Switching Grade Levels: Tips for a Smooth Transition at the Beginning of the Year

The beginning of a school year can be stressful enough, but when you change grade levels, it can add a whole new level of stress. 
Through the years I have moved from 1st to 3rd, 3rd to 1st, 1st to kindergarten and kindergarten to 1st grade. One time I moved from 3rd grade to 1st grade with half a day's notice before "meet the parents" and I had just finished setting up my classroom. With all of this experience switching grade levels, I have found a few tips to make these changes a little easier - for my students and me.

This summer I will be sharing these tips through a series of blog posts. Be sure to follow my blog and FB page so you won't miss out. These tips will be helpful to veteran and new teachers.
One of my favorite organizational hack is calendar numbers. These colorful little numbers can be used so many more things than a calendar. Assign each student a number. Use the calendar numbers to assign hooks to hang backpacks or coats. The best thing is you can use the same number year after year - big time saver when you are doing preparing your classroom for Back to School.

Numbers can also be taped to the floor to show students where to line up. If you have a theme like bugs or insects, you can use those to accent your theme.

Quick way to show students their schedule, center, or workstation. Laminate the number and add to a pocket chart along with your schedule.

Switching from first grade to kindergarten was the most challenging grade level switch that I made through the years. Even though other grade level changes involved greater age spans, students in those grades had experience in a school setting.

My first day of kindergarten was a rude awakening. I was overconfident because I had a number of years of experience and taught first grade the year before. My thinking was, "how much different can kindergarten be from first grade?" Famous last words as the saying goes. I had planned for the differences the summer before. Mistake . . . BIG mistake! I was visiting the other kindergarten teachers asking for advice after my first day - even though I was incredibly exhausted.

SURPRISE #1 My first big surprise was the number of kinder kids that not only could not write their name, but did not recognize their name either. I had spent HOURS writing their names over and over and over so everything in our room was labeled.

SURPRISE #2 Almost all of my students recognized numbers. They may not be able to recognize their name, but I could assign them a number. I added a number next to labels with their names. The small number of students that could not do this was a manageable amount so I could help them.

TEACHER TIP: Over the years, I found it was easier to use only numbers in the assigned places like cubbies, coat hooks, etc. When I wrote students names and numbers, there were always a name or two that I had to change after I met the parents and students. Some students go by their middle name or nickname. Using the numbers only saves time and hassle. Plus, I kept the numbers up year after year.
In the summer, students fine-motor skills do not get as much practice as they do during the school year.  Playdough is one of my favorite go-to ways to start the day at the beginning of a new school year.  Students love playdough which makes for an easier drop off transition with mom and dad.  Fewer tears is a plus!  Your class is engaged is an activity that is warming up their muscles and improving their handwriting so you can answer parents' questions or taking attendance.  
  • Do your parents stop by, email, or call about their child not liking school at the beginning of the school year?  
  • Do you have a student in tears after the first day or two of school?  
Many times the root of these situations is friendship.  It is very important at the beginning of the year that all of your students have someone to play with at recess.  You can do this different ways:
  • Have boy names in one bucket and 2 girls in another bucket. Draw 2 boy names out the bucket.  Those 2 will be recess buddies for the day.  Draw 2 girls out of the bucket.  They will be recess buddies for the day.  Continue until everyone has a buddy.  If you have an odd number, you will have a 3 Musketeer group.  Students can play with more than just the one buddy as long as the buddy is also included.
  • Choose one name out of the bucket and let that student choose a buddy.
  • You can choose larger groups.
  • Choose activities such as 4 square, tag, or other games - let students choose which activity they want to play at recess.
When your class comes in from recess, it is helpful to do a "check in" to see how recess went.  It may not be necessary to do it the entire year, but at least in the beginning to ensure everyone has someone to play with.

These ideas may seem time consuming when your schedule is hectic.  The amount of time you devote to your students developing healthy friendships and social skills will pay off throughout the year.

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Teaching BLENDS: Anchor Chart, Small Group Activities, Word Work, Reading Passages

Looking for hands-on ideas to teach blends? This is a fun activity that incorporates the five senses. 
Food is one of my favorite teaching tools.  I have a captive audience when I incorporate food with my lessons.  Most students love hot cocoa.  They might remember it from their school's Polar Express Day.
Tell your class that two of the ingredients of hot cocoa are like consonant blends.  Add cocoa powder and sugar to a bowl. For demonstration purposes, I recommend using a glass bowl.  
In another glass bowl, add two letters of consonant blends in the bowl.  Tell your class that the cocoa powder is like the letter f and the sugar is like the letter r.  Have your students make it each sound.  
Put your finger in the cocoa powder and taste it.  Then put your finger in the sugar and taste it.  Tell your students what it tastes like. The cocoa powder is not sweetened.

Now take a spoon to mix or blend the ingredients together.  Show your class what the mixture looks like now.  You can still see sugar and powder but they are very close together.  Now put your finger in the mixture and taste it again.  Tell your class what the new mixture taste like.  The ingredients are so close together that it is hard to taste the separate ingredients.

Consonant blends work much like these two ingredients.  The two letters are so close together that the two letter sounds blend together.

Check your school's food used with lesson policy before the try the above idea.  If your school allows food, you can give students their own bowl and ingredients.  Check with your school nurse for allergies before you do this.
Continue practicing blends when you meet with your small group with this blends climb activity.  Students can make real or nonsense words.
Differentiate the blends climb activity with your small group:
  • Write real or nonsense words with initial blends
  • Write words with blends in the middle of the word
  • Write words with blends in the last syllable
Make anchor charts with your class.  You can make a word bank with pictures like the one above.
If you have an advanced class, you can make an anchor chart with:
  • Write real or nonsense words with initial blends
  • Write words with blend in the middle of the word
  • Write words with blend in the last syllable
Play the boy-girl game after making the anchor chart, You could also play this with teams.  To save time, I usually played the boy-girl game.  I chose one girl and gave her a pink marker and gave one boy a blue marker.  When I said "go" the students with the marker would go to the anchor chart and circle one blend.  Then the boy would give the marker to another boy who hadn't had a turn yet.  The girl would do the same thing.  This continued until all of the blends were circled.  At the end, I counted the blue circles and pink circles.  If a student circled the wrong thing, I subtracted one. The winner was the group that found the most blends.
The activity, "Head, hips and tips of toes" is a little like song, "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" and Simon Says.  The teacher says a word with a blend.  If the blend is at beginning of the word, students touch their head.  If the blend is in the middle of the word, students put their hands on their hips. If the blend is in the last syllable of the word, students put their hands on their toes.  I recommend making a word bank ahead of time.  

"Head, hips and tips of toes" can be used for inside recess, as a wiggle break, or a warm up for a lesson.
Give students additional practice with blends themed reading passages.  Students will color the word:
  • Red: words with initial blends
  • Yellow: words with blend in the middle of the word
  • Green: words with blend in the last syllable
WORD WORK: Practice, practice, practice with word sorts.  
WRITING: The shape book is open-ended.  Students can write a story or sentences with the words from the anchor chart or the words from the blends climb activity.
Set up a literacy center with books that include the blend that you are focusing on.  To make it extra fun, add pointers that include the blend.  In the picture above is a wooden crab and crown that I found at Hobby Lobby.  I glued it to a tongue depressor.
Gather a collection of books that includes the blend you are focusing on.  Books that include a wide variety of topics and levels work best.

BLENDS - FR Books:
Froggy Rides a Bike by Jonathan London
My Friend is Sad by Mo Willems
Frozen: A Tale of Two Sisters by Melissa Lagonergro
Franklin is Bossy by Paulette Bourgeois
I'll be your Friend, Smudge by Miriam Moss * Lynne Chapman

What is your favorite way to teach blends?
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School Supplies Tip + Win Markers, Crayons, & Pencils!

How do you organize school supplies?  Ziploc containers are one of my favorite ways to organize supplies. I always pick up extra supplies during the Back to School sales.  Then I organize some of those supplies into containers like the ones in the picture.  Each container includes a box of crayons, scissors, and glue stick.  Each container and the supplies in it are assigned a number.  This keeps students accountable and ensures that the correct supplies are returned to the correct container.

These handy dandy supply boxes are perfect for:
  • When you get a new students unexpectedly.  Let your new student use one of these boxes and unpack his/her backpack later.
  • When you switch classes for special holiday events like Polar Express.  You have supplies that are ready to go and accountable with the number system.
  • Use with your small group, intervention group, or give to a volunteer who helps your students.

I am joining some of my friends with a WE LOVE SUPPLIES Giveaway. Visit each of my friends' blogs between May 1 - 5, 2017 to enter each rafflecopter.  Each of my friends will choose a winner to give much needed school supplies to lucky teachers.

We will email the winner and announce the winner on our FB page. Make sure you follow our FB pages.  Winners will have 48 hours to respond to our email.  If no response, we will choose a new winner.

You can win the following:


Pencil Tips plus Win School Supplies

Pencils can be a big headache for teachers.  Yet, how many of us were taught how to manage pencils in our undergrad classes?

Do you use community supplies with your class?  One way you can hold your students accountable is by color coding the supplies. Use a different colorful supply tub on each table or team.  Draw a mark that is the same color as the tub on each of the supplies.  If a pencil or pair of scissors falls on the floor, students will be able to see easily see which colorful tub that they should return it to.

Do you have limited supplies?  Assign each student a number.  Write or tape the students' number at the top of the pencil.

I love to keep a bag of sharpened pencils handy to use when I'm being observed or quarterly writing prompts.  It's amazing how a nice sharpened pencils will produce top quality work.

Black is the perfect color for pencils to use with your small groups.  Students rarely bring black pencils to school.  Your class will quickly figure out that a student with a black pencil at his or her desk, must have "borrowed" it from the teacher's table.

I am joining some of my friends with a WE LOVE SUPPLIES Giveaway.
  • Visit each blog and enter each rafflecopter.
  • A different winner will be chosen from each rafflecopter.
  • Enter between May 1 - 5, 2017.
  • Each of my friends will choose a winner.
  • Winners will be emailed.
  • Winners will also be announced on our FB pages.  Make sure you follow our FB pages.

PLEASE NOTE: Winners will have 48 hours to respond to our email.  If no response, we will choose a new winner.

You can win the following:

To enter my giveaway:
    • Sign up for my newsletter.
    • Tell me the email that you used to sign up for my newsletters on the rafflecopter.
    • I will email the winner using this email.

    I also have a little treat for you!

    Click HERE for your freebie.

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