If you lack creative, artistic skills like me, you might be wondering what you can do with your kids this time of year. I don't want a lot of prep work, mess, or energy that I personally have to put into a craft for my kids. They have, however, been asking for something fun to do for the holiday season. As I searched online, I found an adorable penguin craft for the kids. It's simple enough, and the kids had so much fun doing it (about half of my kiddos have finished as I have been doing the penguin with them in small groups). Here are the steps (you will need a sheet of blue paper per child, and cut up or ripped up small pieces of white and black paper, and orange paper for a beak):

1) Take a blue paper and trace the outline of a penguin (see above).

2) Have students glue the white papers into the middle of the penguin.

3) Have student glue the black papers around the white of the penguin.

4) Draw on the eye with a sharpie.

5) Cut out a beak from the orange paper and have students glue onto the penguin.

    As you can see from the image above, students can also add snow into the picture. It adds a nice touch. Some of my kids wanted to personalize their penguins and make hats, bows, etc.

I found the original penguin here.

If you do this craft, I would love to hear how your kids liked it.

     This week my kids will be working on patterns. Since I love math games for math centers, I thought I would create a game that incorporated a "Hundreds Race" I had seen online, but with a twist. In the hundreds game, two students roll a die and color that many spaces in their hundreds chart. The first student to complete their hundreds chart is the winner. My new game is exactly the same, but the students must use two colors to make an ABAB pattern (patterns can be modified to increase the level of difficulty and I'm using a diamond pattern this week instead of the hundred's chart). You can find the pattern I am using this week here. You may also find a blank hundreds chart here. To get a copy of the game's instruction, click here. Please let me know if you use this in your class. I would love to hear how your kids like it. Mine have been having  blast with it this week.

    Next week my class and I will be focusing on maps and globes and how they are useful (this story is often used for discussing citizenship as well). I always tie social studies into language arts, and  next week we will read "Miss Rumphius" to talk about how we could use maps. This is a great book that can be used not only as a launching point on maps (how would Miss Rumphius use a map? What would she look for? How would it help her?), but to work on sequencing, making inferences and connections. This story could be used to compare life in the past to life now as well. It's so versatile because it covers so many standards at once. Art can also be integrated into this book. After reading the book, students can draw how they think Miss Rumphius' lupines look up close. I am a huge fan of integrating as many subjects as possible, so I was excited to share this lesson with you all. I would love to hear what you have used this story in your own classroom.

Additional activities:

*Where would you like to go? Create a postcard and write a message to your best friend describing the place (make sure your kids know what post kids are; I would even show them some and see what experiences they have with them).

*How can you make the world beautiful? Draw and write how you would make the world beautiful.

*Study the parts of flowers; study a plants' lifecycle.

      Just as I do guided reading, I do guided math as well. This is the best way to help struggling kids, challenge those who are advanced, or fit in a math activity you might not otherwise have had time for. This week my assistant will be guiding a snowman glyph in her guided math group as I work in small groups doing number bonds. I love glyphs because they help students to focus on details, visually represent data, and the kids have a lot of fun with it (shouldn't learning be fun, anyway?). This one particularly is perfect for the Christmas season! This would be even a nice independent activity you could throw in for math centers (if your students are old enough to read). I personally balance out the independent games and independent activities during my math center time. The glyph I am using I found online here. If you don't have an account with ABC teach you might not be able to access the glyph. You could, however, do your own internet search to find a different one, or create your own. I would love to hear what glyphs you do with your kids for the holidays.

    Today I wanted my kids to get really hands-on with our study of the days of the week and months of the year. I wasn't completely happy with just the quick YouTube video and reading the names aloud (though we did those activities as  well). So, I began to think about what I could do to make this lesson a little more interesting. That's when I thought about bringing play-doh into the lesson. The kids love to do play-doh spelling, so why not use it with the days of the week? So we did! Of course, the kids loved it. I am thinking about including a play-doh center with the months of the year next week. This will be hands-on, and help them become familiarized with the months. This activity actually saved my other-wise boring math lesson for the day (we don't do math centers on Mondays, so I was really looking for a way to spice up today's math time). What activities have you done with your kids as they learn the days of the week and the months of the year? I would love to hear!

   Upon returning from Thanksgiving break my class and I will be looking at how we are similar and different from others as part of our "Myself" unit. One aspect we will explore is feelings. To help think about our feelings and the feelings of others we will read Mo Willems "My Friend is Sad." It's a terrific children's story about a pig who tries to cheer up his friend, Elephant. This story is also a great way to discuss different emotions we have and what causes those feelings. In addition, as we see Piggie struggle with his friend's sadness, students begin to think about the feelings their own friends experience as well. It's great way to promote empathy, and begin a healthy discussion of the feelings we all experience. After reading and discussing the book my students will be given a "My Friend is Sad: Kind words to say to a friend" available here. Another idea (instead of doing the worksheet) to help students show how to be sensitive to their friend's feelings is to act out a situation in which a friend is sad and they have to cheer them up. Students could brainstorm phrases or words to use with their friends while you chart them on the paper. On a picture of Elephant and Piggie, students can write the phrases and words and then color in the picture. What activities have you done with your class to go with :My Friend is Sad"?

As part of our "Myself" unit we are exploring feelings. We actually won't be working on this until about two weeks from now, but I've already started to prepare for that week. Exploring emotions is not only wonderful as it helps students understand what they are experiencing emotionally, but to better understand those around them. We will launch this lesson with a reading of Glad Monster, Sad Monster to discuss what makes the monster feel the different emotions. This will help us link the feelings back to ourselves when I will give discussion time among partners to think about their own feelings and what makes them experience them. During writing time, my students will begin to work on a mini-book from Scholastic called "My Book about Feelings." I am guessing this will take about 2 days before it will be completed. Slower workers will need additional time. During our social studies time, they will work on drawing their different emotions using this worksheet. To top this concept off, I will be including a "finish the picture" center in my math centers this week (click here for the printable). How have you used this great book in your class? I would love to hear.

Blank Jigsaw Puzzle Template This week we are beginning to learn about the calendar (though we do calendar everyday, so a lot of this is review!). To begin, we will open up with a song about the days of the week. Youtube is a great source for songs. I will be using a song by the Youtube channel Kids TV 123 (if you haven't found this channel you should definitely look it up. They have great children's songs). We will also read a poem about things we do each day of the week, then I will ask students to find the first day of the week, the second day of the week, which day comes before....etc. In groups, my kids will then construct a days of the week puzzle. You could do this individually, or have them work on this with a partner. This would also make a terrific math center. I am using a blank puzzle template available here.  My TA wrote the days of the week together and is cutting the pieces (this particular puzzle would be too tough for first graders to cut). It is time consuming, but if you prep ahead and/or have an assistant to help, it's a great activity for the kids to become acquainted with the days of the week. What activities do you do with your class to enforce knowledge of the days of the week?

      Many of you already know that I use Understanding by Design to create my units. This week we are focusing on changes. Today's essential question is: "What things change?" To dig into this question I will first ask my students the question, allow them time to think, and then discuss. We will then read the story, "Frog and Toad-The Garden" to see how nature around us changes. This is actually a great extension of our season's unit when we learned how the world around us changes during the seasons. During writing time they will write about things that change around them. My hope is that they might extend their thoughts beyond gardens and discuss other changes around them (animals in winter, spring births, etc.). A center I am including at math time this week is to sequence the life cycle of a pumpkin. It goes along with the idea that things around us change, and ties into the concept of sequencing, which we've been working on in math. To get that activity click here.  For a spelling activity (not one I am doing but something that could work), kids could draw a garden and hide their spelling words. I hope some of those activities might work for you! How have you used the story "Frog and Toad- The Garden" in your classroom?

     In case you haven't heard, this week is the Global Education Conference which consists of free conferences all week. The conferences are conducted through blackboard, and attendees consist of educators around the world. I definitely want to be a part of this event and hope that some of you will too. Click here to sign-up for free. I am still deciding which conferences I'll take part in, but I would love to hear from those of you who plan to "attend" any of the virtual conferences as well.

     Guided reading is huge in the younger grades. I remember being terrified of it when I first started teaching.   I didn't want to make a mistake. Over the years I have definitely modified what I do in my groups and how I go about it. In this post I will explain what I do in my guided reading groups.
     To begin, I, like so many other teachers, use the Daily 5 in my classroom. It's absolutely the best thing I have ever tried in terms of literacy. For anyone who is not familiar with the D5, I highly suggest you look into it. As a brief on the D5, it essentially includes read to self, read to a partner, word work, work on writing, and listening to reading (a listening center). The D5 does not dictate what you teach, but sets up important routines to help you teach during literacy time. You teach a mini-lesson, then go into a D5 rotation. Many teachers have to modify based on available time in their class, and whether or not they have a listening center. I actually call it Daily 3 in my class. I don't have a listening center, and we do writing together, therefore I do three mini-lessons and three daily 5 rotations. Other teachers have modified in different ways to fit their needs.
     While my kids are working on a Daily 5 activity, I have a handful of students in the back working with me (no more than 6 students). We begin by "warming up our brains" with a book they read the day before. I have them whisper read it. Then we go on to some sort of practice on words. This could be sound isolation, reconstructing a sentence, writing sentences, or working on letters and sounds. This would depend on which group I am with and what their need is. After working on words or letters and sounds, we go into our new read for the day. This ensures that each day they are reading something new. We do a walk-through of the book where we make predictions, and I point out any unfamiliar words. We will normally echo read or choral read our new book, then discuss it. This is where we might underline word families we are working on. Afterwards I have them whisper read the book. To conclude, we go back and focus on the unfamiliar words in the story. I have them take a crayon and underline the word then color the corresponding word in the picture. This helps them to focus on the meaning and help them to remember it better. All of this takes about 25-30 minutes.
     I hope some of you might find this useful. I am also curious to find out what the rest of you do in your own small groups. If you don't mind, please share your own small group strategies and ideas.

      Today I thought it would be great to share my own lesson plan format. This was something that took me a while to figure out on my own. I'm not talking about how to design a lesson, but finding the routines that will work for me. Every time I change grades, this proves to be the challenge as well. The format I am proposing (and the one I use) could be used for first or second grade. When you have the basic format it makes it so much easier to just plug in all the details. Here's the format I use (times would have to be adjusted for your own school schedule):

8:00-8:10 Carpet time : Phonics

8:10-8:35 Daily 5 rotation 1 (I work with a small group)

8:35-8:55 Calendar (5 minutes), morning message (10 minutes), read aloud (5-10 minutes)

8:55-9:30 Daily 5 rotation 2 (I work with a small group)

Lunch/Spanish class

11:00-11:20  Daily 5 Rotation 3 (I work with a small group)

11:20-11:30 Writing mini-lesson

11:30-11:55 Writing

11:55-12:05 Math warm up

12:05-12:15 Calendar (usually a math video of colors, skip counting, etc. Just a review)

12:15-12:25 Math mini-lesson

12:25-12:55 Math centers (I work with a small group)

12:55-1:15 Social studies /Science activity

Having a formula to use truly helps to keep you to not only stay on schedule, but give your kids the needed routine to make managing your classroom successful. I hope you can find this useful in your own classroom.

   As I was browsing through some of the blogs I follow, I ran into a post discussing a children's site I hadn't seen before. This gave me the great idea to blog about sites I do use in and out of the classroom. It seems like there's always new ones coming up, and it's not always easy to keep track of. I hope this post will perhaps introduce some of you to some sites you have not yet discovered.

1.  - This site allows students to work on their math facts and tracks their progress

2. - A site with math and language arts

3. - Another math site for students to practice their math facts

4.   Free ebooks for children (good quality with great illustrations). You can have audio on or off as needed (math is also available on this site).

5.  This site is by far one of my most favorite sites I have recently found. This doesn't just have online books, but we're talking great quality books that weren't just created for the actual site. You can start your own virtual library and save books. This is great if you teach a lesson later in the year, but you see a great book to go with the unit before you're actually ready to use it.

     Well, there you have it. Five fantastic sites to use in and out of the classroom. I hope these are sites that you can use as well (if you aren't currently using them). I will continue to add sites to this list. Just browse the label "websites to use in the classroom." If you have sites you love to use that aren't on this list, please share them!

     I have finally decided on a classroom theme: crayola crayon! I think it will be perfect for my little kiddos. I also love the idea of bright colors in the classroom. It's also a theme that seems pretty simple. Some of you might remember that last year I did a Safari theme. It was a lot of fun, but I am looking forward to putting something together that might be a little more simple.
     Here are just some of the ideas I have for now. There's still some time yet before these plans are executed into an actual classroom (I don't think I will get access into my classroom until at least another week). Please feel free to comment on the ideas, and suggest others! I am still in the process of thinking it through:

1. Name sticks that look like crayons 

2. Work display BB with primary colors as background, and crayons as border

3. Self-portraits: As an activity during the first week, I will have students do self-portraits with a crayon body (they will share these as a means to begin building community). 

4. Expectations will be posted on paper with crayon border

5. Pencil holder with crayons hot-glued around it

6. One wall painted with all primary colors

7. Groups: will be called a crayola crayon color

8. Student name tags will be a large crayola crayon

      That's all I have so far, but I am really excited to get my room put together. I would love to hear what you all think of these ideas, and if you have other suggestions. As always, I will post pictures when I have some to post.

     If you are anything like me, dinner planning is an exhausting task, especially after working hard all week long. As I have mentioned in the past, creating dinner menus help me to stay organized, and makes the task of deciding what to make daily slightly less grueling. Alas, the actual menu planning has become another job for me. I don't necessarily want to sit down and think up what I am going to make each night. Thankfully, I finally came up with a new system which will allow my dinner menu to create itself (you've got to love that!).
     Allow me to explain my new system that I am in love with. What I did was take a vinyl chart, exactly like the ones I use in class for our schedule, and on a 3x5 card, write the day of the week for each slot. Next to the day, I wrote a type of dish on another 3x5 card. Since I only plan for 5 days, this is what I created: Monday-Chicken/meat, Tuesday-casserole, Wednesday-pasta, Thursday-Soup/Salad, Friday-Burgers/sandwiches. From there, I wrote down meals I make, one meal per 3x5 cards. I have about 5-7 meals per type of dish, and what I do now is when that day passes and I have made the dish, I move the card to the back of the cards, and the next card displayed is the meal I will make for that day the following week. For example, today is Wednesday and the displayed pasta card is pasta primavera. After I make dinner, I will move the pasta primavera card to the back of the pasta cards, and the next card displayed will be the pasta dish I will make next week. By the time Friday hits, I will have my menu for next week already created, and there will be no planning on my part. I really hope this method helps you if you decide to do it. I would love to hear if you plan on trying this, if you already do it, or how you plan out your weekly menus. Happy cooking!

          I am posting this because, as we are already starting to plan our next school year, I have seen lots of posts and conversations about unit themes. There's nothing wrong with unit themes, but instead of designing what  we do as a class around themes, we work around big ideas. I initially started this when I first learned about Understanding by Design about two years ago. The idea is that learning should revolve around big ideas, and that we should be uncovering the information as we work towards the big idea. In this way, you could actually incorporate different themes, and integrate between subjects. Since using this design plan, I have seen my first graders become deep, critical thinkers. Before I get down to the nuts and bolts of planning around a big idea, here are a few big ideas we have explored: Changes (How I change, the things that change around us, changes in a garden, geographical changes), etc. As you can see, big ideas can be incorporated as an entire unit (as I am used to doing). Each big idea is set-up as a focus question. We explore that focus question for one to two weeks, creating a chart to document our learning as we go (we discuss the focus question/big idea daily, and several times a day). UbD designers, Wiggins and McTighe emphasize that learning should be transferable, which is the goal of planning around big ideas.  The entire UbD philosophy and framework cannot be explained in one blog post, but you can view this video to learn more. If you watched the video, you know that UbD is a backward design. You start with standards and objectives, then plan what evidence will show that students have met the learning goals (traditional tests, quizzes, performance assessments, authentic assessments, etc.), and finally, you plan the learning activities. This ensures that all activities help students meet the learning activities. They are not just activities because they are fun, but they lead back to the learning goals. What I really love about this is that every activity leads the students closer to uncovering the big idea, so they are no longer reading just to read the book, but they read it to answer the big idea. You can also integrate all subject matters, which enhances student learning. 

   One last example of planning around big ideas: the last unit my class and I explored was called (surprisingly enough) "Big Ideas". Here are just a couple of big ideas (set up as questions) we explored during the unit: "When do we need a clever solution?", and "What ideas changed the way we lived"? During this unit, we learned about simple machines, inventors (B. Franklin, A.G. Bell, which also allowed us to explore biographies), came up with our own inventions, wrote about them, and even designed them using only geometrical shapes. As you can see, big ideas are broad enough to include all subject areas and content, and allows you to work with your state's content standards. This is why I love UbD, but, more importantly, the idea of using big ideas when designing my units. Anyone interested in seeing a unit that I created and used can click here. My units are planned using big ideas for two weeks at a time, however each lesson plan (which can be seen by clicking the previous link) is set-up weekly. Therefore, I use the same standards/objectives, essential understandings/questions, evidence, for two week in a row. What changes in my plans are the specific activities within the weekly schedule as I pull them from my unit plan, sometimes making changes as needed. 

   I would love to hear what all of you think about UbD and designing around big ideas. Do you do this as well? If not, how do you plan your units? Please share your thoughts. 

 kids hugging I learned a lot about Kagan's coopertive learning while in college, and have based my students' learning on the idea that two (or more!) is much better than one. My students always sit in groups of 3 to 4 (groups bigger than 4 really don't work too well-it just makes for large groups, which don't always function as they should), therefore they have quick access to partner/group conversations. I am always asking them to discuss certain points, and it would otherwise be too time consuming to move into partners. I have found that this helps my students to develop conversational skills, social skills, as well as develop and expand concepts that might otherwise be difficult. I try to mix my groups so that one might be low, one in the middle, and one or two are high (ability wise). I also make sure that I have a group leader (this is a high student, and it might be a student who loves attention, control, and/or be in charge). I also have material managers, and group cleaners. This, of course, is for the general running of the group. Group activities require students to have additional, required tasks. I have found that most students love learning in this type of environment (please note I say  must; students with social issues, or other issues, might not prefer this setting. In those instances I have allowed those students some times to work alone if the student will work better). This is not only beneficial for my students, but is a huge help for me as well. Students know they must go to their group leader to ask questions (and if the group leader doesn't know, ask someone else in the group) before ever coming to me. How wonderful this has been! Most of the time (as we teachers well know) someone else knows the answer, and I absolutely cannot have a whole class of first graders constantly asking me questions when they can get to the answer without me. This helps them to become a bit more independent, and encourages positive interdependence among the groups. Honestly, I don't think I would enjoy teaching as much as I do if I didn't set up my classroom this way. It truly helps the students and me as well. This makes me wonder how the rest of you set up your classes. Are they paired? Grouped? Sit in singles? I would love to hear. happy teacher Not familiar with Kagan? Click the link to learn more.

 ScooterAs a teacher, I want to connect with my parents. If I can, connecting daily is a great goal. Parents want to know what's happening in their child's classroom. This becomes somewhat difficult when not all parents choose the same mode of communication as the majority of the parents. Yet, I need to find a way to reach all my parents. I have found that in today's world, the internet has been wonderful in helping me reach the vast majority of my parents. In an attempt to connect with all parents, I inevitably end up doing a couple things: I email my parents every Monday with homework and any other important information that needs to be shared. In addition to this, I send a hard copy of the homework and the same information sent out on the email. This coming year, I will also maintain a class website. This, of course, does not include the times I am not actually teaching a class and can meet with parents. The best way to gather all the information you need to keep in contact is to handout a survey asking for contact information as soon as you can (I usually do this the first week of school). My survey allows me to immediately see who has computers and internet in their home, and gather their telephone numbers, as well as email addresses. One little survey can make a huge difference! How do all of you communicate and connect with your parents?


     So we meet once again with one of our favorite seasons: summer! Not only is it a time to breath and sleep in, I always find that summer for me has been a time for reflection as well. I reflect on what I did in the classroom that worked, and what didn't work. One of the best things I did in my classroom was work really hard on improving my ability to design units based on Understanding on Design. It was easier this past year since I was able to use my old plans from the previous year (when I first started using UbD). I feel I was more effective in small groups, and therefore so were my students. I am currently reading Kagan's book on cooperative learning and hope to be able to implement more ways to incorporate cooperative learning in the classroom. Next year I will be at a new school, so I will be busy enough just learning the new curriculum, getting to know staff, new routines, and adjusting to a new school culture. That right there is already a lot on one's plate. What about the rest of you? What have you reflected back on, and what do you look forward to for next year?

      I don't mean from blogging (though I admittedly don't get much time to blog except during school breaks) but from teaching. As much as we love what we do, rest is important as well. I write this as I sit in the beach house my husband and I rented for the long weekend, and I realize just how much this time was well needed (okay, so we recently returned from our two-week spring break but I'm not going to turn down a long weekend). We spend so much time planning, correcting, reflecting, and planning again. We do this because we are great teachers who care, and our kids need us. However, there is a limit. Many teachers burn out quickly and I believe it's due to the consumption teaching has on the teacher. Yes, it consumes us, doesn't it? Yet we must learn to rest and take a break. Hard work certainly pays off, but a little R&R does the body and mind good. I would love to hear how all of you take time to relax and temporarily step out of the world of teaching.

    It's March already (what happened to February? Where did it go?), and it seems that this time of year (at least at my school) is packed with too many events to even count. You know what I'm talking about. You open up your agenda book and have an event scheduled on almost every, single day. Our student teacher begins on Monday, we have spirit week coming up (which means we must practice daily for our dance), spelling-bee, bench-marking, a walk-a-thon, a field-trip, and an all-day in-service meeting. I'm also pretty sure I'm forgetting several other events as well. Oh, yes I am. One of my student's is leaving the country until next school year, so we will have a party for her in a few weeks. This is where I begin to feel like I have an elephant sitting on the top of my head. He's very heavy I tell you, and I wish he'd consider getting off.  This really is very much what our life looks like every week, isn't it? When aren't we busy? When don't we have a million things to do? We are being pulled in ten different directions at any given time (it's lucky we still have our limbs attached, isn't it?).  At the end of the day, however, it's all worth it. All the sweat, tears, and blood that goes into teaching.  It's fulfilling, exhausting, but definitely rewarding.
   What about your schedule? Is your agenda as full as mine is?

   I just can't believe it's already February (really closer to March now at this point). I look at my students and see they have made huge growth by now. My kids have turned into super writers. Even my lowest one no longer requires sentence frames. He's doing it all by himself (this is a great thing because I have a new student who requires a lot of small group, and one-on-one help).  A handful of my students can write a whole page now, and insist on doing so (be mindful that I don't require that, though). This is an exciting time in the school year, in my opinion, because now we begin to see real growth.  I hear my kids using words that weren't even in their vocabulary at the beginning of the school year, and working so well in their groups that they explain and question things before even coming to me (most of the time). Oh the bliss of being half way through the school year.
   What about the growth you've seen in your own classes? I would love to hear about it. 

What I Eat To Feel Great Part 1: The Genesis of My New Diet

         This started as a podcast episode, but I just had to turn it into a blog post as well. To preface, I am not qualified to give a...