Saturday, November 30, 2013

Cyber Monday Must Haves and a FREEBIE

If you're like me, you're gearing up for the BIG, HUGE site-wide TeachersPayTeachers Cyber Monday + Tuesday Sale!  I am joining all of my favorite teacher-authors to offer 20% off PLUS an additional 10% off using the code CYBER at checkout.  That is some serious savings, my friends!  My wishlist is loaded up already and I just keep adding more!

I've been super busy getting the last few units uploaded and ready for this big event.  If you follow me on my Facebook Fan Page, you know I've given away a TON of FREE products from my store in the past week or two!  Let me show you what I have in my store that you might use this holiday season.  You can add them to your TPT Wishlist or Pin them for later!

In this unit that I created last year, the students will write a letter to persuade their parents to donate money or goods to a family in need (opinion piece).  We actually do this in my classroom in lieu of a holiday gift exchange, so this letter is an authentic writing piece that they actually send home to their parents.  The results are always awesome!  They will also write an explanatory piece that will explain how to wrap the perfect present.  Of course, I let my students actually wrap a present so that they can see the steps they take and record them as they go - how fun!  They will also write a narrative piece about their favorite holiday tradition.  The parents usually love how these turn out.  And finally, to culminate a shared research study of holidays around the world, the students will write an informative report sharing what they've learned about each country's traditions.  These authentic writing pieces are sure to get your kiddos excited about writing with graphic organizers to guide their writing and differentiated publishing paper.

Now, for the fun part!  New to my store this year, I created Common Core-Aligned Christmas Math and ELA Centers.  These are specifically created for 2nd grade Common Core Standards, but could be used with high 1st graders or as intervention materials for low 3rd graders.  These centers can be used in a variety of ways and help to reinforce skills that presently need to be reviewed.  Included are 5 math centers and 5 ELA centers complete with task page, materials, and recording sheet.  As with all of my newer products, I have created a printer-friendly version as well without the vibrant backgrounds.  I try to be as "ink conscious" as possible, so my centers aren't overloaded with a TON of ink!  Check them out below:

This year I also started creating seasonal ELA printable sets.  I love my Christmas ELA Printables!  If you like my Common Core Graphic Organizers, a Top 100 Selling Product, these are very similar, but with a seasonal feel.  I like to use these with all of my seasonal Christmas books.  They can be used with any seasonal book, are great for sub plans, morning work, homework, early finishers, or in a center.  These are so versatile and personally, I think they are SO CUTE! :)  They include the same rigor as my other products, but with a holiday feel.  Check them out below:

Can't celebrate Christmas or Santa in your classroom?  No worries!  I didn't leave you out!  You can also get all of the above in a winter theme, complete with cute penguins, polar bears, snowmen, etc.

My January Common Core Writing Activities were a huge hit when I created them last year.  In this product, the opinion piece will have your students writing a letter to the superintendent or principal of your school stating their opinion about snow days!  Should we have school when there are ice and snow on the roads?  The kids had a ball with this one and I found that some were echoing the opinions of their parents as well. ;) In the informative/explanatory piece, the students will be writing a fun piece about how to build a snowman!  They LOVE this one!  In the narrative piece, the students will be writing about a time that they played in the snow.  If your students have never experienced a snow day, they can always imagine the experience and write a narrative based on their ideas of what a day of snow would be like.  Finally in the shared research piece, the students will be using technology and informational texts to learn about polar bears and then write about what they learned.  You can check out this fun product by clicking the picture below.

I also have Common Core-Aligned Winter Math and ELA Centers that are similar to my Christmas Centers shown above.  There are 5 Math and 5 ELA centers complete with task cards, center materials and recording sheets.  Again, they are easy on the ink!  I think your students will find that they are fun and engaging!  These were a big hit when I first created and put them into action last year.   Check them out by clicking the picture below:

And finally, brand NEW to my store, I have my Winter ELA Printables set.  Again, these printables are VERY similar to my Common Core Graphic Organizers, but with a seasonal feel.  They are EXACTLY the same as my Christmas ELA Printables above, but with winter-themed graphics rather than the traditional Christmas ones.  I like to use all of my winter-themed seasonal books with these and the kiddos have a blast with them!  You can check them out by clicking the picture below:

Now, if you are REALLY looking for a bargain on this awesome Cyber Monday + Tuesday SALE, you should check out my Common Core Writing Bundle #2 which will cover you from January (which you saw above) all the way through June/July.  Even if you don't use the June/July Writing Activities, it is still cheaper (20% savings) to buy the bundle rather than the individual months.  With the discount on top of that, you are REALLY getting a steal!  You can check them out below or find a complete Q&A blog post about my Common Core Writing Units {HERE}.  If you wonder how I use these units in my classroom or the thought behind them, you will want to read that blog post.  Check out Bundle #2 by clicking the picture below:

Last, but not least, I created this FREEBIE a while back and have blogged about it before, but I've had some requests for Common Core Writing Rubrics to accompany my Common Core Writing Units and I already have them! :) These FREE rubrics are for Grades 1-4 and they are already in my store!  In case you missed the first blog post about these rubrics, you can download the rubrics for the 3 main types of Common Core Writing in Grades 1-4 by clicking the picture below:

Whew!  I hope that helps you to get your Wishlist all organized.  Feel free to Pin anything you want to remember to come back to later, by clicking the little red Pin It button beside or underneath each picture.  

So if you're as pumped as I am, don't forget to use the code CYBER at check out to receive an additional 10% off of the already 20% off discounted prices in my ENTIRE STORE - what a deal!  Thanks for all the support and Happy Shopping!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Save the Turkey with a Touch of Common Core Writing

I am on what we call a blog posting roll, ladies and gentleman!  I haven't blogged this frequently....well, ever!  I think it's because I love this time of year.  Just when I was feeling the teacher burnout (aren't we all?), here comes Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas!  How in the world can you not just LOVE the holidays?!  So today I'm going to share a fun activity that my students absolutely adore!

First, we begin by reading Turkey Trouble by Wendi Silvano.  You could also read A Turkey for Thanksgiving by Eve Bunting.  Both involve turkeys that don't want to be eaten for Thanksgiving dinner.  There are several other picture books out there, but these are two of my favorites.  Click the links below to purchase them from

After reading one of these picture books, we discuss the plot, point of view, and problem/solution.  There are several graphic organizers in my Thanksgiving ELA Printables pack to use when reading either of these books. 

After completing one of the graphic organizers from my pack (there are several that will work), we begin to brainstorm how it would feel if we were a turkey on Thanksgiving Day.  We talk about how we would solve our problem.  The students are assigned the following writing prompt from my November Common Core Writing Unit.  They have to write a letter to try and persuade families to NOT eat turkey for Thanksgiving and provide reasons that support their opinion.

They will have to support their opinion using the following graphic organizers, also included in the unit.

And finally, they will publish their Opinion Piece on differentiated publishing paper, also included in the unit.

You can find all this and more in my November Common Core Writing Pack.  

I hope this fun, seasonal activity helps you tame down the teacher burnout too!  :)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Peek at My Week {Visual Plans}

Totally breaking all blogging rules by posting two times in one day - OVERACHIEVER!  {NOT!}

This is the first time I've ever tried my hand at visual plans and it seems like it took me FOREVER!  Now, please keep in mind that these are not my actual lesson plans.  These are links to some supplemental resources that I will use throughout my week.  We have a basal series in reading and a fabulous math series, so the plans below are just the supplements that I will use to make my ELA and Math blocks a little more hands-on and interactive.  The Writing block includes some seasonal, authentic writing and the Morning Work/Homework block shows you where I will pull for extra practice/reinforcement.  I use two different packs to pull from for homework in order to differentiate.

REMEMBER: In order for the product pictures to be clickable links, you will need to click on the pictures from this blog.  This will open up the document in Google Drive, where you should be able to click on each individual product picture and it will link you to the product on TPT.

If you want to take a peek at other teachers' weeks, you can click over to Mrs. Wills Kindergarten to read more and/or link up to share your week in visual plans!  Hope you enjoy!

Native American Fun (and Writing too!)

The past two weeks, our class has had a TON of fun learning about Native Americans and how they used natural resources to survive and live off of the land!  'Tis the season to be thankful!

First, we researched the different types of tribes and their characteristics and the areas in which they settled using Lauren Bell's fabulous All About Native Americans unit that can be found {HERE}.  The kids were so excited to learn about the different Native American tribes and her unit was perfect to cover all kinds of content!  The suggested websites were a big hit with my kiddos!  Click the picture below to check it out her unit!

After we learned all about the different Native American tribes and the regions of the United States that they inhabited, it was time to learn about how the Native Americans used natural resources to survive.  THIS is what I brought in to "hook" my husband's arrowhead collection!  Check it out below!  It really IS pretty impressive!

The kids went CRAZY!!  They wanted to know about each piece and what it was used for and how it was made.  This called for a little bit of RESEARCH!  First, I gave them some background knowledge about where to find arrowheads.  We discussed how Native Americans had to live high on a hill so that they could look for two things: 1) animals for food and 2) enemies.  We also discussed how they needed to live by a water source like a stream, river, or lake.  And in our area, we talked about how Native Americans would like to settle near the caves in our region.  We also discussed how this is a Primary Source.  Well, they wanted to know more about these COOL ROCKS above!  This is where my November Common Core Writing comes into play!  I can always trick my kiddos into doing a little bit of writing with some cool, authentic information!  But that's our little secret!  ;)

This was their writing task.  It is one of the pieces found in my November Common Core Writing Unit.

To cover some specific Common Core State Standards, we chose to use both books and technology (websites) to research.  We also worked in cooperative groups to research.  I checked out some books from our school library and also the public library to aide in our research.  The following are some websites we found helpful:

** WARNING: As with any websites, please review the website before showing students to make sure it is suitable for the grade level and maturity level. Also, check for inappropriate ads, links, or pictures.  These days websites change like crazy! **

Then, we used the following graphic organizer to write down facts/notes about Native American artifacts.  It is also found in my November Common Core Writing Unit.

Finally, the students discussed among their groups, then shared out with the whole group their findings.  We talked about what was most important and what we also thought was simply super interesting!  After a discussion that helped cover the Speaking and Listening Common Core Standards, we decided it was time to publish our research articles and sneak in some Common Core Writing (shhhh)!

We used the publishing papers from my November Common Core Writing Unit to publish our informative/explanatory writing in a report format.

This was probably one of the most engaging units we have done this year.  From start to finish, the students were 110% excited and ready to learn more!  It's definitely something they will never forget!  They asked me if we could keep my husband's arrowhead collection in the classroom.  I told them how important and special they were to him and they decided they could let him have them back - WHEW!  :)

So if you're interested in using Lauren Bell's All About Native Americans Unit or my November Common Core Writing Activities which cover 3 more pieces of Common Core Writing, you can check them out in our TPT stores!  Have fun!  :)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

What Do the Kids DO During ELA Centers?

My favorite subject to teach is reading.  I love meeting with small groups and listening to them read each and every day.  I often get asked:

"How do you meet with EVERY group EVERY day?"
"How do you find the time?"
"What are your other kids doing?"
"How do you keep them quiet and engaged?"
"Do you hold them accountable?  How?"

Well, allow me to explain.... I love the use of CENTERS in my classroom!  I believe in a "happy hum" of chatter in my classroom although most of the centers are actually pretty quiet, because the students are so engaged.  Let me explain how my ELA centers work.  First of all, I have a 90 minute ELA block.  So I teach whole group for 30 minutes, then do 4 rotations of centers that are 15 minutes each.  During whole group instruction, I teach the target skills for the week such as phonics, comprehension skills, vocabulary, sight words, etc (from our basal series).

I have a large number of students, so I had to break my centers up into two-day rotations to get through them all.  I have 6 centers in all PLUS "Meet with the Teacher" (which occurs every day).  I have 4 different groups in my classroom based on ability/reading levels (Green #1, Green #2, Purple, and Blue).  The color system correlates to our basal series to help me remember who is who.  :)

I had to really play with how I wanted my centers to run and what centers to include, how many, the rotation schedule, etc.  It took a lot of tweaking and revising, but I have finally found exactly what works for my classroom, my students, and the resources and technology that I have available to me.  Perhaps it could work for you too!  So to answer all the questions above, let me explain in a virtual picture story of my ELA Centers.  Enjoy!  :)

During Word Work, the students get their spelling list out.  Each of my groups has a different spelling list.  I differentiate by ability so some lists are more difficult than others.  Some groups may be practicing vocabulary words, while others are practicing sight words, some basic spelling words, and some advanced spelling words.  It just depends on what the students need to practice!

I let the students choose how they want to practice in Word Work.  I firmly believe in student choice in the classroom.  Let them choose how they want to learn and I guarantee they will be more successful!  

They can practice their list using magnetic letters.  I found mine for $1 at Walmart and actually bought 6 packs so that there were enough for everyone.  

The rubber stamps are another favorite, but more expensive.  I found mine at a teacher supply store and borrowed another set from an upper elementary teacher who wasn't using them.  They simply stamp their words on lined paper.  

The kids love the dry-erase boards.  The girls, especially, love to give each other "practice spelling tests" and then give each other a grade.  Easy to write and erase!

Last, students can choose to grab an old keyboard.  It's not hooked up to anything, just a keyboard to type, type, type their words.  They love it!

If you have access to an iPad or iPod, the students can also get on the Magnetic ABC App.  You can find and download it {HERE} on iTunes.  It is wonderful!  You can have the students make vowels and consonants different colors or highlight spelling patterns or just simply spell the words out.  There is a FREE version or you can download a version that will give you a few more extra options (but they're not necessary for this station).  This is what the app looks like as the students are working on Word Work:


Do the students complete any type of paperwork and/or worksheet at Word Work?  NO!  I do not require them to record their words or turn in any work that they complete during Word Work.  As long as they are on-task, I would rather the students be having fun with hands-on activities rather than with pencil/paper tasks.  That is just my humble opinion though.


At the Respond in Writing Center, I tried to give my students the choice to "free write".  Well, that just didn't work for many of my kiddos hence the "RESPOND in Writing".  Many students just needed more structure such as prompts and graphic organizers.  So, again, I differentiated and offered choice.  Some students CAN and WILL free-write using the bulletin board you see above from A Cupcake for the Teacher.  They write in their Writer's Notebooks (composition books).

Other students will choose a writing prompt from the baskets.  These are from my Monthly Common Core Writing Packs on TPT (they are bundled if you want to save 20%).  These were designed to be used during Writer's Workshop, but if I don't get to a particular piece in Writer's Workshop, it goes in the baskets for Respond in Writing.  In each basket, I have a copy of the prompt, then stapled packets of the graphic organizer and publishing papers included.  The kids love the authentic writing prompts and the monthly themed approach to writing AND it gives them a little focus and guidance when they have a hard time deciding what to write.  I have found that this works really well and addresses the Common Core Standards perfectly!  You can find a complete Q&A about my Monthly Common Core Writing Packs by clicking {HERE}.

Another choice for Respond in Writing is to write a story in the Classroom Story Collections Notebooks.  These were quickly made by making cute little labels and attaching them to the notebooks.  You can also just write in marker on the notebook itself.  By the end of the year, the stories are pretty fun to read and you will have QUITE the collection!  :)

Finally, at the writing table, I allow my students (if they can handle it) to write with something fun - a COOL writing instrument.  Most will choose to write with a pencil and then decorate with markers, pens, or colored pencils, but it makes them feel especially "grown up" when they get to use these fun writing utensils.

Check out my Monthly Common Core Writing Bundles by clicking the pictures below.


During Silent Reading, the students read a book out of their book bag.  Their book bag is simply a gallon-sized bag where they store 3 books that are in their ZPD (zone of proximal development).  I determine this by using our Reading Assessment Data.  They go pick out new books after they have read the books and taken A.R. (Accelerated Reader) tests on them.  I do allow my students to read out loud quietly using our whisper phones.  I hand-made these several summers ago using PVC pipe and duct tape for decoration purposes.  They were super cheap to make and perfect for those kiddos who you constantly hear reading out loud - which is OK!  :)

For Silent Reading, they have many places where they can sit.  We have beach chairs, stools, crate seats, bean bags, rugs, etc.  For some reason, it's just more fun to be sitting somewhere other than your desk when you're reading!  I try to think about how I like to read.  I am usually laying on the couch or in bed, so I think my students probably want to sit and read comfortably as well.  So I am very flexible in their seating for Silent Reading.  Many like to lay down under tables and such, which is fine by me as long as they're reading!

Do I require any type of response sheet or graphic organizer to be completed or turned in during this time?  NO!  That type of instruction happens at the small group table with me.  This center is all about the students reading for ENJOYMENT!


Buddy Reading is one of my students' favorites!  They love to sit with a friend and dive into a good book.  Since my groups are ability-grouped, both buddies will be reading on the same level, so they can choose from either of their book bags since they will be close to the same level or ZPD.

During Buddy Reading, the most important part (in my opinion) is holding each other accountable for their comprehension.  At the bottom of each page, students must pass the card pictured above and the partner must summarize what they heard their partner read.  If they get it right, they move on to the next page and switch readers.  If they get it wrong or can't summarize, they have to re-read that page.  This really helps to build that reading comprehension and, again, it holds the students accountable for staying focused and on-task during this rotation.

The students must have books that are appropriate for both readers.  If they find that they are having a hard time reading or comprehending what's being read, they must choose another book from the classroom library that is suitable for both readers and their ZPD.

Do I require any type of response sheet or graphic organizer to be completed or turned in during this time?  NO!  That type of instruction happens at the small group table with me.  This center is all about the students reading for ENJOYMENT, just like Silent Reading.  They will hold each other accountable.

*Note: If you are reading this and recognize the Check for Understanding cards shown above, PLEASE let me know who created them.  I have the original file, but it doesn't have a credits page and I have tried my hardest to track down the blogger that they belong to with no luck!  I would love to give credit, so please leave a comment if you know who they belong to so that I can credit them with a link back to their blog or store.  Thanks!*


During the Listening Center, my students listen to the story of the week (from the basal series).  If you have audio CDs of the basal stories and access to old iPhones/iPods or new ones like me, you can easily use the CDs to transfer the music to your device through iTunes.  I am fortunate enough to have 3 iPads and 5 iPods for my classroom thanks to school funding and a grant that I applied for and was awarded.  I know, I know, I am beyond blessed with an abundance of devices.   The iPads/iPods go in the clearly labeled drawers for safe keeping when not in use.

If a student finishes early, they can also listen to several iBooks that I have downloaded or listen to a book on Storia from Scholastic.  How do I get the money to buy and download eBooks?  I put iTunes gift cards on my Classroom Wish List and also on my Christmas Wish List.  It has worked wonders!  

How do you have enough head phones?  On the Supply List at the beginning of the year, I include a pair of ear bud headphones for each child.  When they bring them in, I place them in a snack size plastic bag with their name on it, so they have their own headphones to use when needed.

Do I require any type of response sheet or graphic organizer to be completed or turned in during this time?  NO!  That type of instruction happens at the small group table with me.  This center is all about the students listening to reading for ENJOYMENT!


At the Tech Time Center, my students use the computers in the classroom to practice skills that we are working on that week or they can use Spelling City to practice their spelling words.  I paid for the Premium Membership so that I could create differentiated spelling lists for the different groups and provide clear assignments at the Tech Time station specifically on Thursdays before our Spelling Test on Friday.  The students can also access this website at home to complete their assignments if they want.  On our class website, I usually list links specific to the skills we are working on also and a link to Spelling City and then let the kids choose!  Again, it's all about the choice!


The last rotation is at the small group table with me.  This is where mini-lessons are conducted, more detailed instruction from whole group, reading for fluency and comprehension checks, working on standards-based skills, graphic organizers, reader's response, etc.  All of those things happen at the small group table with ME so that I can be there to see exactly what they CAN and CANNOT do.  This is important for me in order to know how my students are progressing and where to go from there.

At the small group table, I will often use one of my Common Core Reading Graphic Organizers to assess the students' knowledge of the skill taught that week.  This also helps when completing standards-based report cards which is new to our district.  I have clear evidence of each and every standard that the student has or has not mastered.  I keep them all in a data binder, so come time for report cards, I am ready!  :)


Below you can see the rotation schedule that I use in my classroom.  I allow my students TWO days to go through all SIX of the centers.  But I do get to meet with EVERY group EVERY day which was important to me!  I simply pop this up on my ActivBoard when we start centers and they know exactly where to go - just follow the schedule!


With all this going on in your classroom at the same time, how do you manage on-task behavior?  Good question!  I wrote a post a while back about Class Dojo.  It is an amazing classroom management tool that works wonders when you are implementing centers into your classroom.  I sit at the small group table and manage behavior without ever having to leave my small group - brilliant!  You can read more about Class Dojo on my blog {HERE} and our collaborative blog {HERE}.  It's FREE, so give it a try!


I really hope that this picture tutorial has helped you to understand how I manage my ELA Centers in my classroom.  I hope it inspires you, helps you, and encourages you to try something new.  Centers are, by far, the best thing I have done for my students and myself in my 10 years of teaching.  The best part: My kiddos left my classroom LOVING to read!  It takes all the "work" out of reading and inserts a big fat amount of "fun".  Listening to and working with EVERY child EVERY day helps me to know exactly where they are and where they need to go from there.  I hope you give centers a try in your classroom!  Feel free to PIN any of the pictures you find helpful above!  It's super easy.  There is a little red Pin It button beside or underneath every picture in the post.  Pin until your heart's content!  :)

Credits - Graphics and Fonts by: Sonya DeHart, KG Fonts, That Girl Design @, Ashley Hughes, KPM Doodles, and Krista Wallden.