Thursday, June 25, 2015

What Should Kindergarten Teachers Be Reading This Summer?

Every summer I promise myself that I will clean closets, catch up on friendships that I sadly neglect, and do some professional reading that is essential to staying on top of educational trends. Here is my beef. Often books have suggested grade levels (k-5) and kindergarten is mentioned in just a few places. The information is great but not for our "littles" and I get frustrated by this since it rarely changes my teaching practices or relates to my classroom experiences. We often hear that "kindergarten is its own animal" and I find this to be so true. What is out there for kinder teachers that is worth reading during your precious summer weeks? Here are my top picks for you:

This book is huge and expensive but it looks like it is a terrific resource for learning aboutflexible reading strategies. It is laid out in a very simple, powerful way. Goals are clearly stated. What are you working towards? Skills students need to practice are provided and finally, specific strategies for getting there are offered. It is set up almost like a "cookbook" and you can look up topics that you need more help with. Levels are clearly provided and there is plenty at the emergent level for kinder teachers to use. Teacher tips are also included. I know I will mark this up with post-it notes and use it as a reference in the classroom. You will love the format... Buy this. This should be given to all teachers who are responsible for teaching reading at the elementary level.

I love this author and have read this book in the past. It is filled with great ideas for building reading skills in your classroom and to teach with intention. This is an easy read but you will want to highlight great ideas and share your thinking with your teacher friends. Teachers have done book studies if you want to get some additional insights into this wonderful read. This is another great read for a new teacher. She talks about classroom environments and authentic teaching which makes me reflect on my own practices

The whole world is reading this book and it looks like a great one. Teach Like A Champion is all about providing powerful techniques for teaching that can be put into place tomorrow. Many of these reflect expectations related to the Common Core so it might be well worth reading. It is not on the top of my list but I own it and want to check it out. This would make a great book study for an entire staff, including the administrator. This book is a great catalyst for having important conversations about the climate of a classroom and getting kids on the path to college. We all want that for our students.


This book was written by Carolyn Kisloski and Dr. Jean Feldman. My copy was sent to me by Dr. Jean as a gift and she even signed it! (insert bragging tone of voice). Both of these ladies are amazing and if you don't get any other book purchase this one! It is filled with great ideas, beautiful photographs, and extensions on activities that are all about student engagement. I got it a few days ago and find myself half way through the book. If you have been teaching for as long as I have you might be familiar with some of these ideas but many offer a new "twist" to make learning even more fun! Both of these talented ladies have blogs that are well worth checking out: Dr. Jean and Friends and Kindergarten: Holding Hands and Sticking Together. As I am reading this I am constantly calling my teaching partner to discuss an idea. I am not going back to school without making some of the suggested materials. Buy this book if you are a kindergarten teacher and thank me for the suggestion! If you are going to Vegas it will be there and you can grab a copy. 
This book is well organized and Common Core aligned. You can skip around for ideas that you need to meet your own classroom needs. These two "cooks" have built a great restaurant so go in and grab a bite!

I bought this book last summer but somehow I looked it over but did not really get into the nuts and bolts of it. However, during the year it often clarified a Common Core standard and cited many examples, supported by photographs. It is so well done that I really recommend purchasing it. This would make a great one for a book study. Check it out. If you are confused or anxious about implementing the CCSS in kindergarten, this is your go to reference. Buy it.

So we all own Debbie Diller's book, Math Work Stations but what else is out there that promotes student engagement and builds independence? This is a great book because it is full of ideas that are Common Core based and simple to make. You might be familiar with many of these ideas but once again the author puts a new twist on it. I love that they are organized by standard and make it easy to differentiate since it covers K-2. Some of these ideas remind me of  Math Their Way and the oldies of kindergarten know how powerful these ideas are. Check this out. 

This is a well known author in the field of literacy and this makes a great "go to" reference when you do not understand a Common Core standard. It is well organized and written in easy to understand language. Sharon Taberski provides the gist of each standard and what must be considered when teaching this. I don't know about you but I need the quick and dirty version of each standard so that I have some sense of what to do. She provides possible questions to ask students. This needs to sit on my teacher desk at all times. You need this if you are teaching the CCSS in kinder. Trust me.

I hope these suggestions are helpful. Even if you only get to one book that can make a real difference in your teaching. I love reading with another teacher friend and having a discussion over an iced coffee at Starbucks. Are you on my page? Professional development is important but we all know that we deserve more time with our families. Take that family vacation and build memories. Have a wonderful summer and I hope I see you in Vegas! Look for me.
What are you reading?

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Grab a Teachable Moment In Your Classroom...

Have you ever brought a pet to your classroom? I can't think of a better way to engage young children in learning. They will be full of questions and this provides an authentic opportunity to learn about an animal. It's a great way to take a break from your standard curriculum and have some fun.

My teaching partner brought in her leopard tortoise for the class to see and touch. They were speechless with happiness to see an animal up close. We seized the moment to explore the life cycle of this animal and just a little information about her.

We learned that a tortoise hibernates like a bear and Daisy had just started to move around to let her owners know she was awake and hungry! 

We talked about how you have to care for a pet and what to put in her habitat to keep her happy. We learned what a leopard tortoise needs in their environment and what they like to eat. Who knew hibiscus flowers were on their list of tasty treats! 

Students could gently touch her shell but we explained the need to wash your hands just to be safe. They loved watching her move around and were fascinated when she ate the dark leafy lettuces in her habitat. 

When we took her outside for recess she loved moving around the blacktop but when Mrs. Schurmer spoke to her gently she turned immediately and moved toward her voice. We were all amazed by this.

I loved listening to the children talk to this little creature in a gentle, loving way. Most of them do not have pets and home. They have never seen a reptile close up. They were filled with questions and natural curiosity about her.

We suggested learning more about this interesting creature and I promised them I would have some special activities to go along with learning about the leopard tortoise.

When we got back in the classroom we built a bubble map with information we already had about Daisy but as we learned more we added on describing words. We watched several short videos on the leopard tortoise and talked about our new learning.  We learned that this reptile often lives to be 100 years old! Amazing! 

Here are some of the materials I put together for the next day. We watched another video on You Tube and created a short Power Point with general information. It was just enough to hold the interest of a young child...

They loved reading this informational text and learning the word "herbivore." It was fun for them to do a simple report (we did it together) based on all that they had learned. Hands shot up and students could not wait to share what they knew.

Many students wanted to continue writing so I created this paper. I did a guided drawing lesson to teach students how to draw a tortoise so they could do this along with their writing. This was a huge hit with them. 

This is not part of my curriculum but it was well worth it to take a break and seize the moment to teach our class about caring for a pet and information on a tortoise. Next week she is bringing her gecko to school...

Do you have a class pet? I am thinking about getting one for next year since the children loved this so much. Any suggestions? Let me know if you want any of these materials. I can post them.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

It's "Bean" A Long Time

We have done a great deal of planting in our classroom recently which was part of a Common Core unit that I wrote with some of my teacher friends for our district. For the first time I got to actually try out my own materials and see how they worked out. This is the Greenhouse I came up with but my friend recommended trying this with corn seeds instead of Lima beans. I found out she gave me great advice! We sprayed a paper towel with water and put these in a baggie that I attached to the back of this little house. The kids loved coloring this in and were so excited to hang these in our window. We crossed our fingers because I have not had much luck with this in the past.

My teacher friends who are amazing gardeners told me to soak the beans or corn first to get the germination going. This was fun because the beans really puff up and the kids are shocked when they observe them the next day. They loved looking at this using a magnifying glass and drawing what they saw. Great activity for you to try next year or even in a summer program.

Here are the corn seeds growing in the Greenhouse and here is a clear cup with a few seeds. Obviously the soil makes a real difference. We also planted beans in soil in clear cups but I helped the students place the seed along an edge so they could see the root system! This was really great to observe. 

 The beans that we germinated on paper towels did not grow at all and only a few grew successfully in the clear cups. I was more disappointed than the kids. We do not get enough sunlight where our classroom is located. I had to check my reaction at the door because the kids were thrilled that anything grew at all! They loved watching it and checking daily for changes. Me, I think my thumb is black.

My teaching friends at another school made their greenhouse like a garden label and put the kids pictures in the middle. They stuck it in their bean plants and got fantastic results. Okay, I am not too green with envy. The idea is clever and would be so cute for Mother's Day. I love when people reinvent a great idea!

These are the observational logs we made in our classroom. I did not have the kids fill them out daily but only when we could record a real change. We did this as a whole group while I asked questions and did a guided drawing. This was a great activity and I was able to build in lots of labeling and academic vocabulary.

Here are some of the books I read to go along with this unit. We also watched a bunch of videos on YouTube that were about growing beans and corn. Next year I think I have to put these outside in the sun to get better results. Looking back we might have over watered some of our plants since the spray bottle was so exciting to use. Just sayin'. What do you like to grow in your room?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Special Events and A Freebie to Boot

Our school does a Parent Volunteer Tea as a thank you to all of the parents that work endless hours in our classroom. I could not run my program without them. They make countless books for me, trace pieces for art projects, and work with children to help them gain confidence and be successful learners. I have so much gratitude for the moms and dads that come through my door each week, filled with enthusiasm and energy! 
I wanted to do a few special things for the tea but I had very little time to pull this off. Here are some simple ideas if you ever get stuck and need "quick and easy" solutions. Any candy in little clear bags with a topper is appealing and easy to throw together. I had tons of skittles so here is what I put in a bright colorful basket (Dollar Tree is my friend). If you want the topper you can grab it here and use it for any special event. It says, "You are better than any treasure found at the end of the rainbow." Leave me a comment if you like this and tell me what you are using it for!

My daughters were in town for Mother's Day (so special for me) and suggested making shortbread since this takes very little effort and the results are gorgeous. We used Barefoot Contessa's recipe and then added a little flower on top to make it look special.
I used candy melts from Michael's for the flower since they would harden (set-up) easily and I just added a hit of pink. The center is just a tiny circular cookie decoration that are bigger than sprinkles and are also available in Michael's. The bags are quick and dirty to use since the ribbon is already woven through the bag and this made it so much faster to wrap!

Mother's Day turned out to be so special in our classroom. We have a grandparent who is a photographer and she came to visit for an entire day. She set up the lighting and backdrop with the help of her daughter. She brought a vintage desk and red apple... The kids were fascinated (so was I).

The results were gorgeous and parents loved them so much. The children told me their mom opened their card and started to cry. Wow! What more could I ask for? By the way this generous lady did this all on her own dollar and refused to let us pay for a thing. She then invited the teacher next door with medically fragile kids to come in and get their picture done. She got beautiful results snapping many pictures and working to get the perfect one. I AM BLESSED TO HAVE THIS GRANDMA IN MY LIFE. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Where Did The Year Go?

I cannot believe how the year is flying by right under my nose. Here we are in May and I am slamming past Mother's Day and moving right along trying to plan for closing out the year. This has been one crazy, demanding year for me with Common Core and a new teaching partner. Whew, it makes me reflect on how lucky I am to be a teacher but how little down time there is.
This is Teacher Appreciation Week across the country and it forces me to stop for a minute and acknowledge all the amazing teachers that have influenced my life in so many important ways. Teachers who have encouraged me, stretched my thinking, tried to organize me, enlighten me, and just plain love me for the mess that I am.
Kindergarten teachers are the mostly loving, generous people on the planet. There, I said that out loud and I mean it.  When I attend conferences I am flabbergasted by the kindness of my peers. Everyone loves "their kids" and spends endless hours prepping and planning to give our youngest learners the best and most engaging activities to make learning powerful. We have a huge influence on our littles and their attitude towards school. If you are reading this I am sending you a huge cyber hug and I want to thank you for being there for our students each and every day.  You know who you are. You are loving, kind, generous, fast on your feet super heroes. Your students could not do without you. I appreciate all that you do.
Teachers Pay Teachers (they rock in my world) has decided to participate in Teacher Appreciation Week by throwing a sale so you can grab some of those amazing products you have had on your wish list forever. Oh I see you jumping up and down at your computer! The year is coming to an end and you better keep your eye on the prize and grab a few winners to wind down with. What? You are teaching summer school? Holey Moley you are one dedicated educator. That's all the more reason to grab a few goodies that will make the last few weeks easy, breezy and some that will make your classroom so much fun in the sun. What about a camping theme? I don't know about you but I need easy at this point. So here are a few of my favorite little printables that are minimal work if you want to pay attention: My friends love this little number. Click on the picture to grab this kindergarten memory book. Your parents will love it and bet yet so will your administrator!

This is one of my favorite pack and go summer goodies. It is a simple review of both Language Arts and Mathematics. It is learning "on the go" and the campy theme keeps it fun. It has been carefully aligned to the Common Core and is a perfect addition to a summer program with kinder kiddos. You can even send it home for the summer with your little ones to keep their skills sharp as they enter first grade. The next group of teachers will love you! Click on this little picture to zip line over to my little shop for this hot number.

Do you own my Sparkle Readers? If you have enjoyed them you might want to grab this additional one that is beachy. Yes, it has the dots under the text to help young children with tracking. Click on the picture to swim on over to my store.

 You loved the first Camp Common Core Pack and Go Set so much you asked for more so I split up the Language Arts and Math and gave you two more packets for your summer journeys! No summer slide on my watch:

Remember to use the promo code Thank You to save an additional 10%. Grab my stuff for even less than imaginable!
Check these out by just clicking on the picture and sailing over to my store! Have fun shopping and I hope we meet each other in Vegas in our flip flops! Woohoo! Have a great rest of the year and stay connected.
Much love,

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Mothers Are Magical

Mother's Day is right around the corner and this year I decided to try something a little different. One of our grandma's is a professional photographer and I asked her if she would be willing to take a picture of each student for a Mother's Day card. I loved the idea of it being in sepia and looking like an old fashion picture. She was so sweet to agree to this and bought a "brick" backdrop to use. I think these will be sensational. Now what do I use for a card? I thought about this for a long time and came up with this:

I knew these papers would be perfect for this kind of picture so I bought both and luckily they were on sale. I was rolling along when I found this little number on another aisle...

I decided to add a little pizzazz to the card and make it look a little more antiqueish (okay not a word) but you know what I am sayin'

 I made this for my students to cut and paste on their card but they can do this any way they want to. I will try not to be a total control freak but I will show them some samples like this one:

The picture will go on the other side (right) and the set comes with an envelope they can decorate as they please. I will share some of these when they are finished but I think parents will love these. What are you doing for a Mom gift?
If you need a card I have one you can grab if you would like. It looks like this and allows your students to do a bit of writing too. You get a little bang for your buck as the saying goes. It can be downloaded in my TpT store. Just click on this picture. While you are there check out my end of the year memory book. I can't wait to send this home.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Be Aware and Please Take Loving Care of Our Earth

Earth Day is one of my favorite themes to use in the spring. It is celebrated on April 22nd but I love to do activities related to this for several weeks. Friends of the Earth is a Common Core packet that has been carefully designed to meet the needs of your primary learners. It will help to raise student awareness of the importance of recycling and taking care of the earth.
I have included both literacy and math stations that will build the academic language of your students and promote student engagement. Writing activities are also included and scaffolds have been provided to ensure student success. It also addresses the needs of your English language learners.Many of the printables serve as a record of student understandings and can be used for assessment and homework. Check it out and see if it looks worthwhile to you. When I was a Common Core coach the kinder and first grade teachers used this and got beautiful results.

Students even make a simple necklace using straws to add some bling! If you would like to purchase this packet it is available in my TpT store. Be sure to pick up the headband freebie too! Help our children learn to care for the earth and each other. What do you do to celebrate Earth Day?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Earth Day is Around the Corner: Grab this to get started

Don't you love this time of the year? The weather is getting warmer (okay I live in Southern California) and your students are actually showing some progress and becoming much more independent. Whew... I bet you thought it would never happen and before you know it you will be hugging them all goodbye and telling them to have a great summer. Before it all slides past you why don't you do a mini unit on Earth Day instead of  just spring? You can teach a lot of different skills but also give them some understanding of recycling, reusing, and reducing. I think this is worthwhile and goes along really well with any unit you do on plants. Today I am offering you a freebie that might force encourage you to try this next month. You can pick it up right here if your kids will have fun making a little crativity. It's a headband that you can sponge paint and add a little info to. No fuss just easy to put together. Who doesn't want to wear the Earth on their head as an accessory? 
This packet is finished and it has been carefully aligned to the Common Core (naturally). I think it is one of my best products. I even included some writing that has been differentiated for young students. This product can also be used in a TK classroom since it has many literacy and math activities to keep little ones engaged. I have provided response sheets for many of the stations so you have a record of their understandings. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Attention... Doing Intervention

Can your students blend and segment? 
Sorry that I have not been blogging lately but with report cards and conferences I was busy with school 24/7. As I created assessments and checked off the skills my students were suppose to have mastered I realized that many of my students were not picking up on many phonemic awareness skills. They are all English language learners and they are just not ready to blend or segment.They were unable to hear subtle differences in sounds. What does a teacher do? We are assessing our students on these skills earlier than ever and often they struggle with these demanding skills.
So how do I help them achieve these goals? I knew I needed to create some materials that would help to scaffold their learning. I want to share some of these ideas with you.
First, I needed to stay organized and pull students who needed additional support. My middle group needed to refine these skills so I needed good materials to build on their understandings. 
I found the perfect box at Target that had 2 drawers that snap together and hold so many games and cards. I labeled each game and placed them in slider bags that I purchase at a fantastic store called Daiso where all items are $1.50. They have gorgeous, brightly colored containers that I have trouble resisting. Check it out!

Here is what the contents of my box looks like. Cards can be quickly turned into a fishing game with self adhesive magnets and a couple of magnetic rods. Students love all variations of this game. Check out my FB page for pictures of this. Each activity is in its own slider bag.

GREAT TEACHER TIP: I created a small set of cards that I keep in my box to use as a quick reference. I love this resource and find myself grabbing it all the time. I have lists of words sorted by vowels, or the number of phonemes in a word. I can add to these cards easily as my kids acquire skills and make it increasingly more difficult. Maybe I will actually get to blends and digraphs. I'll keep you posted.
 These are segmentation mats that I made to use during small group instruction. My students love them and I have had so much success using them. I give each child in my group the same picture card that goes in the box provided. We say each phoneme in the word together and slide a gem onto the blending line into a space. Once we have finished this I ask students how many sounds they have heard. This is very effective because it is so concrete. Sometimes I use seasonal erasers (small ones from Dollar Tree) to jazz things up!
This is an idea that has been around forever but if you have never seen these sliders then you might like this concrete idea for segmenting a word. As students make each individual sound they slide one bead to the right. Each bead is a different color. This is similar to moving small tiles but it is all contained and easy to store. I have a class set of these and students stay far more engaged using them.
The little, laminated book is for recording words when doing basic cvc words. Students use a dry erase marker that has an eraser on the back

During my assessments it became clear to me that often my ELL's did not hear the difference between vowels and needed far more practice with this. I started out with the OCR letter- sound cards under each vowel to scaffold their learning. It worked like a charm and they got so much better with this skill, over time. You can have them clip the medial vowel with a small clothespin or use those glass gems. Students are far more interested in practicing this skill when they have materials to interact with!

I also created cards that had pictures and we went through the same process, listening to each sound and placing a gem on the medial sound we heard. The more we practiced the better their listening skills got. They felt so proud of their successes and this greatly impacted on their spelling and writing. Wowza! I was on a roll and spending big bucks on printer ink. Sometimes you gotta have color!

You knew I was going to pull out spinner games... right? These are glossy and brightly colored but I sorted them by vowel so they would be much more successful with lots of repetition. I also created a response sheet to give them practice writing cvc words. They loved these games and I just had them use a pencil and paper clip to create a spinner. Easy-peasy... 

 From these spinner games I moved on to creating the same activity, just using paper. This is perfect for additional practice, completed independently.
What is it about mystery words that create some much enthusiasm? This is a game we did collaboratively in groups of 4. Students share a mat and each child has their own "riddle" to solve by using letters that match the sound cards. Once the children in the group agree that the word has been done correctly, it is recorded on a response sheet. This was a huge hit in my classroom. Remember to allow your students to work collaboratively to co-construct their knowledge.

These are flip books that I created to reinforce those cvc words and have more practice writing these words as the children listen carefully to individual sounds. I ran these on both sides and let my students color them in.

I have many other materials that I created but I will save that for another blog post. Do you have any other activities for intervention that really work for you? I hope you leave a suggestion. I am always looking for the next great suggestion. I also need to post a freebie since it has been far too long!