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What Goes on During Your Literacy Block?

What goes on during your literacy block time?  Find out the three parts I include in my literacy block.

Literacy Block, What’s in it?
     This is by far, the most important (and my favorite) part of my day.  I love all aspects of teaching reading, from our whole class lessons down to individual conferences.   The literacy block will look a little different in everyone’s classroom.  I’d like to share how it looks in my classroom. My literacy block has three main parts:  whole class instruction, small group instruction, and independent students activities.  All three are important and all three were part of my daily literacy block in some way. 

What goes on during your literacy block time?  Find out the three parts I include in my literacy block.

Whole Class
During whole class lessons, every student is engaged in the same activity.   This is the time when new strategies or skills are introduced.  Every student is hearing the same information at the same time.  Whole class lessons set the foundation for small group and individual student activities.  You could call this time the starting block for your reading instruction.  Here’s  what can be included in your whole class instruction time:

-Guided Discussions:  The text could be a story from a reading anthology or textbook, a literature study, or informational text.  You don’t need a copy of the text for every student.   Sometimes I had one text for every two students.  At other times my lesson had one text that could be seen by all students, such as a big book or a text projected on a whiteboard. Like the heading says, the teacher guides the discussion, based on the reading skill or strategy focus for the day. 

-Read Aloud :  It’s no secret that this is my very, very, very favorite part of the day.  This is one whole class activity that I do every day!  It’s not only a great bonding time with your kids, you can do so much instruction when reading aloud to your students.

-Introduce new skills or strategies:  Introducing new skills and strategies is something I always do during whole class lessons.  I want to make sure that all of my students, no matter their reading level, heard the same information at the same time.  The practicing, reviewing and reteaching of the skills and strategies might happen during small groups and individual student activities. 

-Spiral Review of skills:  Throughout the year I made sure to review previously taught skills and strategies.  The skills can be directly reviewed with an activity or it could be incorporated in the guided discussion.

Small Group Instruction
Fountas and Pinnell, in the book Guiding Readers and Writers in grades 3-6, called this time Guided Reading.  They described it best with this statement:
“In guided reading,  you bring together groups of students who are similar in their reading behavior, their text-processing needs, and their reading strengths.  Your instruction, then, is specific and focused, finely tuned to the needs and challenges of the particular group of students with whom you are working.”    In other words, small groups are when you can have focused lessons to meet the needs of a specific group of readers.  

Here’s what can be included in small group instruction:
-Guided Discussions:  Once again the text can be from the class reading textbook, a literature study, or informational text.  Another common source is the ancillary books often included with a reading series.

- Focused skill review, reteaching, or practice: Small groups are formed with a specific purpose in mind.  It might be to reteach a skill the students haven’t mastered.  It might be to practice a skill presented in a whole group lesson.  Review is also important to make sure the students are continuing to use previously taught skills and strategies.

Bonus!  I've put together a few planning pages to help you keep track of your small group lessons, mini-lessons, and centers.  Click on the image to get this goodie!

What goes on during your literacy block time?  Find out the three parts I include in my literacy block.  Plus, this small group planner can be yours!

Independent Student Activities
The third instructional time is when students work on tasks, without the teacher.  These activities happen when the teacher is working with small groups or conferencing with individual students.  The students are engaged in tasks that review and practice skills and strategies that have been presented in either whole class or small group lessons.  These independent activities may have students working on their own, with partners or in small groups.  Options for independent activities:

-Literacy Centers:  Centers are the most common way to have students work independently.  The centers have hands-on activities or games that focus on previously taught skills and strategies.  They may cover reading comprehension, phonics, word study, grammar, fluency, or any other literacy area.

- Independent Reading:  Students need time to read books at their independent reading level.  These books can be self-selected or assigned by the teacher.  For accountability, journals are a good way for students to write about their reading.

-Completing Assignments:  After whole class or small group lessons, students will often need time to complete any written or reading task that has been assigned. 

-Assessments or Progress Monitoring:  This is the only activity that involves the teacher.  I put it in this category because it is done with individual students.  Throughout the year, student achievement will need to be assessed on an individual basis. 

This is only a broad overview of what I  include in the part of my instructional day I call the "literacy block"  The time I spend on each piece of this block varies from week to week, even day to day. If I have a 90-minute block of time, I generally divide the time into thirds.  In the next few months, I'll be sharing more ideas about the literacy block. 
What goes on during your literacy block time?  Find out the three parts I include in my literacy block.  Plus, this small group planner can be yours!

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Ending the year with Memories, Friends and Wishes

It’s almost here . . . the end of the school year!  

Since reading aloud to my kids is my favorite thing to do, I read a lot of books at the end of the year.  It's such a nice way to share special memories from the school year.

End the year with these wonderful read alouds.  With themes of friendships, memories and wishes they are the perfect way to wrap up your year.

Three books I highly recommend are Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox. Amos & Boris by William Steig and Wish by Rosanne Thong.  They all have themes about memories, friendship, and wishes. That makes them perfect for this time in the school year.  

To go with each book I've created an activity you can do in your classroom. Click on this image to download the activity packet.

I hope your year ends with lots of precious memories.  Enjoy your summer!

End the year with these wonderful read alouds.  With themes of friendships, memories and wishes they are the perfect way to wrap up your year.

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Literacy Centers I Couldn't Live Without!

Literacy Centers I Couldn't Live Without!  These are the 5 most effective literacy centers I've used in my classroom.  The help students stay focused on the reading and writing skills and strategies they need to succeed.

Time, the one thing every teacher needs more of.  My district guidelines said the literacy block in third grade should be 120 minutes.  That sounds great until you realize that includes reading, writing, grammar, phonics, vocabulary, handwriting, whole-group, small-group, and independent reading! 

You’re never going to have more time. What you need to do is make sure the time you have is used effectively and this includes your literacy centers. I've used dozens of different types of literacy centers throughout my teaching career.  These are my favorite centers because they are the most effective.  By that I mean they keep kids focused on what's important --- reading and writing.

#1  Independent Reading
If you want kids to be better readers, you need to give them time to read!I truly believe you need to give kids time to read if you want them to become better readers.  Worksheets and games have a place in your reading instruction, but they shouldn't replace independent reading time. My goal is to give kids at least 30 minutes of independent reading every day.  That means 30 minutes with a text at their independent reading level. Some kids will need help to choose a book at their independent level. When kids have a book in their hands that they can read and want to read, keeping them focused on reading will not be an issue. 

#2 Read with a Partner
Reading with a partner is a great way for kids to focus on specific reading strategies.I love this center because it's so versatile.  Partners can help each other with vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency, as well as communication skills.  You can let students choose their own partners, but I usually choose the partnerships.  First I decide on the focus of the center that week. If the focus is fluency I may pair students with similar reading levels.  If the focus is vocabulary or comprehension, I may pair a stronger reader with a weaker reader.  Of course, one thing to always keep in mind is how they will work together.  The trickiest part of this center is choosing partners. I've found that partner readers can either help each other stay focused or distract each other from the task.  So, choose partners wisely! 

#3  Respond to Reading
Have you tried reading thinkmarks?  They're a great way to get kids to focus on the skills or strategies you've covered in group lessons.This is one of my favorite centers because it combines reading and writing.  When kids write about their reading, you're getting an insight into their understanding of the text.  You'll also get an informal look at their written communication skills.  For this center, I always give the kids a focus.  The focus ties in with our current reading comprehension strategy.  I want to see if they are able to take the strategy lessons and apply them to their own reading.  To keep the readers focused on the strategy, I use reading thinkmarks.  These are bookmarks, with a specific reading focus.  The thinkmark usually has reminders or tips about the strategy.  It can also have response stems or questions.  They're easy to give out to students after a whole-class or small group lesson.    One thing to keep in mind with this center---You must read the student responses at least once a week.  I always enjoyed reading their responses, but sometimes found it to be a challenge to get them all read. (Another time issue.) If you'd like to give thinkmarks a try, follow this link to download a few freebies!

#4 Write with a Partner
Reading and writing should go hand-in-hand.   That connection improves both reading and writing skills.
The reason I love this center so much is that the kids love it.  And, anything that gets them to write more is good for me!  Like reading with a partner, writing with a partner can have different purposes. The kids can help each other with revising, editing, or can work on a joint writing piece.  All writing genres work in this center.  Like all the other centers, the kids must have a focus.  This isn't a free write time.  I also choose the writing partnerships very carefully.  I want students who can help each other with the task and help each other stay focused.

#5 Word Skills
Games have a place in reading instruction, but make sure the purpose is clear and that the skills have been previously introduced.This is the center where I put my games and task card activities.  The most important thing to keep in mind is the kids should be practicing skills that have already been introduced and practiced in a whole-class lesson.  This isn't the place to introduce something new.  It's the place to give kids more practice so they can master those important decoding and encoding skills. To keep students accountable I always have some type of recording sheet.  Even in a game, I find a way for kids to have some type of meaningful written response.  

No matter what centers you decide to have in your classroom, make sure they are effective.  You don't have time for busy work.  The centers need to focus on your state or district standards and keep students focused on the task.  If you can do that, then your centers will be an effective use of time.

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5 Ways to Get More from your Read Aloud Time

I know your reading instruction time is getting squeezed. You’re expected to meet with more groups that meet the specific needs of your students,  track more data, and now you have more required tests to prep for and give.  The one thing you don’t have is more time!

Sadly, I’ve heard many teachers say they don’t have time to read aloud to their kids because it just doesn’t fit into their schedule. What you need to do Teach Smart!  Instead of doing away with your read-aloud time, you can do more with that time.    Here are 5 tips for getting more from your read-aloud time.

1.  Choose a book that showcases a skill or strategy you're currently teaching.

That may sound simple, but you want to make sure the book is a good example of the focus strategy.  My first go-to resource is the book Strategies the Work by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis.  This essential book has suggested books for each comprehension strategy, along with lesson ideas.

There are also a lot of great websites and lists that pair up books with reading strategies. Here are a few I've used.

>>CCBC  Cooperative Children’s Book Book Center
>>The Teaching Thief
>>Kingsley Area Schools

2.  Make a plan
The plan should have the focus of the read aloud, what the teacher will do and what the students will do.  The focus will be the skill or strategy you want to either introduce or reinforce with your discussion questions.   

Decide how many pages you will read before you stop for a discussion.  For a picture book, you may choose to stop several times throughout the book.  For a chapter book, you may choose to stop only a couple of times for each chapter.  I like to write down one or two questions I want to make sure to ask during the discussion.  You will probably think of other questions during the discussions, but two is a good number to begin the discussion.  The plan should also include what the kids will do.  Will they simply join the discussion?  Will they share ideas with a partner?  Will they write in a journal?  For more ideas on how to involve students, see the next tip.  

For an idea of how to write these read-aloud plans, I've put together an example of how I write my plans. (Click here to download.) I like to have little cards with me instead of a full piece of paper.  But, you can leave these pages whole if you prefer.   I made the pages editable so you can type in your plans.  Of course, you can also print them as they are and write in your plans.   
 Planning sheet for your class read-aloud texts.

3.  Get students involved
There are times when the only reason I’m reading aloud is to simply enjoy the story.  When that is my purpose, then my students don’t need to do anything but relax and listen.  But, when I’m reading aloud with an academic purpose, then I want my students involved.  I’ve done this several different ways.

>>>Discussion sticks      
To make sure all students participate I like using name sticks.  
I keep a set of craft sticks with student names beside my reading chair.  That way I can easily pull a stick and call on random students during a discussion. 

>>> Partner sharing     To get all students thinking and talking I like using partner sharing.  After I ask a question I tell students to find a neighbor to discuss the question.  It’s a requirement that all students find a partner sitting next to them.  No one is allowed to say, “I can’t find a partner.”   I generally let students choose their own space in our listening area, I’ve had some years where that didn’t work.  So, I sometimes assign seating spaces and also sharing partners.

>>> Student Journals    At other times, I have students write their responses or thoughts in a journal.  It might be a year-long reading or literacy journal they have or a small journal I’ve put together for a specific book.  Once, when I was reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret  by  Brian Selznick,  I let the kids sketch while I was reading. That book is told partly through illustrations so it seemed natural to let the kids draw and sketch as they listened.  I limit the amount of writing I ask students to do during a read aloud because it takes up time.  Most of the time I send students back to their desks with a writing prompt. 

Reading Think-Marks are a great way to get students thinking and lead nicely into response topics. 
Reading Thinkmarks are a great way to help students focus on skills and strategies during their independent reading time.  They also make great response topics for literacy notebooks.

>>>Thinking Notes    I love, love, love using sticky notes!  They are my favorite way to get kids involved with read-alouds.  I usually have an anchor chart with the focus strategy.  But, sometimes it's just a general anchor chart called “Tune into your Thinking.”  During the discussion, I’ll ask kids to jot down their thoughts and add it to our anchor chart.

4.  Move the book to a literacy center

After you read a book aloud, don’t put it back on the shelf.  Put it in a literacy center.  Kids can read it again and again.  Picture books work well because they can be read in a short time.  But, chapter books can also be used by placing bookmarks or sticky notes so just one or two chapters are used at the center activity.  The center can work on vocabulary, phonics skills, comprehension skills, or even as an inspiration in a writing center.

One of my favorite centers is a collection of picture books.  I keep five to ten picture books there at all times.  The books may stay the same for several weeks, but I change the activity.  One week the center might focus on fluency practice.  The next week might be a character study activity and the next week might be finding the theme of the books.

If you put a chapter book in the literacy center you can have students read one of the chapters and then write a response in their journals.  Along with the center, I keep a little photo album filled with response stems and questions. The handy thing about the little photo album (from the dollar store) is I can fill it with the questions and/or response stems I want them to use that week.  I can even have these little albums set up for specific students so it's tailored to their specific needs.

5  Read it more than once
Great books can be enjoyed over and over.  Don't think that after a book is read one time you can't revisit it again later that year.  In fact, kids love hearing the stories again.  On the second read aloud you can dig deeper and show your students how to think beyond the text. 
Get more from your read aloud texts by placing them in a literacy center.  Kids can reread certain chapters and dig a little deeper with targeted comprehension skills and strategies.

For example, I always read the chapter book Because of Winn Dixie twice every year.  This is the book I read to my students during the first two weeks of the school year.  As I read, we talk about the important life lessons we can learn from the characters in the story.  Later in the year, usually during the last quarter, I'll read it again.  This time I'll focus on reviewing some of the reading strategies we've learned through the year.  Students will write in their journals every day, showing they can make inferences, draw conclusions, decide on the theme of the story, etc.  Many times I'll use a class set of books for my second read aloud.  That way students can follow along with my reading and then have the book to find evidence for the strategy practice that day.

I hope you've gained a few useful ideas from this blog post.  Teaching time is precious and we need to make the most out of every minute.  How do you get more out of your read-aloud time? 

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The Best Classroom Pet Ever!

A stuffed animal is the very best classroom pet.  Kids love it and it's a great way to get kids to write in a home journal.

Have you thought about having a class pet, but don’t want to add one more thing to take care of in your classroom?  Well, I have the perfect solution---a take-home stuffed animal!  Kids love it and there is no cage or tank to clean out!

Having a traveling class pet was by far the most popular class pet I ever had.  Kids couldn’t wait to for their week to take home the pet and have it be part of their life for a few days.  Of course, I had to include a journal for the kids to write in through the week.

Tips for having a take-home class pet.
1.  Choosing a stuffed animal is the easy part because kids love them all.  But, keep the size of the pet in mind.  Too large and it's difficult to transport home and then back to school.  Too small and it feels too much like a toy instead of a real pet.  

2.  Pick a traveling bag for your pet.  I like clear plastic bags so everyone can see the adorable pet inside.  Make sure it's large enough to hold the pet and the journal.   I found this bag on Amazon for under $10.  

3.  Decide on the requirements for the journal.  The requirements should be based on the writing level of your students.  Kindies can have a drawing journal where they draw a picture or two that shows what they did with the pet.  Firsties can write a few sentences along with illustrations.  For older students, they can write paragraphs and add illustrations.     Make sure all requirements and suggestions are included in the journal, so kids know exactly what is expected. 

A stuffed animal is the very best classroom pet.  Kids love it and it's a great way to get kids to write in a home journal.

4.  What will you use as a journal?  I like using a composition book.  It's sturdy and will last the whole year.  You can glue on a cover and then glue all instructions and suggestions to the inside cover.  Click here to download this freebie for setting up your Take-Home Pet Journal.

5.  Make sure you share the journal on the day it's returned and before it goes home with a new student.  

6.  A letter home at the beginning of the year, explaining the Take-Home pet is a good idea.  That way, parents know what to expect.  I also let parents know the take-home schedule a few weeks in advance.  That way, the schedule can be adjusted if a family needs to reschedule the pet's visit to their home.

Above all, have fun.  Just like a live pet, the stuffed animal pet is a great way to teach responsibility. 

Do  your students want a classroom pet, but you don't want the mess?  Then I have the perfect pet for you!

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Books are a Treasure

Books are really a treasure.  This beginning of year read aloud teaches kids how important books are in our lives.

“I mean we USE books all the time. They’re all over town, but . . .”

“Use them? You mean READ them don’t you?” she asked, leaning closer to the boy.
“R-r-read? What’s that?” Eli asked.
----From the story Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Creek Dam Affair by Patricia Polacco.

As so begins a wonderful story that I share with my students during the first week of school.  It’s a great way to begin discussions about books and how they enrich our lives. 

Triple Creek is suffering some pretty severe consequences because years ago they knocked down the library in order to put up the giant TV tower.  Aunt Chip begins telling stories to her nephew, Eli.  Eli spreads the stories to his friends and soon they all want to learn how to read.  

It isn't long before the kids are grabbing books from everywhere to read.  You'll have to read the story yourself to see how the stories and books change the town of Triple Creek!

After sharing the book with your students you can make a mini-book about books!  It's the perfect time to teach your students about caring for books and how we use books in our lives.  Two versions of the mini-book are included.  One is geared toward 1st and 2nd graders and the other for 3rd graders.
All About Books,  free mini book about the parts of a book,  Perfect way to introduce your class and school library expectations.

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Make it a Poster!

Turning a single page .pdf file into a large display poster is super simple.  It's an easy way to create anchor charts and other displays for your classroom.

You’ve just purchased the most adorable digital product and there are a couple of pages you’d like to display in your classroom.  But, no one will see them at their current 8.5 X 11 size.  What do you do?  Turn the page into a poster.  It's super easy .

I guess the easiest way is to take the file to Staples or Office Depot and have them pint it for you.  They also have online poster printing that starts at $12.99 for a 18" X 24" poster.  They have lots of options for paper types and it can even be laminated.  The finished poster will look great, but may not be so easy on our pocketbook.

Or, you can print your own poster!  Any PDF file can be printed as a poster.  First you need to start with a .pdf file.  You can convert most other file types into a .pdf file. Other file types might have a poster printing options, but I'm not familiar with them.  So, I'm going to explain how to print a poster from a .pdf file.

Step 1, print.  From the print menu you can choose the size, cut marks and see a print preview.
Turning a single page .pdf file into a large display poster is super simple.  It's an easy way to create anchor charts and other displays for your classroom.
Step 2:  Cut.  I use a paper cutter so all the edges are straight.  Make sure you leave one edge with a white paper margin so the piece can be glued to the piece that will be beside or below.
Turning a single page .pdf file into a large display poster is super simple.  It's an easy way to create anchor charts and other displays for your classroom.
Step 3, Putting it together.  A repositional glue stick makes moving and adjusting the placement much easier.  After I have all the pieces glued together I secure all the seams with tape (on the back).
Turning a single page .pdf file into a large display poster is super simple.  It's an easy way to create anchor charts and other displays for your classroom.
That's it!  you now have a poster large enough to display in your classroom for everyone to see.  This is my favorite way to make anchor charts since I can't draw with a darn!  Here's one I made for a lesson on subjects and predicates.
Turning a single page .pdf file into a large display poster is super simple.  It's an easy way to create anchor charts and other displays for your classroom.

Turning a single page .pdf file into a large display poster is super simple.  It's an easy way to create anchor charts and other displays for your classroom.

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