Monday, August 7, 2017

Classroom Management Visuals

Happy Monday! I'm here today to give you a quick management tip for the beginning of the school year. I thought I had blogged about this years ago, but realized I did a little video about this (as part of a Primary Chalkboard Back-to-School youtube link up,) but not an actual blog post. So here goes, better late than never!

When I first started teaching first grade, I was so overwhelmed by the constant neediness of my students. I loved these kids to pieces, but they wore. me. out. It felt like I was being asked something every single second of the day. I know there are teachers are there who are like magic. They have the most amazing classroom management and it looks so peaceful.  For me, classroom management did not come quickly. It took me years to get it! One of the things I started doing early on was the use of visuals to cut down on some of the questions.  (The ones below are obviously updated with cuter clip art!)

Here's how they work:

I would have these little signs (or another version of them) on my white board at all times. They didn't take up much space because they were on the side. I also didn't necessarily use them all at all times. 

I mainly used the fountain, bathroom, sharpener the most. When the white side was up, that meant it was not a time to use the bathroom or get a drink or sharpen a pencil. When I flipped it to the picture side, that meant it was an appropriate time. They usually gave me a signal to use the bathroom or get a drink, instead of asking. When I taught my students about these signs, I made a bigger deal about flipping them so that they could learn, but then later, I would do it more discretely. The expectation was that they would look up and see the sign and know whether or not they could ask.  

The folder and turn in signs were always up, but only one of them had the picture showing. All assignments would either be turned in or placed in their folder. I would show them which was correct by having one of the visuals displayed and the other side blank. Nowadays I would just laminate it so that it would be ONE card that I could turn over. 

Finally, the voices quiet and in our seats signs were because there were many parts of the day where students could be moving around or working together (so talking.) Then there were those times that I just needed their full attention. For those times, these signs would be up as a visual reminder. 

I had the dot on both sides so that I could freely flip the signs back and forth. 

If you would like to download these FREE signs, you can get them here

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Automaticity and Fluency with Phonics

One thing I've learned over the past few years is the importance of developing fluency with phonetic skills. Research shows that a strong foundation with phonics is key to reading success. For many of our developing readers and for all of our struggling readers, it is so important that we are giving them ample practice with their phonics skills. Dyslexic students especially have trouble with decoding. They especially need explicit instruction in phonics instruction and plenty of opportunities to apply newly-learned and previously-learned phonics skills. All students learning to read benefit from this though! I used to think it was too boring and I didn't give my students the practice they needed. Now that I am more systematic, explicit, and consistent with my phonics instruction, I see so much growth in all of my students! This post is mainly for your intervention groups, but all students benefit from phonics instruction.

The ideas in this post are true for all beginning readers, but the level of intensity will be what varies. Some kids do not need as much instruction and practice to gain automaticity and develop fluency. For many though, it does involve ample opportunities to practice under the guidance of a teacher. Before I go further, I want to clear the difference between automaticity and fluency.



1. Automaticity at the letter level

It starts with the alphabet. We need our students to know these letters and supply the sounds with automaticity. From there, (when phonemic awareness is also strong,) they are ready to sound out words. If a student is slow to retrieve a letter sound, that will make the whole process of sounding out the word slower and more difficult. Once my kindergarteners know their letters, I still do a quick activity daily to practice automaticity. I continue this in the beginning of first grade as well.

It can be as simple as flashcards or something like in the picture above. My alphabet RTI pack has several of these Letter-Sound practice mats. They are quick and helpful. You can do it in unison or have them whisper read at their own pace.  To mix it up, I sometimes do the activity pictured on the right with a pocket chart. Students roll a dice, then read the row of letter sounds that are next to that number. You can have the your whole small group read together while one student (who rolled) gets to do the tracking with a special pointer. That way, I watch the person with the pointer to make sure she/he is making the correct sounds but everyone gets that practice. 

Next, students need explicit instruction with sounding out words. I begin with letter tiles, where I build the words and my students read them. I also give my students opportunities to build the words. 

2. Automaticity at the word level
From the letter tiles, we move on to word lists like the one on the left that is a little more scaffolded. When they are getting more comfortable with sounding out words, I move into the word lists on the right. 

The vowel guide at the top is SO helpful! I have a freebie in my store of just the "vowel helper". You can find that HERE. When students forget a vowel sound, they say the keyword to remind them. Like everything else, this needs to be modeled and practiced before expecting them to use the vowel guide independently. If you are looking for word lists like the two pictured above, you can find them HERE

NOTE: If CVC words are too difficult for them to blend, I do more phonemic awareness instruction. (I have a long post about PA HERE.)  Then I begin with reading CV and VC words. (These will be mainly nonsense words as there are not many two-letter words. I find this really helps kids who are not ready to read three letter words.)

3. Fluency with sentences
When they are comfortable with sounding out words, I move on to sentences. I start out with easier, shorter sentences, like these: 

You can find TONS of phonetic sentences like the ones pictured above and below HERE

Click on the picture to watch a video as an example of a student with automaticity but not fluency:

In this video, my son is reading the CVC word sentences. This is his second read. The first read involved more decoding. He is going into kindergarten in a month and has been working on sounding out words and short sentences all summer. This video is a good example of a student who is getting better with automaticity at the word level, but isn't quite fluent yet (because he lacks the other elements of being a fluent reader.)  

I also like writing sentences on sentence strips and putting them in a pocket chart. 

Students can then mix and match the sentence parts, which forces them to reread each phrase over and over. ;) You can find these phrases HERE.

The picture below shows on a table because I was playing a game with them. I wanted to show you this so you could see that you can just write on the strips too. :)

Then they get a little longer like these ones:

I like to incorporate this phrasing activity with my sentences. This activity helps kids chunk sentences into meaningful phrases. This hopefully will help them with comprehension when they read longer sentences. At the very least, it does make them stop to think about the sentence and reminds them that these phonetic sentences (all sentences) carry meaning. That is the goal of reading!

Even after reading simple phonetic sentences, I still want my students to be thinking deeper about what they are reading. I find that it's easier to teach comprehension strategies right away with simpler sentences. We want our students to be in this habit of thinking about what they are reading. The picture above shows what is included in my Phonetic Sentences Pack, but you could do this without it. Basically, I have my student choose a sentence. Then I ask them to make a prediction, inference, or connection, or ask a question, explain what they visualize, or clarify something. For example, on that first sentence they may ask, "Why is the pet sad?" They may infer that the pet is a dog because dogs often sit on laps and do show emotion. The visual below explains it more.

If you would like a copy of this comprehension activity, I am sharing it HERE or on the picture above.

The activity below is something I've blogged about before. I love doing this activity with my students. It shakes it up a bit so they are not just reading sentences on a page. This can be a center or a small group activity. You can read more about it HERE and can find it in my store HERE

4. Fluency with reading passages and books

Finally, once students can read sentences with some fluency, you can start to introduce short stories. There are so many great phonetic books out there to try. I also use these laminated story cards that students can interact with. They also come in a printable version (like on the right.) The printable version has comprehension questions that ask the student to go back to the text. It is so important to include a comprehension element no matter how simple the text may seem. You can find the story cards and reading passages HERE. (There is a short vowel version, blends version, and long vowel version and a bundle of all three. Scroll to find the ones you want.) 

What about Guided Reading?

In the past few years I have really upped my game with phonics and it has made a huge difference.
Once they have solid phonics skills, I can move on to more interesting and diverse books. This is when I dive into guided reading more with the leveled readers that are not phonetic. You can even do a combination, so that they are exposed to both phonetically controlled texts (to develop automaticity and fluency with phonics skills) and guided reading texts. With guided reading, the focus is usually more on applying a variety of strategies to leveled texts. These texts are not phonetically controlled. The early levels usually have a pattern and picture clues. Although I love guided reading, I find this alone is NOT effective for my struggling readers (which typically is 25% of the class- let's not forget 1 in 5 students has some level of dyslexia.) I'm not saying that I don't use them because I do. I'm saying I do not rely on them for all of my instruction and small group practice. I do more with phonetically-controlled texts in the very beginning and I add in some of the patterned guided reading early levels (A-C) as a supplement so they are learning to use other strategies. This is just my personal opinion and I know many will disagree. I love guided reading for my kiddos who already have a strong phonics foundation and several sight words mastered. I actually do start teaching the strategies right away, without the guided reading level texts. I teach them to look at the picture, sound it out, look for chunks, think about what makes sense, etc. I have had more success focusing more on phonics skills early on and moving into the guided reading approach later. You can download the strategies I use HERE and read all about them in an old post HERE.

Sight Words 
Along with phonics instruction, I am teaching sight words.  I teach sight words simultaneously with phonics. I wait until they are comfortable sounding out some short words before I add in sight words. I've found if I start too soon, then it can be confusing to many of my beginning readers (especially the struggling readers.) In my experience, they must know their letters and sounds before sight words should be introduced. I have a very systematic approach to sight words as well. You can read more about that HERE.

Nothing Replaces Good Literature 
Another important note: Although a lot of your instruction should involve phonics, it should not take the place of great literature in your overall literacy instruction. Every day you should still be reading aloud to your students to give them exposure to good books. This way, they are continuing to develop vocabulary, comprehension, and a love of books.

The Keys to fluency instruction: With whatever you are choosing to use for fluency instruction, remember these three things are key to any fluency intervention.


I have TONS of phonics resources in my store. To see all of them, click on the phonics tab on the right in my store (or you can click HERE). Here are a few that were shown here:



Monday, July 31, 2017

September Literacy Centers for First Grade

A few weeks ago I blogged about how I managed my literacy centers. This system is literally the best thing I ever did as a first grade teacher. It made things so much easier for me in the long run. You can read more about it HERE.

September feels far away, but it will be here before you know it. I finally took photographs of my September centers to show you all. I have these monthly centers for every month except July. I train the kids in September, reinforce in October and it is smooth sailing for the rest of the year. The centers change theme and they get more difficult, but the routines are the same and the menu structure allows for smooth monthly changes.

 Just in case, here is a quick explanation about how it works:

These folder holders hold all of the centers. The only exception is the Rebuild a Poem because it is in a pocket chart (but the student recording sheets are still in the folder). When I first created these, I needed something that would work for a tiny room. I had very little shelf space, so I wanted my centers to fit together nicely. This solved that! It only takes up a small space on a shelf. Students know to go here to get all of their centers. You could also spread them out around the room so there isn't a traffic jam. ;)

The folder holders have labels that match the center menu's heading. There are four centers under each heading every month. The headings do not change. 

Inside each folder are all the contents of that center. The picture on the cover matches the picture on the menu.  See below, under Sentence Building is the "Sentence Match" center. The picture on the menu matches the picture on that folder. Also, the heading (Sentence Building) is also on the folder in the top corner, so the student can quickly return it to the correct folder holder. 

September Centers

Another update is that I made a black-and-white menu. Every student gets a menu at the beginning of the month. They keep it in their center/reading workshop folder all month long. They keep track of the centers they finish by coloring in the squares with that center. Below are pictures of all of the centers.

You can find my September literacy centers HERE

This is a link to all of my 1st grade literacy centers:

I also have 2nd grade:

Friday, July 28, 2017

Writing Rubrics for Common Core

Hi Everyone! Last week I updated my writing rubrics pack again. This update includes all new rubrics with the common core standards right on them. The other rubrics were not grade-specific, but these ones are. I added rubrics for kindergarten through third grade. For each grade there is a conventions rubric and narrative, opinion, and informative rubrics.

Here is a little preview of the additional rubrics. 
(Don't forget this is only the additions to the already huge pack of rubrics!)

I also included a "key" for each genre and grade level. I decide what my scale is going to be before I start grading. I think about what my expectations are for meeting standards for that point in the year and I go from there. Then I use the key to help me determine each students final score: Developing, meeting, or exceeding.  

There is also a blank template for you to create your own rubrics!

You can find these HERE.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Parent's Guide to Learning to Read

Hi everyone! I hope you are all enjoying your summers. This summer I'm taking two online classes and one of the assignments is to plan a family literacy night. Although I've been wanting to do this for quite some time, I haven't. So, I'm glad that I'm getting that push to do it! One thing I have always wanted to create for a family literacy night is a beginning reading guide for parents. Keep in mind I work at a school with a lot of parent involvement. I get asked a lot what they can do at home. I'm so lucky and so are their children! I find that, while giving ideas about what to do at home, I feel the need to give background knowledge about reading. It's hard to give tips and ideas when parents do not have any general information about the process of learning to read. I have handed out separate resources before, but I never put it all together in one nice, neat packet. Until now!

I thought about the main things that went into learning to read and tried to break it down. If you've followed me for a while, you know I love anything with tabs. Ha! Keep in mind that I made this one pretty with colored bright paper, but you wouldn't have to! I also made a version without tabs so you just print and staple or bind. That one is a little more convenience. ;) 

Here is a little peak inside:

The colored pages are the tab pages. They have basic information for parents about that area of reading. After each tab page, there is a page with ideas for parents to use at home.

You can find resources and information about teaching the alphabet HERE.

Please note: The ideas in the phonemic awareness section come from my Phonemic Awareness Take-home kit.   You can find a TON of information about phonemic awareness in these old posts HERE and HERE.

 I added in a link to a phonetic word list! I wish I would've made that one years ago!

You can find an old post about sight words HERE.

You can find an old, but very detailed blog post about reading strategies HERE.

You can find a huge post about comprehension HERE.

This resource is perfect for pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and first grade teachers. I will be using it as a resource for my intervention students' families. 

This is all based on years of experience and research. I realize there are many differing philosophies and beliefs about what is best when teaching children to read. This is what works for me and is based on a lot of research. Much of the research for the alphabet, phonemic awareness, and phonics is summarized HERE in this report from the National Reading Panel. I acknowledge and respect different views and beliefs and by no means discredit other ways of teaching. If these ideas do not reflect your teaching practices and beliefs, then this probably isn't for you. ;)  

So there you have it! You can find this resource HERE.