Saturday, August 29, 2015

Making Connections From the Start

As teachers, I think we all want to make our new parents and students feel at ease at the beginning of the year. I am constantly racking my brain during the summer to think of different ways I can help my new families feel welcome in my classroom. I mean, dropping your baby off at kindergarten {and being dropped off at kindergarten} is a HUGE deal! It may sound sappy, but it really is like leaving a chunk of your heart with someone else for almost 8 hours a day! {I may or may not have cried leaving my 2 year old at Mother's Morning Out, so I'll be a mess when she starts kindergarten!}
The very first thing I do after getting my class list {and I realize some don't get it until the day of Open House, but I'm blessed to get mine in advance} is write a postcard to each of my kids. Who doesn't love getting mail?!? {You can grab these here for grades prek-5th} These postcards are an easy way to get students and families excited about school!
I also plan on sending more postcards throughout the year. Click the picture below for a copy of the generic postcard :).

At my school, we first meet parents at Parent Orientation. We have orientation on a Thursday night {before school starts on Monday}, and only parents attend. When parents walk in, I make sure my room looks clean {even it means shoving tons of stuff into the closet 30 minutes before} and inviting. Parents sit at their child's seat, and I have this sitting on their desk.
The folder has the 1,000 forms {not really, but close - ha!} that parents need to fill out and return. The orange card on top is the one thing I have them fill out that night and return before they leave. I also have them fill out this transportation form before they leave.
I am a fanatic when it comes to knowing how kids go home, so by getting this paper before school starts, I can be ahead! You can grab the info card, transportation sheet, and a questionnaire here. The transportation sheet is specific to my school, but you may be able to use it :).
I also have a little gift for the parents. It's nothing fancy, and an idea I got from the teacher I mentored with in high school, but it's thoughtful, and parents appreciate it. They love that a little extra time was taken to make them feel welcomed. I buy a big bag of apples, use some tulle I already have, and a cute tag {you can grab it here}.
The next day, we have Open House for students to meet their teachers. It is always such a crazy day, and I often feel like I don't get to spend enough time with each family. To help me feel better about making parents and students feel positive about the new year, I have this little set-up at their seat.
This is where I did spend a little more money than I probably should have, but after hearing all the sweet comments from families, it was more than worth it! I gave my kiddos two Mr. Sketch markers {they love them}, and usually I attach a balloon to the smelly markers. However, this year, I wanted something a little more personal, and I decided to give each family a book. I was able to get The Night Before Kindergarten on Amazon for fairly cheap {if you couldn't spend that much at one time, you could order a few each month during the year and save them for next year}, and I wrote a little note inside each book. I'm telling y'all - parents appreciated this more than I ever expected! They read it, and sprinkled their ready confetti {I got this idea from Denise at Sunny Days in Second Grade - the confetti is inside the card with a sweet poem} the night before school started and many told me it was a sweet way to celebrate school starting together with their child.

The last way I try to make the transition into kindergarten special and meaningful, is to have one last thing for parents on the first day of school. In my school, parents can bring their child to class the first day. When families walk in, there is a nametag, coloring page {from my Let's Get it Started pack}, and a pack of tissues for parents. The tissues have a little poem attached {grab it here and here - there are separate boy and girl versions}, and it gets them every year!
I know it may seem like a lot, but I truly think putting in the extra effort at the beginning {even when you're tired behind tired} really does set the tone for the year, and parents and students will appreciate it!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Kagan in the Early Weeks

Whew! The last two weeks have been a whirlwind! We survived parent orientation, open house, and 2 full weeks of school! I've got so many things to share with you that we've done, but I thought I would start by sharing how I implemented Kagan these first weeks. Many of you asked lots of questions after I wrote this post about how I incoporated Kagan last year, so hopefully, I can give you some more ideas!

In a nutshell, this is why I love Kagan...

Before I introduced an actual structure, I taught my kids about "Think Time." Think time is huge in Kagan {and research shows its benefits}, and to help my students understand that think time is not talking time, I taught them that before we discuss with partners or teams, we put our fingers on our head for think time. They rocked it!
The very first structure I introduced was Inside-Outside Line. This is most definitely NOT an easy structure to master. However, I really wanted to use it to sing our good morning song each day, so I figured I would dive right in! Basically, half the class lines up and faces the other half of the class {also in a line}. Then, we sing one round of our song {Dr. Jean's Hello Neighbor}. After that round, one line stays "planted,' and the other moves one person down. The last person goes to the other end. This goes on for 3 more rounds until the song is over. Later, I'll use this structure in conjunction with Quiz, Quiz, Trade and others to review skills. The kids love singing the song with each other, and I love that each child interacts with random friends, not just kids they knew prior to start kindergarten. Look how happy they are!

The second structure I introduced {because we use it multiple times a day} is Rally Robin. Basically, this is where partners go back and forth discussing a question/prompt. These can be just for fun {we did types of candy}, or academic {character traits, words that start with a letter, etc.}. This structure is great, because no one can hide. Every student has to talk, and every student has to listen {thus meeting a ton of our speaking/listening standards}. When I went to Kagan for Little Learners this summer, the presenter suggested giving young students talking balls when teaching Rally Robin to give them a visual of when it was their turn to talk. I ordered these little smiley balls on Amazon, and they worked perfectly! I love how engaged my kiddos are in just the first week of school!

Another structure similar to Rally Robin that I used these past 2 weeks is called Primary Interview. Usually, this structure is done in a team, but we used it in whole group when we introduced it. The kids are working with their shoulder partners and they interview each other based on a question/questions I give. Since most of my students are not accustomed to having to really listen in a conversation, I started small. I gave my students one question to ask their partner, and they had to be a very good listener, because they later shared with the class what their partner's answer was. Later, partners will share with their teams, which cuts down on how much time sharing takes. Some of the things my partners interviewed each other about what their favorite food, their favorite thing to do, and their favorite color {we were doing this for fun, but you can absolutely use this as an academic structure as well}. To make the structure a little more fun, I bought these inflatable microphones on Amazon, and my kids loved them!

Next week, I'll introduce more structures, and review the ones we already know. I am already seeing the positive benefits in my classroom, and I would love to hear from you if you try them!

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!