Sunday, November 15, 2015

Freckle Juice & Freebies Too

Hi, friends! How are you? Starting in a new grade level this year AND having my son start football at the same time has to say the least…..been EXHAUSTING! While the blog has had a cobweb or two form, I want to take a quick sec to say THANK YOU for following on social media! You all rock! Hopefully, this little post will be the rekindling of a lovely relationship between myself and this little blog again!

I think I’m getting the hang of teaching second grade! It really has been fun! The kid part and the teaching part have been fun. We can talk about the testing part another day…that part is not so fun. Being able to leap forward from first with a few of my friends from last year’s crew has been ooper schmooper helpful! Here’s just a tiny peek into some of what we’ve been up to!


Teaching reading has taken on new meaning this year. The focus is no longer on teaching how to read so much as it is…teaching how to understand what we read. Because of that, our basals are collecting dust while we dive into authentic literature. At first, I was a little nervous about moving away from the structured focus of the basal….but NOW, I’m enjoying the freedom of teaching skills from real books….complete books, not just a part of a book that may be included in a textbook.

You know, I LOVE a great foldable! During the week we shared Freckle Juice, we completed a little blend of literacy and math to make some fun cross curricular connections!


Just computation…in second grade…not a chance. It’s all about the story problems now….all.the.time. Reading in reading and MORE reading in math….computation and application and thinking….lots and lots of thinking…and showing processes!  Here, we applied what we’d learned about identifying coins and counting collections of coins…


…and using number lines to subtract.


During our literacy block, we practiced writing and reading contractions with simple, index card mini-foldables. After working to create contractions, we housed them in the pocket of the foldable created using a mailing envelope.


The original two words were written on one side. Once folded, on the other were the remaining letters needed to create the contraction. Write, fold, flip…two words to one word. =)


Students also chose their favorite character from the story to analyze traits. After illustrating the character, students used sticky notes to record something the character said and something the character did. Lots of fun discussions were had as we took a closer look at each of the kiddo’s favorite characters.


Analyzing character traits was fun!


Sneaking in a little fine motor practice to cut and glue was fun too! Like it…want to use it? Click HERE to grab it!


We’ve also enjoyed WRITING class books. As our introduction to adjectives, we created this little book inspired by our cranky friend. This book easily became a class favorite because they each got to add their own "catch phrase"! 

It’s a little late to get cranky now, but if you’d like to add this little goodie to your files for your next year, click HERE to grab it! Did you know there are other Crankenstein books too? We’ll definitely be seeing more of him this year!


Our walls are no longer empty; there’s lots of learning splashed everywhere! Thanks for stopping by and catching up! Now that football season is winding down, I should be back in business and have time to share more of the journey into SECOND GRADE!

I’m excited about getting this transition year under my belt….about having the opportunity to get to know new friends…and of course, sharing with YOU! See ya again soon!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Classroom Reveal: It’s going to be SUPER in SECOND!

Hi, Friends! How are you? It’s been a busy last week or so here. After getting those golden keys in my hand, I began to plan…unpack, find, move, lift, staple, purge and OBSSESS about putting my new classroom together. NOW…the foundation has been laid to set the stage to engage a new batch of kiddos! Putting my classroom together is one of those things that just makes me happy! I can get lost in there for hours….and I did!

Now that my little home away from home is ready….


…come on in and have a look see!


These cabinets store our classroom stations and curriculum pieces. We also use them as command central for our transportation list, class jobs and CHAMPS expectations. The black “call to action” poster is one of ONLY two commercially made posters you’ll find in our classroom. Well, not counting the pledge posters…so I guess it’s one of only 4. Our walls and classroom surfaces are prime real estate for displaying our learning….so once, you enter our room….you’ll notice there’s LOTS of blank space for creating and displaying what we will learn together.


This is our little library. Last year, I used the blue bins to hold books organized by theme and the black ones to house leveled books. This year, I wanted our classroom library to more closely resemble a real library, so I organized the entire selection of books by theme. There are still a few more boxes of books to add. We will have leveled books in the classroom, BUT they’ll be stored separately and used for small group instruction.


Our Dollar Tree and IKEA book boxes are hanging out in perfect harmony! I brought this little collection of pink, orange, blue and white together with coordinating labels. Morning work journals and Daily 5 folders have been inserted too. I’ll choose books for student book boxes for the first week. Beginning in the second week, after teaching kiddos how to browse the library, they’ll get to choose their own.


This is our infamous ENTIRE….WHOLE word WALL, lol! This sucker is HUGE! We’ll be hanging our alphabet line after completing a little ABC fun on the first day of school. I want the kids to help with completing this task so they’ll take ownership of it and to develop interest in use of the word wall. The two tables you see pictured here will be the two seating choices for ‘work on writing’ when choice becomes available during our literacy block. We’re not bound to tables in our classroom, so if students opt to, they may also utilize the floor space. I’ve got a couple pretty pink pillows that will be tossed into this space too.


Don’t you just love the smell of new crayons? Supplies are being organized for their big introduction in week 2! Last year, one of my class favorites was our Word Helper board. They used it so much that I had to make a new one to start this year. It’s a simple tool that has a BIG impact! When there is a frequently used word that students just aren’t quite sure yet about how to spell, they can pull the laminated white card from the appropriate pocket, bring it to me and I add the word with a sharpie. Once I’ve added a word to the card, they can no longer ask me how to spell it, but must instead use the Spell Help board as an additional resource for finding correct spellings. Simple. Effective. Loved!


Kids ever argue over where to sit when they visit the teacher table? Slap a symbol on the back of each of the chairs. In our classroom, the symbols we use are vowels. Each time a student comes to the teacher table, they are expected to sit in the same chair, with the same vowel…each and every time. Give it a try…it works [most of the time]! =)

The two small boards in the background will house standards for each of the units we’ll be working through in reading and math. When we complete a unit or ‘unpack the standards’ as a class, the poster will go on the board as a reference. When we begin the next unit, the next poster will be stapled right over it. If students need to refer back to a previous poster, they can simply walk over, give a lift and review what we previously learned. By the end of the year…there will be a stack of posters stapled one on top of the other on each board.


We use Wilson Fundations for word work in our district. It’s perfect for small group differentiation, so I keep their alphabet visible at the small group table for easy reference.


The two tables closest to the teacher table are used for ‘word work’ once all literacy center choices have been introduced. Keep in mind, because we use flexible seating, when I say…tables…what I really mean is any space within the vicinity of that table. As long as students are engaged and productive, they have complete choice of where exactly they park their bottoms to get to work. Standing is an option too!

The standing shelf in the middle of the room will house math station review activities. It’s also holding a space for our media cart. We’ll get that little diddy from our librarian once we’re officially back at work.

This picture is also a great example of my view from the teacher table. I HATE CLUTTER! It gives me the heebie jeebies! Despise it….so I enjoy having a clear, unobstructed view of the classroom. No matter where a student is working, I can look out across the classroom and see everyone and they can see me, to know I can see them! =)


I thought our ceiling medallions might’ve been a little too busy, but I really like the way they turned out! Usually, I use fishing line to hang them but keeping with the chalk and brights theme, I used black curling ribbon.

After posting a couple sneak peeks to Facebook, a few friends asked me where I got the wall clings. They actually aren’t wall clings at all! Being the doodler that I am, I took large cuts of black butcher paper and free-hand cut out doodle frames, then added embellishments with a chalk marker…that’s it…and stapled them to the wall. What do you think?

Here’s one last glance from the doorway….

You might’ve noticed the words ‘I Can…” spread throughout our room. It’s the guiding principle of our classroom. Success comes in CANS…and I always want my students to know how much I believe in each of them. It also pays homage to one of my favorite bible verses. I CAN….do all things through Christ who strengthens me! {Philippians 4:13}

Knowing that we can and creating an atmosphere driven by engaging students through personal choice is what makes our classroom tick! While my goal this week, will be to enjoy as many days as possible in pjs…once we’re officially back on Monday and preparing for students, I’ll be excited to meet my new batch! The foundation is laid; it’s similar to what I used last year and I can’t wait to use it again!

Have you ever considered utilizing alternative seating in your classroom? Here’s a great video that explains why it works. Don’t be afraid! Step outside of your comfort zone. Throw out that old “box”. Let your students make choices and watch them shine! Enjoy the video and have a great year!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Digging Deeper…Our NEW Word Wall

So, today I got the chance to take a quick peek inside of my classroom! Now, my creative wheels are in overdrive and I’m growing more excited by the minute! As much as I’ve enjoyed having a little down time, I’m ready to start prepping our learning space.

One of the first things that will be going up in the room this year is our word wall. The best thing about taking a look into the room is seeing the blank slate. It’s a new chance, a new opportunity to do something great…to work with a new batch of kiddos…to grow and change and become better!

Our word wall is going to be one of those things that changes for the better this year!


At the beginning of last year, our word wall looked like this. Each week, the class and I added 5 new words (given that I remembered to print them) to the word wall. To facilitate a little visual “pop” and to help me stay organized…I used neon Astrobrights to run copies of our sight words. I love ROY G. BIV order! I love it so much, I use it to organize things in sequential order by grading periods. Our year is divided into 6 of them. During the 1st 6 weeks, the words were added on pink, then orange in the 2nd 6 weeks, then yellow in the 3rd 6 weeks and so on. This helped me to ‘at a glance’ be able to keep track of when words were introduced throughout the year.

We’ll be using neon again this year, but instead of the focus being on classroom organization…the focus will be on student learning!


Word wall headers have been prepped and the Astrobrights are on deck and ready! Our word wall is growing up! It’s maturing and being organized to focus on phonics! You might say….well, duh! But….wait! Let me tell you HOW!


There will be 3 categories of words on our word wall. The first category will be sight words that can be used to generate other words. These words will be copied onto neon cardstock. For instance….take the word drink. You can use the rime to rhyme and create other words like….link, mink, brink, pink, sink, wink, blink, or think. With before…you can use the rime of the second syllable to rhyme and create…chore, score, shore, snore, core, or bore. Get it? Of course you do…YOU rock!

Because these words will be on brightly colored paper, students can use the color, the rime, or the shape of the word to help recall them, use them, or spell them by analogy to create new words.


The second category of words will be those that are the outlaws. The naughty ones….the words that don’t always follow the [phonics] rules and can not be used to generate other words. They will be copied onto white paper. White….like glue, to help them stick in students’ memories! These words will have to be memorized by sight! After copying each of these words and cutting them from white paper, they will also be framed in black.

The last category of words, will be vocabulary words. These are the words that may be required in our curriculum’s specificity or words that are important to students but are not a part of traditional sight word lists. They will be copied onto tan/manila paper and cut to the shape of a rectangle…another visual reminder/distinction.


Our word wall will continue to be interactive in the sense that we will USE it! We’ll hang the words together, we’ll play word games, apply movement to our spelling activities…and when that age old question arises… “HOW DO I SPELL…?” We’ll make reference to words that can be manipulated to guide the spelling of others.

One other additional BIG detail…the background of the word wall will be black. LOVE! Black and white is our running class theme, so our word wall will fit right in!

The alphabet line will be hung in ABC order from A………..allllll the waaaaaaaaaay to Z, in ONE single line…so it will quite literally be a word WALL, lol! After hanging the alphabet line close to eye level, sight words will be placed in a vertical line above each letter…about 5 per week…WITH KIDS. Vocabulary will be hung below the letter and changed out according to need throughout the year.


Cutting the words to their shape will be another visual tool to help students remember them. The black background really creates a clean look. I love the way the neon pops! Even the outlaws stand out in their little black leather jackets!


I’ve had word wall on the brain all week and will be excited to get my hands on those golden keys on Monday morning to begin prepping it in the classroom!

This is a small shot of what our much bigger word wall will look like and I have to say, I think it’s going to change the way our kids use the word wall in a great way!

You know, one of the reasons I found this opportunity to dig deeper during word wall time so exciting is because our trainer presented it with the enthusiasm of a kid with a brand new toy! I can only hope to have a fraction of her energy and excitement once we're back at school. If you had never used a word wall before in your life…attending her training would make you want to run out and hang one up as fast as you could!

And guess what? There will be no more having to remember to prep my words for the week because I’ve typed my entire list for the year! No lamination...just print, cut and hang! That’s one little thing that makes a big difference checked off of my list for the entire school year! Check out this little diddy in my TPT store to check it off of your list too!


First grade friends, you can click HERE to grab your list. =) What BIG change are YOU looking forward to this year?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

TPT Challenge Accepted! {Makeover Madness}

Just give a product a facelift they said. Add a little something new. Update it! It’ll be easy! Well, one product deleted and completely recreated later… was fun and so much more than just a little facelift! =)


I’m so glad I jumped into the TPT Seller Challenge that started this week! At first, I wasn’t sure which product I wanted to tackle first….BUT then, I went to a two day training. In the midst of the training, my creative wheels started turning and I knew EXACTLY what I needed to change…..and quickly! The training was over writer’s workshop with a word wall component. Not just any old run of the mill word wall though…..a new {to our area} word wall system!


Like most of you, my word wall was set up like this at the beginning of the year….in two neat rows, divided between M and N. Well, once upon a time ago….in a PreK training we were advised to hang our word walls horizontally in ONE long alphabetical row from A to Z. Some of us did, space allowing….BUT most of us continued to utilize our word wall in the formation above. It’s worked…it’s been updated to be manipulative. It’s become interactive. NOW….it’s being revolutionized! Which leads me to the product that I made over! Stay with me….I promise we’re going somewhere with this.

Next year, when I go in to set up my word wall…that writing goals chart will have to find a new home because letters WILL be arranged horizontally from A-Z. In addition to adopting the new structure, the background will be black. High frequency words will be posted above the alphabet strip and vocabulary words will be added below the alphabet strip. Different right? There’s more…

With there being two types of high frequency words, differentiation will [visually] come into play. Decodable sight words will be printed on neon paper and cut to the shape of the word. Phonetically irregular words will be printed on white paper and framed in black to the shape of the word. Vocabulary words will be added onto rectangular cut manila paper…below the letter. My classroom “theme” is black and white with pops of color soooo, hearing this started my heart to leaping and gave an educational reason to the color students will be seeing on the word wall.


…and it inspired my makeover item! A couple years ago, I created the little book above as a resource for our writer’s workshop folders. The old one is on the left. The NEW and IMPROVED one is on the right!

Instead of it being sized to fit into one of the side pockets of the folder, its now been edited for hole punching to fit onto the prongs running down the middle of the folder…to use as a resource to record and find spellings of frequently used words.


Notice the difference on the inside?!!! HUGE! THIS will also be how our word wall will look…, the book students will use to record new words will be a reflection of the wall we post them on! Lines will help with organization and they will have the alphabet with accompanying symbols to assist as a formation reference. Mind blown! If you can’t tell….I’m a little excited about the upcoming change! We’ve only been out of school for a week and my head is spinning with ideas to begin preparing for the new year!


Sometimes, friends' names can be a little hard to spell. There’s a space for those names and subject specific words at the end of the book.



I just uploaded this cutie to my TPT store and because I’m so excited about how it turned out, I listed it as a forever FREEbie! Click HERE to grab it! Stay tuned…inspiration is flowing. More is in the works to accompany this….

See ya next week, when we continue the challenge by daring to dream……..BIG!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Desks or Tables?

Hey, Friends! How are ya? The hustle and bustle of ending the year have come and gone. Now, that I’ve had a quick second to catch my breath, I thought I’d stop by to answer a question I seem to keep getting asked over and over …….and over again! =) You know, as teachers, we celebrate ending one year while simultaneously preparing to begin the next one. One of the things I love to do is reflect on my room arrangement and how it affected our learning over the course of the year….then plan for how I’d like to change it to begin the following year.

Oh…the question I keep getting asked? Which do I prefer…desks or tables?

If I were asked this question a few years ago, I would definitely have answered desks…BUT a lot has changed from a few years ago. Beliefs have made a shift. Kids are definitely different. My space is different. My teaching style has evolved.  Kiddo learning styles have been better incorporated. I’ve embraced change.

Here’s what my classroom looked like way back in August…


Was making the switch easy? Not initially.

I had read an article online about a teacher’s success without desks and wanted to give it a try. I whole heartedly believe that student choice-driven classroom environments inspire engagement and learning. Having a variation of seating so that students could work where they were most comfortable was high on my priority list for set-up last year.

Even so, I was nervous about letting go of the desks completely. That’s why you see a small group of them. Keep in mind, this picture was snapped as I was preparing for kids. Wanna guess what happened when the kids showed up? The room got completely switched around! It’s a funny thing how we try to anticipate the flow, their needs, what they’ll like and often times we’re very successful….BUT no one can tell you what they’ll like better than the little people who’ll actually be using the space!


By the end of the year, our furniture arrangement looked a little more like this! See? No desks! How’d it go? Did I like it? Were my kids able to control themselves? Awesome! We LOVED it! Absolutely!

Looking at this picture, the classroom looks pretty big. I promise you, it is NOT. Our classrooms are pretty cozy {real estate synonym for small}. Without the desks, our classroom looked and felt bigger. We had much more room for movement activities, to work on the floor and for bringing in different types of seating. ANNNND guess what? Our classroom was cleaner! There was no place for long lost papers from Christmas past to go and hide. Everything in our classroom had a place. If we didn’t need it, it was out of there! We used our space wisely and were forced to be efficient.

Every student had a space at the table available to them. Including the guided reading table, 3 round tables and 1 rectangle table…there were exactly 22 seats, when needed. You’ll also notice that I did not have a teacher desk. Hate them! They just become a spot to throw stuff on and when exactly would I have time to sit at it anyway?


One of our alternative seating choices was the blue trampoline chairs. EVERYONE on my campus stopped in just to bounce their bottoms out of these at some time or another. They were great for kids that needed to work and wiggle.


Not every kid feels comfortable sitting in a hard plastic chair. The carpet was another area made available for students to work. Wanna lay on your tummy and work…wanna sit crisscross applesauce….need space to spread out? Then the carpet is a good spot! There was also a carpet “capacity limit”. 1 kid could sit in each corner and one in the middle…that way, the WHOLE class couldn’t try sitting at the carpet to work.


See my little computer stand? Not a whole teacher desk and I loved it because it provided the perfect amount of open storage with no room for me to pile anything on it. I shared this space with the kids too which allowed for an additional computer space, when needed. We kinda shared everything!


The red chair was used for sharing at the carpet and doubled as another seating option for independent work time. There was also an upholstered ottoman on top of the chevron carpet. It served as seating and storage in our classroom library.


No mess. No mystery papers floating around. No place to hide things. A clear view throughout the room. Lots of floor space for work, fun and games. Lots and lots of opportunity for collaboration because the arrangement is not focused on the teacher but on kids. When we all needed to meet, it was generally done at the carpet to mimic the closeness of  “lap reading”. Our classroom felt more like a comfy lounge, a collaborative setting...where kids were in control of their learning.


A few things that helped to make working with tables instead of desks successful was the use of clipboards and lap desks. If students chose to sit in a comfy chair, they knew where these were stored in the classroom and were free to grab one. This picture to the top left is the ottoman that was in our classroom library. We used it to store reading books and dictionaries. See the little silver spots on the floor? Smallest chair ever, right? Ha! Those little circles were placed on the floor around the room to designate spots for seating.

So….long story, short...We LOVED having tables over desks. Using tables along with different choices for comfortable seating allowed for my students to choose the setting that best suited their learning style. We rolled with choice.... a LOT. I gave my students the opportunity to make choices with the understanding that the choice also comes with responsibility. They were free to choose as long as they showed me they were capable of handling the choice….ONLY.

I loved using tables so much….I’m taking them with me to SECOND GRADE next year! That’s right peeps…A+ Firsties just got promoted!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on using tables or desks…chime in with a comment below! 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Filling Buckets with Class Books {Love Notes}

Hi, Friends! Long time, no blog! We’re down to the final stretch of the school year and things are starting to clear away a little….we have exactly 18 days left! 18! That’s it!

While it’s hard to believe that we ARE actually in the days of the final countdown, we have worked hard as a little school family and are ready for some rest and relaxation! I’m linking up with my bud, Kacey for a Five for Friday bucket filling idea!


As we’re winding down the final six weeks, our focus in writer’s workshop is creating class books. By doing so, we can review a number of topics in a fun way that the kids can’t wait to get their hands on. Alliteration. Rhyming. Phonics patterns. Conventions. Punctuation…..BUT, most of all….filling buckets and continuing to build our classroom community right up until the very last minute!

Like normal, I gave my littles a voice in the planning of this endeavor. We brainstormed a list of topics they’d like to write about. After compiling the list, students voted to choose their ‘Top 3’ ideas. To my surprise, their #1 choice was little ole ME! I have the best class of littles on the planet, but it can be a little scary to give them free reign to write a book about YOU! =)

After a little prayer…..and prepping a cover… [Yep, they told me EXACTLY what they wanted on that too!]…the kids set to work with a starter sentence to give the book a little rhythm. The starter sentence was……Ms. Dwyer is my teacher. Beyond that, they added anything they liked to describe me as a teacher and tell what or how I taught them in 1st grade. We were reviewing adjectives that week and let me tell you, those little stinkers made me cry! Like….for REAL TEARS!!! I cried! I tried to wipe them away and play it off, but ya’ll, the things they said were so heartwarming…..and I’m a big ole softie when it comes to my kids…..melted my heart as I read every page! That little book is one I’ll treasure for a long, long time!

….and just like THAT, one idea birthed ANOTHER!


It started with bringing adjectives to LIFE! We used one courageous friend as a living anchor chart! This brave little stood at the carpet, glowing from ear to ear as friends used adjectives to describe HER. As they provided adjectives, I jotted them down quickly and we labeled away!


We couldn’t exactly leave her there standing all day, so we created a “Flat Stanley” version and placed the sticky notes on the chart. After the adjectives were added, she got to add a noun under each adjective to name what it was describing. The next day, we used the chart as a class again to review each item students described and how we use adjectives in sentences before beginning a surprise project! It was super top secret and we had a limited amount of time to get it down while our friend was out of the classroom!

Did you notice the other little book covers on the 1st picture? Well, if my bucket was filled as an adult getting such a sweet gift from my class of littles, I got to thinking about how each of them would feel getting the same thing! So, as one of my littles was out of the room, we each sat down and wrote a note to tell her exactly how terrific she is! As she returned, I projected the book on the document camera and turned the pages. Each student read the page aloud and you could just see the pride and warmth bursting from each of their pores! It was one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever seen as a teacher. To hear each student, one by one, tell a classmate what makes them special…..especially, during the wonky times of these last few days was uh-mazing!!!!

I wish I had taken pictures of the actual book, BUT I think its now under guarded lock and key because the student receiving it LOVED it just that much! Each day from then until the end of the year, we’ve decided to fill a bucket for a friend or two! Love, love, love my littles and the care they show for each other.


Our guided reading groups have all blended to form strategy groups. During the first 20 days of school, we worked to build routines to foster a collaborative learning environment. During the final 20 days, students are collaborating and sharing what they’ve learned throughout the year as they review comprehension skills in mixed ability groups. In short, they’re teaching each other! Again…..teacher heart melted!


We’ve had a great year filled with lots of learning with great friends! While I get a little teary eyed this time of year, it’s only because I’m so proud of my kiddos. They don’t need me anymore. I’m just in the room to make sure there’s adult supervision. They know the routines because they’ve helped to create them and practiced them all year. They’re working together. They’re teaching each other…..and they’re ready, ready for all 2nd grade has to offer! And me, I’m the lucky one….because I got to be a part of their journey! I got the privilege to make learning fun!

…..and that little book that we created as a surprise? The student receiving it, proudly declared THAT day as the BEST day of her life! She felt special and was stronger than me because she was able to hold back her tears of joy! It’s the little things that make teaching so fulfilling, that remind me daily of why the extra effort to love on each kiddo in my class is the most important part of what I do. It’s what makes the learning possible.


Think your class might like to end the year filling each other’s buckets too? Click the pic above to grab a cover and a writing page insert to use! There are options to print the cover in color or in black in white to be colored. There are also 3 different simple double-sided writing pages to choose from. Enjoy these last few days…summer will be here before you know it!


Thanks for stopping by!


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