Earth Day Resources

Tuesday, April 22nd is Earth Day... a great day to teach kids about this special planet and ways to protect it during their lifetime.  Read Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, go outside and plant a tree, or "upcycle" a recyclable.  There are many ideas on the internet to help inspire your planning for that day.  I've been collecting some on my Earth Day Pinterest board.  You can check them out at the link below the picture.

I also have a little Earth Day book for my students.  It teaches them about the significance of the day and encourages them to be part of caring for our planet.  The pages include common primary sight words for students to highlight or trace, relevant vocabulary words that are bold and underlined, and pictures to personalize. The download also includes two versions so you can differentiate within your classroom.  {The version not shown is better suited for typical Pre-K and kindergarten children, with one simple sentence per page.}

Your Turn:  How do you celebrate Earth Day in your classroom?  Do you have a "must-do" activity?


A Threebie Freebie!

I am super excited about a little milestone I hit in my TPT store today...
3,000 followers!  Yay!

To celebrate, I'm hosting a "Threebie Freebie Scavenger Hunt!"  Stop by my store over the next three days, browse through the items, and find 3 new FREEbies each day.  {These are in addition to the regular freebies that are always in the store.}  

Don't forget to check back and browse each day because 3 different FREEbies will be chosen every morning, April 12th-14th.  

Day 1 has already been chosen.  Total savings?  $7.75.   Happy hunting!  :)


Small Group Instruction

I love small group guided reading instruction.  I learn so much about my readers during that time.  And I love how excited they get about reading with me.  If I'm off my schedule and running behind a day or two, they don't let me forget it... "Mrs. Knight, aren't you going to read with our group today?  I want to show you how the funny part sounds!"  Or, "I made a voice for the mean wolf.  Can I read it to you?"

One of my favorite parts of our time is planning for our guided writing activities.  They vary depending on the book or the skill we're focusing on, but it's a great way to practice comprehension and phonics skills in a differentiated, small-group setting.  It's so easy for kids to get lost in the whole-group... these small group moments are so valuable.  

We've run out of room in some of our books (each student has their own), so I snapped a few shots before I send them home.  If you like looking at samples, like I do, browse through these.  I have a few older posts showing other examples if you'd like to peek through there, too.    

I love using sticky notes to play with letter and sound combinations.  In this example, flew is one of the tricky words in the text about bats.  I knew my students didn't know the ew spelling pattern yet, so I frontloaded this lesson by playing around with that word and spelling pattern.  The sticky notes allow us to manipulate letters and sounds to make new words. 

Okay... I love Wikki-Stix.  Do you?  I use it everywhere in the classroom.  I especially love it when I wish I could write in a book, but I know I really can't.  In this example, I needed a visual cue to explain the meaning of the word enormous and to help the child remember the word when rereading the text.  By putting pieces of Wikki-Stix underneath the word and in the illustration from hand to hand, it helps the reader make that connection.

I'll post more pictures after I clean out a bit more.  :)

Spring Cleaning

It's spring cleaning time in my classroom (are you in that mood, too?) and I'm sorting through all my anchor charts, taking some down to make room for others and deciding which ones to pass on to my intern.  (She graduates from USF next month... yay, Laura!)  So I took a picture of each just in case I need to make it again and need a little inspiration.  I'm posting them here in case you're "visual" like me and like to collect ideas for your anchor charts.  They're random and in no particular order... kind of like a flea market of charts!  :)

• "Dare to Prepare" is when we use background knowledge to think of what we already know about the topic.
• "Read Around the Word" is when we read the sentences that come before and after the word so we can try to understand it in context.
• "Choose a Substitute" is really a synonym strategy.  I ask the students to think of a word that would make sense in that spot.  It's a great way to figure out the meaning of the unknown word.
• "M & M Words" are words with multiple meanings.  I teach the children to think of the different meanings they already know for that word to see if it helps.

Oops!  There used to be "bullets" on the left side of this chart.  I must have cropped too quickly... it looks like I accidentally cut them off.  Trust that they were there.
(Otherwise, that's a little hard to read.)

This next anchor chart was actually made with some materials from my TPT store.  I use the characters, little songs, and other tips from the pack to introduce question words to my students at the beginning of the year.  As they become more proficient readers, they need this anchor chart less and less, but it's a great support for the first semester.

I'll add more photos as I continue to clean out.  Some people ask me where I get the giant sticky notes for my anchor charts, but I don't buy sticky notes that size.  (I'm not even sure you can.)  They're actually made from colored copy paper or cardstock and a special glue stick called a repositionable glue stick.  Elmer's makes them and they're SUPER COOL!  You just swipe it on the top edge of your paper and POOF... you've got a giant sticky note exactly the color you want it to be.  Use your imagination because you can make them any size (and shape) you want to!  

And... if you haven't seen this "fairly new" book by Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz, I highly recommend it.  It's full of great ideas and the authors even show you how to draw these little figures so you don't have to be intimidated by your charts. (I've met Marjorie a few times.  She works for the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project and she's very knowledgable about writing with young children.  I think you'll like her book.)  You can check it out on Amazon at the link below.

Your Turn:  Do you have a favorite resource you use when searching for anchor chart ideas?


When 1st Graders Write Reviews

Last month, my first graders were learning how to write reviews... reviews of toys, movies, and books.  But it wasn't quite as easy as I thought it would be.  I found they were accidentally slipping back into what they knew well as writers.  Some children were unintentionally writing personal narratives or informational pieces, particularly how-to pieces.  I realized these were traps that were easy for any writer to fall into, especially a writer who is only 6 years old.  So I thought about showing them examples and non-examples of reviews so they had a clear picture of what a review looks like and (maybe more importantly) what it doesn't look like.

I started by drafting my own samples (see above) and giving a set to each student team.  I challenged each team, "You have three samples of writing.  One is a review, one is a personal narrative, and one is a how-to piece.  Together, study each sample, talk about what you notice, and decide which sample is which.  We'll talk as a whole group when every team is ready."  I gave each group sticky notes so they could record their ideas and thoughts.  After about 10-12 minutes, we came back together on the floor and discussed each sample, talking about what type writing it was and what features of the writing led them to believe that.  Interestingly, every team correctly identified each sample.  We had fun talking about how these other types of writing were a "trap" that writers sometimes fall into because they're familiar and we know them so well.

Then, we really dug into the review and talked about how they knew that particular sample was a review.  Since the students were so involved in the discussion around the samples, I knew the work would make a great visual anchor for students to refer to during the remainder of the study.  By turning it into an anchor chart, I was also able to refer to it during student writing conferences and sharing sessions.  Simple chart + student discussion = big payoff.  Yay!  :)



Reading About Overcomers!

This quarter, I'm working off district plans that are an accumulation of several standards and they offer me the flexibility to design our own work.  So, as I was looking over all the standards I needed to teach this session, I started getting a vision for a unit where children would read about "Overcomers" ... characters who triumphed, even in the face of great challenges.  I was inspired by Mandisa's song about overcomers and then set out to find titles with really strong characters... characters whose stories were complex, but personal and relevant... characters the kids could really get into and study deeply for days at a time.  I actually planned our reading workshop lessons around one title per week.  Focusing on just that one title during the week has allowed us to read closely and for different purposes, discovering new information and building on important ideas each time we read the text.  There are so many great "overcomer stories" for children, but I finally settled on these five:

These titles would be great for this unit also... I almost chose them:

These are amazing books (fiction, historical fiction, nonfiction) that cover big issues in really kid-friendly ways... issues like illiteracy, poverty, homelessness, slavery, discrimination, tragedy, and loss.  Many of these titles are also available on Reading Rainbow which is great because it offers the children another way to experience the text during the week.

I'm working on writing up the lessons and graphic organizers for this reading unit of study, but we're not quite finished with our last title.  I'll make it available when it's all done, but here's a peek at some of the things we've been doing so far.  

We started with Mr. George Baker by Amy Hest.  If you don't already know the story, it's about a 100-year-old man who never learned to read.  He and his young neighbor Harry are friends who go to the same school to learn how to read.  During the week we read Mr. Baker's story, we studied, discussed, and practiced points such as:

• predicting events and outcomes
• character traits (supported with text evidence on character maps)
• vocabulary (new words as well as strategies)
• problem / solution
• cause / effect
• big ideas / life lessons (synthesizing)
• retelling vs. summarizing
• readers' theater (supporting comprehension and fluency)

Our Character Map of Mr. George Baker
{The students painted the character.  Together, during the workshop minilesson, we brainstormed words that describe his character.  Then, teams of students worked together to infer and use evidence from the text to support the words chosen for the map.  This photo also includes our summary.  We crafted this together after reading the book 3 times.  I structured this class activity in an interactive writing format so we could incorporate word-work into the writing of the summary.  We "share the pen" and each child wrote their own copy while we worked collaboratively on the class copy.}

Vocabulary Work
{We discussed special words from the text and reviewed strategies readers use to figure out what new words mean, primarily using background knowledge, context, illustrations, and synonyms.  Here, the children worked in teams to illustrate the five vocabulary words chosen for this text.  I chose words I could envision us actually using in the classroom.  I posted them with a familiar synonym and the illustrations the children made.  To practice them, we often act them out when possible.}

Synthesizing a BIG Idea or Life Lesson
{It's important to provide a forum for fostering deep thinking and discovering big ideas.  It's also important to create time for children to write about their ideas.  This activity allows the children to do both while thinking critically about the author's purpose... "Why do you think the author wrote this book?  What important thing do you suppose she wants us to learn about life from Mr. George Baker?"}

Here are a few pictures from the following week when we read Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting.  It's a great story about a little boy and his father who are living in an airport because they are homeless.  

Character Map of Andrew
{Including words, definitions, and text evidence.}

Student Writing
{Students wrote questions, their own feelings, their favorite parts, and book reviews.}

{In this story, the reader is never told if Andrew and his dad finally get their own home... we have to infer from clues in the text and by thinking about what we have learned about overcomers.  Once the children made their predictions, I asked them to work together to find evidence from the text to support their predictions.  Some of their samples are below.  The students highlighted evidence from the pages and then wrote to explain how they thought that proved Andrew and his dad would overcome.}

I'm amazed at the depth of conversations I'm having with my first graders around these texts.  It has been such a positive experience that it led seamlessly into our writing unit.  My district timeline requires that I'm working on persuasive writing at this time, so I am creating lessons for a unit I'm calling, When Overcomers Write. It's a persuasive letter-writing unit where the children are gathering problems or needs they notice around school and those observations then become the inspiration for their persuasive letters.  It's a perfect connection to the work we're doing in reading and the students are really seeing themselves as overcomers, and as people who can (and are) making a difference.  Before they started working on their own letters, we kicked off the study by writing a collaborative letter together.  We wrote to our principal about some concerns we had at recess.  After we finished the letter, we talked about how pictures of problems can often be very convincing, so we took pictures of some of the broken equipment and made a quick iMovie trailer to send to the principal along with our class letter.  He was so moved, he visited the classroom and had an open discussion with the kids about the problem.  He asked and answered all their questions, invited them to speak publicly about it on the morning announcements, and offered up a few extra solutions.  The kids felt so empowered... it was awesome!  Here's our trailer that we're pretty sure sealed the deal.  :)


If you're interested in seeing how the whole unit turns out and would like to use it in your classroom, keep watching.  I'll post it as soon as I have it done.  Unfortunately, it might not be ready for you to use until next school year, especially since this year is almost over, but I really think your 1st and 2nd grade students will love the unit.  (If you teach in a place using the Common Core State Standards, this unit fully supports that work.  If you don't, please know the lessons reflect what we know about best practices in reading instruction, regardless of the CCSS.)    If you're watching for it, it will look something like this:

{Cover Image Only}

Last, but not least, for all you singers out there...
My students love, love, LOVE this song, even my boys.
It's very touching and inspiring.
We sing it a few times each week.

Click the link below the image to watch the video.

{Tissue Alert!  With permission, we watched this video in my classroom.  I gave the children some background information on the people featured in the video and then we watched it.  I couldn't help crying a little and some of the children did, too, but it was very powerful and has made the whole unit of study even stronger.}

Your Turn:
Can you suggest another children's title that would be great for this unit... a great story about an overcomer?