Thursday, December 26, 2013

‘Twas the week before Christmas…

Hi, Friends! I hope this post finds you snuggling under a warm blanket enjoying some much deserved rest. It’s the morning after Christmas here. Breakfast has been cooked and served. The kids are all busy enjoying their newest gadgets, so I thought I’d sneak in a post before we head out for a little while.

Every year we look forward to the few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Is it just me or have you noticed too how these few days pass by faster then any others of the year?! There’s always tons of cuteness to prep, fun to be had, assessing to be completed, but every year it seems to get tougher and tougher to fit it all in!


Soooo, this year my crew and I focused a little less on the “stuff” of Christmas and more on the spirit of kindness. We decided to focus on performing RAKs (random acts of kindness) throughout the last week of school leading up to Christmas. I thought it might be a hard concept for them to grasp, but NOPE! They loved being little elves and getting a turn to spread some Christmas cheer.

It was nothing fancy. We made a simple card for each person the kid’s wanted to surprise and two elves that modeled wise choices got to go make the delivery. They also delivered a little bag of hugs and kisses with each card. Everyone needs a hug or kiss, don’t they? I wish you could’ve seen the smiles on their faces as they returned to the classroom! They were so excited about making others smile and worked really hard to be chosen as an elf!

Along with the random acts of kindness, each day of our week leading up to Christmas had a different theme. Monday was Gingerbread Day!

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We read different versions of the Gingerbread Man story and compared and contrasted them. We couldn’t read about those feisty little characters without doing a little faux baking! We connected to the story by creating cinnamon dough ornaments for our families. The recipe only requires equal parts of two ingredients…..applesauce and cinnamon. I’m a pretty `ish kinda person, so we measured by filling two identical cups to the same point to make sure we had equal amounts, poured them into a bowl, and mixed it until dough formed. I spared you that picture, because…..well, the dough looks a little like a big bowl of p**p! Ha!

It smelled heavenly though! Everyone that came into our classroom throughout the week, left with a big of whiff of Christmas up their nose!

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Our ornaments took the entire week to dry out, so next year, I’ll have to remember to make them just a little thinner. We also sprinkled them with a little glitter while they were still moist to add a little touch of cutesy. Glitter makes everything better right?


That afternoon, we had some sweet mamas stop by to help us create our gingerbread houses. What were plain old milk cartons days before became festive treats by the day’s end. We used icing as glue to attach the graham crackers to the milk cartons, so they would be edible, if desired. Each student had a house that started out as just blank graham crackers and icing. They were given a popsicle stick and a selection of candies to decorate their houses however they liked. I’m sure a candy or two got nibbled in the process, but it was ok. It was Christmas and they had a ball! We also prepared these as a gift, so when they were all done….they got wrapped in decorative cellophane and topped off with a bow and gift tag.


We left them at school for a couple of days to make sure they were good and dry too before sending them home. Lined atop our lockers, they made for pretty hallway decor too! Sweet, sweet, sweet….fun, fun, fun!


We began the week in a very sweet way, but the Grinch showed up the very next day! And do you know that mean old Grinch, kidnapped our cute little elf on the shelf!?!! The horror! The agony! And, oh my…did he ever leave us a big surprise!

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen a little of our adventures with Lloyd {our elf}. Well, my kids were in utter shock to see him taped to the easel by that naughty Grinch and kept a close eye on him all day to make sure he was ok….{and didn’t fall off}! We also committed extra random acts of kindness to make sure his meanness didn’t spread…

We got the idea for these little guys from Cara Caroll at The First Grade Parade. I love the wonkiness of kid’s work! They listened and followed directions to cut out each of the pieces. After the craft was completed, they responded to the prompt…What would YOU do to make the Grinch grin?  We also had tons of candy left over from the gingerbread houses so I promised each student that I’d leave a chocolate hug or kiss on their desk if they used their neatest, best handwriting. Let me tell, you….they made every pencil stroke with the precision of a typed font! I’ve never seen such neatly written work! Lol! Is that the secret? Promise them goodies?


After watching the original version of this fun Christmas story, we also viewed one of the clips that explained how animators create their characters. I *L*O*V*E* to doodle and draw, so we used this as a springboard to complete a little drawing and writing during writer’s workshop later that afternoon. Each student completed the same drawing…that all came out differently and added details to recall the story. Writer’s workshop quickly turned into animation station and the kids began adding details to their little creations! =P

On Wednesday, we traveled around the world to learn how different winter holiday customs are celebrated. We did it round robin style…by having the kids complete a rotation through each of our six classrooms. I’m not sure I want to relive that day. Round robins are a little beyond even my scope of wonkiness…….


Thursday was all about the big man….S-A-N-T-A and his little helpers. The kid’s favorite project of the day was creating Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I always keep a little scrapbook paper on hand, so our Rudolph’s nose had a little chevron flair. Ha! We also used a resource we’d never tried before. I had heard about it from a coworker, but hadn’t signed up for it yet.

Have you used It’s a great website that features books for you to project and read aloud. If you don’t have a huge supply of big books {like me}, it’s perfect for shared reading opportunities! Signing up to use it, will take you all of 60 seconds! You have to try it!


By Friday, our ornaments had finally dried and were ready for curling ribbon and wrapping. We prepped them throughout the day, as time allowed, because Friday was a busy day! We have an annual campus sing-along that is simply UH-mazing!!!!

ANNNNNd of course, we enjoyed it and The Polar Express in our PJs. Our party was on Thursday, so ending the week with the campus event and movie were absolutely perfect!



…..and that’s a wrap, Jack! From my A+ Firsties to you and yours, we wish you a very happy holiday season!


Saturday, December 14, 2013

We Remember

As educators, we remember and honor our fallen colleagues and their students from Sandy Hook.  We honor them each day in our classrooms in which we continue their dream of teaching our children.  We honor their memory with our service. Join with teachers everywhere in committing random acts of kindness to show our love for Sandy Hook.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Five for Friday~Smart Art

Hi, peeps! How are ya? It’s an UN-TX-like 20 something degrees in our neck of the woods today! Brrrrrr…….What’s the temperature like where you are? Please send warm thoughts our way! It actually FEELS like winter and I’m not quite sure what to make of it, but I know I don’t like it! Ha! Bring on the sunshine! While we wish for warmer weather, I thought I’d catch up with the awesome Kacey over at DoodleBugs Teaching for a Five for Friday {..ahem, late Saturday} post!


Our Daily 5 routines usually run Monday – Thursday. Fridays are run a little differently. We give numerical grades on our students report cards, which require assessments. We collect grades in a number of different ways. This quick post will outline what a typical Friday in our room looks like.

Just after our morning recess, students gather at the carpet and begin selecting partners to ‘Read to Someone’. They find a place in the room with a copy of our story of the week to read and discuss. After they have completed their individual discussions throughout the room, we meet together and discuss the comprehension strategy we practiced throughout the week. Our main story, generally, comes from our reading series. Sometimes we pull stories for Reading A-Z. Other pieces of authentic literature are pulled in throughout the week and used to make connections to it or replace it, if the selection in our book isn’t a good one for the skill we’re focusing on.

Once this discussion is complete, we complete a comprehension and related phonics assessment.

Afterwards,……it’s time for Smart Art! We work together to extend what we’ve learned. This is also the time that requires students to have completed their ‘Must Do’ stations activity for the week. No ‘Must Do’, No Smart Art… can read about our ‘Must Do/Can Do’s’ HERE.


This week, students were separated into mixed ability groups to read and identify examples of cause and effect for a specific season of the year. Each group was led by a student. I explained the requirements of the group work to the 4 leaders. The 4 leaders explained it to each of their groups.


After the groups met and completed their discussions, we moved to our desks to prepare our smart art. Each student labeled the front of their foldable. We discussed cause and effect as one event that causes another to happen. Why it happened and what happened.

….then the leader of each group selected two friends to present for their group. 1 friend gave the cause, the other presented the effect and I recorded it on the board. Students then returned to their groups to write the example agreed upon by their group. They also created a symbol to represent their respective season.


Still learning…(always learning)….but in a way that’s interactive, fun and creative. We don’t use our desks a whole lot either. You’ll notice, we work on the floor quite a bit. Why be cooped up in a chair all day, when you can stretch out and get comfy? And because, we generally do this after completing assessments, we’ve already been sitting for long enough.


Here’s what our finished smart art for the week looked like! Like? Winter. Spring. Summer. Fall. I love them ALL! Do you think my kids have picked up on the fact that I like doodle frames? Ha!

Could I use this for a grade too? Yep! Sure could did!  =)


After grabbing the FREEBIE to mark must do’s in her stations, my sister from another mother asked for a cupcake to mark her remaining  tubs as ‘desserts’. I thought you might be able to use them too, so here ya go! If you like 'em, click 'em…they’re all yours!

What creative ways do you use to assess student understanding? Do tell…..=)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Collaborative Group Work~Kids’ Books!

Books! Kid created books, galore! We haven’t quite made it to Bag Lady status yet, but we did have a lot of fun with a single sheet of white construction paper last week! {And, I’ve ordered some paper bags!}


Our comprehension skill was sequence of events. To get kids thinking, talking, working, and learning together to retell the sequence of events, each student was given a plain white sheet of paper, folded into 4ths. They each met in their guided reading groups to work on sequencing events using their leveled reader.


We completed this little project over the course of 3 days as a “cap off” to our mini-lessons. Students illustrated the cover and discussed the jobs of the author and illustrator. Next, transition words were cut and glued, in order, to the top of the book pages. Students met and discussed the sequence of events, wrote one sentence on the bottom of each page and drew a picture to match the sentence. We did 2 pages at a time.


After completing retelling in small groups, students were asked to put themselves in the story! Boy, did they love this part! Their task? Write 1 question you’d ask the main character.  One of the groups’ books had a fox in it. You know where that one went, right? Ha!

Lastly, students went on a hunt for digraphs. We’ve been working with digraphs and focused on words ending with -ch or -tch. 3 tasks, 1 book……lots of discussions filled with accountable talk! Admittedly, I struggle to find time for us to share our writing aloud. I’m working on it. I’m working on it! BUT, because I knew they were so proud of these, we made sure to share them at the carpet. 

AND you want to know what happened?! They WERE beyond proud of themselves. As we were finishing up……they began to chant…Encore! Encore! Encore! {Point taken……I will make more time for sharing.}


….so I’ll continue to see smiles as big as this one!


….and have kid’s happy and excited about reading and writing like Len Leopard was about getting his spots! I apologize for the picture being blurry…I snapped it on the way out on Friday.

In between the writing and discussions lots of learning was had in small groups and stations. Click the pictures below to check out the activities we used.

leopard thanksgiving 1314

Do you keep track of what stations your students have visited throughout the week? Here’s the simple system we use in our classroom to do just that. We call it, “Must-Do/Can-Do”.


Every week, a “must do” star is placed on a bin at stations. This activity must be completed by Friday. It is the students’ responsibility to make sure they’ve visited the station some time throughout the week to complete the required task. Do I remind them; yes! Do I make sure they visit the station…no. Again, it is their responsibility. So, how do I know they’ve completed each “must do”?

Students turn in their stations work on Fridays. If the “must do” activity is not in their folder, they must go to the station(s) and complete it, while the class completes a fun Friday activity. This is usually a game or art activity…something they won’t want to miss!


If you can use them, feel free to click the pic to grab them! How do you make sure your students visit all stations during the week?


Sunday, November 17, 2013

The day I became a bag lady…

Ha! Yesterday, I had the rare opportunity to attend a workshop led by The Bag Ladies! Have you heard of them? Well, if by chance, you haven’t….you should check them out! They’re two creative teachers that share ways to use paper crafts in your classroom to increase engagement in ALL subject areas!


We had lots of hands-on, cut, paste, rip, tear…turn it this way, fold it that way….FUN! I’d heard lots of wonderful things about this dynamic duo for years and was totally excited about having the chance to learn form them. What made the training immediately usable is that they’re classroom teachers too.....So they “get it”. They know what will work and what will grab and hold a kiddo’s attention…and they’re f-u-n-n-y, funny! Really, funny! Our wheels were turning mid-way through their presentation about how we'll use the techniques they shared with us!


Here’s a picture of a couple of my favorite peeps on the planet exploring and buying some of their awesome resources. They were even sweet enough to sign them for us! *LOVE!*


Live in Florida? Well, you may recognize these creative, lovely ladies, BUT you don’t have to live in Florida for them to come and present at your school. They hop on a plane most weekends and present all over the country. This weekend, we were lucky enough to get them on our campus……smack dab in the middle of Texas! If your campus is interested in having them present, they’ve got wonderful ideas to share and will travel to bring them TO YOU! Until then, catch up with them on Facebook. You definitely won’t be sorry…..and don’t forget to tell ‘em Tanya sent you!

I was so inspired by these two, I even managed to get my lesson plans done a whole day early! Say what?!!! Stop the presses! Somebody, shout hallelujah, lol!

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These are the real deal, 4 pages of all that glitters and giggles that I turn into my campus principal each week. I don’t want her to be too shocked about me finishing them early, so I’ll wait a little bit to email them to her, lol!

I’ve had several really sweet friends ask for an editable version. Because my small group pages include a format that I’ve adopted from a published author, I can’t exactly do that. I can share with you, however, how I am using them in my classroom. If you’d like to view them or get a closer look, you can download them by clicking HERE. If there comes a time, when I change the format of my small group pages (which is highly possible), then I will also post a blank, editable format.

Still being a newbie bag lady, we’ll try our hand at a simple project this week and let ya know how it goes. If you’d like to grab an activity we did in class last week, click the pic below. There are actually days when I teach math, ha!!!! This day was a fun  one!


…..and it was one of those projects that takes a while to do {wink, wink}.  I copied the turkey head and body onto brown construction paper. The feathers were copied onto different random, fall colored paper. I did a “rough cut” so that I had four stacks of feathers, one stack for each way we'd show a number. As a class, we discussed each of the forms, one at a time. I wrote/assigned each student a different number ranging between 30 and 50 (on their desks). They, then wrote the number on their turkey’s tummy and created a 3-number sequence by writing the number that came before and after it on each wing.

Once I saw their number written and created correctly (using base-10 blocks), they drew the base-10 blocks. We went over what each of the number forms would look like, one feather at a time and set it aside. After we completed the 4th number form, students cut and glued to put their little place value turkey together. Nothing like a little rigor for Thanksgiving dinner!

Laters, gators! Have a great week!


Friday, November 15, 2013

Five for Friday~I wrote a book…!!!

Hi~, peeps! How are ya? Another whirlwind week has flown by and I’m linking up to share a little of our week at Doodlebugs Teaching. Hang around for a little while and take a dive under the sea with us! Ready?


This week, we took a dive or two into non-fiction texts about sea animals. With it, came the introduction of digraphs. ANNNNND, I did something for the very first time that I’m soooo excited to share with you!!!

I wrote a book! A real, little….teeny, weeny sight word reader, BUT……HEY, I wrote a book!

My sweet emergent group is really struggling with sight words. We review them each morning during calendar, they’re reviewed at the beginning of each small group, and we visit the word wall 3 times a week to play sight word games {among many other ways we incorporate them each day}.  I kept racking my brain for a new way, a different way, something above and beyond to help my babies gain the sight word knowledge they  desperately NEED! ….AND VOILA!!!

I thought I would be more excited than them to hand these out on Monday, but guess what?! They were excited too! They really liked having a little book that was created just for them. It  featured the same concepts that everyone else in class were reading about. Instead of having to return their book to the classroom library at the end of the week, they got to take their books home to read over and over and hopefully, OVER again! You should’ve seen their eyes!

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After introducing the book and animals that I thought may be a little difficult for them to recognize, we also used them to highlight sight words and mark digraph th. It was our focus skill for the week, and they couldn’t have been happier to be able to write in their books!

Can we color it, Mrs. Dwyer? Can I take it home, Mrs. Dwyer? Are you sure its ok to write in it? Yes, yes……and YES!!! Goal met….happy kids, excited about reading….happy, happy, happy teacher!


My oldest daughter flew in for a quick visit this week, so knowing I would be out toward the end of the week, I tried to pack as much learning as possible in! We used this chart to connect to authentic literature. My firsties are becoming quite the detectives and I-Spy phonics patterns and sight words everywhere! I love it! Here, we made text-to-text connections with WHAT IF YOU HAD animal teeth? Ever think about what YOU might eat if you had teeth like a beaver or a tiger, lol?!


I hate making copies! Not that I don’t use them, because I do {sparingly}…. if I can think of an alternative…a way for students to create on their own, I’d rather them be creative and organize their own thinking rather than provide a worksheet. It’s not always easy and can honestly, be a pain {sometimes}…but I’ve found it to be what my students enjoy and consequently, remember the most.

These little graphic organizers were used to identify 3 details to support the stated author’s purpose for having written the text. We wrote the title across the top, our 3 details on the sticky notes and the author’s purpose across the bottom. Who doesn’t love using sticky notes?!

Click the pic below to grab a copy of our little sight word reader! If you do, leave a comment below to share one of your favorite ways to teach sight words!

Sea Animals Reader

Laters, gators! =)



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