Monday, July 30, 2012

Words and Lists and One More Week

Hey everybody,
  Sorry about being MIA this week.  I was able to get in and start setting up my classroom.  I set up my tables and some bookshelves, but that was about it.  We have one last week of summer, and part of me wants to just enjoy it and not do anything school related, and another part of me realizes that there is SOOOOOO  much to do that I really need to get in there and get things done.  One of the things I've been working on is making some of those really cool pennant banners.  I was inspired by Mrs. Bainbridge over at
Bunting Books and Bainbridge
She has a Smilebox showing pics of her classroom and you can see her pennants there. I went and bought this really cute scrapbook paper
and am making them from that.  It's really a lot of work, so hopefully I'll get them done in time. 
Needless to say, I've sorta put reading the Primary Pizzazz book on the back burner (which is where things usually go in the last weeks of summer - you know, things like laundry, dishes, cleaning, etc).  But I did get some time to read today.  The second writing skill discussed in the book is writing words.  One activity that really looked like fun in this section was the "Mission Impossible Word Assignment".  Basically, you take the plastic or foam waffle weaved sheets and use the Ellison machine to cut out letters.  Put one letter in an envelope and seal it.  Pass out one envelope to each child.  Have them rub over the hidden letter with their crayon to reveal their "secret" letter.  Then, they turn the envelope over and write as many words as they can think of that begin with that letter.  Playing the Mission Impossible theme music would make it even more fun!
The next writing skill discuss is making lists.  As I read this section, it made me think about how important lists are in our everyday lives.  I mean, maybe it's 'cause I'm a teacher, but I make lists for everything!  I then started thinking about how much time I spend in class using lists as a writing activity.  I realized I probably don't spend as much time as I could.  The book talked about showing a picture of a familiar place such as the beach or a farm and asking the kids to help you make a list of nouns and verbs that they see in the picture.  This would be a good activity for the beginning of the year.  I could show pictures of school or, to make it more personal, find out where the kids went on summer vacation and show them pictures from those places.
A list making activity they list for later in the year is to show pictures as described above, but ask the kids to think of things that might be in the pictured location, but aren't necessarily shown in the picture.  This would be a great way to incorporate some critical thinking.
So how about you?  Are you a list maker?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Panic Has Set In...

OH MY GOODNESS!!!!!!  I just realized that I only have like 2 weeks of summer left.  What??  Seriously???  That can't be true - my to do list has not even been started and it's the size of Texas.  I am definitely starting to panic now.  I have so much to print and get ready that my printer and I are gonna be best buds for the next few days. 

Before I go and spend the next million hours printing stuff out to start the year, I wanted to tell you about a cool giveaway over at Just Reed.  She's giving away an Erin Condren Teacher's lesson planning book.  I've been hearing so much about these over the summer that I'm dying to get one!  Unfortunately, since I'll be spending any money I have on printer ink, I'll just have to win one!  Head on over there now to check it out (just click the link above)!

I know I haven't been the greatest at keeping up with the Primary Pizzazz posts, but I'll try to find time to get back to it (maybe as I'm waiting for these things to print...)!  You'll forgive me, won't you?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Now I Know My ABC's

The next section in the Primary Pizzazz book deals with different writing skill units.  The first skill discussed is recognizing and writing letters.  Now, in first grade, we don't spend a whole lot of time on this - usually our firsties come to us knowing most (if not all) of their letters.  But it did get me thinking about how I can incorporate more alphabet review and practice into our day. 

One of the ways is to read ABC books.  I started looking into these and found that there were so many fun and interesting ABC books out there.  I'm trying to do more thematic teaching this year, so I began looking for ABC books that would go along with each theme I want to teach.  You wouldn't believe some of the cool ABC books I found:

For a family theme:

For Fall:
Autumn: An Alphabet Acrostic - Fun Fall Books for Kids

For a transportation unit:
H Is for Honk!; A Transportation Alphabet (A+ Books: Alphabet Fun)
For an ocean/pirate theme:

For our "Trip Across the USA" theme:

There are sooooo many options, I was really surprised.  I think these would be a good way to incorporate some nonfiction reading into our themes too (great for Common Core)!

I have to say that my favorite ABC books for later in the year are:

These really get the kids thinking and are a lot of fun.  I'm seeing a lot of ABC class books being made in our room this year!

So, what are your favorite ABC books?  Any that I need to rush out and get?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Keeping Track

Today, I'm going to take a break from the Primary Pizzazz book to talk about organization.  As we get nearer and nearer back to school time, I can't help thinking about all of the things that I want to do next year.  I have a TON of resources (as I'm sure all of you do).  Sometimes, I think I might have too many! I mean, I have binders full of ideas and activities, bins in my closet that are full, 2 zip drives, my computer's hard drive, items on Google docs, etc.  The problem I have is that I'll plan and complete a unit only to find or remember that I had a wonderful activity that would have been perfect.  Don'cha just hate that?

So I've decided to spend the last few weeks of summer taking inventory of all that I have.  I bought a spiral notebook for each theme that I plan to teach this year. 

I found them for 24 cents at Big Lots, by the way (I know I probably could get them cheaper when the back to school sales start, but with all of the restrictions and limits that stores have on their "Extreme Deals", it's not worth the few cents I would save). 
Then, I got Post-it tab dividers to section off each notebook.  These are AWESOME because you can peel them off if you need to move them (which I have, and may have to again).

I labeled each one with a subject - Reading/Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies, and Fun Stuff. 
Starting with my zip drive ('cause I'm still at my Mama's house), I began to inventory and list all of the things I have downloaded and saved, sorting them into categories.   I listed the skill that each resource addressed and where it was located (zip drive, Google docs, etc). 

After buying and starting with the notebooks, I'm thinking it might have been better to do this in a binder and record on these sheets that I created (after the fact, of course):
My Science Resources
My Math Resources
My Social Studies Resources
I hope some of you can use these.  I'm hoping that now I'll know what materials I have to use and where to find them.  Although, I'm beginning to think I should have started this project back in March!  You don't realize how much you actually have until you sit down and try to go through it.  Wish me luck!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Are Your Kids Super Spellers?

First of all, let me say that I have some ideas of freebies I want to make and share with you guys, but my mom's computer is sooooo old that I am lucky just to be able to get on the internet (ya know what I mean?).  Plus, all of my clip art and cute fonts are on my computer at home.  So, even though I love spending time with my Mama, I can't wait until I get back home (just 2 more weeks)!

The next section of the Primary Pizzazz book talks about spelling.  Spelling has really been a hot topic in our grade level for a couple of years now.  Spelling tests, actually.  Traditionally, we have followed along with our Treasures reading series and given the spelling words that go with the story each week.  We then have a test on Friday.  I have to say that this DRIVES ME CRAZY!!!!!  I mean, who's to say that the kids are ready for a spelling test on Friday.  The whole testing because it's Friday thing makes me insane (but that's a whole 'nother post)!  I mean, did you ever have kids who would score 100% on every spelling test, but not spell any of those same words correctly when they write?  Yep, that's another reason I hate traditional spelling lists/tests.  Now, some of you may not agree, but I think sending home those weekly lists just encourages memorizing those words only and then only to put them down on a test paper on Friday.

So, last year, I tried to get my team to get rid of the spelling list and teach word families or word study.  Here's what I'm thinking:  Teach the -ap word family.  Do lots of word building and word work activities with that word family.  Then, you can give a spelling list with -ap words.  The kids aren't memorizing a list of words, but are learning to apply that spelling when they hear it in a word.  That would give you more freedom to differentiate the spelling test for different students.  We all know that the word "map" might be just right for one student, but wayyy too easy for another. 
Unfortunately, I got shot down.  See, our principal has always given us the freedom (as a team) to do pretty much what we want, but the whole team had to be on the same page.  Sooo, that meant that if the rest of them wanted a list, I had to do it too.  I did convince them to wait until the second 9 weeks (around October) to start giving the lists and tests, but they argued that because second grade gives them, the kids need the practice. 

Well, with the CCSS being implemented this year, the administration at our school has become more open to allowing each teacher to decide what goes on in her classroom.  YEAH!!! Yep, that's me doing a happy dance right now.  So I have finally gotten 2 others of my 4 teammates to agree to teach word families with me, but I'm wondering if any of you make your own lists.  I know that I've asked this before and some of you gave me some good ideas, but, since I have some new followers, I was hoping some more of you might chime in on the spelling issue.  Do you give a list each week?  Do you have weekly spelling tests?  Where do you get your spelling words?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Word Walls and Ikea

So, being a week without a computer really stinks!!! On the bright side, not having a computer openened up a lot of free time, so I took my first trip to Ikea.  Yep, you heard me right, my FIRST trip. No, I don't live under a rock....we just don't happen to have one near where we live.  I've heard y'all talk about all the great things you get there that I just had to go see for myself.  You're right, pretty nice.  I did manage to control myself, however, and only spent about $6.  Aren't you proud of me!!!

Onto the topic of word walls.  I've always had a word wall in my classroom, as I'm sure most of you have, but I've struggled with where to put it and the best ways to display the words.   In the past, I've usually had it up high either on a bulletin board or under my alphabet line.  I know that some people say that the word wall should be interactive, and I did try that once.  Due to space issues, however, I had to make a pocket for each letter and put the word cards in those.  I didn't like the fact that if the kids needed a word they had to dig through all the other words to get the one they needed, so back up high the words went.  This year, my plan is to use all of the space under my white board/SMARTboard for my word wall.  I thought about putting the words on velcro, but that's a LOT of velcro (and money).  Since I don't care really where my kids sit when they work (as long as they're working), I think if I just put the words on their eye level, they can go up to the word wall and write on the floor with a clipboard if they need to. 

One thing that the Primary Pizzazz book mentioned that was interesting to me was switching the organization of the word wall throughout the year.  Now, I don't know about you, but I've always had the words displayed in ABC order.  But, the book said to consider starting the year organizing the words on your word wall by categories.  For example, "Names", "School words", etc.  Then, later, switching to an ABC order wall.  Have any of you out there tried this setup?  How did it work for you? 

I was also wondering about using color on my word wall.  I've heard it helps the kids see the words better, with each word backed in a different color.  Any input?  Whadd'ya think?

I would love to hear from you guys about how you organize and set up your word walls.  Where are they?  Are they interactive?  Do you use colors to highlight the words?  What words do you use? 

On a completely different note - have you seen the AWESOME pics from Schoolgirl Style on Facebook?  Her classroom designs are always amazing (and I soooo would love for my classroom to look like that), and she is teaming up with Creative Teaching Press this year.  She has pics of classroom design ideas using some of CTP's most popular products.  My favorite - dots on turquoise!  I've already bought a bunch of the products for my classroom next year.  If you're not a fan of Schoolgirl Style on Facebook, you need to get over there right now and check out her pics.  Trust me, you'll be inspired!

Schoolgirl Style on Facebook

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Computer DOA

Hey guys,
   Just to let you know, I didn't fall off the face of the earth.  I had every intention of continuing my posts while here in Ohio at my aunt's house, only to discover that her computer was DOA.  So, I had the bright idea of coming here to the library to post, only to discover that without a library card for this library, I only get 15 minutes of computer time.  Huh?  Really?  Sooo, I will be MIA until Sunday when I can get back to Kentucky and post from my mom's computer.  Bear with me and keep thinking about what works and what doesn't with your word walls.  I can't wait to hear your ideas!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Primary Pizzazz Part Two

Ok, first off - and I know this is completely off topic, so excuse me - but what's the deal with kettlecorn?  Seriously, all of that sweet, salty, sugary goodness.  We went to a (sort of) festival where they were making it fresh out the big kettle with lots of sugar...YUM!  I had tried it before and didn't think it was very good, but this stuff we got was addicting.  Anybody else know what I'm talking about?

Anyhoo, back to the topic at hand.  Last time we talked about the first five steps to excellent writing with primary kids.  Today, we'll discuss the last five. 

Writing - I know that when we start writing, I always model the writing first.  The thing that struck me from this book was the statement, "Expect that some children will copy your models."  Now, this struck me because I know that when I model in front of the class, I've always asked the kids NOT to copy my writing.  I mean, then it's my writing and not theirs, right?  After reading this, though, I realize that allowing them to copy my models a little in the beginning allows them to safely practice the skills we've been talking about and builds confidence in them to write on their own.  Do any of you allow them to copy your models for their writng?  And, if you do, how long do you allow this to go on before requiring them to write on their own?

Reading - This is the one that should be the easiest, but that my kids have always had the hardest time with.  I don't know how many times a student would bring me their paper and I would ask them, "Before you show it to me, did you read it?"  Most of the time, they would look at me with this blank stare, or say, "Oh, I forgot!" or tell me they did when I could clearly tell that they hadn't.  Forney suggests reading the students writing into a tape recorder (or some other recording device) and allowing them to listen to their writing being read back to them.  She also says that a "guest" reader such as a student from an older class read their writing.  This sounds interesting, but time consuming.  Often, I just read the paper back to the student so they can hear what they have written. 

Revising - This is the part that I need to work on getting the kids excited about.  Adding more to their writing is an important step, but one that most of my students don't really want to do.  Perhaps they've picked up on my reluctance to write/teach writing and that is rubbing off on them.  This is something that I really need to work on.

Editing - I've always wondered how to effectively teach editing to my firsties.  I mean, they are just learning about which words should be capital and where the ending marks go, so how are they able to really edit their own papers?  I know that modeling is a HUGE component in teaching this skill and I guess I've just been asking them to do it too early and without the sufficient foundation. 

Sharing - This is one area that really gets pushed to the back burner in my class.  We usually only share if we have extra time.   I need to make sure this year that I work sharing time in.

I want to make a cute poster with these 10 steps on them so that I can remember to incorporate each step into my writing instruction this year.  The problem is, I'm at my mom's house until the 21st and all of my cute fonts, clip arts, etc. are on my home computer.  I promise as soon as I get it made, I'll post it here for you.  

Tomorrow, we'll talk about word walls in the classroom!