Monday, September 28, 2015

Exploration Boxes {An Alternative to Morning Work}

Recently, I've been talking a lot with my friend, Kristen {A Day in First Grade}, about what play looks like in our classroom, and how we're incorporating more play based, inquiry activities into our day. Now, she has been doing some great research, and is far ahead of me, but I'm super excited about the steps I'm taking to make exploration and wonder a part of my classroom. While I strive to let my kids have time at free choice play centers every afternoon, that was basically all I was doing when it came to play. I decided the first area I wanted to change in my classroom was morning work.
Up until now, I've always used some type of worksheet or journal for morning work {and if that's what works for your class, that's fine!}. However, this year, I felt that it just didn't set the tone for the kind of day I wanted us to have, and my kids were very restless afterwards. So, after talking with Kristen and my sister, I sat down and made a list of some things we could do instead of morning work, and exploration boxes were born. Basically, I went to the Dollar Tree and Wal-Mart and bought whatever I thought looked like something my students could use to practice fine motor, but that could be left open-ended. I also bought 20 plastic shoe boxes from Wal-Mart because I wanted each student to be working with their own exploration box. Because I'm extremely impatient, I do have a little bit of money in these boxes and materials. You could definitely ask for donations, write a grant, etc. to get the materials you would need for the boxes.

Right now, I have 5 different types of activities in the boxes {so each table of 4 kids is working on the same thing}. Some are seasonal, and I'll change them out every month or so. When my students come in, the boxes are already sitting at their table, and quiet music is playing. They unload their bookbags, then get busy at their box. The only directions I gave them was that they were to work independently and the materials had to stay on the table. It's up to them whether they make a pattern, make a shape, count, etc.
The first set of boxes is super simple - nuts and bolts. I bought a variety of sizes in the hardware department and they are awesome fine motor practice. My kids are so concentrated when they're working with them!

The second activity is lacing. I don't have actual laces in my boxes yet, so I'm using pipe cleaners {which actually work well}. Two boxes have wooden beads, one box has buttons, and one box has letter beads. I grabbed what Wal-Mart had on the clearance aisle. The kids don't have to lace the beads/buttons if they don't want to - they can make a pattern, count them, whatever they like. Most lace them on the pipe cleaners though.

The third activity I have in the boxes is play-doh. My kids love play-doh, and it really is great for working on fine motor. I put 2 small containers in each box, along with some tools I ordered on Amazon.

As a seasonal activity, I found these mini jack-o-lanterns and Halloween colored pom-poms at the Dollar Tree. I threw in some tweezers I already had, and my kids so far have been using them to transfer the pom-poms. I'm waiting to see if any of them will start using them to make patterns.

In the last set of boxes, I simply put some decorative stones I got from the Dollar Tree. I also put in some alphabet cards if the kids wanted to practice making letters. I love how creative some of my kids got with these - especially the pyramid!

By the end of the week, each child will have had an opportunity to use each of the 5 boxes. This was only our second time with the boxes, but I hope the kids continue to love them as much as they already have!
**If you follow my Facebook page, you can check out a video of my kids in action with the boxes.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Literacy Centers to Start the Year

Somehow, we've managed to already make it into our 7th week of school...7 weeks! Truthfully, it all feels like a bit of a blur, and in a few more months, I probably won't remember any of it {everyone says the beginning of kindergarten is like childbirth - right?}. However, right now, we are in the swing of workshops {what we call literacy centers}, and my kids are doing a great job! We have been working hard to work on our whisper voices, not interrupting my group, and using Rally Coach in many of our workshops {another Kagan structure I hope to share about soon!}.
At the beginning of the year, I have so many students on various levels, so I try to start meeting their needs immediately. For some, that means basic visual discrimination and fine motor. I've been using these lowercase letters and mats in a small sensory tub {this one has leaves for fall right now}, and having the kids use tweezers to pick a card, then put it on the correct mat. Best of both worlds!

When the kids finish finding all the cards, they can use a highlighter to do a little letter detective activity. They love highlighters!
We've also been working on our fine motor skills while practicing matching lowercase to uppercase letters. For this center, I got some paint sticks at Wal-Mart, wrote letters on them, wrote letters on clothespins, and that's it. Super easy! I also have a group that is matching lowercase to lowercase or uppercase to uppercase.
Some of my students began school already knowing many of their letters, so they've been working on beginning sounds. In my large sensory tub, I have dyed noodles, and my kids use the tweezers to find pictures and match them to the correct letter mat.
Another area my kids need a lot of practice in this year is letter formation/handwriting. We've been doing lots of roll and write with our letters and sight words and making our letters out of playdoh.

As we were getting deeper into small groups and workshops, I realized I was going to need more centers that worked on letters and sounds that were simple, quick to make, and still fun for the kids. So, I created a new pack of simple alphabet centers that can be used any time of year {each center comes in color and black and white!!}. So far, my kids have used the beginning sound clips, letter match puzzles, and beginning sound puzzles. For the puzzles, I don't have pre-made lines to cut the pieces. I free hand the cut so they are self correcting.
 To see more from my new center pack, you can click the picture below.
I'm also using, and will use in the coming months, some of my themed centers. It's a chore some times to change them out, but my kids love themed centers year after year! To see other centers from this post, click the pictures below.

If you don't currently use literacy centers in your classroom, I urge you to start taking baby steps to using them. It is truly amazing how much differentiation you can get in during this time, and the growth the kids make!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

What's Happening in Small Groups

This week, we wrapped up our second full week of reading small groups and literacy workshops. We are still working on whisper voices with our partners, and not interrupting my group, but overall, our small group time is a million times better than when we started!
I posted a picture on my Facebook page when I started groups, and many of you asked what I do in small groups to start the year, so here goes! :)
 A few years ago, our district was blessed to have Beverly Tyner as a consultant and we began using her small group model. Ever since I started using it, I've been hooked! The gains my students make in their reading are amazing, and I'll most likely have a hard time ever changing the way I do groups. This is the book we use the most:
Because I meet with all my students in small groups every day {and I know I'm blessed to only have 20 kids}, the bulk of my phonics instruction is done at this time. Any phonics I teach whole group is very short and sweet. I firmly believe that differentiating my phonics instruction during my small group time has led to higher reading achievement the past few years. Kids who come in knowing their letters aren't sitting through a long lesson on something they already know, and kids who come not knowing what a letter even is, aren't frustrated.
We do begin the year with her 26 alphabet lessons, which are not in the book above. I'm going to try and figure out where the lessons are available for purchase {I think she gave our county the lessons when they hired her, and mine are in my small group binder}. We teach letters in this order with Tyner:
Lessons 1-5: B, S, M, A, C
Lessons 6-10: D, F, T, R, I
Lessons 10-15: L, N, O, P, H
Lessons 15-20: W, U, G, J, K
Lessons 20-26: Q, E, V, X, Y, Z
Typically, I do the 26 lessons with all my groups because some of my students who come in knowing letters and sounds can't always segment or isolate sounds, so the skills covered in these lessons give us the base for when my 3 groups are all working on something different. *Side note - I don't do my lessons exactly like they are written. I adjust them to meet my needs based on my kids each year.
At my table, each student has a little box that has a dry erase marker, eraser, pencil, smelly marker, and magic rock {stones from the dollar store}. I got these boxes at Wal-Mart a few years ago on clearance for .10 each!

Each week we focus on 5 letters. When my students first come to group, they start working on matching uppercase to lowercase letters. Because my some of my students have limited interactions with the alphabet, I have the matches displayed on my mini pocket chart.

Excuse the marker stains all over my table and on this sweetie's arms ;)
After they match their letters, we point to each one, say the letter, and the sound. Then, we do our alphabet chart chant {you can grab the chart here}. We point to the letter, say the name, sound, and the picture. For example, a /a/ apple.
After our chant, we play guess my word. I say a the sounds of a word {for example, /b/ /i/ /g/} and the kids blend the sounds to tell me what word I've said. Then, we bring out Stretchy the Snake to do the opposite of blending - segmenting. Every year it never fails that my kids love Stretchy! My kids use their magic rock and Stretchy to practice stretching words. I give the kids a word, we say it, then bump the sounds. This past week, my high group started writing the letters for the sounds they heard on Stretchy. You can grab a free copy here from Deanna Jump :)
We keep our magic rock and use it with our sound and letter strips next. These strips were given to us when Dr. Tyner consulted for our district. We start with our picture strip. I say "Find the picture that starts with the sound /_/," and the kids cover the picture with their magic rock.

Then, I give my kids letter strips and say "Find the letter that is the first letter in ___." They find the letter, and cover it with their magic rock.
The last thing we do at group is work on production. Some days, I will give Stretchy back, and we'll use the other side to write letters that I call out. Every day, we work on handwriting using some simple sheets my friend Deeanna made. We use our smelly marker to rainbow the large letter {we pass to our neighbor 3 times}, then use our pencil to trace and write the smaller letters.
After our handwriting, we switch groups. Pretty simple right now, but when the 26 lessons are done, each of my three groups will be working on completely different phonics skills during small group {and we'll start actually reading books!}.
During my small group time, my kids not in group are working in literacy centers on skills targeted to their phonics needs. I'm hoping to have a post written soon showing what they're working on right now. As you can see in the backround, they're already pretty comfortable with it!
I hope this helps you visualize some of what I've mentioned before. I'd love to hear how you set-up your reading small groups!