Thursday, August 21, 2014

a space that inspires

I wanted to share a fun picture with you all!

My darling mom starts her new job this year as a high school librarian – her DREAM JOB! Prior to being the school’s librarian, she was an administrator at the same school. Talk about a change, huh? Anyway, the school’s library has always been quite stale. Think bare white walls and ugly furniture. It was screaming, “SAVE ME, SAVE ME!” One of my mom’s big goals this year was to bring some pops of color to the space and make it an enjoyable spot for students to gather in. Just because they are big kids doesn’t mean they should have to work in a stale environment. Am I right?

So, to help solve this problem, we got busy brainstorming different ideas and decided that an inspirational wall of words along the circulation desk would make a perfect focal point for the space. Together, we came up with a list of “How Can Reading Impact You?” words. Then, I chose the colors of paper, picked my favorite font combos, and got crackin’ on my Cameo Machine. I shipped off the words to her earlier this week and today she sent me this picture:


Gorgeous, right? The teachers and students are so lucky to have her as their school librarian. I know she will make a BIG impact in her new position! Her next step is to create little reading nooks around the library. LOVE IT!

These are the five fonts that I used for the project above, incase you want to create your own inspirational wall in your classroom:


I hope everyone is surviving back to school time! Remember, it will get easier. You’ve got this!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Writing Activities for the Beginning of the Year

Writing has always held a very, very special place in my teacher heart. I wanted to share some tips and resources on how to create an environment where your young writers feel free to take risks and get their creative juices flowin’!
One of the biggest changes I made in my classroom last year that inspired my students to want to write was that I created a space that was SOLELY theirs! Everything at the station was for them to use without having to ask for permission. It held writing prompts, journals, tape, stickers, scissors, lap desks, different types of paper for writing, envelopes, and even blank books for writing “chapter books”. They LOVED using their writing station during Daily Five time! They would walk up to the station, grab what they need, and then find a comfy spot in the classroom to write.
And…WOW….did they write…
…and write some more!

To help you kick off a successful year of writing in your classroom, I created some fun and engaging activities that are perfect for your young writers, just like the ones in the pictures above!
I’ve broken down everything that you’ll find in this writing resource packet below. I hope these resources come in handy in your classroom!
Write At Home Tip Sheet:
In my experience, I’ve found that many parents have difficulty knowing what is the right thing to do when it comes to writing. Often, I would receive e-mails and phone calls about how to approach writing at home. Parents were worried they were pushing their children too much or not pushing them enough!
I made the following “Write at Home” tip sheet to help give parents some guidance on how to tackle writing at home. The message I wanted to make clear to parents is that writing should be FUN for their child.
This is the front of the sheet. I’ve included simple writing activities that your students can do at home on the back.
Writing Expert Rosie Story:
Writing Expert Rosie teaches children to take risks, have fun, and be creative when it comes to writing!
I suggest reading this story at the beginning of the year during one of the first few days of school. This little story will act as an excellent anchor to kick-off Daily 5/literacy centers in your classroom. After you’ve read the book to the class, laminate it and put it in your classroom library!
“Just Write” or “Not Quite” Activity #1:

Your students will get a KICK out of this activity! This is a great activity to do at the beginning of the year (regardless of how much you want your children to write initially).
The activity can be done as a whole group (or at table groups, if you are feeling brave!). Tell your students that you did some writing last night/over the weekend and that you need some help deciding which writing pieces are “writing expert worthy.” Read and hold up Sample 1. Read it aloud to the class. Then, read and hold up Sample 2 and read it aloud. One of the writing samples is VERY OBVIOUSLY more “writing expert worthy” than the other. Have your students turn and talk about WHY. I suggest writing their ideas on the board as they share them. Also, be sure to spend time looking at/discussing the illustrations. Then, taking what was discussed, emphasize to your students the importance of adding details to their writing and illustrations!
Just a Note: I know that many students come at the beginning of the year not able to write much; however, it is still VITAL to expose and help them recognize great writing samples! Hang these writing samples in your classroom for students to refer back to all year long! These will act as great models.

"Ready to be a Writing Expert?” or “Not Yet?" Activity #2:
This activity can be completed as a whole group or table groups (if you teach an older grade). Students will be introduced to 10 different characters. Each character is behaving a different way while writing. Your class must determine whether their behavior is “Writing Expert” behavior or not. (Example: “Ellie neatly puts away all of her writing supplies when it is time to clean up.”) This is an excellent activity for students to act out and spend time discussing.
Writing Expert Journal:
After reading the story about Writing Expert Rosie, present your students with a Writing Expert Journal. Tell them that they are going to place all of their “writing expert research” inside.
The sheets included in this packet were made specifically for the beginning of the year to help you kick off writing in your classroom. However, your students can continue to use their “Writing Expert Journals” throughout the year by having them place any other important organizers in it or having them use it to complete journal entries.
This is the Writing Expert notebook and a few of the sheets included in this packet! I suggest making a BIG, HUGE deal about these and explain how important it is to covet this journal! Be sure to allow them plenty of time to decorate the front too!
All of these activities are great for lovers of writing (like me) or teachers who are needing a little inspiration on how to kick off writing this year. Grab all of the resources in this packet below (just click on the image)!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A LOVE for Reading!

As teachers, we not only want our students to LEARN to read, but we also want them to LOVE to read! I created some resources for the beginning of the year to help you all do just that: instill a love for reading in the hearts of your young readers!

Reading Starts at Home
One of the most common questions I get asked as a teacher from parents is, “What can I be doing at home to help my child?” I believe that many parents want to help their children, but they aren’t sure what to do or not do!
I made this brochure to send home to families at the beginning of the year. It gives parents tips on how to help their child choose a just right book, a list of reading strategies to use, great questions to ask while reading, and a few valuable websites to check out! This brochure comes in color and in black/white. For the black/white option, just print it on brightly colored cardstock. I know parents will GREATLY appreciate these tips!

Reading Expert Roy Story
If you’ve read my blog for awhile or purchased any other packets from me, you’ve probably figured out that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE using fictional characters that I make up to help teach a skill. This brings us to the character in this packet: Reading Expert Roy! I created a story about Reading Expert Roy because many children have fears that reading is HARD and SCARY! Reading Expert Roy teaches children that reading is ALL AROUND and that it can be a whole lot of fun. 
I suggest reading this story at the beginning of the year during one of the first few days of school. This little story will act as an excellent anchor to kick-off Daily 5/literacy centers in your classroom. It also ties in PERFECTLY with my Back to School Experts packs! After you’ve read the book to the class, laminate it and put it in your classroom library! I also provided a black/white MINI version of this book for you to print and collate.
Ready or Not? Activity #1
Use the following scenarios to help you when you’re introducing independent and partner reading in your classroom. These scenarios will help your students better understand what a reading expert should look, feel, and sound like, and will help them understand what behavior expectations you have.
Complete as a whole group. Place the “Ready to Be a Reading Expert” title on one side of your pocket chart/white board and the “Not Yet” title on the other side. Read aloud each scenario to your class. Then, have them turn and talk about whether or not they think each kid is ready to be a reading expert or not. Spend ample time discussing why or why not. Hang these cards up all year long. Have a student who needs a few reminders? Direct him/her to this chart!
Then, choose students to act out each situation. They will LOVE this. Spend a good amount of time discussing what the kids who were placed on the “Not Yet” side could do differently. Have the same students who modeled the “Not Yet” behavior then show the appropriate behavior. This correlates PERFECTLY with the Daily 5 program!

Is It Just Right Activity #2
To help your students understand the importance of choosing a “just right” book even further, I made up this fun activity! I suggest completing this activity as a whole group. For this activity, place the words, “IT IS JUST RIGHT!” to one side of your whiteboard/pocket chart and “NO WAY.” to the other side. Then, read each card aloud to your students and have them turn and talk about whether the kid on the card picked a just right book or not. Spend a good chunk of time discussing. Then, choose a student to come up and paste the card to the correct side.

Reading Expert Response Journal
After reading the story about Reading Expert Roy, present your students with a handy dandy Reading Expert Journal. Tell them that they are going to place all of their “reading expert research” inside.
The sheets included in this packet were made specifically for the beginning of the year to help you kick off reading in your classroom. However, your students can continue to use their “Reading Expert Journals” throughout the year by having them place any other important organizers in it or having them use it to complete reading response entries.

These are a few of the other sheets for the journal:
A FUN TIP TO ENCOURAGE READING: As you already know, kids LOVE seeing themselves on camera! Last year I tried to use this to my advantage to help my students understand what a good reader looks and sounds like. At the beginning of the year, I began taking videos of the class during “Read to Self” time and then would play it back for the class to see. They truly became their OWN models of good reading! Reading experts? You bet!
Here’s a SHORT little video of my class reading to self. This was taken at VERY beginning of the school year. Just click on the video below to watch.

You can grab this resource at my TPT shop! It’s on sale until midnight! The first three friends to comment will grab this packet for FREE. Just remember to LEAVE YOUR E-MAIL ADDRESS!
Click on the cover below to go to my shop and purchase:


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Let’s Have a Close Talk FREEBIES (Chapter 7!)



Hi Everyone! I’m here to discuss Chapter 7 of Close Reading in Elementary School with you all. I missed out on Chapter 6’s discussion. If you did too, you can go read it over at Tara’s blog here. I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this chapter because it focuses on my FAVORITE part of teaching: SMALL GROUP DISCUSSIONS!

Let’s dive in, shall we? If you’re just joining this book study, grab the book below:


Like I mentioned before, my absolute FAVORITE part of teaching is small group time. I treasure the uninterrupted time with my students and LOVE hearing them discuss a text with one another. I especially love small group time because it allows me to step back and gives all my students (the shy AND the outgoing ones) a time to SHINE. Last year, my friend Tracy and I would share the highlights of our day and often times it was about a thought-provoking discussion that took place in small group time. We didn’t know it at the time, but what were leading was called a close talk.

Chapter 7 provides us with all kinds of insight on what a close talk is AND what it should look like your classroom. I highlighted many of the important components of this chapter below.


A close talk is a DEEP DISCUSSION about a text. In order to have a deep discussion, the teacher needs to do a little work ahead of time. First and foremost, you MUST read the text before presenting it to your students. This allows you to generate thought-provoking questions.

I admit it. I’m guilty of putting a text in front of my students that I didn’t dissect enough prior to our small group meeting. I’m sure you can imagine how that lesson went.

If you can’t, here you go:

Me: …………………………..…………………………………

Students: ………………………………………………………

Me: ………………………………………………………………

Students: ……………………………………………………….

Me: Wow! What a wonderful small group discussion today. You all can go back to your Daily 5 rotations now.

Okay, it was never THAT bad but you get the point. If we don’t come prepared for small group time, how can we expect our students to come prepared?

Here are some tips and procedures that the authors give on how to have a successful close talk in your classroom:



Prior to having a close talk in your classroom, be sure to go over the following rules with your kiddos. The following posters hung near our small group table last year. My students referred to them all throughout our close talks. We would often review the Learn to Listen poster. I think it’s necessary to emphasize that while it’s very important to share our thinking, it’s equally as important to listen to the ideas of others. You can grab the posters HERE.


Chapter 7 addresses five close talk guidelines. These guidelines are more general than the ones above, but they are great reminders! I suggest adding these to your small group area.


My FAVORITE part of this chapter was the section on the importance of encouraging our students to be active participants. The authors provided us with a rubric to use in our classrooms. I thought that some of the language they used was a little too advanced for first graders, so I made it more kid-friendly. The authors suggest going over this rubric before having a close talk. I would suggest hanging this in your small group area, as well. The goal is to be a “Four Star Participant.”


I made this little participation data chart for you, as well. I suggest tracking each student’s participation on this chart. This will come in handy when report card time comes around!


You can grab all of these freebies in my shop. Click HERE to go download.

Happy Sunday, my dear friends!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Close Reading Book Study: Chapter 5


imageHi friends! I’m so sad I missed out on last week’s book study. I was in the midst of moving. Eeeek! If you haven’t done so already, be sure to go read all about Chapter 4 over at Tara’s blog!

Just joining us? Grab a copy of the book here:


Okay, I AM back for Chapter 5: Reading for Specific Objectives! I found Chapter 5 to be EXTREMELY informative. The chapter discusses the importance of having a CLEAR instructional purpose when developing a close reading lesson.  The authors state, “While comprehending at the literal level certainly provides a foundational step to accessing complex text, a specific literacy objective tied to the text will instill greater strength to the lesson – guiding your thinking about the cognitive pathways students will take to arrive at a given point as well as making those pathways known to students.”

Basically what this means is we want always start with the end in mind. Prior to conducting a close reading lesson, we should always ask ourselves, “What new learning do I want my students to walk away with?” or “What’s the purpose of this lesson?”

Before attacking a comprehension strategy, first we must find a quality text. Then, we can determine what comprehension skill we want to focus on. (Note: This is VERY different from how we’ve often taught comprehension skills, which was to first teach the skill, and then select a text to highlight that skill.)

Okay, so say you find a text that is worthy of a close read and you think it nicely lends itself to helping your students learn the skills they need to summarize. Great, right? Now what?

The authors suggest we should chunk the text into manageable tasks, rather than rushing to the lesson’s objective with students uncertain of what to do.

Suggestions for Each Cycle of a Close Read:

First Cycle/Read: Circle important words from the text and then discuss why the words were important and how they influenced the text.

Second Cycle/Read: Underline key ideas and then discuss.

Third Cycle/Read: Present the big question/task. Have students cite evidence! Discuss.

The authors provide us with close reading lesson examples for each of the Common Core Anchor Standards. (BE SURE TO REFER BACK TO THESE LATER ON WHEN YOU’RE CONDUCTING CLOSE READING LESSONS!)

I decided to focus on Common Core Anchor Standard 2: Theme/Main Idea and Summarization. This past year, I found that my students struggled with identifying the moral/lesson (later known as theme) of a story. It’s too bad I didn’t have access to the lesson examples that are provided in this chapter last year because I think they would have helped me tremendously!

Here is the framework that the authors suggest we use for identifying the lesson/moral/theme in a story. I suggest printing this out and then checking off each box after you’ve completed it in your small group:



These are the organizers I created that correlate with close reading a text with the specific objective of identifying the lesson in the story. The organizers are meant to be completed after each cycle of reading.

To Complete After First Cycle/Read:


To Complete After Second Cycle/Read:


To Complete After Third Cycle/Read:




My goal is to create specific comprehension organizers for ALL of the Common Core Anchor Standards. I’m adding that to my never-ending to-do list. Ha! Grab the organizers you see above (including the framework checklist) HERE for FREE.

If you’re needing some close reading materials, check out the close reading materials I have in my shop:


Also, Tara has lots of great close reading materials too:



Now, let’s have our own little BOOK TALK! I LOVED the first reflection question from this chapter, so I thought we could discuss them here. Feel free to answer the question the comment section below:


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