Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Writing Rings Writing Center: Open-Ended Writing Fun!

Does your writing center need spiced up?! 
I use writing centers in my classroom during our Daily 5 time for Work on Writing. My kids have the option of working on whatever writing piece they would like during this time. I also keep a "writing activity" in our Writing Center basket for those kiddos who have a hard time coming up with something to write about.  The rule during "Work on Writing" is simple in my room: Write the whole time. :) 

To constantly keep things exciting and fresh, I switch out the writing activity within our Writing Center basket every 2-3 weeks.  Last month, I shared our Story Puzzles Writing Center with you. My kids had SO much fun with that writing center! Now, however, it is time to freshen up our basket once again and switch it up! My kids are currently working on my newest open-ended writing center: Writing Rings 
This little writing center is packed with SO many possibilities and options. It will truly keep your writers engaged and busy for weeks and weeks on end! The pack focuses on informational and opinion writing pieces, but you could also use it for narrative writing, too! Let's take a look inside. :) 
The pack comes with 32 real, color photographs that cover a variety of general topics. Lots of school topics, sports, food, people, and various places are all included for writing cards. I like to print the writing cards out and put them onto binder rings. You could also put the cards into a bucket. Your students can pull out a writing topic card to use and write about! Posters are included to guide students through the process of writing a topic sentence, details or reasons, and a conclusion sentence. 
After students pick out a card on the ring to write about, they can decide (or you can decide!) whether to write an informational writing piece or an opinion writing piece about the topic. This is what makes this center SO versatile - The students can use the cards over and over again, each time writing about the topic from a new and different angle! :) Put all 32 cards on the binder ring, or, separate the cards into different categories and swap the rings out for endless weeks of writing fun!
The photograph above shows an opinion piece about the beach. The triangle visually signals to students that they need to write a topic sentence. The circles stand for the details and reasons, and the square visually represents the conclusion statement. The beauty is that this process is consistent on both posters, so it really helps struggling writers who need to see "where to go" next in their paper. 
Here is an example of an informative writing piece using the ice cream writing card! :) The student can choose to grab a new card during his or her next Work on Writing time, or use the ice cream card again and write an opinion/persuasive paper about the best flavor of ice cream. 
There are LOTS of differentiated writing templates included in this pack. The pack contains various sizes of writing lines. It also contains templates that have multiple writing lines for each section of the paper. Choose the writing template that works best for your group of students to print off and place into your writing center basket. 
Do you have students who are still struggling with writing open-ended papers? The pack also comes with 10 pre-made "Fill It In" templates. There are both informational and opinion pieces int his section.  It is a great section to use for handwriting reinforcement. Students can trace or copy the sentence starts and fill in the blanks with their own thoughts and ideas. Tip & Trick: Copy the 10 "Fill It In" pages on colored card stock. Then, place the pages in sheet protectors and add a dry erase marker. Voila! You have an instant, EXTRA writing center for your classroom! These pages would be great to use at the beginning of the year for first and second grade, or with advanced kindergarteners at the end of the year. You could also choose to use them as examples, writing models, practice printables, and/or homework. 
I hope you love this new writing center as much as my kiddos are!! :) 
To check it out in my store, click HERE or click on the picture below!

Want more Open-Ended Writing Centers for your classroom? You might be interested in my Story Puzzles Writing Center! Endless narrative writing fun for your students!

Happy Writing,

Monday, May 2, 2016

TpT Teacher Appreciation Thank You SALE!

Hi Everyone!
It is that time of year again!!! EEEKKKK!!!!
 It is the time when we are appreciated for all that we do!!!
Lots of TPT Sellers are putting their stores on sale for 20% off - I'm joining in on the party! 
You can save an additional 10% off of your purchase when you enter in the 
We want to make it very easy and convenient for you to find the stores of teachers participating in the sale!
For the 3rd year in a row, I have teamed up with some of my best blogging buddies to host a linky party filled with teachers participating int the big sale!  Teachers participating should link up a blog post or their TPT store.

You can click on any of the link ups below to shop or go to their blog to see some products they have on sale!

Here are just some of the products I have on sale! EVERYTHING in my store will be 28% off when you enter the promo code: CELEBRATE
Click HERE or on the image below to get started!

Here is a template for you to share some of yours on your blog as you link up.

Here is What to Do to Participate in the Linky

1. Copy and paste the blank template into PowerPoint.
2. Put your product pics in the template.
3. Save your button AND our linky button.
4. Create a blog post using these images.
5. Link your published blog post up with us OR just link up your TPT store that will be on sale! 

Have fun and Happy Shopping!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Handwriting Helpers for Little Writers

Hello Teacher Friends!
Let's talk about HANDWRITING today!
Over the years, I've realized that handwriting instruction can vary widely from district to district. It can even vary from school to school and from teacher to teacher. With all of the technology in today's world, such as the convenient use of keyboards and speech-to-text programs for students, handwriting can sometimes seem like a lost art. 

Where do you stand on the topic of handwriting?
In my eyes, it's extremely important!  Even in our technology-filled world, there will always be a need for quality handwriting skills: a quick note to a spouse or friend, a to-do list, a sticky note reminder, a thank you note, etc. Within the classroom, handwriting is a primary tool of communication. However, as teachers, we often receive little professional training or instruction in interventions for students who struggle with proper handwriting.  Today, I want to share some simple, easy-to-implement ideas, tips, and tricks you can use with your kiddos who struggle with proper handwriting skills and techniques. 
Let's get started!
Proper wrist extension and shoulder stability are necessary for the fine motor movements associated with writing. For students who struggle, try letting them write by laying on the floor, on their tummies.  The student can rest his or her elbows onto the floor to improve shoulder stability.  This is very similar to when a baby does "tummy time" on the floor. The position helps improve sensory input and strengthens the muscles needed for handwriting.
Another idea is to place the paper on top of a 4 to 5 inch binder. Position the binder so that the rings are at the top of the paper and the binder slants towards the child. Rotate the binder at an angle.
The Pencil Grip makes AMAZING pencil grippers! These are a definite staple supply in my classroom for students who struggle with proper pencil grasps.  Yes, there are many different grippers out there, but The Pencil Grip, Inc. is THE source that I trust to use for my kiddos. Their grippers are research based and truly provide the scaffolding support that students need as they adjust their pencil grip to a proper position. The best part about The Pencil Grip's grippers is the options they offer.  They use a 3-step approach to guiding students toward a proper pencil grasp.  This is important to me because in the same way that I would not expect a reader to go from reading 2 words per minute to 50 words per minute in a matter of a week, I do not expect a student to automatically pick up a new habit and suddenly hold his or her pencil correctly.  Baby steps, my friends!  Here's a look at the three main grippers I like to use from The Pencil Grip, Inc.

Step One: The Crossover Grip
This gripper is great to use to help students who want to cross their fingers over one another. The deep finger guards hold the fingers in the correct position.  I find that this gripper is helpful with very stubborn students who need a lot of directed support in understanding where their fingers need to be placed on the pencil.  It's also very comfy!

Step Two: The Pinch Grip
The Pinch Grip is a more gentle guide for proper handwriting positioning.  As you can see, the "cape" design of The Crossover Grip is now eliminated and the "pockets" used to position the fingers is more subtle.  Once I notice improvement in the student's pencil grasp after using The Crossover Grip in Step One, we move onto The Pinch Grip.  They LOVE when they get to "graduate" to a brand new pencil gripper and my kids find this super motivating and exciting! 

Step Three: The Original Pencil Grip
The Original Pencil Grip is the pencil grip you are probably more commonly used to seeing. This helps train students in a traditional tripod grasp and it's truly a great "training" grip for ALL young writers.  Do you have students who will sometimes slip into their "bad habit" pencil grip? Using the Original Pencil Grip on a day to day basis can truly help prevent that "bad habit" grasp from returning.  All of the grips also work wonderfully for students who are both left handed and right handed.

Not sure how to help your students with their pencil grasp? The Pencil Grip, Inc. provides a free download of a wonderful poster to help you understand the differences between a correct and incorrect pencil grasp. You can find this free download by clicking HERE.

As an avid Amazon shopper, I love that I can purchase The Pencil Grip's grippers straight from their Amazon store! Find all of these grips (plus tons more) by clicking HERE or on the picture below:
I don't know about you, but another common handwriting problem is aligning the writing up to start on the left side of the paper.  You know the kids I am talking about. They can be fabulous writers, but by the time they get to the bottom of the page, their essay looks more like a pyramid art project than a paper or journal entry! 
An easy, highly visual aid is to take green highlighting tape (I like to use Washi tape) and stick it vertically along the left side of the paper.  This serves as a visual reminder for students to "start" their writing where the green tape is.  You could even take a green marker and draw a vertical green line down the left side of the paper, too! :)
This year, I have quite a few first graders who just want to write all of their letters BIG! I don't mean that every letter is capitalized, but that their lowercase letters are almost reaching the top sky line. Gahhh, it drives me insane! One visual intervention you can use with these kiddos is to use highlighted writing paper. You can buy pre-printed highlighted writing paper on many websites.....
But, there's just one problem. 
I am cheap.
I'm not afraid to admit it. 
My fix?
Just highlight the page with a highlighter! Yes, it takes a bit longer but after awhile, you can even have the child do this! I actually prefer that because while they are highlighting the lowercase line, it makes them focus on what our intentional goal is - to write our lowercase letters where they should be!
Highlighting the bottom half of the writing line emphasizes where the lowercase letters need to be placed, and helps kids focus on this skill as they are writing. 

Are you guilty of starting the school year with a great handwriting review and lots of practice, but then forgetting to bring it up again throughout the year?
(I'm raising my hand right now.)
Yes, I've "been there, done that" many times before.  Especially in first and second grade, it's easy to do a great review at the beginning of the year and then assume and expect our kids to just "have good handwriting" for the remainder of the year.  But, my friends, that is not how reality works.  Truthfully, we need to be teaching handwriting instruction and practice in a consistent, direct manner throughout the entire year.  Otherwise, we end up with kids who form bad habits that are entirely too difficult to break if we just "let it go" and fail to re-teach and instruct.  Just like we would re-teach a math concept that a child fails on a test we need to be sure that we are consistently providing handwriting instruction to those students who are struggling.

I LOVE using my Handwriting for Beginning Readers practice pack when I am reviewing and re-teaching proper letter formation.  Why do I love it? Because it does not just involve the students "tracing" a word over and over again. Instead, it combines phonics and reading skills at the same time! :) This is a great pack that you could pull out at the beginning of the year, or throughout the year when you need a review with your students. You could also place the pages in sheet protectors and create a "handwriting center" that you can implement all year round! :)

You can find this pack in my TpT store by clicking HERE or on the picture below:

Some students will benefit from getting more sensory feedback as they write.  One idea is to place the paper on top of a sheet of sandpaper. I actually like to use this idea for students who write really lightly on the paper. (So lightly that I find myself squinting my eyes like I am 90 years old because I can barely see the pencil marks!) Do you have writers like that, too?! Have students who write with TOO much pressure? For example, the student is pressing down so hard on the paper that his pencil is always breaking and the writing is SO dark.  For a quick intervention idea, place a carpet square under the paper.  The student HAS to focus on writing lightly so that he or she does not make immediate holes and rips right through the paper. 

The Pencil Grip company also makes an excellent "weighted" pen and pencil.  This is great for students who need more sensory feedback while they are writing. It also helps students who need to continue to strengthen their fingers in order to properly use their fine motor skills. You can find the weighted pen HERE and the weighted pencil HERE

I hope this post gave you some quick but helpful ways to assist your students who struggle with handwriting. Whether it is the students' pencil grasp, fine motor skills, strength, or visual perception while writing, there are SO many things you can do as a classroom teacher to help your students reach handwriting success! 

Thank you so much for stopping by today! 
Happy Learning,

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Work On Writing: Story Puzzles Writing Center

Do you use literacy centers within your classroom? 
As someone who uses The Daily 5 as my "structure and routine" for small group reading, I am always looking for fun and fresh ways to liven up our Work on Writing time! Today, I'd love to share a sweet little writing center that turned into a BIG hit in my room!
 In my classroom, the students who choose to go to Work on Writing can write about whatever they would like.  They can choose to write a letter to mom and dad, write about their day in their journals, start a new story, work on an old story, etc.  They definitely stay BUSY! However...let's face it.  I teach six and seven year olds. Sometimes, they try and try and try...but they wind up in struggle-city figuring out what to write about.  I always like to have some kind of writing "center" or pre-determined option available to my first grade writers. In this way, they can choose to write their own piece, or, they can choose to complete the writing center activity.

Guess what?!
I don't care what they decide - as long as they are WRITING!
Nevertheless, it's not a surprise to me that most of my kids LOVE choosing the writing activity that I put into our Writing Basket.  I swap out this writing activity every 2-3 weeks, depending on how much the kids are eating it up!

Last month, I introduced a writing center that I called:
Let's just say we are going on Week FOUR with this writing center because it is a HIT!
Here's how it works:

I placed two buckets on our bookshelf. One bucket contains cards with various "settings." The other bucket contains a variety of "character" cards.  The students pick out a Setting card and a Character card.  It's up to them if they want to sift through the buckets to find cards they like, or draw the cards without looking first. :) They LOVE the mystery of not knowing which cards they will pull.
Each "setting" card fits together with a "character" card, creating a storyline for the children to write about!  They think it's SUPER funny when their setting and characters do not "match!"  I have lots of kids who try to come up with the funniest and most random combinations they can, while I have other students who will sift through the buckets to find that "perfect match." (Think: Princess & Castle, Mermaid & Ocean, etc.) Below is a picture of some funny combinations and cards my kids chose to write about:
The kids take their cards back to their seats, grab a piece of story paper, and get started on their new writing creation! They illustrate the setting and character and write a story to match the scene.  So.Much.Fun!!
 The BEST part of this writing center?
It's n...e...v...e...r...e...n...d...i...n...g!
There are SO many combinations of story scenes the kids can create, so once they finish one story, they pull two new cards out of the buckets and begin again! :)
Fun + Engagement + Creativity =
Writing Dreamland!

This writing center also includes a graphic organizer that the students can use to plan or map out their story before they start.  This is also a nice graphic organizer that can be used anytime you work on narrative writing with your students. The setting and character cards also come in both color and black & white. 
 We like to use story paper in my classroom, but the pack also comes with differentiated organizers, writing templates, and differentiated writing paper.  In this way, you can pick and choose which level of writing paper best meets your students needs as a classroom, small group, or individually! 

I know your students will love this writing center as much as mine do. :)
Thanks for letting me share it with you today!

You can check out my Story Puzzles Writing Center in my TpT store by clicking HERE or on the picture below:

Happy Writing!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

How To Implement Interactive Reading Passages

I often get asked, "What reading materials do you use for your small group instruction? books or passages?"  The answer is both! While I definitely put more books than passages into my students' hands, it is important for young readers to be able to successfully tackle a reading passage.  Of course, as educators, we need to be mindful of when our children are "ready" to be presented with a reading passage. A very young student who is still working on one-to-one correspondence and relying heavily on picture support for every page of the text is not a child we should be giving a reading passage to.  (I will always believe that nothing can replace the importance of putting a quality book into a budding reader's hands.)

"So, why do you create and teach reading skills using passages?"

For starters, reading passages are everywhere! Newspapers, magazines, internet articles, standardized testing, high school and college reading material...I could go on and on. Think of your own life as a teacher. I'm going to bet that at some point in your teaching career, your principal or curriculum director has handed you a page of text to read during a PD day or a workshop. As a result, it is vital that our students practice their reading skills on as many different formats of text as possible.  So, what are some differences in reading a book versus a passage, and why should I implement passages into my instruction?

*There is (usually) less picture support. 
At some point in their lives, readers need to be able to successfully rely less on picture cues and more on the text. Think: chapter books, college reference books, and newspaper articles that only contain one master photograph. For some students, this comes naturally and easily. For other students, this can take some practice and getting used to. 

*Without a heavy amount of picture support, context clues are crucial! 
Let's reflect on this scenario: A young child comes across a difficult word in a book. We'll pretend the sentence is: "The boy felt so gloomy." The child has never heard of the word "gloomy" before. "Can the picture help you figure out what gloomy means?" You ask the child. The child looks at the picture and sees that the boy in the illustration is crying. "I think gloomy means sad," the student says.   Now, let's pretend that same sentence is located in a passage that does not contain the highly supported illustration as the book.  The student has to use other sentences and heavily rely on his or her understanding of the text's events to successfully uncover the definition of "gloomy."  Definitely more of a challenge, right? 

*We can mark up a reading passage.
Sure, we can slather sticky notes all over a book to show our thinking in the margins. We can even place a sheet protector over the page and use a dry erase marker to underline text and make notes.  But there's nothing like being able to freely take a pen, marker, crayon, or pencil to a reading passage and underline, cross out, make comments, draw arrows, and write down reactions to your hearts content! To put it simply, I love using reading passages in my classroom because we can completely tear apart the page (in a GOOD way!)

This past year, I wanted to create some reading passages that helped my students directly interact with a small amount of text - in a BIG way. I needed some reading passages that focused my students' attention on Tier II and Tier III vocabulary, encouraged discussion regarding vocabulary words and context clues, required them to go back into the text to reread and discover information, and of course provided the opportunity to respond in writing to what they just read. 

Today, I'm going to use my new Spring Interactive Reading Passages to show you the steps I take as I use these passages for instruction within our small reading groups. Here we go!
My fall, winter, and spring passages all contain the same five components:
1) Three Tier II and/or Tier III vocabulary focus words
2) A main photograph (nonfiction passages) or illustration/picture (fiction passages) 
3) Short, manageable, PAIRED reading passages
4) Text Evidence component
5) Written and/or pictorial comprehension response to the passage that is set up to mirror an "Interactive Notebook." 
First, I draw students' attention to the title and the picture/photograph on the page. We predict what we think we will learn or read about in today's passage. Then, we read, locate, and highlight the three focus vocabulary words for the passage.  Hearing, reading, and locating these words within the passage - prior to reading the text - boosts their confidence when they read the passage.  We can focus more on what the words mean and the clues surrounding the word, because the students are less likely to put all of their focus into decoding or laboring over the word when they read.
Depending on the reading level of each group, there are various ways we have read the text.  Sometimes, we follow a "I read, we read, you read" sequence.  Other times, we read the passage together, then they read it with a partner, and read it a third time by themselves. For my higher readers, we may simply whisper read it by ourselves a few times through, while I prompt and assist as needed.

As we read, I draw their attention to the three focus words as we encounter them within the passage. I spend a great deal of time helping the students focus on context clues in order to uncover each word's meaning. As a small group, we also discuss how to use the words in other scenarios and within our everyday lives.  Often, these discussions lead to a more in-depth understanding of the topic and/or the storyline of the passage.  As a teacher, I love having these passages on hand because they not only focus on vocabulary development, but they do not overwhelm my kiddos with TOO many new vocabulary words.  Text that contains little to no new words will not broaden my students' vocabulary or challenge their comprehension.  Text that contains too many new words would completely overwhelm my kiddos and cause their comprehension to shut down.
After we have thoroughly read and discussed the passage, the students complete the text evidence component.  The comprehension skill that the text evidence component addresses varies from passage to passage. Sometimes, it requires the students to go back into the text  and underline the definition of a word. Other times, the student must go back into the text to identify components such as the setting, character, main idea, etc.  I love that this requires students to reread and "prove" their answer.

Finally, the students complete the "interactive notebook" section of the reading passage. Once again, each pack covers a wide variety of comprehension skills. Some of these comprehension skills and strategies include:
*mental images
*main idea and details
*character traits
*many more!

Want to try a FREE passage out in your classroom? Each of the three packs includes a FREE reading passage in the Preview Downloads. The passage below can be found in the Preview Download of the Spring Edition.  Click HERE or click on the image below:
Grab the entire pack of Spring Interactive Reading Passages by clicking HERE or on the picture below:
The entire BUNDLE pack of all three editions (Fall, Winter, and Spring) can be found HERE.
Do you use reading passages in your classroom? What are some benefits of using reading passages that YOU find helpful? Leave a comment below to share and let us know your favorite reason for using reading passages during your small groups! :)

As always -
Happy Learning,