Partner Plays & Hands on Fluency with Jan Brett

Jan Brett recently visited my local bookstore. I was fortunate to be one of her fans that attended her visit. She taught an art lesson while she spoke to us. I found some of her drawing lessons online. These would be perfect for inside recess or a lesson extension to one of her stories. You can find the 2 drawing lessons along with read alouds for the following stories with my new FREE Q.R. code Listening Center:
  • The Mitten
  • The Hat
  • 3 Snow Bears
  • Annie & the Wild Animals 
Fluency is one of those skills that requires practice, practice, and more practice.  Students need more practice than what they get during small group lessons.  Some students are fortunate to have involved parents who help them at home.  How do you help students who don't have this support?

Set up a Readers Theater play with stick puppets and your fluency is now hands on.  
You can make a stick puppet stage with a graphic like the one in the picture, a file folder, and some binder clips. To make this:
  • I glued the stage graphic on the front cover of a file folder.
  • Laminate the file folder with stage graphic.
  • Fold the back flap of the file folder like a fan (1 inch strips).
  • Hold the fan with large binder clips on each end.
  • Use an X-acto knife to cut a slit in the front for the stick puppets to slide through on the stage.
This is the view from the back of the puppet stage.  Students can also hold their puppets next to the edge of a table or desk if you don't want to make a stage.
You can find ways for students to practice their reading skills independently at school.  Partner plays are an easy to manage fluency activity.  You can divide the speaking parts into however many students are in your small group.  This group has two students so I used 2 different colors to highlight students' parts.  

The example of the stick puppets and readers theater scripts is from Jan Brett Readers Theater and more.  

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Cool Teaching Tips: Organization & Behavior

Winter break is the perfect time to rest and recharge your teacher battery.  The teaching profession is one that requires you to give, give, give, without time to boot up for the next day.  This is why teachers are just as ready for winter break as their students!

One way you can start the New Year with a positive attitude is by trying new things.  You know your students - academically and behaviorally - by this time of the year.  With a little tweaking, the second semester can be even better than the first! 

Sometimes small changes can reap big rewards.

Does your class interrupt your small group lessons?  Visual cues like these colorful, plastic glasses are great "do not disturb" signs.  ALL of your students will wear them when they meet with you during small group time. This reinforces the purpose of the glasses.  I found these glasses at Target's party supply section.
Old socks are great teacher tools. Let your students grab a sock when it is time to put them in groups.  You can be as creative with your groups as you want:
  • Group #1:  socks with bumps
  • Group #2:  Socks with an animal(s) on them
  • Group #3:  Socks with a pattern
  • Group #4:  Socks - primary color
  • Group #5:  Socks - secondary colors
You can divide the groups into smaller groups if you have too many students with the same type of sock.
Peer pressure can be used in a positive way.  Think of 2-3 goals for your class.  

BE REALISTIC! Have at least one goal that needs just a little tweaking.  Students can easily identify this goal when the class is doing it or the class is not doing it.  This should be something that more times than not your class will be successful.  You want your students to buy into this system.  If all 3 goals are too difficult to achieve, your students will give up.  Suggestions:
    • 75% of our class will turn in the homework
    • 75% of our class will come to school on time.
    • 85% of our class stacked their chair at the end of the day.
    • 80% of our class will have needed material ready for our lesson within __ minutes.
    • 90% of our class will line up within __ minutes when I blow my whistle that it is time to lineup at the end of recess.
    • 80% of our class will take home their hats and gloves/mittens.
Did you notice that NONE of these goals state 100% of the class will achieve the goal?

How would you feel if you met with your administrator after being observed and he or she said, "Miss Teacher you do not get points for student engagement because only 85% of your students were paying attention during your lesson.  I noticed that 1 student was staring out the window, 1 student was playing with an eraser in his desk, and another student kept kicking the student's desk in front of her."  Would that motivate you to go back to your classroom and teach your heart out?  

You can keep track of your goals with something simple like these chain links.  Each color is a different goal.  At a glance, you can see which goal needs more effort.

Motivation is key to having a wonderful second semester.  Work on improvement not perfection and you'll have a happy class!

My friend, Susan @Keep 'Em Thinking, has teacher tips that are perfect for this time of the year. Be sure to visit her.

Sources to make my blog post graphics can be found HERE.
Click HERE to read my blog's disclosure statement.

Take Home Readers & Class Library

It seems like you never have too many books when you are a teacher.  I like to have more than one copy for:
  • Author study 
  • Social studies or science unit 
  • Leveled readers for take home readers or Daily 5 
  • Class Library 
Books are a great teacher tool.  Unfortunately, most districts do not provide class libraries or take home readers. Setting this up can be costly if you are a new teacher or are switching grade levels. Where are the best places to find inexpensive books?

Thrift stores: Great prices - especially around the holidays! Books can be purchased at many for 25 - 50 cents.
Garage sales: Many people will sell you bags of books for very little money if you show them your school ID.
Scholastic Book Clubs: Use points to order books. This is a great way to order sets of books for your reading groups.
Parents: Add a note to your newsletter each month asking for gently used books. Many parents are happy to donate books when they know they are going to a good cause.

Once you set up your class library and take home readers another pricey problem occurs. The "missing book syndrome" is a source of frustration for many teachers. You send home books with your students but somehow the book never returns to school. You ask the student where the book is, you send home notes, email the parent, call the parent, yet the book never returns to school. A book that you spent personal money, took time to level, add to your collection, is now gone forever. What can you do?

I have tried a variety of things through the years. Writing my name on the inside cover. Nope! This did not help. Put colored dot stickers on the spine of the book showing which collection the book belonged to. Nope! There are other books at the thrift store with dots. Parents also shop at thrift stores.

I needed to make my books easy to identify from the student's books at home. Tape was the answer to this problem.
I put tape around the edges of the front and back cover. You can easily see the tape when you look at the book without opening a page of the book. I added tape to the hinge of the book, too. I found my books also lasted longer with the tape along the edges of the covers of my books. At the end of the year when I am collecting my books, I remind my students and parents to look through their books at home for books that have tape on the covers. I had a larger percentage of my take-home readers returned when I did this.

If you are like me and have a huge collection of books, the thought of adding tape to your thousands of books seems like a insurmountable challenge. There are a few things you can do to make this less painful.

The only supplies you need are return address labels and tape.

Start Small: How many books do you need at the beginning of the year for take-home readers? Collect that many readers and put them in a tub along with the supplies you'll need. Do you work on this type of thing while you watch t.v. in the evening? Put the tub next to your chair and do a few each night. Soon your tub of books will be finished. That sense of accomplishment will motivate you to go collect another tub of books. Taking "small bites" of this project is the key!
You can also ask a parent volunteer to do this for you. I would organize this for the parent like the suggestion above. Give the parent the supplies and a tub of books. Don't show your parents the 2,432 books that you need to be leveled and taped or he/she will be overwhelmed.
Make it a party! Invite your teacher friends to bring their tub of books over. It is much more fun to work on a project like this when chit chatting with friends.

Have you found a good source to level your books? When I go to the thrift store, I usually purchase the Scholastic books because I know I can find the reading level information for those books on the Scholastic Book Wizard. You can get that information:
I also find information about books on the Level It app. I am not always able to find information about every book or it might give the Lexile level but not the Guided Reading level.

I like to level my books by grade level, guided reading level, DRA, and Lexile. You never know when you may switch schools or your school may decide to switch to a different format. By doing it this way, I don't get as stressed when there is some change that is introduced.

BOOK BOX GIVEAWAY: I have been hosting "Need Books" giveaways on my Facebook page. Make sure you follow my page so you can enter each time I am hosting a book box giveaway.

These book giveaways are a great way to help stock or replenish your class libraries or take home readers.

Sources to make my blog post graphics can be found HERE.
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Teacher Tips: Handwriting & Fine Motor Skills

Handwriting is one of those skills that is often overlooked.  Yet, when you grade their assignments, it is evident that more time should be spent on handwriting.
When I began teaching, many years ago, we had an actual block of time to teach handwriting.  I wrote letters and sentences on the overhead which modeled correct letter formation.  Students copied what I wrote on handwriting paper.

More and more was added to our schedule and something had to go. Handwriting was one of the first things to go.   You can still teach handwriting skills by integrating it with your other lessons.
It seems like there is always a few students that need to work on proper grip.  Give those students something small to hold - like the ball in the picture above - to hold. You can introduce this during your small group lesson when your students are writing. 
Some students hold their pencil in the wrong place. Wrap a rubberband around a pencil to show students where to hold their pencil. You can use grippers, too. There are a variety of grippers on the market.
  • The C.L.A.W. gripper helps students hold their pencil correctly.
  • My former O.T. loaned me these grippers.  I loved them so much, I bought my own set.  

Try a variety of pencils with your early writers.  My first Ticonderoga is my favorite fat pencil.  Golf pencils are the perfect size for small hands.
During small group lessons, use marker boards with dotted lines. Model how to write sight words or vocabulary words (like I used to do during my handwriting lessons). Your students will write the words on their dotted lines board after you model it. Encourage your students to use lines and spaces correctly.

Have you used makeup sponges for erasers?  They don't take up much work space and are the perfect size for small hands.
Do you need handwriting supplies?  I am going to host a giveaway of the supplies above on my FB page.  You can enter on my FB page - on the post with the picture above - if you would like to enter.

Sources to make my blog post graphics can be found HERE.
Click HERE to read my blog's disclosure statement.