more excitement.  

Just like anything else, I try to make morning work enjoyable.  I believe giving my kids choice in their activities is important, but I also believe in spicing things up.  So some days they may come into their basket and breakfast. 
They may come in and find Play-Doh or Floam in their basket, and they can choose an activity or choose to make their sight words or spelling words in Play-Doh. 

They may even be met by their favorite cookie cereal one morning and some cookie story problems on the board.  Of course when they finish their problem solving in their notebook, they can have their treat. 

Or I might put these cute little gel sight word searches in their basket with a different activity some days.  
Or they may even just come into the basket full of books and some fun finger lights to read with to give a little variety. 
Spicing up morning work and giving kiddos choice in their tasks makes for much more enjoyable mornings for everyone.  

I currently have my Morning Menus for 1st and 2nd Grade. 
I am finishing up the final second grade unit and it should be completed very soon.  
What other teachers are saying about Morning Menu:

Kelli F. said:
I used this every day in my classroom! The kiddos were so excited for Morning Menu every day! What a wonderful resource!

Christina D. said:
I LOVE this! I have been struggling with not making too many copies and finding productive things for my kids to do in the mornings and this has worked out SO well! The kids enjoy it because it's something different every day!

Jackie R. said:
My students absolutely LOVE this! They look forward to morning work each day and it allows them to practice a concept we have learned about in class. 


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