Saturday, July 16, 2016

Scripted Writing Prompts...On Purpose!

 How many kindergarten teachers use writing prompts? Meee!!! I love them. But the reason I use and love them may not be why you think, so hear me out.

 I am ALL KINDS OF ABOUT some writing workshop -- let me preface this post by saying that. Writer's Workshop gives students the freedom to write about whatever they want. And research suggests that by allowing students to choose their writing topic, they are more receptive to the idea of writing. I love letting my students write about whatever they want. I also love letting students go. Just WRITE! Don't get caught up on the this-period-goes-here and the you-spelled-that-wrong and the that-letter-isn't-capitalized. Just let them write. Model, model, model, but then leeettttt ittt goooooo!!

So, where is there room for teaching sentence structure? Mechanics? Basic grammar? Bueller? Well, if you're doing it right, you are modeling these important components of writing in the mini lessons of your Writer's Workshop. {And if you're not, it's OK! I didn't know a mini lesson from my elbow when I started. True story.} I model these things CONSTANTLY, but when I have my writing conferences {as well as the MAIN focus of my mini lessons} during Writer's Workshop, I want to focus more on the content of the writing. The ideas. The feelings. The characters. The plot! I don't want to harp on my kids about their punctuation or their spelling or any of that. {It's nice to point it out, but I don't want my Writer's Workshop time to turn in to Full Panic Mode {FPM} time because my kids are nervous about the mechanics aspects of their writing. Does that make sense???}

The whole point of this post is right here: I want my kids to have specific time to focus on the mechanics of writing and by giving students a quick, scripted writing prompt, I can do that. I can provide a prompt that requires very little thinking {a little thinking, but not so much that it will take away from the practice of these tasks}, and give students a quick, reinforced lesson on whatever writing mechanics topic that I want to; letter formation, spaces in between words, punctuation, capital letters, labeling, nouns, verbs, the list goes on!

I do that with these writing prompts. My Back to School Writing Prompts {which are FREEEEE, by the way} includes 15 writing prompts. I have included a Smart Board version for just displaying on the Smart Board and having students write in their own journals. There is also a printable journal included, in case you wanted to go that route. I like the idea of starting the year with the printed journal {in August} and then graduating in September to the Smart Board prompts. The Smart Board prompts also allow for shared writing, as I have written the prompt down low on the page, so it's easy for my little sweeties to reach. In the blank space towards the top, I usually model a picture of some sort-- especially if I am focusing on labels or anything like that.

From my September writing prompts {SmartBoard version}

I really just love the idea of using the Smart Board prompts, too, because it saves SO much paper. And I don't know about you, but I definitely do not need anything else to print. Sheesh!

At the beginning of these products, I have included a descriptions of very, very, very basic teaching points {they're so basic that I definitely wouldn't even call them a mini lesson}. It should take less that 1 minute to go over these. But think about it....doing these daily will create such autonomy with these key concepts of writing structure!  As the weeks progress, I have included a progressive checklist for students to be cognizant of during their writing. I start with a basic checklist of making sure periods are at the ends of their sentences and throughout the school year {and through my writing prompts}, I add different things to the checklist -- capital letters at beginnings of sentences, names, etc.; spaces in between words, using mostly lowercase letters, etc.....

How do I incorporate these into such an already-busy and cram-packed day? Morning work. Transitions. Centers. After Morning Meeting. Any time is a good time for these! They're so quick -- especially once your students get used to them. It should only take about 10 minutes of your day, if that.

Try out my Back to School Writing Prompts for free!! If you love the structure, add to your collection by clicking here. I will also have these bundled once I have all 9 months completed. I expect to have these done before the big sitewide TpT sale in August. Fingers crossed.

What do you think about writing prompts?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Introducing Sight Words

I used to stress about ways to introduce sight words. I mean, we do so many different activities with our sight words -- I incorporate them into our Literacy Centers, during our poetry time, Morning Meeting, we play whole-group sight word many different things. But getting them introduced was always a big question mark for me.

Now, each week, I do the same thing with my kiddos so that they can have independent practice with them right from the start. On Mondays, I pass out these little buckets filled with fun writing tools {pens, smelly markers, glitter markers, twistable crayons, twistable colored pencils, ANYTHING to make it FUN}. I also include these little half sheets for them to write their new words on. I write the sight words on the board before they come in, so they're ready to go. After they complete their morning work, they can choose a writing tool to use to write down their new words on their recording sheets. {I have two versions because for the first half of the year, we only practice with 2 sight words per week and the rest of the year, we have 5 words per week.}

Once everyone is finished, I ask my kiddos if they think they know the word and we talk about them briefly. Then we chant the words and move on with our day. So now, the sight words have been introduced to everyone and we can play our sight word games and practice with our sight words without having to go over them again. It's perfect! I also challenge my students each week to search for and find our sight words throughout the week in our daily activities. If a student finds a sight word and points it out appropriately {raising their hand, etc.}, they get a Class Dojo point {LOVE Class Dojo!!!}. It just creates more awareness of the new words and throws in a little added competitive fun.

Feel free to download this free copy of the recording sheet!

I know just writing sight words isn't enough and we definitely do our fair share of sight word work throughout the week. But I just love this simple way of introducing my kiddos to the new words. It's easy and they love it!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Literacy & Math Centers - Storage Organization

I don't know about y'all, but I am just about plum OVER seeing all of my papers and cards and game pieces stuffed into a skinny little hanging file folder and closed off in an ugly ol' filing cabinet. Shoot, I even start to forget about some of my REALLY good centers I have in there!!

This summer I'm on a heck-bent mission to get that stuff ORGANIZED for GOOD. And please don't get me wrong, it is tedious, time consuming, and just plain old NOT fun, but once it's all done I know it will be so completely worth it!!

So what do I have and how do I organize it? And even further, how do I store it in a way that I a) won't forget about it and b) won't cringe every time I look at it??

Well let me say this -- I have a TON of stuff. More than I will ever need, that's for sure. It's a problem. I'm working on it. Well, I'm coming to terms with it. I digress.

I have a whole bunch of monthly centers that are staples. They are consistent throughout the school year, they just change with the theme, and of course, the content gets more rigorous as the year moves forward. But the kids know what to expect and they can be 100% independent with these centers. {I will post more about my centers later,  but for now I just want to focus on the organization aspect.} So while I use the "same" centers every month, they change. If that makes any sense at all. So, I have to store my stuff that isn't in use. And I have to do it in a way that next year, I know what I have and how to get to it quickly.

I have googled and Pinterested the HECK outta the search term "Center Storage" and "Center/Station Organization" - but teachers just don't really post about how they store their stuff when it's not in use! I see a ton of good stuff on how to organize it when it's in use, but not after they have to put it away. So, I was at a loss. {Because honestly, I don't know how we functioned as humans before Google and Pinterest. For real.}

My previous center storage was not functional. I didn't know what I had, and getting it out was difficult and it was just ugly. I had papers stuffed in manila envelopes, and for some people, this system works fine -- but I want to be able to see what's in there and easily get to ONE page -- not have to pull out the entire stack of papers. What a pain in the patoot.

Enter these amazing thingies:
So they come in a pack of 36 on Amazon and I have now ordered 2 cases of them. I will probably need a third, if we're being honest here. {P.S. I did the math -- they are cheaper ordering from Amazon.}

I have used these to organize my Writing Units, my Guided Math Units, my Reading Units, and now my centers. I am addicted to Amazon right now. And TpT. I. Can't. Be. Stopped. It's BAD.

I digress.

So here are a few other pics of how I organize my centers when they aren't in use. I have these tubs  from Wal-Mart and I made some little labels for each tub. I can store 2 months work in one HUMONGOUS binder and it fits in the storage bin. Each binder pocket has 1 product inside. So, they're may be more than 1 center inside of the pocket. Actually, there IS more than one center in each pocket, but I immediately know what it is just by looking at the first page through the pocket. 

I am working on some stickers that I can attach to the outside of each pocket, just in case I have a mental lapse.  But for now, this is working SO much better than the previous storage method. I LOVE those binder pockets. LOVE LOVE LOVE. There's just something about seeing my stuff all organized nice and neat and EASILY ACCESSIBLE!!!

It is now June 25th. I have literally been working daily since school let out on May 25th to get all of my stuff organized. I am thisclosetobeingdone. Then I can focus my efforts on ..... BACK TO SCHOOL!!

Hope this helped! Happy organizing!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Monday Made It - Summer Style!!

I'm linking up today with Tara from 4th Grade Frolics and y'all, I am so excited about this little ditty.

In the summer, I tend to get a little bored. And when I say a little bored, I mean I need at least a minimum of 15 BIG projects going on at once. It's just how I roll. So, imagine my husband's surprise when he came home Thursday from his weekly business trip to me digging up our entire flower bed. 

Of course, I immediately recruited him to help with the big stuff. And when I say the big stuff, I mean all of it. Not sure that's what he had in mind when he came home from a 3 day business trip, but he's a trooper. 

So, we got it all dug up and then just kinda looked at each other, like "Now what!?" But I had a vision. {Thanks to my beautiful sister, whom so graciously pointed out how hideous our backyard was.}

So, we started shopping! We built our own firepit, dug our own border and bought 39 bags of pea pebbles. 

And then we bought some Adirondack chairs and spent ALLLLLL day yesterday putting them together and staining them. I gotta say, TOTALLY worth it. The chairs were on sale for $37 each, which was a pretty great deal!! Add some pillows and my beautiful flower pots, and we've got ourselves a patio!! We entertain a LOT all year long, so it's a perfect fit. Before, it served no propose and it was pretty hideous (you were right, LB). But now it's beautiful AND functional. We win!!

I'm super excited about how it turned out. Last night, we had people over to celebrate, but of course it poured down rain, so we will try again another day. In the meantime, I'll be chillin' out on the patio, typin' up blog posts, and drinkin' my coffee!!

Link up with Tara today and show whatcha got!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Sunday Funnies

I gotta tell you, there are some FUN-NAY stories that I have heard and even experienced over the years in my teaching career. Sometimes, the funnies that occur are unfortunate because the littles don't GET IT and there is no one that's adult, yet immature enough to understand how funny the situation at hand truly is. For example, I am CERTAIN that you have seen adorable, innocent drawings that resemble ONLY one thing. {You KNOW. I know you know. And you know I know you know.} It's SO difficult to keep a straight face while little Angelica brings up her drawing of a --WHOA!! -- oh, I mean a nice, lovely penguin? Yes, of course I see the penguin!  How wonderful! I won't post said drawings straight outta the gate. I wanna keep some folks around for a while!

So, I will share something else. Something hysterical. Something that can only happen to ME whilst student teaching. 'Twas a long, long time ago when a young Mrs. Brown had only begun the change in careers. I had never stepped foot in an elementary school other than to attend one. As a student. Some 20 years prior.

Anywho, so here I am in a kindergarten classroom being introduced to the kids and getting acclimated. A few days {or weeks, whatever, I can't remember} go by, and I am finally getting the hang of the schedule and where the kids go and when, and also the bathroom routine. So, we're doing the normal bathroom routine, and kids are going in and coming out at a typical "going to the bathroom" rate. And then the last stragglers start coming out. And finally one last straggler says to me, "Um, Mrs. Brown? LeRoy took off all of his clothes." P.A.N.I.C. I have been here five minutes and NOW THIS DISASTER?? I panic. FULL PANIC MODE. Like, Defcon 5 Panic. "Ok, Gordon, thank you so much. Now, you run on into class and pretend this conversation never happened, mmmm-k?"

So naturally, I pace the floor in front of the bathroom thinking this kid has barfed or pooped or peed or LAWD knows what all over his clothes and I gotta A) get prepared to handle someone elses's bodily functions {mind you, I did not have children at this point in my life and I was a NEGATIVE YEAR TEACHING VET. AKA. never done it in my LIFE.} and B) Come up with a plan so that I can actually come back to this school. I would be lying if I said that I didn't contemplate just forgetting the whole teaching thing, running out the door, and being done with it-- poop, barf, and pee -- all of it! Just done!!

Ok, so I didn't run. Instead, I poked my head in the bathroom. There it was. The pile of clothes under the stall. Dear God. Help me.



"Are you....OKAY?" 

"Yeah, I'm fine!"

"Are you.....naked?"
"Uhh, yeah." {Sounded more like, "Ummm, duh!!"} 

"Why are you naked?"

"Because I'm pooping!"

And THAT, my friends, is how life as a teacher began for this girl. NEVER a dull moment!

Link up! Post about your funny classroom stories and link back! I would love love love to read what's happening in your rooms that's too funny not to share!! I'd really like to do this every week if friends out there want to share! I'll try....... :)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Planning for Guided Reading

In my humble opinion, planning for guided reading can NEVER start too early. I have been making my guided reading plans all year. I didn't really know where to start last year, and so I took copious amounts of notes {in about 7 different notebooks, on sticky notes, on Evernote on my iPad, on random piece of paper, in the Notes app on my phone, oh.em.gee.}. It was a hot mess.

But now, it's beautiful, organized and ready to use. And I want to share it with you! Just a few disclaimers:
  1. I fully recognize that this plan probably won't work for you 100%. It is meant to be a GUIDE to get you started on getting your own guided reading plans together. I ALWAYS love to look at other teachers' plans. It helps me SO much to know other ways to organize thoughts, lessons, and activities. So that is exactly what this is meant for, which is why it's FREE! Hooray!
  2. In no way, shape, or form was I asked to do this by any of the teacher authors that are mentioned in this guide. I made this guide because I ACTUALLY use these chicks' products, I love them, and it's just the way I do it. I am sharing this with you in hopes that you will get some good ideas and maybe even be introduced to these fantastic teachers and their blogs and TpT stores. {Plus, REALLY? Who in the world would pay ME to blog about their products? LOL!!}
  3. This is purely to help someone out there that is as lost as I was to get started on their guided reading group planning. It is a simple guide, nothing fancy, not a step-by-step, set in stone unit by any means. It is just for HELP. It's a starting point. It's a guide for guided reading! That's all!

I know that planning for guided reading can be a challenge. I know that it is overwhelming. But, you can easily plan for your guided reading groups by just having simple, quick activities lined up for the year that don't take a lot of time to plan or prep. The bottom line is that we want students to start READING and as long as you're doing something with them as many days as a week as you can {for some this is everyday, for me it's 2-3 days a week}, then you're doing it right.  That's it! Add your leveled readers and you're amazing. YOU ARE!

There are a few things that I absolutely cannot. live. without. in my small groups. They are listed below, but if you can't buy these things because of budget issues, trust me when I say that I understand! Use what you have. Make your own flash cards out of index cards. Find objects that you can use in place of beginning sound cards. Do what you have to do in order to make guided reading work for your kiddos.

A. Alphabet Flash Cards and Alphabet Charts
You can get the flash cards here and the alphabet charts {for free} here.

B. Sound Sorts
We use these all the time. ALLLLLLL the time. They come from Deedee Wills.

C. Sight Word Games
There are a million bazillion sight word activities and games out there. I tend to steer clear of the activities that have a single full sheet for one word -- I try to find different things such as sight word flash cards so that I can play different games with my kiddos. You can MAKE your own flash cards by just typing it up in word with a kindergarten-friendly font {I LOVE KG Primary Penmanship -- it is my absolute favorite}, print on fun-colored cardstock and there you go. I have a few cheapie activities in my shop, too. The ones listed above are just a few of my collection and they are all mentioned in the free guide that you can download at the end of this post.

D. Fun, Quick & Easy Phonemic Awareness Activities
These activities require little to no materials or prep and they are perfect for small group warm-up or just quick practice if you're short on time. These were a part of the Guiding Readers series that I absolutely adore and am SO glad I found!! They are also great for whole-group review.

E Writing Tools
We love smelly markers in my classroom. Also, glitter markers, glitter crayons, twistable crayons, dry erase markers {YOU CAN WRITE ON YOUR TABLE IF YOU DON'T HAVE WHITEBOARDS!!! FOR REAL!}, pens - they go bananas over pens, it's crazy! -- and just regular ole' pencils. These make it fun to write! And you can have them practice writing anything. Letters. Their names. Vowels. Consonants. Beginning sounds. Then keep going as your kiddos progress throughout the year.

F. Leveled Readers
You already have these. {I hope.}

It doesn't have to be complicated. Just relax and know that you are doing it right if you are meeting with your kids.

More to come on guided reading as the summer moves forward, but I hope this gives at least someone a starting point! NOBODY PANIC! It's going to be ok! {...said Mrs. Brown to herself......}

Click here to download the aforementioned guide that I am so glad to finally be done with I am so happy to have! 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Beautiful, Organized Pinterest Boards

Ahhhh, summer. The season of wasting hours of time for the silliest of reasons. Which brings me to today's post. I spent about 2 hours today organizing my Pinterest page. To most, this is seemingly the biggest waste of time anyone could think of doing whilst their child takes an afternoon nap, but in teacher world -- THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!

Having an organized Pinterest page is a fabulous idea for a number of reasons. First, LOOK AT IT. Do I really need to explain? Look at that beautiful arrangement of organized bliss. I love it.

Second, I really am looking out for my Pinterest friends. Now it's super easy to find cool things if you're tooling around on my Pinterest page {because I KNOW you don't have anything else to do this summer!!}

Third, I can now distinguish between my personal Pinterest boards and my school Pinterest boards. See:

They have the same skeletons, but the design/color is easily distinguishable. My school one matches my blog and my home one sorta matches my Etsy shop and just my overall taste.

And finally, did I mention how blissfully satisfying it is to see this organization in action? #nerdalert

So, how did I do it? Easy! I just created my own little image template in Photoshop and changed up the names. Don't have Photoshop? No problem. Have you heard of Canva? I found it accidentally --- on Pinterest...ha!

It's like a mini, super simple graphic design platform. You can design your own images to use however you like! Perfect for creating a Pinterest board cover photo. It literally walks you through the design process to start so that you know how to use the tools on their site. Pretty neat and I tell ya, if I didn't have my Adobe programs, I would totally use this. Check it out! It's free! We love free, don't we, teachers? Yeah we do.

So once you have your images all ready to go, all you do is go to Pinterest, look for the little + sign on your home page {bottom right corner} and choose "Upload a Pin". Then you upload your image, choose the board it belongs to and Pin It. After that, you just choose "Edit" on the board you want to change the cover for, and click on "Cover". Pick the pic you just pinned and there you go! Nice, organized cover photos for your nerdy Pinterest page. Go you!!

So go ahead, waste a little time! We have all summer!

Happy Pinteresting!

{Please leave me a comment if you have questions! I love to help.}