Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Making Learning Hands-On: Strategies That Work!

Hello Everyone! I am so happy to be visiting today from over at Whimsy Workshop Teaching. I teach grade 1 and 2, and today I'm sharing with you some strategies for engaging students in daily work. 
My regular readers will remember that I had the most challenging class in 20 years last year! Oh my - they were so sweet, but simply had no self-regulation skills whatsoever, and as a result 14 out of 23 were not meeting reading levels. The simply could not focus on a book long enough to learn and implement any strategies. 

However, out of great challenges (or sheer desperation, depending on how you look at it!) comes new understandings. Last year (along with several different management systems) I found one of the most effective things I could do with daily work was to make everything as hands-on as possible. Not a new idea, I know...but last year almost everything got a make-over! I converted almost all of my seat work into manipulative, tactile, and active projects. Here are a few examples:

Literacy Centers: 
For my tactile learners, I brought the word wall right down to their level so they could touch and hold the words. I covered the words with clear glue to make the letters raised and bumpy; students loved the tactile feeling of running their fingers over the letters as they said the letter sound. 

Another must: lots of word and sentence building materials. This includes letter and word tiles, word family cards, pull-through word and sentence builders, letter beads...I even wrote words on all of my unifex building cubes so they could make sentences using one cube of each color. I also wrote them on stacking cups so they could build towers with each cup they "read". 

The beauty of this kind of work is the emphasis on collaboration and discussion in small groups - this made their learning experiential and meaningful as they shared ideas and explored collaboratively.

Of course they do have to write and record their sentences afterwards, but it was the hands-on stuff that got them engaged. We gradually increased their written output to several sentences by the end of the year, and they were all reading at grade level by June.

One of the most popular games was called "Hop Across The Pond". Students made a path across the room with their sight word cards, and tried to hop on each word as they read it aloud with a partner. If they didn't know the word, they picked it up and continued on. Once they got to the end of the path, they had a handful of words that needed more practice! 
I've included this idea, along with 24 others, in a freebie to share with you today. I hope you find some ideas to use in your classroom.

Math Centers and Activities:
Thank goodness for math and how it so naturally lends itself to hands-on activities. The blocks, the dice, the game boards, the counting beans - these were every day materials last year. 

Lots of dice games (love the dice inside dice for differentiation!)

Lots of blocks for building and patterning

And when I had to think of something quick, my motto was "Make It Bigger or Cut It Apart". So, our number charts were huge! 

...and sometimes they got cut up and put back together again!

I'm also sharing a fun math freebie with you today - it's called Build A Monster. Just roll the dice and build a monster with the body part you land on (starting with the head, then eyes, nose, etc). My students play this - and the more challenging version I made with addition - for hours! Great fun to share the monsters with the class afterwards, too. Enjoy!

Even our art lessons got our hands involved. Here is the poster we made for color mixing!

 Thanks for reading, and I hope you've grabbed a few ideas to use next time you have a class full of jumping beans!

Thanks to Lauren for the opportunity to guest post today! 

I'd love for you to visit over at 
or say hello on Facebook!

Thank you to Whimsy Workshop for sharing such fun and interactive learning ideas!

Before I go, make sure you stop by my friend Emily's blog to enter her giveaway to win a $25 TpT gift certificate!!  Just click the button below and scroll all the way down the page to enter the Rafflecopter!


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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Small touches matter: Ideas for Reading Groups and a FREEBIE

Happy Hump Day!  I am gone again today, but I left you in good hands!  Please welcome my guest blogger today~

The Enchanted Kinder Garden

Hi!!! *waves excitedly* My name is Keri over from Enchanted Kinder Garden. I am in my 6th year of teaching. Five years have been in kindergarten and last year I was in 1st grade. I was soooo super excited when I found out I would be able to do a guest blog for Lauren. This is my VERY first time blogging as a guest and I'm just all smiles! Thanks Lauren!

Now... I had my idea of what I wanted to write about last month. I waited and waited to write it and of course, I changed my mind. So today, I wanted to write about how small things make a HUGE difference. This year, I changed schools and changed reading series. I've gotten so used to teaching Harcourt Storytown for the past 5 years - that I didn't know any other way of life. I had gotten so accustomed to teaching it, that I really did not need to look at the book.

BOY! That has CHANGED. Scott Foresman Reading Street is a whole different planet compared to Storytown. With that being said, I am absolutely the worst reading teacher right now. I hope I'm not the only one that has ever felt that way. My small group instruction time is seriously in need of construction and a pick me up. I had to think of something to do quickly before I got too far into the school year and began to HATE small group. I went into Michael's one day to make something not for school and ran upon something. I ended up walking out with this boatload of stuff. Two things happen to be for school.

Can you tell how much I love crafting? Yes, I craft in my spare time which is usually once every six months. There in the upper left corner - my two items purchased to bring some sprucing and enjoyment to small group.

THESE! How easily can this set of bats and this set of jack-o-lanterns spruce up some alphabets?!

I previously purchased these at Michael's as well. All things were purchased either on sale/clearance AND with a coupon off my entire purchase. I paid nearly next to nothing for them all. So would you like to see what I came up with? My students are having the HARDEST time identifying letters, beginning sounds, and objects that begin with a certain sound.

The first way that I thought of was to add a clothespin to a different chart. I only did one pumpkin and one bat. I added a letter card with the clothespin. I laid it on a table/floor and drew one picture to start it off. I also added the beginning letter next to it as a label, since we've been working on labeling our pictures with the beginning sound. I let the students come around during centers and draw a picture to match the letter on the chart. This way, they had a letter to look at, a picture to see, and a model of a picture to begin with. I ended up with an alligatior, an ant eating an apple, and a dinosaur whose name begins with an a... I let that one go since I have a child that is obsessed with dinos.

The second way, I added on a letter to the clothespins with velcro. I decided not to hot glue them simply because I only have six each. I thought six is an awesome number for small group. I have five in my largest group and one could be saved over for me to model with. I attached each to a bag.This way, we could each have a bag at a time and work on them in some form. I pulled some picture cards from a game that I made and allowed them to sort the pictures into the bags. This could vary by adding a picture to the clothespin and making rhyming words. You could also add a number which I might try next and add 1, 2, and 3. We can sort pictures by the number of syllables in each word. We have been working on that and this would be an easy way to help practice sorting.

Also, I used them as bookmarks when one of my groups ran longer and I wanted to keep them on the right page in our readers. Can you think of any other ways that these can be used for reading?

Just a quick walk through a store will help anyone bring an old and ugly brown bag to LIFE, excitement to pick that book up from yesterday, and a way to bring your illustrations for a particular letter to life. Hope you can find something quick and simple to make once you take a walk through the clearance section of any store. Enjoy! I've left you with a freebie that I made to go with my syllable game!

Thank you much Keri for these very cute ideas!  The little things do matter to our students and they do notice!  Make sure you stop on over at Keri's blog for more teaching ideas!

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Comprehension Strategy Linky: How Fluency Affects Reading Comprehension

Hello from Comprehension Connection!  

My name is Carla, and Lauren and I have done a switcheroo for today.  We are both reading specialists and located each other through a fellow blogger friend.  Since we both are passionate about reading comprehension, we decided to focus our posts today on how reading fluency impacts reading comprehension. If you're looking for ideas to beef up the way you address fluency during language arts block, read on, and after you complete this post, hop over to my blog by clicking on the link attached to the button below to read what's on Lauren's mind today.  Now, on to today's topic!


To begin, it's important to understand how all readers develop skills, and I mean all readers including children with reading struggles or special needs.  Reading develops in the same order for all...emergent/alphabetic stage, beginning/letter name stage, transition/within word stage, and instruction stage.  When children begin school, they are at the emergent reader stage.  This stage lasts typically through kindergarten, but can last longer.  During this stage, readers develop a concept of print, the letter name-sound connection, phonological awareness, and most importantly a concept of word meaning the correspondence between what is spoken and the print on the page (accurate pointing).  Once COW is achieved, the reader moves to the letter-name or beginning reader stage.  

At the letter-name/beginning reader stage, building phonics skills, a sight vocabulary, and fluency is the goal. Readers continue to point, but now they are learning to use strategies to decode words. Activities that work well for this stage are any word building and word sorting activity at the child's developmental level, sightword games and activities to develop fluency, poetry and partner reading for fluency, use of decodable readers, and writing about reading.  Framed paragraphs work very well for this stage.  

Students transition to instructional readers at approximately second grade or at the Within Word stage.  At this stage, fluency is the focus.  Students are developing phonics skills for all vowel pattern in single syllable words.  They are still reading orally, but they are no longer pointing unless the text is too hard.  At the end of this stage, they begin to prefer silent reading more as their prosody or reading speed picks up.

At the final stage of reading development, we have instructional readers, and the focus at this stage is comprehension and vocabulary development.  This stage can begin as early as second grade.  At this point, teaching students comprehension strategies to use before, during, and after reading is the key to understanding.  However, we must not ignore the other components of reading as lagging decoding and fluency skills can cause the reader to have a break in comprehension.  (I love using the terms to describe this as clicking or clunking.  If all is well, you're clicking along.  If you reach a problem, there's a clunk.)  Breaks in comprehension cause students to miss important information.

So how can we address fluency to ensure our readers click along?  Well, one of my favorite strategies to build fluency is repeated reading of poetry.  With poetry, we can do many print strategies and strategies to develop expression.  I usually use echo reading to introduce a poem to my groups.  As I model line by line, we use either slash marks or highlighters to divide lines into phrases.  We may also box important sightwords and new vocabulary in order to make reading flow.  In addition to these ideas, word hunts using the poems assist students develop automaticity or automatic word recognition. Here are a few of the poetry pages I've used with my students that you might try using with yours.

Another great strategy I've found for older readers is to use a recording app on my phone or with an I-pod to record my students reading.  With the recordings, you can teach students to take running records of each other reading and eventually help them to do timed repeated readings which has been shown to be very effective at increasing reading rate, improving accuracy, and building automaticity.  

Finally, I thought I'd highlight the value in using Reader's Theater for both fluency and comprehension.  One great blog post worth more than a look is Mandy's Tips for Teacher's post about Reader's Theater usage, but I also wanted share a twist on Reader's Theater called Radio Reading.  With both strategies, students practice a script by rereading to build expression and fluency, but with Radio Reading, the students record their reading similar to how a radio producer would do.  The material is practiced multiple times prior to recording, and once recorded, the recordings are shared with the class.  Radio reading can be done with a report, nonfiction article, book review, or other writing of choice individually, with a partner, or even with a group. Additionally, comprehension strategies may be able to be incorporated too.  

So what ideas do you love to use for comprehension?  Do you have other fluency related strategies that you've either created or love to use?  Feel free to jump in and share them as part of my Comprehension Strategy Linky by blogging about the strategy and linkying your post to the linky tool below.

Thanks Lauren for allowing me to trade places today.  I look forward to reading more great things on your blog! Happy reading all!

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Too Much Noise? Try Whisper Claps!

 Happy Hump Day!  I'm not here today, but please welcome my guest blogger Liz from 

 Hi all!

My name is Liz and I am a second year teacher living in (usually) sunny Phoenix. I teach first grade and have 24 sweet kiddos and I am a newlywed as well. I love finding good deals at stores, cooking, tea, and reading (when I have time).

So I hate to admit it but everyone was right - second year of teaching is much easier than first year of teaching! Instead of focusing on being able to survive day-by-day, I am able to focus more energy on making sure my classroom is running smoothly and getting things done. It's relieving to have kind of known what to expect this time around and even though I am still learning and make mistakes all the time, I feel much more confident than last year.

One of my very favorite things to teach is small group reading. I just love teaching kids how to read. I love teaching sight words, teaching phonics, teaching vowel teams, teaching kids to look at the whole word...basically everything that goes with reading. I'm even hoping to get a master's in reading and eventually become a reading specialist so I can do small groups all day long!

I am allowed thirty minutes of small group a day - not much time - so I have to make every second of it count. But that's hard when it sounds like you have 7423623592 kids in your room. Last year, noise was one of my biggest struggles. But not this year.

Enter....the whisper claps. I saw a video by Teacher Tipster called Whisper Bell. I love Teacher Tipster. That guy is genius. 

Anyways, Whisper Bell is just a simple little bell that when the noise gets outta control, Teacher Tipster (I don't even know the guy's name) rings the Whisper Bell. When kids hear it, they stop and whisper "Whisper Bell!..." If they get too noisy again, he rings it again...."Whisper Bell!..." But three strikes and you're outttt! If TT (that's Teacher Tipster) has to ring the bell a third time, no more noise. That's right - silence until you decide they can start talking again.

I was excited to try this out...except for the bell part. Because I already use my bell as an attention getter. I couldn't use the bell for that too!

That would be too confusing for me the kids. 

Enter...Whisper Claps. Instead of a bell, I picked up the most annoying hand clapper at Dollar Tree. 
I, of course, forgot to take pictures of my own (those are from Dollar Tree's website) but it was a rainy day. And in Phoenix, rainy days are a big deal. Basically, everything was crazy. No recess for the kiddos and an extra 30 minutes spent together. Plus not to mention that when it was raining really really really hard, everyone coincidentally had to go to the bathroom. One girl even asked to get a the outside bubbler. Yeah no. I think not.

But the clapper. It's great. 

When the kids are getting too loud, I clap the hands together and the kids stop and whisper to each "Whisper Claps..." in murmurs all around the room.

I also always make a big deal of how annoying that sound is (it really is) and how it hurts my ears (it really does). The kids have picked up on that and I usually only have to do whisper claps once during small group time. 

So this year, I'll have my small groups running like a well oiled quiet machine. 
Thank you so much, Liz for a humorous and informative post! Make sure you stop by her blog for more enjoyable and helpful posts! As for me,  I need to get to the Dollar Tree!

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Alphabet Sticks: A Product Review and Giveaway!

As teachers, we recognize the need to keep our teaching fresh and exciting.  If you are like me, you are constantly on the look-out for literacy manipulatives that will excite kids, be useful, and offer a tactile learning experience.  When a representative from Roylco contacted me about my interest in writing a product review for their Alphabet Sticks, I was instantly curious and definitely saw immediate potential for this novel teaching resource.

 Similar to magnetic letters or letter cards, this product is perfect for little hands to use when working with letter recognition, phonemic awareness, and phonics.  I received a small plastic tub filled with the letter sticks and a teacher's guide. I experimented with the product along with my sons, ages six and seven.  The bright colors and the uniqueness of the sticks piqued my sons' interest immediately!

What are Alphabet Sticks?  I received (96) sticks that are made of a heavy card stock or vellum material that are laminated and came in a small plastic storage container. Each letter card is attached to a small "stick" that makes it easy for small hands to manipulate.  This resource is a fun tool for learning letters, sounds, and for making words.

What did I like about the product?  It is convenient and practical that there are multiple sticks for the popular letters especially if you use these for making words.  The vowels are printed in red and the consonants in blue, for easy visual discrimination. Students can flip the stick to see a lowercase and uppercase version of the letters.

How would I use this resource?
  • For phonemic awareness activities for preschool and older students
  • Students can match upper and lowercase letters
  • Alphabet activities like arranging the sticks in order
  • Perfect for small groups!  An example activity is the teacher could say a word or show students an object.  Each child has a few sticks and must hold up the stick that corresponds to the beginning, medial, or ending sound of the word.
  • Use in small groups when leading making words lessons
  • Use in a literacy center for making words.  Students can spell their names, sight words, spelling words.  The sticks would work well by using them in a small pocket chart.
  • Use for any activity where you would use magnetic letters or word cards. Students can hold the sticks easily and raise in the air.

There are so many possibilities with this product!  For just $11.99, you receive (96) letter sticks in a small storage container.  I might suggest that you paper clip the letters together or store in a small pocket chart to make it easier to grab the letters you need for your instruction.  This product is very versatile and is for ages three years and older.  You can see the complete listing on Roylco's website here.

I am very thankful that the folks at Roylco have very generously donated one of their Alphabet Sticks for me to give away!  All you have to do is enter the Rafflecopter below. They will pay the shipping for the winner (must be a resident of U.S. or Canada).  This opportunity starts now and ends on Wednesday, September 18.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

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