First Week Favorites ... "I Will"

{"I promise to do what I promised to do."}

Not much is more important than being trustworthy.  People need to know they can count on you and it's never too early to teach this to kids.  In our school, we live by the Lifelong Guidelines, so our kids learn to understand important concepts throughout the year like:

• personal best
• truthfulness
• active listening
• trustworthiness
• no put-downs 

In this activity, the children are paired up with their shoulder partner (Kagan Cooperative Groups).  One child is gently blindfolded and led around the classroom. The goal is to protect the blind partner from bumping into anything and carefully lead her back to her seat.

Because we do this activity during the first week of school, a good amount of trust is needed.  The children don't really know each other very well yet, so faith definitely has to be earned and exercised. It's easy to find other trust exercises on the internet... try to plan fun, age-appropriate ones about once a week, or every other week.  They're great team and community builders.  


Back-to-School Shopping

My kids, who are now 12 and 14, STILL love to go shopping for their school supplies. Everyone has a favorite.  My son... mechanical pencils.  My daughter... journals.  I do, too... don't you?  I love looking for supplies for my classroom and I'm a sucker for things that clip some things to other things.  I don't know why.  I just like clipping things together and tabbing other things.  So...

These new binder tabs are perfect for me.  The sturdy cardboard tabs are connected to the clip and you can write on them and then clip them to anything... files, pages of big books, calendars, bins, cups, cans, team caddies, anything.  

And look at these shaped sticky notes... one like a speech bubble and the other like a thought bubble. I can see many uses for these during reading time.  Kids could write what they're thinking about or what questions they have on a thought bubble while listening to a book and then keep them in their reading notebooks.  Or, even during math, when we're studying a graph (like how we all get home on the first day of school), we can write what kids notice inside the speech bubble shape and attach it to the graph as a record of our observations.  Love these!

I LOVE sticky-tak.  I actually don't know how teachers do without it.  (I panic when I haven't kept track and run out of it.)  Today, I saw it in packaged in tiny, pre-cut pieces.  Have these always been out there and I just didn't know?

Because this always happens to me (see cartoon, except switch curtains to scented markers and glitter glue), I'm sure I'll come across more to share soon.  I'm not sure we ever grow out of that fun feeling we get when looking for new school supplies... even when we're not the kid anymore.  :)

First Week Favorites ... "Say what?"

{Or... the Lego Lesson}

This is another one of my favorite first-week lessons as we begin to establish our classroom community.  I begin by reading a picture book about listening.  I'm sure there are some really high-quality titles out there, but this book belonged to my daughter and every kid I've ever had loves it because of the familiar characters.  (Plus, I can do a pretty good Tigger voice... it sells it every time.)  :)

We talk about how and why it's so important to be an active listener and what a good listener looks like, too... "The Parts of a Listener."  Then, the fun begins.  I pair up the children and give each pair:

• two identical Ziploc bags of Lego pieces
• one visual barrier to put between them

One child becomes the speaker and the other child becomes the listener.  This is a great exercise in effective communication because the end result won't work if the partners can't communicate clearly with each other.  The goal is for both partners to have the same exact structure built at the end of the activity.    


The speaker secretly builds a structure behind the barrier, careful not to let the listener see it.  The listener waits.

Then, keeping the structure hidden behind the barrier, the speaker gives oral directions to the listener on how to build the same exact structure using his set of Lego pieces.  (This is why they must have the same exact set of Legos.)

The listener is allowed to ask questions when confused, but they aren't allowed to look over the barrier or touch each other's sets until they're all done and ready to check.

When they think they're finished, they can take down the barrier and see if they were successful.  Then, they switch roles and the listener becomes the speaker.  

{It can be harder than it looks... as you can see.}

TIP:  Think about the age of the children you teach and stock your Ziploc bags accordingly.  Ten Lego pieces, or fewer, is an ideal amount.

PIGGYBACK IDEA:  If you want the children to be successful on their first attempts, stock the bags with only 2-4 pieces each.  Then, each time you do the activity again, increase the number of Legos in the bag.  This is a great way to show them how some activities require more attention and concentration than others.

ALSO:  This is a great activity to modify and do throughout the year... and it doesn't always have to be done with Legos.  The children can duplicate each other's drawings, use other construction materials (such as toothpicks and marshmallows), or use your math manipulatives (such as pattern blocks or geoboards). 

Here's a little poster I use during this first-week lesson... it stays posted in our classroom:


First Week Favorites ... "Being Kind"

{Or... the Toothpaste Activity}

You've probably seen a lesson like this before... it's one of my favorites and the kids always get a kick out of the lesson they learn at the end of the activity.  

All you need per team are:
• a tube of toothpaste
• a paper plate
• a plastic spoon

{Don't forget your camera... their faces are hysterical.}

My kids sit in teams of four (Kagan Cooperative Teams).  I gave "Person #1" on each team a plate and a tube of toothpaste.  Then, I gave them a little bit of time and asked each team member to take a turn squeezing all the contents out of their group's tube.  When they were finished squeezing (and laughing), I told them... "I have a super cool prize for any team who can get all their toothpaste back into the tube!  I'll make it easier, too... I'll give your team a plastic spoon... that should help."  I wished them good luck, but with the predictable confidence all first graders possess, they hardly needed my good wishes.

Watching them work together and think creatively was encouraging (and hysterical), but not one team was able to put all of the toothpaste back into their tube.  They even resorted to using fingers and pinkies ("because they're the smallest, Mrs. Knight"), but the task proved to be much harder than they thought.

The discussion that followed was priceless and a valuable life lesson was learned as we made connections between the toothpaste challenge and the way we talk to people.  The kids were happy they were able to get some of the toothpaste back into the tube, but quickly realized they would never be able to get all of it back in there.  Then we talked about how that's like the words we say to people and that, sometimes, when we say mean or unkind things, it's very difficult to take it back and get it the way it was.  

One of our new class mottos:  Think it before you speak it.


When Young Children Ask Questions

Last spring, I was cleaning out my anchor charts and posted a picture on my blog of a questioning chart I use with my first graders.  It generated interest and people started asking me questions about how I begin teaching this reading behavior to early readers in the fall. 

For me, the "big picture" for successfully showing young readers how to ask questions is to know that it is an ongoing, consistent way of thinking in our classroom.  We ask all questions all day long, especially since we work within an inquiry-based model... "How do readers figure out tricky words?"  "Why do writers use details?"  "What kinds of notes do scientists jot down?"  

At the beginning of the year though, I'm really intentional about modeling curiosity and a sense of wonder.  I want the kids to constantly be thinking, "What if? and Why? and How?"  I have a few books that introduce questions, but one of my favorites to share is Questions, Questions by Marcus Pfister.

I also came up with the idea of using stuffed animals (because ALL young kids still love stuffed animals) and some catchy tunes to introduce different kinds of question words right from the start, week one.  (This is a pretty significant focus in my standards and is a hallmark of good readers, so there's no time to waste.)  

I use a different stuffed animal for each question word... one that rhymes so the question word is easy to remember.  For example:
Then, we learn a fun little song to help reinforce the question word.  Here's the one that goes with our hen for the question word when:

I use this next poster to help me teach the purpose of the question word... "Why would a reader ask this question?"

And then, we add our little hen to our ongoing anchor chart of question words, like this...

The characters, songs, and teaching charts for each question word help to bring the instruction to life and make it more memorable.  I want these question words to become part of their academic vocabulary and way of thinking because this sense of inquiry is the fuel for their growth and achievement.  

After this introduction during the first few weeks of school, everyone settles in and this talk becomes more and more a part of our daily conversations... leading us to big discoveries across each day.

It's not hard to find stuffed animals to match each questioning character.  I found many of these in my own children's collection and lucked upon a few of them at yard sales.  The actual stuffed toy makes the learning more fun.  The children are eager to hold the questioning characters and I keep them displayed and accessible throughout the year as a visual and tactile reminder of this important reading behavior.

All the characters, songs, and posters can be found in this set.  If interested, click on the link below the picture to preview the materials.

Your Turn:  Do you have a go-to idea for teaching children how to ask questions?

Stuffed Animals in the Classroom

I love using these sweet little stuffed animals when I'm teaching my first graders the decoding strategies they'll use throughout the year.  You know them... "Lips the Fish," "Stretchy Snake," "Chunky Monkey," etc.  Primary teachers have been using these strategies for years and some teachers even have the Beanie Babies that match each strategy.  I love the idea of having a coordinating stuffed animal for each strategy, but I don't have any of the Beanie Babies.  I do, however, have kiddos of my own who have (thankfully) been collecting Webkinz since they were little... and they have quite a massive collection between the two of them.  

TIP:  Go through your own children's collection or start scouring yard sales and thrift shops.  You're bound to find something cute to tie into each of the decoding strategies.  Your classroom collection doesn't have to match either.  

How do I use them?  
1.  For my students, the stuffed animals are a tactile, hands-on way to bring each strategy to life.  We "meet" a few of them each week as I introduce and apply the strategies during shared and guided reading sessions.  

2.  During guided reading groups (at the beginning of the year), if I notice a child using a particular strategy, I recognize the effort and put the matching stuffed animal on the table next to the child.  They love having this little treat and I often ask them to share what they did successfully with the whole class when reading workshop is over.

3.  We hold them and dance with them when we sing any of Jack Hartmann's coordinating strategy songs.  We even "talk" to them sometimes, as if they're actual friends of ours in the room... friends helping us learn how to read.  (We're not crazy... just fun.)  :)

4.  They are always displayed and accessible throughout the year.

You can pick up these free decoding strategy posters in my TpT store.  Just click on the link below the image.  I use these in multiple ways, but after I teach all the strategies, I hang them from ribbons above my guided reading table (two-sided). This way, the children can see them at all times.  They're a visual reminder to be strategic when trying to figure out tricky words.


Let's Go Camping!

{Aren't they cute in their campfire hats?}

How do you and your students wrap up the school year?  This year, we went "camping" in the classroom during the last week of school.  Little by little, the classroom became a camp site, trading desks for sleeping bags, lights for lanterns, and our meeting area for the campfire circle.  We tried different types of s'mores (in the name of science... states of matter) and made crafts I've been collecting on one of my favorite Pinterest boards dedicated to our classroom camp out.  (You can check out my board at the link below... so many ideas!)

We started by talking about Girl Scouts and their tradition of having special nicknames whenever they go camping with each other.  Each child chose a camping nickname for themselves and we displayed them on an empty bulletin board (see the first photo) to make it easier for everyone to remember them (especially for me).  The students also wrote their nickname on their own campfire hat we made the first day and we all worked really hard to call each other by these fun names.  (Nicknames from the Disney movie Frozen were very popular as you can imagine.  We had an Elsa, Olaf, Anna,  and Kristoff.)

Everything we did during that week was connected to the theme of camping. Whether it was math, reading, writing, science, or social studies, it was inspired by camping.

{Here, Kate is working on decorating her sleeping bag... Olaf from Frozen, of course.}

{The finished sleeping bags include a little head and hands peeking out of the top.  It's a 12x18 piece of white construction paper, folded in half, and glued on the bottom and side to make a pocket.  All the work done during the week is kept inside the sleeping bag... like a folder.}

{Each student glued this little poem I wrote onto the back of their "sleeping bag" folders.  It was used for a shared reading lesson.}

{We did a Making Words activity each day.  Every day had a different, secret camping word.}

{We used lots of camping poems and songs during our shared reading and word study blocks.}

{And who doesn't love a fun word search... full of camping words?}

These lanterns were one of our favorite things we made during the week.  They took about 3 days to finish, but they were so worth it when we were finished.  I originally found the idea on Pinterest, but I didn't really read the directions and just used what I know about papier mache to make these.  Once they were done, we filled them with battery-powered tea candles (available inexpensively at Wal-mart) and voila... sweet and colorful camping lanterns... wonderful to read by.  Close all the blinds, turn off the lights, and enjoy the glow!

{First, the children paint the bottom half of their balloon with a glue and water mixture... just enough water to make the glue "paintable."  Then, apply cut squares of colorful tissue paper... the more, the better.}  

{Then, hang the balloons to dry.  Over the next few days, repeat the process... painting and applying tissue squares.  Teach the children to cover all parts of the bottom half of the balloon.  Any uncovered parts will make it hard to remove the balloon later.  After several layers of glue and paper have been applied and dried, pop the balloon and remove it.  What you're left with is a beautiful paper lantern.  You can string it and hang it from the ceiling or just place them around the classroom like we did.}

This is hysterical, but I'm so glad I found it.  It's just a 10-minute video of a campfire, complete with the crackling sound of wood burning.  It's on YouTube.  Not only did I use it as a timer for certain activities throughout the week, but I also played it while we were doing our quiet reading, while we made s'mores, and simply to set the mood for the day.  The kids were mesmerized by it at first... they loved it.

If you're looking for more ideas to support a weeklong classroom camping event, check out this set.  It's full of cross-curricular ideas so you can have standards-based fun in all areas (science, social studies, math, reading, and writing).  It also includes booklists of camping titles and the student copies needed for each lesson.

Your Turn:  How do you wrap up the school year with your students?