Sunday, January 8, 2017

Math Freebie Extravaganza!

Hello there! I could not be more excited to write this blog post! I am a huge proponent of math workshop in elementary classrooms. Four years ago, I switched from a more traditional math block to a math workshop approach and I have never looked back. My students are so much more engaged and I can meet their individual needs so much more successfully!

The honest truth about beginning math workshop is that it does require a lot of prep up front to prepare engaging math centers. Over the last few years, I created over 100 math centers and then printed, cut out, laminated, and organized them for use in my classroom. In the first few years of math workshop, I used more paper/pencil activities and worksheets in my math tubs as I slowly build my collection of prepped math centers. This year, I am finding that I have a well-developed selection of math centers to pull from each week. Now, that is not to say that I don't use paper/pencil work in the bins from time to time, but most of my math centers are interactive and engaging for students.

One thing that I have learned over the past few years is that I need a way to hold students accountable for the interactive work that they are completing. The majority of students in my class each year would complete the centers and do well because they are engaged and want to learn the math skills. However, we all know that you are always going to have those few students that try to get out of their work and don't devote their full attention to their centers. For this reason, each of my math centers has an exit slip that corresponds to the content in that center. My students complete this exit slip after completing the center which holds them accountable and provides me a simple way to assess their progress.

My purpose for this blog post is to provide you with some FREE math centers to get you started with trying math workshop or to add to your own collection of centers if you are already using the math workshop model in your classroom. Some of these centers have fun themes and some are more general for any time of the year! Simply click each photo to download the center! (If you want the short cut to my TeachersPayTeachers 10 Free Math Centers page - please click this link) Enjoy!

Skip Counting!

This center includes skip counting cards from 2s, 5s, and 10s and an exit slip for each set!

This Dab it Dot it Math Facts center is always one of my students' favorites! We use bingo dauber markers to find math facts that equal a given number. Then students record the math facts at the bottom of the page!

For the Number of the Day, I post a number on the board. Students complete the worksheet based on that given number. Easy peasy prep for this one!

Dominoes are a great math tool for teaching early addition and subtraction. My students love using dominoes as manipulatives! When they finish their work, I allow them to build little domino towers.... you ALL know that students can't get through a domino activity without using them to build something! LOL!

Learning to count money is an important life skill and it also helps students develop a better number sense. In this money math center, students determine the number of cents on each card and then match the letter on the card to the correct amount on the exit slip. I put these cards on rings for each storage and use.

This baseball base ten center is great for spring. Students match the expanded form, base ten blocks, and the traditional number in these fun puzzles. 

Number grids are one of my favorite resources for first grade number sense. I found this idea on Pinterest several years ago and I love it. I simply print these 120 number grids of fun colored cardstock and then cut them apart. I have about 15 different colors in a bin and they are all cut differently. Students can either complete the puzzles by laying them on top of a already assembled number grid or without the white number grid guide. Easy for differentiation and students can trade their color for a new one when they complete it!

This monster math roll and add center is one of the first centers that I created four years ago. If was an instant hit with my students. Now, let's be real... I have had to replace the monster dice in the last few years. They are made of thick cardstock, taped together at the corners. They have fallen victim to students who have accidentally stepped on them! Eek! Ha! I probably got about 3 years out of the dice before having to replace them! I laminate these roll and add mats so that students complete them using dry erase markers (I recommend using skinny, black dry erase markers - I have found that they are the easiest to erase).

This was another of my original math centers that I created. Students pick money amount cards and then use plastic coins to make that amount. Students record the amount and how they made that amount on a corresponding worksheet. Simple and effective... I don't know about you, but my students LOVE working with fake coins!

I use this apple counting by 2s center at the beginning of the year. We always do an apple themed week and this is the perfect addition to our math that week!

Okay, so there you have it! Ten free math centers to get you started on your math workshop journey! Please feel free to contact me at if you have any questions for me about math workshop or how I use these centers during my math block!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Daily 5: Variety and independence during Work on Writing

Hello and Welcome to my fourth Daily 5 blog post! I hope that you have enjoyed my previous posts about general Daily 5 set up, Read to Self, and Word Work. If you missed them, simply click the links below to catch up!

How to Get Started with Daily 5
Setting Students up for Read to Self Success
The key to an Interactive Word Work Round

Now, I want to put this out there right away and I said this in my other posts as well, I am in NO way affiliated with "the sisters" or the Daily 5 on any official platform. I think that the sisters are FANTASTIC and I highly recommend buying the most current Daily 5 book. But me? I am simply a first grade teacher who utilizes the Daily 5 framework and I have adapted it to meet my own needs.

This post about Work on Writing is the most challenging for me to write. It is definitely the area in which I struggle the most in my own teaching and in my Daily 5 routines.

My literacy instruction time is broken up throughout our school day. Last year, my students had 20 minutes of Work on Writing time everyday after lunch.

Ideally, I'd love to have time for Work on Writing independent journal writing every day, but I'm sure that you all understand the struggle to it in everything that you want students to learn. To accommodate handwriting instruction, I structure our work on writing time a little bit differently for each day of the week. Here is what our schedule looks like:

Monday: Independent Journal Writing (free writing)
Tuesday: Handwriting Practice using Handwriting without Tears curriculum
Wednesday: Independent Journal Writing (free writing)
Thursday: Handwriting Practice using Handwriting without Tears curriculum
Friday: Portfolio Writing (responding to a writing prompt)

We have a separate block of time in the afternoon for Writers Workshop. During writers workshop, we focus on more "project-based" writing including narratives, informational writing, opinion writing, how-to books, poetry, etc. For my students, work on writing tends to focus more on conventions, ideas, and organization.

Monday/Wednesday Work on Writing Independent Journal Writing:

I will begin by explaining how I set up Work on Writing at the beginning of the school year. Over the last couple of years, my first grade team has experimented with different types of paper/notebook options for work on writing. We decided that it was helpful to have students write in a notebook for easy organization purposes. We also soon discovered that our little first graders struggle to organize their writing/illustrations in a standard wide-ruled notebook. At the beginning of the year especially, students are not able to fit their handwriting in the small lines. They also struggle with how much of the page to use for their pictures, where to begin writing, etc. When we spoke with the second grade teachers at our school, they had found a wonderful solution to that problem. The second grade team had ordered a composition notebook for each student with handwriting lines on the bottom half of the page and a space for an illustration at the top. We have ordered these composition notebooks as part of our budget for the last two years and I LOVE them! Here is a link to the notebooks on Office Depot's website. Since we order through our school district, we can use the Business Office Depot prices and the notebooks are only $0.96 each on the business site. I highly recommend looking into them!
Just like with Read to Self, I begin with an I-Chart of our Work on Writing expectations. The Sisters recommend making the anchor chart with your class, but I have found it to be cumbersome and time-consuming. I typically have the chart prepared ahead of time and I briefly go through the expectations with my class.

Unfortunately, I do not have a picture of my Work on Writing I-Chart at this time. It is currently in my classroom, which is being cleaned at the moment. I will include a picture of it as soon as I can, but here is a list of my student expectations that I include.

- Get started right away
- Pick what you write about
- Stay in one spot
- Write the whole time
- Underline tricky words

The biggest part of beginning Work on Writing is modeling the writing process and building writing stamina. I model the writing process out loud for them on the carpet. I begin by putting the date at the top of the page and modeling how I sound out words as I write. One of the key factors in guiding students to be independent writers is encouraging inventive spelling. I tell students to "underline tricky words" in their writing that they would like to revisit later and keep writing. At the beginning of the year, I focus on spacing, punctuation, and correct letter formation in my mini lessons so I model this thought process out loud as well.

Then, I set them loose. Students are always sooooo excited to write in their notebooks for the first time.

On our first day of Work on Writing, we write for 2 minutes (using a digital timer on the projector) and then we regroup on the carpet to do a "check in." I go through all of the expectations on the I-Chart and students give a thumbs up, thumbs to the side, or a thumbs down for each expectation based on how they think they did. Then we go and do two more minutes of writing.

To track our writing stamina, we fill in our stamina meter after each successful work on writing session. Grab my stamina meter freebie by clicking this link!

During work on writing, I check in with students about their writing. We discuss their writing and I provide instruction on conventions, organization, and ideas. One of the things that I struggled with during my first few years of Daily 5 was feeling like I wasn't getting to students as often as I wanted to give them individualized instruction. Last year, I started had a realization that changed my work on writing time significantly. I realized that many of the skills that I was teaching during work on writing were very basic. I started using 3rd grade writing mentors in my classroom. Beginning in January, I invited a few of my former students back into my classroom during our work on writing time. I chose students who were strong writers and leaders. These third graders chose to give up their lunch recess twice a week to come in and help my young writers.

I gave each third grader a Writing Mentor Folder with a writing checklist and a few other resources (sight word list, blends and digraphs chart, etc - There are MANY resources available out there - I think I found these for free using Pinterest). When the third graders came in, they grabbed their folder, a pencil, and a timer. They called over the next student on their list and had the student do some writing with them. After about 5 minutes of supporting that student with their writing (focusing mainly on basic conventions and generating ideas/details), they took a closer look at the writing with the student. Together, they set a writing goal that the student would continue to work on. Then the third grade mentor wrote the goal on the paper next to that student's name.

The writing mentor process was wonderful!!! I absolutely loved it and so did my students. These third graders were a wonderful resource for me and my little firsties. Of course, choosing mentors who are strong leaders is the key! I highly recommend a process like this for writing support in your classroom!

Another way that I spiced up our Work on Writing time was opening up our writing center. Every two weeks, students got a turn to visit the writing center, where they got to write letters, postcards, short stories, lists, etc. Here's a previous post that I wrote when I put together my writing center. Occasionally, I also included some of Cara Carroll's Work on Writing activities at my writing center. I LOVE them!

Tuesday/Thursday: Handwriting Without Tears

My school district recently adopted the Handwriting Without Tears curriculum. Unfortunately, I really only have time to complete it twice a week, but I LOVE the way that handwriting is taught using this curriculum. Please click this link to learn more about Handwriting Without Tears.

Friday: Portfolio Writing

My favorite part of Work on Writing is our Friday Writing Portfolio time. Each week, my students respond to a writing prompt. My students keep these portfolio writing samples in a binder, which is very exciting for a first grader! They take this writing very seriously and it is a wonderful assessment tool for me.

Here is a link to a previous post that I wrote about our writing portfolios. It will tell you everything that you need to know about setting them up in your classroom!

Throughout the year, we celebrate students progress through a "portfolio showcase." Students show the class their first writing sample, followed by their most current sample. Students comment on improvements that they see in the writing.

For a direct link to my Writing Center: Yearlong Writing Portfolio, click here.

Well, that's all I have for you about Work on Writing! I hope that you found this post to be helpful. Work on Writing is definitely still a work in progress for me. Please feel free to comment with any helpful tips that you have for fostering independent writing in your classroom!

Stay tuned for my next Daily 5 post... up next is Listen to Reading!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

A Year of Crafts in One Basket! Fundraiser or Gift Idea

Oh my gosh... Excitement alert!! Every year, my cousin's school does an AWESOME fundraiser for their special education program. The fundraiser event includes a silent auction and I've donated a few baskets in the past. This year, I am IN LOVE with my basket idea. I put together a basket of craft supplies with instructions to make the various crafts. The basket includes a craft for every month of the year and ALLLLL of the supplies needed to make each craft!

To create this basket, I took to Pinterest and found a fun, simple craft for each month of the year. I came across some TRULY FABULOUS blogs an consolidated their craft instructions into a simple document. I want to be clear.... These crafts were NOT created or developed by me! Below, you will find links to all of the blogs that I collected the ideas from. Grab the directions for the crafts by clicking this link: A Year of Crafts Directions.

Here's a preview of the directions with links to the original blog posts below:

January Stained Glass Mittens from Kinder-Craze
February Yarn Hearts from Family Chic Blog
March Handprint Rainbows from 123 Homeschool 4 Me
April Raindrop Suncatchers from Pre-K Pages
May Ladybug from I Heart Craft Things
June Hyper Colorful Paper Plate Flowers from Pink Stripey Socks
 July Painting Fireworks from Happiness is Homemade Blog
August Paper Plate Butterfly from The Rambling of a Crazy Woman
September Paper Plate Dragon Puppet from Learn with Play at Home Blog

Now, when I first set out to create this basket, it was rather daunting... I had to find the crafts, make the list of supplies, consolidate all of the directions, shop for the materials, and assemble the basket. 

This blog post helps you to create your own basket WITHOUT all of the prep work! All you need to do is SHOP for the materials and ASSEMBLE the basket! Simply print all of the craft instructions from this blog post, here.

I also wanted to make the shopping process a little bit simpler for you! Here is a link to a shopping list and suggestions of where to find the materials! In total, this basket cost me about $100.00 to put together.

This basket is PERFECT for fundraisers and birthday kids for young kids!! I even included a list of books that could be read before or after creating each project. (this is included in the Craft Directions)
I hope that you found this blog post and idea helpful! I can't wait to donate this basket to our fundraiser in April! 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Short Vowel Phonics Practice!

Wow... talk about a blogging hiatus! Ahhh, I haven't blogged since August! I am currently in my fourth year of teaching first grade. I just love those little learners and I LOVE teaching literacy. This year has been a challenging one for me so far. I have a group of students with very diverse needs: academic, social, emotional, behavioral. I love them all to death but these challenges have left me with very little "extra" time to work on my blog and show you what we are doing in the classroom. I love blogging and being a part of this wonderful online community of teachers, but when it comes down to it, my little kiddos come first. Now that we are 2.5 months into the year, my first set of report cards are completed, and I am figuring out what works for each of my little darlings, I am finding myself with a little time on this Sunday to update the ol' blog! Today's topic: SHORT VOWELS!

From the beginning of the year through December, my first grade team focuses on short vowel word families in our classrooms. We spend two weeks on each short vowel sound and the corresponding word families and we complete them in the following order: A, I, O, U, E. Over the past four years, I have created and compiled a variety of interactive materials for teaching short vowels. Some of the activities are things that I have created myself and I have bought some other fabulous resources from other TPT sellers.

Here are some of my favorites!


To introduce every short vowel, we sing a silly song or read a short vowel poem at the beginning of the week. I write the poem on a piece of chart paper and we practice it all week. Then, we glue the song/poem into our reading notebooks. Students keep these notebooks in their book bins so that they can re-read these poems and review other phonics skills during Read to Self.

Here is an example of two of the poems that we practice for short vowels: one for short "a" and the other for short "o".

I did not write these poems. They are poems that I compiled from Pinterest. I have them available for free in my TPT store. Click this link to download a set of 17 poems!


In our notebooks, we also complete word sorts for each short vowel. After sorting the words, my students practice reading the words "down the columns." This is the simplest way to read the words because they are sorted by word family. After they master reading the words, the students are challenged to read "across the rows." This is tougher because they must switch word families for every word.

Here is an example of our sort for short "i."

These are NOT fancy, by any means, but they do the trick! Download a word sort for each short vowel for free by clicking this link.

My students LOVE word sorts. We also sort word family words during guided reading.

These larger cards are GREAT for small group and whole group practice. We also use these in our pocket chart as a whole group!

It is amazing how simple and versatile these cards have been this year. I use them all the time and they were extremely simple to prep. I've even sent copies of them home with my intervention students to cut out and practice at home.  Grab these word sort cards in my TPT store!


One great purchase that I made on TPT is Jessica Tobin's Vowel Books (click the link to be taken to her TPT store). They are fantastic! She has a printable text for each short vowel (and long vowel) and the best part is that they are differentiated! For example, there are three versions of the Short A book - a beginner, a middle level, and more advanced text. This way, all of my students can practice a short vowel book, but it is appropriate for their reading levels! I highly recommend these!

Here is what the Short A texts look like. On the right, you will see the "unfolded" version of the moer advanced text. So simple to prep. Just print and fold!

I also developed some simple word family books! They feature words in a common word family and then use those words in short phrases/sentences so that students get practice with reading the words within text. I use these as a warm up with my lower readers during guided reading during our first week on each vowel. I have them laminated and bound in my classroom library so that students can read them as well.

In addition to the large versions of these word family books, I made smaller versions on rings. These are great for sending with reading volunteers or they can be hung on hooks in the classroom for early finishers. I even send them home as extra practice in my intervention students' reading bags.


Finally, a few of my favorite activities for early finishers! These are super interactive and my students LOVE them! Click the titles to download.

Short Vowel Puzzles:

Word Building Mat for Short Vowels:

Bingo Dauber Activities:

I hope that you enjoyed this peek into short vowel phonics instruction in my classroom!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Inform vs. Overwhelm: How to Provide Information to Parents at the Beginning of the Year

Last night, I posted a photo on Instagram of some of the documents that I was prepping for Open House and Back to School. Several people requested a blog post about what I send home with parents at the beginning of the year and here it is!! These documents have been a work in progress for me over the past three years and many of my ideas come from other teachers.

When I start planning my handouts for back to school, I always start with the mindset "Inform. Don't Overwhelm." I want to give my families the information that is necessary for the beginning of the year, but I don't want to overwhelm them. I figure that people are more likely to read and remember what I write if it is brief and informative. I had a professor in college who collected everything that was sent home in her elementary-aged son's folder throughout an entire school year. She brought the box into our education class and threw the papers all over the room. We sifted through the papers and so much of it was JUNK! Her point was that if we want parents to be involved and supportive, we need to be very conscious of what we are sending home. DON'T overwhelm them or give them too many flyers, just give them the info that they need to start the year successfully.

Okay, so let's get to it. I send home information in three chunks... A letter to families that I send to each student's home in August, a packet of information at Open House (before school begins), and additional information at parent-teacher conferences in October. I've added links to some of my handouts throughout this blog post that you can grab for free. I also use handouts created by Cara Carroll at the First Grade Parade. Here's a link to her blog post about Back to School Night.

My Welcome Letter:

These three documents go into an envelope and I mail them to families about two weeks before school begins. I send a brief letter introducing myself, a permission slip for our class website, and a reminder sheet about Open House. I send the permission slip about the class website because parents can check it out before Open House, if they are interested. Many parents even return the permission slip to me at Open House. Here's a link to my class website permission slip.

Open House:

At Open House, I stick an extra desk in the hallway outside my door with a welcome sign, Open House checklist, some pencils, and our class puma. The checklist tells parents what to complete in the classroom before leaving.

On each student's desk, I have a little welcome bag for them with a few treats, a pencil, and an eraser.

For families, I have a 6in by 9in manilla envelope with each child's name on it. The envelope contains all of my Open House documents for parents. The label also tells parents which papers need to be returned to school. Here's a copy of my labels. I stick them on the envelopes with two-sided tape.

Here's what each envelope contains:

Things to Know for the Beginning of the Year: This is a front/back document with the essential back to school info including information about take home folders homework, puma packets (basically at home reading practice), nutrition break, student birthdays, and sharing.

Getting to Know your Child Form: A basic questionnaire that parents fill out about their child. (included in Cara Carroll's Meet the Teacher document- see blog post here) I also print this one back to back.

Lend a Helping Hand Parent Volunteer Form: I send a form home for parents to fill out if they are interested in volunteering in the classroom. It gives them specific options to pick from so I know how they are interested in helping. Here's a link to download the volunteer form for free. (This was also Cara Carroll's idea that I re-created several years ago... just want to give credit where credit is due! She just has the BEST stuff!)

A Class Schedule: Many parents request this, so I just send it right away.

Okay, so that pretty much wraps up the information that I provide parents with at Open House.

I'll leave you with a photo of my favorite part of Open House... taking each student's picture with our class puma. The kids LOVE him! He becomes a very special friend throughout the year.
Oh, I can't wait to do this all again!! Comment below if you have any great Open House or back to school communication tips!!