Friday, July 31, 2015

Teaching Letters and Sounds

Oh my word, friends! Can y'all believe back to school comes Monday for me?!? I may be freaking out just a little bit since I haven't really done much in my room this summer! However, I have had school on my mind lately, and I've been thinking a lot about the new babies I will get in just over a week. I always have a wide range of levels, especially with letter and sound knowledge. I get students that have never heard of a letter, students that are sounding and blending, and those in between. When I get home from my vacation this weekend, I will start working on all the resources I love to have handy for the beginning of the year and beyond to help my students work on letters and sounds.

Since I have students with such a range of phonics knowledge, I don't do a great deal of phonics instruction whole group. However, at the beginning of the year, I do more than usual. First, I always review this little chart every morning with my students. {You can grab it free here}
Another thing I do whole group is sorts. I love sorts so much! They are quick, low-prep, and such great formative assessment! Here is how we do letter sorts - as a group and individually. We also do beginning sound sorts, but sadly, I don't have a picture. {You can see more about there here}

Another easy activity for the beginning of the year that gives students exposure to words that begin with a letter, but also gives them cutting and gluing practice are these alphabet printables. I usually put them out for morning work the first month because after the first few, they require no directions!

As soon as I can after we start school, I like to get my kids into literacy centers {we call them workshops}, and there, they can work on skills specific to their needs. Some will need basic visual discrimination activities {you can read my post on that here}, some will need letter matching activities, some will need sound matching activities, and a few will need something a little more advanced. Here's a few of the beginning of the year centers I will use:

Visual Discrimination Alphabet Sensory Tub
Letter Matching Clips - this is so easy! Get paint stirrers, write uppercase letters on them, then write lowercase letters on clothespins, and the kids match! Letter practice and fine motor!
Letter Match - another super easy and cheap center is to buy notepads and write uppercase and lowercase letters on them, cut them down the middle, and have kids match them.

Beginning Sound Mats Sensory Tub

Now, the beginning of the year is not the only time we need letter and sound practice. For many of my students, it continues throughout the year. Here are more examples of various ways we practice letters and sounds throughout the year:

Matching letter cards to pictures that start with that letter
 Rolling a die and covering a picture that begins with that letter
 Pulling an uppercase letter card and coloring the corresponding lowercase letter
 Clipping a letter for the beginning sound of a word
 Matching letters to beginning sound pictures with puzzles

 For some of my students, letters and sounds practice in literacy centers continues long after Christmas. However, for the most part, my students have a pretty solid foundation by Christmas, which means lots of reading the second semester!
I hope to blog lots more about our alphabet activities once school starts and I have a new group of sweeties to teach! If you're looking for lots more alphabet activities, be sure to check out Abby's Alpha-Boom post from today!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Visual Discrimination {Pre-Reading Skills for Little Ones}

This summer, I've found myself reflecting on last year quite a bit. I've been thinking of things that I can improve on in the new school year {which is in 2 weeks for me - crazy!}, and as I thought about it, I realized that so many years, I get quite a few children with little to no visual discrimination skills! Because these children have had limited exposure to written language and don't get a lot of language experiences at home, I realized I need to beef up my pre-reading activities I use in my classroom.

Visual discrimination is an important piece in the puzzle of learning to read . Basically, it is a perceptual skill that refers to a person's ability to differentiate one object from another. When we read, our brain is constantly discriminating to figure out what a letter is, what a word is, etc. As I thought about my go-to beginning of the year concepts and activities, I knew I wanted to add some fun things to work on visual discrimination with my students. {Let me also mention that I've been using these at home with my 2 1/2 year old daughter and 5 year old niece, and they love them!}.
First, I love a sort of any kind! I made up some big letter cards and some that are just a bit smaller. At school, I'll let me students work with the cards of the letters we are working on in class, and most likely, they'll be working with a pocket chart. At home, I let the girls sort on the floor with the letters that start their names. I'll most likely do this with uppercase letters first, then lowercase. However, you could have students discriminate between the uppercase and lowercase variations of a letter.
The activity I'm most excited about is my letter mats. I made a simple mat {I didn't want it to be overly distracting} and letter cards that the students will match to the correct mat. There is a plain mat for each uppercase and lowercase letter, and there is also a mat with a beginning sound picture for each uppercase and lowercase letter, just as another reminder of the sound the letter makes. {Please note - there are no small picture cards for these mats. We're just working on letter discrimination} I'll be putting the cards in a sensory tub for the students to find and place on their mats.

For these mats, I put velcro on each square of the mat, and on the back of each small letter card. This was very helpful when my little one was "playing," since she could move around, and not knock the cards off.

As you can see, the mats were a big hit with my little one {she's 2 1/2, so I was interested to see if she cared about doing it, but she really enjoyed it and it was a perfect opportunity to talk about same and different}. When I was working with her, I didn't make a big deal about the letters going the correct way, since I was more focused on the letter going on the mat that it matched. :)
 Some other activities I will use are these letter detective printables. I'll most likely put them as a paper/pencil follow-up to the sorts or mats. For this activity, the students will color all of the boxes with the letters matching the large letter in the circle.
I'll also put these Not Like the Other printables in a center tub as a paper/pencil follow-up to the sorts or mats. In this activity, students will cross out the letter that is not like the others.
Last, to help practice finding which letter doesn't belong, I also made these cross out cards. I'll use these in small group and in literacy centers.

I truly hope these activities will help aide in my students' visual discrimination, which in turn, I hope will make them better readers! If you'd like any of the activities, you can grab them in my new pack. They're normally $5.75, but this week, they're on sale for $3.75!

Friday, July 10, 2015

More Motivation

A few months ago, I posted these quotes I made for my principal. She printed them and hung them in our conference room and teacher lounge, and they look great! As I've been getting ready to set up my classroom for the upcoming school year, I found a few quotes that I wanted for my classroom and thought I would share them with you.
First, I'm going to copy Jada over at Daisy Days for Learning, and frame this quote to hang outside my classroom.

I'm not sure where I want this one yet, but I love this quote from Walt Disney!
Last, is a quote just for me. One of my faves!

Want to print and use these? Just click on the picture below. :)

Monday, July 6, 2015

Kagan Love

Last year, my school began to really focus on student engagement, and to do that, my principal worked extremely hard to get all of our staff some sort of Kagan training. If you've never heard of Kagan, you can check their website out here. I have loved every training I've been too - I have never been bored! Last year, I was able to go to a one day cooperative leaning, a one day win-win discipline, a model school open house, and a one day brain based learning. I even got to meet Dr. Kagan himself at the brain based learning workshop {and yes, we were dorks and had our picture made}.
Basically, like their tagline says, Kagan is all about engagement. The goal is that every child will be engaged in meaningful learning and to do this, they use different structures. There are LOTS of structures, so it can be very easy to get overwhelmed at first. {That's why I love their trainings - you learn by doing structures and not just hearing or reading about them}. These structures accomplish a few things...

To clarify, these structures are a means to establish cooperative learning in your classroom - not group work! In traditional group work, one student can do all the work while others do nothing. Kagan has all students accountable during learning! 
My goal this past year was to do a really good job at 2-3 structures. Two of my favorites {because they are super easy to implement with kindergarteners} quickly became Quiz, Quiz, Trade and Take Off, Touch Down. For Quiz, Quiz, Trade, each student gets card, then they stand up, put their hands up, and pair up with the person closest to them {this is also a strategy called Stand Up, Hands Up, Pair Up}. Then, the students greet each other {this is big in Kagan}, answer the question on their card/read a word/whatever the card has on it, give praise {something else that's big}, and then go find another partner. Every child is engaged! There is no one not interacting or learning! Here's a few pictures from when we used this structure with our word cards.

These cards are folded in the middle, so that there is a hint on the back in case the students have trouble.

To check out the word cards we used for the structures above, click the picture below.
There are tons of other Kagan structures that I've used, or that I hope to try out this coming year and I plan on sharing more of my favorites on the blog. Next week, I'll be in Orlando for the Kagan Summer Academy where I'll get to attend two more Kagan workshops and I am super excited!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Capture Summer Memories!

If you're like me, you're soaking up all things summer right now and taking a much deserved break from school life {and if you're still in school - hang in there!!}. It is so super hot here in south Alabama, so we're having to be creative with our summer fun since it's near impossible to stand the heat for very long. {You can check out what I'm up to on Instagram - the one form of social media I'm pretty good at posting on!} One thing I've been doing {with some inspiration from my sister} is trying to take more pictures of my sweet girl that aren't posed. I'm great at getting posed shots, but sometimes I forget to take pictures of her just enjoying her days!
Here's a shot I got a week or so ago at an outside concert we went to {late in the day, so it was not so miserably hot!!
I love how the background is blurred and the focus is all on her sweet face.
Here's another picture I took the same night of my's edited to be black and white, but for an amateur, I think it is such a sweet picture.
Both of these pictures were taken with my nice DSLR camera and I can honestly say, it is one of my most favorite things! I can't imagine not having it now! I use it constantly at school and home.
Here's the GREAT news - I'm teaming up with some of my most favorite blogging friends to give away an AWESOME photography pack!
This giveaway has an amazing camera {a Canon DSLR T5} that comes with the kit lens {I use mine for everyday use or when we're on trips where I want to see the background}.
In addition, you also get this amazing 50mm lens that allows you to get those beautiful bokeh shots like above.
And that's not it!! You also get this beautiful JoTotes bag {I'm super jealous of this!}

All you have to do for a chance to win is enter using the rafflecopter below. It will take a minute because a lot of us came together to make this giveaway so great, but we're only asking that you follow us one way :).