Saturday, December 1, 2012

For the Love of Literature

My mother and I hosted a baby shower for my brother, and as lovers of children's literature, we decided to do a storybook theme. 

My mom found the most adorable invitations on Tiny Links.  Check them out!  She also got matching thank you notes for the couple.

I made a book plate that we printed on mailing labels, and included one with each invitation.  We asked that in lieu of a card guests gave their favorite story book.  I chose Alice in Wonderland for the label, because that is a favorite of the mother-to-be.

Baby Shower Book Plate

We were so surprised that there was only one duplicate book!  This little girl is going to have a great library.

One of my favorite details at the shower was our storybook lantern.  The pages came from beautiful books we got from the dollar store!  After a lot of hot glue and cutting, our masterpiece was complete!
Baby Shower Lantern
My mom is an amazing baker, and she made over a hundred large cupcakes for the shower.  Of course, they had a storybook theme.

Baby Shower Cupcake Display

Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting

Tiramisu Cupcakes with Mascarpone Frosting

Vegan Coconut Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting

Carrot Cupcakes with Mascarpone Frosting

Limoncello Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Limoncello Frosting
I adore the chandelier cupcake stand my mom found at Home Goods!

Milk Bottle Centerpiece
Our centerpieces were made with old books and antique milk jugs.  I was unable to capture the true beauty of the table set-up.  Each of the milk jugs had a page from a Disney book Mod Podged around the bottle. 

Gift Table

Bootie Clothes Line
For our gift table, we made a ribbon clothesline attached to branches from the yard.  The base is a pillar from Hobby Lobby.  We attached little socks and booties across the line with nursery rhymes pinned in between.  These photos are from before the guests arrived.

Bookworm Party Favor 
Finally, we decorated small bags and filled them with pink and green gummy worms.  We made bookmarks that thanked everyone for attending.

Storybook Baby Shower

My mom should've been an event planner.  We were all very impressed to see her vision come alive.  I hope to get better photos emailed to me soon, and will share the details I left out!


I finally received the permission slips to add my students photos, so I'm super excited to share photos from our Thanksgiving feast!

Having a multicultural class, I love Thanksgiving, because it's one holiday that everyone celebrates.  I do have a Jehova's Witness who doesn't celebrate any holidays, but her parents allowed this one.

We spent some time throughout November learning about the first Thanksgiving, and the history of Thanksgiving. To wrap it up, the students wrote facts they learned about on paper turkey feathers.  Then they cut out a simple circle and drew a face on it.  This was one of many turkeys we tried making together, and it was the simplest, because it was just a circle.  In my opinion, it was also the cutest!  I will never try to sketch the shape of a turkey again!  I love the personality each of them gave their turkeys with the big eyes.  The headband itself is made out of a sentence strip.

My room was long enough this year (and my class size small enough) to push the tables together and make one very long table.  The kids loved it!  I was nervous about having the table over the reading carpet, but thank goodness there were no spills.

Last year I ordered a ham and turkey from Stop and Shop.  It was completely prepared, but had to be baked for a few hours before serving.  The lunch aide was kind enough to stick them in her oven at the beginning of the day.  Cutting it was a nightmare, and most of the students were afraid to try it.  Who wants to EAT turkey after all the cute turkey crafts they've been working on?

This year I made my life much easier by buying thickly cut deli turkey and microwaving it.  Once again only a few kids tried the turkey, so I didn't feel too bad about not having "the real thing."

I bought an adorable cupcake kit, but realized the morning of that I never made the cupcakes.  I loved these turkey toothpicks, so I ended up sticking them in the dinner rolls.  Thank goodness I didn't make the cupcakes- three different parents brought in sheet cakes!

I'm so lucky to have parents who immediately find a way to help without any directions from me.

 Can't wait to read about the Thanksgiving celebrations of all my blogging friends!  December is here!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Liebster Award

Happy Thanksgiving! Between Halloween, Hurricane Sandy, and Thanksgiving, it's been a while since my last post, and I have lots to catch you up on!  I hope to update everyone on my holiday activities this week, but in the mean time Richi Reynolds from Ribbins, Recipes, and Rhymes, nominated me for the Liebster award! I am so flattered and encourage all of you to check out her awesome blog:
Ribbons, recipes and Rhymes

So apparently Liebster is all about the number eleven.  According to the rules of the Liebster Award, I am to answer 11 questions posted on Richi's website, choose 11 people to whom I will pass on this honor, and then write 11 of my own questions which the new recipients must in turn answer.  I cannot “tag back” the other blog, but must leave a comment on her post with the URL of my Liebster post so everyone can learn more about this blog & see who I nominate.  Awards are granted to up and coming bloggers with fewer than 200 followers who deserve some recognition and support to keep on blogging.

Richi's Questions for me: 
1. Who is your favorite children's author?
Wow!  Is there any more difficult question to ask of a first grade teacher?  Currently I am obsessed with Kevin Henkes, but that is partly because we are in the final week of an Authors as Mentors unit featuring Mr. Henkes.  My favorite author changes all the time, but he is one that I consistently fall back on.  I hope to post some of my Kevin Henkes work to share with my followers soon!

2. Who is your favorite (personal, not children's) author? 
Yet another tricky question!  I love reading, and I especially love books that I learn from.  A lot of teachers complain that they don't find time to read, but as a subway rider, I have about half an hour a day of commuting time which I can use to indulge in a good book.  I'll typically choose historical fiction or multicultural literature so I can get a glimpse into a time or place I don't know a lot about.  I usually don't choose based on the author, but a topic I'm curious about.  When I'm tired and lazy, I always enjoy a Jodi Piccoult book, which is like a good Lifetime movie. 

3. What is the name of your favorite cookbook? 
I have a lot of cookbooks for baking (I love the illustrations!), but lately all of my dinner recipes have been coming from Pinterest!  Before that I used the online versions of Everday Food magazine and Real Simple magazine.

4. What is your favorite comfort food? 
I go through phases.  A few years ago, I cooked a lot of rice and beans.  Now I've switched to pasta.  Any kind of pasta fills that comfort food craving, but my go to dish is penne with beet sauce.

5. What is your favorite food on your holiday table?  
Right now I have Thanksgiving on my mind, so I'd have to go with sweet potatoes with cranberries!

6. Beach or Mountains?
Easy- the beach!  My boyfriend and I love driving his jeep out to the barrier islands off of Long Island and camping out.  I miss the summer!

7. If you could meet one famous (deceased) person, who would it be? 
Mother Teresa would be interesting to meet.

8. What is your most favorite thematic unit to teach? 
Last year I taught an amazing thematic unit on butterflies, but my school doesn't do a lot of thematic units, so it's hard to say.  I hope to begin using thematic units in the future, so I can't wait to see this response on other blogs.

9. Do you live in a red state or a blue state or neither (I don't live in the US)? 

10. What food do you hate, as in "I will NOT eat it, Sam I Am!" 
I hate codfish (bacalao), which is sad, because I usually love the foods it is served with.

11. Which of these chefs most closely represent your cooking (eating) philosophy: Paula Deen (southern and rich), Bobby Flay (grilled and spicy), Ina Garten (classic and comforting) or Rachel Ray (quick and easy): 
Rachel Ray- I actually use a lot of recipes from her magazine, too.

My questions:
1.  What is the best part of being a teacher?

2.  If you could eliminate one aspect of your job, what would it be?

3.  What extra support do you think you should receive from your staff developer (math coach, literacy coach, etc), but don't?  If you don't have someone filling this role in your school, do you wish you did, and why?

4.  What do you think is your greatest accomplishment so far in life?

5.  What are the top three items on your holiday wish list?

6.  What is your best time management tip for other teachers?

7.  What song do you recommend classes sing for a winter concert?

8.  What is the best book you've read this year (personal, not children's)?

9. What is your favorite children's book?

10.  What is one goal you would like to accomplish in the next five years?

11.  Does your school use any curriculum programs you are passionate about?

Monday, October 22, 2012

It's a Halloween Linky Party!

Join my first ever linky party! Share your favorite academic activities leading to and on Halloween. This is a great place to showcase any mini-units you have created and share spectacular lessons you have done. You can also add a link to your blog if you showcase any pictures of the awesome Halloween costumes you and your colleagues come up with! (Use this code to add the linky party to your blog!)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ghoulish Games

Happy Halloween (almost)!  I am so excited to announce my biggest, best item yet on Teacher's Pay Teachers!

First, a little background:
As schools are beginning to shift their focus towards the Common Core Learning Standards, following a published math program is increasingly difficult.  Over the summer I attended a five day conference that focused on unpacking the CCLS.  A question that kept arising was "which math curriculum is most aligned with common core?  Which program should our schools invest in?"  The definitive answer from all presenters was NONE.  Despite what these major companies are saying, a program has not yet been created that starts with the common core standards.  Many programs have taken what they already have and tried to mold it to fit the new standards, but a true CCLS program will use backwards design and create a program that specifically identifies these standards as their end results. 

Does your school use backwards design?  Backwards design is an un-traditional method of curriculum planning.  It starts by identifying the results desired (the standards) with examples of evidence that will support that these results have occurred (assessments).  Finally, activities are designed to help students achieve these results.  Research has shown how important it is to start with goals and then create plans, assessments, and lesson plans, and it's pretty logical.  Many teachers refer to it as a "road map."  The destination is chosen first and then the map is used to plan the trip to this destination.  Traditional planning has no formal destination identified before the journey begins.  The math programs we are familiar with (Everyday Math, Math in Focus, Singapore Math, Explorations, etc.) were created long ago, and are now trying to fit their old guides into the new standards.  In other words, they had the road map drawn out before they knew the destination.  Guys, this is a HUGE money-maker in the works.  Whichever publishing company is the first to sell a program that starts with the standards is going to be very successful. 

So back to Teachers Pay Teachers.
My school uses Everyday Mathematics, which has some great lessons to use with the CCLS, but there are a lot of gaps.  You may have noticed the free pacing calendar I posted on Teachers Pay Teachers which plugs Everyday Mathematics lessons into the Common Core's suggested scope and sequence for first grade math.   I took all of the EDM lessons that address the standards and rearranged them by domain.  It's a very rough draft that I change daily, but it's a huge help for any teachers in my shoes, who are told they need to continue with this program while conforming to the new standards.  Unfortunately, taking out lessons that did not meet any CCLS criteria left several gaps in the calendar.  For that reason, I had mapped out over a week in October with no appropriate EDM lessons to teach.  In spirit of the upcoming holiday, I decided to create a mini-unit for my students which gives them practice with the beginning of year concepts in Operations and Algebraic Thinking.  I took each standard, thought about what it wants students to DO, and then created activities and assignments that provided students with a variety of opportunities to practice and demonstrate their understanding of the domain.

Here's a sneak peak:
Ghoulish Addition & Subtraction Games

This pack includes several small group and partner games.  I also added twelve differentiated word problems for addition and subtraction.  I have tried them with my own firsties, and they're a big hit!  The word problems are currently posted on my bulletin board, and when the superintendent came through today, she gave rave reviews.  I have also created interactive files teachers can use to introduce the games on the Smartboard.  Unfortunately, as per the Scrappin' Doodles policy, I could not include them in my pack.  However, I'd be happy to email them to anyone who purchases my unit and includes their email address.

Time for some trashy TV with my man, Andy Cohen!  Have a great night!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Management Woes

Sometimes you are spoiled with a class that immediately catches onto your expectations and routines.  The day runs so smoothly that you can't help but keep a cheesy grin on your face all day.  This is not one of those years for me.... YET.  Don't get me wrong, I love this group, but they need a lot more guidance than I'm used to.  I have a student who has never been in school before, a student who refuses to speak in English (only Spanish), and three students who aren't Spanish (which means I can't just switch to Spanish to benefit that ELL).   Twelve academic days later, we are still practicing how to walk in the hall, what to do if your pencil breaks, and how to unpack in the morning.  Although I plan to pull back a lot as the year goes on, I am presently micromanaging my class to the hundredth degree. 

One useful strategy for me is sticky labels.  It took me a few years to learn how to make my own mailing labels in Microsoft Word.  I should say, it took me a few years before I stopped calling my mom and making her print them for me and mail them from Buffalo before I finally asked someone to teach me!!  Once I asked for help, it took about 65 seconds to learn.  Seriously?  It's that easy?  Before the school year starts, I print several copies of mailing labels with the student names.  As soon as a supply or new book comes in, I peel off a label and stick it on.  No time is wasted looking for a sharpie and writing on everything!  When sweaters come off, new lunch boxes are purchased, or book orders come in, I can simply peel the student's name off the sheet of labels and am ready in an instant.  Best of all, if we have a staff developer or sub in the classroom, these can double as quick name tags.

I also have labels for every academic material I am expecting in my classroom, such as the various folders, notebooks, and portfolios.  These are all color coded and then have identical labels telling parents and any classroom visitors what they are used for.  The bins they belong in throughout my classroom have a large version of that same label so it's obvious where to return things.  

That brings me to my second strategy- color coding.  If your school didn't implement this already, it's not an easy thing to start midyear, but I do recommend it or next year!  My supply list on the first day of school asked for folders in specific colors.  I then used my labels to organize student folders by color.  Everything belongs in a bin of the same color.  For example, writing folders are green, poetry folders are red, homework folder are purple, and math folders are blue.  I then color code the labels for everything to coordinate with the color I associate with that content area.  When it's time to pack up, I don't have to worry about students bringing home the wrong folders, I tell them "pack up your purple homework folders," and can see from where I'm standing if the folder they have out is purple.  This is BIG this year, since I keep catching students bringing home the most surprising classroom materials (and never returning them). 

Here is a photo tour of some of the scaffolds I've put in place to help my teacher-dependent group.

As soon as students arrive, they are reminded of the morning routines.  Since my room has loud metal lockers that the students can easily pinch their fingers in, it is important to me that they do not need to return to their backpacks before the end of the day.  The classroom door reminds them exactly where to put anything they bring to school in the morning.  Sorry it's so difficult to read the steps, my camera isn't the greatest!
Illustrated morning routines

My Bravo Board:  Table Points are nothing new for any teacher, but I have had to become a lot more consistent and spend a major portion of the day adding points.  While before it was used for behavior, it's now used to award any table that finishes a task efficiently.  "Wow!  Everyone at your table actually took off their coats today?  You get a point!"  Every Friday the table with the most points gets to visit the treasure chest.  This is a great classroom management tool because the students hold one another accountable for their behavior, and no one wants to disappoint their friends!

This board tracks table points.

As you've seen in previous posts, my classroom has tables, which means no personal storage for the students.  Teachers have strong opinions on desks vs. tables, and I actually love the tables.  When I taught in the upper grades, I received a grant through Donor's Choose which allowed me to replace my desks with tables, and it was heaven!  Nevertheless, my students were wasting too much time digging through each section of the caddy looking for what they needed.  The caddies were a mess, and the number of personal items they began to store in the caddies became out of control.  I created illustrated labels that reminds the students where each writing tool belongs. Table leaders are encouraged to organize the supplies at the beginning and end of each day.  When I do spot checks, tables with organized caddies get a point!  Here's a bonus- in first grade they still haven't caught on to the fact that if EVERYONE get's a point, no one is any further ahead.  The class is most excited when all of the tables are winning.  I love it!

You can download my caddy labels from my Teachers Pay Teachers store for free by clicking on the photo above.

Class jobs & book changing chart
Check out the gorgeous ribbon that was on sale at Hobby Lobby this August!  I was shopping with my mom and thought it was amazing, but didn't think I could use it in my classroom.  I have seen other teachers use pretty ribbon instead of borders, but that doesn't work when you don't have bulletin boards and have to tape everything.  I was so excited when I realized I could use the ribbon for my class rules and jobs charts.  Onto the next management strategy.  I usually change the class jobs every Monday, but this year the jobs will only rotate monthly.  This gives my students more time to become experts at routines such as where we stop in the hall and how to update the calendar.  To the right you can see students change their books once a week based on their table.  The picture below shows the procedure students follow when changing their books.  As students grow as readers, the number of books they will choose depends on their reading level.  Of course, children reading early chapter books do not need nine books per week.  I have also added my updated reading level chart.  This is the only cork board in my classroom, so I am able to use push pins and move the pictures as their reading level changes.

Book Shopping Procedure

Fountas and Pinnell Guided Reading Levels
"We're Mooo-ving Up Reading Levels!"

 I strongly disagree with telling a student he is not allowed to use the bathroom during a certain part of the day.  When you have to go, you have to go!  However, I began to notice students asking to go to the bathroom multiple times a day, and then "forgetting" to use the bathroom!  It's a great way to get out of the room and check out what your friends are doing in other classes.  For that reason, I have implemented a Bathroom Procedure board.  This board is magnetic.  When students use the bathroom, they slide their name to the right side of the board.  So far no one has asked to go after they have already moved to the right side, and the number of unnecessary interruptions for bathroom breaks has been minimized.
Bathroom Chart

During writing I provide my ELL students with personal word walls/ word banks.  I would LOVE to share these with you, but a lot of the images I use are from Google images, and many of them are for personal use only.  These word walls are each about a page long and have labeled pictures of the most commonly used words for a specific topic.  For example, if a student is writing about a trip to the doctor, she would receive a personal word wally with pictures of common things you see in a doctor's office and the names.  Once a student receives a word wall, he can keep it for the rest of the year.  I don't pass out all of the word walls at once, as this can become overwhelming and confusing.  It's also important that they don't rely too heavily on the word walls and forget how to sound things out.

Family Words
Some students are struggling with having too many materials available to them and the word walls have become more of a distraction than an aid.  For that group, I have hung large charts with commonly used words, such as the family members chart above. 

 Each student created an idea list similar to the chart below on the first day of our personal narratives "small moments" writing unit.  This chart will stay up for the entire unit so students can quickly and independently start new stories.
My Ideas List

 This final chart isn't the most visually appealing, but I wanted to keep it very basic to remind students of what we do during Writer's Workshop.  It's an attempt to avoid hearing "I'M DONE!"

Finally, this is a quick look at how I display strategies we have learned this month in reading and writing.  During the lesson the strategy of the day is displayed on the Smartboard.  Following this, the strategy is printed and added to the doors below.

Thanks for continuing to follow my year!  I am so lucky to have a group of really sweet and loving students this year.  I hope as I continue to implement more rigid routines they can also become more independent and build stamina. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

First Grade Poetry

One of my best selling products on Teacher's Pay Teachers is a word study map I created for first grade teachers.  You can download it here:  Word Study Pacing Calendar for First Grade For only $0.25, this lengthy pacing calendar helps you plan which sight words and word families to introduce each week.  It also reminds you of holidays and morning routines that are cognitively appropriate at different points in the year.  Among other helpful columns on the spreadsheet is a list of weekly poems that relate to the season or units of study.

The Poem of the Week is to be used in conjunction with Scholastic's E-Books "50 Thematic Songs" by Meish Goldish & "Perfect Poems for Teaching Sight Words" by Deborah Ellermeyer & Judith Rowell).  There are a nine poems that are not found in these Scholastic books, but can be downloaded here.  These poems are not my original work, but I published them in a more kid-friendly way.

The poems are all available for free by clicking on this link: First Grade Poetry

I use poetry all year long in my classroom.  I make two class sets of copies of the poem of the week.  Each student has a red poetry folder that he keeps at his seat.  One copy of the poem stays in there, where a collection forms throughout the year.  The second poem is sent home and used for homework.  On the day I introduce the poem, we do a shared reading on the smart board and look for the high frequency words we know.  Depending on the poem, I will do additional activities throughout the week with comprehension and rhyming.  When the students return to their seats, they practice reading the poem, circle the words they know, and add it to their poetry folder  Any time students finish work early, they practice reading their poems.  We have poetry slams where they can read the poems at different speeds and in different voices.  By the end of the year, most of the students have memorized at least 15 poems!

The homework that relates to word work stays consistent in my room.  This is because most of my students speak a language other than English at home, and I want the homework to be routine enough that they can work independently.  Below is an example of what that looks like this year.  All of the sight word/ words of the week homework is done in a word work packet that I created based on my pacing calendar.  You can find that on my Teachers Pay Teacher's site as well!  High Frequency Words Practice Set

Write the words of the week 6 times each.
Practice reading the poem of the week to someone in the family.   

Write a sentence using each word of the week.
Find and circle words you know in the poem of the week.  

Write the words of the week in alphabetical order.  
Find and circle rhyming words in the poem of the week in green.
Write the words of the week in four different colors (Rainbow Write).
Color the picture in the poem of the week.  

Spelling test today!
Practice reading the poem of the week to someone in the family.

Wow! My intention with this post was to give away my poetry packet, but it became pretty promotional.  I guess that is because a lot of what I sell is connected.  To make up for my sales pitch, I'm going to launch a sale on the items posted here!  I would love to hear your comments on how you use poetry in your classroom!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


I have been collecting awesome photos of the happenings in my new class, but must wait for the photo consent forms from my class parents before I can post anything new.  Until then, I have some recommended math links and a FREE resource I have created for first grade math teachers!

I have to admit, I'm a fan of the Common Core Learning Standards. It's been a very time consuming adjustment, but I like knowing that across the country we're all on the same page. In New York City, we have a helpful resource (which is public), called the Common Core Library. Although it's created by our Department of Education, it applies to any school district implementing the Common Core Learning Standards. I encourage you to visit the Common Core Library.

 In addition to this website, I also use K-5 Math Teaching Resources. This website recommends math literature for each standard and has printable center activities for selected strands. Again, everything on both sites is absolutely FREE! Disclaimer:  I don't find the resources to be visually appealing, so I usually edit them for my own use, but they give me ideas for hands-on activities that I might not have thought of on my own.

One of the greatest challenges in my lesson planning this year has been the new "Scope and Sequence" New York City has published for each grade. They suggest the order in which we should teach each standard as well as how long we should spend on the different standards. Some of the Everyday Mathematics Units must be condensed into a week, while others must be spread over ten. I've had to revise my entire pacing calendar. If you are using Everyday Mathematics in your schools, you may have noticed it is not the most Common-Core-friendly program out there. I am currently working on a FREE academic year pacing calendar that aligns first grade Everyday Mathematics Lessons with the CCLS Scope and Sequence.  Click on the picture below to check out my progress so far!

Click Here!

Do you have any tips for aligning Everyday Math and the Common Core Learning Standards? Here's what they have to say about it: Everyday Math CCLS PDF

Wishing you a magical week with much success in your math planning!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Attention to Details

Do you ever come up with a new idea for your classroom, and wonder why it took you so many years?  Today I am going to continue the walk through of my classroom by zooming in on different details throughout the room.  Most of what I'm showing you is common sense and is most likely already in place in your own room, but visuals always spark new ideas!  

I have a fantastic Lakeshore Communication Center that is meant to house book boxes on the bottom and serve as student mailboxes on top.  I purchased it because I was eager to switch from book baggies to book boxes, and I loved that transition.  Since I don't have desks in my room, I prefer to use the mailboxes to store student books by table.  I am a labeling queen, and I struggled with how to label the mailboxes without damaging the shelves.

I started with a simple binder clip:    and printed my labels on regular mailing labels, but changed the text direction so I could use the labels vertically.  It ended up being a very easy task!

How to label shelves or mailboxes using binder clips
Each column is labeled by text book.  Each row is labeled by table name.

Below are some additional close-ups of my room.  For those of you who aren't yet addicted to Pinterest, I highly recommend you check it out!  Pinterest has given me many ideas for ways to upgrade my classroom environment. 

An updated photo of my writing center
Writing tools, accessible to students for more independence during Writer's Workshop
Ikea buckets and velcro make perfect pencil holders!
Important phone numbers posted for substitutes
Classroom Rules
(Free from

I like to seat my students heterogeneously, but during writing it's easier to conference with small groups if they are seated homogeneously.  When students return to their "writing seats," the table leader grabs his group's bin from below.  Each group is named after a favorite author.  The bins hold their personal word walls, writing folders, and any other resources that group needs during writer's workshop.  The sign above the bins will have the students' names to show which group they are in.  This will change throughout the year.
Writing Groups
Another Pinterest find!

What little tricks have you learned this year that you don't know how you lived without?