How to Organize Your Digital Life as a Teacher (in 3 Easy Steps!)

Raise your hand 🙋🏼if any of the following has happened to you within the past 6 months:

  • You opened an email and read it but (gulp) forgot to respond to it
  • You purchased a teaching resource on TpT or elsewhere…and then completely forgot that you even had it
  • You purchased a teaching resource on TpT or elsewhere…and then didn’t have time to start using it
  • You just couldn’t find that darn file or worksheet…where was it, again??
  • You accidentally double-booked yourself or forgot you had an appointment after school

If you said YES! to any of those, then this blog post is for YOU! In this post, you’ll learn how to organize your “digital life” so that you can save time and stress — and spend less time planning!

Learn how to organize your "digital life" so that you can save time and stress! These teacher organization tips will help you spend less time lesson planning and feel so much more organized.

Step #1: Get a free Google Drive or Dropbox account — and organize the heck out of it!

Nowadays, we use so many digital files and resources for teaching. Keeping those files organized is ESSENTIAL!

And I mean ALL your files…things you’ve created, TpT purchases, free PDFs…all of them.

If you don’t have everything in one place, you end up spending a few extra minutes searching for materials every time you plan.

Those extra minutes add up to hours. Hours you COULD be spending doing other things (like not lesson planning).

This is why I highly recommend keeping an organized Dropbox or Google Drive account where you store ALL your files.

Now, I know you can return to your TeachersPayTeachers account and re-download files anytime, which is convenient.

But this also means that you have to spend time searching for the file and redownloading.

Plus, if you’ve bought many items on TpT (like I have), you’ll have pages of purchases. This means that you might forget that you even have something!!

This is much less likely to happen if you maintain an organization system for your files. Then, when you’re looking to teach a certain topic, you simply go to the corresponding folder and look at what you already have.

So after you’re done reading this post, take 20 minutes — right now! — and set yourself up to save tons of time later on.

Get your free account set up (if you don’t have one already), and make folders for EVERYTHING!

For example, you might have folders and subfolders like this:

Folder for “Literacy”

  • Subfolders for: Centers, Grammar, Guided Reading, Handwriting, Phonics, Phonological Awareness, Readalouds, Shared Reading / Reading Worksop, Vocabulary, Writing

Folder for “Math”

  • Subfolders for: Number Sense, Geometry, Addition, Subtraction, Measurement, Time, Money

Of course, your subfolders will vary. But you get the picture! Create folders for science, social studies, and any other subjects you teach.

And then USE THEM! Every time you purchase a resource or download a freebie, upload it to the correct file.

If you find a helpful article while browsing Facebook, you can even upload a screenshot of it. Same thing goes for a helpful post on Instagram: screenshot it and add it to that folder!

You’ll be able to access your Google Drive or Dropbox account from your home computer, school computer, tablet, or phone so you won’t have to email yourself files anymore, either! YAY!

Once you have this all set up, you’ll feel so organized. And more importantly, you’ll save time and energy. You won’t spend so much time searching for materials!

Step 2: Create a no-fail system for processing emails.

We all get so many emails these days. If you’ve ever forgotten to respond to one, just know I’m right there with you!

Sometimes I’ll read an email and won’t have time to respond to it.

But if I’m not careful, that could mean that I never respond to it at all!

Fortunately, however, that doesn’t happen to me very often. But it’s because I have a very specific system for processing emails.

I follow these 2 simple “rules:”

  1. If I open an email, read it, and either respond / don’t need to do anything, I click “archive.” The message goes out of my inbox. It’s still saved in case I need to search for it later, but it no longer appears when I log into my email.
  2. If I open an email but can’t do anything about it in that moment (i.e. I need to ask someone a question before responding, need more time to think about my answer, etc.), I leave it in my inbox.

In a nutshell: when I’m done going through email, the only messages left in my inbox are those that I still need to respond to / do something with.

Archiving unneeded messages keeps my inbox sooo much neater! And it helps me ensure that I don’t accidentally forget to respond to a message because it gets buried by other messages.

Step 3: Use a digital calendar or to-do list with recurring tasks.

If you’re a paper planner lover, you might be thinking, “Whoa, whoa, whoa there, Alison. I just bought my 2020 planner! And it’s gorgeous!”

And I feel you! I used to be a “paper-only” kind of gal. I refused to go digital.

Until I realized that going digital made my life much easier. 😝

Here’s why I now love using a digital calendar:

  • I don’t have to worry about forgetting my planner or trying to bring it everywhere.

  • I save tons of brainpower with recurring tasks and events. There are some things I need to do every Sunday: meal prep, laundry, etc. There are some things I need to do every Thursday for lesson planning: write plans, make copies, etc. I set these up ahead of time on my digital calendar. Then I don’t have to try to remember all the things I must do! (And I’m less likely to forget something.)

  • In Google Calendar, I can have multiple calendars for the different “areas” of my life and share each calendar with different people. For instance, I have a school events calendar, a personal appointments calendar, a Learning At The Primary Pond calendar, and a Ryan family calendar. They ALL show up when I log in, so I don’t accidentally double-book myself! (Note: you don’t have to have so many different calendars. I do for practicality reasons, but you can stick to just one.)

  • I can set reminders about events and appointments. These go to my phone half an hour before the event. So handy!!

There are many options out there for digital calendars. I like using Google Calendar. Every 3 months, I go through and set up my tasks for each Sunday and Thursday (and any other days of the week). When I have a recurring event (like a meeting), I can set that up in Google Calendar to automatically repeat.

Todoist is another option for a to-do list, and you can create tasks that recur too.

Time to Get Organized!

If you use these 3 tips, I promise that you’ll spend less time searching for files and feel more “on top of” your digital life! (Honestly, implementing even just one of these tips can make a big difference!)

Which tip(s) do you plan to try? Leave me a comment below! 🙂

I love sharing organization and other teaching tips for K-2. To get those tips and freebies via email, you can sign up HERE (you’ll even get a freebie to help you get started with organizing for literacy centers / D5).

Happy organizing!!

How to Choose Word Work Activities That Are Actually Effective

Word work and phonics learning are essential components of literacy instruction. 

In fact, some kids won’t learn to read without it.

So it’s really important that we follow best practices in phonics / word study instruction AND choose effective word work activities. It’s incredibly important to our students’ success in literacy, right?

Uhhhhh, no pressure, right? 😂

But don’t stress—if you’re not sure what types of word work activities are actually effective, I’ve got you covered! 

In this blog post, I’ll show you exactly what to look for when choosing these types of activities for your K-2 students.

Word work and phonics learning are essential components of literacy instruction. So it’s really important that we choose effective word work activities. But there are soooo many out there - how can we choose?! In this blog post, I explain exactly what to look for when choosing effective word work activities for your Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade students.

Characteristic #1: Effective word work activities involve kids actually reading the words.

We don’t want our students simply completing busy work. We don’t want them copying words over and over again, without actually knowing what they say! 

So we have to build “reading practice” into our word work activities.

I like to have students read their words aloud to a partner. Students can complete this at the beginning or end of the activity—or even better, at the beginning AND end!

It’s also helpful if students are reading the same words to their partner (so they can check each others’ work). But even if they’re working on different sets of words, the read aloud practice is still beneficial.

Characteristic #2: Effective word work activities encourage attention to patterns.

The English language is a doozy…am I right?! It has many weird spelling and pronunciation quirks. 

Nevertheless, the majority of words DO follow rules and patterns, and children need to learn those rules and patterns.

“Rainbow Writing” is a popular word work activity. While it can be helpful for practicing fine motor skills, sometimes kids are just blindly copying words over and over again. They’re focused more on the colors they’re choosing—not what the words say or the spelling patterns they contain.

But we can easily fix this!! Instead of having students write words in different colors, you could instruct your students to write words into different columns. They can use a different color for each column.

ALT TEXT: Modified rainbow writing requires students to think about the patterns in words - not just copy them rotely!

This elevates the activity from rote-copying because it requires students to think about their words and patterns. 

Characteristic #3: Effective word work activities incorporate multisensory practice whenever possible.

This is one of my favorites—and one of my students’ favorites as well! 

Activities that incorporate more than one sense help many students better learn and retain material. (Plus…multisensory activities are just plain fun!!)

For example, you might have students write a phonics “chunk” or set of words in sand. As they write, they say the letters aloud (for example, they might say, “I-R says /ir/.”

This multisensory phonics activity uses sand writing to have students practice word “chunks” and spelling patterns!

Tracing + saying the letters/sounds aloud = using more than one sense!

Characteristic #4: Effective word work activities sometimes involve connections with reading and writing.

Isolated practice is important for effective phonics instruction. But so is “in context” practice!

We want our students to recognize that they are learning words SO THAT they can be strong readers and writers. 

Whenever possible, we want students to be making connections between word study + books/their own writing.

One very simple way to do this is with a word hunt. During the hunt, students search for their word work / phonics words in the books they’re reading. All students need is list paper and their book bags/boxes/bins!

During a word hunt, students make important connections between the words they’re learning and the books they’re reading! I use this activity frequently with my Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade students - it makes a great addition to centers or Daily 5!


I hope this list is helpful to you in choosing effective word work activities for your students! If you have anything to add to this list, I’d love to hear it!

If you’re looking for word work / phonics activities that require NO PREP but are also interactive, check out my Boom cards! 

Here are my Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade bundles—and you can also purchase individual skill sets.

Happy teaching!

Are Spelling Tests Good or Bad?

Have you ever been told NOT to give spelling tests?

Or heard that spelling tests aren’t a good instructional practice?

I’ve heard some misconceptions floating around about spelling tests, so I want to address those in this post!

Have you ever been told NOT to give spelling tests? Or heard that spelling tests aren't a good instructional practice? I've heard some misconceptions floating around about spelling tests, so I want to address those in this post!

Where does the idea that spelling tests are “bad” come from?

This idea refers to “traditional” spelling tests, like the ones I took when I was growing up.

Each week, we had a list of words to memorize. Sometimes there was a pattern to the words (like all long “o” words), but often not. Sometimes the words were high frequency words or related to a science/social studies list.

The expectation was that we study (at home), and then we were tested on them on Friday. 

We didn’t really do anything else with the words! We didn’t discuss phonics patterns, compare and contrast the words, or play games with them at school. 

We were just expected to memorize them—and that was that.

This, I believe, is why spelling tests have gotten a bad reputation.

This way of learning words does NOT work for many students. They simply memorize the words for the spelling test and then promptly forget them. They don’t learn about patterns in words or how to generalize those patterns to spell other, similar words. 

Also, everyone in my class was given the same spelling list. For some kids, the words were too difficult, and for other kids, the words were too easy. 

That’s another reason why spelling tests have gotten a bad reputation—because they (traditionally) were not differentiated.

What should I be doing instead of simply having kids memorize words?

I’m glad you asked! 🙂 

We need to, first and foremost, help students recognize phonics patterns in words. English—though it’s a little nutty—is made up MOSTLY of words that follow patterns. We need to teach students those patterns, as well as how to use the patterns to read and write new words.

We need to teach phonics in the context of texts, as well as out-of-context (in isolation).

We also need to teach phonics systematically and explicitly.

And we need to make sure that our phonics instruction matches students’ needs—so differentiation is essential! (A “one size fits all” spelling test for the class does not accomplish this.)

To learn more about what all this means, please read THIS POST about best practices in phonics and word study instruction!

Do spelling tests have a place in the classroom?

I believe that they do! But not “traditional” spelling tests. 

After I use the instructional practices described above, I need to see if students A) can spell the words we’ve been working on, and B) transfer that learning to spell NEW words with the same pattern.

So on a spelling test, I can ask them to spell some of our focus words, as well as a new word or two. 

I can also give different groups of students different tests! (You can read more about differentiating your phonics / spelling instruction in THIS POST.)

So…spelling tests aren’t “bad,” then?!

I don’t think so, but it all depends on how you use them!

If you need more support with teaching spelling and phonics to your K-2 students, help is on the way!! In 2020, I plan to release a new spelling and phonics program to help fill what I’ve observed to be a big need in our classrooms.

And in the meantime, check out my Boom learning digital phonics activities. They help kids practice phonics in a meaningful, interactive way!

I have these grade level bundles, but you can also purchase individual skill sets if you prefer:

Happy teaching!

How to Integrate Reading and Writing Workshop in K-2

Do you use the reading workshop AND writing workshop models in your K-2 classroom?

I love the workshop model because it:

  • Promotes student choice (which is motivating!)
  • Gives students lots of real reading and writing time—not worksheets
  • Creates time for us teachers to meet with students one-on-one or in small groups

If you’d like to learn more about the reading workshop or writing workshop model, you can watch either (or both!) of my free webinars:

Free Reading Workshop Webinar

Free Writing Workshop Webinar

But let’s say you’re already implementing both! Yay!

This is a wonderful thing, because reading and writing are reciprocal processes. When kids grow in one area, they also grow in another. So even though your reading and writing workshops are probably scheduled separately in your literacy block, they actually support each other!

In today’s post, I’ll share time-saving tricks for using both reading and writing workshop AND explain how you can help kids transfer their learning from reading to writing (and vice versa).

Do you use the reading workshop and writing workshop model in your classroom? You can use both of these models together to save time! Read this blog post for tips about integrating both models in a Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade classroom.
Photo Credits: Monkey Business Images, Shutterstock

How to Save Time With Workshop

First and foremost, I know your schedule is packed. Sometimes the school day feels like a track and field event, with you sprinting from subject to subject! And I don’t know about you, but I don’t like that feeling.

But here’s the good news: using both the reading and writing workshop models can actually help you save time. 

And you’ll save the most time if you simultaneously work on the same genre in reading AND writing workshop (as much as possible). For example, if you’re writing all-about (informational) books during writing workshop, read informational texts during reading workshop. 

This will save you time because:

  • You can use books from reading workshop for your writing workshop mentor texts. For example, let’s say that you read a fairy tale during a reading workshop minilesson. During writing workshop time, when you’re teaching students how to include a problem in the stories they’re writing, take that fairy tale and discuss the problem in it. Or show kids how the author used transition / time words in the fairy tale.
  • You can use some of the same graphic organizers in both your reading and writing activities. If students already know how to use (for example) a web from your reading minilessons, then it’ll be easier for them to use the web to plan their writing.
  • Books read during reading workshop can serve as inspiration for students’ writing. For example, sometimes kids run out of ideas or topics for nonfiction writing. If you’re reading tons of nonfiction to them, they could write about one of the topics they’ve learned about.

Not only will these strategies save you time, but your literacy block will feel so cohesive when you work on the same genre in all areas!

One caveat—sometimes opinion writing can be hard to “match” in reading workshop. As a result,  genres don’t always match up perfectly. That can be tricky.

However, if you use my writing bundles and reading bundles, the genres will match up as much as possible (assuming you start them both around the same time).

How to Help Kids Transfer Their Learning

Now let’s talk about how to help our students make connections between reading and writing workshop!

First, if you “match up” genres like I discussed in the previous section, that in itself goes a long way in helping students make connections.

Second, you’ll want to consistently model and point out how you make connections between reading and writing workshop. For example, you might say something like…

“We learned a lot about elephants during reading workshop last week, so I can take what I learned and make a nonfiction book about elephants!” or

“We’ve been talking about using adjectives in our writing, and that made me notice this adjective in our book!” or

“I’m not sure how I want to start my new story, but maybe I can find some ideas in the books we’ve read this week during reading workshop.” 

You get the idea. YOUR comments can lead them in the direction of making connections between texts.

You can also:

  • Encourage students to notice nonfiction vocabulary words in books, and then use those terms in their writing
  • Keep a basket of reading workshop books available for students to use during writing time (for ideas and inspiration)
  • Create “cross-workshop” projects where students do simple research during reading workshop and write about their research during writing workshop


Reading and writing workshop are like peanut butter and jelly—they’re awesome together! 

And they work best when we “match up” genres as much as possible. This creates a cohesive feel to your entire literacy block and encourages students to make some wonderful connections.

If you need help implementing reading workshop and writing workshop, check out my mega-bundles below. You can also purchase *just* the reading component or *just* the writing component, and those are linked on the product pages, too.

Happy teaching!

5 Myths About Implementing Reading Workshop in K-2

If your principal announced at the next staff meeting that you would be required to implement reading workshop, starting next week, would you…

  1. Jump for joy? Or 
  2. Run screaming out of the staff room? 😝

If you’re a “B,” pump those brakes, my teacher friend!

Reading workshop ISN’T as scary or complicated as it might sound. (The workshop model is actually pretty simple!)

However, I know that, at first glance, implementing reading workshop can seem intimidating. 

Maybe you’re not quite sure what reading workshop is…or how it really fits in a K-2 classroom.

So in today’s post, I’m going to dispel five myths about reading workshop!

Reading workshop ISN’T as scary or complicated as it might sound. And it’s extremely beneficial for Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade students! But you might have some misconceptions about what reading workshop is or how to implement it. Read this blog post to find out if you believe any of these myths!
Photo Credits: Molly Coulter, TeachersPayTeachers

Myth #1: Reading workshop takes up a ton of time!

In my experience, this simply isn’t true!  For example, when I was teaching Kindergarten, our entire reading workshop was 30 minutes or less!  

I’d start with a 5-10 minute mini-lesson, followed by 5 minutes of independent reading, and then 5-10 minutes of partner reading (which you could even omit!). We wrapped things up with a brief sharing time. 

You CAN implement reading workshop in only 20-30 minutes! And that mini-lesson and independent reading time will still make a big impact on your students’ learning.

Myth #2: You can’t do reading workshop with kids who can’t read yet.

Yep, you read the first myth correctly — I said I used reading workshop when I taught KINDERGARTEN!  

Maybe you thought, “Um, hello…not all children can read in Kindergarten, Alison!”

And, okay, you got me there. 

BUT – just because a student can’t read doesn’t mean they can’t engage with a book! Our little ones need to learn how to look at the pictures carefully, focus on one book at a time…all those things that happen during independent reading time.

And if your students can’t read yet, you can explicitly teach them how to look at the pictures, make up their own story from the illustrations, or use a book they know to retell a story (repetitive fairytales are great for this).  

There are SO many things that we can do with our pre-readers to help them develop a love of books and grow some basic reading stamina!

Myth #3: You can’t do reading workshop AND centers.

I’ve talked with many teachers who are trying to choose between centers (or Daily 5) and workshop. And I say…why choose?!

As I mentioned in Myth #1, reading workshop can be done in a relatively short amount of time. You can do it before or after your centers / Daily 5. 

I do realize, however, that this depends on your schedule. Some teachers truly may not have time to do both. 

But the reason why I think it IS valuable to do both has to do with students’ reading time.

In the centers / Daily 5 model, students may all be doing different activities at once. Students who are reading independently may become distracted by noisier partner games and other activities going on in the classroom.

On the other hand, during reading workshop, the WHOLE class can read at the same time. Even if it’s just for 5-15 minutes, students are all reading, and all (relatively) quiet. Some kids really need that calm atmosphere in order to focus.

Myth #4: Reading workshop = no guided reading.

I’ve also spoken to teachers who are trying to choose between reading workshop and guided reading. They’ve heard that reading workshop involves only one-on-one conferences with students.

But guess what?

One size does NOT fit all! You can make reading workshop your own. Reading workshop gives you the flexibility to make decisions based upon your class size, students’ needs, and schedule.

I believe that a combination of small group instruction and one-on-one instruction is most beneficial for students. Since I do centers at another time of the literacy block, I pull small groups during that time. During our (short) independent reading time that’s part of reading workshop, I do one-on-one conferences.

Even if you don’t have a separate centers or Daily 5 time, maybe you do a few small groups each day, followed by a couple of one-on-one conferences.

Click HERE for more ideas about balancing both types of instruction.

Myth #5: Reading workshop means only silent, independent reading.

While I do think having 5-10 minutes of whisper-reading or independent-reading is important – that’s not ALL that reading workshop is.  

In fact, social interaction is — in my opinion — one of the most important parts of reading workshop! 

Students can partner read, talk with a peer about what they’ve read independently, or even do some reading projects together.

This is incredibly motivating to students, and it encourages them to read MORE!

As adults, we tell our families, friends, and colleagues about what we read — and students should have those same opportunities. 

Reading workshop is about so much more than “silent,” independent reading!


Have I inspired you to re-think reading workshop at all? I hope so, because I really believe in it!

Implementing reading workshop helps us prioritize student reading time. And more reading time is strongly correlated with higher reading achievement!

But if you still have some doubts or confusion about what reading workshop is — and how to implement it — I’d like to invite you to sign up for my free webinar. 

It’s a recording that I show regularly because it’s been so popular! In the video, I walk you through exactly how to implement reading workshop in your K-2 classroom.

You can sign up for free HERE!

Happy teaching!

A Day in the Life of a Special Education Teacher

Have you ever considered becoming a special education teacher?

Or maybe you’re already a teacher, but you teach in a general education classroom and wonder what a special education teacher does during the day?

This post will give you an inside look at a day in the life of a special education teacher!

I couldn’t write this post on my own, though! Even though I’ve worked with numerous students with special needs, I’m a reading specialist and not a certified special education teacher.

So Amy McDonald, a special education teacher from Newfoundland, has generously volunteered to share her experiences with us!!

She’s written a guest post to tell us all about what a “typical” day is like for her. Amy also shared how she uses my resources (Learning At The Primary Pond blog posts, webinars, and materials) in her role.

Thanks so much for writing this, Amy! Let’s dive in!

Ever wondered what it's like to be a special education teacher? This blog post will give you an inside look at a day in the life of a special education teacher!
Photo Credits: wavebreakmedia, Shutterstock

The Special Education Teacher: A Key Member for Successful Literacy Instruction

About Me:

Hello all, my name is Amy McDonald. I am a third year special education teacher in St. John’s, Newfoundland in Canada. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Education (focusing on Primary/Elementary and literacy instruction) and a Bachelor’s degree in Special Education. While still early in my career, I have had opportunities to work with students ages 4-15 in the capacity of a general and special education teacher. This past year, I worked in the special education department of two local elementary schools. Both schools follow an inclusion based model. This means that students spend most of the day in the general classroom, where I come in to support their learning. Occasionally, I pull them out to work in my resource room. Between both schools, there were 31 students on my caseload, the majority having social-emotional and/or literacy learning needs. As well, several of my students were on the Autism Spectrum, and many were English Language Learners. 

The Role of a Special Education Teacher

Many classroom teachers see Special Education colleagues going in and out of classrooms, collecting groups of students, walking the halls with students who have severe social-emotional or behavioral concerns, and inside resource rooms teaching “their” students. But there is so much more to what we do! Like classroom teachers, we have a schedule to follow. However, we have to be extremely flexible to meet the academic, physical, and emotional needs of the students we support. A large part of our job is teaching in a collaborative manner in order for all students to be successful. That means a lot of communicating, planning, and following up with classroom teachers, reading specialists, speech-language pathologists, guidance counselors, English second language teachers, student and teacher assistants, administrators, other special education teachers, parents and guardians, and possibly outside agents. Primarily, I teach within the classroom, bringing my lessons and materials with me. However, there are times I pull individuals or small groups out to my resource room for concentrated instruction or assessment. Whatever interventions are used with the student, by both the classroom teacher and myself, it is my job to document it in the appropriate paperwork. It is also a part of my job to ensure these interventions follow the individualized education plan in place, and to ensure the student is receiving appropriate accommodations for instruction and assessment within the general education classroom.

The key for student success is constant communication and collaboration between myself and classroom teachers. Twice a month, or as needed, I meet with my special education team. We discuss interventions used with specific students, any strengths or areas of concern, and gather further suggestions of activities or research which may be used. A “typical” day for a special educator is very busy and extremely flexible. 

An Example of a “Typical” Day

What I am about to present to you is just one example of a day in my role as a special education teacher. Other special educators may have quite a different day, especially if they work primarily in a resource room or with students with pervasive needs. It is important to note that while I worked at two school sites, I would spend the entire day at one site most days.

7:45-8:10 am: I sit down at my desk to look over the plan for today. I do final preparation of the work needed for the day, and check emails from administration, other teachers, and parents. If I have time, I begin planning for the upcoming days.

8:10-8:30 am: The first bell rings and doors open. I do not have morning duty today, so I have time to check to see if the students I work with are present, check in with teachers, assist with any arising behavior concerns, and drink my coffee.

8:30-9:00 am: I check in with the students who have social emotional learning needs who are on my caseload. These students need assistance with their morning routines to settle in, need to be provided with a sensory break in the resource room (when needed),  and may need targeted interventions to deal with emotions or social behaviors. 

9:00-9:30 am: I am assisting during the literacy block centers in the grade one classroom. I especially love collaborating with this teacher! We are able to have open conversations, support one another easily, and share our resources. Her literacy block centers are amazing! We both follow Learning at the Primary Pond, and she runs her literacy block with much influence from Alison. Students rotate between 4-5 centers in mixed-ability groups, with a choice of activities to complete at each center. She runs a guided reading table in the back, which is not a center students rotate to. Rather, she pulls students from their groups, when needed. Similarly, I work with students requiring extra support at a table at the front of the room. We plan together to ensure we are not planning to work with individual students for intensive instruction at the same time. That way, all students are seen, and students with great difficulties can work with both of us and independently during this hour. Sometimes I bring students to the resource room to complete more involved lessons from literacy-based programs purchased by our district. For the first 30 minutes I work one-on-one with a student who was considered a pre-reader when I began with him. We focus on phonological awareness tasks and letter-sound association. After completing my lesson, I fill out a daily intervention record. The classroom teacher is between guided reading groups, and she pops over to tell me some wonderful news about this student. She has observed great improvement in his reading abilities! At the beginning of the year, he was a non-reader. He knew most letter names, few phonemes, and a couple of sight words. Just yesterday, he was able to decode and comprehend a “D” level text, reading with great fluency. We know he is not yet at grade level, but we are happy all the same. We take a moment to watch him settle into his word work activity, clink our coffee mugs in a celebratory cheers, and head back to work smiling. 

9:30-10:00 am: Next, I have a group of four grade one students working on developing their decoding strategies. Today our focus is on chunking unknown words into familiar pieces. Reflecting on what I have learned from Learning at the Primary Pond webinars, I follow an I do, We do, You do model to introduce the concept. Two of the students catch on to this strategy quickly. We will further explore this strategy in upcoming sessions. 

10:15-11:15: After a recess break, I head to the grade two classroom to provide support during their literacy block. I have some activities planned for the students I work with; however, the teacher needs me to change the routine today. She asks me to work on an independent process writing piece assessment with one of our students. This is a boy on the Autism spectrum, who has attention issues and severe behavioral concerns at times. He has been extremely frustrated working on this piece in the classroom. Myself and a student assistant bring him to my resource room for a quiet space where he can take needed sensory breaks. I encourage him to take his brainstorming ideas and develop it into a good first draft. While I cannot help him with spelling, grammar, etc., I am able to guide him through the writing process while keeping him calm and focused. At the end of the period, I talk with the classroom teacher, and we plan to continue working on this in the resource room over the next week. 

11:15-11:30: This is my prep period. During this period I am busy planning and prepping, but I must keep my cell phone close in case I am needed to assist with any issues or provide a student with a supervised break. 

12:30-1:30: After a lovely lunch break, I go to the conference room for a team meeting with the special education teachers and administration. The meeting is a great chance for us to check in, discuss students’ progress, and plan for the upcoming weeks.

1:30-2:30: I check back in with the students in grade one who have social-emotional learning needs. I provide in-class support as many are struggling with a mini-science research project. Students are gathering information about an assigned animal from books, videos, and online articles and creating a poster about their animal. Many of the students I work with are overwhelmed with gathering relevant information and organizing it in a meaningful way.

After 2:30 dismissal: I check in with the classroom teachers about our plans for tomorrow. Then I finish my planning, photocopying, replying to emails I received after lunch, and look for some new activities online.


Much of the blogs, webinars, and overall information Learning at the Primary Pond provides is geared toward general education teachers. However, I find it very useful in my role. It is important to be up to date on literacy best practices to collaborate effectively. If I haven’t stressed it enough already, remember that open, honest, and frequent communication between classroom and special education teachers is essential for student success! 

Thank you so very much for this post, Amy! If you have any questions for her, please feel free to leave them below.

Happy teaching!

How to Set Up a “Must-Do / May-Do” System for Managing Literacy Centers

Have you ever heard of a “must-do” / “may-do” system? It’s a strategy for managing your literacy centers.

It can help you ensure that students accomplish certain things during centers time but also have some choice in other tasks!

Personally, I’ve only used a must-do / may-do system during one school year. I’ve done a more traditional centers rotation for most other years.

But if you’ve heard me speak on a webinar or read my other blog posts, then you know that I’m always saying, “There’s no one right way to do things in your classroom.” That includes centers, and for today’s post, I’m absolutely thrilled to be able to share how another teacher runs her centers!!

Teacher and blog reader Mollie P. wrote us an article about how she uses a must-do / may-do system to manage her centers. But she actually doesn’t start the year like this—she progresses to it later on. (Love this!!) Keep reading to learn her awesome tips and strategies!

A must-do / may-do system for literacy centers helps ensure that students accomplish certain things during centers time, but also have some choice in other tasks! Read this blog post to learn how to set up this centers management system in your Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade classroom.

Here’s what Mollie has to say:

First off, let me say thanks to the amazing Alison Ryan for allowing me to guest blog with her! I could write an entire post about how her webinars and TpT products have inspired my literacy instruction, but today I’m focusing on literacy centers. I’m no expert, but in my short four years of teaching, I’ve tried countless different approaches to centers and finally found what works for me—so I hope it’s helpful for you too! Especially if you’ve ever felt like this:

At the beginning of the year, I use timed rotations, and then transition to a must-do/may-do system later in the year. Keep reading for tips on timed rotations, or scroll on down if you’re only interested in the must-do/may-do system.

My timed rotations are a modified version of the Daily 5. I actually have 7 stations, since I added time on iStation, which is our standardized testing platform as well as individualized instruction.  I also added a resource called Listen and Learn by Mrs. Oldham, which every student does every day to reinforce our phonics pattern. I still have a more traditional Listen to Reading center with books on CD, an Epic books account, and QR codes, which my students get every other day. In the example below, it alternates with their Technology Center time on iStation. They also alternate between Independent/Partner Reading and Word Work/Writing every other day. I’ll refer back to this example rotation chart to help you make sense of the tips below!

Tip #1: Groups of 2 or 3! One year I tried to use the Daily 5 with more fidelity, but having just 5 centers meant that 4 or 5 students were in each center. The volume level was higher, and there was more off-task behavior even though that year was my best-behaved class overall! Separating them out around the room really helps keep things quiet and focused. However, I’ve had no problems letting bigger groups use technology at the same time because they all have headphones. In the example above, all 5 students in the same row go to Listen and Learn at the same time, then separate again for the other centers.

Tip #2: You are not a center! This lets you mix up the groups so the kids can work with others at different ability levels. In the example above, the names are color-coded by ability level (not my real students’ names—just characters from Friends and The Flash J). The sweet little strugglers in red and orange can see fluent reading and writing modeled by their peers, but the blues and greens can still be challenged by providing differentiated word lists, writing paper, books, etc. When I meet with a group, I can pull whoever I need from whatever they’re doing. This is key to making your groups flexible! I used to group students for instruction based on DRA only, but I’ve recently learned that it can be more beneficial to group kids with the same specific needs in phonological awareness and phonics. This way, I can easily change my groups to fit whatever skills we’re working on. And since I’m not a center, I’m not limited by the timer so I can keep some groups longer than others.

Tip #3: Use a timer! I found that these visual timers I downloaded (for free!) from really helped my students manage their time in the center and work harder to finish tasks as they saw time running out. It also helped me see whether the time limit matched my students’ needs or how much time was left when most students were at a good stopping point. Eventually, we reached a point when the time limits just weren’t appropriate for all my students. Then I decided we were ready to change to a must-do/may-do system I had seen in a classroom down the hall.

Tip #4: Increase their independence throughout the year. I can’t tell you exactly when or what your class will need, but my first-graders last year were ready for more independence around January. Instead of timed rotations, I started giving them an order of activities to complete at their own pace. We have flexible seating, so they can spread out around the room and all start working with their words at the same time. Whenever they finish, they get a Chromebook to complete an individualized reading activity on iStation, and then an assignment on Vocabulary Spelling City. I love this website and think it’s worth the subscription because I can create assignments quickly, differentiate them for each student if needed, and get immediate data on exactly which words each student is missing! I am blessed with a class set of Chromebooks, which helps this system run more smoothly, but I can see it working with less technology too because all the students finish the word work activity at different times. And since their last “must-do” is to read, you could always have them start reading while waiting for a turn on a device.

Tip #5: Give them choices! My favorite part of the must-do/may-do system is the may-do time! Besides giving my students choices, it also motivates them to finish the “must-do” assignments and use their time wisely. Classroom management win! Almost everyone in my class last year said that they preferred this system over the timed rotations. They can still choose to read with a buddy, use the manipulatives to build words, or listen to books, but they’re much more focused and on-task since they’ve worked to earn those choices. They rarely choose to work on writing, but we have a whole-class writing workshop at another time. (I have Alison’s reading comprehension and writing curriculum bundle, and it’s fantastic!) So, they still have access to all of the Daily 5 components, but in a format that’s working better for us. I will say that I’m not sure first-graders would be successful with this much independence at the beginning of the year, so I start in the fall with timed rotations and transition to must-do/may-do as they mature. I hope you can experiment with some of the ideas in this blog and let me know what works for you!

Mollie, thanks so much for sharing your knowledge and experiences with us!! The idea of adapting your schedule throughout the year is something that I do frequently, and I’ve seen really good results with it.

Do you use a must-do / may-do system for centers? Or another type of system? I’d love to have you share in the comments!

And if you’re looking for “done for you” centers materials that are organized, engaging for K-2 students, and come with lesson plans to teach the centers, check out my literacy center bundles HERE.

Happy teaching!!

Classroom Management Strategies for Challenging Behaviors

Do your students’ disruptive behaviors wear you out? Do you ever find yourself wishing you could just TEACH instead of constantly manage behavior?

If so, this post is for you (and you’re in good company)! I’ve heard of so many teachers completely quitting the profession because they were worn out from dealing with behavior issues.

And I sure don’t blame them. Handling challenging behaviors can be truly exhausting. I’ve certainly had some rough years…including some mornings where I sat in my car, not wanting to get out, just dreading what the day might bring!

There are always some extreme situations (I’ve been there), but generally speaking, using effective classroom management practices really helps create a positive, well-functioning classroom. And that’s what this post is all about!

In this post, I’ll share the 4 principles I “live” by when it comes to classroom management. I’m also SUPER excited to share tips from two different Learning At The Primary Pond blog readers and teachers—Carly and Deanna!

It truly takes a village! I hope all these strategies are helpful to you!

Let’s start with my personal top 4 principles for classroom management. These principles guide everything I do in the classroom! (Although if I’m working with a student who has special needs, I may have to modify my normal routine in order to accommodate the child.)

#1: Be loving yet firm.

You can create the most positive, welcoming classroom environment ever — but still refuse to tolerate disrespectful, unkind, and dangerous behavior.

From the beginning of the school year, I want my students to:

  • Celebrate each other, and
  • Treat each other with kindness

I work hard to model kindness, point out students’ strengths and good behavior, and just generally create a positive place for kids to be all day. (I work especially hard at this at the beginning of the school year!!)

However, if a child does or says something unkind, my immediate response is to firmly say something like this: “We do not treat people that way. Saying _______ can make other people feel _____. How can we fix this?”

As the year goes on, we have more in-depth conversations about feelings surrounding conflicts. But at the beginning of the year, I feel that I need to quickly “nip things in the bud” and firmly send the message that our classroom is not a place where we treat others badly.

Same thing when it comes to dangerous behaviors: I address those behaviors immediately and follow up with a consequence. Principle #2 has more details about that!

#2: Be clear, consistent, and follow through.

After you and your students agree upon your classroom rules and expectations, be consistent about enforcing them. It’s not a good idea to let something slide because it’s Friday…or because you’re tired. (Especially not at the beginning of the school year!)

Your students need to learn that they are going to be held to a high standard. You don’t have to expect perfection or constantly punish kids. But once your students learn that you mean business, they will take the rules and expectations more seriously!

For example, let’s say you have a special activity planned that involves modeling clay. Be clear by stating the expectations up front about how students should use the clay. Also, state any consequences for not using the clay appropriately (i.e., having to take a time-out from the activity and do something else instead). Then, follow through. For example, if a student is throwing clay or intentionally dropping it on the floor, immediately have him/her stop using the clay—at least for a little while. If another student makes the same mistake, give them the same consequence (consistency).

Principle #2 basically comes down to this: say what you mean, and mean what you say!

#3: Maintain a “spirit of teaching.”

Just like I don’t get upset if my first graders can’t read yet at the beginning of the school year, I don’t get upset if my students don’t always behave appropriately.

You may not have a curriculum or standards for behavior, but teaching behavior is an important part of being a teacher!

If you spend lots of time teaching expectations at the beginning of the year (and really focus on Principles #1 and 2), the amount of behavior-teaching you have to do should decrease as the year goes on. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t have to revisit expectations…and sometimes frequently!

#4: Keep it fun!

Classroom management can be fun for everyone!!

Sometimes when my kiddos are talking too loudly, I’ll start singing a song they know. This is more effective than trying to talk over them or get their attention—and it’s fun!

I also like to involve the kids in working together to meet behavior goals. I keep a jar and add marbles to it whenever I see the entire group behaving positively. (I also explain WHY I’m adding marbles to the jar.) For example, if a specials teacher gives them a compliment, I might add marbles to the jar. Or if students are on-task and working quietly during centers, I might add marbles to the jar.

Sometimes I take marbles out of the jar (and also explain why I’m doing it).

When the jar is full, we enjoy some kind of celebration or special treat!

Those were my 4 principles! Now let’s hear from two awesome teachers and blog readers!

Carly’s Tips

Hey there, teacher friends!

My name is Carly Kleckner and I am a kindergarten teacher in a mid-sized district in Pennsylvania. Last year, I embarked on a journey of learning more about working with students that exhibit challenging behaviors in the classroom, and I’d love to take a few minutes to share some of what I learned. Hopefully, you will find something that you can use to help ease some difficulties in the classroom in the upcoming year. 

Working on challenging behaviors begins with connection.

One of the most memorable things that I learned from a professor in college was to “make every student think he or she is your favorite student.” Now, this is not the same thing as picking favorites. It means that we need to treat all students with kindness, be patient, and show interest in each student in the classroom. We must know our students and tailor problem-solving to their interests. In my classroom this year, I used Pokemon as a connection point with one of my most challenging students. He responded when he saw that I was interested in him and his interests.

Challenging behaviors are not personal attacks on us as teachers.

Yes, you read that right. Students that exhibit challenging behaviors are not intending to make our lives miserable as teachers. One of my favorite voices in the field of behavior management is Dayna Abraham from because she helped me see that “Behavior is always communication.” When a student is throwing a fit, yelling, or talking back, they are telling you that something is going on. The problem is that they haven’t learned to communicate what is wrong, so they act out as a result. One of the best ways that you can respond to challenging behavior is by taking time to empathize with the student and demonstrate appropriate forms of communication.

Behavior deficits are no different than academic deficits.

Academic deficits are often seen in a different way than behavior deficits because of the way challenging behaviors often feel like personal attacks. Greene (2014) explains that students who demonstrate challenging behaviors are lacking the necessary skills to behave differently. Greene also provides information about identifying lacking skills on his website at The key to working on challenging behaviors involves identifying these areas of need and working skill instruction into the curriculum. I utilized a social skills curriculum from West (n.d.) to help build some of these necessary skills with my students last year.

Plan for your response to challenging behaviors the same way you plan for other aspects of your day.

When we try to take challenging behaviors as they come, we end up keeping our fingers crossed that we will have a good day. Instead, make a plan for how you will deal with challenging behaviors. Abraham suggests having one phrase, one action and one tool in place to use with a child in times of difficulty. My kiddo needed his space, so I would tell him “I’m going to give you some room and time to calm down. You can come to get me or use our secret signal (hands in a circle overhead like he was holding a Pokeball) when you’d like me to come back over.” My action was to lightly touch his shoulder so that he knew I was there, and I would give him his noise-canceling headphones or a squish ball before I walked away. These pieces need to be specific to the individual child, and it’s even better if the child can help you come up with the item that you will give them.

Throughout this year and all of my learning, I realized the
importance of getting to know each child individually. Knowing a child’s
strengths, weaknesses, and interests can help you know how to handle unexpected
behaviors. I hope that you are looking forward to the start of a new school
year and that you now have some new ideas about working with challenging
behaviors in the classroom.


Greene, R. W. (2014). Lost at school: Why our kids with behavioral challenges are falling through the gaps and how we can help them. New York, NY: Scribner.

West, T. (n.d.). KinderSocialSkills: Kindergarten Social Skill Curriculum. Retrieved from

Deanna’s Tips

My name is Deanna and I have read many of Alison’s blog posts, attended her webinars on various topics, and purchased some of her classroom resources on TpT. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to write a blurb on one of her blog posts about finding different classroom management strategies to use with students even when they have challenging behaviors.

I work in a multi-age setting with Kindergarten and 1st grade students, so I have a wide variety or personalities and student behaviors within my room. At the beginning of each year, the most important thing for me to do, in order to have a successful classroom, is to get the students involved with creating our expectations of what we want to see in our classroom to make it successful. I feel if the students are involved and have a say in what they want the classroom to look like, feel like, and their expectations, then they will follow them the entire year instead of just the first month. The students take ownership of the classroom and will remember how the classroom should run when they help contribute, instead of me just talking at them. As a group, they create posters on our expectations, we sign them, and then I hang them where they can be referenced anytime they need a reminder.

A new strategy I tried last year and will continue going forward is adding QR codes that go to videos of students showing the expectations. Instead of publicly calling students out for behaviors we quietly will point to the sign and say if anyone is having a hard time with our expectations please reference the poster or take a break in our zen zone to watch the video.

Another behavior management strategy that I have implemented many times is a positive choice book. Inside the book is a schedule of our day with three boxes for pictures or words on what positive choices can be made during each part of our day. At the beginning of each day, the student who needs the book, brainstorms with me ideas of what positive choices or what work needs to be done during each part of our day. It works as a checklist for that student and helps them to stay focused. The positive choice book is for students who need the extra communication home and to check in with their behaviors during the day to help them visually see how they are doing.

When students become disregulated in our classroom, another management strategy that we have is our Zen Zone. A fellow teacher friend of mine named a calm area of her classroom the Zen Zone, so I brought that into our classroom as a place for students to go to help calm down before we talk about what made them disregulated. It’s an opportunity for them to practice strategies from our calming book to help their emotions, watch 3-5 min calming videos, using calming tools, or draw a picture. There is a timer for 5 minutes in there that students set and when it goes off we then talk about what happened. This has worked for each and every student in my classroom, not just the students who have a harder time with their emotions or behaviors on a regular basis. I look forward to continuing to improve and add things to our Zen Zone next year.

One of the last strategies I have tried in order to connect with my students is the 2×10 strategy; meaning for 2 weeks straight I set aside 10 minutes of uninterrupted time to just talk with one student. I try to get through each of my students throughout year with this strategy and use it more with students who are more challenging. This has helped each student feel welcome and important in our classroom.


Thank you so much to Deanna and Carly for sharing their wonderful tips with us!! If you have any awesome behavior management strategies of your own, I’d love to hear them.

Happy teaching!

How to Use Predictable Charts to Teach Early Reading Skills

Have you ever seen (or created) a chart with your students that looks something like this?

Predictable charts are great for Kindergarten (or even preschool or first grade) to teach sight words, alphabet letters, print concepts, and more! Read the post to learn how to create a predictable chart and what to do with it after it's finished.

This is an example of a “predictable chart.” It’s predictable because the sentence frame is the same in each sentence (in this case, it’s just the word “likes”).

Why Use Predictable Charts?

The main reason why I love creating predictable charts is because it gives students the experience of saying something out loud, writing it down, and then reading it back.

This helps them understand what reading and writing are all about – even if they can’t read and write yet!

Predictable charts are also awesome for teaching:

  • Print concepts (i.e. writing left to right, leaving spaces between words, concept of a word / sentence, etc.)
  • Alphabet letters
  • High frequency words
  • And more!

The class works together to create the chart, so the kids enjoy the experience and take ownership of the chart. After the chart is created, there’s SO many things you can do with it – including create center activities from it!

How Do You Create a Predictable Chart?

To create a predictable chart, choose a sentence frame to use over and over.

You might incorporate students’ names into the sentence frame, like the example in the photo at the beginning of this post.

Here are a few other examples of predictable charts that include student names:

(Name) can (action word). – Nina can jump. Michael can run.

(Name) is (number) years old. – Nina is 5 years old. Michael is 6 years old.

(Name) goes to (place). – Nina goes to the library. Michael goes to the toy store.

(Name) likes to eat (food). – Nina likes to eat pizza. Michael likes to eat tacos.

There are so many options!

Here are a few other topics that don’t involve students’ names (these can be quicker to create because you don’t have to have a sentence for every child in your class:

We see _________. – We see a tree. We see the playground.

We went _________. We went on a bus. We went to the farm.

Once you’ve chosen your topic, write a title for the chart and share it with the class.

If you’re using students’ names in the chart, call on a child, help him/her come up with a sentence, and then have the whole class repeat the sentence together.

Then, write the sentence on the chart as the class slowly repeats it for you. Read the sentence with students once more. And then move onto the next child’s sentence!

(Plan for a break halfway through unless you have a very small class!)

If your chart does not involve students’ names, introduce the sentence frame. Then, have students raise their hands to suggest sentences for the chart. Record each sentence (students should be repeating each sentence aloud twice) and then read it with students.

With any type of chart, you’ll want to:

  1. Keep the writing process relatively quick – you might point out a capital letter or a high frequency word, but you’re not teaching anything in-depth unless your chart is going to be VERY short!
  2. Reread the entire chart chorally (with students) when the chart is complete.
  3. Save the chart for other follow-up activities!

What Can You Do With a Finished Chart?

Once you’ve created the chart, you can use it for so many other activities! You might…

  • Have students hunt for specific words or letters in the chart
  • Highlight parts of a sentence, like capital letters and periods
  • Turn each sentence into a page of a class book and have each child illustrate a page (place it in the classroom library once it’s finished)
  • Have students practice rereading the chart with a pointer (easy center activity!)
  • Have students match pictures to each sentence

You could even copy the chart over onto sentence strips and cut apart the words. Students can match pictures or alphabet letters to the chart. You can mix up the words in a sentence and have students put the sentence back in order.

Predictable charts are great for Kindergarten (or even preschool or first grade) to teach sight words, alphabet letters, print concepts, and more! Read the post to learn how to create a predictable chart and what to do with it after it's finished (like this pocket chart activity!).

The possibilities are endless, and you can even create entire phonics lessons from a chart!

Speaking of phonics…do you teach Kindergarten and need a phonics freebie? I’ve got a yearlong guide to teaching phonics in Kindergarten that includes a scope and sequence! Grab it for free here:

How do you use predictable charts in the classroom? Leave a comment below!

You can also pin this post to save it for predictable chart ideas in the future!

Predictable charts for Kindergarten can be used to teach writing, sight words, the alphabet, print concepts, and more! Read the post to get ideas for making predictable charts with your students.

Happy teaching!

Grammar ALIVE! A 3-Part Approach for Engaging, Relevant Grammar Instruction in K-2

Do you want to make your grammar instruction more fun and engaging for your K-2 students?

Are you desperate to figure out how to get your kids to actually REMEMBER and APPLY the grammar and conventions rules you teach?

Teaching grammar is difficult, I know!! Coming out of my undergraduate teacher prep program, I really had no idea how to teach it.

I mean, I knew what grammar drills were…but I wasn’t sure how to get kids to apply their learning to their writing. I wasn’t sure which skills were appropriate to teach at each grade level. And I wasn’t sure how to make grammar relevant to my reading and writing instruction.

Not gonna lie…in some years, my grammar and conventions instruction just did not cut it. (Sorry, kids!! 😭😭)

I was determined to fix that, though. I’ve done a lot of learning about effective grammar instruction and how to directly integrate it into my writing instruction.

Plus, I’ve learned how to keep lessons fun and appropriate for our youngest students!

And now, I’m SO excited to share what I’ve learned with you — in my “Grammar ALIVE!” 3-part approach!

This approach will help you teach your students grammar rules and conventions (punctuation, capitalization, parts of speech, etc.). It’ll keep your kids engaged and follow best practices in grammar instruction!

What are the 3 parts in the approach?

The 3 stages are…

  • Explore
  • Practice
  • Apply

It’s basically the gradual release of responsibility model, but it looks a little different from other literacy skills. Keep reading to learn more about each stage!

Where did this 3-part process come from?

As I explained above, it was hard for me to figure out how to make grammar instruction engaging and effective. For many of us teachers, the grammar activities we did growing up do NOT match best practices in grammar instruction.

I wanted to make sure that my grammar instruction was fun, relevant, primary-friendly, and grounded in best practices—and I couldn’t find a resource that accomplished all of this. So, since about 2011, I’ve been working on my “Grammar Alive!” approach and activities!

Is this really relevant for Kindergarten?

Yes! I use these three basic stages with my Kinders, but the activities look a little different than they do in 1st and 2nd grade. I like to make sure that my grammar activities are embedded in Kinder-appropriate, fun literacy activities that I already include in our everyday activities. At the end of the post, I’ve included a Kindergarten example so you can see exactly what I mean!

Okay, let’s dive in!

Do you want to make your grammar instruction more fun and engaging for your K-2 students? Are you desperate to figure out how to get your kids to actually REMEMBER and APPLY the grammar and conventions rules you teach? In this post, I share a 3-part approach to help you teach your students grammar rules and conventions (punctuation, capitalization, parts of speech, etc.). It'll keep your kids engaged and follow best practices in grammar instruction!
Photo Credits: muk woothimanop, Shutterstock

Stage 1: Explore

In this stage, students are—literally—getting to know the convention or grammar rule.

During this stage, we want to show students examples of the convention used correctly. We want to show them how authors use the convention in real texts.

Possible activities for this stage (you may or may not use all of these activities for every skill you teach, but I always recommend doing at least the first two):

  • Show students examples of sentences with the convention, including some examples from texts students are already familiar with
  • Discuss WHY writers use the convention, what effect it has on the reader, and how it can change the meaning of text
  • Compare and contrast sentences that use the convention, discussing how they are alike and different
  • Read aloud a picture book about the convention
  • Do a “Highlight What’s Right” activity where students identify examples of the convention used correctly
  • Engage students in hands-on practice activities or activities involving physical movement

How long does this stage last?

It really depends. If it’s a writing convention or grammar rule that students already learned in previous years, maybe this stage only lasts 1 day. Or maybe it’s something super challenging and it lasts a week and a half or more! In my experience, most skills fall somewhere in the 1-3 day range.

Stage 2: Practice

In this stage, students have seen enough examples of the convention and are ready to try it out, in an isolated setting, with support.

Possible activities for this stage (you may or may not use all of them, but I recommend at least doing the first four):

  • Model how to write a sentence that uses the convention (may need to model more than once)
  • Have students ORALLY come up with a similar sentence and discuss how they plan to use the convention in it (if applicable; going straight to writing may be best in some cases)
  • Have students work independently or with a partner to write a sentence that uses the convention (students may be imitating teacher’s sentence to some degree)
  • Discuss how texts would be different if the convention were not used, or if it were used differently
  • Play a game or engage in some activity that involves more practice

How long does this stage last?

Again, it varies, depending on your class and what skill you’re working on. I usually allow for 2-4 practice opportunities.

Stage 3: Apply

It’s tempting to rush this stage, but don’t! Students really need to be familiar with the convention and have had supportive practice opportunities before we ask them to apply the skill to their own writing.

In this stage, students begin by adding sentence(s) to their own writing that go along with the skill. Later, they’re asked to edit some of their writing, applying their knowledge of the skill.

Possible activities for this stage:

  • Model how you add a sentence with the target convention to a sample piece of writing you’ve been working on
  • Students make suggestions for adding sentences to a class piece of writing or a sample created by you
  • Students work independently or with partners to add sentences to their own writing (with your guidance)
  • Students help you edit a class piece of writing or a sample created by you, using the target convention/rule
  • Students work with partners to edit their own writing for the target convention/rule
  • As a class, you add the convention to students’ editing checklist (note that this comes last!)

How long does this stage last?

‘Till kids can actually apply something to their writing? Approximately…forever! 😂

Just kidding.

But in all seriousness, even though you may set aside 1-2 days for the main activities, you’ll likely be working with students on the target skill for the rest of the school year. All of this takes time, and plenty of it!

The Research

To read more about the best practices that this 3-part approach is based on (and see a list of reference texts with great information), please check out this post.

Examples (Freebies!)

I thought it would be helpful to share some Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade examples with you so that you can see what these stages look like on a concrete level (especially with Kinder, as it’s a bit different).

Each free week of plans is designed to be taught mid-way through the school year. This means that the lessons before it are easier (especially for Kinder), and some of the lessons after it may be a bit harder. I’ve included a scope and sequence in each file, too.

Click below to download an example of each!




Get the complete program!

If you want to make grammar come ALIVE for your students (and stop spending time worrying about it and planning for it!), grab my Kindergarten, 1st grade, or 2nd grade “Grammar Alive!” program. Click any image below to read more about it!

Happy teaching!