Sunday, January 26, 2014

Live Simply, Teach Simply: Containers


I'm back for week two of my new blog series-Live Simply, Teach Simply. If you missed the first post and want to know the inspiration behind the series click on the picture above. This week I'm sharing my favorite classroom container ever. That's really saying something because like most teachers I'm a little *obsessed* with storage containers!


You can find this little gem at The Dollar Tree in a pack of 10. Yep, that's right only 10 cents each!!!! They also come in a round variety. I'm not sure if all Dollar Trees are set up similar, but I found them between the storage containers and cooking utensils. I use these little guys all over my classroom, so here are a few of my favorite uses.


They are PERFECT for storing Words Their Way word cards. I started off using ziploc bags, but those were just a pain, hard to find in the desks, and didn't hold up well. I gave each kid one of these to store their words and keep in their desks and word study has been much happier. They work so well that the rest of my grade level went out and splurged the $3 for a class set. 


They are also perfect to store center manipulatives and dice. I love using seasonal table scatter, gems, or erasers to keep my kiddos excited. I place the manipulatives for both players and a die  in the container. It makes for quicker clean up because they can put the top on easier than closing a ziploc. Also, you avoid the inevitable of the pieces falling out of the bags. I especially like to use these with my Roll & Read and Roll Tac Toe games. Easy center management makes for a happy teacher!


You could also use them to roll dice so they are not flying around the classroom. This isn't really a pet peeve of mine, but if you have crazy dice rollers this might help.


On a personal note I use them for my lunches. They are great for salad dressing or nuts. This was probably more like their intended usage! These are the previous versions from years ago. They were a little bigger, sturdier and colorful. You might be able to still find them somewhere.

These little containers have definitely made my classroom life a little more simple. So run to your local Dollar Tree and stock up on some because the possibilities are endless. I've seen similar containers at other stores, but you can't beat the price of 10 for $1. If you have these what do you use them for? Did this spark ideas for new uses? Please leave a comment and share-I'd love to put them to good use in other ways!

And now for the Live Simply inspiration...

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Winter Word Study Games

My kiddos and I are pretty excited about my new Winter Word Study Games. We've been using them since we got back from Christmas break and they have been a hit! I love them because they can be used with any word feature or pattern (which means easy prep for me). My kids love them because they are fun! Here's a  look at how we're using them during word study with Words Their Way.


I originally introduced the games as word work centers for two players. To play, the kids use their sort that they are working on for the week (this means there are no extra word cards for me to prepare!!!). They place the word cards face down in a pile and take turns flipping over two cards and reading the words. If the words have the same feature or pattern they put a marker on a blank spot on their side of the board. I used clear rock gems (aka snowballs) and snowflake table scatter for markers to add some wintry fun. The first player to fill up their side of the board wins. I had the five different winter game boards as choices. Each game is played the same way, but the novelty of the different boards kept them intrigued. 


After a week of playing this way I upped the ante by making them write the matching word feature. Instead of page protectors, I put the game boards in dry erase pockets. I found these at Walmart in August. They are one of my new favorite classroom products! You can find a them at Amazon (search dry erase pockets) or through Scholastic with your bonus points.


To keep everything simple for the kids I stored two dry erase markers and a sock for erasing with the board. The kids used their own sort to play. This time they wrote the matching word feature instead of just placing a marker. This sort was comparing long and short u words.


 Due to a crazy schedule, we didn't have a weekly word sort this week so I threw some high frequency word cards in the center. They played with the same rules, but wrote the word if they made a match.


I love these games because I can put them in my word work center for the whole class, but they are automatically differentiated by groups because they are using their own word sorts. It is also nice to leave them out all winter but the focus keeps changing because of the weekly sorts. I'll definitely be making these for upcoming seasons!

If you'd like these easy prep word study centers you can grab them in my TPT store by clicking on the picture. Included are 5 winter game boards, "I can" direction sheets and recording sheets.




Happy Wintry Word Working!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Day Our Way- Schedule Linky

I'm linking up with Amelia at Where the Wild Things Learn for a daily schedule linky. I've enjoyed reading and learning from the schedules of others, so I decided I'd link up and share a day in our classroom.


I teach a class of 21 first graders in Virginia. After a two year gig as a reading specialist I went back into the first grade classroom at the end of September. My schedule was already pretty much determined by my team teacher, but I must say I'm really liking the way it flows this year!  Here is a glimpse at our daily schedule:


Opening: My students arrive at different times during opening. I greet them at my door with a good morning and a squirt of hand sanitizer. I'm totally not a germaphobe, but the thought of what six year olds have been doing with their hands during the bus ride is enough to make me greet them with a squirt. They come in, unpack, pick a lunch, etc. I'm not really a morning work person (I hate giving busy work and I don't want to grade it). On Mondays, my kids cut out their word study sort then try to figure out how the words will be sorted. The rest of the week they do "What Could it Be?". They have a What Could it Be? spiral notebook in their desk. I draw a doodle/shape/squiggle on the board and they have to turn it into something, draw details and write about it. I love What Could it Be. It keeps them occupied after they unpack, gives them a chance for creative thinking, and the kids who come in later aren't really missing out on anything too important. Plus they have really cool ideas!

Guided Reading/Literacy Stations: I have 5 reading groups and meet with 3 groups a day. I meet with my two lower groups daily. While I'm meeting with my groups, the other kids are doing literacy stations. Right now they go to listening, computer (Lexia or RAZ Kids), writing, word work, and read to self. This year I have them set up on a rotation on the projector. I have a slide for each day. When I ring the bell to switch they know to clean up and move to the next rotation. My guided reading groups grab their bags of books from their backpacks and join me at the reading table. This chart has really helped us with smooth transitions and has minimized wasted instructional time.  I'm a sucker for using every available minute! Some years I let the kids pick their stations or use a station menu. This group just isn't there yet! 

Reading Mini Lesson: This whole group lesson usually focuses on comprehension strategies or literacy skills.

Recess: My teammate and I take turns taking out both classes. It's amazing how much you can get done in an extra 15 minutes!

Word Study: I use Words Their Way for Word Study. I have three different groups. While I'm meeting with a group the other groups are working with their words/sorts and word study notebooks  (WSNB) at their seats. I have a slide for the activity of the day and project it so the kids know the expectations. This has really helped with the "I'm finished...what do I do now?". We do the same few activities each week, so this helps keep the routine. Can you tell I was previously a special ed teacher...routines, routines, routines!

Writer's Workshop: This is usually a mini lesson with modeling and/or shared writing followed by time for independent writing practice. 

Lunch: I drop my kids off and pick them back up. 30 minutes goes by fast, but I'm thankful I don't have to eat with them!!!!

Calendar/Math: We come back from lunch, do a quick calendar, then math. 

Social Studies/Science: One or the other. I try to tie in a lot of literacy/comprehension during my SS/S block. Trying to get the most bang for my buck!

Resource: We are on a 5 day rotation. Our resources are: Music, PE, Art, Library, and Technology. Our library para teaches the technology resource and it is different than computer lab. I also take my kids to computer lab for 45 minutes on Mondays during SS/Sci. We have an awesome ITRT that plans/teaches great activities.

Silent Reading: As soon as the kids walk back in the room from resource they grab their book boxes and silent read for 10 minutes. It's a nice "unwind and relax time". Again, routine-routine-routine!

Read Aloud: We do read alouds throughout the day in all subjects, but this is a nice little time to add another one and really focus on those think alouds and comprehension strategies.

Intervention/Enrichment: During this time a few of my kids leave the room for extra reading remediation. I also have a super para who joins us during this block. She pulls groups or individuals and I also pull groups or individuals. The rest of the kids are working on centers. Most days it is a beautiful machine. I have the 4 tables on a 5 day rotation which usually includes computer, math tubs, poetry notebook, silent reading and another center that changes. It may be handwriting, special project, writing, thematic activity etc. The big idea here is to focus on the kids that need interventions while keeping the rest of the class engaged in meaningful activities! They also have a "working snack" at this time.

So that is my day at a quick glance. If you have questions or would like more information on any of the subjects just leave me a comment. I'd be glad to go into more detail in a later post. 

Thanks for stopping by to check out our little adventures in literacy (and other subjects!). Be sure to link up with Where the Wild Things Learn with your schedule. I'm loving all the ideas I'm reading!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Live Simply, Teach Simply: Laminating


My first Live Simply, Teach Simply post is on laminating-or rather not laminating. I know all the rage with personal laminators. I even still have one from my first year teaching, circa 2001. I still laminate-small cards the kids will destroy, really important things, etc. So much of our time is sucked into laminating and cutting. I don't know about you, but there are a million things I'd rather be doing.

Lately I've been just using page protectors for my page sized games. It is so easy to print them on cardstock and stick them in a page protector. Sure they won't last forever, but by the time they get destroyed I'll probably have moved on to something new anyway. To give my kids choice, I stick 2 similar games back to back. I also like to use small manipulatives or erasers when possible instead of printing, cutting and laminating game pieces.



I love my roll tac toe or roll and read games for easy prep. Just print out, stick in a page protector, add a die and some small erasers and you're good to go. I change these out monthly for my kids to a new theme. They are always so excited to see the new game, even though it is basically the same. Another positive is they already know how to play it!

If you're interested in a free winter roll tac toe gameboard, visit my facebook page. There is a fan freebie section that I'll be adding to periodically.


So that's my simple teaching tip-use page protectors instead of laminating when possible. Definitely not a new idea, but it saves me a lot of time. Next week I'll be talking about my favorite organization containers ever. In closing...




Live Simply, Teach Simply


I'm starting a new weekly series "Live Simply, Teach Simply". Isn't the simple life what we all strive for?  Unfortunately, teaching is one of the farthest things from simple. It continues to head down the "getting even more complicated" path. There is no quick fix for easy teaching. In fact, great teaching takes great planning,  time and effort. However, I do feel there are little things you can do to help simplify the chaos.

In my life I really strive to TRY to keep things as simple as possible (notice that keyword TRY). I used to pride myself with being "that teacher". You know, the one who does a really good job, yet doesn't live at school or take a ton of things home. This year I headed back to first grade classroom after a two year gig as a reading specialist. Great move, however, the change happened four weeks into the school year.  I feel like I'm still playing catch up and haven't gotten back into my simple groove yet. Add to that all of the education woes of budget cuts, less planning, etc and my head is spinning and I'm spending way more time at school than planned. But I am determined to get back to the simple teaching life.

So join me on my adventure. Each week I'll try to share one simple tip or time saver.  It won't be rocket science, just a little something I do to help make my teaching life easier. Hopefully it will help simplify your life or make you think of something else you can do. I'll always end the post with a quote and picture from a personal trip. Traveling is one thing that helps keep my life in balance and simple. We are surrounded by such natural beauty.  It is so breathtaking to take it all in and appreciate all the little things that this great world has to offer!


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Break is Never Long Enough!

We had to go back to school last Thursday. I'm totally jealous of everyone that didn't have to go back until Monday (or later due to snow!). After a break, the kids are always so excited to come back and see their friends. I knew they would want to share all about their Christmas and break, so I came up with this super easy game to start off the day. I let the kids choose their group of 3-4 people. One person shared ONE thing about break-it could be something they did, a gift they got, etc. The other people in the group took turns rolling the question die and asking their friend a question related to what they shared beginning with the question word they rolled. They kept playing until everyone had a chance to share and ask questions. This game worked on asking and answering questions and it also gave them a chance to share and talk with their friends. Plus, the only prep was having a question die for each group with the words-who, what, where, when, why, how. Super easy, fun and educational!


We also made our New Year's writing craftivity. I decided to let them use the craft punches to decorate their hats. They always get so excited when I pull those out! I choose the organizer that included I wish... I will... I hope... I want to... They turned out cute. It is always so heartwarming to see what they write! You can get a copy here with 20 different graphic organizers/writing papers.


I'm working on a few new winter products. Be sure to follow my blog, facebook and instagram for some upcoming flash freebies! Best wishes for a wonderful week back at school. May your students remember all of the rules and routines!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy 2014!

It is officially 2014! To kick off the new year right I'm throwing a sale in my TPT store. It lasts until Friday (in case you have to go back to work the next two days like me) and everything is 20% off.


I'm really looking forward to 2014 and hope to really get this blog going! So happy 2014 and here's to some fun new adventures this year!