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?