Saturday, September 17, 2016


Launching Reader's Workshop is always one my most favorite things to do!   Throughout my years as an educator, I have learned to understand the true value in setting up Reader’s Workshop: routines, expectations, enhancing students’ excitement and most importantly fostering a sense of safety and acceptance as budding readers.
         The lesson shared in this blog is the very first lesson I use each school year. It’s message is invaluable: I AM A READER! Especially at the first grade level, the levels and abilities in your classroom are typically as vast as an ocean.  In years past, this range has gone anywhere from non-readers to students reading on a fourth grade level. Nonetheless,  this lesson is aimed to teach your students that they are ALL READERS.
         I start the lesson by giving students a post it note and having them place it on a T-Chart that says: Am I A Reader? I walk away and move the chart so no one can see where they place it besides them!  After all students have done this, we discuss it briefly as a class. (WARNING: NOT CUTE ANCHOR CHART BELOW!)

         Then, the fun begins! I have my students move around the room to locate and bring back one of the colored task cards I have previously hung around the room.  You want to be clear WHICH of the task cards hanging you want them to bring back. You want them ALL to stick with the same “type” of task card (numbers, letters, pictures), so I suggest color coding them for easy differentiation!  Once they are all back on the carpet with the same “type/color” task card, I very casually call them 1-1 to hand me their task card and READ what’s on it. 
Once all of the task cards have been collected, I stop and dramatically think out loud.  I typically ask my struggling readers or readers I sense did not identify themselves as one, “Wait, when you got the yellow task card it did you READ me what was on it?”  “And were you able to READ me the purple task card with no problem at all?” With every “yes,” I hear back from the students I move a task card over to the “yes” column on the AM I A Reader T-Chart… and then you wait for it.. Sometimes it’s a gasp... Sometimes it’s a giggle....And sometimes it’s a blank stare because they haven’t picked up on what your message is yet!
Lights, camera, action! This teacher, turned actress, then very dramatically announces that ALL of the students sitting in front of me are READERS. Next,  I flip to my next chart: What Can I Read? I add to the chart each of the things students read when gathering their task cards (numbers, pictures, letters, their names etc.) I then have them chant in ALL different kinds of ways: I AM A READER!! (To make it really fun, I allow other kids to lead the chant, too!)
   Throughout the year, I like to refer back to this chart and ADD things to it as we learn to read them: short vowels, long vowels, sight words etc. (Suggestion: add cross-curricular topics too like addition sentences and maps to really help students make the realization that this too is READING!!)
After we are finished with our chants, we read one of my favorite stories: Rocket Learned to Read. There are so many wonderful aspects of this story and one of the very many messages is so fitting and encouraging for early readers: You learn to READ one letter at a time!
To conclude the lesson, after a few more chants of: “I am a READER!” I have students color in the sign shown below! (Click this link to get this as a freebie in our TPT store!)  When they finish coloring, I take a picture of them holding their sign and place it on a bulletin board in my reading area to be displayed ALL year long.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Writing Goals: WHY and HOW

      I am a firm believer that at any given point, ALL readers/writers/mathematicians should know what GOAL they are working towards. As educators and professionals, we are constantly setting goals for our selves and our students. Keeping those goals in mind, we design lesson plans, create centers, develop reviews and much more. For in order to obtain our set goals,  we must be always thinking about them and working towards them. The SAME must apply for our students.
        Todays classrooms are incredibly data driven. Teachers take on additional jobs as statisticians and analysts. A teacher who is effectively running a data driven classroom does not simply collect data but USES it to drive their instruction. Whether your data is  tallies on a scrap paper or carefully inputted numbers into a spreadsheet, they both are equally useless until they impact your student instruction.
        Our district utilizes Writing On-Demands which provides the classroom teachers the platform needed to most effectively design their writing mini lessons, small group work and conferences. These On Demands are simple writing prompts that directly align with the specific genre that will soon be taught. I LOVE Writing On-Demands and find them incredibly useful!
       After I administer then review the entire class' On Demands, I am able to start planning my writing lessons. I look at the class as a whole and ask: Where can they improve? What common concerns do I have? Sometimes (like when we are launching our How-To unit) I must start at square one: WHAT even is a how-to paragraph?! But in other units (such as Narrative writing) I am able to skip ahead: Most of the students understood it was a story about their lives, but not one student used dialogue. BOOM! I have the  direction of my next mini lessons.
        I begin each writing class with a mini lesson where I am modeling the piece of writing they will soon be working on independently. Within that mini lesson, I am teaching, explaining, discussing and modeling the WHOLE CLASS goal I have determined from their On Demands.  I am BLATANTLY telling them the goal, its purpose, and giving them the responsibility of focusing and working towards achieving this newly set writing milestone. ((Because remember, HOW can students work towards a goal unless they OUTRIGHT know what it is?!)) Before sending my students off to independently write, we echo the goal multiple times. 
        Once my mini lesson finishes, students begin to independently write as I conference and work with small groups.  Now let's be real: not ALL students are going to be able to obtain the whole class writing goal. EXAMPLE: If a student's handwriting is so illegible you cannot read anything on the paper, including dialogue isn't exactly my first concern. Keep in mind, the mini lesson is aimed to meet the needs of the MAJORITY of your students. For some, the goal may be too difficult. However it is vital that all students are exposed to the language and modeling of the overall targeted goal/skill. For those few students who are already independently meeting this goal, the mini lesson is a great way to remind and reinforce skills.
        As I am conferencing or working with small groups, each student has an INDIVIDUAL writing goal. These writing goals (as displayed below) are what the student MUST improve on in order to enhance their OWN writing. I write their name using a white board marker on the shield! A picture cue is also included on the frame to help those students who are also struggling readers be able to READ their goal independently. These goals are displayed in my writing center (still a work in progress in the picture..don't judge!!) In the beginning of the year the goals are often quite simple: handwriting, complete sentences, spelling etc. As the year progresses and students grow as writers, these often advance to include: adding detail, dialogue, transitions etc.
        EACH student in my (1st grade) classroom at ANY given time is able to recite what they are working on as a writer. As discussed above, this is VITAL piece to allowing your goals to drive instruction and student progress. How can they grow as a writer if they have no clue what to work on? This goal is their FOCUS. I have found that when students are provided a clear vision of what they are working on, the struggling writers become MUCH more willing to work and write. Those hesitant writers now having something concrete in front of them that they must work on and work towards.
       Before I launch each new unit of study, I take time to call students over in groups and let them know their new goal. I write their number on the shield (below) WITH them during this meeting to make it more meaningful. We talk about ways that they can work on this and I give them a copy of their goal for their writing folder AND to bring home (An easy and perfect way to keep parents in the loop!). When students are writing independently after my mini lesson, I have them sit with the students in their Writing Group because they are ALL working on the SAME goal!! I have found this becomes ESPECIALLY benefical during the last few minutes of writing class when I often stop to have students share their writing within their group OR how they worked on meeting their goal!
         The best part about goal setting is goal CRUSHING! I love when students receive a NEW writing goal! I send them home with a certificate and make a big deal to the class about moving on to a NEW goal. What I love MOST about goal setting is EVERYONE always has one: the struggling, the on level and the advanced students. Knowing that every single person in the whole class ALWAYS has something to work on and improve is a great lesson for your students.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Spicing Up Your Asking/Answering Questions Mini Lesson!

          Currently, my coteacher and I are working incredibly hard on students answering questions (both orally and written) in complete sentences. We have been relentless with this expectation and I must say it is paying off! So this week in reading, we again are working on strengthening our comprehension in addition to answering questions in complete sentences (and even adding evidence.. gasp!)
            So like the rest of you reading this blog, I am always looking at ways to spice up my mini lessons! Capturing and maintaining first grader’s (kindergartner’s, fifth grader’s.. you get the gist) focus is a job within and of itself.  And with my constant desire and urge to integrate other subject areas, I thought of a fun way to not only spice up my mini lesson but help my kids with their math! (yes, math!)          
First, I carefully decided on my read aloud: Pinkilicious and the Butterfly! Since we are learning about butterflies in science, I found this to be the perfect book. Though fiction, it was very informative and related to our class' newest "class pet," Cookie the Caterpillar! I then thought about how can I ask my students questions and keep them engaged?  I quickly reflected on yesterday’s math lesson: 3D shapes. To put it bluntly: some kids got it and some kids just flat out didn’t!  So I walked over to my shapes’ bag and dumped them in a bucket. I then drew (I use that word loosely) each type of 3D shape we were learning about on an anchor chart.  Within less than 5 minutes, my super awesomely integrated mini lesson was prepared!
At the beginning of my mini lesson, we quickly reviewed what we have been working on as readers and mathematicians. (I love starting my mini lesson with the STUDENTS reminding me what we are working on) After a quick naming of each shape on my anchor chart, I asked students for question starters. I paired each starter with a shape and let the fun begin!

Once my read aloud was finished,  I strategically called students up one at a time.  My focus for each student was different and based off of what I know they are struggling with: naming 3D shapes, flat vs. curved sides, answering higher level thinking questions or simply speaking in complete sentences! Each student closed his/her eyes and picked a shape. Based off of it’s features, each student had to name it without seeing it. The students got to  tell them if they were correct or not! After the “shape reveal,” We QUICKLY talked about each shape and it’s attributes focusing on curved sides because they just did NOT get that concept. (being as this truly was a reading mini lesson) Then, the student had to answer a question using the question starter of the corresponding shape from my anchor chart! Oh and since my coteacher and I love a good theme, accessories didn't hurt our cause to spice things up!
When learning about butterflies, why not BECOME one?!
Close your eyes. Pick a shape and GUESS!
It was a HIT! The kids were laughing, smiling and LOVING this “game.” This lesson’s success got me thinking that this type of mini lesson can be done with ANY topic: multiplication facts, stages of a life cycle, types of graphs, fractions, objects.. the list goes on!  Simply replace the shapes in the bucket and the shapes on the anchor chart with whatever topic your students are struggling with! Get creative!  Pair each item with a question starter and voila!
I challenge you to think about how can you not only spice up your next mini lesson on asking and answering questions (or anything really!) BUT how can you integrate another subject area?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Happy Hump Day Everyone!!!!  It's time for WorkIt Wednesday! 

I wanted to share a delicious recipe for banana nut protein muffins!  

Part of living a healthy lifestyle, doesn't just mean working out, it also means eating real food and nourishing your body. Your body needs fuel in order to function/workout, and the best fuel is real, natural food. By real and natural- I mean as close to nature as possible. This is basically the food on the outside of the grocery store- vegetables, meats, fruits, nuts,etc.  A diet filled with processed foods will only leave you feeling sluggish and tired.  Now, this doesn’t mean that you can't ever enjoy a treat once in a while (I enjoy pizza and ice cream myself), but getting fit and being healthy, means living a lifestyle that supports that. There are also plenty of foods out there that are not only delicious, but also good for you! Like this banana nut protein muffin recipe, for example! :) 


2 large ripe bananas 
¾ cup egg whites 
½ plain low fat greek yogurt 
¾ cup of oats 
2 scoops of vanilla protein powder 
¼ baking stevia 
1 tsp baking powder 
1 tsp baking soda 
1 tsp cinnamon 


1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
2.Spray muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray (or use cupcake holders) 
3.Place all ingredients in a blender, and blend until mixture is smooth 
4.Sprinkle crushed walnuts on top of mixture once in tin 
5.Bake for 15-18 minutes 
6.Enjoy! :) 

Here also is this weeks workout: 

5 RFT (rounds for time): 
10 squats 
10 split leg jumps (each leg) 
10 burpees 

If your legs aren't burning by the end of this, you didn't work hard enough :) and remember- NEVER QUIT!!!! You'll be so happy when it's over, and you finished the workout!! 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


It's Work It Wednesday!! Time to get moving!

I wanted to share about my experience with working out and pregnancy.  I had my little peanut in September, and thankfully was able to work out up until the day I gave birth.  Working out during my pregnancy not only helped me to physically feel good, but also mentally.  Some days it was tough to feel motivated to get up and start moving, but once I did, I felt so much better.  If there was a day that I missed working out, I felt more exhausted, sluggish, and just overall not awesome. 

Working out while being pregnant can be tricky as you have to make sure that you are being safe, as the baby is always top priority.  I learned that there are so many health benefits to working out while being pregnant for both mom and baby, that I knew that I had to make it a priority!   Something that was tough for me, was the mental shift from working towards PRs (Personal Records), and working until I dropped to the floor, to staying focused on steady breathing, and capping my weight off at 135 pounds.  I had to constantly remind myself that it wasn't about me anymore, and I was doing this for not only my health, but more importantly, for the health of my baby girl.

Once I found out I was pregnant, I sat down a wrote myself a pregnancy program that was basically the same workouts I was doing prior to being pregnant, just modified. Below is a workout I did while pregnant, and that you can also do not pregnant!  Remember though, if something ever doesn't feel right, make sure to stop!  Its not worth it! And always consult with your doctor as well!

1-10-1 ladder
Goblet Squat
KB deadlift

Ladders are an awesome workout scheme, that always trick me!  I go into them thinking they won't be too bad, but boy do things get hairy real fast! Here's how it works:  You start with each exercise doing 1 rep, after you do all three movements, then do 2 reps, then 3, and so on, until you get to 10 reps of each exercise.  Then, you go back down the ladder until you are back to 1.

While pregnant, I never let my heart rate get about 70% max HR, meaning if I couldn't have a conversation during the workout, then I was going to hard. 

If not pregnant, go hard!!!  Start a timer and see how quickly you can complete the workout!

Here's a video of how to do a kettlebell deadlift!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A Deskless Classroom.. What's it all about?!

             This year, I was lucky enough to be provided the opportunity to teach first grade inclusion with a teacher I have worked with before! Our teaching styles match in every sense of the word and we are a great compliment to one another. JoAnn, my co-teacher, was “new” to first grade and up for anything. So when I texted her late one night, “I have a crazy idea,” the fact that she didn’t run away is one that I will be forever grateful for.
            Knowing our similar style of teaching, our temperament, classroom management and expectations, I KNEW this idea would work. Learning more about our students, I KNEW this idea was a must! So DESKLESS we became.
            I must be honest, it certainly wasn’t an idea I came up with on my own. KindergartenSmorgasboard was the Teacher Blogger who really pushed me over the line that I have contemplated for a few years now.  If he can do it with Kindergarten, we can do it with First Grade…. right?!
            Going deskless took a lot of conversation, planning, rearranging, replanning, more conversation and lots of pep talks (to ourselves). There were a lot of things to think about: storing students’ personal belongings, accommodating students who thrive on routine/personal space, dealing with arguments over spots/chairs, having ENOUGH spots for all students etc. etc. We then prepared ourselves for the critiques and silent judgments: “That room must have no structure.” “They’re crazy!” “How will a kid REALLY be able to decide where they work best?!” And yes they came, but more than comments or judgments came questions. And with questions comes curiosity and interest.
            Ahead of time we went through the checklist below. We felt it was absolutely important that every student have a place to call their OWN. We also determined, for our own sanity, that every student would be assigned a chair. For arrival, dismissal and transitions, students would have a spot they were assigned to. We thought that this was especially important for attendance, settling in calmly, reducing chaotic arrivals/dismissals AND for substitute teachers.  Students start their day at small group table OR at one of the 8 desks we kept in the classroom.  For us, the deskless classroom/choice seating styled-classroom is in effect 80% of the day: centers and independent work. At this time they have the choose to sit, stand, lay, WORK wherever they think is BEST for them: chair, tables, carpet, bean bags, LAUNDRY BASKET (That's a favorite), rocking chair, desk, folding chair and more!
            A major advantage to a deskless classroom is the SPACE! From what I have seen in other schools, our rooms are pretty spacious.  But now add carpets, bookshelves, cubbies and 20+ desks! Suddenly you feel like you are teaching in a shoebox! ANYWAY, the space is undeniably one of the BEST parts about being deskless.  Not feeling cramped or trapped inside your own classroom, but free and open is a WONDERFUL feeling!!
            But MOST importantly, the biggest advantage is the ability to provide students the opportunity to CHOOSE what works best for them. Allowing students to pick their seating gives them a sense of ownership and power over their learning.   This flexibility shows that you, the teachers, are willing to respect students’ decisions and preferences. In my opinion, it sends a remarkably strong sense of understanding, compassion and team-work in many ways.
            We had a new student who started after the year had begun and on his first day asked to sit in a rocking chair during independent work. I responded very nonchalantly with, “Sure, just be sure to get a clipboard,” as I continued setting up our laptops. The student EVER so slowly, almost cautiously walked over to get his materials and sit down on the rocking chair as if he was avoiding making a noise. I think his fear was that I would “snap to” and change my mind! Another time I was assessing a student and she said, “I think I am just going to kneel at this table,” and looked at me the whole time waiting for a reaction. Once she was settled, I just kept testing! I think part of her was shocked.
               But have you ever stop to ask yourself: WHY NOT let her kneel? WHY NOT let that boy sit in a rocking chair? WHY NOT let the active student who is always falling out of their chair/leaning on another student’s desk to STAND?! WHY do kids have to be on these hard, cold chairs ALL day long? I mean for heaven sake after about 10 minutes in one I swear I have bruises!!
So often, however, the tragedy is we don’t stop to ask WHY are my students ALL at desks? As educators, we truck along because 97 million other NEW things have already been thrown at us by 9:15 on a Wednesday and one more NEW thing seems almost unbearable! And I get it, TRUST me! But I truly believe if you stop and think about your students (the good, the bad and the worse), you can name at least half a dozen students whose behavior at their desks is distracting or irritating not only to the class but also to those around them.
            Put it into perspective and ask yourself:  When you are home doing the hours of work we all do (teacher rant over), where do you PREFER to work? The couch? Your bed? The floor? The dining room table? If you ask your teammates, would they ALL say the same thing? But WE have the choice: the taken for granted choice to do work where we are most comfortable!  As adults we have choices about nearly everything. That is one of the perks! Students deserve, in certain respects, that same privilege.  Now with that, I need to provide a HUGE disclaimer. Our classroom is not disorganized, chaotic, albeit loud, or unstructured. The students have VERY clear expectations they are to follow and consistent consequences for when they don’t. 
From the first day of school, we have taken the time to set very CLEAR rules for our classroom. We have done LOTS of modeling and weren’t afraid (and still aren’t) to STOP when those “teachable” moments arise. Taking the time to model what is an appropriate seating choice, what to do when two people are arguing over a spot, how to avoid choosing a bad spot etc. are ESSENTIAL. I can still remember the faces of the students when we told them we were a deskless classroom. CONFUSED wasn’t even the word!! But within a few weeks, they had not only understood the concept but FLOURISHED!
            Deskless classrooms are FUN, innovative, CURRENT and flexible. If the steps below are followed, deskless classrooms are successful, EXCITING and engaging. Across the board I have found it to be an incredibly effective strategy to meet the needs of EVERY learner.  We have had NOTHING but positive feedback from students AND parents. I think it is safe to say, we have officially said GOODBYE to a desk-full classroom!! If you like the idea of a deskless classroom but weary to try it mid-year, START small! Have your students choose their spot during independent work throughout the day! When you SEE it, you will BELIEVE IT! I promise, you will be hooked.
            If you want to further discuss deskless classrooms, feel free to email us at!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Thanksgiving Sight Word BUMP!

When I create my centers each week I always struggle to be sure they are: differentiated, integrated, engaging, meaningful and FUN. I like to create games/centers that can be easily be changed throughout the year depending on the skill practiced or weekly theme so that students are not constantly learning new centers!
For this past week’s centers, I took my students’ math data and noticed a need in mastering facts. I further analyzed what they were struggling with to figure out how I can incorporate math into my sight word center.  Their needs were varied from needing practice identifying numbers 1-5 to needing to improve on adding three addends. I also took my students LOVE of the math game BUMP and alas I created my Thanksgiving Sight Word Practice product! 
This product provides 4 different math BUMP board games. First, choose the board game that best fits the needs of your students’ mathematical abilities: Identifying numbers 1-5, Adding two addends 1-6, Doubles Facts 1-6, Adding three addends 1-6.  2-3 students play on each board game at a time!

Then, have students use their sight word ring (for added differentiation) and fill in one word above each of the boxes on the recording sheet graph. If students do not have sight word rings, you can use holiday themed words, high frequency words, vocabulary words etc.

In our class the rule ALWAYS is: roll to see who goes first. No if, ands OR buts about it. (I have found this eliminates all arguing.). After the students determine who goes first they must pick a color. You can use cute themed erasers, stickers (with the paper still on the back), or math cubes. I liked using math cubes to get students even MORE comfortable with using them.
After students determine their color, they are ready to play! They roll the die/dice (depending on the board game). Then, they determine their final number (sum). They find that number on the graph recording sheet and rewrite the corresponding word in the ABOVE box. This will make a bar graph. Instead of simply coloring in the box of the number they get, rewriting the word will help allow them to master their words! They then find that number on the board game and cover it with their eraser/sticker/counter. IF the other player is already covering that number, they get to BUMP them off! Once a player has a word get to the TOP of their recording sheet, both players STOP. Whoever has the most erasers/stickers/counters at the point on the board WINS!
Below are some hints on how to organize this center. I am BIG into color-coding because I think it is the easiest, most obvious way for students to decipher between which game/paper they should use. I constantly switch up the colors so students are not always the pink group or blue group.  

If you like this product, be sure to check it out in our store! We plan to add MANY more like this for each holiday theme!