Friday, January 31, 2014

Get Writing in First Grade: Tried and Tested Ideas That Really Work!

Does it feel like a huge challenge turning an entire class of little people into independent writers?

It doesn't really need to be a headache.  You can do it and it can even be fun!  Here I'll share some of my favourite techniques for promoting independent writing.

Overview of Early Writers

Early writers are not yet capable of a wide range of writing.  Focus on topics that are personally significant to them  (e.g. "A Trip to the Park").  Teaching should emphasise:

  • exploring the purpose of writing
  • differences in oral and written language
  • planning and editing 
  • spelling strategies
  • extending range of vocabulary 
  • use of connectives to expand simple sentences 

Stage 1 - Talk for Writing

  • Introduce and discuss an interesting stimuli (curious object, book, illustration, photograph, newspaper article, music, video clip or act as a character in a "hot seat" fielding questions from your class).

Story starter video clip - The Antique Shop
  • Plan quality questions in advance, give students "thinking time" and implement a "no hands up" policy  to emphasise that you expect everyone to think and that anyone could potentially be picked.  A simple, yet effective, way to ask quality questions is to turn a question into a true or false statement (e.g. "The Big Bad Wolf deserved to get burned in the little pigs pot.  Agree/Disagree/Justify").  
  • Explain learning objectives (e.g. to use past tense accurately).  Have students generate the success criteria.  
  • Allow time for students to "pair/share" ideas.   Have a random selection of students share their ideas with the class. Encourage active listening by having students make the “WOW” sign (below) every time they hear language linked to the learning objectives. 

  • Record ideas. The actual activity will vary according to your learning objectives. Examples include creating an illustration, taking a note of key words in student dictionaries (below) and voice or video recording. 

photo used with kind permission from Page Protector Printables and More

Stage 2 - Shared Writing

  • Teacher models writing whilst focusing on handwriting, grammar, spelling and punctuation.  Think aloud and encourage input from students.  Great opportunity to work on up-leveling sentences (e.g. change "The dog barked." to "The scruffy dog barked and wagged his tail").
  • A fun way to ensure sentences make sense and include punctuation is by having the class read them aloud whilst demonstrating "Kung Fu Punctuation" (video demo below).  I often deliberately make some mistakes to model self correction.  
Mr Martin demonstrating the art of kung fu punctuation!

  • Highlight areas of the story that can be changed to your students individual preferences (e.g. "I went to the park and I played _________________").  Have them either write a story completing the blanks (possibly with a writing frame or word banks depending on level) or have them act out their stories in pairs/small groups.  Ask students to peer assess based on the success criteria.  I always use the 2 stars and wish system which involves highlighting 2 positive points (stars) followed by one suggestion for improvement (wish).

Stage 3 - Independent Writing

  • In addition to the overall lesson learning objective remind students of their additional objective (the "wish" feedback from their previous piece of writing).  
  • Depending on your students individual levels "independent writing" can involve: generating a story from scratch, personalizing writing frames, tracing text they dictated to an adult or simply orally recording their story.  
  • Self editing.  As a matter of routine have students circle their use of punctuation and how they have met their learning intentions (e.g. circle their use of an interesting adjectives).  Ensure you have a supply of erasers on hand as this is where many students realise they have made some mistakes.  

Stage 4 - Review and Rewrite

  • When marking students work I focus ONLY on their learning intentions (which are typically the focus of the lesson plus an individual target based on their previous piece of writing).  I use pink highlighter pen to emphasise areas that "tickled me pink" (i.e. made me happy as they demonstrated the success criteria) and green highlighter pen to signify "areas that can grow like grass" to emphasise areas that can be improved upon (e.g. missing capital letters).  
  • Students rewrite focusing on green highlighted sections of their work (areas that require growth).
  • Students whom have met all of the success criteria use this time to complete literacy fast finisher activities focusing on their weaker areas of literacy (see below). 

Extension Activities 

The key to successful extension activities is that they are fun and focus on your students individual needs.  One of my favourite examples is using levelled games to review reading and/or spelling sight words.  

One of a collection of sight word game boards featuring various levels of Dolch words.

Questions or Feedback?

If you liked this article please go ahead and pin it by simply clicking on any of the above images.  If you have comments or questions I'd love to hear from you below, it would go a long way in reassuring  me that I'm not simply, "talking to the wind" as the Japanese say.  

About the author:  OkinawanGirl is a Scottish primary school teacher addicted to books, technology, world travel and the Japanese language.  Rumours that she moved to Japan in a feeble attempt to meet Kenichi Matsuyama are quite simply not true (she didn't discover him until AFTER she relocated).  You can check out her Facebook page by clicking here.  

Spelling disclaimer:  please note that OkinawanGirl used British spelling when writing this article. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Organizing Digital Teaching Materials

My name is Jessica and I blog over at What I Have Learned.  A little about me . . . I currently teach second grade, but have taught all grades, K-5 over the past 14 years.  Four of those were out of the classroom as a curriculum coach.  It was a great experience, but I love being in the classroom and seeing the light bulbs going off in students' brains as they experience ah-ha moments.  I also have two young boys at home that keep me on my toes!  You can read more about me on my blog, What I Have Learned.
I don't know about you, but, have I learned a lot from all the blogs I follow and the great TpT sellers whose resources I download.  There are some talented teachers out there!  It seems like I'm downloading a new resource almost every day or even several a day when I have a bit extra time.  My downloads folder keeps getting more and more full!

Are you finding yourself overwhelmed with all the great resources you're finding?  There are so many wonderful ideas and products that I'm having trouble remembering everything I have!  Well, I've got a solution for you!

First some backstory: Recently I decided to redesign our math work stations.  I pulled resources from all over the place to create our first set of 10 work stations.  As students worked through them, they had varying levels of success and challenges.  I decided that I didn't like certain stations as well as I thought I would.  Three days into our new stations, I wanted to add a few options to several of the boxes and totally switch out one of them.

I had so many great resources that I had downloaded over the past few weeks, but after downloading them and sometimes "filing" them away on my computer, I couldn't for the life of me remember what I had, where I had put it, nor the standards on which it focused.  I'd printed a few things, but even that didn't help me "remember" what I had.

My solution?  I created a document to help me keep track of all the wonderful resources I'm using in my Math Work Stations and just general math instruction.

This is totally a work in process and I have yet to go through the files that are already on my computer. What you see here are those that I’m currently using in my work stations. I figured I had to start somewhere!

Since this is for math, I’ve organized it by math strand. As I list more resources, I’ll probably add more categories and organize it by clusters. The beauty of working with tables is that I can split them or copy and paste rows into different places.  I've already referred back to the document several times and added even more resources.

The columns on the document include:

  • Used this year, where I include the month that I’ve used it 
  • Resource, where I list the actual game or resource, not the title of the whole product.  Sometimes products have more than one resource that go with different standards.  I want each one to be in a separate place.
  • Picture - This is a picture of the front cover. I’m a visual person and this helps me “remember” what it is. 
  • Document Title / URL -  This tells the exact document title on my computer, so I can search for it. If I moving the file someplace else, a quick search of the title will locate it for me on my computer. Some titles are a bit obscure and I’ve had to spend several minutes or longer trying to find something. That’s soooo frustrating! I’ve also listed where the resource came from so that I can credit the right person when I mention it in a blog post. 
  • Standard is self explanatory.
  • Skill tells more specifically the skill that students are practicing, which may be a part of a standard or a prerequisite to a standard.

A document like this will also help keep track of ELA resources for Daily 5 Word Work and Work on Writing or Literacy Centers. (A task for a later time for me!). It’s basically a way to centralize a list of digital teaching resources that you find helpful in your classroom.

What do I have for you? Two things.

One is a copy of my current Math Work Stations Document (click the picture above or the link to the left).  This version has links to the resources that I’ve used for my stations in January so you can go find them for yourself.  Many are free, some are my own creation.  We’re currently working on Place Value and Addition / Subtraction of multi-digit numbers, so there’s a lot of resources for those standards.

Two is a blank Word template that you can use to keep track of your own math resources (click the picture above or the link). You may not have the fonts on your computer, so those will need to be adjusted or downloaded, but it will give you a start on organizing your digital teaching resources! This template allows you to start keeping track of your own digital resources.

Enjoy!  I hope these keep you more organized with all the digital resources we have available to us.  If you have any other digital organizational tips, leave a comment below to share.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Power of Graphic Organizers!

Hi!  My name is Kay and I am currently teaching Kindergarten and Transitional Kindergarten in south Los Angeles.  I blog at Sommer Pride and am excited to be a part of this collaborative blog!
Would you like to ... have your students learn and understand content easier? ...reduce the semantic information processing demands on students?  ... have your students become more strategic learners?

You can do it all by using graphic organizers!

Powerful processes occcur when using graphic organizers.  Students will engage in information processing and higher order thinking skills.

Before students put information into graphic organizers, they need to recognize important information, make decisions about what is essential, consolidate information, and identify main ideas and supporting details.

Once the information is on the organizer, students are able to use the information to draw conclusions, make inferences, debate, and extend the understanding of important concepts.

Here are some of the different types of graphic organizers that we have created during the year.

Brainstorming about musical instruments

Categorizing types of transportation

Describing what we see in our neighborhood

Analogies - animals and babies

Story map - fiction

Main idea and supporting detail - realistic fiction

Parts of the whole - numbers

Parts of the whole - snowman

Keep in mind that the goal is to enable students to construct the graphic organizers by themselves, which includes the actual graphic as well as the content inside the graphic.

The possibilities are endless!  So use graphic organizers in your classroom and increase student success!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The SAMR Model: Helping Teachers Redefine Classroom Practice

Hello friends! I am so excited to be a part of this wonderful community of bloggers that Hilary has put together. I have so enjoyed reading all of the amazing ideas over the past couple of weeks and have found myself wondering what I would share with all of you. I guess the first thing I need to do is introduce myself.

I am Jennifer from the blog Tech with Jen. I have been an educator for the past 17 years and have taught 1st and 2nd grade for eleven and a literacy coach for four. For the past two years, I have been an instructional technology facilitator for all twelve of my district's K-5 elementary schools. My job is so much fun because I have twenty-five 1:1 iPad classrooms that I work with on a daily basis. I always say I am like grandma. I get to come into the classroom and bring a bunch of fun toys to the students and then when I have them all "wired up" I can leave them with their teacher! Many students call me the iPad Lady. Doesn't that sound like fun? Another part of my job is to provide professional development for the teachers in our district who are not 1:1 of how to integrate technology into the curriculum and in the computer labs. 

The SAMR Model is a great structure for redefining classroom practice.

So now that you know a little bit about me and my position I thought I would explain an idea I had for writing my blog and other social media posts that involve you, the reader. First of all, my goal for all of my social media sites is to help the reader with ideas for using technology AND to provide tutorials of how to take the idea into practice. My ideas come in the form of how-to videos, products to sell, or a variety of freebies and links to other sites through Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter. The great thing about technology is that I can be your technology coach from anywhere in the world. I could be your "Virtual Coach". So I thought I would provide coaching tips when writing my posts based on your questions. I created a Google form that you can fill out by clicking on the picture at the bottom of this post. It will only take a second to let me know what your needs are and how I can help you. If your district is anything like mine, I know first hand the pressures that many teachers are facing to learn 21st century skills to ready students for the CCSS.

Making changes can be hard but this post can help you redefine classroom practice.

For my first coaching tip, I thought I would help you get started on your journey of using technology in the classroom. When working with teachers and students in the use of technology it is always important to start small. I like to use the "SAMR Model" as a reference. The model was developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura, Ph.D. to help educators integrate technology into teaching and learning. The purpose of the model is to assist teachers in designing and developing lessons that utilize technology to transform the learning experiences for their students. It is a road map that guides the educator to the ultimate destination, which is redefining teaching and learning. Below is a graphic I created that illustrates this concept with iPad apps. Although the concept can be transferred to any type of technology. 

The SAMR Model is a great structure for redefining classroom practice.

One thing I want to make clear is that even though I tend to write more about iPad apps, I can help you with other technology tools such as Web 2.0 or GAFE (Google Apps for Education). So please feel free to ask me anything. If I don't know the answer I will just ask my readers. Someone should be able to help you. I hope that you will take the time to fill out the Google form below and let me assist you with all of your technology needs. I look forward to helping all of you!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Happy New Year- Chinese New Year, that is!

Hi, everyone! Thanks for stopping by! I'm a first grade teacher in New York, but am currently on maternity leave with my first child until April. I THOUGHT I would have time to set up my own blog since I've been home since last June, but what was I thinking??! I have less time now than when I am working! Sooo, I am really grateful for the opportunity to be part of a blog group (thanks, Hilary!).

I LOVE staying home with my daughter, but I do miss being in school right about now because it’s almost time for one of my favorite events of the year- Chinese New Year!

In our school, each first grade class makes a gigantic dragon and we parade around our building while everyone sits outside their classrooms cheering us on, many of them waving mini-dragons or paper lanterns. We also borrow the music teacher’s instruments to bang, beat, shake and cause a lot of ruckus on our journey.

Unfortunately, since I am on maternity leave, I don’t have my school files to access all my pictures, but I managed to find this one in my home archives. We reuse the head each year and each child makes a section of the dragon using a brown paper bag and construction paper ‘scales.’ We staple them all together (we parade around with staplers for on-the-go fixing, as you can see here!). You can also see a fellow classroom’s dragon behind us. We have about 7-8 first grade classes a year so it’s a long parade!

After the parade, I usually ask the class moms to join us for a fun celebration in the classroom, which I decorate with a big sign and paper lanterns. We make our own paper lanterns and play the chopsticks game:

Finally, we have a little Chinese food (egg rolls, fried rice [no pork], and fortune cookies) and I give the kids red envelopes with plastic golden coins inside (from Party City). From their reactions, though, you’d think it was real money!

Of course, before this fun day, we learn about Chinese New Year- important beliefs and traditions. We read many books, visit websites, (you could see real lion dances on YouTube- the kids LOVE it!) and even had a student go to China and tell us all about it!  Here is one of my favorite books. I love it because the last half of the book slowly unfolds into a beautiful long dragon and the kids are always amazed by it!

Just for you, I made this freebie from my new Chinese New Year pack. Great for a writing center! Hope you and your students enjoy! 

Thanks for reading. I'd love to hear what you do for Chinese New Year in your classroom!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

It's the 100th Day of School!

Hip Hip Horray for the 100th Day!

Hey everyone!  I am so excited to be here!!  I'm Amy from Cahill's Creations.  This is my very first time blogging and I am thrilled to be here.   I hope everyone is having a great start to the new year.  I'm currently in my 10th year of teaching and I've spent the last 5 years in the magical world of kindergarten.  So, my post today is all about spending the 100th day in a kindergarten classroom.

Now, let me just say I wish every class in our school had as much excitement about this day, but that's just not the case.  While we spent the day celebrating 100, the rest of the school went about their typical school day.  Some older kids even dared to ask why I looked so funny!


The kindergarten team decided to dress up like 100 year olds, so we invited the kids to do the same.  It was so much fun!  The kids were adorable!!  Here are some good pictures.  I am the one wearing blue.  I cannot tell you enough how much I LOVE the 100th day of school!

We make the entire week all about 100.  It's such a build up and we wanted the kids to get excited about it too.  The homework assignment was to make a picture using 100 objects.  It's always a great way to get the whole family involved.  I loved seeing all of the creativity that came out of the projects! These were just a few of my favorites.

I created a 100 day book filled with things you can do in 100 seconds.  I think the best part of this book is the fact that I compete against my class.   Everyone tries really hard to beat me, but no such luck.  Some did come close, though.  :)  Oh, yes, I am pretty competitive.  My class had a blast with this little book.
Check it out {here}. 

Notice that the number he wrote doesn't match the number of words he wrote.  I only noticed after the picture was taken. 

 I think the best thing I found this year was an app called oldster.  It is seriously amazing.  I tested it out on my 5 year old and it was kinda scary how it made her look so old!  If you're planning on celebrating the 100th day you should try this app!  Grab the paper {here}

Well, I am thrilled to have survived the 100th day of school.  It was exhausting, but so much fun.  When is your 100th day and how will you celebrate?  

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Character Traits and Making Your Students Feel Special

Hi!  My name is Sue Lynch and I have been teaching First Grade for 17 years and LOVE it!  I've really been enjoying this blog as I am gaining lots of knowledge and ideas!  I am so excited to be a part of Who's Who and Who's New not only as a reader, but an author!  I hope you follow us as we blog each day and learn from each other!

As a teacher, I know my job is important.  This year my school district implemented a new Teacher Evaluation system.  Though I know I am an effective teacher and take my job seriously, the evaluation has been a grueling process (LOTS of hours writing and reflecting on my teaching, etc.).  Through the process, I have met with my principal a few times.  During one of my meetings, she asked me, "What do you want your students to 'gain' before they leave your classroom?"  I froze for a moment as many thoughts were running through my head!  I wanted to give the 'PERFECT' answer, but what was it?
I didn't rattle off skills that I wanted my students to achieve or the amount of growth and progress I expect my students to gain.  Rather, I just started talking about my students.  First there is Ali~He always comes in with the BIGGEST smile and tells me that I deserve a massage because I work so hard!  Then there is Abby who runs in and gives me a HUGE hug EVERY morning!  Oh..and...Meadow who tells me how she likes my necklace (the same one that I wear everyday!).  I can't forget to mention Nick who told his parents that he couldn't miss school because "Mrs. Lynch would miss me!"  I am sure you could name each of your students and share something positive and special about each one, too.  As I continued to name my students, I let my principal know that as much as my students make me feel SPECIAL each day, I want them to feel SPECIAL too!

Well, today just happens to be my birthday and I don't know about you, but I feel birthdays are special and should be celebrated!  When a student has a birthday in my class, we celebrate that person!  I love to make him/her feel super special!  But that's not the only day I want my students to feel special.  I want my students to feel special EVERYDAY!  

Our school supports positive character development and we focus on a specific Character Trait each month.  So, starting with the first week of school, I teach Character Traits.  There are so many words (BIG WORDS) that I expose to my little First Graders.  They are just sponges and they LOVE to hear my FAVORITE NEW WORD!  Character Traits are easy to implement in the classroom and school environment.  When I see a student exemplifying a special trait, I make a BIG DEAL about it!  "Boys and Girls, I need your attention!"  Then, I state what I just heard or observed.  We then compliment the person.  It's amazing the reaction and how students then start verbalizing what they see and hear.  Just the other day, Alex comes up to me and says, "Mrs. Lynch, I just want you to know that Lauren deserves some praise because she showed compassion when Joey fell during gym class."  I LOVE IT! 

I really try to incorporate the traits into our daily routines. I like to get all the students not only learning the traits, but also to be recognized for exemplifying positive traits.  To make this meaningful, we create a 'mini poster' for each student.  My students come up with ONE trait for each person in our classroom (of course, not all in one day!).  For this activity, I take a picture of each student.  They love making FUN POSES, especially the girls!  I print it out (8x10) and then cut the child out and glue him/her on a blank piece of white paper.  I usually make a fun ‘edge’ to the paper, too!  I then write at the top, “Lauren (Student Name) is…” 

At the writing center, I have a list of Character Traits available.  I put out ONE student page for the week.  Each student writes ONE trait that they feel that person portrays on the page.  Once someone has written a trait, it is crossed out and cannot be repeated for the same person. I have also modeled how you write around the pictures (scattered) and with different colors.

I then mount the paper on a piece of construction paper and share the poster with the class.  I have the featured student stand in front as we read through the traits listed on his/her poster.  The featured student then calls on his/her peers to share which trait they put on the poster and why. Watching and listening to my students during this discussion is just awesome.  The featured student is usually beaming with confidence and his/her peers are anxious to share!  I am so proud as I feel it’s a lesson that empowers my students. 

I usually have all the posters completed in time to be posted for Open House in April.  I only do one (maybe two) students a week.  I usually start in the winter after the Holidays.  Once I model two or three 'posters,' the students are pretty independent and the posters are completed with more ease.  I keep the posters and add them to their memory folders for them to receive at the end of the year!

So what was the answer I provided my principal about what I wanted my students to gain...I guess I want my students to gain self confidence and self worth.  I want all my students to know they are important and they matter.  I want them to realize that if they try and work to their potential, they will succeed!  When I can achieve that, then I know I did my job!

There are many ways you can implement Character Traits within your classroom throughout the year.  I model and provide many activities during the first semester before we do our individual posters.  You can have your students describe traits for characters in a book or use the character traits to describe people in their lives (Mother's Day Wordles!) or even Famous Americans!

Here's a fun activity that you can try during February for Black History Month.  If you study about (or have studied) Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., then you may want to try this labeling activity for FREE!



Thanks again for reading!  You can find me at SueLynch@TpT and find my latest product:  Labeling Famous Americans with Character Traits!