Sunday, July 31, 2011


I usually start off my first reading lesson of the year with characterization, having students use an about me graphic organizer to describe themselves and then explaining that characters from books could be described using similar organizers.. I'll probably still do that, but this summer I discovered Wordle and Tagzedo. I love them and I am sure my students will too! Check out some of these resources to help students with characterization. I like to use a Venn diagram with our Reading Buddies so that kids an easily learn about each other instead of being stumped as to what to talk about when they first meet.


All About Me book from Enchanted Learning

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Environmental Print

I remember reading a study somewhere that said that preschool kids were more likely to recognize environmental print (McDonalds and fast food chains particularly) than they were to recognize their own names! I learned this first hand when my niece (now 7) started shouting, "Yankees! Nike! Walmart!" whenever she was in the car with me or saw clothing someone was wearing. She was the type of kid who was more interested in playing with the flashcards my twin sister (also a teacher) gave her than the toys that she had, and by age 3 she was telling us the letters words were made of. I guess the important thing is that she recognized that words had a meaning and that they were made of letters.

Anyway, one of my favorite things to do with PreK, K, and 1st graders is to use digital cameras and paper on clipboards to document environmental print around the classroom, school, and outdoors. We search for letters and numbers and take pictures of them. Those who can write them do so. They don't just have to be on signs either. We sometimes notice that shadows, clouds, and plants can sometimes look like letters or numbers. We also go on Shape Searches where we look for and take pictures of objects that are different shapes. It's a great way to get students to become more aware of what's around them!

Check out this great free guide to environmental print activities by Shell Education.

Download this free Geometry Pack from Nicole Bunt to help with those Shape Searches.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Transition Time Tips and Tricks

My first year of teaching, I had one of those classes. You know, where everyone knew who they were without even seeing me with them. I quickly learned that many of their issues with behavior came up at unstructured time and transitions. We had a marble jar, card system based on Lee Canter's Assertive Discipline, and Battista Bucks, which helped with whole class and individual behavior, but I needed something more. The first thing I did was go back to the lining up system that I had used during student teaching. I had taught and subbed in some pretty dangerous inner city schools and knew that things could get out of control when those kids were not contained within 4 walls.

My cooperating teacher had the students line up in 2 lines, one boy line and one girl line. The lines were parallel and she stood to the side, near the back and middle. She would let one line in first, then the other while standing halfway in the hallway and halfway in the classroom. That way if a fight broke out, only half of the class was in the room. This was a school wide system implemented to decrease violence because sometimes students who really wanted to fight would be hiding inside the classrom, something I found out the hard way while subbing after graduation at another school in the district.
Anyway, my first class was in a fairly regular town and most of the kids were pretty well behaved most of the time. I kept my line leader and door opener at the front and lights and caboose students at the end in those double lines. I'm surprised that most teachers still walk at the front of the line while the kids behind them are pushing each other, running, walking a hundred feet behind, stopping for water, pulling things off of bulletin boards, etc. Kids catch on pretty quickly to how they should be standing and walking on line. I simply tell the line leader where to stop periodically and my line is tight, quiet, and well behaved.
Now actually waiting somewhere can be a challenge. When I worked as a summer camp counselor, my bag of tricks included teaching the kids sign language on the bus so they'd stop punching each other, singing in each others' ears, and all of those other things they loved to do in 90 degree heat. It really worked, and I even got the older kids teaching the younger kids.
Once I did it school, we would get compliments about how patiently and quietly we were waiting, and sometimes how the teacher didn't even know we were waiting to come into their special.  Of course that compliment earned us several marbles in the marble jar!
I was always torn about taking marbles out of the jar for whole group misbehavior, especially with the gasp of horror and tears that sometimes followed. I solved that problem with a tip from another teacher - use a marble balance scale. One side is for positive behavior and the other side is for negative behavior. This allows students to see that they can balance out the negative behavior with positive actions without actually losing anything.

Since that time, I've moved onto the clipchart system, which is based off the card system. I love using clipcharts because they show students that there is room for improvement, I don't just focus my attention on negative behaviors, and the system doesn't just center around loss (aka they start at one color and can only go down for misbehavior and without incentive to improve).

Now when we have fire or lock-down drills and the kids have to remain quiet for a long period of time, I use silent gestures to Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, The Macarena, The Chicken Dance, and sign language to keep them busy! That positive side of the balance scale is always a lot heavier than the negative side and it's a great math lesson too!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Getting Children Ready for School

This summer some parents at the beach asked me what they could do to get their pre-K and K aged children ready for school. I had some simple, but very important answers for them: experiential learning, vocabulary development, and a positive feeling about school. Many parents worry about their children being able to count, write, and read before they get into school. That's fine and dandy, and very helpful, but if they don't have the words and experiences to read and write about, it's useless.
Since I've worked with children in all grades from PreK-5, I've been able to notice a lot of patterns. You don't need any fancy research to see that kids who travel and do things know more. You'd be really surprised at how many kids in Central and South Jersey don't know that there are mountains in North Jersey, or how many kids in North Jersey have never been to the beach...and NJ is the 4th smallest state in the US with a total area of 8,722 square miles (and the 9th highest population)!  I remember being in class with a girl (our junior year of high school) when she asked, "New Mexico, is that a country?" Getting kids out of town and all around, even if it's a day trip where you do something for free is important!
I also wanted to point out that parents need to be really careful when talking to their children about animals and going to the zoo. Kids don't know which animals live in the same habitats as others. I learned this first hand while teaching science lab. Even my third graders struggled. They grow up watching cartoons with talking animals and playing video games where animals have human powers! It's very important to talk to your kids about fantasy and reality.

Get children to use their senses. You'd be surprised at how few students can describe how objects physically feel. Quick investigation: Ask a child how something feels or tastes. 50% of the time you'll get the answers, "good" or "bad." Watching something on tv or on a computer screen is not the same thing as experiencing it in real life. We do rubbings in school to help us describe textures. It helps students who have sensory issues to cope with the sensations and it helps all students with descriptive writing and science inquiry.
Work on one-to-one correspondence. Pass out one pretzel or card at a time to each person and count aloud. If students can use one-to-one correspondence for math, it will also help them read! If you really want to teach them to write letters, do it in the sand or dirt. Try shaving cream on the table. Make letters out of objects. Be creative instead of making them hate paper and pencil tasks before they even start school.
And last but not least...that positive feeling about school! This has to start and be maintained from day one. You're in trouble if not! If you know your child is going to have difficulty, bring him or her to meet the teacher once or several times before school starts. Believe me, teachers spend a lot of time getting their classrooms ready in the summer and they will be willing to do whatever they can to make the transition easier. Play on the playground at school and invite children who go to the school to play and talk to your children about school. Practice the walk or drive to and from school while talking about what will happen. Allow your child to decide on a backpack, lunchbox, clothes, etc. Sing a special song about school before drop off and after pick up. Pack a special lunch with a note! Remember that young children don't have a good concept about time until about second grade. Most primary grade teachers post a visual schedule for students to know what to expect. Give them clues about when school will be over. (Two "Backyardigans" until gym then one "Blues Clues" until snack.) And NEVER use school, writing, or "Your teacher is going to be mad" as a threat!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Getting the Year off to A Tee-rific Start!

Want to surprise your students with their own customized t-shirts or jerseys? All you have to do is head over to your professsional favorite sports team's website and type "customized jersey" or "customized t-shirt" and you're set!Fill in the information (I give my students numbers according to their last name alphabetically) and take a screen shot of the jersey. No need to actually order, just print and hang on a clothesline with clothespins! (I'm a huge Yankee fan, so I'm pretty sure the next time I do this, I will be hanging some red socks / Red Sox out to dry next to my jerseys! Haha) These are also great for grouping your students when you're done with the bulletin board!

Here's a free NEA Back to School Guide to get you started off right!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Prediction Pete

In my classroom, I have a stuffed wizard named Prediction Pete, an Ask Zandar globe (remember that game?), a wizard hat, and a star pointer. I also use this icon on my sheets whenever I want students to make a prediction. As soon as they see it, they know what to do!
Anticipation guides are also a great way of having students predict, make inferences, and make conclusions about story events because they offer more structure. Click on either of my examples (astronomy or Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day - my favorite book EVER!) to download templates.
Here are some  other resources for using the prediction strategy:

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Morning Meeting Game - Categories

This is a neat game to play during morning meeting. I call it categories because students are given a category and each have to come up with something that fits into it. An example is animals. You can ask students simply to name an animal, to name an animal that is a mammal, to name a reptile that lives in a forest habitat, to name an animal that lives in your state or country and is a fish, etc. You can change it up for difficulty. I included some pictures for prompts for younger students.
I like playing Scategories-style with older students. When they come into the room, I have it posted as a "Do Now" so they get started and are ready to bring their written lists to the circle. The object for them is not only to stay in the category, but also to come up with words that no one else says (this leads itself to different word choices and vocabulary development). It's a great interdisciplinary lesson as you can include topics in all areas and play over and over again with different categories. Enjoy, and check out these books from Responsive Classroom! I especially like the Morning Meeting Messages  and Afternoon Wrap-up books.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Favorite Classroom Sayings Posters

I made posters of my favorite classroom sayings! A sense of humor always helps with behavior management. Click the pictures to download them for free from Teachers Pay Teachers and leave a comment here or there :)


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