Winter Close Reading for Little Learners & A Sweet Note

Yesterday I got the sweetest note from a teacher named Ann in New York. She was telling me about how much her kids love my close reads! That made my day! She said they love the "big words" and all of the animal facts...  I do too! I invest lots of time writing passages that are "worthy" with lots of juicy vocabulary, and double-meaning words. I want the passages to be truly interesting so that deep engagement with the text comes naturally and intrinsically! I am excited to write a note back to Ann's class with a fun surprise for them!

Even if you've never tried close reading in your classroom before, I think you'll find my resources fun and easy to teach! I include lots of directions and tips to support you, even if it's new for you!

Ann also told me how she loves the easy prep and even how she used the Polar Bear passage and annotation pages for her formal evaluation! So glad to hear it went great!! Thanks so much for taking the time to write to me, Ann!

One of the things I love best about doing close reading is how much it helps to grow writing skills. They LOVE annotating!! The passages give them something meaningful to write and report on. The forget about trying so hard and just do it! Soooo fun to watch! :o)

Attitude of Gratitude

Thanksgiving is a natural time to teach & learn about the meaning of thanksgiving, and what that means and can look like in our everyday lives. Modeling an attitude of gratitude is one of the most important gifts we can bestow upon our littles... learning to deliberately be being thankful for what we have and counting every blessing makes for happier people, and can lead to helping kids how to learn how to live their best life!  It's natural for them to feel it, it's just not always natural for them to say it. Giving them the language to use is vital. Not just to communicate it to others, but for them to identify those feelings within themselves. 
I love the sweet things they think of when they start thinking about what they're thankful for. It catches on quickly and hopefully they go home and share that contagious spirit of thankfulness!

I like to prompt them with questions and sentence frames such as these:

When you think of your family, what are you thankful for?
I am thankful for___________________________________.

When you think of things you need to live, what are you thankful for?
I am thankful for_______________________________________.

It really helps to define an area of life to envision. It breaks it down for them into smaller 
chunks so they can wrap their head around it and make it real. Giving them the opportunity to talk and share with partners is key. They need a chance to practice the language so they can try it out and save it for later too! Finding other times of the day to model this attitude of gratitude will help them see it in the context of other areas too! Even little things such as "It's so cold today! I'm so thankful we have a heated classroom to learn in!" It might seem trivial, but it matters! :o)

Our Thankful Headband is fun and meaningful little craft for your kids to make for Thanksgiving! Littles draw what they are thankful for on the feathers, color and decorate the headband, then attach to make their thankful headband! I love how proud they are of their headbands, and what a great conversation piece to take home and get their families involved with taking an attitude of gratitude!
(They can use their sentence frames to tell about their headbands too!)

Another great way to teach about gratitude is to read about it. It's a wonderful first step and conversation starter.  Here are links to some of my favorite books to teach and spark conversations about being grateful and thankful! (The picture is the link)


November Resource Round Up

November is one of my favorite months of the year to teach! So many kid friendly, naturally engaging things to do! The cooler weather helps my mood too! I just want to do all of the fun fall things! Here's a little round up of quite a few activities and resources that I have created for this season! Hopefully you can find something to have some fun with your kids and save you some time! (All of the pictures are clickable links)

Our Thanksgiving Uncovered is a large resource with LOTs of activities! Close reading, many writing prompts, story of Thanksgiving retelling story sticks, games, centers and more! This is the perfect resource for teaching all about Thanksgiving.

Our Thankful Headband is fun and meaningful little craft for your kids to make for Thanksgiving! They draw what they are thankful for on the feathers, color and decorate the headband, then attach to make their thankful headband! I love how proud they are of their headbands, and what a great conversation piece to take home and get their families involved with taking an attitude of gratitude!
Included in this resource:
•Elements to create a thankful headband
•What I'm thankful for writing prompt (great for early finishers!)

Perfect for using with:
• Instruction
• Literacy Centers
• Math Centers
• Math Stations
• Small Groups
• Sensory Play
• Self regulated work & play 
• Fine motor, busy box, or morning work activities
•Counting practice pages for follow-up, math stations, morning work, assessment
Included in this EASY TO PREP & EASY ON THE INK resource:
•10 Thanksgiving themed Pattern Block Work and Play Kit Cards
•10 Counting Practice Pages- one for each puzzle card
•Pattern Block Cards for playing as a card game OR for stuffing clear pocket stuff-able dice
•Spin It! Game Board for playing with a game spinner OR pencil & paper clip spinner
•“I CAN” statement card for displaying at center or station (2 options, whole sheet and half sizes included)
•Question prompts to engage little learners and promote inquiry and learning

I love to create invitations to play for little learners. It inspires curiosity, engagement and wonder to gather interesting items and place them in and inviting arrangement for littles to discover, play, work, and learn. I love how quiet and thoughtful they are at these stations. You can almost see their little wheels turning in their head. This little inspiration page has several resources, so the photo is not linked, but I'll add links to all of the resources below the picture. Products without links are coming soon! I just love this so much.

Work & Play Cards Sizes & Positional Words
Natural Wonders Work & Play Posters

Close reading is a strategy to help kids engage closely with text. I love using close reading passages. I have written dozens of passages and created hundreds of activities to go with them. The language, vocabulary, stamina, comprehension and text feature skills they solidify from doing close reading are just amazing. When I write my passages I work hard to use interesting vocabulary, and engage little readers! These photos are from my Quarter 2 Close Reading Bundle, there are 6 passages and activities, this is from the Owls passage. They get so much out of annotating the passages! I include lots of tips and directions about this, but in short, you start slowly, doing it together, and they quickly get the hang of it and start finding words to annotate on their own! How cute is the annotation and pictorial representation for "parliament"? (All the heart eyes!!)
The   o w l   letters are from our Work and Play Cards Letters Kit.

Want to read more about Close Reading? Click here!  OR Here!

I love simple little math centers that I can add to my existing stations or add to a small group or
morning work tub. Our Turkeys to 10 Just Right Activities & Centers are so much fun! Simple to prep and easy for kids to play independently, with partners or in small groups. They're just right!

I hope this resource round up is helpful and gives you some ideas for fall!

Pattern Block Work & Play

I remember in my very first classroom one of the only things in my closet was a tub of pattern blocks,
they became the manipulative that I relied on the most and I found so many different ways to use them! I wish I had all of the fun activities to go with them back then! The littles love using them and practice so many skills along the way! They are so hands-on, developmentally appropriate and so good for the growing brain! 

I start out using pattern blocks at the very beginning of the school year, and we use them all year long. 
They provide rich exposure to lots of skills such as shape recognition, patterning, sorting, matching, problem solving, fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, differentiation, flexible thinking, and so much more. I change out my math stations regularly so that our theme or the season is integrated with math. 

Our Pattern Block Work & Play Card Kits are perfect for using during each season/theme for an independent activity, small groups ,or centers! Students can practice matching the shapes to fill the card, or play using the included dice,  game cards or spinner versions. Using the game elements makes for such a great partner activity to use for centers, math stations, even morning work! They LOVE it! To add an extra element of challenge you can require them to name the shape the drew, rolled, or spun! I really like using the games for partner activities. They help them learn how to take turns and play a game while working on their skills. Here are some ways they can be used:

• Instruction
• Literacy Centers
• Math Centers
• Math Stations
• Small Groups
• Sensory Play
• Self regulated play 
• Fine motor, busy box, or morning work activities
• Partner games

Teachers Pay Teachers links to resources:

Amazon Affiliate links to companion materials:
(Click on photos for link)


Using Comparative Thinking for Phoneme Mastery

We practice SO much on letters, sounds, phonemes everyday. Why is it that some of our kids still struggle after so many exposures? We know some of them just aren't ready yet. For some developmental reason, it's not clicking... yet. But it will. For others, the reason can be SO simple. They need opportunities to compare and sort sounds. I have found this to be the most solidifying experience for my littles to really master their sounds. Even those who aren't showing they're quite ready yet, may really benefit from this approach.

Let's take a look at the research. Based on the 2007 work of Robert Marzano he "reconfirmed earlier research that asking students to identify similarities and differences through comparative analysis leads to eye-opening gains in student achievement." (Harvey Silver, ASCD)

Although much research has been done on older students, why not use Comparative Thinking Strategies for the littles? It only makes sense. It is such a natural and early function of the brain...
We compare almost from birth, we know our mother/father, vs. not... As we grow we use more and more complex comparative thinking on a daily basis, dozens of times each day.

As Harry Silver's ASCD article outlines, even though our brains are used to making comparisons in our daily life, making the transition to using this type of thinking in school is not always the most natural for most of our kids. If we start early, it can lead not only to letter mastery as were referring to here, but actual pathways and greater metacognition and analytical skills for our learners to use throughout their lives.

I have taught Comparative Thinking practices to my kinder kids for many, many years. Being intentional about it will grow complex thinkers! Silver's article suggests setting distinct instructional goals such as strengthening memory, developing higher order thinking skills as well as other goals.

I find this research fascinating because I feel that it really brings validity to what we teachers already know. When kids compare, they learn. When we use the power of comparison in our classroom instruction, we bring an enriched experience to our learners that equips them well beyond the content we are currently trying to inform.

I have used Comparative Thinking strategies in every content area. Math, reading, writing, science and social studies, in my opinion, there is no more powerful strategy. Although I have been using them I my own classroom for years, I had never made a resource that was quite pretty enough to put in my store until now. Because I feel so strongly about using comparison when teaching sounds, I created a couple of resources that make this an easy, time-saving and super high yield resource that puts into practice the Comparative Thinking strategy for our littles to master sounds. Although what I exposed my littles to wasn't quite as pretty as these, I know they were able to benefit from the proficiency that resulted from comparison as a means of learning. I hope you'll give it a try too!
(I even use this strategy for teaching high frequency sight words, see below!)
*If you use McGraw Hill Wonders, I have created Compare & Sort Resources formatted for Wonders too!

Letter Sounds Compare & Sort Big Review

Fry's First 100 Sight Words Write the Room

The Likes That Matter - An Opinion Editorial

Let me start by saying I do not claim to be a perfect parent, I do, however, claim to be an advocate for kids, and this blog post is my opinion.

In my 30 years in the classroom I have learned a lot about kids and a lot from kids. They want to be loved & respected no differently than adults do. They remember meanness. They remember kindness. We are not raising littles that will forget. We are raising littles that learn what they live, and they will only be littles for a short time before they are grown up and acting out the life we have modeled for them.

Parenting is the hardest job in the world. It takes every bit of all you have 24/7.
These are trying times to be raising kids. Parents have so much to contend with these days.  My kids are young adults now, in their twenties.  We didn't have a computer until they were in about first and second grade. We didn't have cell phones until they were older than that. They didn't have cell phones until high school. I believe we had it easier in this regard, less distractions, ironically, more time because we were not distracted.

Social media was just getting started. I joined in a bit, just to monitor and provide guidance as needed for our teenagers. We wanted our son and daughter to know how to intentionally interact and exist on the internet, that seemed like it would be a part of their future. I was learning with them. I thought Facebook was such a great way to connect with my family and friends in other parts of the country, see pictures of little ones and share good times. I still think that. There is good. So much good. But... I've noticed a growing trend that as an educator, parent and human being, I find alarming, disturbing, and just so sad.

I remember first seeing it around 10 years ago when someone was showing a video clip from a late night  show where the parents would pretend to have eaten all of their kid's Halloween candy. Honestly, I thought it was awful. Mean-spirited, sarcastic, and disrespectful. Not only did they pretend to take the candy, they filmed them, at their worst. For a laugh. 

Fast forward 10 years and now those types of video clips are all over the internet. Thousands and thousands of parents filming their kids during all kinds of moments. Happy, cute, funny, embarrassing, sad, tantrums, and everything in between. Kids are cute. They say and do so many hilarious things! There is such a fine line here. 

So many views, so many likes. In some cases, dozens, or hundreds, or, viral.

Imagine a day in recent memory when you had a really bad day. You know those days, nothing goes right. It goes from bad to worse. You can't wait for it to be over so you can go home, curl up on the couch and be left alone. We all have those days.

Now think back, and imagine yourself during that same day. The stress, the pent up feelings you were fighting past, just to get through the day.

Now imagine someone you trust holding their phone up in your face, filming you. Maybe smiling, maybe laughing, maybe speaking sarcastically about what you should or shouldn't have done. Maybe not, maybe they're just filming you. At your worst. At your most vulnerable. At your most embarrassed.

Try it on for size. How does it feel. What does it teach?
Does it teach love?
Does it teach empathy?
Does it teach trust?

Emabarrassment and humiliation are undoubtedly the most raw of emotions. 
We feel belittled, exposed, we feel we don't belong.

How could anything at all ever be worth evoking those emotions to arise in our children?
The world will conjure emotions like that plenty of times in their lives, certainly without our help.

I suggest,  it's fair to ask ourselves, whose "like" matters the most?

Is it the video gone viral because watching it for a moment will entertain lots of people we don't know, and will never know, and prompt them to also make a "funny at someone else's expense" video?

Or,  is it our child. Is it the quiet, private "like" of our child because they know that their vulnerability, their pride; their feelings are safe with us. We will not expose, embarrass or disrespect them by selling out their privacy. We will not humiliate them by putting a camera in their face when they are just trying to grow up and learn how to be a good human.

When we show empathy, we teach empathy.
When we show love, we teach love.

I wonder what my kids would be like as adults today, if we would have put a camera in their face during their unflattering moments. What would any of us be like? Would we have deep seeded feelings that would be revealed in our relationships? What about teachers, or parents or doctors? Would they possess the level of empathy we would expect them to in order to compassionately and competently carry out their jobs? I wonder if the late night show hosts would think it as funny on their own kids?

I've read the comments. Many are sarcastic if anyone tries to defend the child. Or they say things like:
"Can't anyone have fun without the perfect parent police butting in?"

The answer is no. Not because people are the perfect parent police.
Because kids are human and the price is too high.

We want our kids to learn to laugh and not take themselves too seriously, but  that is not what they learn when they are the butt of a joke, particularly in front of a camera.

Our kids, our families, our neighborhoods, our communities, all of us deserve to have kids who have been raised to be loving, respectful people. If you think it doesn't matter, visit a school, visit a playground, see how kids are treating each other these days. At a minimum it is dismaying, and many times it's straight up shocking.

Our kids will only know better if we teach them better.
It starts with modeling, it starts by putting our phones down. We don't need a video of everything.
We don't need to share everything. I know some will think I'm taking this too seriously, "it's just a joke".

I have known a LOT of kids. Happy kids, angry kids, needy kids. One thing I know is that every kid deserves to be respected. Whether they are having a good day or a bad day.

They need us. They need us to model love, and kindness, and respect, and empathy.

And we all need the quiet "like" that will happen in their heart and mind when they know
we have their back, and we will never sell our place in their corner for a view or a like.

How To Line-Up Invitation to Play

We all know how the first few weeks can be rough! I don't know about you, but lining up is quite a foreign concept to most of the littles who have walked through my door! There is this sweet unawareness that comes with being a new kindergartner! As endearing and innocent as it is, it's our job to help them along and learn how to be a school kid! I have found as with every other classroom/school procedure that it works best when I break it down and speak their language. Meaning that we talk about it, we practice it, we read about it, and we act it out! Here are a couple of ideas for establishing foundations for learning how to line-up:

• Talk about it: As with anything else, meaningful discussion goes a long way in getting them on board with whatever you are doing. If they know the why, it's much easier for them to understand the reasons we do things. I always explain that when we line-up it helps us to be able to move as a group of people from one place to another in an organized and safe way. I use my felt board and model what a line looks like and facilitate conversation about how much easier it is to go all together to the cafeteria or playground when we are in a line. I use my Duck Tails and Bubbles Anchor Chart as a model too. We talk about how "duck tails" help us remember to keep our hands to ourselves, and how "bubbles" help us to remember to be quiet so that we won't disturb other classes as we walk by.

• Read about it: I have been reading The Line Up Book by Marisabina Russo. It is simple, engaging
and physically shows what a line is. Another cute book about a line is The Line by Paula Boss. It's cute for a discussion about lining up because it leaves a lot of room for discussion. The kids really love both books!


• Practice it and act it out: So much grace and patience is required when learning how to be a big school kid! It takes a lot of practice and it's so easy for them to forget, but with all of the discussion, practice and concrete experiences they will quickly remember and it will soon become habit! The practice comes everyday when we go places and practice using our "duck tails and bubbles" and say our little rhyme to help us remember. I post one of the anchor charts near the door and sometimes just give a little point as we walk out the door. We even have posted the anchor charts at a few spots in the hallway to serve as little reminders when there are lots of bodies and movement in the hall.
Creating a little "invitation to play" can be SO helpful for the littles that have never been to school and need a little more concrete practice. Here are the elements I used to create this provocation:

The Line Up Book by Marisabina Russo
Duck Tails and Bubbles Anchor Chart (from our Classroom Management & Behavior Anchor Chart Bundle)
random figurines ( I used some wood animals, bear counters, monster finger puppets)
black beans for another object to line up
washi tape to create a couple of lines
a white board, marker and eraser for doing a pictorial representation of a line )if they wish)

I'm sure you'll think of other great items you have on hand to add to your provocation! If you create a line up invitation to play please keep in touch and let me know how it goes or send me a picture or two!

Link to resource:
Classroom Management & Behavior Anchor Charts & Slideshow

My affiliate link to books I love for teaching about lining up!