Friday, March 18, 2016

Estimation FREEBIE for First Grade!

Looking for a fun way to get your students to practice estimating? I use a take-home assignment called the "Estimation Station". It's pretty simple and lots of fun! Keep reading if you'd like to try it!

Before I send this home with kids, I do a lot of modeling and practice in the classroom. The main strategy I use to help students learn to develop their estimation skills is determining a benchmark. The following image is very popular on Pinterest (I assume the original source is Teacher Created Materials. The pins did not take me to the exact source.), probably because it explains the strategy very well- help students determine a part or layer, a set of 10 or 20, for example, that they can then use to form an estimate.
We used different math manipulatives from the classroom and followed those steps- For example, "If this is what 10 cubes look like in the container, now estimate how many it holds when it's full."

After a couple of months doing the Estimation Station together during our daily calendar math time, I decided to make it a home activity.

I typed up directions for parents and made some cute labels for both the folder and the container. Then I found an extra library bag (supplied by my school) to use as a way to transport the items to and from school. If you'd like a copy, just click on the image below for the shared doc.

I explained to my class that I would pull two names a week (that way a couple kids get to do it each week without it losing as much novelty). Each student gets two night to prepare, so if they take it home on Monday, they need to bring it back by Wednesday to share with the class.

Since I love to use songs to teach concepts and/or signal transition times, I also set out to look for a cute estimation song. I found the following from Heidi Songs on Youtube. I changed the lyrics slightly to say, "Estimate, estimate, I use my best thinking and then I estimate." We leave out the part about "you're close, but I'm closer." That just made estimating sound competitive- why? For movements, the kids move their hands and gently tap their head like they are thinking deeply! After all, we are a "thoughtful" classroom ;) When I start singing this song, my kids know to make a circle on the carpet and get ready for the share.

During the share, the Estimation Station Supervisor shows the container and tells us what item is inside. He/she walks around the circle showing the container briefly to the students to allow them to judge a benchmark from which to base their estimate.

Then I collect estimates on the white board. I don't bother recording names as they usually remember what they've said, plus, I don't want to make the estimate "personal." Early learners can still be quite sensitive about being "wrong" and I try to encourage a growth mindset with this activity. I remind them that no one is always correct when estimating!

Finally the "supervisor" counts out the items into sets of ten so we can check the actual amount.

So far, students have shared legos, origami paper cranes (yes, she made each one!) candies and marbles! My class LOVES it and it gives us the opportunity to discuss how to come up with reasonable estimates- lots of great thinking and math talk!

How do you teach estimation in your class?
Thanks for stopping by,

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Opinion Writing in First Grade: FREEBIES!

Hello friends! Do you use the Lucy Calkins' units as a resource for writing workshop? They are brimming with ideas and detailed teacher scripts, which can make them a bit cumbersome, if not intimidating. Today I'm sharing how I have used Lucy's first grade unit for persuasive writing. Hopefully you can get some helpful ideas for your classroom.

Before we started writing, we explored facts and opinions. One fun way to do this is with a taste test! I used Cheetos and Pringles- not so nutritious, but YUM! Of course, we graphed our opinions (sorry no pic!) and then wrote only an opinion statement using the word <because>. I felt like this would be a good way to scaffold for writing more details later on! Here is the writing paper I used. Click on the picture to get a copy. 

I loved Lucy's suggestion to ask students to bring in a collection of favorite things to write about because it's concrete, authentic and meaningful for your kids! I drafted this letter and sent it home to parents a few days before I wanted my kids to bring their collections to school. Feel free to grab a copy by clicking on it!

Whenever I plan for writing, I read Lucy's lessons and pull out what I think will work for my kids and my schedule. Time is often tight, so I don't usually follow everything in the units, but that's ok- Lucy wants teachers to make those units their own, so don't be afraid that you are going to mess anything up!! Add your own ideas and personality to it!
I find it helps me to outline the unit so I have a general sequence to follow, but I can still modify what I teach a long the way to meet my students' needs. Here are my notes after reading up through the "first bend".

Opinion Writing Unit for First Grade, 2016, 6-7 weeks

  1. Review checklist for students (kid friendly?)
  2. Discuss prompt: how will we word it?
  3. Give pre-assessment
  4. Norming meeting- score a piece together, then score by self using rubric
  5. Assign writing partners for kids

Week of Jan 3rd
What’s the difference between fact and opinion?(an opinion is a judgement)
  • Taste tests (use <because> to share verbally)
  • Class graphs
  • Position teams for debate
  • Read picture books, “The Best of Show”
  • Letter to parents about sharing a collection

Week of Jan 10
1) Make judgments
People talk and write about their opinions- Share your own collections of items and explain “judging” connection.
Students bring in their own collections
What do judges do (anchor chart)
Students judge their collection and write/support opinion
Model: paper with award ribbon: color blue, red or yellow

2) Write to explain judgement/opinion
Model: reread and revise to elaborate on the reasons
“For example” and I think that because”
Use half sheets of paper to add on (revision tabs)
Add details that tell how the item is special
Fishbowl share: what did you DO as a writer to improve? (reflect)

3) Form- What is the format of opinion writing?
Intro checklist/rubric
Analyze and evaluate student exemplar
Students self-assess personal piece
Begin revisions for missing components
Set goals

Weeks: Jan 17-31 (3 weeks)
MIni-lesson ideas
  1. What are HFW for this genre that we should spell correctly? Create a word bank with students and give a copy for their folder
  2. Brainstorming Ideas- our favorite/best in show
  3. How to write a lead
  4. Organizing - 3 parts/pages
  5. Using Transitions
  6. Elaborating with details
  7. Writing an ending
  8. Spelling by onset-rime, syllables/word chunks

Weeks of Feb 7 & 14
Pick a piece to edit and publish
Celebration on Feb 11th????
(My team and I decided to keep on with the next bend and then have a celebration!)

I then reworked her checklist to better match what I would be teaching and what my students would need. For example, I don't use a word wall; my kids have their own high frequency word (HFW on the checklist) folders that they keep with them at their seats along with their writing folders. Click on the picture below to download!

I made some paper that would go with the "best in class" or "blue ribbon" idea. I left the ribbon blank so my kids could write in it, and then color it to match the item's ranking; many wrote about the 1st, 2nd and even 3rd best items in their collections! Click on the picture below to download! You'll find different kinds of pages as well as revision tabs. By the way, the circle at the bottom right is to help kids remember to number their pages. (I like to teach them to write their beginning, middle and ending on separate pages- I think it helps them with the trait of organization.)

So, here's the fun part! Sharing collections! I shared a collection of earrings as a topic for my modeled writing- my kids loved sharing their opinions about which pair was the best.

Sharing cars and lego creations were very popular!

When they brought in their collections, they each shared with a partner and discussed their opinions. I modeled the writing a lot more than Lucy suggested and used some of the lessons from "bend 2", like "Writing Catchy Introductions and Conclusions" because it just made more sense.

I felt that my students would need to see examples of how to write beginnings and ending NOW, not during the next part of the writing unit!

 After the mini-lessons, they would write about their collection. I'd say this lasted about a week, and then it was time to send those collections home, and write about other opinions.

Sea shells get two thumbs up!
This friend brought in a collection of shells and "fossils". Knowing that they will need to rewrite some terms over and over throughout their piece, I often write topic-specific words on small post-its so my kids can spell them correctly.

After our collections, we wrote more developed opinion pieces, and now we are ready for "bend 2", writing reviews. Now we will focus our efforts on being more persuasive!

I'd love to hear how you teach your students about opinion and persuasive writing in the comments below!

Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Teaching Place Value, Tens and Ones Song FREEBIE!

Have you seen the video, Teacher Tipster Place Value Song? It's great! That's why a number of bloggers have shared how they have done a Place Value Boot Camp in their classes. Well, that concept is pretty much lost on my class of international students, but I still used the catchy song- they LOVED it! I whipped up a little poster with the lyrics,...check it out!

Click on the image to grab a copy!

Each day, I have the calendar leader pick students to "act out" a number (If you watch the video, Teacher Tipster explains, if the student is a ten, they stand up tall with arms in the air, and if the student is a one, they crouch down into a ball- Good Fun!!) 

We do it about 2 or 3 times each morning. It's a quick way to reinforce place value each morning, plus it gets kids up and moving. Love it!

I hope your students enjoy the song! Thanks for stopping by :)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

How to Teach Reading Strategies

Boo! I'm back with a Halloween literacy post!

I LOVE teaching reading! I teach through a Reader's Workshop, using the CAFE model (The Two Sisters) as a way to organize and balance instruction. I've found that my students experience the most success when I explicitly teach strategies through mini-lessons and then allow students to practice them during independent (read-to-self) and buddy reading (read-to-someone) times. Over the past three years, I have personalized several reading strategies and created Reading Strategy Cards with crisp, clean fonts and fabulous clip art!

Since the start of school, I have introduced different strategies for comprehension, accuracy, fluency and expanding vocabulary, but for this post, I will focus on the comprehension strategies we have concentrated on so far: activating schema and making connections.

My collection of cards offers various options/spellings to choose form, depending on the language you like, or are required, to use with your students. I like to use the first card shown above because I teach schema and connections hand-in-hand.

Here are my "teacher talk" notes on schema and making connections; it's part of my Reading Strategy Cards pack. As you can see, all of the strategies are aligned to CCSS.

I also LOVE to use the Strategy Songs from One Extra Degree! My kids are crazy about them and it really helps them to grasp these abstract metacognitive strategies.

I use my file folder anchor chart (poster board cut into the shape of a file folder) and post sticky notes onto it listing schema that may lead to connections.

Here are some of the books I like to use with first graders to foster making connections; they are all classroom classics that you probably have in your own collection that focus on age-appropriate topics, like having a new baby in the family, or bullying/friendship issues.

By choosing the right books, we can set students up for success. For example, reading books by the same author or with similar characters allows you to model connections and helps students make their own.

If you would like to see more of my Reading Strategy Cards and all of the options it includes, click on the picture below to visit my TpT shop and read the detailed product description and preview.

Here's what one teacher had to say about them:

Thanks for stopping by!!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Making Words with the Name Game

Hi friends! I'm back after a LONG back-to-school break from blogging! Now that this year is underway and I can breathe, I have a chance to share what we've been doing.  :)

Here's a quick and easy way to get some word work in during morning meeting- The Name Game! Thanks to my teammate, Mary, for the idea. My kids LOVE it!

Sorry it's blurry- good old iphone!

Each day, I create this simple chart for the day's line leader (or special helper, whatever you do in your class). As you can see, I use red and blue post-its to show vowels and consonants, which mimics the magnetic letters many of our kids are familiar with.

During the morning meeting, we identify the vowels, consonants and any other interesting features, like double letters or digraphs. Then students brainstorm as many words as they can.

This name was great! (No relation to the syrup dynasty- LOL! My American friends know what I'm talkin' about). Liam has a double consonant and a digraph in his last name, so it was perfect for reinforcing the concept that phonemes match graphemes, which are NOT always single letters! Graphemes can be single-letter, digraphs (2 letters) or trigraphs (3 letters). I remind students that doubles and digraphs are "letter teams" that cannot be split up (that's why we crossed out <two> and <eat>).  We are also able to discuss homophones quite a bit through this game (notice my "amazing" sketch of an ear to represent homophones.)

The whole activity takes about ten minutes and can be done any time of day- great for a "filler" lesson when you have those awkward chunks of time in your schedule. I just like to do it in the morning because the line leader is also the calendar helper.

After we count up the words, the student get to keep the chart and take it home- awesome, yes, I know!

Do you do any whole-group word work with your students?
Thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

All about Me Bags - Label FREEBIE

Hello, friends! This is a quick post to share a freebie with you! You might be swamped with BTS business like me, so I hope this helps you save some time!

Click on the picture to download!

I like to use the "All about Me Bag"/"Brown Bag Interview" activity the first week back, so I made labels to staple to the front. I forgot to grab some white bags from Target, so brown will just have to do. :)

I've copied them onto colored paper and labeled students' name and "return by" date.

You'll see that there's a "boy" label and a "girl" label. I usually send the bags home on the first day, stressing that students should only include 5 items (Yes, boys and girls, ONLY 5!) that can fit in the bag. We discuss and brainstorm items that might be good to include, like photos or small toys.

I ask that they be returned by the following week, and that's when we start sharing, about 2-4 bags per day during either Morning Meeting or Closing Circle.

I start school tomorrow! I'm excited to meet my little cuties, but still have some last minute stuff to get done! Have you started back yet??

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Tips for First Year Teachers

This August I will begin my 20th year in the classroom--hard to believe! For many new teachers, this fall will be the beginning of their journey. After that exhausting job search, you finally have a classroom of your own! Thinking back to my first year, there were so many things I wish I had known, so I'm sharing that advice today. Newbies, this post is for you. Keeping it simple, here are the ABCs of your First Year Teaching.

Simple, practical advice for first year teachers, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom

You're the new kid on the block, so instead of letting that bother you, embrace it. Don't waste energy worrying about what you don't know. Instead, learn as much as you can; don't be afraid to...

Ask lots of them! Every school has its own "institutional history," meaning their own way of doing things- routines, procedures, grading, etc. A lot of these procedures are "invisible"- teachers just internailze these procedures over time, and automatically follow them, so that's why it's important to ask about them. 

Ask a Mentor

Many schools assign a mentor teacher to first-year teachers, which is so very helpful! If your school doesn't follow this practice, seek out an approachable, veteran teacher yourself and learn from her/him. 
  • Ask to observe her/him teach and note how they deliver and pace (timing is tricky, but comes with practice) their lessons.
  • Ask them about their behavior management techniques (this is by far the MOST important skill to master your first year- If you cannot manage your students, there won't be much learning happening!)
  • Ask them how they organize their classroom (student work, files and materials can take over your classroom unless they have a proper home!)
  • DO NOT ask to have a copy of their lessons or whatever they are using to teach, unless of course they offer. The goal is for you to develop your own identity as a teacher. Each of us brings our own unique personality and style to teaching, so don't try to cheat the process by "copying" someone else. If you are not wanting and willing to invest in yourself as a professional, then teaching will never be a fulfilling career choice for you. 

Ask a Parent

It's also important to ask your parents questions. Build a relationship with them through positive communication. Many teachers start off the year with a Parent Survey which is a questionnaire about their child. These surveys communicate your concern for their child's well-being and growth. You may continue to communicate with parents through weekly newsletters, emails, text messages and or blog posts (if you have a class blog).

Ask Your Students

And don't forget about your students! Ask them lots of questions to get to know them, their interests, their passions and their dreams. This is especially important when you have students that may present behavioral challenges, but it also applies to all your students. Never assume that you know what is going on in that child's mind or life- we truly have no idea what goes on at home, good or bad.

Lastly, let them ask you questions (notice I did not say, 'question you'!) You are a rock star in their eyes and they want to know ALL about you. It is possible to balance your authority as the teacher with your role as a friend. I try very hard to hear my students out, even when I think I know what they are going to say, and many times they surprise me. Let them be heard - you may be the only adult in their life who listens to them, really listens, and communicates a sense of validation. Sometimes this requires you to dig deep into your patience pocket, but it's more than worth it.


Finding balance for anyone can be extremely difficult, but must be a priority for a teacher in order to prevent burn out. Much like housework, it often feels like a teacher's job is never done - lesson planning, prepping materials, assessments and paperwork!!! So, how can you manage it all without feeling overwhelmed? Make a plan and stick to it!

Balance Your Schedule

You will need to put in "over time" your first year, just know that and plan for it. At the beginning of the school year, there is a lot to do, so almost everyone stays late or comes in early until they get a rhythm going. Decide which days you will stay late/come in early - do you prefer to do most of your prep and planning at the beginning of the week, or at the end?  Do you prefer to complete some work at home, or will you be distracted? These preferences are really up to you, but decide on a schedule and stick to it so that you will get your much needed rest and rejuvenation time outside of school!!!

Balance Your Goals

Rome wasn't built in a day, and that's doubly true for any classroom! In the beginning, you'll want everything to be perfect, but it won't be - it never is for any teacher, at least not for me!! Be patient with yourself and set small, reachable goals with realistic timelines. For example, decide that you will focus on getting pre-assessments done in ??? days, and they you will start guided reading. Then, you may decide to start with 1 guided reading group a day, at first. You see, there are so many routines and activities that all must come together to make your classroom function, but it all takes time. Don't rush it; that just leads to frustration. This is where your mentor teacher can really help you prioritize what's really important!


"Who dares to teach must never cease to learn" John Cotton Dana

The best teachers keep evolving as lifelong learners like the students they hope to cultivate. Your first couple of years of teaching will be full of growth in many ways, but beyond that, commit to growing in one area each year. This echoes my advice about balancing your goals so that they are achievable and authentic. For example, in addition to several smaller goals along the way, commit to becoming a master at classroom management and building relationships as I believe this is the foundation of a positive classroom environment. Beyond that, commit to other subject areas in which you can grow as a teacher in literacy, math, or inquiry, for example. 
  • Commit to professional reading. Heinemann is my favorite publisher for professional resources. Many teacher blogs host book studies from time to time, so order your book and join the fun.
  • Commit to classes. Learner's Edge offers lots of online classes for educators at very reasonable fees.
  • Commit to professional learning in your school/district. Look for opportunities to attend workshops in your area, or simply participate in professional learning communities on your campus.
  • Commit to yourself. If all else fails, you can learn on your own! There are LOADS of great teaching blogs out there, not to mention Pinterest and Instagram!!! Back in my day, I didn't have those resources at my fingertips! Ah yes, the olden days before internet :)
  • Commit to positive thinking!

I hope you found this advice helpful! As you prepare to create your own thoughtful classroom, I leave you with a poem that reminds me why, after 20 years, I am still proud to be just a teacher.