Fast Finds: A Vocabulary Activity

My family and I love the line of Cranium games.  (Talk about honoring multiple intelligences!  I think these game-makers have attended a conference or two.  Or maybe they're just smart people who know how differently people think.)

In one of their games, Cranium Cadoo, there is a category called "Fast Finds."  Each Fast Find card lists two things you have to find before the timer runs out.  For example, one card might say:

• something cold
• something fuzzy

The kids love this category because they can get up and race around the house and the whole time they're racing around, the teacher-me thinks, "This is great vocabulary practice!"

Playing off this idea, I started doing something similar during reading workshop and small group reading instruction.  I don't do this every day, but when I want to focus on vocabulary or new concepts, I work it into my plans.  You can either guide this work with a small group of students, or model it during the workshop, or have children work in pairs... all work well... and it works with both fiction and nonfiction texts.  

Small Group Examples:

In this "Day 2" guided reading session, I put four vocabulary words on each child's book prior to the rereading of the text.  I read the words to the group and ask them to go back into the text, finding a part that matches or explains each word.  (Not only is this a great exercise in comprehension and reasoning, but my ELLs and children with language delays really benefit from thinking through the word meanings.  If needed, you can scaffold the work with a simple picture on the sticky note.) Usually, I have the children work on their own first and then share with a partner or the whole group, depending on the time. Watching them reason as they make their choices is interesting to me and it's a great informal assessment.  Often, there are no "right" or "wrong" answers... as long as they can justify why they chose a certain part for a certain word and it makes sense, I consider the activity a success.  

I also use this Fast Find activity to see if children understand text features and to facilitate the sharing of opinions.  Example:

In this example, you can see the children have to find two text features (a caption and a key word), but they also have to choose something "cute" and something "scary."  These are important vocabulary concepts for my ELLs, but they also give each child an opportunity to think critically, make choices, and explain their opinions to others.

And I love using Fast Finds when we're reading fiction, too.  I can use words that help us practice story elements (a character, the setting, the problem...) or I can practice "feelings," as shown in this example from Elephant and Piggie's I Broke My Trunk!

In this text, you can see the students' choices really reflect their ability to comprehend the events of the story and infer meaning.  The author never uses these feeling words in the text, so the children must connect the dots of the plot, think about their prior schema, and study the facial expressions to reason through how the characters are feeling.  Again, I ask the children to support their choices by explaining their thinking, which is also a great way to develop their expressive vocabularies.  

I share this idea and others in my vocabulary pack, Very, Very Vocabulary. If you're looking for new ideas to help increase your students' vocabulary, take a look.  It's best suited for kids in grades 1-3.  

Happy teaching!  :)


Teaching with Toys

The writing workshop is one of my favorite times of the day.  It's sometimes a real challenge to teach writing to children who are only six years old, but when they finally let go and just put it all out there, it's so courageously fun.  Their transformation from the beginning of the year to the end is amazing.  What was once pretty unreadable in August becomes a small work of art and suddenly every child in the room is the next Mo Willems!  :)

I subscribe to the teaching philosophy of a few (Georgia Heard, Katie Wood Ray, Carol Avery), but mostly to the work of Lucy Calkins and the staff at Teachers College.  I think their work is smart and it's the foundation from which I build most of my lessons.  One thing I know staff developers tend to caution us about, though, is becoming too "gimmicky" with kids, but on this point I feel differently.  Writing is hard work.  And these kids are six.

So bring on the toys!

I have no problem with that.  Over the years, I've learned a lot about making meaningful and lasting connections with kids.  It's about being personal, relevant, and fun... about taking something fairly abstract (like writing) and helping them see how each new concept is like something they already know.  One way I do this is by using toys during some of my writing workshop lessons, especially when I'm introducing a new strategy or idea for the first time.  I'm sure you do that, too.  When it's time for you to teach a new concept like elaboration, don't you take some time to think, "Hmm, how am I going to help these little people understand what this even means?"  (And I'm guessing your district doesn't always give you the best ideas, so you have to be creative and really know what works for you and your kids.)

I wanted to share some toy-writing-lessons to give you an idea of what can be done.  These are just my ideas, though... there are dozens of different ideas you can come up with and, once you get started, you'll probably never look at the toy aisle the same way again.

One Idea
Start the lesson with a plain Mrs. Potato Head (no body parts added). Talk about how plain and uninteresting she is without her missing parts.  Add one body part and ask, "How does she look now?"  Talk about how the body parts are like the details in our stories.  Without them, our stories are plain and uninteresting, but the more we add, the more interesting and clear our stories become... just like Mrs. Potato Head.  Sometimes, when we leave details out of stories, the reader can't get a picture of what we're trying to share.  Say, "Remember when Mrs. Potato Head didn't have body parts?  It wasn't clear what she was supposed to look like, was it?  That's just like our stories.  The details we choose help the reader see what we want them to see." 

One Idea
Use any set of stacking rings to illustrate the idea that things must go together in a certain order to "make sense."  Play around with the rings and purposely arrange them out of the logical order.  Ask the children, "Does this look right?  Does this make sense?"  Discuss how this toy has an order that makes sense just like our stories do and when we have parts that are out of order, our stories don't make sense either.  A few times during the lesson, arrange the rings incorrectly and ask for volunteers to "fix up" the rings.  Talk about how when we rearrange confusing parts of our stories we are helping it to make sense, just like when we rearrange the toy.  (That last part hints at revising which they can learn more about when they're ready.)

One Idea
Who doesn't love a Slinky?  It's a great toy to use for showing children how writers stretch out the sounds in words they don't know how to spell.  Pull the Slinky slowly while stretching out the sounds in words that aren't on your word wall... the children already know how to spell those words (or at least have it as a spelling resource).  After you stretch it out, snap the Slinky back together while you snap the word back as a whole.  Encourage the children to stretch an imaginary Slinky while you're holding the toy.  Do this several times, allowing different volunteers to stretch the Slinky, too.

For greater engagement during this activity, provide a small Slinky to each child (or pairs of children).  You can usually find inexpensive packs of these at discount stores.

One Idea
This is a great lesson to do at the beginning of the year because it's about creating writing identities and realizing that our lives are important enough to write about and share with others.  You'll need one jar of Play-Doh (or other soft clay).  Show the children the dough and say, "This looks like a big bunch of nothing.  What is this?  What can you do with this?"  Accept their responses and ask, "Have you ever sat down to work with clay without knowing exactly what you might make?  Have you ever been surprised by what you made?"  Again, invite discussion.  (During your questions and discussions, fiddle with the dough, all the while crafting something simple you can share with them at the end of the conversation, such as a snake or a ring.)  When the children are finished responding, show them what you made and remark, "Wow, this whole time we were talking, I've been working with this plain lump of clay and, little by little, I uncovered a treasure hiding inside.  I wasn't sure what I would make, but I like the way it turned out."  Talk about how writers do the same thing with paper and pencil. Show them how ordinary a piece of paper is until it has been "played with" ... with WORDS ... that inside this paper, a treasure is also hiding ... their story.  I tell my students, "Sometimes, we don't know exactly how our stories will sound or even how they will end until we start playing with words on the paper.  Writing is about unlocking our personal treasures!"

A Few Ideas
These cheap popping toys are easy to find in discount stores.  They're usually sold as favors in the party supplies section.  Most children will already know how these work, but just in case you don't... you simply flip them inside-out and they "POP" back into place with a snappy little popping sound.  Kids love them!  You can use them to talk about any quality of writing that will make a piece of writing "POP," such as interesting leads, vivid word choice, or colorfully detailed illustrations. If your students are emerging writers, you might want to consider making only one analogy to the poppers, but for 1st and 2nd grade writers, this lesson can lead to a growing anchor chart titled:  Things That Make Our Stories POP!  As you teach these writing moves throughout your lessons, you can add them little by little to chart, eventually creating a resource of several techniques the children can try out in their own writing.

One Idea
I have actually used three different toys over the years to teach the concept of revision, so if you have Tinker Toys, building blocks, or puzzles, know that any of them will help your children make a connection to the idea of revising.  Begin the lesson with a puzzle board in which you've taken out all the pieces and share, "I love puzzles.  I know there are many pieces to a puzzle and it's my job to figure out where each piece goes so the puzzle looks right."  Start putting the puzzle together in front of the children.  After a few pieces are correctly in place,  put one piece in the wrong spot, determined to make it fit because that's where you want it.  (Be dramatic... kids will remember this.)  Sigh, "I really want this piece right here.  I'm trying and trying, but it just doesn't seem to fit with the others.  Maybe it would work better in a different place."  Once you've assembled the puzzle correctly, make the connection to writing.  "You know, putting this puzzle together reminds me of writing stories.  Sometimes, I really want to put certain words in a certain part of my story, but when I reread my story, it doesn't sound right.  It's kind of like the words don't really fit in that spot."  Talk about how writers have to be willing to rethink and move parts of their stories to other places so the whole story will sound right.  Teach, "When writers do this, it's called revising."  

One Idea
I love when we finally get to the part of the year when I feel like the kids are ready to elaborate in their writing.  I sing this cheesy song I made up that goes to the tune of "Summer Nights" from the musical Grease. I have to teach them the tune because they're too young to know the movie, but here it is in case you're the singing-kind of teacher, like me:

Tell me more, tell me more,
I don't think I can wait,
Tell me more, tell me more,
Will you e - lab - or - ate?

Uh-huh, uh-huh,
Let's e - lab - or - ate,
Uh-huh, uh-huh,
Let's elaborate!

I don't think I'll get a songwriting award for that, but it's effective and easy to remember (although I recommend writing it on a chart). Earlier in the year, I give the children a black pipe cleaner and three plastic beads:  one green, one yellow, and one red... they're the colors of a traffic light on purpose.  The beads are a visual and tactile reminder that every narrative has three parts; a beginning (green for "go"), a middle (yellow), and an end (red for "stop").  When I'm ready to teach the concept of elaboration, we go back to our traffic light analogy and I talk about how the yellow light tells the driver to slow down. I connect this to writing by giving the children additional yellow beads to add to their pencil charm.  It's a very visual reminder that by slowing down and elaborating in the middle of our stories, our stories become LONGER and more interesting.

One Idea
For this lesson you'll need many marbles in a clear, plastic cup.  The goal of this lesson is to teach children how to maintain focus and avoid those "bed-to-bed" stories children sometimes write in which they tell everything they did from the moment the sun came up until it set.  Tell the children you have a great idea for a story today and that you'll pull out a marble each time you have another idea to add to the story.  As you continue to brainstorm ideas out loud for your story, pull a marble out of the cup with one hand and place it in the other hand.  Keep sharing new ideas and putting more marbles in your other hand. Exaggerate the brainstorming of multiple (and/or unrelated) ideas until the marbles literally start spilling out of your hand.  Talk about how it was very hard to handle all those marbles at once and how it can be hard for a writer to handle so many ideas in one story, too. Explain, "Sometimes we have so many ideas in our stories, the story becomes HUGE and hard to handle."  Teach how much easier it is to limit yourself to just one main idea and share how that helps a writer maintain focus.  For example, instead of writing about your whole entire day at the beach, maybe you just write a really focused story on searching for shells.  (I think older writers can handle more than one idea in their stories, but I still encourage them to limit it to no more than three.  That depends on your students and your expectations.)

I have more ideas like these in my writing pack, First Grade Writing Units of Study.  You'll find ideas for more toys to use in writing workshop, such as:

• magnets to teach about leads
• trains to teach about story structure
• dominoes to teach about spacing
• a magnifying glass to teach how interesting a small moment can be
• a red rubber ball to teach about capital letters and periods
• bubbles to teach about paragraphs
• a yo-yo to about circular endings (one type of ending)
• and multiple uses for Legos

Don't hesitate to ask your students' parents for toy donations and look for inexpensive alternatives to costly toys (such as buying a cardboard puzzle instead of pricey Tinker Toys).  Keep the toys on display after using them in your lesson so the children can see them and you can refer to them when conferring.  

Okay... so that was a really long post, but hopefully you found an idea or two you can use during your writing workshop.  What about you? Have you used toys in your teaching... and how?

Do share.

Happy teaching!  :)


Teacher Heroes

Teachers are HEROES.  TPT thinks so, too!  So to celebrate all the teacher-heroes out there, TPT is hosting a sale this Wednesday (Feb. 25).  I've included my store in the sale, so stop by and take a look around. Everything in the store will be discounted AND when you use the PROMO CODE: HEROES, you'll receive an additional discount from TPT for a total savings of 28% on your purchase.

Happy Teaching, Teacher-Hero!  :)


Teacher Time Out

Okay... you know you're almost 50 when you decide that crocheting scarves is your next DIY hobby.  My schema for crochet is this... this is what sweet little old ladies do to pass the time, but now I live where it snows and everyone seems to be crafty in this way.  So I figure when in Rome, be Roman.  

Plus I needed a little time out from thinking teachery things anyway.

I'm geeking out a little bit about my new scarf even though I've clearly only done two rows... two slightly crooked rows.  I can already tell it won't be perfect, but it's like having a baby (or seeing someone else's newborn). Everyone knows it isn't super cute just yet, but the mother sure thinks so.

I've got a long way to go, but I'm already trying to decide... fringe or no fringe?  Fringe seems a little advanced, I know.  It's probably like a beginning baker trying out fondant on their first cake.  Alright.  No fringe.

You know, an avid crochet-er would've finished this scarf in the time I've spent typing this.  Confession.  I took a break from my scarf because I'm trying to figure out how to "turn" to do the next row... that part's confusing.  I feel like I need a few extra hands to hold all the things I'm supposed to be holding. I'm stalling.

What do you do when you need a little teacher time out?

Well... here I go.  Back to my scarf.  I'll post the after-shot when I'm all done.

Happy Sunday!  :)   


Build-A-Word Books

Farm animals are so cute.  Although, I must admit, clip art farm animals smell WAY better than real ones.  Have you ever taken a field trip to a dairy farm?  

P. U.

I love this little Build-A-Word book about the farm.  It's the right level for kindergarteners or for first graders who need extra support in a small group setting.  As the kids work on making and reading their books, they are practicing:

• vocabulary  (animal names for beginning ELLs)
• phonemic awareness (segmenting, counting, & blending sounds)
• phonics  (matching letters to sounds)
• sight words
• reading fluency

The first three pages of the book are simple CVC words (pig, cat, dog). There is only one letter per sound on these pages.  For children who are struggling to stretch and count the number of sounds in a word, the empty boxes on each page are a visual clue as to the number of sounds they should be hearing.

The next page (with the frog) increases in difficulty by adding a fourth sound and the remaining pages are higher-level as they include animal names that have letter-combinations in them, such as /ow/, /ck/, and /sh/.  The wider box on these pages are another visual clue for the children.  For example, on the duck page, they should notice 3 boxes (because there are 3 sounds in the word), but one box is wider because two letters work together to make the final sound.

Once the children are done building the missing word on each page, they're ready to color, cut, and staple the pages together... no prep for you.

And, because this isn't my first rodeo, I know some kids are crazy cutters and their letters will go missing, never to be seen again.  So, I included an extra set in the download, just in case they need a spare.  I know you already know who'll need the extra set.  :)

You can find this little book HERE.  And if you like it, I also have a second one:  Who Lives in the Ocean?   

Happy teaching! :)



You may not remember, but I've had a love-hate relationship with my science board on Pinterest for a while now.  It was just one board called SCIENCE IDEAS and it had more than 350 pins on it.  There were literally hundreds of amazing ideas on there, but it was a jumbled hot mess of randomness.  Fixing it has been on my to-do list for months.  Maybe a year, actually.  

Check.  Done.  (At 1 a.m. this morning.)

It was a major pain while I was working on it, but now it's so fun to see how many different kinds of pins I had on there.  It literally turned into more than 10 different boards.  And the part of me that tends to be a little OCD is much happier.  

Ignore some of the bottom boards... they snuck into the screen shot.  But I did find a few social studies pins hiding on my mega-messy science board.  Go figure.  So now I also have a whole new board for "Maps and Globes."  Bonus.

If you're a follower of my Pinterest boards, I hope this little clean-up project will help out.  I know I feel better.  :)

Happy teaching! 


My Little Einsteins

Science rocks!  It sells itself.  So I actually have to do very little to motivate kids in this area.  They're naturally curious... they ask endless questions... and they touch everything.  Isn't this the work of scientists?  

At the beginning of the year, before we really dive into any specific science study, I want to set the stage for the work we'll be doing all year.  

Step One:  What are scientists?

This is when we talk about what a scientist is and learn about other famous scientists, like Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison.

Step Two:  Nailing the look.

At this point, we decide we are scientists, too.  So, of course, we have to look the part.  Einstein Hair is very easy to make and the kids love it.  Just make a white paper head band and cut about 10 strips of white construction paper for each child.  Show them how to accordion-fold the strips and glue them to the inside of the head band.  Voila... wild Einstein hair!  We wear these for a few weeks as we continue our introductory science lessons... it ramps up the level of excitement as you can imagine. We also received a class set of Lab Coats from my mother-in-law who found several white men's button-up shirts at her church thrift shop.  With a little imagination (and rolled up sleeves) they were transformed into our lab coats!   

Step Three:  The Tools of the Trade

It's no surprise... kids love using tools and when you pull out that super fun box of science tools, they can't get their hands on them fast enough. We take a few days to learn all about the tools scientists use to explore the world around them.  It's important for the kids to know the name of each tool, its purpose, and how to use it safely.  One of our favorite activities is the Timed Tweezer Challenge.  In this activity, students are challenged to use the tweezers to transfer various objects from a paper plate to a plastic cup given only one minute.  And, because I like to make things a bit tricky, they have to wear their safety goggles, too.  

You can put anything on the paper plate, depending on the age and motor control of your students.  I include a few objects that are fairly easy to pick up such as a cotton ball and a deflated balloon, but I also include several items that require more skill and patience to pick up.  I even include an easily-crushable cereal so students learn how to control the pressure with which they squeeze.  No matter what you select, try to vary the size, weight, shape, and texture of the items.  And rules?  That's up to you.  It should be fun, not frustrating.  I tell my students if they drop an object, they can pick it up with their hand and put it back on their plate and try again.

Another popular tool?  The magnifying glass.  (Try to get good ones.) Who doesn't love to see what stuff looks like really close up?  When you introduce the magnifying glass, consider studying a piece of food... it's fun to observe what it looks like inside and out (plastic knives only) and then eat it!

Step Four:  Collect your work.

I don't have a pattern for these beginning science notebooks because I want the kids to make them on their own and personalize them, but they're pretty easy to copy just by looking at the pictures below.  The only step I do for them is pre-fold the white construction paper to look like a jacket or lab coat.  The rest is easy for them, especially if you provide a sample of your own.  They'll just need scissors, glue, and construction paper.

Note:  We don't use these folders all year long... they're not strong enough.  We use them to put our initial science work in... all the introductory work from our foundational unit:  "What is a scientist?"  After this folder goes home, we use a regular science folder & science journal for the remainder of the year.

I don't know what your particular science program requires of you, but these are a few ideas you could easily embed into your existing plan if you're looking for something new.  I've had these photos on my laptop for a while now and was just thinking I should share them.  I hope you found something you liked.  

Happy teaching!  :)