KinderGals: December 2016

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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Christmas Tree Fun

At the end of the year we always do a memoir unit in Writer's Workshop. Ask kids the things they remember and you will see the experiences that made a lasting impression. December is a great month to develop memories while tackling lots of standards.  Here's the point...we don't have to choose. We don't have to say I can't do "cute", I have to teach the standards.  We don't have to say I can't do that anymore, we have standards.  The truth is we have ALWAYS had standards. We simply need to reevaluate our activities. We need to be sure that the standard is clear and evident. But, we need to plan fun, engaging, dendrite producing activities.
I love Christmas trees. Over the 32 years of my marriage I have collected so many ornaments that a few years ago I started making "theme" trees. I put a gingerbread tree in the kitchen, Santa tree in the Den, burlap tree in the living room, snowman tree in the office, and a new tree is in the process in the dining room. I always say, "I'm not putting up all those decorations", but something inside me just can't imagine Christmas without them.
I like a Christmas tree in the classroom. It doesn't have to be anything large or take up much room. Just a little sparkle in the corner. All December we make decorations and decorate the tree. The kids love it! I still have some of the decorations Megan and Tyler made when they were tiny.  (I actually gave them each their ornaments when they got married.)
Here are a few ways to make trees come "alive" in the classroom.
Here are some cute sequencing pictures of kids decorating a tree. This tackles your sequencing standard.
Here each kid makes a lift the flap book to sequence decorating a tree. Art is a dendrite producing activity! Yea for art! On the outside of the flaps, the kids can either write the steps or sequence sentences with the steps. This helps you with your informational text and informational writing standards. We can't ask kids to produce informational text or to understand the text they read if we have not provided the schema necessary to be successful.
I love this ornament number line game.  To make the game:
  • Make a deck of cards with 4 different ornaments.
  • Make one card with only the ornament and more cards with the numerals 1-10.
  • Place the 4 ornaments without a number face up in a vertical line.
  • Shuffle the remaining 40 cards and lay them face down in an array.
To play the game:
  • Invite a child to turn over a card, like the Star 7 above.
  • They must decide where it belongs on the number line.
  • They pick up the card in that space (the number 5 candy cane) and replace it with the number 7 star.
  • Then, they put the number 5 candy cane in its correct space.
  • Continue until all 4 number lines are made.
This is great practice for developing number sense.
This is a fun little interactive chart.  It is sung to the tune of "The Wheels on the Bus." What do interactive charts and songs teach?
  • The kids can practice all of their print concepts, left to right, top to bottom, and one to one. 
  • They can also look for sight words, punctuation, and capital letters.
  • Songs are a great way to develop fluency in reading. Songs develop prosody, the natural rhythm of good reading. 
  • The children each made a tree for their poetry journal. They cut and sequenced the triangles by size, a great measurement standard activity.
  •  They put the poem in their poetry journal. They keep their poetry journal in their bag of books for repeated reading--another way to develop prosody.
I also make a folder pocket for our song. To make the pocket:
  • Cut out a tree shape in a piece of scrapbooking paper.
  • Cut holes in a green piece of paper and glue it to the back of the scrapbooking paper.
  • Glue the words on another piece of scrapbooking paper.
  • Laminate.
  • Tape the pocket together along the sides leaving the top open.
  • Slide pieces of construction paper inside the pocket.
  • The colored paper will show through the holes in the green paper.
  • Pull the paper out as you sing the song.
Here are a few fun ways to measure with lights.  On the left, we are using individual lights like a nonstandard measurement. On the right, we are using the lights to make a ruler. The kids measure the various school items to see how long.  Invite the children to compare how many lights it took to measure each item. Ask them to tell you why.
I had a teacher tell me the best way to remember the difference between phonics and phonemic awareness.  She said, "Phonemic Awareness can be done in the dark." Exactly, phonemic awareness only deals with the sounds, not the letter symbols. In this activity, the kids were practicing their phonemic skills of segmenting phonemes. For each sound, they slid a light up onto the Christmas tree.  Later, the children practiced their phonics skills by selecting pictures and writing letters to represent the 3 sounds they hear.
To make this story problem tree, here's what we did.
  • We invited the kids to cut a triangle tree.
  • Then, they roll a dice to create an equation.
  • Next, they glued ornaments to match the number sentence. 
  • Invite the kids to write or dictate a story problem to match the equation. This is a great way to solve an abstract problem conceptually!
Learning about Christmas trees is also a great time to learn about evergreens. 
  • After reading lots of informational text about evergreen trees, the children created a bubble map where they wrote describing words about trees. 
  • Later, the children created a table of contents by selecting 4 of their describing words. 
  • Then, we stapled the table of contents into a booklet where they children drew, wrote, dictated informational text about evergreens. 
This was a fun way for the children to work collaboratively.
  • The children worked in partners, with each partner creating their own tree. 
  • Then, each child made a list of the things on their Christmas tree. 
  • Now they are ready to work in partners. 
  • The children took turns reading the things that were on their list.
  • As they read, they decided where to place that items on the Venn Diagram. Was it just on their tree, or was it on their partners tree, too.
All of these activities are from this Christmas Tree Unit.
To help us with learning more factual information through a procedural piece, I wrote a nonfiction book "Timber: Cutting Down a Tree."  In this book, the kids learned all about procedural text.
  • They learned to look for sequencing words like first, next, and last.
  • They learned why you need a you need list.
  • They learned to look for headings to let you know the main idea on each page.
I make each of my guided reading books with 3 levels of text. The easiest level is perfect for most of my kinders, but some are ready for the middle level.  I use the hardest level to help me keep all the information. I can use it to help guide our discussions.
Then, we used our text to sequence cutting down the tree. I don't want the kids to just memorize, I want them to go back to the text to check. They also added headings. We also sorting pictures by beginning sounds--st or tr. For our word work we made _ing words!
This book is part of our December Guided Reading Series.
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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Santa Fun

Building schema in the early childhood classroom allows children to make connections between isolated concepts.  A few days ago I wrote a blog post about the importance of "fluff with stuff". In that post I  wanted to share how using highly engaging activities, sometimes called cute, can actually create an environment where children grow dendrites thus becoming smarter kids! You can read that post here
Here's a little story: My very first year of teaching I had a little girl named Janet. I recently ran into Janet at the local Walmart. After her sharing that she had graduated from GA Tech with a degree in Chemical Engineering, we started talking about her kindergarten memories.  She didn't tell me she remembered to read, or that she even learned the alphabet. Here's what she said, "I remember you laying us down on long white paper.  You traced around our bodies. We went outside and collect various colors, sizes, and shapes of leaves. We collected nuts, sweet gum balls, twigs, and other treasures. We brought them inside and we sorted them into bins. We counted. We graphed.  Then, we picked our favorite treasures to creat clothing, faces, and other features for our traced bodies."
For many, the untrained observer, this would be a "cute" activity full of fluff. But WE know better! Just look at all of the standards that she remembered.  We are in the business of creating schema--Ideas, concepts, and thoughts that can later be used as children become life long learners.
Here are a few fun,schema building activities around our jolly ol' friend, Santa!

In this fun, "What shape is Santa?" book, the children build sentences by following a pattern. Helping children identify patterns in reading helps children develop automaticity and prosody as they become fluent readers.  After building the sentences in a pocket chart, the children each make their own book.  They cut and glue the shapes on each page to create a shape Santa. Then, they cut off one sentence at a time. They use their schema about sentence structure, capital letters, periods, and the reading strategy "does it make sense?" to compose the various sentences. Add this book to their bag of books for repeated reading!
Interactive writing is a great way to develop print concepts and "what good writers do".  In this interactive writing we were using our schema about Santa to determine what  he wants for Christmas. In interactive writing the children and the teacher together are developing the text and the teacher is sharing the pen with the children.  When doing interactive writing, it is important to keep the standard front and center. Interactive writing is not the standard. It is the tool that we are using to teach the standard. An easy way to keep the balance is to think of your standard. Is your standard "words begin with a sound that we can write?" Is it "there are spaces between words?" Is it "we can write some words quickly?" Whatever the standard, let that be the part that you "share the pen" for. Invite the children to come up and practice the parts that match your selected standard.
We can also take the writing to an independent level. Here the kids sound out their own words to create Santa's list. To publish our list we created a toilet paper roll Santa. Then, we roll up the list and put it inside. What do you think happens when we send home a piece of white paper in their bookbags? My thinking is that most often the paper end up in the trash with little interaction between the parent and the child.  By placing the list inside of the toilet paper roll Santa, parents are more likely to save and treasure their child's work. Also, the parent is more likely to engage in conversation with the child. See, even adults are intrigued by "cute". Even the adult brain is more interested in things that are "cute" and are more likely to remember not just that product but the conversation that occurred about that product.
Here again we used interactive writing to develop a list. Writer's use lists all the time and for many purposes.  We worked together to create a list to match the pictures.  I gave each child a piece of paper that looked just like mine. As we were writing the words on the large chart, each child is engaged as they are writing the list on their own paper.  During math we pulled the lists back out. We used the prices to practice addition. We could have just as easily used comparing as the standard. I did this part in small group so that I could differentiate.  The recording page is intended for grade level kids.  For  the kids who need a little extra support, be sure and provide actual coins for them to count and add together.  For kids that need a challenge, give them 10 cents. Ask, how can you determine which items you could buy. What combinations of items could you purchase?  Could you buy Santa everything he needs? How much money would you need to get everything?
While new learning occurs in our mini lessons and our small group, centers provide the opportunity for children to practice and remember the standards they have already mastered.  This syllable sorting book is just that. The kids cut the toy cards and sort them by how many syllable they hear.  For extra fun, give them some Santa boots to stomp out the syllables.
Interactive charts provide a fun way to develop prosody and print concepts. This fun chant includes the children's name. Our kids seem to especially love charts that include their names.  We also made a class book to match our chart. Do you make class books? I remember when EVERYONE was making them. Then, slowly they seemed to become less prevalent. Why? Here's my thinking, I never knew WHY we were doing them in the first place.  It is important that we know for each activity the why. Not only does this ensure that we will keep doing that activity, it also ensures that the standard will not get lost. Class books are made as a way to develop prosody. According to Resinski, children need prosody to become fluent readers.  Prosody is developed through repeated reading and songs, poems and chants.  Both of these are provided in class books.
Poems are another way to develop prosody.  The fun craft activity acts as cement to our learning. It is a connector in our brain that helps us remember the poem.
In our large group activity, we used the cookie crisp cereal to tell story problems about Santa and his cookies.  This is a great way to show mixed operations. It might sound like this, "Kim gave Santa 3 cookies. (Children put 3 cookies in their hand.) He ate 2 of them. (The children eat 2 of the cookies.) How many did he have left? (1) Andy gave Santa 4 more cookies. (Children put 4 more cookies in their hand.) Now how many cookies does Santa have? (5)
At our small group or as a center, the children can use the cookie clip art to solve the story problem. In the empty boxes, invite the children to write in names. For extra fun, add photographs of the children's faces.
Why do children love survey graphs? Because they get to roam around the room and talk! (If you can't beat them, join them! ha) For this activity invite the children to ask their friends Does Santa come through the door or down the chimney? The children tally, graph, and analyze their data.
The activities in this post come from the Santa unit.

This is the second post in a series of 3 posts to look at the value of highly engaging, standard rich activities that are often disguised in "cute" clothing. 
Key points I remember:
1. Keep the standard front and center. Never lose focus on the desired outcome.
2. "Cute" is another word for novelty. Novel items create interest within the brain that results in the production of dendrites.
3. Childhood should be fun. Children learn through play.
4. If it's boring to's even more boring to them.
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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Reindeer Fun

I heard a teacher say on facebook that she was not allowed to do "cute." Now, this teacher was distraught, it wasn't something that she was supporting, but the fact is that she felt the pressure to not provide those activities for the children in her room.
"Cute" activities are actually dendrite producers. Now, let's be certain that we are talking about "fluff with stuff" and not just cute for the sake of cute.  Cute activities are actually called novelties in brain research. Novelties stimulate interest within the brain. This interest allows for the production of dendrites. 
Here's an adult example. I love to shop. When I am walking through the mall, I seek out The Black and White Store and The Loft. These are both stores that I know to have quality clothes that fit me well, look professional and last a long time.  This is like us using research best practices. We stick to them because they give results.  However, sometimes I also find myself wondering into stores that I don't even know the name of. Why, because I am intrigued by what I see in the window. The clever window dressing pulls me inside much like nicely "dressed" activities pull our children in.  These novel activities provide the Segway to rich content that will stick with the children due to their high interest. Here are some novel ideas using a reindeer theme that are rich in content and standards based. 
What fun to make a reindeer sandwich. This  is the "cute" factor. So where is the standard? The reindeer cookbook provides the children will procedural nonfiction text from which we can teach our reading nonfiction standards. After making the sandwiches, the children cut and sequence the pictures to tell how to make the sandwiches.  This is another reading standard. Then, the children cut apart sentences and get the words in order to produce the text. This provides practice with sentence structure, capital letters, punctuation, and the reading strategy "does that make sense." If I am counting right, that is 6 different standards all packaged into a cute activity! 
Here's another cute activity. I get a parent volunteer to help the children make the reindeer by painting a foot and their hands. The parent works with one child at a time while the other children are actively engaged in centers. Once the prints are dry, the children cut and assemble their reindeer. Where is the standard? The children use various items to measure the length of their reindeer.  They count and record the numeral of objects. Then, they compare the quantity of the various items to indicate which ones took more and which objects took less.  The children then use that information to predict how many it will take of another item. Not only are we teaching many standards, we are also working at higher levels on bloom's taxonomy than most workbooks will provide. 
Cute activity number 3: Reindeer story problem. In this activity we are providing the opportunity for children to develop a deeper understanding of mathematical practices. All new mathematical concepts should be learned through conceptual learning.  Conceptual means manipulate. By providing the reindeer clip art for the children to manipulate as they make sense of the problem, we are providing that opportunity. Workbooks at best are pictorial. This means the children either draw a picture to show their understanding or look at a picture. These do not provide the opportunity for manipulation.  This can lead to misunderstanding and confusion for most children.
 Producing your own text around high interest topics provides a hook to engagement.  I produced this text about Santa looking for Rudolph. The pages provide simple text that I can project on my smartboard. This provides the opportunity to engage while teaching text features and print concepts. The book also provides the opportunity for children to make inferences and predictions. On each page, Rudolph is hiding. The children can predict if Rudolph is hiding and whether or not Santa will find him.
 The children can then each produce their own book by supplying the missing sight words. By selecting a few key words, the children have repeated practice. This book also becomes a part of their "bag of books." According to Resinski, in order for children to be fluent readers they must have two skills. The children need to be accurate and automatic with sight words. Too much time spent decoding, allows little time for comprehension.  The children also need to have prosody. Prosody is the natural rhythm that comes with good reading. Prosody is developed through repeated reading, songs, poems, and chants.
 According to Marcia Tayte, games are a dendrite producing activity. A dendrite is a connection in the brain.  Here's what's cool...not only do games help children learn the intended skill at a higher success rate, but because they produce dendrites they also give children a great opportunity to learn future standards. Games make kids smarter! Wow! To play this fun game, make a set of reindeer with sight words or whatever standard you are teaching. Provide a few Santa cards. Put the cards in a bucket and pass around the room. As each child gets the bucket, they draw out a card and read the word. When someone pulls out the Santa, all the reindeer are returned to the bucket.
All of these activities are from the Rudolph Unit.
Since we were doing a full week all about reindeer, we needed some nonfiction text! Each month I have developed 5 readers with high interest topics. As I move through the months, I add more nonfiction features. By the end of the year, my kids are a master of nonfiction features! 
I also wanted to have a book that all children could read, yet provided the same photographs and nonfiction features. I wrote the book with 3 levels of text.  The goal here isn't to have a perfect level fit. This is a strategy group. The children are using the text to learn the nonfiction features.  Just make sure the book isn't too hard!
I also want to provide opportunity for practicing the new feature. Here the children each create their own little book. Then, they use the little book to create a table of contents.
In each book we practice our phonics skills. Here the children can sort by 2 or 3 beginning sounds.
The Reindeer book is included in my December Guided Reading Unit.
So do cute as much as you can! Just be sure that the standard is clear and evident. Be sure that the cute is used as a Segway to mastering the standards.  Be sure that you have "fluff with stuff!" :)
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Friday, December 9, 2016

Developing Strategic Readers Through Retelling Stories

Ever heard the saying, "If you wait long enough everything comes back in style?" Well, teaching is no different. Over the years teaching philosophies have gone "out" to, only a few years later, come back "in" under another title.  I remember when I first started teaching we had "objectives", much like we have "standards" today in that they helped guide our teaching. One of our objectives said, "Children will role play stories." Today, we have "beefed" up the wording, but it is basically the same--"The children will comprehend stories." Role playing is one way for young children to show us that they comprehend the story through retelling the key elements. 
Today we teach children to be strategic readers.  Here's a perfect example: If we ask kids to tell us the different settings in "The Three Pigs", that only helps them with that particular story. But, if we tell kids that "authors sequence settings in a story to help the reader. If we can remember the sequence of settings that the characters visit, we can use that to help us retell." Now, children can use that to help retell any story where settings change through out the story. This means we want to teach strategy OVER story. While the story is important, it is more important that children become strategic readers so they can comprehend many pieces of text.
Here are a few ideas for different text strategies that we can teach young readers:
Sequencing settings
These retelling pieces help children to discover that settings can change. We want children to know that stories can have one or many settings. We also want them to know if we can sequence the settings, we can use that to help us retell the story.
Character bibs are a great way for each child to remember which character they are role playing. Assign the children the various characters.  Invite the children to recall the various settings. Use that information to sequence the three pigs.
This is a fun way for kids to make their own retelling project for "The Three Pigs." Invite the children to make their pig books and the wolf. Attach the wolf to the pig book with a piece of ribbon or string.  On each page in the book, the children draw the various settings.  Now, the wolf can travel through the settings as they retell the story.
This is a super fun way to retell "The Snowy Day."  I made setting cards for the various places that Peter visited on the snowy day. Then, I attached them to blocks so that they would stand up.  I also attached Peter to a block.  Invite the children to sequence the setting cards. Spread some cotton balls to make a snowy day. Now Peter can travel to each setting as they retell the story.
This can also be done as an individual project. First, create a snowy scene on a piece of blue paper. This can be done in various ways--fly swat painting, bubble prints, spool prints, etc. Then, invite the children to sequence the setting cards around the edge of the paper.  After creating Peter, attach him with a string to the paper. The children can retell the story as they move Peter around the paper. 
You might also want to invite the children to write the story. Attach the story to the center of the paper. 
Sequencing characters
These retelling pieces help children to discover that stories can have one or many characters. We also want them to know if we can sequence the characters, we can use that to help us retell the story.
This flap book makes a great prop to use when you are modeling how to retell the story. Create a table with the various characters in order. Bind the page with a background page of the setting from the story.  Cut between the characters. Flap all of the characters to the back of the setting. As you retell the story, flap the characters to the front.
This project is made just like "The Three Pigs" except on each page the children will draw the various characters. 
 Often authors give readers a little extra help with remembering the sequence of characters. They will often sequence the characters by size. Think of "The Mitten" and other such stories where they are various animals. In "The Three Billy Goats Gruff" the author has the billy goats go across the bridge according to the size.  For this simple retelling activity, invite the children to cut out the goats and glue them to popsicle sticks. Create the background. As the children retell the story, they move the goats over the bridge.
Stories Have Patterns
These retelling pieces help children to discover a book pattern. We want children to know, “If we can sequence the characters/settings, we can use that to help us retell the story.”
 This is one of my all time favorite stories, "I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie."  It follows the same pattern as the popular "I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly." To retell this story, we made a pie by cutting off the top of a paper bag and gluing the title to the top.  The children cut out the pictures of the items eaten by the old lady at Thanksgiving.  After sequencing the pictures, the children are ready to retell the story as they place the pictures inside the paper bag pie.
Do you see the book in the picture? Here's the question, "Do we allow the children to have the book while they are retelling the story?" The current research says, yes! It is important that children learn to support their answers.  They must be able to find evidence in the text.  In the early years, we tell children that good readers go back to the text. It is not a guessing game
 This is a great little lift the flap project for retelling "1,2 Buckle My Shoe."  Fold a piece of 12x18 paper in half. Cut the top flap into 6 sections. Invite the children to sequence the numeral cards from 1-10. Glue them on the top flaps. Now, sequence the pictures to tell the story. Glue one under each flap.
Keys for Retelling
Here are some key ideas to think about when using retelling as a comprehension strategy.
  1. Don't pass out the pieces for retelling when you are reading the book for the first time. This takes the focus off of the story and onto the pieces. Also, how can it be "retelling" if it is the first time they are hearing the story?
  2. Refer to the book. Tell children that good readers go back to the text to find the answers. Use the text to sequence characters and settings or to discover the pattern.
  3. Children develop prosody through repeated retelling. Oral retelling develops oral prosody. As the children become independent text readers, this develops the child's ability to "sound like a good reader."
  4. Strategy over story. It isn't about them "learning" a particular story. It is about them learning to become strategic readers. We can use retelling to teach them how good readers are able to comprehend stories.
Retelling Pieces Included for:
All of these props are from the "Retelling: Props and Activities for 10 Popular Children's Books". Kim Jordano and I wrote this unit together. The unit contains retelling activities for the following stories:
Settings Can Change:
  • Itsy Bitsy Spider
  • The Three Pigs
  • The Snowy Day
Sequencing Characters to Retell:
  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear
  • Chicken Little
  • The 3 Billy Goats Gruff
  • The Napping House
Books Have Patterns:
  • Old Lady Who Swallowed Some Books (Bonus Extra Set)
  • Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie
  • Mrs. Wishy Washy
  • 1, 2 Buckle My Shoe

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