A Free Fall Literacy Center

Happy fall, y'all! This week's post is short and sweet, just like fall weather in central Texas!

I made a little write the room activity for my 2nd graders to review when to use "a" before a word and when to use "an." I loved it so much that I made it a freebie. You can get your own copy of it here.

What are you working on next with your students? I'd love to hear about it in the comments. :) Have a great week and stay sweet. 

Teaching Graphing in 2nd Grade

Hey y'all. It seems like every year I teach graphing. but it's almost always bar graphs or pictographs in kindergarten and first grade. By 2nd grade, we introduce line graphs and line plots, both of which are always super boring in the math books the district provides. So of course I had to make it more interesting!

In this two week unit, we spend the first week learning about bar and pictographs. Their easy for students to make and understand, and most students are familiar with them by 2nd grade. If you teach first grade, you could use the first week of this unit to introduce graphs to your students. 

We start off each week making graphs as a whole class, then students visit a series of 6 stations to apply and practice these skills. 

The second week, students learn about line graphs and line plots, also visiting a series of stations. Students do write the rooms to practice reading graphs and use different data sets to create their own graphs. 

At the end of the of each week, students work in teams to gather data on a topic they (or you) choose and build their own graphs. Every class I've ever had has loved making their own graphs on chart paper. Something about using the teacher's chart paper makes this activity magical! :-p 

Student direction cards are included with each station, so when your students go to their station and suddenly forget all the directions, they can refer back to them and answer their own question. This leaves you to get to the actual teaching and not repeating! 

These stations are simple but powerful. With the self-directedness of each station, your students will not only learn the material but will also gain confidence and independence. The best part for me as the teacher is that I am not competing for students' attention and I can actually see who understands what's going on and who doesn't. It's a win-win. 

To check out the whole unit, click here. And you can find more 2nd grade math curriculum here. I hope you have a wonderful week and stay tuned for more teaching ideas and resources coming soon.

Stay sweet,

How to Run a Reading Block

Hey y'all! We've talked a lot about how we run our math and science blocks, but we haven't talked much about reading. Since it's so incredibly important, let's go there.

Over the years, I've taught reading several different ways. I've taught Daily 5 the way the first book says to do it. I've taught Daily 5 the way the revised book says to do it. I've modified their way, done "must do/may do" centers, taught literacy whole group (definitely not my favorite), and with all of that, I have found what works for us.

Daily 5 or literacy station type blocks are great. I love that only a few kids are in each station at a time and students rotate through everything regularly. Usually, my class does great at this in the beginning, but then they start to slack off on the whole "level 0 or 1" voice and things become harder to manage. Especially after introducing stations like "read to someone." I like the idea, but the management did not work for every class for the whole year.

With rotating stations, some students didn't have enough time to complete tasks or really get into their book before it was time to move. With "must do/may do" stations, it was hard to tell who was actually on task and who was faking it really well. Just being honest here.

So...we're using a reading workshop model.

The Reading Part
We start off class with a close read. We read the same book all week (give or take a day) and look at different aspects of the writing. For instance, with Giraffes Can't Dance, we did a picture walk; we asked who, what, when, where, why questions; we talked about the story line; we identified rhyming words, rhythm, and tone; and we probably could have done much, much more. In our mini lesson, we talk about how we know these things and students are encouraged to look for these things in their own reading.

Students then have about 30 minutes to read independently. They are set up with their book boxes full of books (3 picture books, 1 chapter book, and 2 free choice books), reading mats, and reading notebooks where they are encouraged to take notes about what they are reading.

While they read, I work with a small guided reading group on targeted skills. Our guided reading lessons consist of a mixture of things we're focusing on in our pacing guides and skills I see my students need. For instance, one group of students is working on blending. We'll focus on blending the words in our story or poem, then we may also look at rhyming words or the 5 W's. Whatever it is this group really needs.

After about 25-30 minutes, we regroup on the carpet and talk about things we noticed as we were reading. Were we able to identify some of the things we discussed in our mini lesson?

The Language Part
Next, we move into a mini lesson about grammar or spelling. We typically have one thing we are focusing on for the week, like identifying verbs or when to add -s or -es to the end of a word. We review each day, but have a different activity for every day of the week.

At the beginning of the week, we'll complete an interactive notebook page about the topic. Throughout the rest of the week, we'll do a write the room, highlight the rule or spelling pattern in a passage we read, do a Mad Libs to review several things at a time, or play a game. This part takes about 30 minutes.

The Closing
With the time left in our reading block (10-20 minutes depending on how quickly we transition), I  read a chapter or two of a book to the class. This is where I get to introduce a new series book or read a "soon to be a movie" book to them. We absolutely LOVE this time of our day.

What About Fluency and Writing?
So, what's missing from the Daily 5 model is "read to someone" and "work on writing."

We have a dedicated writing time during the day, so our direct writing instruction happens during that time and during morning message, with writing integrated throughout different subjects all day long. Students have time to practice writing what they think about their reading during independent reading time, and justifying their thinking in math, science, and social studies.

Our class goal this year is to focus on fluency. During our intervention time, I work with students who need specific skill support, and the rest of the class uses this time for fluency practice (aka "read to someone). They play fluency games, time each other, read poems, work on expression, and so much more.

So new teachers, or teachers needing something new, don't be afraid to try out a few different setups. It's not all going to come to you at once. One district I worked for was all in on Daily 5. One was all in on whole group. I feel this setup gives us a happy medium of both worlds--not too much whole group, not too much small group, not too noisy, not too quiet. And definitely not too much independent time. Because when they have too much independent time, there are too many opportunities to create chaos.

It takes time to find your reading class nirvana. Take the time to find it, and don't be too hard on yourself if something isn't working the way you want it. Reevaluate, make a plan, and move on. You will find your just right setup exactly when you need it. Hopefully, my experience and ideas will help you come up with some of your own.

Have a fantastic week and stay sweet,

The Art of Teacher Contentment

Hey y'all! I know you're curious about what I mean by "The Art of Teacher Contentment." We've all seemed to join the self care revolution. We've read the motivational quotes, we've worked toward practicing self care more frequently, we (hopefully) have learned to say "No" to extra duties at work, and we're eating healthy and exercising more frequently (you can stop laughing at that one now ;-) ).

But what I mean by "teacher contentment" is as simple as what it sounds like. Being happy with where you are in your teaching adventure. We've all heard it's the journey, not the destination, that's important. Being content where you are and appreciating where you are in the journey is an art form.

My first few years teaching, I was a wreck. I worked my butt off. I lived and breathed school. I spent weekends planning and cutting things out, and was asleep by 8:30 most nights. (I did teach kindergarten, so there's that.) But as I've taught a few more years, I've come to view teaching as a journey for myself just as much as school is a journey for my students.

But it didn't come easily.

Teaching is hard y'all. I know you've heard, "Those who can't do, teach." But that's a load of crap. Teachers do everything. And so many new teachers get thrown into a classroom to sink or swim. They're expected to know all the things, have all the answers, and still ask questions. Do you see the oxymoron there?

To learn to be content where you are takes skill, but it will be the most liberating change you can make. Here's how:

1. Acknowledge that you don't have all the answers.
It's hard, I know. We expect to get out of college with the skills to tackle all that teaching has to offer. What an eye-opening experience the first week brings. Not only does NO ONE have all the answers, a lot of time, admin doesn't even have the answers. It can be frustrating, especially for my fellow Type A teachers, but knowing that you're not alone in this becomes comforting. It's just another part of the process.

2. Steer clear of Negative Nancy's.
For the first 5 years of teaching, I never ate in the break room. Why? Because that's where the complaining and gossiping happens. You can't be content where you are when all you hear is negativity. Now, I eat in the break room a few times a week, but if the negativity starts coming out, I head back to my classroom. To be content, don't let the negativity monster take over your conversations.

3. Don't take it personally.
You know that kid that just told you to F off, the one that said they hate you, the one throwing the temper tantrum? Odds are, it has nothing to do with you. 99% of the time, whatever the behavior is, it's not a reflection of you. Sometimes kids melt down because they're tired or hungry. Sometimes it's learned behavior from family. Sometimes, it's because they just had a negative encounter with someone else--a parent, a sibling, a fellow classmate, another teacher. Sometimes, asking a student to take out their book and get to work is their last straw.  It doesn't have anything to do with you. You just provided the last straw and the place your student felt safe enough to fall apart in.

My momma used to say, kids who behave well at school act up at home is because that's where they feel safe and know their meltdowns are understood by their parents. Students who meltdown at school either: A) don't have any other tools for expressing themselves, or B) know that you are their safe place. Both of which mean YOU have the power to guide the student's behavior. Is it an easy fix? Not always. But when you choose to not take it personally, you will feel empowered.

The same goes for dealings with parents. Sometimes parents actually have a grudge, but most of the time, it's a lack of understanding and communication. Developing relationships with parents will give you huge strides in tackling some of the most challenging student behaviors.

4. Don't forget who you are.
Most of us ARE teachers. Teacher brain doesn't shut off easily. No matter what you're doing on the weekend, when you find that great sensory bin material, the perfect color of Astrobrights paper, or that cool artifact from the tourist shop on your road trip, you have to get it. You NEED it for your classroom. I get it. But don't forget who you are OUTSIDE of being a teacher.

I forgot for awhile, especially the first few years. But the things I enjoy, I still make time for. Road trips on the weekends. Family. Yoga. Music. Food. Books. All these things serve a purpose for me and help me unwind. All of which lead to contentment.

5. Keep it together.
Staying organized is one of the best ways to reduce stress. When things have a place and the visual clutter is gone, it calms the nerves and things seem manageable. I'm a planner. I sit down with my pacing guides and standards and create a general outline for the school year. It helps me keep it together knowing that I have a plan of action for the whole year (mostly, cause things always change). Whatever you need to do to feel put together, do it.

6. Breathe.
You can't function if there's chaos inside you. Up until recently, I was not one to meditate or buy in to any of it really. But taking a few minutes a day to just sit and breathe will do absolutely amazing things for your well-being. Especially during lunchtime or your prep. Slowing down your thoughts makes them clearer and easier to decipher. Embrace a few minutes of calm and quiet each day so that you can be your best self for you, your family, and your students.

7. Prioritize.
No one can do everything. As you make your to-do list, mark your priorities. Many times, the things on my list take a distant 3rd or 4th to whatever is going on at home. Family and your health come first. The "must do" things for the classroom should come after. Things have a way of getting done one way or another. I'm not saying to let it all go, but prioritize what needs to be done now and what can wait a little bit.

When my kids were little, their schoolwork, dinner, bath, and bedtime routine took precedence. When they went to bed, I got as many of the "other things" done as I could. Yes, it felt like I was always going, but my kids knew they were my priority and that mattered most to me.

Now let me be clear: When I say "teacher contentment," I don't mean that striving to be better, thinking outside the box, or trying that new lesson is bad. Those things are always important. You can't become a better teacher if you always stay the same. But you can find peace in your place in the journey.

What do you do to find contentment in your journey? Let me know in the comments. I hope you found some peace in today's post and you know you're not alone in this crazy thing called teaching.

Have a wonderful week and stay sweet.

Put the Fun in Student Task Cards

Hey y'all! Raise your hand if you love task cards! I know I do. You can find them in just about every unit in my store. BUT...sometimes they need to be dressed up a bit. Especially around holidays when the kids are all a little bonkers.

I see teachers all the time put task cards in a plastic bag or envelope and throw them in a center. That works fine and I do that quite a bit, too. But I also like to mix things up. Here are a few ways to shake it up a little in your classroom and get your students excited about them all over again.

1. Write the Room
You realize write the rooms are just a different way to show off task cards right? Rather than all the cards being in one spot, they're everywhere. It gets the kids up and moving and your movers and shakers get some of their wiggles out. Before putting your task cards in a center, take a close look at them and see if your students would be able to complete the tasks while up moving around. Most of the time in my class, the answer is yes.

2. Sensory Bins
You know those clear plastic bins at Target or Walmart with the lids? The ones that are shoebox sized or a little bigger? They make excellent sensory bins--no fancy stands or extra floor space needed. In the fall, I fill one up with leaves, pumpkins, or acorns. At Christmas time, I fill one up with fake snow, ornaments, and snowman embellishments. In the spring, Easter grass and plastic eggs fill our bins. Mix your task cards in and you have one super engaging center.

Will the kids play with the "stuff?" Probably. Will they play so much they forget to work? Probably not. If you set the expectation that they must complete the task cards before really enjoying the bin, you will have so much engagement you won't believe your eyes. Do I do this all the time? No. It's just too much. Do I use the most challenging task cards in this station? Absolutely not. I like excitement, but we also have to be real.

3. Cute Containers 
By this I mean, those super cute, seasonal things at the Dollar Spot are really not a waste of money. Several years in a row, I have used cloth gift bags I've found at Christmas time to hold cards. I've used little cookie tins, Easter baskets, Valentine mailboxes, Halloween baskets, Christmas stockings, lunchbox tins, and all kinds of things to hold cards. You won't believe how excited students are to add two-digit numbers from a stack of task cards in a stocking.

4. Make a Gallery Wall
Find some cute frames or make some with unused border. Display cards on the wall like a picture gallery. You could even put a tree cutout on the wall and hang the pictures from the branches. (This is an OLD picture from my first year teaching. Cards can be placed on the leaves.) The simple novelty of this is gets your students much more engaged than placing cards in plastic baggies.

5. Quiz-Quiz-Trade
I love this game for reviewing skills as a whole group. Each student has a card--something simple like math equations, or a word or definition. Students walk the room while music plays. When the music stops, they find a partner and quiz each other on the material on the card. After both partners quiz and answer, they trade cards. The music starts again and the process repeats. You can watch a video about how this is done here.

Task cards can be powerful learning tools, but everything needs a little novelty now and then. I hope these ideas will help you in the classroom to keep things interesting and your students on task. What would you add to the list? Let me know in the comments. Have a wonderful week and stay sweet!