Monday, December 26, 2011

Digging In with Word Work

Word Work is one of my students' favorite components of the Daily 5.  Word Work allows students the opportunity to practice their wall words and/or spelling words.  Word Work is a very important literacy component, and your students will take it seriously if you provide clear expectations.  When launching Word Work, it's important to create an anchor chart with your students.  The anchor chart details the expectations for demonstrating independence during Word Work.  There are several different choices that students can select from during Word Work.  The options that my students choose from are as follows:
Visit my classroom blog for a list of the websites my students frequently use for Word Work.

Modeling is another key factor for a successful launch of Word Work.  It's important for students to see the correct way and the incorrect way to participate in Word Work.  It's also important to model how to put away materials at the end of the Daily 5 round.  In The Daily 5, the authors stress that the incorrect model is shown first, and it's followed by the correct model.  I think it's crucial to leave students with the correct model in their minds.

It's important to reinforce that the materials used for Word Work are tools and not toys.  I can't begin to tell you how many times I've repeated the refrain, "Markers are tools and not toys."  However, it sticks with them, and they really learn to use the materials correctly.  My students use individual white boards for Word Work probably more that any of the other materials.  Some teachers use old sock as erasers.  I buy felt squares which I cut in half.  They make perfect erasers.  Besides, I can't stand the thought of having old socks lying around my classroom.  I'm just a bit picky that way.  The felt squares are durable and washable, and best of all, cheap.  I haven't had to replace these for several years now.  They can be purchased at most craft and fabric stores, and they come in many different colors.

Rainbow Paper is another engaging alternative.  My students rewrite their Wall Words in rainbow colors.  Each letter of the word is a different color.  When students are using the rainbow paper for Word Work, they are not only working with words, they are also practicing their handwriting.

Once Word Work has been introduced, it's important to maintain consistency.  Keep the materials the same and don't worry that your students are getting board with them.  You want to keep them  focused on their word work and not on new items which may become distracting.

What are the go-to tools and websites used for Word Work in your classroom? 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Examining Relationships and Learning

It's hard to believe that we are approaching the end of another year.  For some it's the end of another school year too.  As I think about the calendar year coming to a close, I'm reminded of where I began.  My thoughts drift back to September and the beginning of the school year.  Just three months ago I was preparing for a new school year.  I was putting all of my energy into buying and unpacking supplies, arranging my classroom, planning lessons, copying materials, organizing the classroom library, and the list goes on and on.  However, in addition to all of those things, my deepest thoughts were centered around the new group of students I was anxiously waiting to teach.  What would they be like?  Who were these little people I was expecting to meet?  Would we become a community of learners?  Could we become a classroom family?  For me, teaching is not just lesson plans and activities but so much more.  It's also about making connections and building relationships with my students.

As I reflect on the last few months, I can now answer all of those questions.  My students are amazing.  Each one has their own individually unique personality.  Some more challenging than others to embrace, but each providing me with opportunities to learn from and grow as a teacher.  We are more than a classroom community, we are a family.  We know how to push buttons and how to allow our friends time to decompress.  We share likes and dislikes.  "I love our reading time."  "I don't like it when you call me names, please don't do that."  We know how to complement and how to encourage.  If you visit both our classroom blog and our Kidblogs you will see evidence of all of these things.  Things that we have in common, and things that are uniquely different.  You will see evidence of how we support and encourage each other, and how much we love learning.  Most importantly, you will see that we are a classroom family.

You may be thinking, so what!  What does this have to do with learning.  I happen to think it has everything to do with learning.  My students and I have spent a lot of time creating a safe learning environment, where everyone feels respected and valued.  We teach each other, and we share in what others have accomplished so far this year.  Students who struggled with reading at the beginning of the school year, are now reading at grade level.  My students love doing the Daily 5,  developing ideas during our writing block, and enjoy participating in rotations for math workshop. They are excited learners who not only learn but teach me a thing or two each and every day.  I'm so fortunate to be their teacher.  I'm looking forward to sharing and learning a lot more in the New Year!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Digging in with Read To Someone in the Daily 5

Reading to a buddy is a favorite among readers.  Every year my students enjoy the Read to Someone component of the Daily 5 probably more than any of the other components.  I introduce Read to Someone by creating an anchor chart  with my students.  Across the top of the Chart we list the reasons why we do Read to Someone; To become better readers, because it's fun, etc.  Next, we record what the students will be doing.  Finally, we record what the teacher is doing.  I don't know about you, but when I create these anchor charts with my students, my handwriting is not as neat and polished as I would like it to be.  I tell my students that I will be rewriting the chart in order to make it presentable for hanging.  Once the anchor chart is rewritten, I laminate it.  This ensures that I can reuses it year after year.  Next year, after I've created another anchor chart with a different group of students, I won't need to rewrite it, I simply pull out the copy that I originally laminated.  The information is basically the same, and my students have no Idea that I use the same anchor chart every year.  It's our little secret.

There are two ways to Read to Someone.  The first way is having partners reading the same book and the same page.  This is called, I read, you read.  During I read, you read, the higher reader should read first. This helps lower readers with word recognition.  The second way to do Read to Someone, is allowing partners to take turns reading their own books, a page at a time and applying the "Check for Understanding" strategy.  Partner one reads the first page of his or her book, and partner two does the check for understanding".  Next, partner two reads the first page of their book, and partner one does the "Check for Understanding.  Using the "Check for Understanding" strategy, the student listening to the reading will answer two questions, who? (Who is this page/part about?) and what? (What just happened?).  In the book, The Literacy Cafe, the authors suggests making check marks out of wood or some other material for students to use.  The whole thought of that was way too overwhelming for me.  Instead, I made bookmarks out of precut, rectangular shaped foam.  On one side of the foam shapes I drew a check with the words "Check for Understanding" written on the check mark.  On the other side of the foam I wrote the letters EEKK (Elbow to Elbow, Knee to Knee).  Next to the EEKK I also wrote, Who? and What?  The purpose of doing the "Check for Understanding" is to ensure that each person is listening while the other is reading.

Having kids model the right and wrong ways to do Read to Someone is very critical for a successful launch.  They should model sitting elbow to elbow and knee to knee, and holding the book in the center between them.  Additionally, I like to select one of my good readers to help me model how to do the "Check for Understanding". 

When I introduce Read to Someone, I have my students choose from a sets of multiple copies of books that I have at different levels.  Once Read to Someone is up and running, I allow my students to choose books from their book baskets.  In my opinion, Read to Someone is one of the most challenging Daily 5 components to get up and running smoothly.  With my first graders, I tend to launch Read to Someone slowly.  I usually start with, I read, you read, only.  I want to make sure students are successful with this part first.  Within the next month or two, I introduce Read to Someone again with each reader reading from their own books and doing the "Check for Understanding" strategy.  I probably could start this sooner, however, I believe it's best to go slow, in order to go fast later.  The best advice I can give to someone just beginning the Daily 5, is to dig in and make it your own!

Sunday, November 27, 2011


What is the Big Bad Technology Wolf?  Who is the Big Bad Technology Wolf?  It's not really a thing.  Nor is it a person.  It's more of a state of mind.  It's the resistance you feel from others when you share some technology related information, application, or tool.  Let's face it.  Technology isn't going away.  Quite the contrary, it's becoming increasingly more a way of life.  If you are at all like me, you're so dependent on technology that you have to regroup when you are forced to do without it. I remember once a colleague's IWB had a burned out bulb.  The replacement cost was about $400.  Needless to say, it took a few weeks for her to receive a replacement.  She was so anxious during the time she was waiting to have the bulb replaced.  You would often hear her say, "How did I ever manage to teach BIWB?" (Before Interactive White Boards).  That's how much she depended on it, and how much she enjoyed using it.

Although I'm writing about technology from an educational perspective.  I think this issue has implications in other professions too.  Schools are becoming more and more technology driven as is business and society in general.  However, what concerns me is the apprehension and trepidation that some educators feel towards technology, even though we live in a world that is driven by and inundated with technology.  The implications that technology has for education is enormous.  Many students are more computer literate than their teachers.  I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing either.  I think learning is a two way street.  Naturally, students expect to learn many things from their teachers.  However, I think really good teachers try to learn something from their students too.  This is how we should look at technology.  As teachers we should embrace the idea that what we don't already know about technology, we can learn from colleagues, friends, family, and our own students.

Students approach technology with a fearless attitude, while some teachers approach it with apprehension and trepidation.  sometimes, there is not even an attempt made by teachers to make an effort, to step out into the unknown, to simply give it a try.  Isn't that what we tell our students?  To at least try!  We expect our students to trust us when we ask them to try learning new things.  However, a lot of teachers are not willing to do the same thing when it comes to technology.  If we no longer have an open mind, we are really doing our students a disservice.  When we fear technology, because embracing it causes us to step out of our comfort zone, we prevent our students from technology related learning opportunities in our classrooms.  I recently read a blog, 5 Big Education Technology Questions, Answered, written by Jeff Dunn who shares a similar sentiment.  Jeff says, "My methods of delivery and engaging students have been modified to keep up with changing technology.  We owe this to our students if they ever want gainful employment upon graduation.  We as instructors need to step outside our comfort zones and do them this service."
Friends, we can't allow fear to prevent us from being the best we can be as educators.  What many teachers can't seem to live without, others see as The Big Bad Technology Wolf.  Don't fear technology, be fearless!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Digging In With Read To Self

Of the five components of the Daily 5, I would have to say that Read to Self is my favorite.  Why?  I'm glad you asked.  It's because my students are more focused and productive during Read to Self, than any other time in my classroom and during any other component of Daily 5.

When I launch the Daily 5, I always start with Read to Self.  Reading to self is also known as independent reading.  It's important that my students are building stamina, and able to read independently for at least 20 minutes before I introduce the other "Daily's" (the other parts of the Daily 5).  In my first few mini lessons for Read to Self, we address the importance of selecting good fit books, choosing a good reading spot, and building stamina. We also create the Read to Self anchor chart which is covered in the book.  First, we discuss why reading to self is important, and that information is written on the top of the anchor chart.  Next, we discuss what the students will do, and I record their responses on the chart.  Finally, we discuss what the teacher will be doing, and I record those responses too.  Modeling appropriate reading behavior is also very important, and it's my students' favorite thing to do.  Two or three students are selected to model the incorrect way to read during Read to Self, followed by the correct way to read during Read to Self time.  The book suggests selecting a student who would typically have trouble staying focused or engaged.  The modeling gives them the opportunity to get silly and play around in front of an audience.  However, they are also required to model the correct way for the class.

During Read to Self I gather my students on the rug in the meeting area.  I start with a short focus lesson which lasts about 6-10 minutes.  Your focus lesson should be about 1 minute per the age of your students. Since I teach first grade, my focus lesson should generally be about 6 minutes long.  When I'm looking for a text, I always look for quick reads so that my focus lesson stays within the 6-10 minute time frame.  After the focus lesson I send row one off to find a reading spot quickly and quietly (Q and Q).  Then rows two through four are sent off in the same manner.  Since we are gradually building stamina, we start with reading independently for 3 minutes, and increase the time by one minute each day.  The most important aspect of the stamina building, is to stop Read to Self when things begin to fall apart.  Even if only one student is not reading or is off track in some way, the entire class is signaled over to the meeting area, and the reading is stopped.  This prevents the reinforcement of negative reading behaviors.  I ring chimes to signal my students over to the meeting area.  Some teachers signal with bells, music, drums, or simply call them over with a verbal signal or chant. 

Having students self-evaluate and reflect is very important during the share time.  We share and reflect on what went well and what we can improve on next time.  This year my students and I graphed our reading stamina each day.  After each 10 minute increment was reached we had a classroom reading celebration.  From time to time you may find that you have to refer to the anchor charts when things are not running smoothly.  I have found that it is helpful to share the anchor charts after holidays or other extended breaks as a reminder of what the expectations are in our classroom.  In this way the anchor charts seves as a community building piece as well.

During our Read to Self time my goal is to conference with 2-3 students, and meet with 1 or 2 strategy groups each day.  Once I have my entire Daily 5 up and running, I continue to keep my first round a whole class Read to Self round.  This is a little different from what most teachers do but it works for my students and my classroom.  When all of the Daily 5 is up and running, the rounds tend to get a bit noisy.  Having one round of Read to Self ensures that I have at least that round each day, when things are a little quieter and much more manageable.

This year I incorporated Flashlight Friday (see my parent letter below) to my Read to Self time.  I asked my parents to send in a small flashlight with their child, and I informed them that flashlights could be purchased at the Dollar Store.  Of course flashlights of all sizes were sent in.  I also purchased extra flashlights and batteries to keep on hand as needed.  Currently, we do Flashlight Friday during the last 10 minutes of the day on Fridays.  My Daily 5 rounds remain the same, but the students are getting a little extra reading time, and they love it.  During Flashlight Friday, we turn off the lights and the students read by flashlight.  It's another way to encourage reading.  I love when I say, "It's time for Flashlight Friday" and my students respond with, "Yes!"  
Flashlight Friday Letter

Read to Self looks a little different in my classroom.  However, the most important thing about digging in with the Daily 5 is to "Make It Your Own".

Monday, August 22, 2011


The Daily 5 is a book (resource) written by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, also know as "the sisters", which focuses on literacy instruction and independence.   It is currently being used in many classrooms across the country.
There are 5 literacy components:  Read to Self, Read to Someone, Listen to Reading, Word Work, and Work on Writing.

The most important discovery that I've made after getting started with the Daily 5 was this: Make It Your Own. The Daily 5 is a structure and management piece for a lot of the things you are already doing in your classroom.  As with most things, there is more than one way to do the Daily 5. You have to make it work for You and Your classroom. 

Digging In
When digging in with the Daily 5, you'll want to focus on your classroom library.  My books are arranged in baskets, which I keep on top of counters, and others are displayed on shelves.  My classroom library is a combination of books organized by reading level (GRL), genre, theme, topics, and units of study.  In fact, how books are arranged is not that important.  What's more important is that your students know how to pick "Good Fit Books".  One of the first focus lessons that you will teach is the "I Pick" lesson, where you teach students how to pick books that are a good fit for them.

Meeting Area
Another important component of the Daily 5 is creating a meeting area within the classroom.  The meeting area is a place where students come together as a group for mini-lessons or focus lessons, book discussions, checking in, and sharing/reflecting on learning.  Many teachers anchor the meeting area with a large rug.  The rug helps to identify the meeting area for your students.

Finding a way to get the attention of your students and bringing them back to the meeting area, is the purpose of the signal.  There are many creative signals that you can use.  I use chimes in my classroom.  I love the calm sound of the chimes.  For me, it's a calm and quite way to signal my students that we need to stop what we were doing, and go to the meeting area.  Music, drums, spoken signals, etc. are other great ways to reconvene your students.

One of the best aspects of the Daily 5 is that it builds independence.  As the students are working independently on their daily 5 choice, the teacher is able to work with students.  This structure allows the teacher time for conferring one-on-one with students, while the rest of the class is busy working on their Daily 5 choice.  Choice is key.  Having the ability to choose what to work on, engages students and promotes the independent work habits that are so important to a successful Daily 5 round. Take a look at my conferring bag below.

If you would like additional information on the Daily 5, like my conferring bag, refer to my post on Ten Tried and True Tips For Using the Daily 5.

In my next few posts I'll focus on the 5 different components of the Daily 5, so stay tuned and Dig In.  You'll be glad you did. 

Friday, August 12, 2011


As I prepare myself for the beginning of another school year, I have a million thoughts swimming around in my head. It's like filling a teacup with a fire hose.  My thoughts range from new ways to arrange my classroom to the best ways to engage above-grade level readers.  Many of you are planning to incorporate new structures and strategies from The Daily 5 and the Literacy CAFE.  Many of us are anticipating the thrill of blogging with our students for the first time.  Other fortunate teachers, I'm extremely jealous of this bunch, are in the process of unpacking new iPads for their students as we speak.

The last days of summer seem to be speeding right by.  Okay, some of you have already started the school year, and are probably tired of hearing the rest of us lamenting over summer.  Forgive me, but sometimes it's ALL ABOUT ME!  Or, that's what I tell myself from time to time.  As we prepare for a new school year, and as our classrooms and curriculum maps start to take shape on paper or at least in our minds, what's next on our To-Do lists?  WRITE IT DOWN!

Over the summer, I purchased a new journal.  This is not to say that I have never kept a journal before, because I have.  Whenever I attempt something new or major, that I expect to have a positive impact on my teaching, I keep reflection notes about it.  After every new lesson, activity, or instructional piece, I try to reflect on what went well, what didn't go so well, new ideas I want to incorporate next time, and things I want to change.  I plan to do those same things this year as well.   However, this year my plan is to start on the Very First Day Of School.  Additionally, I plan to use my newly purchased journal.

What I like about this journal are the writing prompts.  Yes, writing prompts are not just meant to support our students' writing endeavors, but they are helpful to adults who are trying to get their writing juices flowing too.  Each day's entry consists of two pages.  One page of writing prompts, and a second page for documentation/notes.  The writing prompts themselves are great.  Here are a few examples:  I am concerned about..., People/Students that touched my life..., Goals and ideas for a better tomorrow....  If you want to hear more you'll have to purchase one of these fantastic journals from The Write It Down! series at Journals Unlimited, Inc.  The website is

It's never too late to start a journal.  Keeping good reflection notes is a part of good teaching, regardless of which tool you use to do it.  I'm so excited about using my new journal that I couldn't wait to share it with you.  Do you keep a personal or professional journal?  I would love to hear your comments about how you use journals (for yourself/teaching) because today, it's ALL ABOUT YOU.  So, write it down!

Thursday, August 4, 2011


I'm always interested in ways to involve parents in learning activities.  I don't have to tell you how important it is to promote the home-school connection.  A few years ago I came across a wonderful idea for involving parents in the first few weeks, while they're still eager and excited about making the school year a positive experience for their children.  I can't recall where I initially came across this idea, but it's one of the best activities that I know of for involving parents.  What is it?  It's called a Read-along.

The Read-along is an event that involves students, staff, and parents or other family members.  It takes place on the 2nd Friday of school, near the end of the school day.  The major focus, which I think is the best part, is literacy.  The Read-along sets the tone for the school year by letting parents know up front that our classroom is a reading classroom where books are read, shared, and valued.  The Read-along is inspired by the book, The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant.  The story is about a family whose relatives come to visit, and the house is filled with aunts, uncles, and cousins.  The relatives spend a few days together eating, talking, sharing, and hugging.

I start preparing for the Read-along by reading and discussing the book during the first week of school.  After the initial reading, I only reread portions of the book.  I send home the parent letter on the first Friday of school, along with the other important mail the students take home that week.  The Read-along is a surprise event and the kids don't know anything about it.  In the letter I tell parents that it's a surprise and not to let the children know about it or it will spoil the surprise.  I've held a Read-along with both my third and first grade students.  I don't think age really matters, however, as they get older, it becomes more difficult trying to keep it a secret.  I'm happy to say that keeping the surprise has never been an issue.

In the letter I tell the parents to bring a handful of books, a blanket, and a few snacks.  The Read-along is held during the last hour of the school day on the second Friday of school.  I ask parents to report to the classroom at the scheduled time but to wait quietly in the hallway.  I prearrange for one parent to knock on the door.  A few minutes before the arranged time, I bring the students to the meeting area to discuss a portion of the book again.  All of a sudden there is a knock at the door.  I ask one of the students to open the door, and to their SURPRISE, their relatives start pouring in.  You should see the look on their faces when they realize it's their parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents-Their Relatives.  The look on their faces is priceless.  I take the students and their families to the cafeteria, we spread out, and we read and eat for about half an hour.  At the end of the Read-along, we gather everything up and the students leave for home with their parents since this occurs at the end of the school day.

What about the kids whose family can't attend?
I'm always concerned about making sure these kids don't feel left out.  First, I determine which families plan to attend and those that will be unable to participate.  I do this by asking parents to return an RSVP indicating their intentions, and letting me know if they will attend the Read-along or if another family member (like a grandparent) is planning to attend in their place.  Next, I enlist the help of staff members by asking them to adopt students whose parents can't attend the Read-along.  The staff people that I enlist are the principal, learning consultant, resource room teachers, parents, and any other available staff that would be willing to adopt students.  Finally, I pack extra snacks for those children and they each get their own bag of goodies.  Sometimes I group 2 or 3 kids together depending on the number of staff willing to adopt kids.  My students truly enjoy this event!  Be sure to have your camera handy because there are lots and lots of photo ops during this event.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Reading aloud to students is one of the most important aspects of literacy in the classroom.  For teachers like myself, it's also one of the most enjoyable moments.  Even older children enjoy the stories that are read to them by their teachers.  What this usually looks like in the lower elementary classrooms is, a classroom of students, sitting on the carpet, gazing up at the teacher who is reading from a rocking chair, and hanging on to her every word.  (Let's be honest, others are playing around and distracted.)  In upper elementary classrooms the students may be sitting at desks, doodling on a pieces of paper, and attentively listening, as the teacher reads from a special place in the classroom.  What about those kids who are not tuned into the story....or distracted and daydreaming?  I'm so glad you asked.  The Interactive Read-Aloud invigorates the traditional read-alouds taking place in many classrooms.  Additionally, it stimulates the learning environment by engaging students in the read-aloud activity.

What makes the reading interactive?  Instead of being passive listeners during the Read-Aloud, the students are active participants in the learning and discovery.  In addition to listening to the story, the students are discussing elements, recording their thoughts in a Read-Aloud Notebook, and sharing their ideas with classmates.  Here's how to get started.  All you need is the Read-Aloud book, spiral notebooks for each student, composition books work well too, and a the Ways to Respond In Your Notebook chart, which is described below. Next, make a Book Preview packet.  Copy of the book jacket, including the summary/gist of the story, copy the first page of the story, and the author's biography.  If the book has a chapter page, copy that as well, or create a document listing the chapters from the book.  This is especially important if the chapter titles have names, rather than just numbers.  Make a preview packet for each student which includes the previous pages mentioned, and you're ready to get started.

Begin by introducing the Read-Aloud book to your students.  Issue each student a book preview packet, and a notebook.  Preview the book with the sudents using the preview packet.  Next, create a list of questions, about the book, suggested by the students.  Record each question on your interactive whiteboard, or on chart paper and save the chart or document.  Every day before beginning the reading, review the questions to see if any have been answered.  Additionally, record new questions that students have.  You can decide how often to add more questions based on your students' input.  Some days they may have lots of questions to add, and other days only a few.

Next, start reading the book.  I like to read one or two chapters a day, depending on our schedule and the length of the chapters.  Allow more time on the day the book is introduced, since the preview and questions will take up a big chunk of your time.  You can also preview the book the day before strating the first chapter.  As you are reading aloud the book to your students, they are recording their thinking in their notebooks.  To support them with this, your students can refer to the Ways To Respond in Your Notebook chart.  The chart will give them ideas for how to respond in their notebooks.  I created a chart on poster board and hung it in my classroom as an anchor chart.  You could also create a chart on you interactive whiteboard and save it for use during each read-aloud session.  Here is a list of some of the items I included on my chart:

Ways To Respond In Your Notebook
  • Make a prediction
  • Ask a question
  • Draw a picture of your favorite part-include a caption or summary
  • Summarize the chapter(s)
  • Describe a character
  • Record a quote from the story and explain what you think it means
  • Describe a part you liked/ tell why
  • Describe a part you didn't like/tell why
  • Describe something you didn't understand
  • Make a list of interesting words
  • Explore the title-explain why you think the writer chose this title
The great thing about the Interactive Read-Aloud is the students are active participants in the task.  After the Read-Aloud, students use their notebook pieces to engage in discussions about the book.  These discussions can also occur periodically during the reading. 

What about assessments?  The assements are built into the learning activities during the Interactive Read-Aloud.  The students' Read-Aloud Notebooks and participation in the discussions, can both be used to assess students' understanding of the story.  I like to collect notebooks once a week for this purpose.  Additionally, when the story is finished, I have my students construct a written reflection as an additional assessment.  Students select one of their best notebook entries to compelete a written reflection of their understanding of the story.  I copy the notebook page and staple it to their reflection.  Later, when I'm reading their reflections, I can compare them to the entry in their notebook.  I also remind students, throughout the book reading, to write good notebook entries.  They will be referring to their notebook entries, when writing their reflection piece, once the Read-aloud book is finished. 

Below is a list of some of the titles I've used for my Interactive Read-Alouds.  As you revive your Read-Aloud time, you will be amazed at how much more your students learn and discover about the stories, as they become active participants in this interactive process. 

  • The Tale of Despereaux by Kate Dicamillo
  • The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Dicamillo
  • The Beloved Dearly by Doug Cooney
  • Journey by Patricia Maclachlan
  • Shredderman by Wendelin VanDraanen
  • The Toothpaste Millionaire by Jean Merrill
  • Fourth Grade Rats by Jerry Spinelli
  • Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
  • Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Some students love to write, some tolerate it, and others just hate it.  You know the scenario....the student sits and stares at a blank piece of paper for what seems like forever.  How do we get our most relunctant writers writing?  Even better, how do we get them excited about writing.  Every teacher has at one time or another had one or two students who didn't enjoy writing.  Okay, I'll say it, some students hate writing.  However, it really isn't that they hate it, they just don't feel they're good at it.  It makes perfect sense.  I mean, what person would enjoy something that they're not very good at.  Think about it.  Bad cooks don't enjoy cooking.  Nobody enjoys eating their cooking. Terrible singers don't enjoy singing.  Wait a minute.  I'm a bad singer, and I LOVE singing.  It's my family that doesn't like hearing it.  Well, that was a bad example, but you get the point.  If students were better writers they would enjoy writing.  Furthermore, in order for students to become better writers, they need to write more often.  It's a vicious cycle. 

Until last year I taught third grade.  By the time kids reach third grade, teachers usually have two or three relunctant writers in their classrooms.  Currently, I'm teaching first grade.  First grade writers are a totally different entity.  Most students are emergent readers and writers entering first grade.  Therefore, they're just learning how to read and write.  I don't know about you, but I certainly don't want to be the one responsible for their displeasure for writing.  How can we get primary students off to a good start with writing?  What tools, strategies and best practices, can we utilize to engage students in the writing opportunities that exist in the classroom?  How can use technology to support them in their writing?  Here is another way:

I came across a website called ReadWriteThink.  They have something called a Comic Generator.  Students can create their own comics on the computer or interactive whiteboard.  The Comic Generator allows students to choose from different layouts, characters, and settings.  The best part of all, the student has to WRITE the captions and dialogue.  After the comic is completed it can be printed or edited.  If you have an interactive whiteboard, your students could present their comics to their classmates.  I created a comic of my own as an example.  Take a look and see if you can get the gist of my comic.

Did you get it?  I'm dreaming about the first day of school and hoping I remember everything.  I'm upset because I have to go to school, even though I look and feel terrible.  Finally, I discover that it's Saturday.  Okay, so it's not very good, but I bet my first graders will do a lot better.  More importantly, they'll have so much fun creating, that they'll forget they're WRITING!
The website for the Comic Generater is

Thursday, July 21, 2011


1.  Laminate Anchor Charts~Create anchor charts with the students.  Record their ideas.  Afterwards, neatly rewrite charts and fancy them up as desired.  Laminate the final chart and hang in the classroom.  Next year, create anchor charts with your new students, but instead of rewriting the chart for display puposes, pull out the laminated chart from the previous year (it will have similar information) and hang it.

2.  Check for Understanding Strategy~The Sisters suggest using checkmarks cut from wood, with the strategy written on them.  Instead, use precut rectangular pieces of foam.  Use a permanent marker to record "Check for Understanding" on one side and "Who?" and "What?" on the reverse side.  These foam pieces can be purchased from craft stores.  They are extremely durable and inexpensive.

3.  Listen to Reading~Use classroom computers as a Listen to Reading station.  There are many great websites where students can listen to stories on-line.  Some of my favorites are and

4.  Creat a Reading Bag~A bag or tote with pockets works best.  The tote would include the following items: 
  • Dry Erase Board
  • Dry Erase Markers
  • Pensieve
  • Leveled Books
  • Sticky Notes
  • Pencils
  • Word Cards/Letter Cards

5.  Repertoire of Mentor Texts~Locate a number of menor texts in advance.  Use these during your minilessons or focus lessons.  Short texts are best because you can finsih the entire text within the time frame of your focus lesson and the students are able to focus on the strategy being taught.

6.  Book Baskets~Be creative when looking for appropriate book boxes or book baskets.  Many teachers use book boxes which can be a little costly.  A good substitue is a book basket.  Baskets can be purchased at the Dollar Store and they come in a variety of colors.

7.  Strategy Board~Instead of writing the student's name on a sticky note and placing the note next to the strategy the student is working on, use a photo of the student instead.  At the beginning of the school year take head shots of each child.  Place the child's picture on the strategy board next to the strategy he/she is working on.

8.  Keep Track of Read-Alouds~Keep a record of all books that are read aloud to your students.  Keep this list posted somewhere in the classroom.  Update the list daily/weekly (this could be a classroom job.)  Record the book title, author, and genre.  Poster board works well, but I prefer a scroll.  Make one by stapling papers together and rolling up and unrolling as you add books to your list.  At the end of the school year you can revisit some of the favorites from the list.

9.  Utilize Technology~If you have a Smart Board, you can use some of the smart tools to create an electronic version of the Daily 5 check-in.  Students move their icons/pictures/symbols to indicate their Daily 5 choice.

10.  Be Resourceful~There are a lot of great resources available that will complement what you're doing with the Daily 5.  Two of my favorite teacher resources are Growing Readers-Units of Study in the Primary Classroom by Kathy Collins, and Words Their Way-Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction (Pearson-Merrrill/Prentice Hall).  Read what others have to say on the subject and make it your own.