5 Tips For Creating A Classroom Environment Where Kids LOVE To Read

I’ve always loved reading—as a kid and as an adult. I also want my students to develop a love of reading, and if you’re reading this post, you must feel the same way!

Unfortunately, not all our students love reading when they enter our classrooms. Maybe they’ve struggled with reading in the past. Maybe reading isn’t valued at home. Or maybe they just haven’t gotten hooked on a good book yet!

Whatever the case may be, I try hard to create a classroom environment that celebrates reading and supports reading engagement. In today’s post, I share 5 strategies I use to create this atmosphere. I’m guessing that you probably use some of these strategies already, but I hope you’ll find at least one good reminder or inspiration!

Want your kids to enjoy reading? This post has 5 ideas for creating a classroom environment where kids love to read!Photo Credit:  weedezign, Shutterstock

#1: Watch your language. 

The words we use to talk about reading are SO powerful! I think the best way to explain this is to give some examples of things I say to my students:

  • “What do you love to read about?”
  • “I thought it was so interesting how the author…”
  • “I think you’ll love this book because…”
  • “What book in your bag/bin are you most excited about?”
  • “I can tell you really enjoyed that book.”
  • “Reading that book really helped you learn about _____, didn’t it?”
  • “Last night before bed, I was reading…”

#2: Get them talking about their reading!

I’m in a book club, and I LOVE it! It motivates me to read and try new books. Most kids love it when we make reading a more “social” activity! Here are a few ideas to try:

  • If your students’ nightly homework is reading, have them chat with a partner about what they read (i.e. during your morning meeting)
  • Incorporate partner reading into your reading workshop, literacy centers, or Daily 5 time
  • Have students recommend books to each other (you can make little postcards available, students can write book reviews or letters, or even just hand each other books to read)

#3: Let them choose books.

My students don’t get to choose every book that they read; for example, in guided reading, I’m the one choosing the texts. But when they’re reading on their own, I do want to give them a choice. Choice is so motivating!

At the same time, letting kids choose their own books can cause some issues. I’ve had students who consistently chose books that were way too difficult for them to read independently. They just sat there, pretend-reading, during independent reading time.

So here’s how I’ve dealt with this issue: I give each student a book bag for keeping his/her books. When the kids go to the classroom library, they know that they can choose half of their books from anywhere, and half of their books have to come from a color-coded bin. The color-coded bins correspond to their guided reading groups, and in each bin, I place familiar texts or texts that I know will be easy for them to read. This way, even if students choose some way-too-hard or way-too-easy books, half of their books should still be at their independent reading level.

On top of that, we regularly discuss choosing “good fit” books. I talk about how it’s much more fun to read a book that’s a good fit.

One other thing—if you feel like students aren’t enjoying the books in your classroom library, see if you can incorporate additional types of texts. Try comic books or kids’ magazines. Search for books at yard sales, create a DonorsChoose project, or ask your principal for funds to purchase books.

#4: Incorporate novelty.

The human brain LOVES novelty! My kids’ interest is immediately piqued when I mention that something is “new.” Here are some ideas for incorporating novelty into reading:

  • Don’t put all your books in the library at once. Rotate in new books periodically.
  • Display books attractively, and rotate the displays. Try a rotating shelf (like you might see in a bookstore or library).
  • Check out books from the school or local library and make them available for students to read. I usually get a bag of “special” books each month. During independent reading time, I draw names and allow students to borrow books from the bag. Students can return them at the end of independent reading, so I don’t worry about losing them.

#5: Focus on intrinsic (rather than extrinsic) rewards.

I’m not completely opposed to incentivized reading programs that give rewards (like food, or free tickets to something) for reading. Once in a while, I think that they can motivate a child to read more…and in doing so, the child learns that he loves reading!

That said, I’m still not a big fan. In my classroom, I don’t provide extrinsic rewards for reading. If there’s something that’s going on school-wide, I have students handle it at home, and I don’t make a big deal of it.

I’d much rather send the message that…

  • Reading is fun
  • Reading is interesting
  • Reading can help us learn about people and things we never see in our everyday lives

So I avoid saying, “If you read x, then you get y.” Being able to read is the reward!

The Big Picture

I wish I could say that ALL my students ALWAYS leave my classroom with a deep love of reading. That’s not the case.

will say, though, that very few of my students leave saying “I don’t like reading.” I think this is the case because I make it my mission to help them find books that interest and engage them.

So are all of your students going to fall completely in love with reading? Maybe not. But I think we can at least get them to be engaged readers, and that will set them up for success in their future school years.

Do you have any tips for fostering a love of reading? I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Happy teaching!




How Saying NO Will Make You a Better, Happier Teacher

Do you often feel like you have TOO much going on in your life? That you’re constantly on the go? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed or stressed to the max?

Teaching is a crazy, time-consuming job in itself. And many of us have lots of other responsibilities at home—as well as things that we want to do for fun and to stay healthy!

It’s difficult to balance it all. Honestly, I feel out-of-balance more often than not.

But I’m working to correct that. And one thing that’s helped me is to learn to say NO!

What I mean is this: I’m learning to think more carefully about whether an opportunity or activity is aligned with my goals—for myself, for my family, and for my students. If it’s not, then I turn it down or eliminate it.

When you say NO to something, that means that you’re saying YES to something else. For example, if you say NO to an after-school responsibility, you might be saying YES to more time for your own kids, time to exercise, or even just time to relax!!

In theory, this sounds pretty easy. But in practice, it’s not that simple. In today’s post, I’m going to take you through a step-by-step process to help you simplify your life and make you a better, happier teacher!Do you often feel like you just have TOO much going on in your life? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed or stressed to the max? This post has a step-by-step process to help you simplify your life and make you a better, happier teacher!

Photo Credits:  vgstudio, Shutterstock

Step 1: Make a list of everything you’re involved in and responsible for.

Okay, I know, this can seem like a giant task in itself. 😱 But keep it relatively simple. Here’s my current list:

  • Reading specialist job (part-time)
  • Running an early literacy preschool program (once/week)
  • Learning At The Primary Pond (blog, TpT store, etc.)
  • Book club
  • Women’s social club (I’m the organizer)
  • Taking care of the house
  • Taking care of our cats
  • Food prep

Step 2: Take a sheet of paper and create “webs of responsibilities.”

Draw small circles or bubbles on your paper (1 for each item on your list from Step #1). It’ll look something like this:

Do you often feel like you just have TOO much going on in your life? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed or stressed to the max? This post has a step-by-step process to help you simplify your life and make you a better, happier teacher!

Next, create a little “web of responsibilities” for each item. For example, for my reading specialist job, I’m responsible for lesson planning, finding materials if I don’t have them, prepping materials, assessing students, and communicating with staff/parents.

Do you often feel like you just have TOO much going on in your life? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed or stressed to the max? This post has a step-by-step process to help you simplify your life and make you a better, happier teacher!

Do you often feel like you just have TOO much going on in your life? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed or stressed to the max? This post has a step-by-step process to help you simplify your life and make you a better, happier teacher!

You can get as general or as detailed as you like.

Step 3: Analyze your webs.

Once you finish your webs, take a step back.

THAT’S A LOT OF STUFF YOU’VE GOT GOING ON THERE!!!!!!!!

It’s no wonder we’re all so stressed out—we have a LOT to handle! All of that takes up time and mental space.

So now it’s time to step back. Turn your paper over, and on the back, jot some notes about things that you really value. For example, here are mine:

  • Time with family & friends
  • Helping my students become successful readers
  • Supporting other teachers
  • Being healthy and active
  • Free time

After you’re done with that, look back at your web. Are there any responsibilities you have that don’t align with what you value? If so, think about how you might eliminate them. Could you get help from someone else? Could you just QUIT doing them entirely? Could you cut back on the amount of time you spend on them?

Sometimes, though, your responsibilities seem like they DO align with your values. However, if you’re doing too much and constantly feeling stressed, then something’s got to give—even if it’s something that seems important at first glance.

Is there anything you can start saying “no” to? Here are my own examples:

Things I say “no” to at school:

  • Extracurricular / other responsibilities that are outside of my regular work hours (I still spend more time than I’m paid for at school, but only when it’s something that’s directly related to my students’ success)
  • Seasonal bulletin boards (this is more from when I was still in the classroom, because I don’t have any bulletin boards as a reading specialist—but what I did was create bulletin boards that last all year long and are simple to change out, and you can read about how to do that HERE)
  • Teaching activities that take a ton of time to prep, but that aren’t reusable or that students finish very quickly (trust me, I spend plenty of time prepping, but I very rarely spend hours on something that the kids will do once for 20 minutes!)

Things that I say “no” to at home:

  • Being responsible for all the housework and cooking (when I was first married, I took on too much, but now hubby definitely does his share and sometimes more!)
  • Making homemade food for our book club brunches. Everyone loves the store-bought stuff just as much!
  • Running frequent errands (I use Amazon Prime and a Prime subscription box that brings us things we use consistently each month!)

Sometimes we feel like we HAVE to do something, but in reality, it’s an internal expectation that we impose on ourselves rather than something that others truly expect of us. Do you HAVE to do a super cute and Pinteresty “thank you” gift for your room parents? No, you don’t—unless that brings you a lot of joy AND you happen to have time for it. (A heartfelt thank-you note takes less time and is just as meaningful.)

This feeling that we HAVE to do something is super relevant to planning lessons and activities for our students. Through the internet, we have access to so many different ideas and options. But that doesn’t mean we can or should do them all.

As I mentioned above, I’m not a fan of activities that require tons and tons of prep and then students finish them in 15 minutes. If I’m going to invest a lot of time and effort, I want to create something that will last a while, or that I can at least re-use.

I want my students to learn and have fun, but I can make that happen with even the most mundane lessons. My students love having choices, developing relationships with me and their peers, and becoming competent with what they’re working on. I can accomplish all that without always having the most outrageous, over-the-top lessons and activities.

Now, I’m not saying that you should eliminate EVERYTHING in your life that’s not necessary for survival. Sometimes those “unnecessary” things are what make teaching (and life) fun, and sometimes you want to go the extra mile to show love for others!

All I’m saying is this—you have more control over your time than you might think. If you choose your activities wisely and align them with your values, you’ll likely be happier and less stressed.

Step 4: Do it! Say NO!

By now, hopefully you’ve identified at least a couple of things that you can say NO to. But I think that’s the easy part; the hard part is actually doing it and following through, especially if you’re saying NO to someone else.

My friend April likes to say, “No is a complete sentence.” (She’s much better at saying “no” than I am. Maybe someday I’ll get to her level. ;-)) Anyway, what she means by that is that you DON’T have to explain yourself or justify yourself when saying “no.”

If someone asks you to do something and you want to decline, try saying, “I’m not able to do that,” or “Sorry, but I’m not able to help.”

If you’re an “impulse yes-person,” then you can also ask for some time to think about it. And then say “no” later. 😛

What are you going to say NO to?

I hope that this post and process help you make some decisions about how to simplify your life a little.

It can be really hard to say NO, especially if you’re someone (like me) who enjoys making other people happy. If it helps, think about it this way: when you’re happier and less stressed, everyone around you benefits—your students, your family, your friends.

So what are you going to say NO to this year? I’d love it if you’d share in the comments. Happy teaching!!




5 Tips for Helping Keep Your Classroom Noise Level Under Control

Do your students get a little noisy or chatty during independent work time? In this post, I share 5 tips to help you keep your classroom noise level under control!Are your students too chatty or noisy? Read this post for 5 tips to help keep your classroom noise level under control!

Photo Credits:  vgstudio, Shutterstock

Tip #1: Use a soft, calm voice right before students go off to work independently.

When I’m getting my students ready for centers or any other kind of independent work, I remind them of expectations—and I use a very soft, calm voice to do so.

In fact, I usually give last-minute directions in a voice so quiet that it’s almost a whisper! And students tend to follow suit, whispering right back.

Our own demeanor and voice level can really set the tone for students. Yes, the noise level usually goes up after students go off to work. But when you START with a very quiet, calm classroom, the noise level usually stays manageable—at least for a while!

Tip #2: Assign a noise level monitor OR a group leader for each group.

If you have your students work in center groups, choose one student to be the leader. The leader can be responsible for monitoring the noise level of the group members.

If students aren’t working in groups, you can assign a noise level monitor for the entire class. The noise level monitor can keep a chime next to her and ring it if the noise level of the class gets to be too high.

Tip #3: Teach students a quick clapping pattern to remind them that the noise level is too high.

If your students are too noisy, the LAST thing you want to do is yell over them, right?!

I like to teach students a little clapping signal to remind them to lower their voices. If students become too noisy, you simply clap the pattern, students clap to imitate the pattern, and then (hopefully) they get a little quieter!

Tip #4: Pure bribery. Plain and simple. 😛 

Let’s call this one “motivation to work together as a classroom community” instead of “bribery,” okay?! 😂

I like to keep a classroom marble jar. When I see students working together and doing the right thing as a class, I add marbles to the jar. For example, if students are working quietly during centers, I may add marbles to the jar. When we fill the jar, we have some kind of reward—like extra recess, extra indoor playtime, etc.

However, I do remove marbles sometimes. When we’re having a lot of trouble with noise level, I’ll take the marble jar and keep it next to me at the guided reading table. If the students working independently are getting too loud, I remove marbles from the jar. And I do it noisily so they can hear me! This quiets them down pretty quickly.

Tip #5: Use a techy noise level tool.

Full disclosure, I haven’t tried any of these myself. Usually tips 1-4 work for my students, but I’ve also heard that teachers love some of these tools:

Classroom Noise Meter from ClassDojo: https://www.classdojo.com/toolkit/noisemeter/

Bouncy Balls: https://bouncyballs.org/

Your Ideas?

Do you have any fantastic tips for helping your students keep their voices down? I’d love it if you’d share in a comment!

Happy teaching!




Ways to Make Your Reading Block More Efficient (And Save Time!)

Want to make your reading block more efficient? In this post, I share 5 ideas to help you make the most of the time you have!

Want to make your reading block more efficient? Photo Credits:  Backgroundy, Shutterstock

Minimize Unnecessary Transitions

Transitions always seem to take foreeevvverrrr in the primary grades. Of course, transitions are necessary (and can be a good movement/brain break for students). But here are a couple of questions to ask yourself if you need to cut down on transition time:

  • Do you use a “rotations” model, where short periods of independent work are broken up by minilessons? All that transitioning eats up time. Could you do a minilesson at the beginning, a longer block of independent work time, and then another minilesson later on?
  • Are there instances where the entire class has to get something (i.e. a book, a folder) from one place in the classroom? Having all your students wait in line can eat up a lot of time. What if you took the stack of books or folders—or whatever it is—and put it next to your table groups? Each table could have its own little bin for materials, thereby eliminating the need for the entire class to retrieve materials from a single location.
  • If you do a group bathroom break, would it be possible to allow students to just use the bathroom as needed? Sometimes it can be an issue of safety, if the bathroom is far from your classroom—I get that. But allowing one girl and one boy to use the bathroom at a time, when they need to, can really free up time!
  • If you have to set up or grab materials, could you have student helpers accomplish this during a transition time? Some kids tend to clean up quickly, and they’re always the first ones sitting on the rug. Could you enlist them to get out materials for the next activity?

Just some things to think about! 🙂

Use a Timer

I have to admit…I don’t love the go-go-go pace of the school day. But if I’m just not finishing all that I need to accomplish, a timer is SUCH a helpful tool in keeping myself on track.

AND if you’re like me and tend to forget to set the timer in the first place, try setting a series of alarms on your phone or tablet, like this:

Set up timers like these if you're having trouble sticking to your daily classroom schedule!

Try An A Day / B Day Schedule

Sometimes doing every activity every day can end up being inefficient! When you have a tiny block of time for an activity, how valuable does it end up being? Some of that time gets eaten up by transitions and other misc. housekeeping tasks, and students don’t end up with a lot of focused learning time.

If this sounds like your situation, try an A Day / B Day schedule. On A Days, you make time for certain instructional activities, and on B Days, you make time for different instructional activities. For example, maybe you can alternate readalouds with shared reading. Or maybe some days you spend more time on phonics, while on other days you spend more time on grammar.

If you use this type of schedule, you’ll want to alternate weeks too.  One week you have an “A Day” on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and the next week, you have an “A Day” on Tuesday and Thursday.

There are certainly some activities that you’ll want to include in both A Days and B Days, however. For example, students should have time to practice reading and writing every day.

Give Kids a Quick Break

I know, I know. If you’re trying to SAVE time, adding in a break can SEEM counterintuitive, but…it can actually help kids focus!

When my students have a chance to blow off some steam outside—or even just play and chat indoors—they usually return to their work feeling more focused. More focused students = a more efficient school day!

Another idea – time your students’ transitions. If they can “beat the timer” and transition to the next activity, offer them an extra break!

Just Do Less. Yes, Less.

We live in an era of information overload. There are so many GREAT instructional activities that we can do. But we don’t have to do them all.

Are there any places in your literacy block where you can cut things out? Or maybe do them less often?

If you find yourself rushing from one thing to the next, you may not be dedicating the time to each activity that it really deserves. Try to see what you can cut out or shift to an A Day / B Day schedule.

Sometimes, there’s only so much that we can do to cut things out. Our administration may require that we implement certain instructional routines on a daily basis. I get that.

But I do worry about the go-go-go atmosphere that we (myself included) end up creating in our classrooms. This HAS to be impacting students. More kids than ever before suffer from anxiety. Practices like mindfulness are shown to improve student behavior, but rushing from one thing to the next is anything BUT mindful.

I wish I had an answer or a solution to all this! But if you can, consider cutting out at least one thing from your schedule each day (it doesn’t have to be the same thing). Quality over quantity, right?

Happy teaching!




5 Active, Engaging Rhyming Games and Activities

Looking for some fun rhyming games and activities for your students? This post has 5 ideas AND freebies for you!Looking for some rhyming games and activities? Check out this post for 5 ideas and FREE downloads!

Idea #1: Act out rhyming action words

Read one of the below sentences aloud to students (with emphasis on the two rhyming words), have them repeat the entire sentence with you, and then have them act out the action word at the end (i.e. jump, leap, run, etc.),

Bump rhymes with JUMP!

Keep rhymes with LEAP!

Fun rhymes with RUN!

Hip rhymes with SKIP!

Trim rhymes with SWIM!

Fist rhymes with TWIST!

Idea #2: Work with rhyming books

Rhyming books are fun to read and reread! Here are a couple of ideas for activities you can do with rhyming books:

  • Have students clap or jump on the words that rhyme (once they’re already familiar with the text)
  • Have students help you write the rhyming words on index cards—place the cards in a pocket chart so you can discuss and sort them by spelling pattern
  • Play “fill in the blank” (once students are familiar with a text, pause before you read a rhyming word and have students fill it in for you)

If you’re looking for rhyming book suggestions, check out this post! But don’t forget to come back here to finish reading and grab your freebies!!

Idea #3: Play “Find Your Rhyming Partner”

This game can be played in a whole group or small group setting. Simply give each child a picture and have them find their rhyming partner (i.e., one student has a picture of a bear, and another student has a picture of a chair).

After students have found their partners, mix up the pictures or grab new ones, give each child a different picture, and play again!

Idea #4: Play “Rhyming Room”

This game is super active and fun! Before students enter the classroom, post large pictures (included below in your freebie) in different places around the classroom. Each large picture should have a shape symbol on it.

Then, give each student a recording sheet. Students move around the room, trying to find the rhyming picture that matches each picture on their recording sheet. When students find a match, they can:

  • Draw a picture of the corresponding shape symbol, or
  • Draw a picture to represent the image itself, or
  • Use invented spelling to try and write the word

Download the freebie by clicking on the photo!

Grab this FREE rhyming room activity in this blog post! The post also has ideas for rhyming games and activities.

Advanced students can also use invented spelling to label the rhyming pictures.

Idea #5: Play Rhyming Memory

This one is simple but always a favorite!

First, show students all the cards and discuss the rhyming pairs. Then, mix up the cards, turn them face-down, and have students play rhyming memory (they take turns trying to find pairs of pictures that rhyme).

Make sure that students always say the names of the pictures aloud when they turn them over.

You can download Rhyming Memory HERE!

Happy teaching!




10 Great Books for Teaching Rhyming

 

Looking for some great books for working on rhyming words? In this post, I’ll share 10 of my favorite rhyming books AND explain how I use familiar songs like Twinkle, Twinkle to teach rhyming!

Looking for some great books for working on rhyming words? This post has 10 rhyming books that are great for preschool or Kindergarten!

Photo Credits:  Tiplyashina Evgeniya, Shutterstock

Why Does Teaching Rhyming Matter in the First Place?

Children who have higher levels of phonological awareness (awareness of the sounds in words) are typically stronger decoders when they begin to read.

Being able to identify whether or not two words rhyme is a foundational phonological awareness skill for the English language. If you’re working on phonological awareness, you will probably want to start by teaching rhyming.

If you have a student who REALLY struggles with rhyming, even after you’ve provided ample modeling and instruction, this can be a predictor of a future reading disability. (You can read more about identifying students with reading disabilities and dyslexia in this post.)

So teaching rhyming actually serves two purposes; 1) it helps develop that important awareness of sounds to help students become strong decoders, AND 2) it can help us identify students who may need early reading intervention.

Books for Teaching Rhyming

The first time I read a book, I usually just let the kids enjoy it—and we focus on comprehension. Rhyming is a great skill to work on the second time (or third time, or fourth time) you read a book. The kids have already had a chance to understand the story and can really focus on listening for the rhyming words!

Here’s a list of rhyming books that are great for this purpose. (Note that these are Amazon affiliate links, which means that if you purchase through the link, a small portion of the profits go toward helping me maintain this website!) These books are most appropriate for late preschool or Kindergarten, but some can be used in first grade as well.

Jamberry (Bruce Degen)

Sheep in a Jeep (Nancy Shaw)

Green Eggs and Ham (Dr. Seuss)

Llama Llama Red Pajama (Anna Dewdney)

Big Red Barn (Margaret Wise Brown)

One Duck Stuck (Phyllis Root)

Over In The Meadow (Olive Wadsworth)

There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly (Pam Adams)

Moose On The Loose (Kathy-Jo Wargin)

Each Peach Pear Plum (Allan Ahlberg)

In next week’s post, I’ll include ideas about what you can DO with the books when you use them.

Using Songs to Teach Rhyming

In addition to using rhyming books, I also love using song lyrics to teach rhyming!

If you type up (or write on chart paper) the lyrics to familiar songs like “Twinkle Twinkle,” students can read or pretend-read the lyrics with you and discuss the rhyming words. You can use colored markers to have students help you circle the rhyming words. You can also give students copies of the lyrics to pretend-read or read on their own.

You can do the same thing with nursery rhymes (i.e., Hickory Dickory Dock, Miss Muffett, Jack and Jill, Humpty Dumpty, etc.). Just do a Google search for the lyrics, type them up or write them on chart paper, and voila! You have an instant text for working on rhyming words.

Your Favorites?

Do you have any favorite books for teaching rhyming? I’d love to hear them; please share in the comments below!

Happy teaching!




How to Differentiate Your Kindergarten Reading Instruction When Your Students Have a Big Range of Abilities

Kindergarten is all about teaching the letters, right? Well…maybe.

What if you have students who come in already reading? Or what if you have a combination—some readers AND some students who don’t know how to write their names yet? 😳

Since some students attend preschool (and/or have at-home literacy experiences) and others don’t, it’s very easy to end up with a big range of abilities in your Kindergarten classroom.

In this post, I’ll share differentiation tips for making your whole group instruction meaningful, meeting the needs of struggling learners and challenging your advanced students.

Wondering how to close the gap in your Kindergarten classroom? This blog post has differentiation tips for your Kindergarten reading instruction.Photo Credits: weedezign, Shutterstock

Tips for Successful Whole Group Lessons

Teaching students individually or in a small group setting is, of course, a really effective way to meet students’ specific needs.

However, just because you have a big range of abilities in your classroom does not mean that you should completely scrap whole group instruction!

Whole group instruction builds community, is more efficient than teaching the same skill over and over in small groups, AND can be effective.

When I have a wide ability range in my class, I “teach to the middle” during many whole group lessons. But that doesn’t mean that I ignore the needs of the lower students OR the higher students.

Here’s what I do to meet a variety of kids’ needs during a single whole-group lesson:  I gear the lesson objective toward the “average” students, but I vary my questioning to meet the needs of different groups of kids.

For example, if you’re teaching a shared reading lesson and working on finding words in the “-at” family, you can ask:

  • What words on the page do you see with the -at family? (on level)
  • Where do you see the letter “t” on the page? (below level)
  • Do you see any other word families on this page? (above level)

You can also use strategic partnering to give students support during turn-and-talks in whole group lessons. In a turn-and-talk, students discuss a question or topic with a partner (before I ask a few students to share out with the class).

If you end up with a pair of two struggling students, those conversations can be unproductive. On the other hand, if you pair a very advanced student with a struggling student, that conversation can be unproductive too.

To avoid these situations, here’s what I do: I rank my students by general ability, split the list in half, and then pair students accordingly.

Let’s say I have a class of 6 students. (Wouldn’t that be nice? :-P) I’ve ranked them here, with the highest student at the top and the lowest student at the bottom:

Abby

Brian

Chris

Daphne

Evan

Francine

Now I split the list in half:

Abby – Daphne

Brian – Evan

Chris – Francine

I use this strategy to create a medium-sized gap between students in a partnership. The stronger student may be able to take a leadership role at times, while the lower student benefits from the support of the stronger student.

I don’t always pair students like this (it’s also nice to allow the advanced students to work together and challenge each other at times). But this strategy can be effective in providing a little support to lower students during whole-group instruction.

Supporting Struggling Learners

Small group instruction is invaluable in supporting your struggling students! I try to meet with a small group of my lowest students on a daily basis. The more individual attention they get, the better.

If you want to devote more time to small group instruction but are struggling with getting the other students to work independently, try breaking up your small group time into two chunks. You might see 2 small groups in the morning and 1-2 groups in the afternoon. This ensures that the other kids don’t have to work independently for a super extended period of time.

In addition, I sometimes pull a student or two right away in the morning. We quickly review letter sounds or another skill. It doesn’t take time away from anything else, since the other students are still entering the classroom and settling in for the day.

I also highly recommend seeking out volunteer help. Since your lower Kindergarten students usually need help with more basic skills (like letter recognition), these are things that a volunteer can pretty easily help with. (You can even have them use some of my Pre A guided reading binder activities, since everything is spelled out clearly!)

Volunteers can be parents (from your class or another), or even members of the community. If your school partners with any local businesses or organizations, ask to see if any employees are interested in volunteering.

(Also, your volunteers don’t just have to work with the lower students! They can also listen to your higher students read aloud!)

For specific activity ideas for your lower students, check out these posts:

Letter sounds post link

Pre-A guided reading post link

Challenging Above-Level Readers

If you have students who enter Kindergarten already reading, meeting their needs can be a challenge. Here are some strategies to try:

  • Individual reading conferences – In a conference, have students tell you what they’re reading about, ask them questions, and teach level-appropriate skills. If you need guidance in the type of skills students should be working on at higher levels, check out my first grade guided reading checklists.
  • Guided reading groups that combine students from multiple classes – If you have just one “outlier” who’s reading at a much higher level than other students, ask other Kindergarten teachers if they have some students who are near that level. You might bring them all to your classroom (or another teacher’s classroom) for a guided reading group. Students really benefit from small group interaction and discussion!
  • Strategy groups – If you have a couple of “outliers” who are reading at different levels, consider teaching a strategy group from time to time. In a strategy group, you can pull all these students together to work on one strategy (i.e. decoding long vowel words or making inferences). Students can all practice the same strategy—but use books at different levels to do so.
  • Open-ended projects that provide choice –  If students are doing a lot of independent reading, research, or other work, you’ll want them to show you what they’re learning or reading about. You might give them different options like: create a PowerPoint presentation on a computer or tablet, create a video about a topic, write their own book about a topic (hard copy or ebook, like in the app BookCreator), etc.

Last but not least, a couple of reminders:

  • Advanced students may still need to work on some basic skills. Many advanced students still need help with correct letter formation, for example. So when you introduce letters in a whole group setting, it’s not a waste for them—they still benefit from the handwriting aspect of your instruction.
  • Even strong readers and spellers need some type of phonics instruction; maybe they’re ready to start on long vowel spelling patterns, consonant blends, etc.
  • Advanced readers still need to do most of their reading at their independent reading levels—meaning that they should only be missing 2-3 words for every 100 words they read, AND their comprehension should be strong. Just because a child can decode a text does not mean a) that they have strong literal and inferential comprehension, and b) that the content is appropriate for them. The Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System is a great tool for finding students’ reading levels. The assessments included in a Reading A to Z membership can serve as a substitute if you don’t have access to the Fountas and Pinnell BAS.
  • When differentiating work assignments for advanced students, make sure that you assign meaningful work that involves students’ interests, allows them to make choices, and challenges them. You’ll want to focus on quality over quantity when assigning extra work—avoid just piling on tons of extra assignments.

Conclusions 

Teaching Kindergarten is super challenging in itself, and even more so when you have a big range of abilities in your classroom! If you have any relevant strategies to share, I’d love to hear them. Please leave a comment below!

Happy teaching!




What to Do When the Letter Sounds Just Won’t Stick

Do you have any students who are struggling to remember the letter sounds?

In this post, I’ll share some strategies that have helped my own students!Do you have some Kindergarten or first grade students who are struggling with letter sounds? This post has teaching strategies and tips to help!

Photo Credits:  5 second Studio, Shutterstock

Give Phonological Awareness Skills a Little Extra Attention

Phonological awareness is the awareness of the sounds that make up spoken language.

It’s different from phonics, because phonics involves the actual letter symbols (phonological awareness = just spoken sounds). Phonological awareness includes rhyming, syllable segmenting, blending and segmenting individual sounds (like taking /h//a//t/ and blending the sounds to make “hat”).

If students are struggling to remember the letter sounds, it’s possible that they need a little extra practice with phonological awareness skills. You can set aside a few minutes during small group to work on skills like isolating the first sound in a word (i.e. you say “sun” and they have to say the first sound, /s/).

Children usually develop phonological awareness skills in a predictable order. For a phonological awareness scope and sequence and activity ideas, check out this post.

Use a Daily Alphabet Chant

An alphabet chart is a simple, powerful tool for teaching students letter sounds (and letter names).

For at least the first half of the year in Kindergarten, we practice “chanting the chart” every day. EVERY DAY!

Grab this free alphabet chart and get ideas for helping students learn the letter sounds!

The chant goes like this:

A, apple, /a/

B, book, /b/

I point while we chant—or I have a student volunteer point.

This chant is also a great way to begin your small group. When students sit at your table, have copies of the chart ready for them. (If students are having trouble pointing on their own copies, have the entire group look at your copy until they improve.)

This activity can get a little repetitive over time, so here are some simple ways I keep it interesting for the kids:

  • Go backwards, from Z to A
  • Have a student volunteer point for the class (or the entire small group, if you’re all looking at one page)
  • Have students whisper the chant
  • Play games before/after the chant (“Who can find the picture that starts with /t/?” This is great for when you first introduce the chart and need to familiarize students with it.)

If you’d like to download your own chart for free, please click HERE!

Incorporate More Opportunities for Developmental Spelling

Students who are struggling to learn letter sounds may need MORE opportunities to spell words phonetically (by their sounds, using developmental spelling).

I know, I know—that seems a little counterintuitive, right? Why would you ask these students to write MORE when they hardly know any letter sounds?!

But here’s the thing: students’ development in writing can help improve their phonics and reading skills (and vice versa). When students have opportunities to stretch out words, listen for their sounds, and attempt to write those sounds, this can help improve their letter sound recall.

Of course, if students only know a few sounds, they will definitely need support! I highly recommend having students use their own copies of an alphabet chart—like the one above!—for assistance as they spell words phonetically.

You’ll need to model this process repeatedly. Here’s what it might sound like:

Draw a turtle on a piece of paper. “This is a turtle.  Say the word with me slowly.  Tttturrrrtttllllle. Good.  The first sound I hear is /t/.  Now, I’m going to look for a picture that starts like /t/ on my alphabet chart.  Hmm…does ‘aaapple’ start like /t/?  No.  Does ‘lllleaf’ start like /t/?  No.  Oh!  I see a ‘taco.’  ‘Taco’ starts like /t/!  I’m going to write the letter next to the taco on my paper because that letter makes the /t/ sound.”  Repeat this process for the sounds r, t, and l in the word “turtle.” Your final spelling will be incorrect, and that’s okay if it matches your students’ development.

Use Multisensory Techniques

This is super important, especially for students who are struggling!!

Multisensory learning activities incorporate more than one sense. For example, you might have students:

  • Trace a letter (in sand, salt, on the table) and say the letter sound aloud
  • Draw the letter in the air while saying the letter sound aloud (have students draw the letter using two fingers, arm outstretched, to promote gross motor muscle memory)
  • Work with sandpaper letters
  • Physically make CVC words with magnetic letters, tiles, or letter cards
  • Learn specific movements to make while practicing letter sounds (Jolly Phonics is an example of a program that pairs movement with letter sounds)

I love using a travel soap box with salt to give students personal tracing boxes!

 I use a travel soap box with salt to create individual tracing boxes. Students can trace a letter in the sale with their finger! Click to read the entire blog post for more ideas for teaching letter sounds!

I bought these “Feel, Trace, and Write Alphabet” cards from Really Good Stuff. I love these! I like having a tactile letter and writing space all on one card; my students can trace the letter with their finger, trace it with a dry erase marker, and then write it independently.

I love these tactile letter and writing cards from Really Good Stuff! Click through to read the entire post for more ideas about teaching letter sounds and multisensory phonics!

Conclusion

Different kids benefit from different strategies. However, when I have a student who’s struggling, I try all of these strategies because they can all work in conjunction to help those letter sounds finally stick.

If you need more activities for teaching students the letter sounds, check out my small group activity binders for Pre-Readers HERE!

Happy teaching!




How to Know When to Move a Student Up a Reading Level

If you teach guided reading, you probably choose leveled texts for your groups.

But how do you know when to move a student (or an entire group) “up” a level?

In this post, I share some tips to help you make that decision!

This post is perfect for Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade teachers who want to know when it's time to move students up one guided reading level!Photo Credits:  Beata Becia, Shutterstock

Tip #1: Take running records consistently.

Running records will make any leveling decisions much easier! 🙂 I take one running record per guided reading group. So if I teach three guided reading groups in a day, that means I take three running records (one on a student from each group).

As for texts—I have the student read part or all of the text that we read during the PREVIOUS guided reading lesson. So if we read Book A on Monday and I don’t see the group again until Wednesday, the running record student reads part of or all of Book A to me for the running record. (Meanwhile, the other students reread familiar texts independently.)

When I take a running record, I make note of words that students read correctly and incorrectly. I also do a quick fluency rating (on a scale of 1-3) and ask the student to quickly retell the text. I will ask an inferential thinking question or two, if time permits. Later on, I go back and score students’ reading accuracy and comprehension.

To learn more about running records, check out THIS POST.

Tip #2: Know the benchmarks for independent and instructional reading levels.

When we read with students during guided reading, we want to choose texts that are at their instructional levels—so that they can be successful with our support, and still have some challenges to work through.

If you take running records consistently, you’ll be able to tell if books are appropriate for a student’s instructional level (or if they are too difficult or too easy).

If you’re not sure how to calculate independent or instructional reading levels, you can sign up for a free account on the Fountas and Pinnell website to view this document: http://www.fountasandpinnell.com/resourcelibrary/resource?id=281

Tip #3: Look for consistent evidence that the student’s (or group’s) current reading level has become their independent reading level.

If I take a running record on a guided reading book and it turns out that the book is “easy” for the student (at his/her independent reading level), that’s evidence that he/she might be ready to read books that are more difficult.

However, I always look for confirmation! I take another running record with a different book (preferably a different genre). I want to see two strong running records before I decide to move the student up a reading level.

One thing to keep in mind: If you take running records using my method, the student will already have read the book once before. If you’re really not sure if a child is ready to move up, I suggest also taking a “cold” running record to double-check.

Tip #4: Keep in mind that you can always return to the previous reading level!

If you find that you’ve moved a student (or a group) up one level, and they’re just not ready yet, move them back down. No big deal!

I don’t announce or share the reading level change with my students, so it’s not discouraging if they have to move back down—they don’t even know. 😉

Looking for more guided reading guidance?

If you’re looking for resources and support in teaching guided reading, check out my guided reading bundles! I’ve featured “typical” Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade guided reading bundles below. Happy teaching!

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Guided-Reading-Activities-and-Lesson-Plans-Levels-E-Through-J-BUNDLE-2845577

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Guided-Reading-Activities-and-Lesson-Plans-Levels-K-Through-N-BUNDLE-2845580




10 Self-Care Tips for Teachers!

Teaching can be such a rewarding profession, but it’s also HARD.

We are responsible for so much—from lesson plans, to carpool duty, to student growth, to keeping up with our professional development, to making sure that Johnny goes home on the right bus—it’s a lot!

Taking care of yourself is SO essential to surviving and thriving as a teacher!

In this post, I’m going to share 10 self-care tips for teachers. Five of them come from me, and five of them come from your wonderful ideas on my Facebook page!

Teaching can be such a rewarding profession - but it's also HARD. Learn 10 tips for taking care of yourself in this blog post!Photo Credits:  Kinga, Shutterstock

Five Tips From Me

  1. Schedule time for something YOU want to do, and put it on your calendar each week like you would any appointment! Whether it’s a game of tennis with a friend, an hour to read a novel, or something else—get it on your calendar and treat it like an appointment that can’t be broken! That seems to be the only way that I actually follow through with taking time for myself!
  2. Pay attention to the hours/times of day when you get the most done. Be super productive during that time, and try to avoid working when you’re not at your best. I’m a morning person, so I do well working before school. I’m mostly useless in the afternoon, though, so I call it quits shortly after the kiddos are gone—or I take a break before attempting to get something done!
  3. Get comfortable with saying “no” so that you can say YES to yourself! When we say “no” to something, that means we have more time for ourselves and our families. While we can’t say no to everything, there may be certain things (extra duties or clubs? a fancy bulletin board?) that we can decline, thereby making time for activities that really DO “fill out cups.”
  4. Look at your to-do list with a critical eye and ask, “Is this something I really NEED to do?” I love making to-do lists, but sometimes I find myself adding things that would be nice to do, but that are not essential. I always want to give the best to my students, but sometimes I have to cross off certain projects or activities if I find that they require tons of prep that I just don’t have time for.
  5. Always remember that a happy teacher = happy students!! Taking care of yourself is NOT selfish! First of all, you deserve to be happy. And second of all, I know for SURE that when I’m feeling happy, I bring that attitude with me into the classroom, and my students benefit. Everyone wins when you take care of yourself!

And Five Tips From You!

Here are five more tips, courtesy of the wonderful teachers who follow my Facebook page!

“Monthly pedicures, plenty of sleep and epsom salt baths every night. I also have one night out a month with a teacher friend when we don’t talk about anything school related. We both live in the area where we teach so we make sure we get away from home!” – Cara B.

“Going to bed at a decent time so that I can get about 8 hours of sleep.” – Emily N.

“I know it’s hard, but I don’t physically take work home (not taking it home mentally is near impossible). I need that separation between home life and work life!” – Stephanie P.

“I schedule a massage every 4-6 weeks to relieve all the tension. And my health benefits cover it so it’s even better!” – Helaina Z.

“Scheduled fitness classes with a teacher friend! We keep each other motivated! I also play ball hockey on a co-ed team with my husband.” – Maeghan L.

Your Ideas?

Do you have any additional tips to add? Please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!