Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Small Group "Warm-Ups" To Maximize Time at the Table

Using Small Group Warm Ups To Maximize Your Time At The Small Group Table: Tips For Elementary Small Group Instruction
I have, and always will, firmly believe that the time my students and I spend at the small group table is THE most important time of our day.  If you have followed my blog for any amount of time, you know how strongly I believe in the power of small group instruction within the classroom.  Over the past few years, I have been blessed to be able to share organization, management, and instructional practices about small group instruction with other primary teachers.  Without question, one of the most common questions and concerns for teachers is how to maximize the amount of TIME we spend with our students at the small group table.  Small group time is precious! I have three "rounds" of small reading groups in my classroom each day, for approximately 20 minutes a round.  If we waste several minutes transitioning to the table and into our lesson, those wasted minutes can REALLY add up throughout the week! 

There are many ways to maximize time within our lessons, but today, let's talk about those first critical 3-5 minutes.  Those first five minutes of a small group lesson is where I often see the most wasted time. The following (and many more) commonly contribute to those first 3-5 minutes going down the drain:

*Students arrive at the table and then sit (and chat) while waiting for the teacher to begin.
*The teacher waits for EVERYBODY in the group to arrive at the small group table before beginning instruction.
*The first instructional activity of the teachers' lesson for the day is a whole group activity.
*The initial instructional activity for small group time varies from day to day, leaving no predictable routine for the students to become accustomed to during small group instruction.

Do any of these sound familiar? Today, let's talk about two really great and EASY "small group warm-up" activities that are student-led and student-initiated. The idea is that your students know exactly what to do the second they reach the small group table.  In this way, students can get started on their reading practice as soon as they reach the small group table, automatically knowing what to do, without the teacher's directions.

#1 Fluency Baskets
Using Small Group Warm Ups To Maximize Your Time At The Small Group Table: Tips For Elementary Small Group Instruction
Every one of my reading groups is assigned a specific colored basket.  When a student reaches the small group table during reading time, the child immediately grabs yesterday's guided reading book, or a previously read book, from the group's designated fluency basket and starts re-reading. This is a very easy and effective way to build fluency practice into your small group time.  It is a "warm-up" that the students can complete on their own, without wasting valuable time. Students can continue to read books from their group's fluency basket, while the teacher works one on one with a student, does a running record on a child, or listens to a child read yesterday's guided reading book. 

#2: Sight Word Recognition
Using Small Group Warm Ups To Maximize Your Time At The Small Group Table: Tips For Elementary Small Group Instruction
In the primary grades, sight words are an important part of small group instruction.  Of course, there are MANY instructional activities to help students with sight word recognition, but one of the easiest "warm-ups" for the small group table is sight word practice! All students are capable of practicing words they already know, and words they are currently learning.  I use to have students quickly work through their sight word flashcard baggies when they reached the small group table. They would sit down, and immediately grab their word baggies to practice while we waited those 2-3 minutes for everyone to settle in for my instruction and activities for the day. 

There was only one problem with our flashcard baggies. 
They were boring.
Sure, they served their purpose. My kids were instantly getting started without my help, which maximized the amount of productivity time at the small group table. But they were bored.  To make this "warm-up" more engaging, I created Sight Word Spinners:
Sight Word Spinners: Using Small Group Warm Ups To Maximize Your Time At The Small Group Table: Tips For Elementary Small Group Instruction
The concept is simple. Students grab the Sight Word Spinner they are working on that week from a basket (or the teacher can already have this laid out on the table before students arrive to group time). Then, they spin the spinner with a pointer or a pencil (and a paperclip) and practice reading the word list that matches the picture on the spinner as quickly as they can. Then, they repeat this activity by spinning again! 
Sight Word Spinners: Using Small Group Warm Ups To Maximize Your Time At The Small Group Table: Tips For Elementary Small Group Instruction
I also like to have these out for students to begin once they finish reading their book from our fluency basket.  Then, we do not run into a student who zips through a previously read book, and then sits there waiting for his friends to finish. (Sounds familiar, huh?!) Once the book is completed, the child begins working on his or her Sight Word Spinner. 

In the picture below, you can see that I had Sight Word Spinners laid out for students to get started on as soon as they reached the table. In this picture, the group was all working on the same list of words. However, this pack covers the first 500 Fry Words, so you can easily differentiate from student to student or group to group, based on which set of words they need to practice and learn! :) 
Using Small Group Warm Ups To Maximize Your Time At The Small Group Table: Tips For Elementary Small Group Instruction
You can organize each of the 100 Fry Word Lists by printing them on different colored card stock. You might even choose to laminate the spinners so that you can simply reuse them over and over again each year! :)
Sight Word Spinners: Using Small Group Warm Ups To Maximize Your Time At The Small Group Table: Tips For Elementary Small Group Instruction
Would you like to try a Sight Word Spinner page out for FREE? Click the picture below and download the Free Preview File in my store to print one out and give it a try! :)
Sight Word Spinners: Using Small Group Warm Ups To Maximize Your Time At The Small Group Table: Tips For Elementary Small Group Instruction
You can a bundle pack that includes my Sight Word Spinners and my Sight Word Assessments and Word Lists pack: a complete, student-friendly tracking system for your sight word recognition assessments by clicking below: 
Sight Word Tracking System: Using Small Group Warm Ups To Maximize Your Time At The Small Group Table: Tips For Elementary Small Group Instruction
I hope this little post gave you two ideas you can quickly and easily implement into your small group lesson plan and routine! :) When we maximize time at the table by getting our students to independently get started right away on something, we minimize management problems and boost reading skills! It's a win-win for the students AND the teacher! :)

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Tricky Triangle Game: Boost Thinking Skills!

Using Strategy Games to Boost Thinking Skills: A Center for Critical Thinking
Do you use partner math games and centers in your classroom? I do! I love watching my first graders interact with one another while they play their math games. Some of them get such a serious look on their face while they are playing. It makes me smile to watch how hard they concentrate on the games!

When we think of math games and math centers, we almost immediately think about the typical math concepts: addition games, subtraction games, multiplication and division games, fractions, place value....I could go on and on. All of these game topics are important - they reinforce the standards we teach within our lessons and in our small groups. Math games provide our students with the opportunity to practice these skills on a more independent level. The games also let students apply the skills in a concrete manner. Plus, games are FUN! 

The math games and centers in my classroom are on a one month rotation. At the beginning of every month, we learn our new games.  I have four kinds of partner games each month and four "independent math games" that students choose from each day when they are not meeting with me for their small groups. (We also have computers and tablets as options, too.)  You can read more about how I run my math workshop time by reading the blog post HERE. You can find my monthly, theme-based math games by clicking HERE.

Each month, in addition to our standards-based games, I always try to incorporate a strategy-based game into our routine.  What is a strategy based game? It's a game that requires students to use problem solving skills, evaluate a player's potential next move, and most importantly....THINK! Students must do a lot of THINKING in order to "win" or "conquer" the game.

Why are games that simply target "thinking skills" important? 
Did you know children are not born with the ability to think critically? It must be something that is fostered, taught, and practiced throughout their everyday lives. It must be weaved into every activity, every lesson, every task we ask students to participate in within our classrooms.  If our students are not doing their own thinking, we are robbing them of achieving their greatest potential as learners. 

So what are some games that we can use as "strategy games" for students?
Did you know that the game Tic Tac Toe could essentially be a strategy game?!
YES! It's THAT simple! Think about it.  Playing Tic Tac Toe requires the student to have SOME kind of strategy in order to win.  Yes, to some degree it is often "luck," but it also requires you to think ahead and predict your partner's move in order to make key decisions.

During the month of April, we introduced a new strategy game into our classroom: 
The Tricky Triangle Game!
Using Strategy Games to Boost Thinking Skills: A Center for Critical Thinking
You know this game - you played it as a kid!  As I was having breakfast with a friend at Cracker Barrel (pancakes....yum!), I noticed The Tricky Triangle Game sitting on the table. 
"Why haven't I thought of that before?!" I asked myself.  I purchased two copies of the game in their gift shop before heading home.  The Tricky Triangle Game is now an absolute FAVORITE strategy game in our first grade classroom. The kids LOVE it!

I love it, too.  It requires my students to implement problem solving skills and make decisions based on their partner's last move.  It took some kids a LONG time to understand that they could only jump over ONE peg during their turn.  I played the game with the students in small groups before it became a part of our math tubs after spring break. 
Using Strategy Games to Boost Thinking Skills: A Center for Critical Thinking
The object of the game is to continue to jump over one peg at a time, until you eliminate as many pegs as you can from the triangle board.  This sounds easy, but if you've ever played this game with your parents or a friend, you know it is not as easy as it looks! It requires a lot of STRATEGY and THINKING skills.

Oh how I wish I could show you pictures of their little faces! I had to crop their sweet faces out of these pictures, but please imagine my little first graders faces with looks of COMPLETE CONCENTRATION and FOCUS as they carefully considered each move they made throughout the game.   #bestillmyteacherheart
Using Strategy Games to Boost Thinking Skills: A Center for Critical Thinking
I also love this strategy game because it can be used as a partner game AND as an independent game. Strategy games are perfect for "Fast Finishers." To play with a partner, the kids took turns jumping over a peg and collecting the peg they jumped over.  The partner with the most pegs at the end of the game (when no moves were left to play) WINS! Then, they simple re-loaded the game and played again!
Using Strategy Games to Boost Thinking Skills: A Center for Critical Thinking
The game is also small enough to fit into multiple sized tubs and containers.  The best part about the organization and storage of this game?  It is NO PREP! Simply purchase the game, throw it in a container, and voila! An instant, thinking-rich, strategy-based game for your math centers! 
#yourewelcome

You can find the game at Cracker Barrel restaurants or on Amazon, of course! The link below will take you straight to the Tricky Triangle Game, which you can purchase from your couch and your pajamas. :) If you buy the copies at Cracker Barrel, my teacher-tip is to take a sharpie and cross off the word "dumb" on the wooden game board haha! Why is that on there haha?! You can see in the picture above that the word has been crossed off. ;)


If you're looking for independent math games that can be differentiated for your students, you might enjoy checking out my Write On/Wipe Off Math Games and Centers pack. It contains easy to prep games for the entire school year! 

Thank you for stopping by! I hope you enjoy playing this critical thinking game with your students! :) Be sure to stop by and visit again soon! 

Happy Learning,

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 
Promo Code CELEBRATE 
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,