Ideas for Teaching Grammar When Your Time is Limited

Grammar feels like it’s taken a backseat these days.

When I was in school, we worked on grammar every day. We had a (very boring) grammar textbook. It was a pretty big part of our instruction.

In many schools, things have changed since then. And for the better! Traditional grammar instruction has been shown to be ineffective. (You can read more about what type of grammar instruction IS effective in this blog post.)

Anyway, grammar does matter – but sometimes it can be hard to fit in, especially when we need to work on other literacy skills that can feel more pressing.

So how can we make time for grammar instruction when our time is limited? Keep on reading for some simple, do-right-away ideas!

Do you struggle to find the time to teach grammar? Teaching grammar is crucial, but it can be hard to fit it in. So, how can you include grammar into your busy schedule? Read this blog post for tips on how to integrate grammar instruction when your time is limited.
Photo Credits: Mangkorn Danggura, Shutterstock

Integrate Grammar Instruction Into Writing Instruction

Working on grammar as you work on writing A) can save time, and B) is a best practice for teaching grammar!

The whole point of teaching grammar is so that kids become strong writers (and speakers). So it only makes sense that at least some grammar instruction take place directly in the context of writing.

For example, let’s say we want to teach our students about adjectives.

If we’re working on narrative writing, we can teach our students how to describe their characters using different adjectives. You might introduce the concept, do a hands-on activity if time permits, brainstorm examples, and then have students add them into their stories. (This could also take place over 2 different lessons.)

If we’re working on opinion writing, we can teach students to use adjectives to describe their topic in a way that helps the reader understand their opinion. (Examples: The movie was funny or peas are disgusting.)

Or, if we’re working on informational writing, we can teach students to use adjectives to teach the reader about their topic. (Examples: Giraffes are very tall or we play basketball with an orange ball.)

In these examples, we’re teaching kids grammar (adjectives), but we’re also teaching them how to improve their writing.

You can learn more about how to integrate grammar instruction into your writing instruction in this blog post.

Try Quick Transition Activities

Kids tend to need a lot of practice and review to really absorb grammar skills. But you may not have time for a grammar lesson each day.

When you want to review a concept but don’t have much time, try one of these quick transition activities:

Transition Activity: What’s the Pattern?

In this activity, you write 3-4 sentences on the board. (Or you can type them and display them using a projector or interactive board – that’s even quicker!)

All of the sentences should be written correctly, and they should all have some type of grammar-based pattern.

Here’s a 2nd grade example:

  • Nate’s mom came to the soccer game.
  • I think Jabari’s bag is on the hook.
  • We couldn’t go to Wendy’s party.

Did you spot the pattern? 🙂 Each of these sentences has a possessive noun in it. (Nate’s mom; Jabaris bag; Wendy’s party)

I like to give students a few moments to read the sentences (or I read them aloud, depending on the ability level of the kids), have some time to think, and then turn and tell a partner what they think the pattern is. Sometimes kids will come up with other patterns that you didn’t even think of – and that can be a great teachable moment, too!

After they’ve identified the pattern, we spend a little bit of time talking about the pattern. In this case, we might review that possessive nouns are formed with an apostrophe and the letter s.

This activity works best with skills you’ve already taught.

Transition Activity: Odd One Out

This activity is similar to “What’s the Pattern?” – but this time, one of the 3-4 sentences has a mistake. Here’s an example:

  • We watched the rain, lightning, and hail through the window.
  • I bought eggs bread and milk at the store.
  • Katelyn, Mike, and Tiana came over to play.

This time, students have to identify the two sentences that have something in common (the first and third sentences, in this example). Then, they identify the “odd one out” – the sentence that is NOT written correctly. They then help me fix the sentence.

I don’t do traditional sentence fixing activities very often. (This blog post explains why.) But I like to use “Odd One Out” every so often because it gives kids CORRECT examples to look at, which then helps them identify the “odd sentence out” as incorrect.

These two transition games can be played with many different skills, and they only take a minute (especially if you type up the sentence ahead of time).

Self-Checking, Interactive Independent Work

Sometimes we save grammar practice for independent work time. That can be great – but what about when students practice independently?

If they do get feedback from us, it happens after the fact. (And students really benefit from receiving real-time feedback.)

We can’t rely solely on independent work time for most of our grammar instruction and practice. It’s just not sufficient.

BUT!

What if you had a way to give students self-checking, interactive independent work? Where there’s audio support, and students immediately find out if their work is correct or incorrect?

That would be great, right?! Students could engage in meaningful practice without having you next to them.

(Huge time saver!!)

And guess what? I’ve been working on just that – interactive grammar games where your students can learn about grammar even if you’re not physically there teaching them.

These games are coming SUPER soon! Make sure you’re following my TeachersPayTeachers store here to be notified when they’re ready! 🙂

Happy teaching!

Photo Credits: Rido, Shutterstock




Should I Teach Spelling in K-2?

A question I get asked regularly is: “Should I teach spelling in K-2?”

I think this question arises from a few different concerns:

  • Invented spelling is a good thing – it gets kids to apply their phonics knowledge. So is it okay to correct their spelling or teach correct spelling to begin with?
  • “Traditional” spelling instruction or rote memorization is often ineffective. So what should I do instead?

And these are valid concerns!

So…should we be teaching spelling in K-2?

I shared my thoughts in this video (a recording of a Facebook Live session):

https://www.youtube.com/embed/KurVOuMXty4

The highlights:

  • Teaching correct spelling is a GOOD THING! We just need to follow best practices when teaching spelling.
  • We want to avoid activities that emphasize rote memorization. We need students to notice patterns in words – and apply those patterns to read and write other words.
  • As much as possible, we need to differentiate our phonics instruction.
  • There are ways to teach irregularly-spelled words that don’t rely on memorization. Check out this post for an in-depth look at how I’ve learned to teach high-frequency words differently.

If you need a phonics and spelling program, check out From Sounds to Spelling. I developed this program because I couldn’t find a resource that included ALL of the following:

  • Lesson plans
  • Word sorts
  • Multi-sensory work
  • Decodable texts
  • Games and independent activities

You can learn more about the program here.

Happy teaching!

Is it okay to teach spelling? Is it okay to correct students' spelling? What about invented spelling? This post gives Kindergarten, 1st grade, and 2nd grade teachers guidance in teaching spelling and phonics effectively!
Photo Credits: Ljupco Smokovski, Shutterstock




What Is a Dictation and Why Is It Valuable?

When I was in my second year of teaching Kindergarten, I tried something new.

A few times a week, I started having my students practice writing sounds on whiteboards. For example, I might say the /m/ sound and students would write the letter m.

Eventually, they began writing words – at first, with lots of help from me.

After that, they began writing sentences. (Again, with lots of help at first.)

I noticed that this several-times-weekly practice seemed to be really helpful. It appeared to be improving their letter sound knowledge, their decoding, and their overall phonics knowledge.

A year or two later, I learned that I was not the first teacher to have discovered this practice. 😅

This instructional practice – the one I thought I’d “invented” – had a name. It was called a dictation.

And – good news – it WAS an effective practice!

But the funny thing about a dictation is that it seems SO simple…and yet there are lots of nuances.

So we’re going to cover all of this in this post:

  • What is a dictation?
  • How do you give a dictation?
  • How do you support students who need extra help? (Or a challenge?)

Dictations are AMAZING for improving students' phonics knowledge. And they're easy to use! But what is a dictation? This blog post explains how to use a dictation for teaching phonics and spelling in Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade.

Sound Dictation

As I mentioned, I began by having my Kindergarten students write sounds (or rather, the letter for a sound).

But hold on! Even if you teach 1st grade, 2nd grade, or above, you will still want to include sounds on some of your dictations.

For example, you might say the sound /ō/ (long o, as in “oatmeal”) – and then your students would need to write all of the following:

  • o (as in “go”)
  • oa
  • oe
  • o_e (o silent e)
  • ow (as in “know”)

You would have them write as many ways as they’ve learned to spell the sound. So if they only know “o” and “oa,” for example, they would only be responsible for writing those two spellings.

Sound dictations aren’t just for Kindergarteners! 🙂

Here are the steps I follow when I do a sound dictation:

Teacher: “The sound is /ch/. Repeat.”

Students: “/ch/”

Students write “ch” on their whiteboards / paper.

Teacher: “What says /ch/?”

Students: (pointing to the letters) “C-h says /ch/.” (They’re naming the letters and giving the sound.)

Teacher writes “ch” on the board and students fix their work if needed. (Note: If you see many students spelling the sound incorrectly, you can do this step before asking “What says /ch/?”. Either way, the kids get almost immediate feedback on their work and make changes if needed.)

Notice how I have them repeat the sound before they write it – and after they write it.

Word Dictation

Except for the first few weeks of Kindergarten, I always include individual words in my dictations.

I choose words that have our target phonics patterns PLUS some review patterns from previous weeks. Kids are only asked to spell sounds / patterns that they’ve already been taught.

(However, they might be asked to spell unfamiliar words, so that I can see if they can apply their sound knowledge to spell a new word.)

This is what it might look like in practice:

Teacher: “The word is flip. Repeat.”

Students: “Flip”

Teacher: “She can do a flip on the monkey bars. Let’s say the sounds in ‘flip.'”

Teacher + Students: /f/ /l/ /ĭ/ /p/

Teacher: “Write ‘flip.'”

Students write “flip” on their whiteboards / paper.

Once students are finished, the teacher writes “flip” on the board and students fix their work (if necessary).

You can then do some quick work with the word. For example:

Teacher: “Let’s say the sounds in flip and touch the letters as we say them. Ready?”

Students + Teacher: “/f/ /l/ /ĭ/ /p/” (all pointing to each letter as they say the sounds)

Teacher: “What’s the blend in this word?”

Students: “F-L”

Teacher: “What’s the vowel sound in this word?”

Students: “/ĭ/”

Teacher: “Which letter says /ĭ/?”

Students: “i”

You don’t need to go through all that for EVERY word, but I usually do discuss 1-2 of the words in depth in each dictation.

If you’re thinking right now, “Well, some (or all) of my kids wouldn’t be able to do that” – no worries! I’ve got you covered!

You can provide more (or less) support if needed.

Ways to Provide More Support with Word Dictation

  • Tell students each sound in the word. (Like “/f/ /l/ /ĭ/ /p/,” in the example above.) Have them repeat the sounds after you finish.
  • Tell them each sound, one at a time. After you say the sound, students write the corresponding letter(s). (Only do this if students truly need a lot of support.)

Ways to Provide Less Support with Word Dictation

  • Have students say the sounds in the word without your help.
  • Don’t say the sounds in the word as a group – require students to say the sounds and write the word on their own.

Sentence Dictation

Last but not least, my dictations usually include at least one (sometimes two) sentences.

The sentences only include:

  • High frequency words that I’ve taught
  • Words with sounds / spelling patterns that I’ve taught

In other words, students are practicing concepts they’ve already been introduced to (just like the sound and word dictations).

Here are some tips for success with the sentence dictation:

  • Have students repeat the sentence twice.
  • For younger students (Kinder and early 1st grade), consider drawing a line for each word to help students space correctly and develop concept of word. As they repeat the sentence a second or third time, they can touch each line as they say each corresponding word.
  • Keep the sentences shorter for younger students.
  • Incorporate high frequency words from previous weeks for review.
  • After you dictate the sentence, write it correctly so students get immediate feedback. Younger students do better with re-writing the entire sentence (as opposed to fixing their mistakes in their original work) – erasing can cause paper tears and other drama.
  • Use this opportunity to remind students about capitalizing the first letter in the sentence and ending the sentence with a punctuation mark.

Putting It All Together

Many times, I’ll dictate sounds, words, AND sentences for students to write. We do this in a 7-10 minute dictation.

If it sounds like a lot to fit into 10 minutes…it is! Earlier in the school year, we don’t do very many words. Once students get in the routine, things do move more quickly!

As I mentioned, dictations can be done on whiteboards.

But I also like to do them on paper. In mid-Kindergarten and up, at least one weekly dictation is done on paper like this:

This dictation paper comes from my phonics program, From Sounds to Spelling. The lessons tell you exactly what sounds, words, and sentences to dictate to students – so that you cover your weekly patterns AND review previous patterns.

Notice that there are 2 columns for the sounds and words (“My letters” and “Copied letters;” “My words” and “Copied words”). This gives students a place to write the correct sounds and words after they see the teacher’s version. ALL students re-copy, even if they were correct the first time. They leave their original work as-is, so that you can see their mistakes.

You may also have noticed that the “My words” column has sound boxes. These can be used to guide students in writing words. One sound goes in each box. The larger box in #5 is for a digraph, like “ch” or “sh.”

Here’s another version of a dictation paper. Notice how we aren’t practicing sounds during this particular dictation. There are no sound boxes, and there are no individual word lines in the sentence:

As you can see, there are tons of minor variations and adaptations that you can make to the dictation process! It’s all about meeting the needs of your students. You want to provide them with enough support so that they can be successful – but not too much support so that the tasks are easy.

Do you use dictations in the classroom? Or do you plan on giving them a try? Let me know in the comments!

And if you need a ready-to-use program to guide you in using dictations and other phonics teaching practices, check out From Sounds to Spelling. The program includes professional development videos to help you understand the “why” behind many phonics concepts – plus ALL the materials you need to teach phonics, phonological awareness, and spelling to Kindergarten, 1st grade, and 2nd grade students.

Happy teaching!

Photo Credits: Emotions Image 14,
Teachers Pay Teachers




The Way I Learned to Teach High Frequency Words Was Wrong (And What I Now Do Instead)

My first experience with teaching high frequency words was filled with confusion.

At that time, I was working as a reading tutor while also getting my undergraduate degree to become a certified teacher.

As part of the reading tutoring program, I was supposed to introduce a few high frequency words on flash cards to a Kindergarten student. When possible, we were supposed to connect the high frequency words (aka sight words) to the books that we were reading with the child.

And I was confused.

I remember thinking, “Wait…you just put the word on a card and he’s going to learn it? Just plain old memorization?”

It didn’t feel right to me. It felt boring. And not only that – it felt like it didn’t reflect the way young children learn. Weren’t they supposed to be moving around? Doing hands-on activities?

Moreover, I didn’t even really understand what a “sight word” was. I thought that all sight words were spelled irregularly – and that memorization was the only way to learn them.

Well. It turns out I was wrong!

In this blog post, I’ll share what I’ve learned since then. I’ll also share tips for how to teach sight words / high frequency words so that they really STICK! (And so that it’s actually fun, too.) 🙂

Do you know the best ways to teach high frequency words? This blog post.
Photo Credits: Black-Photogaphy

What are high frequency words?

First of all, let’s clarify the terms “high frequency words” and “sight words.” Here’s my current understanding of the terms:

High frequency words –

  • Words that appear frequently in texts (especially beginning books for children)
  • Can be regularly spelled (no surprises – like the words “can” or “like”)
  • Can also be irregularly spelled / have surprising or tricky sounds (like the words “four” or “does”)

Sight words –

  • Words that a reader knows instantly, by sight

I used to say “sight words,” but now I mostly use the term “high frequency words.”

I like this term because even though it’s a little wordier, it better represents what I’m truly trying to teach. (I’m trying to teach my students words that appear frequently in text, so that they eventually become sight words for the students.)

How do readers learn high frequency words?

Memorization certainly plays a role in learning high frequency words. But there’s more to it than that!

When someone is learning a new word, the learning process works best when these 3 areas of the brain are activated:

  1. The part where meaning is stored
  2. The part where spelling is stored
  3. The part where sounds are stored

Do the first two resonate with you? You probably have students practice reading high frequency words in sentences or even making up their own sentences with the words. And you might have students learn to spell the words.

But what about #3? Did you know that it IS valuable to help students think about the sounds in a high frequency word?

If #3 has you saying, “Whoa!” or “Really??” – then I can relate! I was surprised by that, too.

Brain Area #1: Meaning

When students are learning a high frequency word, they need to understand what it means. They need to hear it in the context of a sentence. They should also come up with their own example sentences (orally and/or in writing).

Students should have multiple opportunities to hear and use the high frequency word, preferably soon after the word is introduced.

Brain Area #2: Spelling

Just learning to read a high frequency word isn’t enough – we want the kids to learn to spell them, too!

Multi-sensory activities are great for spelling practice. (A multi-sensory activity incorporates more than one of the five senses.)

In the last section of this post, you’ll see some ideas for multi-sensory spelling practice activities.

Brain Area #3: Sounds

Students need to connect the letters in the word to the sounds that the letters make.

This is easier for words with regular spellings – like “much.” After students have been taught vocabulary words like “short vowel” and “digraph,” use these words when discussing the word. I might say to a student, “Much” is spelled M-U-C-H. What’s the vowel in this word?” (u) “What does the u say?” (/ŭ/) “There’s also a digraph in this word. The C and H work together to say /ch/. /m/ /ŭ/ /ch/. Much.”

What you say and ask about a word will depend upon how much students have learned. If a student doesn’t know what a vowel is, I’m not going to ask her to identify the vowel!

But my point is this: Connect the concepts that you’re teaching in phonics and phonological awareness to the high frequency words that you’re teaching. As much as possible, I match our high frequency words to the phonics patterns we’re studying that week.

Students need to connect the sounds in a word to the letters in the word. (This is sometimes called orthographic mapping.)

How should I teach high frequency words?

Like anything in education, there’s no one “right way” to do this. But I’ll share how we do it in my phonics program, From Sounds to Spelling.

This routine incorporates multi-sensory strategies and seeks to activate all 3 parts of the brain:

STEP 1: Present a written sentence to students that includes the target word. (If possible, I make the sentence personally meaningful to students by using their names or writing about something in our classroom. I also try to include words in the sentence that students would be able to decode.) Here’s an example from the Kindergarten program:

This is a high frequency word / sight word sentence that I use with my Kindergarten students. After we're done reading it, they can mix up the words and practice putting the sentence back in order!

You can certainly just write a sentence on the board, too! I only use the word cards with my Kindergarteners because they’re developing their understanding of the concept of a word.

Also, as an independent activity, I can mix up the words, place them in a plastic baggie, and have students put them back in order.

STEP 2: Have students come up with their own original sentences – orally. (After you model an example, they might turn and tell their sentence to a partner.)

STEP 3: Discuss the sounds in the word. Regardless of whether the word is regularly or irregularly spelled, we connect the sounds of the words to the letters.

I often use sound boxes as I do this.

Elkonin boxes or sound boxes can be used with high frequency words / sight words, too! They help students understand which letters work together to make one sound.

In this example, I might cover up the word and say, “Listen to this word. Does. What sounds do you hear?” Students should tell me /d/ /ŭ/ /z/. Then, I’d uncover the word and say the sounds, pointing to each letter or group of letters as I go: /d/ (point to the d) “/ŭ/” (point to the oe) “/z/” (point to the s)

What I say next would depend on what students have already learned. But I would probably ask, “Are there any surprising/tricky sounds?” Students should notice that the /ŭ/ sound for oe is surprising/tricky. I would point out that both vowels are in one box because they work together to make one sound (/ŭ/). Students should also notice that the /z/ sound for s is surprising. (However, they may already know that s can sometimes say /z/.)

Last, I might have them say the sounds while I point under the corresponding box.

This discussion happens pretty quickly. At first, it takes longer to go through this process. But as time goes on, students learn the routine and can do most of the work with connecting the sounds to letters.

STEP 4: “Tap out” the word. To make the spelling more memorable, students tap out the word on their arm while spelling it aloud. (This is a multi-sensory strategy.)

Here’s a quick informal video to show you how we do this:

STEP 5: Write the word. I like to make this part multi-sensory, too.

In this step, students are writing the word AND creating a “bumpy word” that they can trace with their finger.

There are different ways to do this, but I like to have students place a piece of paper on top of a knitting screen (like this one – Amazon affiliate link). They use a crayon to write the words. You can have them spell the word aloud as they write.

Looking for a simple multi-sensory activity for sight words? In this activity, we write on top of a knitting screen, using a crayon! Students need to go over the word several times. Then, they can trace it with their finger while spelling it aloud.

Then, once students have written it (have them go over the word 3 times), they can use a finger to trace over the word and spell it out loud. When they practice the word in the future, they can take out this sheet and trace the “bumpy word” while spelling the word aloud.

STEP 6: As long as time permits, have students write an original sentence with the word and read their sentence aloud to a partner. We usually skip this step at the Kindergarten level. (Also, if you find that you’re frequently running out of time for this step, you might skip Step 2 so you have more time for this.)

Those six steps are how I introduce a new high frequency word!

In addition to this process, in my program, 2nd graders also keep a personal dictionary / word book that they add words to. (1st graders and Kindergarteners could also do this if you like.) This is a great tool for them to use as they’re writing.

All of this sounds like a lot, right? At first, it is! But once students learn the routine, things move more quickly.

Where can I get materials for teaching high frequency words?

Right now, my phonics program is the only resource I have that covers high frequency words extensively.

Each week of the program, students work on words that have a certain sound or spelling pattern – and they also learn a few high frequency words (that may or may not follow the pattern).

The high frequency words in the program don’t match any one specific list (i.e. Dolch or Fry). They were derived from a few different resources and designed specifically to equip students with words that will be useful to them in their reading and writing.

I hope that this post was helpful to you! Did anything surprise you? How does this compare with how you learned to teach high frequency words? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

References

Blevins, W. (2017). A Fresh Look at Phonics, Grades K-2. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Miles, K. P., Rubin, G. B., & Gonzalez-Frey, S. (2018, May). Rethinking Sight Words. The Reading Teacher, 71(6), 715-726.

Do you know the best ways to teach high frequency words? This blog post.




How To Get Started With Literacy Centers For The Very First Time

Getting started with literacy centers for the very first time can seem overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

If you’ve never tried literacy centers before, or you tried and quickly gave up because things just weren’t working, you’re in the right spot.

In this post, I’ll share why literacy centers are an important part of literacy instruction and give you some ideas and tips for taking that first step. I’ll also share a a great freebie to get you started!

Setting up literacy centers for the very first time can seem overwhelming. But it doesn't have to be that way! Here are some tips for getting started with literacy centers in Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade.
Photo Credits: spass; Shutterstock

Why should I use literacy centers?

Literacy centers provide independent practice, which is an essential part of literacy instruction! Centers give students opportunities to practice the skills and concepts that are next on their paths to becoming better readers and writers. 

Literacy centers also give students many chances to learn independent work skills, take risks in a low-stakes environment, and build their confidence. 

Best of all, literacy centers give students choice. Choice is so important; it motivates kids, increases their engagement, and lets them take ownership of their learning. 

What literacy centers are easiest to start with?

Before we go any further, I want you to repeat after me, “There is no ONE right way to do literacy centers!” 😊

If you want to climb the ladder to literacy center success, start small and try a few! Give your students opportunities to work on their reading, writing, listening and speaking skills, and you absolutely can NOT go wrong.

Instead of worrying about doing it the “right” way, focus on making the bottom rungs of your ladder easy to climb. I mean REALLY easy. Just like you scaffold your students’ learning, you want to scaffold yourself to success with literacy centers.

Start with the things that are easy, don’t require a lot of prep and supplies, and have a high chance of success. If you’ve never done centers before, I recommend making the first three rungs Independent Reading, Partner Reading, and Word Work. 

Setting up literacy centers for the very first time can seem overwhelming. But it doesn't have to be that way! Here are some tips for getting started with literacy centers in Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade.
Photo Credits: anaterate; Pixabay

And if you are thinking to yourself that any of those options won’t work for your students, ask yourself, “What are my kids already doing successfully that they could do independently in a center?” Then choose two or three and make those your bottom rungs.

As you start, choose things that are easy to implement and will be immediately successful. Build your students’ understanding of how centers work while building your own confidence in making centers work for your classroom!

For a more in-depth explanation of these centers, or if you’re ready to dive in a little deeper, you can find more information here:

Everything you want to know about literacy centers and how to make them work for you.

How do I get started with centers?

Successful centers don’t magically happen!

Once you choose your centers, there are some things you absolutely have to consider before you introduce the centers to you students.

I like to think through my centers in great detail before teaching my kids how to work in the centers. I make sure I am crystal-clear on the purpose and function of the center. Asking myself a few focused questions really helps me with that.

Here are three questions to help you get started…

What exactly is going on in the center?

Be specific here! For example, in the Independent Reading center in Kindergarten, I expect my students to set a timer and choose new books, choose a spot to read, and read quietly.

When you are just getting started, remember your goal is for students to be able to work in the center independently and successfully! You can add more choices and skills once the center is running well, but at the beginning, keep it simple!

Visual aids, like this one from my Literacy Centers for Kindergarten bundle, are great for showing students the expectations of the center. I display one like this in my Independent Reading Center to reinforce my expectations.

Setting up literacy centers for the very first time can seem overwhelming. But it doesn't have to be that way! Here are some tips for getting started with literacy centers in Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade.

What will students do when they get “stuck”?

One big challenge with centers is when students get stuck on something and don’t know what to do. Identifying common problems ahead of time and teaching kids how to solve those problems on their own helps a lot! 

Visual aids are important tools for this particular challenge. This one, from my Literacy Centers for Second Grade bundle, shows students the procedure for partner reading.

Setting up literacy centers for the very first time can seem overwhelming. But it doesn't have to be that way! Here are some tips for getting started with literacy centers in Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade.

A poster like this clearly illustrates the expectations and helps students problem solve. Instead of asking you for help or getting off-task, they continue to work independently!

Do students have everything they need to complete the activity?

Check and double-check to ensure that everything students need is in the center. I always do the activity myself, just to be sure! Supplies at the ready mean students can continue to focus on their work, instead of asking you for a pencil or the magnetic letters right in the middle of your guided-reading lesson!

Your Next Steps

Feeling a little less anxious about using literacy centers in your classroom? I hope so! Remember that there is no ONE right way to do centers. Your students are unique, their learning needs are unique, and you know best what you need to do for them.

To help you get started, I’m sharing my FREE Literacy Center Toolkit with you. You’ll get 10 ideas for literacy center activities, and some tools and printables to keep you organized!

Setting up literacy centers for the very first time can seem overwhelming. But it doesn't have to be that way! Here are some tips for getting started with literacy centers in Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade.
Photo Credits: wavebreakmedia; Shutterstock




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

Conclusion

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!




Why I Have My Students Make Personal “Word Part Dictionaries”

Do you want your students to apply their phonics learning to their writing?

I know I do! And I also know that this doesn’t happen easily for all students.

In today’s quick post, I want to share a free tool with you—a template for a word part dictionary. Relatively recently, I started having my students create these word part dictionaries, and it has helped tremendously with their spelling! Keep reading to find out how I use them, and to grab the template for free!

FREE word part dictionary template - help your students connect phonics learning to writing!

What is a Word Part Dictionary?

A word part dictionary is a place where students keep track of word parts they have learned.

For example, if they study the “ink” pattern in phonics, they then add the “ink” pattern to their word part dictionary. They write the word part (i.e., “ink”) and then choose a word that contains that word part (i.e., “pink”). They draw a picture to illustrate the word.

FREE word part dictionary template - help your students connect phonics learning to writing!

Every time students learn a new word part during phonics, they complete a new box in their word part dictionaries. Throughout the year, each child has a record of his/her phonics learning. During writing time, students can refer to their word part dictionaries for help with spelling.

I’ve also found the dictionaries to be helpful to ME because I’m a little forgetful! During writing time, it’s sometimes hard to remember exactly what patterns each child has learned (i.e., I forget what they should be responsible for spelling correctly—especially toward the end of the school year). If there’s ever any question, a student and I can just look in their word part dictionary to see if they have already studied a particular word pattern.

You can use this tool with word families, vowel spelling patterns, prefixes and suffixes, etc. It’s super versatile!

What age group is this for?

I have been using this tool with first grade and up. You can also use it with Kindergarteners who are learning word families or other “chunks.”

How can I use this tool?

It’s very easy to set up! First, download the template and make copies for students. You might want to make copies on light-colored paper, so that students can easily locate their dictionaries during writing time. Or you can try white cardstock, so that the dictionaries (hopefully) last longer.

You can introduce the dictionaries whole-group or small-group—whatever works best for you. Have each student write his/her name on the front and decorate it. You want to foster a sense of ownership so that students feel responsible for and will use their dictionaries!

Each time you introduce a new phonics pattern to a group of students (or the entire class), students will fill out a new box in their dictionary. They write the word pattern, choose a word that exemplifies the pattern, and illustrate the word.

Want to give this a try? You can download the template by clicking on the image below.

Let me know how it goes! If you’re looking for more phonics or word work activities, you can check some out in my TpT store here.

Happy teaching!




10 Websites to Share with Parents for Summer Learning Activities

Looking for some websites and resources to help your students continue learning during the summer? Here are 10 great sites that you can share with the families of your Kindergarten, first, or second grade students!Looking for some summer learning activities? This blog post has 10 websites to try! (For parents of Kindergarten, first, and second grade students)Photo Credits:  Monkey Business Images, Shutterstock

Some of these sites are geared toward parents (I put **asterisks** by these), while others can be accessed independently by students. Even for student-independent websites, I always recommend that students’ parents visit the website with them to help students get set up correctly.

http://www.startwithabook.org/ – From Reading Rockets, this site is parent-friendly and has suggestions for books and learning activities for the summer**

http://pbskids.org/games/ – Reading and math games that are great for preschool through 1st grade

https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/videos/ – Fun informational videos from National Geographic

http://www.readingrockets.org/article/reading-adventure-packs-families – Reading and math packs (in English and Spanish) that families can print and use with K-3 students**

http://www.starfall.com/ – Reading and phonics games

http://www.abcya.com/ – A variety of educational games for K-5 (you can easily access the exact grade level(s) you need!)

https://www.getepic.com/ – Students can listen to or read high-quality digital books at home!

https://www.parents.com/fun/activities/indoor/?page=1 – Crafts and other activities that families can do on rainy days**

https://www.timeforkids.com/ – Informational articles that kids can read independently or that families can read together

https://www.familyeducation.com/school-learning/summer-learning – A great, parent-friendly collection of ideas and tips for learning during the summer**

If you’re looking for more learning activities for your Kindergarten, first, or second grade students (or your own children), check out my Kindergarten, first, or second grade summer learning pack.

Happy teaching!




5 Activities to Help K-2 Students Improve Their Handwriting

There are a million things that we have to fit into our school day—and handwriting can feel like just one more thing that we don’t have time for!

BUT it’s super important. Even in our digital age, students need to learn to form letters correctly!

In this post, I’ll share 5 activities that I use to help my students improve their handwriting. Many of these can be done in the context of writing instruction (perfect for when your students aren’t applying their handwriting skills to their actual writing).

I’m suggesting these activities in addition to your normal handwriting instruction. These activities don’t replace explicit instruction that shows students how to form letters. I recommend dedicating time daily or weekly for teaching handwriting, having students practice on paper and with sensory materials (i.e., shaving cream), etc.

Looking for some fun handwriting activities? Read this post for handwriting ideas for Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade!

Activity #1: Highlight the lines on students’ writing paper.

This is more of a strategy than an activity—but it can be super helpful!

To help students who struggle to write within the lines, you can highlight the lines on their writing paper (for handwriting instruction AND any other writing activities they do).

If handwriting is a big challenge for a student, you might want to begin with paper with two lines, and then move to paper with three lines. Baby steps!

Looking for some fun handwriting activities? Read this post for handwriting ideas for Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade!

Looking for some fun handwriting activities? Read this post for handwriting ideas for Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade!

I definitely can’t take credit for this strategy. 🙂 I learned it from a wonderful occupational therapist who worked with one of my students. I wish I could give her a shout-out, but it’s been about 10 years now and I can’t recall her name!

Activity #2: Have students sort letters by their attributes.

Students need a “language” to help them think and talk about letter formation. It helps to use words like loop, dot, tail, stick, etc.

I really don’t think it matters WHAT terms you use, as long as you are consistent with those terms. (If you have a handwriting curriculum that students use at multiple grade levels, definitely stick to the curriculum’s terminology for consistency.)

To help students learn how letters are the same and different, you can have them sort letters by their attributes.

Students might sort magnetic letters into groups of letters that have curves, straight lines, or both.

I also like to have students sort letters by the lines they touch. For example, students might group letters by those that have tails below the bottom line, those that touch the top and bottom line, and those that touch the middle and bottom lines.

Looking for some fun handwriting activities? Read this post for handwriting ideas for Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade!

Having the highlighted letter cards is especially helpful to getting students to focus on these lines!

Activity #3: Play a “Handwriting Scavenger Hunt” game.

This game is helpful when you want students to fix up their handwriting in the context of their writing!

There are lots of different ways you can play the game. You give clues about a letter (or multiple letters), have students find it in their writing, and then have them fix up the letter if they see that it is formed incorrectly.

The clues can range from simple to more complex. Here are some example clues:

  • Find a lowercase a.
  • Find a capital letter.
  • Find a capital letter that is a vowel.
  • Find a letter that has a tail below the line.
  • Find a letter that touches the middle and bottom lines.
  • Find the letter at the end of the word the.

You might have noticed that many of these clues have more than one correct answer—this is helpful because you don’t always know which letters students have included in their writing.

It helps to have visuals of the letters to discuss them with students (once the mystery letter(s) are revealed). Also, make sure to have students study the letter(s) carefully and fix them in their writing, if necessary!

Activity #4: Play a “Mystery Letter Guessing Game.”

This activity is somewhat similar to #3, but it can be done out of the context of writing instruction. Instead of having students search through their writing, simply place letter cards on the table (4-6 letters at a time).

Choose one letter and give clues to help students guess it. They have to wait for 2 clues before making a guess.

If you put the below letters on the table and choose the letter c, you might give the following clues:

“This letter touches the bottom and middle lines.”

“This letter has only curves, no straight lines.”

Looking for some fun handwriting activities? Read this post for handwriting ideas for Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade!

You can swap out the letter cards and play multiple rounds of this! If you do want to incorporate students’ writing, after students have guessed the mystery letter, they can search for examples in their own writing and fix any letter formation mistakes.

Activity #5: Play “Handwriting Inspector.”

In this partner activity, students work with a partner to fix up their handwriting. After you provide instruction about how to (politely) give feedback, students swap papers. They look for examples of excellent handwriting, as well as areas for improvement.

Looking for some fun handwriting activities? Read this post for handwriting ideas for Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade!

Students can also do this independently, in a “Fabulous and Fix It” activity where they work on improving their own handwriting.

Looking for some fun handwriting activities? Read this post for handwriting ideas for Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade!

Conclusions

The materials shown in this post all come from my Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade small group writing bundles. And handwriting is actually just one small part of these resources—they address all kinds of writing issues, including capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and content!

You can read more about these materials by clicking on the images below.

If you have other favorite handwriting activities that you love, feel free to share below. Happy teaching!!




FREE Spanish Writing Folder Tools

Are you teaching writing in Spanish? If so, and you work with kindergarten, 1st, or 2nd grade students, I’ve got a BIG freebie for you!
In this blog post, I explain how I use my Spanish writing folder tools to help my students become more independent writers. Keep reading to get all of these materials for FREE!

Are you teaching writing in Spanish? Download these FREE writing folder tools for Kindergarten, first, and second grade!

Why folders?

I know that some teachers have their students write in notebooks. For writing workshop, I prefer to use folders. Here’s why:

  • When students write stories or make books within a notebook, there’s no clearly defined beginning and end. Primary students can easily lose track of where their book starts and stops! I give my students pre-stapled booklets of lined writing paper, and they keep these in their writing folders.
  • If students need to add in a page or rearrange pages, that’s hard to do with a notebook. Using the stapled booklets allows us to add on more pages or rearrange the pages if necessary.
  • The stapled booklets more closely resemble the books students are reading. I emphasize that students are authors, so it makes sense for them to create things that look like real books.
  • When students use booklets and folders, they can take home certain pieces of writing to share with family members. This isn’t the case with writing notebooks—we risk losing the entire notebook if something happens to it at home.

What type of folder is best?

I purchase plastic or sturdy cardboard folders. I want them to last. 🙂 I also usually buy them all in one color, so that students don’t confuse this folder with any other folders they may have.

I also make sure to purchase folders with prongs in the middle. You’ll see why this is important in a minute!

Inside the folder, you’ll notice that I place two stickers: a red dot, and a green dot. The “red dot” side is for work that’s finished. The “green dot” side is for work that is still in progress. This system helps students keep their folders organized!

What goes inside the folder?

In the middle of the folder, I place different tools that students can use while they’re writing. These supports encourage students to work more independently!

The writing folder tools include:

Spelling charts:

Editing checklists:

Genre checklists:

Transition word lists:

There are a few other things in the writing folder freebie for you, because I know that different grade levels and different types of writing require different tools!

How do you introduce the writing folder tools?

When we start the school year, I don’t include ANY of these tools in their folders. Students likely wouldn’t know what to do with them!

The first tool I typically introduce is an alphabet chart. I use it to show my students how I stretch out words and write them phonetically.

I say a word, isolate the first sound, look for a word that starts with that same sound on the chart, and write that letter. (By the way, this can get a little tricky when you’re teaching writing in Spanish, because kids often hear the vowel sounds before they hear other sounds, and we want them to think about the syllables. But the alphabet chart is still a helpful place to start!)

After the kids are able to help me use the chart in a whole group setting, I then place it inside their folders so that they can use it as they write.

As time goes on, I add other tools. I also sometimes remove tools that students no longer need.

Where can I get these writing folder tools?

I have these tools (and more!) for you for FREE! Click on the image below to sign up for them!

Do you have more resources for teaching writing in Spanish?

Yes! I have another blog post here: How to Support Dual Language Students with Writing

And I now have my kindergarten, first grade, and second grade writing units available in SPANISH!

NEED IMAGES

Happy teaching!




Spanish Writing Mentor Texts for K-2

If you teach writing in Spanish, then you may be able to relate to the difficulties I’ve had with finding materials!

One problem I’ve had is finding mentor texts in Spanish. (Mentor texts are books that can be used to teach students about writing. We point out writing strategies that a published author has used and show students how to try these strategies in their own writing.)

After spending a good amount of time searching, I’ve found some great Spanish mentor texts, and I want to share this list with you!

Teaching writing in Spanish? Here are some lists of great mentor texts!

Photo Credits: vinnstock; Shutterstock

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are Amazon affiliate links.

Narrative Writing Mentor Texts in Spanish

These texts can be used to teach narrative writing—personal narratives, story writing, etc.

Así me siento yo (Janan Cain) – great for teaching different feelings words students can use in their writing to show how they felt in a personal narrative, or how characters feel in a story

¿Puedo jugar? (Mo Willems) – great for teaching dialogue through speech bubbles, problem and solution

¡No dejes que la paloma conduzca el autobús! (Mo Willems) – great for teaching students how to show character emotions through their drawings; can also be used as an opinion writing mentor text

¡Qué montón de tamales! (Gary Soto) – great for teaching students to show how characters feel and describing the setting

El conejito Knuffle (Mo Willems) – great for teaching setting, character emotions, problem/solution

La asombrosa Graciela (Mary Hoffman) – great for teaching strong characters/character traits, as well as setting, problem, solution, and descriptive writing

Un día de nieve (Ezra Jack Keats) – great for teaching “small moments,” writing with details, beginning/middle/end

La silla de Pedro (Ezra Jack Keats) – not told from the 1st person perspective, but is still a good mentor text for personal narratives

Un sillón para mi mamá (Vera Williams) – great for teaching “small moments,” descriptive writing, character feelings, and story elements (characters, setting, problem, solution)

El patito feo (Luz Orihuela) – great for teaching story elements like characters, setting, problem, character feelings

I tend to use a lot of fairytales and folktales in my narrative teaching. Fortunately, many are available in Spanish, including books written originally in Spanish, which is great! El gallo de bodas (Lucia Gonzalez) is one example.

Informational Writing Mentor Texts in Spanish

A sembrar sopa de verduras (Lois Ehlert) – a simple nonfiction book that can be used to teach labeling (great for kindergarten)

Los alimentos de la granja (Nancy Dickmann) – this is a very simple nonfiction book that’s great for kindergarten

Las partes del cuerpo (Bev Schumacher) – another simple nonfiction book that can be used to teach labeling

Las rocas: Duras, blandas, lisas y ásperas (Natalie Rosinsky) – a great general nonfiction book for K-2, also includes some labels

Me pregunto por qué las arañas tejen telas (Amanda O’Neil) – great for teaching labels and captions; can also be used to teach students to organize their nonfiction books into sections

Un hábitat de desierto (Bobbie Kalman) – good for teaching students how to include labels in their pictures and divide up their books into sections with headings

Cómo hacer slime (Lori Shores) – great for teaching “how to” writing (procedural nonfiction)

Cómo se hace un libro (Aliki) – great for teaching “how to” writing (procedural nonfiction)

Cómo hacer un tornado en una botella (Lori Shores) – great for teaching “how to” writing (procedural nonfiction)

Honestly, just about any well-written nonfiction book in Spanish can be used to teach general informational writing! Look at the books you already have in your classroom and choose a variety to use with your students: books with different text features, organized in different ways, about different topics, etc.

Opinion Writing Mentor Texts in Spanish

¡Pato! ¡Conejo! (Amy Krouse Rosenthal) – this is a simple book that’s great for teaching kindergarten or 1st grade students how to give reasons for their opinions using words and pictures

La paloma necesita un baño (Mo Willems) – a great picture book that shows a character giving multiple reasons for his opinion

Huevos verdes con jamón (Dr. Seuss) – can be used to teach persuasive writing strategies

Clic, clac, muu: Vacas escritoras (Doreen Cronin) – great for teaching kids to include reasons in their opinion writing; can also be used to teach letter writing

Los gatos vs. los perros (Elizabeth Carney) – great for teaching comparison in opinion pieces

Oye, hormiguita (Phillip Hoose) – great for teaching kids to include reasons in their opinion writing; this one is a bit longer, so use it with 2nd grade and up or just use parts of it with younger students

Writing Lessons in Spanish

Have you been translating your writing curriculum into Spanish? I did that for several years, so I know how time-consuming that is!

If you’re looking to save time and have your student materials in SPANISH, check out my Spanish writing workshop resources below. Let me know if you have any questions!

Happy teaching!




How to Use Detailed Rubrics to Guide Your Writing Instruction

A detailed writing rubric is worth its weight in gold!

(Actually…maybe it’s worth a lot more than that, because a sheet of paper doesn’t weigh very much. 😝)

But anyway…you get what I’m saying! Detailed writing rubrics are very valuable, because they a) help us get a clear picture of how students are doing (much more helpful than a simple “A” or “B” grade!) AND b) they help us adapt and shape our instruction.

In last week’s post, I shared my assessment plan for each writing workshop unit that I teach.

But in that post, I didn’t explain how I use rubrics to guide my writing instruction!

So in today’s post, I explain how I use detailed genre rubrics to make decisions about my whole group, small group, and individual writing instruction. I’ve also included a quick video to help walk you through my thinking!

Rubric scores help me SO much in planning my writing instruction. In this post, I use a video to walk you through my thinking about how I use a first grade narrative writing rubric to plan instruction!

How I Use Rubrics to Guide My Writing Instruction

As I mentioned in last week’s post on assessment (definitely check it out if you haven’t yet — click HERE), I use a genre rubric, like the one you’ll see in the video below, 3 times a year with 1st grade and up.

This thought process can be applied to any rubric, however. Watch the video below to hear how I analyze data from a 1st grade narrative writing rubric!

The Bullet Points

Here’s some of what I shared in the video:

  • Rubrics can be used as formal assessment, but it also makes sense to use them BEFORE instruction to guide your teaching during a unit.
  • Rubrics that have a wide range (i.e. 1-5) are the most helpful. A score of 4 is the goal, but as you can see, the rubric goes beyond that so that you can accurately assess more advanced students and understand how to move them beyond simply meeting expectations. (Same goes for lower students.)
  • Look among students’ rubric scores to find patterns. If there is an area of weakness for 50% or more of your students, address it in whole group. If a handful of students need to work on something, plan small group lessons. If just one or two students need to work on something, address it individually.
  • Although it’s tempting to constantly look ahead on the rubric to see what to teach next, remember that students may still need to spend time solidifying skills that fall under their current score on the rubric.
  • Know your limits. I’m a specialist and work with kids one-on-one or in small groups, so I can spend time analyzing each child’s needs as a writer/reader. If you have an entire classroom, however, it’s not feasible to try to work on every single aspect of the rubric with each student individually. Set one individual goal per student, and try to address as many things as you can in whole or small group.

Questions about any of this? Leave me a comment! And if you’re wondering how to get rubrics like these, you can check out my kindergarten, 1st, or 2nd grade writing units:

Kindergarten Writing Workshop Curriculum Learning At The Primary Pond

First Grade Writing Workshop Curriculum Learning At The Primary Pond

Second Grade Writing Workshop Curriculum by Learning At The Primary Pond

I also have the genre rubrics available separately:

Happy teaching!