Struggling Readers: Reading Intervention, Online Games, and FREE Fluency Passages

Using technology with your intervention groups is a win-win!  Read Naturally is a program that can be used as an intervention and to differentiate your reading instruction.  Each student reads stories at his or her reading level.  You can use the data sheet in the picture above to document reading strategies and other important information. 

Do you have parent helpers?  Let your parent volunteers fill out the data sheet while you teach your small reading group.  FREE Data Sheet
Arcademic Skill Builders is a website that has math and language arts games for grades 1-6.
To improve reading fluency, students need to read the same story or passage several times.  Fluency Check is one of my best sellers that is perfect for repeated readings.  Fluency Check includes reading passages in two formats.  

The reading passage is on a half-page with word count along the edge which is perfect when you want to do a quick running record.  Print these passages on card stock and put on a ring.  Use as a warmup with your guided reading group or intervention group. 

Use the printable as seatwork or send home for fluency homework.

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Following Directions & Listening Activity FREEBIE

FREE Listen & Draw activity:  Students practice active listening and following teacher's oral directions.
Listening and following verbal or oral directions is an important skill that many students lack.  You may relate to Charlie Brown's teacher after going over step-by-step directions.

Students often hear the sound the teacher's voice is making, but fail to tune into the meaning of the words. When students aren't actively listening, they miss important information that can impact their academic AND behavior in the classroom.

One way you can help your students practice active listening so they will follow directions is with a fun activity called Listen and Draw.
Listen and Draw is a great activity to do with your class at the beginning of the year when you are teaching class procedures. Include these with your plans after breaks as a warmup plus a good reminder about practicing listening and following directions. Grab a free copy of FREE Listen & Draw - Following Directions Activity.

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3 Tips to Solve Pencil Problems in the Classroom

Pencils can be a source of frustration and a waste of class time. Think about how many hours in a school year students spent trying to find, borrow, or sharpen a pencil when you are ready to begin a lesson.  Why is this topic not covered in undergrad classes?
Pencil Problem #1: The pencil that doesn't sharpen or the tip keeps breaking off.

Different brands of pencils sharpen different ways. If your school allows it, write a specific brand of pencil on your school supply list. Non-teachers don't realize how much the brand of a pencil makes in the day-to-day life of a student and teacher. My favorite brand is Ticonderoga.

Pencil Problem #2: Sharpening at the wrong time

Accidents do happen, and pencil tips do break in the middle of a lesson. Keep a cup of sharpened pencils that students may borrow if this happens during a lesson. Put a small piece of colored duct tape at the top of the pencil near the eraser so you can easily identify your pencil. If students need to borrow a pencil during a lesson, they leave their pencil next to the Teacher's Pencil Cup and borrow one from the cup. This seems to be quicker and quieter than letting students sharpen their pencil during a lesson.
Would you like some freebie signs to attach to your pencil cups? The "write on" sign is for pencils that are ready to write. The sign with the stop sign is where students put their pencils that have stopped working. There is a sign that you can put on your cup of pencils that you use at your reading table.
Pencil Problem #3: Lost pencil syndrome

Do you have a student that frequently has lost pencil syndrome? It takes up valuable class time, it is frustrating to you, the student with the lost pencil, and the other students in your class. Here are a couple of things to try:
  • Assign each student a number. 
  • Write their number at the top of the pencil near the eraser with a sharpie. 
  • Give each student a small amount of sticky tak to put on their desk. They will put their pencil on the sticky tak.  It helps with the pencil rolling off the desk syndrome.

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5 tips to help with Teachers' Stress

What do Tom Cruise and teacher stress have in common? 
Click for song: Danger Zone

Teaching is a stressful job. Back to school, the day after Halloween, and parent-teacher conference week are times when you can almost feel the stress in the air of a school. It was during one of these anxiety-inducing times that I began humming the Danger Zone.  Do you do that, too?  Sometimes when life is a little crazy, rather than get bogged down with feeling overwhelmed, I step back and look at the situation a little differently.

Stress alert! Stress alert! You are getting ready to enter the danger zone! Cue Kenny Loggin's song Danger Zone. Do images of Tom Cruise getting ready to jump in his F14 Tomcat float through your mind?  What does this have to do with teaching you ask?

There are certain times of the school year that can cause a teacher to lose the work-life balance.  The demands and expectations of a teacher can make you feel overwhelmed.  I call these times the TEACHERS' DANGER ZONE. See if this list of possible stressors sound familiar:
You know you're in the teachers' danger zone when . . .
  • You have more meetings than prep periods. So, now in addition to not having your prep periods to plan for your students you need to do sub plans because you are being pulled from your class to attend yet another meeting.
  • You have more inside recess days than outside recess days. Can you say cabin fever?
  • You rarely get a full night's sleep. You wake up in the middle of the night with some epiphany that is going to be the new be-all-to-end-all for teaching this week's lessons. Now you can't go back to sleep, so Starbucks here you come!
  • You have counted the days until it's time to give the next test and realize there is no way you can possibly teach all you need to in this amount of time. This has now given you a bad case of TMJ, migraines, your ulcer is acting up, immunities are down so you catch the latest virus, or a host of any of stressed induced maladies which means a trip to the doctor which means a trip to Walgreen's. Does this sound like a teacher's version of "If you give a mouse a cookie?"

  • You're no longer clear what RTI means to you, for you, or for your students. The lines seem very murky. Exactly who provides which service, for how long, when do you do this or that, and then do something else? It all seems as clear as mud!
Now that we're all on the same page about a teachers' danger zone. What is a teacher supposed to do when he or she is in the danger zone?

This time period is going to be stressful. It is a fact that this time period is a stressful time in the teaching cycle. What you can do is try to lessen your stress level. If you stress level has been running a 12 on a scale from 1 to 10, sometimes a few interventions (yes, that's a word all teachers are familiar with) might bring your level down to a 7. While a 7 is still stressful, it's better than being a 12. Here are a few interventions to try:

  • STAY HEALTHY: Yes, it's easier said than done. We all know the traditional advice about washing your hands, getting plenty of sleep, and taking vitamins. Those are great but another thing I've found helpful is your drink in the classroom should have a lid. When I first began teaching I had a glass of water without a lid on my desk which was near my reading table. I think when my students at my reading table coughed the germs floated through the air to my drink. I was sick a lot! Finally, I figured out my problem. I need a cup with a lid. I was much healthier when I made this small change. Try it and see what you think.
  • SET REALISTIC GOALS: Yes, we would like 100% of our students to turn in their homework each day or week. Do you think 100% of the teachers at your school turn in their paperwork on time 100% of the time? My guess is no. So, if grown adults with a college degree can't do it with 100% accuracy, is it a realistic expectation for your students? Maybe a better approach is to look at where your class is now. Do 70% of your students consistently turn in their homework? A realistic goal would be next week having 75% of the students turn in their homework. Brainstorm with your class strategies to get them organized. Encourage them to exchange phone numbers so they can be homework buddies. If someone didn't understand an assignment or wasn't clear about the direction they have a couple of buddies that they can text or call. Put links to your assignments on your website so if assignments are lost or left at school they can download them at home. Once you have success at this goal for a couple of weeks, raise the bar again. Take baby steps. Remember Rome wasn't built in a day. You can take this same approach with whatever issue your class needs to work on. Maybe you have 5 students who never have their supplies ready when it's time to begin a lesson. Set a realistic goal, brainstorm strategies, readjust if necessary, and watch your students rise to the challenge.
  • ADD TO YOUR BAG OF TRICKS: There are some amazing people on your campus who could fill your bag of teacher tricks. When is the last time you asked your librarian for some ideas? Librarians were once classroom teachers PLUS they teach your students, so they know their attention spans, personalities, and a fairly good idea of their language arts abilities. If your students have been at your school for several years, the librarian has taught your students for several years. Every librarian I've ever worked with has been worth their weight in gold. Go talk to yours today!

  • Do you have a class with a wide range of abilities?  It is hard to find time to differentiate to the degree that you would like when you have a class like that.  Technology is a useful resource when you need to differentiate. Students can work at their own pace with some programs. Go talk to your tech teachers. They may have a program or game that is just what your student(s) need. Plus, there is something about putting on headphones that instantly makes a classroom quieter.

  • NEW STRATEGIES: All of the special education staff that I have worked with have always been happy to share ideas, even if the students I am asking them about are not on their caseload.  They are a wonderful source! If you have a student who has fine-motor skills or attention issues talk to the OT or PT. Some of the OTs that I have worked with let me borrow their tools to help my students.  

I hope you have a happy stress-free week!

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Student Motivation Activity: #Real World

How many times have you heard, "when will I use this?" when you introduce a new skill to your class? When you hear this, you know a change of mindset is in order so your students will be encouraged to do their best.

Showing your students #RealWorld application for the skills you are teaching will increase their motivation.

One activity that you can implement at any time of the year is a #Real World bulletin board.
You can introduce this activity by sharing math and grammar mistakes.

  • Let your class find the mistake(s).
  • Discuss the school and real world connection: using fractions or percentages when shopping, not editing signs before posting them, etc.
  • Discuss what happens when adults make mistakes in the real world.
  • Discuss the advantages of paying attention to details.  Smart shoppers will notice math mistakes which helps them spend their money wisely.
You can find some examples on my Pinterest board.

Encourage your students to become detail-oriented by making #RealWorld an ongoing extra credit assignment throughout the year. Tell your students to be on the lookout for mistakes when they are in public places. If they spot a mistake, ask them to take a picture of themselves standing next to the sign. Print a copy of the sign for your #RealWorld bulletin board.

The next time you begin a lesson and one of your students ask "when will I ever use this?" point to the bulletin board. It is the perfect reminder!

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Behavior Management Tool - Take a Break form

Do you have a student that has extra energy, has trouble focusing, or a short attention span?  Sometimes a short break from the classroom can help. A change in scenery and movement can help the student focus better when he or she returns.

What do you do if you don't have any errands to send your student on? 

This is when it pays to be prepared.  Ahead of time ask a co-worker if you can send a student from time-to-time that needs a quick break.  You will send an envelope with a note with the student so the co-worker is aware of what is happening.
Do you have more than one student that needs to take a break?  Copy forms on colorful paper and put each form in a different envelope.  

Your co-worker will circle yes or no letting you know if your student entered their room without being disruptive.  There is also room that your co-worker can add comments.  

Don't forget to add a pen to the envelope.  Your teacher friend may be in the middle of lesson and not have a pen handy.

Keep this form for parent-teacher conferences.

Class Break Form

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Leveled Book List, fairy tales, April birthdays of Children's Authors

Hans Christian Andersen's birthday is April 2nd.  He is the author of many fairy tales.  April is the perfect month to integrate fairy tales with your other Spring lessons. 

Include The Ugly Duckling with your pond life lessons.  Science and literature is a perfect combination!
  • The Ugly Duckling (retold - original version is a higher reading level) Guided Reading level - G
Read fractured fairy tales and compare texts.  Let students write their own version of one of the fairy tales that you share.
Grab a copy of the Happy Birthday author forms from my September file.  
Martin Waddell was born on April 10th.  Some of his books that you might be familiar with are:
Let's go home little bear would be a good text to compare to Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
Eileen Christelow was born on April 22nd.  You probably have a copy or two of one of her Five Little Monkeys books.
Her book, Where's the Big Bad Wolf, would be a nice addition to a fairy tale unit. Police Detective Phineas T. Doggedly is looking for the Big Bad Wolf after the pigs' house of straw and house of sticks was blown down.
Guided Reading level - L

Amy Hest was born on April 28th.  She is the author of books about ducks and weather.  Perfect topics for your April lessons.
Guided Reading level - J
Guided Reading level - I
Looking for new fairy tale ideas?  I just added a fairy tale themed file.  Students read the directions and either color the pictures or draw a picture.  Then write about the picture.

Grab a copy of the FREE April leveled book list.

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Fairy Tales Inquiry, Reading Comprehension, and Classroom Management

If you follow me on social media, you know I love books. I love to mail boxes of books to teachers that follow my Facebook page. I love to read books to children and read books in my free time. My house looks like I could open a book store. Can you relate?

Fairy tales is my favorite genre to read to students. These books can be read at any time of the school year.  Before you begin a fairy tale unit, set up a table or center with a few objects like the ones in the picture above.  I'm sure your students will spot it as soon as they walk in your classroom.  Tell your class the objects are clues about the new unit they will begin studying.  Ask them to look at the objects to see if they can figure out the objects have in common.  What is the theme?  This is a great way to build interest in a unit and an easy inquiry lesson.  You will hear your students brainstorming with each other if you wait until later in the day to introduce the new unit.

Through the years, I read The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka during the first week of school to my students. It is the perfect story to share before discussing conflict resolution, tattling, and other behavior expectations. It is helpful to share this story at the beginning of the year before one of your students want to report an issue. You can remind your student that just like Alexander T. Wolf and the 3 pigs had different points of view, you need to hear both points of view.
Three Billy Goats Gruff is a fun story to act out. Give your students some materials to construct their own bridge. Let them draw and write about their construction in their journals. It might inspire their future career path.
Beanie babies can be a classroom management tools when you are reading a fairy tale. Give a beanie baby to a student that is a good listener. After you read a few pages, let the student pass the beanie baby to another good listener.

Integrate this story with the following lessons:
  • Word family: -ig 
  • Farm unit 
  • Skip counting: by 3's 
Read*Color*Write and Read*Draw*Write printables can be used as reading comprehension quick checks.  You can read the feedbacks from other files with this format to see why busy teachers love these.

Fairy tale themed quick comprehension checks.

Would you like to try a sample?
FREE Fairy Tale - Princess & the Pea
Read & Follow Direction comprehension check
Read * Color * Write
Read * Draw * Write

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Famous African Americans: Book List, Word Work and Word Wall

What's on your bookshelf? Do you have a front facing bookshelf like the one in the picture? I found this one at a thrift store. Most of my schools have had one like this. Use this shelf to feature weekly or monthly themes. Your students will be more engaged with reading when you change books frequently.

February is Black History or African American History month. You can easily incorporate lessons about the contributions by famous African American into your plans.
Girls and boys enjoy reading about Bessie Coleman.  She was the first African American to earn a pilot's license. Many classrooms have a word wall.  Have you set up a separate word wall for the themes or units that you are teaching?  For this word wall, I like to add a picture of the book cover next to the word.  Before I read a book to my class, I will choose a few words from the book to discuss.

Whole Group:
Discuss vocabulary words (word cards) - meaning of words, how these words might apply to the book, and use word in a sentence.
Read: Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman by Louise Borden and Mary Kay Kroeger to your class.

Word Work - Compound Words:
Hold up "tailspin" word card
Students will write it on dry erase board
Students will draw a line dividing 2 words
Students will think and write other compound words with "tail"
A fabric map like the one in the picture above is an easy way to connect social studies to your read alouds.  Students can find the setting of the book on the map.
Is your schedule hectic this month?  Begin your day with morning messages about African Americans.  There is a sample in the preview file that you can try.
I compiled a list of books that have African and African American characters.  You can get a FREE copy of the booklist.

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Staff Morale Boosters & Random Acts of Kindness + Freebie

The end of January is the best time to plan a few morale boosters. Cold and flu season, dreary weather, and upcoming tests can impact the school's climate.
Add a staff morale booster to your faculty meeting. A Sunshine Committee or principal can organize this activity.

You will need prizes. Parents and local businesses are good sources to ask for prizes. There is a parent note that you can send home asking for donations in this FREE download.

Next, put the prizes in bags so staff members cannot see the prizes.

Ask staff members to write their name on a piece of paper and put it in a basket when they arrive for the faculty meeting.
Take a white elephant approach to the prizes.  Example, if you have six prizes, the first winner can choose a prize.  The second winner can steal the first winner's prize or select a new prize.  If he or she steals a prize, the first winner will select a new prize.  To save time, you may want to set a limit for how many times a prize can be stolen.  This is one of the few times when people do not want to be chosen first because it is fun to steal another person's prize.
Did one of your teammates get "that class"?  A little treat or note in the mailbox can make a big difference.  I found this sound effects box at the clearance section at Marshall's this week.  Wouldn't that be a fun attention getter? 
A warm drink is a perfect random act of kindness for this time of the year.  Drop of the supplies in the faculty lounge with a note and soon you will see smiles on your colleagues faces.

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