Monday, 2 January 2017

3 Tips to Ensure a Smooth Transition after a School Break



3 tips to make an easy transition back to school after a break.  Give students lots of time, let them talk and review and practice classroom routines.

Going back to school after a break is always hard, but it is especially hard after a longer break like Christmas Break or Winter Break.  If you approach the first day back with the right attitude you will find that you and your students are ready to get back on track.  Here are a few tips to ensure that that smooth transition happens in your classroom.

Tip # 1:

tip 1 is to take it slow and let students ease their way slowing back into the first day of school.  Don't rush them, give them time to settle in at their own pace.

This tip is the most important in my opinion.  I know before I even see my first graders that they are going to be sooooo out of routine from two weeks of late bedtimes and sleeping in.  Getting out of bed and having to follow a morning routine the first day back is probably going to be difficult. I am almost certain I will have teary and grumpy children.  My answer to this is to start the morning off in a very relaxed way, starting with classical music when they come in.

We often start our day with Math, Language and STEM Good Morning Bins. These activities are open ended and give them a chance to work with a partner and visit and socialize after they have finished unpacking.  I put these out on the first day back and don't rush those slower kids to get ready. They naturally move along because they don't want to miss out on this time.  I intentionally extend this time in the first few days after break to ease them back into routine.

Tip #2:

give your students time to talk to each other and share about their holidays.  This is give them the opportunity to talk and perhaps limit the socializing at inappropriate times.

By talk I mean share.  What first grader doesn't want to talk about them self all.the.time!  We do a lot of sharing in those first few days to hear about all the exciting things that they did over the break.  I also have a day of Christmas sharing where they bring in a gift and talk about it and then eventually write about it.

write a thank you letters for one of your gifts when you return to school after Christmas break.  It's a great way to instill an attitude of gratitude.


My first writing activity of the year is a Thank You letter for a Christmas gift.  We spend the month of December writing to everyone at the North Pole so letter writing is very familiar to them.  This the perfect opportunity to get back into writing since it is both authentic and familiar which leads to students feeling successful.

Tip # 3: 

take this week to review all classroom rules and routines so that students can be successful after a break from school.
Take the whole week back as an opportunity to review all of your routines.  Two weeks is a long time away from routines.  It may even be longer if you are like me and switch things up in the last week and do things a bit differently to celebrate the coming holiday.  My little guys will be totally out of routine for our Literacy and Math center time so I will definitely take time to review anchor charts we created.  Routines for Read to Self also need to re-established too.  These are some of our anchor charts we will take time to review at the start of the week.

literacy center expectations anchor chart for first grade to establish expectations

independent reading or read to self anchor chart to establish the dos and don'ts of what it means to be a real reader

primary writing anchor chart to prompt students with choices for when they get stuck on a word they are trying to spell.


Don't forgot your lunch and line up routines.  These quick refreshers go a long way to a smooth transition back to the classroom.  I hope you have a great week back.  To me this is the most exciting time of the year!  I see so much growth in my first graders from this point onward.

the light bulb comes on for first graders after christmas


Don't forget to pin it for later when you need a refresher after your Spring Break!

3 tips to help ensure a smooth transition back to school after a school break

Until next time,


Saturday, 26 November 2016

5 Meaningful Ways to Fill 5 Minutes in the Classroom


It happens everyday.  We all have 5 minutes here and there during our day in the classroom that we need to fill. Even more importantly, we want to make the most of those minutes, so it is important to find activities that are both educational and quick.  I am here to help!

5 ways to effectively use those short amounts of time that we have each day in our classroom.  Teach Math and Literacy skills and make that time meaningful.

Today I am going to share with 3 super simple activities you can use in your primary classroom right away, 1 website that is a must and 1 new product that will help you teach foundational Phonemic Awareness skills in just 5 minutes a day!

Stand Up/Sit Down

This listening activity can be used with any topic you choose.  In grade 1 I use it to get to know students by asking questions about them, their families and their interests.  It gets them moving by they need to listen to be able to play.  You can do it with letters in your name or sounds in your name. Make it a math activity and ask survey questions.
There are so many possibilities.

Around the Circle

This is a game we play in our carpet area.  My kids giggle when I tell them we are going to play Around the Circle because we actually make a rectangle to play.  Around the Rectangle doesn't have the same ring!  I have played different variations of this game too.  The most popular one is a counting game  - as I go around the circle I count each student according to the pattern I have decided.  At the beginning I determine a number or numbers that, if you are counted, you will sit down.  For instance if we are counting by 1's to 50 I might say that if your number ends in 0 you must sit down when you are counted.  We continue counting to 50 until there is only one person left standing.  The kids start to predict who will sit down next based on how the pattern has progressed. This is a great way to practice skip counting too.

Categories is another version.  We all stand up an I give a category.  Each student in the circle has to give a word that fits in that category with the hopes that you can make it all around the circle.  If a student doesn't have a word they can sit down or you can start a new category if you don't want anyone to go "out".

Body Spell

In my version of body spell we spell the word wall words.  We don't make the actual letters but I use these actions:
Hands in the air for tall letters.
Tap my tummy for what I call tummy letters (letters that sit on the line)
Touch my knees for dangly letters (letters that hang below the line)

I give them a clue before I start - The word start the letter W or it is on the top half of the Word Wall or in the Word Jail.  If I was spelling went I would tap my tummy 3 times and the put my hands in the air.  I encourage them to count my movements so they can use the clue of how many letters in the word to help them find the word.  They become very good at figuring out the word and love to come to the front and body spell for their classmates. It is a great way to get your students to look closely at the letters in words.

GoNoodle!


If you don't use GoNoodle then you need to. There are so many quick brain breaks that will easily fill 5 minutes.  The only down side for me is that my classroom room computer is so sloooooow sometimes that it takes almost that much time to get the page open and select the brain break.


Phonemic Awareness in 5 Minutes

As a first grade teacher I start the year assessing my student's phonemic awareness skills with the screener we are provided.  Once I have analyzed the data I make a plan for addressing the gaps that most students have and plan to do some whole group work.  All of our phonemic awareness resources are in a big binder that is not very teacher friendly while you are teaching whole group at the carpet. I needed a portable resource that I could hold in my hand and be ready to go.

122 Word Lists to help teach phonemic awareness skills.  They are perfect for RTI.
Phonemic Awareness in 5 Minutes was born out of this necessity.  It has 122 Word Lists covering everything from Word Awareness to Sound/Phoneme Manipulation.  The cards are color coded. Check the contents card and flip to a list and you have words and instructions in your hand to practice that skill.

22 Word Lists to help teach phonemic awareness skills.  They are perfect for RTI.

You can also put each skill on it's own binder ring so that you have smaller sets.  There are enough words for each skill that you will not need to repeat words, so each student has their own word to show their understanding with.

22 Word Lists to help teach phonemic awareness skills.  They are perfect for RTI.


The cards are set up in such a way to make it easy for a volunteers or parents to use with minimal direction or training.

If you are interested click on any of the images or on this link:

 Phonemic Awareness in 5 Minutes - Word Lists.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Celebrate Thanksgiving in the Classroom with a Thankful Card and Craftivity



Thanksgiving is here again and we all have turkey on mind.  I love using Thanksgiving themes in Art and any other area of the curriculum that I can easily integrate.



First up is this adorable turkey card.  I found the idea on Pinterest and made it with my first graders. I must admit that they don't look a whole lot like the beautiful version I have seen online, but they were fun to make!  Anytime we use paint it is always a hit.  Painting with our fingers is extra exciting.



These little guys are ready for googly eyes when I am sure they are all dried.  Some of these turkeys have pretty thick paint on them.

I often read a book like "Thanks for Thanksgiving" to provoke conversation about things we are thankful for.  Most children immediately say their Mom, Dad, sister, brother, friends or pets and that is what they write about inside of their card.  Not one of these little guys mentioned anything materialistic.  That makes my teacher heart happy!

Speaking of great literature, there are so many fun Thanksgiving books that revolve around a turkey trying to escape so he isn't eaten at Thanksgiving dinner  One of my favourites is The Great Turkey Rescue by Steve Metzger.  In this book the turkeys are on the "lamb" having escaped last year's dinner and return to their farm to save the chickens.  I love this book to work on inferring skills.  I also use it for some creative writing to go along with my turkey craftivity.  I created this resource to compliment this book or any other book about runaway turkeys.


After enjoying the book and working through some whole group inferencing activities the students get to colour their own turkey and disguise him so that he can hide.  You will find all the information in the unit.  This year I added another layer and had students create a pattern for the feathers as we just wrapped up our patterning unit.


They are going to create their disguises for their turkeys next.  They can pick from several included with the craftivity or they can make their own props.  After the turkeys are disguised the students write about how they disguised their turkey and what he is going to do.

Last year's class had some wonderful ideas:



I can't wait to see what this year's class comes up with.

What are your favourite Thanksgiving Read Alouds?  I am always looking to expand my library (aren't we all!)

If you are looking for other ideas check out my Fall theme Pinterest board for more ideas:



I hope that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with great food and family.

Until next time,

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Engage your students with Hands On Patterning Centers and Ditch the Worksheets!




I love, love, love using hands-on centers during my guided math time. What I don't love is marking the worksheet follow up pages that often accompany centers.  The more I reflect on my practice, the more I am coming to realize that there does not need to be a worksheet to keep kids accountable.


Math Centers and math activities are a huge part of my math instruction. Students need kinesthetic experiences as much as possible, especially in first grade, where I have spent most of my career.  My first math unit is always Patterning.  That is the one area in math that students all seem to come to first grade with an ability to do.  They can easily recognize and create patterns, so it sets them up for success in math right from the start and helps them approach math with a growth mindset.

Patterns are everywhere and a pattern scavenger hunt is a perfect spot to start!


Put out the clipboards and send them hunting for patterns to record and you will be amazed at what they draw and write.

Putting out any and all of your math manipulatives and loose parts is also a great way to inspire kids to pattern.





As teachers we want to document their work as proof of learning.  Having students draw to show their work is one way to do it or giving them a worksheet is another. Lately though, I have embraced technology and now have my students show their learning very frequently by taking a picture on our class I-pads.  They love to use the I-pads, so they are motivated to complete their tasks, so they can take a picture and share their work with me.  All of those pictures need a home and I found the app that makes this process super simple.

I absolutely love the app Seesaw - The Learning Journal
(I am not affiliated with Seesaw, I simply love how simple the app is for both me and my students) 


The app is a digital portfolio and so much more.  I only use the app to store their work in their own digital folder, which I can access later for planning, assessing and reporting.  If you are interested in learning more about how the app works, my good friend Erin at Mrs. Beattie's Classroom has written a terrific post about setting up the app to use in the classroom.  You can check out her post {HERE}

When I am ready to target particular expectations I somewhat move away from using any manipulatives and use more directed centers aimed at addressing particular expectations.  My favourite go-to manipulatives have to be pattern blocks when it comes to patterning.

hands on patterning centers for first grade

Clip cards are a huge hit in my class. They love the colourful clothes pins. These cards challenge students to name the pattern and another option asks students to extend the pattern, both first grade expectations you can address with this one activity.

hands on patterning centers for first grade

The ability to look closely at a pattern and discriminate between patterns and non-patterns is an important skill to develop. You can use these cards as a sorting center - worksheet free - or many students can use the same cards and colour their responses in.

hands on patterning centers for first grade

This is a more open ended activity that provides criteria for pattern creation but allows students to create with the blocks of their choosing.  It is differentiated in that your students can create a simple pattern as was created for the bottom card or they can create a more complex pattern using the same blocks for the same Make It! task card.

hands on patterning centers for first grade

Post-its are another great tool for quick and simple check in's.  Rather than using a worksheet use a post-it and have student's record their answer on it.  You can do a simple checkmark on the post-it to show you have seen it and they understood the concept or take a picture of  post-it and the center.

hands on patterning centers for first grade

Recognizing pattern rules and expressing a pattern in terms of the rule is more challenging for my students.  This is a great activity to purposefully pair stronger readers with weaker ones to create a more successful center time while sorting patterns with pattern rules.

hands on patterning centers for first grade

Sorting out patterns by names helps students to realize that any pattern can be represented in a multitude of ways.  They are always amazed as they sort that there are several cards on each of the pattern names. They have an idea that there is only one correct answer and thus only one way to make each pattern.   It helps to solidify the idea that there is not one right answer.

While there is some problem solving evident using these centers, it is not the focus. Instead we work through pattern block problem solving challenges.  I do have students complete these activity sheets but you could also project them on your interactive whiteboard and have students solve the problem with pattern blocks at their desk and take pictures of their solutions.

Patterning problem solving activities for kindergarten


I am not advocating doing away with paper pencil tasks completely but I am advocating finding new ways to document learning.  One added bonus I am finding during center time is student returning to centers they have already worked at.  This has not been the case in the past when they completed the center and accompanying worksheet.  I think once they completed the paper, in their mind they were "done" and saw no reason to return and work their again.  

I hope you have found a bit of inspiration here for your own Kindergarten or Grade 1 patterning unit. It is a great math unit to break away from traditional methods and let the kids surprise you.  If you are looking for more ideas you can check out my Pinterest board for more inspiration.
Until next time,

Monday, 3 October 2016

12 Ways to Teach using Play Doh!

Play doh is something every child loves to play with.  Have you ever thought about using that love to excite your students and use it to teach?  There are so many possibilities and all of these ideas really help our kinesthetic learners.  Today I am sharing 12 ways you can use play doh in the classroom during your math and literacy times.



At the beginning of this school year I gave each of my students 2 of the mini sized containers of play doh (from the Hallowe'een section at Costco). On the first day it was a great ice breaker, all of the students were eager to transition to their desks to start playing.  On and off over the first few days we pulled those little containers out and had a great time.  I was tempted to send it home but decided it would just stay in their desk as I thought we could use it again.  I started to think about ways to use it as a teaching tool and quickly came up with the ways that I am sharing with you today.

1.  Represent Numbers


Roll out little balls to show a particular number.  It is good fine motor practice and a tactile way to show what you know.

2.  Use play doh to build a number in a 10 frame


Roll out little balls and fill a ten frame to show a number.

3.  Make your own base 10 blocks

Students can create snakes (as they call them) and break them into rods for 10's and little balls for 1's

4.  Cover up numbers on a 100's chart 


Provide students with number cards and have them find and cover numbers with little balls of play doh.

5.  Show skip counting patterns on a 100's chart 


Cover the number patterns with different colors of play doh. This makes it very easy to see what numbers are used in multiple skip counting patterns.


6.  Use as a manipulative for addition 


Use a different color for each addend to help visualize the addition problem.

7.  Use as a manipulative for subtraction


Use one color to build the first number and then flatten the balls of play doh that are being taken away.  Its a great visual and the kids will love squishing the little balls.

8. Use to create patterns 


Work with a friend and create patterns with 2 or more colours.  Work alone and create shape and size patterns with 1 color.

9.  Make 2D shapes

Roll out a long snake and form it into different 2D shapes.


10. Make 3D shapes

Create solid shapes with your play doh

11.  Make letters out of play doh


Roll long snakes and form letters and then words.


12. Stamp in play doh


I have lots of letter stamps but don't like ink pads.  The ink always gets all over everything and everyone.  This is a no mess alternative.  Flatten the play doh - I like to use old placemats or laminated sheets for a work surface. Use that flattened piece to stamp words into. It is a great no mess alternative.

All of these ideas build in fine motor practice for your shudents.  Rolling and manipulating the play doh will help build up hand strength.  Play doh can also be used a fidget for those students that need something to hold on to to help with their attention.

Are you ready to start using play doh to teach in your classroom? Download a a fun play doh themed freebie 10 frame building mat with numbers.  You can find it {HERE}

What ways do you use play doh in the classroom?  I would love to hear from you.  Share your ideas in the comments below.

Thanks for stopping by.
Until next time,