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Sunday, September 18, 2016

6 Easy Steps to Develop Independent Literacy Ceneters

Have you tried a million different systems to set up literacy centers in your room and you still can't seem to get it just right? If you said yes, you are not alone.  As teachers we are constantly tweaking things, trying to find that system that works perfectly for us and our kids.
Or, does your dining room table no longer look like a dining room table?  I haven't seen the top of my table since Easter! We all struggle with finding that perfect system.  But, sometimes if we work with another teacher, all of a sudden things seem much clearer. There is great power in planning with another teacher.

Last year I teamed up with my friend Deanna Jump to create a series of units that would make center time planning simple!

Here are the 5 Simple Steps for Successful INDEPENDENT Literacy Centers

1. Use Mini Lesson to Set Expectations and Teach New Activities.

So often we just expect our kids to know our routines and procedures after the first day. But, having strong routines and procedures requires a lot of practice...and patience! The first thing we did was to sit down and decided what were our expectations for centers. What were our procedures going to be? How would kids moves to centers? What would be in centers? What should they do with their work?
After coming up with our list of questions, we broke each one down into a series of mini lessons. We spend 10 minutes each day, prior to going to centers, to do our mini lessons. 
We also use our mini lessons to teach what will be in centers. We especially want to spend time teaching those can do centers. This will ensure that when the children move to these centers, time is productive and behavior is appropriate.

2. Designate Literacy Center Zones.

We divide our rooms into 5 zones. There are several ways you can do this, but in our units we decided to divide them by Alphabet, Phonemic Awareness, Writing, Reading, and Word Work. We made a sign for each area. My friend Amanda decided to make matching number signs for each of the 5 zones. The color of the numeral matches the boarder on the center sign from our unit.

3. Develop a Storage System.

Once your have your zones set up, you will want a storage tub for each zone.  These tubs can be stored on a shelf in any area of your room. When center time begins, the children can quickly move the tub to the areas by matching the signs.  Amanda put numbers on hers, but I think it might be easier if you put the matching label.  The children can quickly match the pictures and colors.

4. Develop Have to Centers for Each Zone.

For each of the 5 zones, you will want to plan a "have to" activity. This is something that each child will do. This is where we want to be careful. Be sure that the activities are ones that your kids can do independently.  Keep them very simple. You can slowly build a collection of activities in your mini lessons that can become "have to" centers. Remember, these are not a new teach. Centers are used to practice and maintain standards already learned.
My friend Deanna is so smart! It was her idea to color code the "I Can" cards to match the center signs.  This makes it so easy for you to be sure you know which standard each activity is designed for. The "I Can" cards provide the children will simple picture directions. This helps foster that independence we want.

5. Develop a Management System.

You might be wondering how do the children know which center they are going to. Have you ever tried ringing a bell and having children rotate to a different activity? I know I did. I found that it was pretty much a nightmare.  Some children wouldn't be done, some have been done for a while. We were wasting time cleaning up and physically moving to another area. We developed a system that would allow the children to know exactly where they needed to go each day. 
  • The children are placed into groups. This group has all abilities, all personalities. These are children that get along--they work together but don't play together. They stay with the same group all year.
  • Each day they will visit a different area.
  • They will do the "have to" activity in that area.
  • Once they are finished, they will move to the "can do" centers.

6. Develop Can Do Centers for Early Finishers.

At the beginning of the year, the can dos are very basic. You are simply using items from your room that the children can free explore and manipulate.  Some teachers have a shelf in each area to store these can do centers. In Amanda's room that is where we are moving. But, for right now, we have the can do activities stored in a basket for each zone. 
During our mini lessons we are demonstrating, modeling, and practicing can do centers. As we do we can use the tags (see above) to build a choice board. This will take time. Be patient and teach each activity slowly and clearly.  You can display these boards in each of the zones. Once the children finish their "have to" center, they can look at the choice board to select a can do center.

 I hope this helps explain how we set up our centers. Do you still have questions? Leave them in the comments section and we can plan a follow up blog post to answer them!

Here is the link to Centers Made Easy Unit . It is in Deanna's store.

 And here is a link to the bundle. There is a different unit each month (9 units), or you can get the bundle and have all of the units together.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Am I Done Yet? Teaching Children to Finish A Piece of Writing

I taught a little girl named Arleigh. Her mom Amanda is a teacher, a friend of mine. Amanda shared this precious story with me...
One day, after school Arleigh said, "Mom, it was the best day ever in kindergarten!" Wondering what we had done that day, Amanda ask, "What did you do today that was so great?"  Arleigh said, "Mom did you know that good writers are never done? Do you know what that means? That means that I get to write all of those stories in my heart...all of them! Isn't that great?!" (Arleigh is now in high school and works with the school publication!) We want to build that sense of excitement in all of our writers.
How do we do that. Well, here's what we know:
  • Writer's pick their own topic.
  • Writer's build stamia.
  • Children work at different rates, some taking longer to finish a piece.
  • Some children start many pieces, but rarely finish any.
Here's what we can do.
  • Teach children to ask themselves three questions, "Do I need to add to the picture?, Do I need to add to the words?, and Do I need to start a new piece?"
  • Tackle each question in a mini lesson, meaning that it will take 3 days to cover all of the questions.
For the mini lesson, we will follow the same format as other lessons:
Link: Say, "Remember yesterday when we..." and remind the children what you taught them yesterday.
Teach: Say, "Today, I am going to show you how good writers ask themselves questions when they think they are done with a piece of writing. One question they might ask themselves is, "Do I need to add to the pictures?"
Using a writing that you finished in a previous mini lesson, model adding to your picture.  It is important that children understand WHY you are adding to your picture...we want to help our readers. We add to our picture so that the reader will know more about our piece of writing. We want to make it clear for our reader.
Active Engagement: "Now let me see you try." Invite the children to select a piece of writing from their folder and bring it to the carpet when they come. This way, they will be ready for the lesson! While still on the rug, the children add to the picture in their piece of writing. They will use this same piece of writing tomorrow to add to the words.
Link: "So remember boys and girls, today and everyday, good writers ask themselves questions when they think they are done with their writing. One question they might ask themselves is, "Do I need to add to the picture?"
Once we send them off to write independently some children will apply this lesson and others may not.  The mini lesson is based on the scope and sequence. This means that the mini lesson will be something that some children are already doing naturally, others will apply what they learned easily to their own writing, and yet others will not be quite ready.
While the kids are working independently, you can conference with children. At this time you will be able to determine where the children are in their ability to apply this lesson.
Does conferencing with kids stress you out? Are you never sure what to say? Next week, I will share a post on conducting a conference and give you a little cheat sheet to make it easy, peasy! Until then...happy writing.

The Am I Done Yet? anchor chart is from this unit.
Or in this bundle

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Sunday, September 11, 2016

Developing Number Sense

I love watching my grandsons learn. I *might* be just a little proud to be their Gammy! Brody is learning to count by rote and Matthew has one to one counting down pat! It's so fun to watch! The fact that I don't have to worry about their everyday routines, and the fact that I know more about how children develop number sense than when my kids were little, makes this a new experience.  One day Matthew and I were playing with a bucket of plastic animals and we were having a conversation. Here's how it went:
      Me: "Matthew, how many fish do you have?"
      He counts, "1,2,3,4,5."
      Me, with excitement, "That's right, buddy! How many fish do you have?"
      With great confidence Matthew says, "Three!"
It's three---EVERYTIME!!! It's exciting to watch your grandchildren develop number sense and to see them move through the various stages. As we work with our school children, we use a variety of tools to help them develop number sense. 
You might use dot plates, tens frames, fives frames, dominoes, cards, dice, or rekenreks, to name just a few. Here are a few games that we play using some of these tools.

Dot Plates

Dot plates or cards are just another way to helps students learn number conservation, basic addition facts, basic subtraction facts and multiplication.
Here's a game that we play:
  • Invite the children to turn over two dot plates.
  • Record the dot plates on the recording page.
  • Add the dots together to make the sum.
But, here's the cool part! Once I teach that game in small group, I can now simply change the tool to rekenreks, dominoes, tens frames, or fives frames. Then, the children are practicing the same exact skill but, no time is lost teaching a new game!

Tens Frames

A tens frame is used to build numeracy skills such as counting, comparing, odd & even, sets, mental math, 1:1 correspondence, fact families, etc.
Here's a game that we can play:
  • Invite the children to spin the spinner.
  • Now, put that many horseshoes onto the tens frame.
  • On the recording page, write the numeral to show how many you placed on the tens frame.
  • How many more do you need to make a ten? Record that number.
  • You can play this same game with a fives frame.

Dot Plates

Here's another game that we can play with dot plates:
  • Hide a dot plate under the cowboy's bandana.
  • Lift the bandana to see the set.
  • Write clues on the recording sheet to describe that number.
  • You can play this same game with any of the tools, rekenreks, dominoes, and fives & tens frames.

Fives Frames

A fives frame is used to build numeracy skills such as counting, comparing, odd & even, sets, mental math, 1:1 correspondence, fact families, etc.

Here's a game that we can play:
  • Invite the children to roll the dice.
  • Cross off that many numerals on the number chart.
  • Roll again, using a different color of pen, cross of that many.
  • Continue until al of the numerals are crossed out.



While dominoes is a popular game played by many, we can use them to develop number sense.  Dominoes can be used to build numeracy skills such as counting, comparing, odd & even, sets, mental math, 1:1 correspondence, fact families, etc.

Here's a game that we can play:
  • Invite the children to roll the dice.
  • Cross off that many numerals on the number chart.
  • Roll again, using a different color of pen, cross of that many.
  • Continue until al of the numerals are crossed out.



The Rekenrek helps young children develop powerful understandings of numbers -- their meanings, their relationships to one another, and how we operate with them. They can be used to encourage informal strategies for addition and subtraction, for example, using doubling and halving strategies, counting-on from known quantities to solve addition and subtraction problems, etc.

Here's a game that we can play:
  • Invite the children to turn over two numerals and place them on the boot addition game board.
  • Add dots to the rekenreks for each numeral.
  • Draw the circles on the recording page and add the two sets together.
  • Record the sum.
  • You can play this same game with any of the math tools.

These games and recording pages can be found in this unit.
You might already have this unit and not recognize the cover. I recently updated the unit with new graphics and fonts to give it an updated, new look! If you already have it, you can go to your "my purchases" section on tpt and download the updated version.

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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

How To Use a Writing Rubric

What kind of report card do you have at your school? If you use a traditional report card, you would give the kids ONE grade for writing. But, how does that grade help anyone? Does it tell you, the teacher, where that child is as a writer? Does it tell the parent where the child excels or where he needs extra support?  Is it helpful? Or, maybe you use a standards based report card. Does it stress you out? Are you trying to find ways to assess all of those standards and it is the day before report cards are due? Regardless as to where you are, we all struggle with assessment. How can we make assessments just a part of our every day teaching? That is where a writing rubric comes in.
Each month we teach a different genre of writing. If you have been following along, you know that during writer's workshop we are not assigning topics and writing about themes. Instead, we are teaching the craft of writing. How do writers do it! 
At the end of each month, we assess our kids using a rubric like the one above.  These scores are sent to our assistant principal. She can use them to make decisions about where we need to go as a school. She sends them to the central office so that can make decision at the district level.  These are formative assessments for them---they help them plan their next step. But, for us, it is a summative assessment.  How does it benefit you? Well, you can use it to help you know what to do differently next year, but for these kids it's really not very helpful. Tomorrow we will be moving to a new genre, leaving this one behind. (We do revisit genres through science and social studies, but this is the end of the concentrated study of personal narratives.)
I wanted to use the rubric as a way to determine what I needed to teach and who I needed to teach it to. I decided to do a "mock assessment". In the middle of the unit, I took up a writing sample from each child. I scored it using the rubric. Now, I'm getting somewhere! If I had a lot of 3's on a particular item on the rubric, I would know that I had taught that part pretty well. The children not making a 3 could be pulled into a small conference group to work on that particular point. If I had a lot of 2's and maybe even some 1's, I would know that I needed to continue to teach that during my mini lessons. Maybe I really hadn't covered that point yet. If I THOUGHT I had covered that point, then maybe I need to revisit my approach. It obviously wasn't effective.
I decided to put my rubric on a chart to display in the room. I did this for a few reasons. 
  • It helps me keep me lessons focused on the end goal. Begin with the end in mind.
  • It reminds me to show my children what is expected in their writing.
  • It helps kids, and me, see the connection between the mini lessons and the rubric.
  • It lets the kids know what I am looking for in their writing.
  • It makes us "talk" like writers.
Back to the report card. How can we use the rubric to help us give the children meaningful scores?
As you can see, the rubric has 5 key points.
  • Parts 1 and 2 address the actual writing standard. I can use the scores on these two items to mark the writing standard on the report card. These two scores to me are the most important! We are teaching that genre for a very specific time. It is essential that the child masters the elements of each genre.
  • Parts 3 and 4 address the foundational skills. "Help the reader" refers to the child's ability to apply foundational skills. Depending on the time of year, this could be uses dominant sounds, uses spaces between words, use the word wall and other resources, uses punctuation, etc. While children will move through these at different rates, it is helpful to know the benchmark for each month. Then, you  can use that to help you mark the report card.
  • Part 5 address the speaking and listening standards. These standards are often overlooked. However, adults who lack the ability to engage in peer to peer conversations, talk about grade level topics, etc., often struggle in their professions. This part of the rubric is easily assessed during share time!
I also want my children to be able to evaluate their own writing. I decided to give each child a copy of the rubric to keep in their writing folder. NOW, I don't expect children to constantly be worried about this rubric. It should not become the most important part of writing. But, when we are determining if we are done with a piece, it will give the kids a guideline to help them make that determination.
Let's look at some of our writings. Child 1: This child's story was about going on a trip, in a car, with their family. They were in the car a long, long time.
  • You can see I gave them a 3 on the writing standard. They were able to tell me their story and it included both characters and a setting. 
  • On the foundational skills, the children isn't using any form of text, so she received a 1.  She did get a 2 on help the reader, because she had good detail in her illustration even though she wasn't using text.
  • On the speaking and listening standards, she received a 3. She was able to tell her story and engage in a conversation with her peers about her trip.
Here's child 2. Her story was about cleaning the house with her mom.
  • She received a 3 and a 2 on the writing standard portion. Her illustration is missing the characters in her story. When she told her story, she did include the characters, but we want her to include them in her illustration since that is where the reader is getting the information.
  • She received a 2 and a 3 on the foundational skills. She is using beginning and ending sounds, but not other dominant sounds within the word. She was helpful to the reader by adding letters to help them know each part of the story, and her illustration contains details.
  • She received a 3 on the speaking and listening for her ability to tell her story and engage in conversation.
Here's the last one. This child's piece was about his dad helping him learn to ride his bike.
He received all 3's. This child has mastered all of the genre, foundational skills, and the speaking and listening standards.
Using a rubric is a great way to assess children. It provides me with the necessary information to drive my instruction. Ever heard, "Data driven instruction?" Does it make you want to say a bad word? Well, that is all there is to it! Rubrics are a great way to collect data that you use to drive your instruction! Simple as 1,2,3!
The rubric for personal narratives is in this unit.

Or in this bundle.
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Sunday, September 4, 2016

Easy Ways to Use Pattern Blocks to Teach ALL the Math Standars

I can't remember not having pattern blocks. Thirty five years ago when I entered my first kindergarten class...there were pattern blocks. I've had foam ones, plastic ones, wooden ones, magnetic ones, and ones that you could use on an overhead projector! We have used them to make patterns, number combinations, and designs just to name a few. But, so often we find manipulatives stored in closets because we just aren't sure how to use them. Or, maybe you have used them for indoor recess or maybe even for early finishers. 
But we can ask ourselves, "How can I get the most out of pattern blocks?" Here are a few ideas that can keep your patterns in centers ALL year!  
My friend, and teaching partner, Michele and I decided to think of 3-4 centers that used pattern blocks to teach each of the standard strands. First, we made an I can...card for each activity. While we introduce these activities in our large and small group, we want them to move into our math centers where kids can do them independently. Most activities have a recording page, but not all of them.  
First let's look at the counting standards:

Common Core Kindergarten standard: CC4a: When counting objects, say the number names in the standard order, pairing each object with one and only one number name and each number name with one and only one object.

Common Core First Grade standard: NBT1: Count to 120, starting at any number less than 120. In this range, read and write numerals and represent a number of objects with a written numeral.
NCTM standard for both grades: 1A- Understand numbers, ways of representing numbers, relationships among numbers, and number systems.

Scoop and Count

Here's how you play:
  • Give children a cup.
  • Children scoop up the unifix cubes in the cup.
  • Pour them on the table and count.
  • Write the number on your recording sheet.
It is really easy to differentiate this activity for your different learners:
  • Give a different size cup to scoop more or less blocks.
  • Sort the blocks.  If you want them to count a lesser number, use the yellow and red blocks.
  • If you want them to count a greater number, use the green and orange blocks. 
 Now we can look at the data standards:

Common Core Kindergarten standard: MD3-Classify objects into given categories; count the numbers of objects in each category and sort the categories by count

Common Core First Grade standard: MD4-Organize, represent, and interpret data with up to three categories; ask and answer questions about the total number of data points, how many in each category, and how many more or less are in one category than in another

NCTM standards for both grades: Standard 5: Data Analysis and Probability 5A: Formulate questions that can be addressed with data and collect, organize, and display relevant data to answer them. 5B: Select and use appropriate statistical methods to analyze data.

Make, Sort Count 

 Here's how to play:
  • Give each child a pattern block wall.
  • Invite them to make the pattern on the sentence strip provided. You will want to cut the strip short enough that all of the pattern blocks can fit on the graph. The conceptual graph isn't shown in this picture.
  • Sort the blocks and count.
  • Record the number on the recording page.
  • Color the graph to match.
  • Write an analysis.
Here are the measurement standards:

Common Core Kindergarten standard: MD1-Describe measurable attributes of objects, such as length or weight. Describe several measurable attributes of a single object.                                                                                 MD2-Directly compare two objects with a measurable attribute in common, to see which object has "more of"/"less of" the attribute, and describe the difference. 

Common Core First Grade standard: MD2 Express the length of an object as a whole number of length units, by laying multiple copies of a shorter object (the length unit) end to end; understand that the length measurement of an object is the number of same-size length units that span it with no gaps or overlaps.

NCTM standards for both grades: Standard 4- 4A: Understand measurable attributes of objects and the units, systems, and processes of measurement. 4B: Apply appropriate techniques, tools and formulas to determine measurements.

 Measure It!

 Here's how to play:
  • Invite the children to select one of the cards to measure with pattern blocks.
  • Now pick a different card to measure using the same kind of block.
  • On the recording page, write how many it took of each.
  • Circle longer, shorter or taller, shorter for each set.
The shape standards are:

Common Core Kindergarten standard: KGA: Identify and describe shapes. KGB: Analyze, compare, create, and compose shapes.

Common Core First Grade standard: 1GA: Reason with shapes and their attributes

NCTM standards for both grades: Standard 3A: Analyze characteristics and properties of two- and three-dimensional geometric shapes and develop mathematical arguments about geometric relationships.

 How Many Ways?

 Here's how to play:
  • Provide each child with a game board.
  • Remove the brown and orange pattern blocks.
  • Invite the children to use the other pattern blocks to see how many ways they can fill the hexagon.
For addition and subtraction, we have these standards:

Common Core Kindergarten standard: KOA.A: Understand addition as putting together and adding to, and understand subtraction as taking apart and taking from.

Common Core First Grade standard: 1OA.A: Represent and solve problems involving addition and subtraction. OA.C: Add and subtract within 20

NCTM standards for both grades: Standard 1- 1A; Understand numbers, ways of re[resenting numbers, relationships among numbers, and number systems. 1B: Understand meanings of operations and how they relate to one another. 1C: Compute fluently and make reasonable estimates.

 Baggie Subtraction

 Here's how to play:
  • Draw a line down the middle of a baggie.
  • Put a given number of pattern blocks, all the same color, inside and seal. You will want to put a "target" number of blocks. For example, if they are working on combinations for 6, put 6 blocks in the bag.
  • Move all of the pattern blocks to the left of the line.
  • Invite the children to roll the dice.
  • Move that many pattern blocks to the right side of the line.
  • Record the answer on the recording sheet.
 And finally, composing and decomposing number standards:

Common Core Kindergarten standard: KOA.A: Understand addition as putting together and adding to, and understand subtraction as taking apart and taking from.

Common Core First Grade standard: 1OA.A: Represent and solve problems involving addition and subtraction. OA.C: Add and subtract within 20

NCTM standards for both grades: Standard 1- 1A; Understand numbers, ways of re[resenting numbers, relationships among numbers, and number systems. 1B: Understand meanings of operations and how they relate to one another. 1C: Compute fluently and make reasonable estimates.

 Decompose and Build

Here's how to play:
  • Invite the children to turn over a number.
  • Count out 10 blocks of one color to make a ten.
  • Then, they decide how many ones, and count that many blocks of another color.
  • Use the blocks and build a design.
All of these games, recording pages, and I can cards are in this unit.
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