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Your Literacy Block Schedule Doesn't Have to be Complicated!

Simplify your literacy block with this new scheduling idea.  Learn how to keep kids engaged in meaningful tasks while you have time to work with small groups.

     Let the circus begin!  That's how I used to feel right before the small groups/centers time of my literacy block stated.  For years I followed the trend of having my students rotate through literacy centers while I met with small groups.  Each rotation was 20 minutes because I wanted to meet with three small groups every day.  If I was lucky, that 20 minute small group time ended up to be 15 minutes of instruction time after all the kids got to the table and materials were either handed out or collected.   Then, that 15 minutes was frequently interrupted by the kids who were supposed to be working independently at the centers.   I felt like my small groups never got my full attention.  This system may work very well for a lot of teachers, but it just wasn’t working for me.  I decided that something needed to change.  But what?  I didn't necessarily want to reinvent the wheel, but I wanted to give it an update.   

First I looked at what worked well.
Ø Small groups:  Working with small groups of students is important.  They get short focused lessons that meet their needs.  And, I loved the challenge of planning those lessons and seeing the little light bulbs flash on when they caught on to a new concept.
Ø Centers:  I looove centers.  It's a time for kids to practice the skills that have been presented in class.  Centers are one of the best times of the day when you can truly individualize tasks.  Let’s be honest,  we know we need to meet the individual needs of our students, but it isn’t easy.  During centers,  students can work on tasks specific to their needs without feeling like they’re different.  Plus, I really like creating all the games and activities. That's my teacher fun time!

Simplify your literacy block with this new scheduling idea.  Learn how to keep kids engaged in meaningful tasks while you have time to work with small groups.

What’s left?  The rotation schedule!  That’s what I hated, so I got rid of it!  Sound crazy?  Let me explain how it works.

First, divide your small group/center time in half.  So, if you have 60 minutes (the old 3 X 20 min. rotations) you now have two 30-minute blocks.

Then, divide your students in half.  Each group should be a mix of students based on achievement levels, boys/girls, behavior needs, etc.  Forget about your reading groups for now. The kids from each group do not need to be in the same class group.

Now you’re ready to start teaching!  Well, I guess I need to explain a few things about this new way of running your literacy block.  Read on . . .
This block of time now has three sections- time with the teacher, reading activities and center activites.  The reading and centers are going on at the same time the teacher is busy with groups, individual students, etc.

Simplify your literacy block with this new scheduling idea.  Learn how to keep kids engaged in meaningful tasks while you have time to work with small groups.


During this block of time, students will be doing one of two things while you meet with small groups.  They will be working on reading activities or they will be working at literacy centers.   At the half-way point of the block time, the students switch, the ones who were reading move to the centers, and the students at the centers move on to reading.  Simple!  The kids only switch one time, which means more time engaged in learning tasks.  Here are more specifics about each part of TeRC. 

Simplify your literacy block with this new scheduling idea.  Learn how to keep kids engaged in meaningful tasks while you have time to work with small groups.

The biggest change in this schedule structure is when the teacher meets with small groups. One question I get most often is "How do you meet with groups if the kids are scattered between the reading and center activities.  Well, that was part of my AH HA! moment.  I decided not to worry about where they were.  When I was ready to work with a small group, I simply called them to join me at the reading table.  They put away what they were working on and joined me for their reading group.  They would have time, either later that day or the next day, to get back to those other tasks.

When I was freed from the 20-minute rotation schedule, I found that I had more time to meet the needs of all my students.  Taking away the time restraint allowed me to meet with a group for just a few minutes to check on their progress toward a week-long project, or work with a  group for a longer time when they were struggling with identifying the cause/effect of events in a story.  In between the group meetings I could wander around the room to answer questions or make sure kids were on task.

Each day I knew which groups I wanted to meet with, so I wrote them on the board.  But, I didn't write a meeting time.  The kids knew that when called, they would join me at the reading table with their reading folder and book.  When their group was dismissed they returned to their task.  If the reading/centers time had switched the kids cleaned up their area and moved on to either the reading tasks or center activity.


Simplify your literacy block with this new scheduling idea.  Learn how to keep kids engaged in meaningful tasks while you have time to work with small groups.

In order to become a better reader, you have to read and read and read!  During this part of the literacy block students are involved with a variety of reading activities.  Here are a few of my favorite activities for the reading time:
Read a self-selected book--   Kids usually read a book they picked for themselves, although sometimes I would assign a specific text.  Then they wrote a brief journal entry to reflect upon what they had read.  The focus of the journal reflection was a reading strategy.  If we were working on drawing conclusions, the students had to write about a conclusion they made while reading their self-selected book.

Fluency Partners -- Each week we had a targeted fluency skill (accuracy, phrasing, reading rate, expression, intonation, etc.)  The kids would pair up and choose a book from the sets I made available.  Then, they would take turns reading sections of the book to each other.  One student was the reader while the other one followed along, paying attention to the targeted fluency skill.  The listener would then give feedback to the reader, letting them know what they did well and an area where they could improve.  The roles were then reversed.

Partner Discussions--  For this activity, kids were put into small groups of 2 or 3.  It's run a little like a book club.  They all read a common text and had discussions at designated stopping places.  The kids would decide how much to read before the next discussion, but I chose the discussion topic.  The topics were based on the strategies we were learning in our whole-class lessons.  The topics might be; summarizing, inferring and predicting, analyzing and evaluating, visualizing, etc.  The kids were given a thinkmark with reminders or clues about the strategy so they knew what to be prepared to discuss at their next meeting.  Sometimes, I also ask them to write about their group discussion in their journal. 

Reading Assignments-- Often, the students had an assignment from a reading lesson to complete.  This might be an assignment from their small group or from a whole class lesson.  I required that any assignment had to be completed before they went on to the other activities.    

Simplify your literacy block with this new scheduling idea.  Learn how to keep kids engaged in meaningful tasks while you have time to work with small groups.

The literacy centers gave students time to practice skills in other literacy areas, like word study, vocabulary, grammar, etc.  These activities were more hands-on and most were done with a partner or small group. Most of the centers had a short written practice sheet to go along with the game or activity.   Here are a few examples:

Grammar Sorts--  At this center, the kids would sort a set of cards that went along with the grammar skill we were leaning that week.  If we were learning about sentences, the sort might be sorting subjects and predicates.  I always included a recording sheet so they had to write down the answers to the sort.  This helped with accountability. 

Word Study Game-- These simple games focused on our word study skill for the week (prefixes, syllables, context clues, antonyms, etc.).  I created a simple game board that would be used for several weeks and then switched out the game cards for each word study skill.  For accountability, I had the kids write their answers on a recording sheet as they played.  

Writing--  Each week the kids were expected to complete a short piece of writing.  They had to brainstorm, write the first draft and then edit and revise.  By Friday the final piece of writing had to be turned in.  




Check back next week for the next blog post about TeRC.  I'll go into more detail about what the students do during the reading and center part of the schedule. 

In the meantime . . .

I have a special surprise for you!   You don't have to create these reading and literacy centers because I've already done it for you!  I have complete sets for 3rd, 4th and 5th grade, ready for you to print and use in your classroom. To see what they're like, you can download a free week to try out.  Click on the link below for the grade level you'd like to try and I'll send you an email 


 3rd-Grade Week 1 Centers   4th-Grade Week 1 Centers  5th-Grade Week 1 Centers


I'd love to hear how the centers work in your classroom!  

Take a few pictures of the centers in your classroom and share them on Instagram. Tag me @crockettsclassroom and use the hashtag #3rdlitcenters, #4thlitcenters, or 5thlitcenters.  Each month I'm going to choose one teacher who shares a picture of the centers in their classroom on Instagram to receive a $10 TpT gift card!

Email me anytime with your questions.  debbie@crockettsclassroom.com


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Back to School Books -- When Lightning Come in a Jar

Back to school Read-Aloud book, When Lightning Comes in a Jar.  It's a great book to share with your kids and spark some great discussions about families and summer adventures.

When Lightning Comes in a Jar by Patricia Polacco


Love, love, love this story.  Of course, I could say that about every book by Patricia Polacco.  But this book reminds me of summers growing up in the Midwest.  The days were long and after a day of biking and swimming we waited for the sun to go down and we could catch lightning bugs!




I read this book to my third graders almost every year when we're talking about writers and where they get their story ideas.  It's a great example of drawing from our own memories.  After hearing the story my kids were always bursting with tales about their own families and their summer adventures.

It also works well as a beginning of school read-aloud. The story tells about a family reunion.   That's the perfect lead in for kids to begin telling about their families.

My students live in the desert so very few of them have experienced lightning bugs or fireflies.  This cute little painting craft gives them an idea of what they're like because you can use glow-in-the-dark paint for a special effect.  If you can't find the paint the a little glitter would make them sparkle.

Back to school Read-Aloud book, When Lightning Comes in a Jar.  It's a great book to share with your kids and spark some great discussions about families and summer adventures.

This freebie has a writing prompt and the pattern for this craft activity.  I'm sure your kids will fall in love with this wonderful book.  (Click on the image below for the free download.)




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Back to School Books -- Aunt Chip

Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Creek Dam Affair


“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 a 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 geared toward 1st and 2nd graders and the other for 3rd graders.

 Taking Care of Books, mini-book


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The 3 Essential Elements of Whole Class Reading Lessons

The 3 essential elements of whole class reading lessons in a literacy block.  Whole class lessons are the starting point in your literacy block.  It's when you introduce important skills, strategies, and procedures to your class.  Learn more about the 3 elements that should be in every whole class reading lesson.


     When I first started teaching (back in the Stone Age J ), my reading instruction time had 2 parts. Most of the time was spend in whole-class skill lessons. Then, I'd listen to my high, middle and low groups read aloud.  I've learned a lot about teaching reading since then!  Also, the pendulum of reading instruction has swung from teaching totally whole-class to total individualized reading instruction.  Like most things, somewhere in the middle is best.  There is a need for both whole-class, small group, and individualized reading instruction.   That’s why a reading block needs whole-class instruction, guided small group lessons, and individual activities. (You can read this blog post to learn about the basics of a literacy block.)

     During whole-class instruction, there are three elements I think are essential; focused lessons, using a common text and setting goals/expectations.  These elements form the framework for my whole-class lessons.  Typically, I decide on the skill or strategy I want to teach in the focused lesson, choose the piece of text, and then set goals or expectations for the rest of the literacy block.

Focused Lesson
     The focused lesson is the main instruction time of the whole-class lesson. It can focus on reading strategies, skills, vocabulary, phonics, word study, reading behaviors or expectations, fluency, genre characteristics, etc.


The 3 essential elements of whole class reading lessons in a literacy block.  Whole class lessons are the starting point in your literacy block.  It's when you introduce important skills, strategies, and procedures to your class.  Learn more about the 3 elements that should be in every whole class reading lesson.



How do I know what to teach?
     You might have a district-mandated curriculum or adopted reading textbook that outlines all of your lessons.  If that’s the case, then teach those lessons.  But, if you have more flexibility, deciding what to teach is the first step.  I begin by mapping out the standards for the year.  Filling out a Year-at-a-Glance planning page for the reading standards I need to teach helps keep me on track.  (See the bottom of this post for resources that will help with the planning. ) Then I move on to looking at the student data that's been gathered through formal and informal assessments, checklists, and observations.  Using the Year-at-a-Glance plan and the student data you’ll want to teach focused lessons that address the needs of the majority of your students. 


What types of focused lessons should I teach?

     Most focused lessons can be put into three categories; expectations, strategies and skills and literary analysis.   I’ve put together a very short list of ideas.  You can use this as a starting point and build your focused lesson list from here.  You’ll soon find that this list could be endless.

ØThe lessons on expectations focus on student behaviors and responsibilities.  These lessons are usually covered during the first few weeks of school, but refresher lessons will probably be needed throughout the year.  Here are a few topics for these focused lessons:
getting out and putting away materials
respecting the learning of others
work quality
how to write a journal response
choosing “just right” books
giving a book talk or review
how the class library is organized
caring for materials
transiting from small groups to centers

ØStrategies and skills focused lessons focus on the standards you need to teach.  Here are a few of the broad areas you would cover in this category:  (Your lessons will probably be much more specific.)
Phonics,  example- words with the long a sound, ai, ay, a_e, eigh
Punctuation, example- how a comma placement affects the meaning of a sentence.
Word Study, example- affixes change the meaning of words, treat, mistreat, treatable
Comprehension, summarizing, using a SWBT organizer
Text structures, example- how to use a glossary, index, and table of contents
Fluency, example- using voice tone to express a character’s emotion

ØThe third category of focused lessons is literary analysis.  These lessons focus on different genres and understanding the techniques authors use when writing different genres.  Here are a few examples of focused lesson topics:
Story elements, example- how the setting affects the plot
Text organization, example- problem/solution organization of fiction stories
Word choice, example- how words set the mood of the story
Genre studies, example- characteristics of a specific genre
Responding to literature, example- how a character made you feel

Common Text
     When teaching your whole class, you need to have the same text for all your students.  There are a few exceptions, which I’ll explain later.  This text can be a textbook or literature study book they each have, individual copies of an article, poem or workbook, text shared by two students, text projected onto your whiteboard, or a big book that all students can see.  I also include a read-aloud book or text as a common text.

Why?
     Having this common text gives all students the chance to interact with the lesson.  They’re all seeing the same text and hearing the same discussion. Are they all mastering the skills/strategies at the same time?  Of course not, that’s the purpose of small groups and independent activities. Whole-class instruction is when I introduce skills and strategies, mastery will come after students have more opportunities to use them in their independent reading tasks.

Where?
     In most classrooms, there are really only two places you can meet with your whole-class; on the floor in a meeting area, or having kids stay at their desks or tables.  The location will change depending on several things.

What text is being used?  If you’re displaying the text on the whiteboard and that is closer to the student desks, then you’ll meet there.  If the text is a big book or a read aloud, you’ll probably meet on the floor in your meeting area.  If the students are in pairs to share a text, that might work in the meeting area or at their desks.

What will the kids be doing?  If they will be doing much writing during the lesson, then I usually like to keep them at their desks. Although, clipboards and composition book journals can be written in when they’re seated on the floor.

How is their behavior?   I’d like to say that all of my classes have been able to show model behavior when I’m teaching, but that would be a lie.  There have been days, seasons and sometimes whole years when my group of kids just can’t focus when we’re gathered in our meeting area on the floor.  No matter how much time we spend modeling behavior and setting expectations, some groups of kids just can’t handle this less structured meeting area for very long. So, we sometimes spend more time at our desks than I’d like.

What?
What text can you use?  This question is easy. . . anything!  The type of text, of course, will depend on the objective of the lesson.  Don’t limit yourself to the district mandated reading text.  Although they have great stories, articles, and poems, I think kids need to experience as many different genres of text as possible.  Here’s a short list of possibilities:
-literature or novel studies
-poetry
-newspapers
-content area textbooks (science, social studies, and even math textbooks)
-copies of travel brochures
-menus
-online articles
-fairy tales, folktales, myths, legends
-picture books
-plays
-how-to instructions
-owner’s manuals

These genre stickers will help you keep your class library and resources super organized.  They're editable, so you can type in the specific genres you need.  Click on the image to download your free set.


Genre stickers (freebie!) to put on your resources and books.  They're a great way to see if you have a wide variety of genres available for your students.

     Earlier I stated there is an exception to students each having a copy of the text being used in the lesson.  This might happen if you’re using a specific type of text but have different copies.  Examples:  travel brochures, how-to instructions, menus.  Even though students may have different copies, each one will have the same features you want to discuss in your lesson.

Setting Goals and Expectations
     My whole group time always ends with a class goal or expectation.  I want my students to take something from the lesson and apply it right away.  I send the kids off by assigning a short task that relates to the goal/expectation.     To keep the kids accountable, I check on these goals or expectations at the end of the reading block.  This accountability check will vary, depending on the task I’ve assigned.  The accountability check should match the task.  If the task is an action or behavior, then the accountability check can be a partner share or group discussion.  If the task is written then the accountability check can be reading the journal entry or note card.   These tasks and accountability checks are meant to be simple and quick.  The kids will have other reading tasks to accomplish during the literacy block so I don’t want to add too much to their workload.

One of my favorite ways to check on students is with thinkmarks.  These are bookmarks with a reminder or tips about the skill or strategy I want them to implement.  They keep the thinkmark with them as they read and then write a response either on the back of the thinkmark or in their response journal.  

To give thinkmarks a try in your classroom,

you can download this little freebie!


Reading thinkmarks are a great way to send kids off after a lesson with a goal.  The thinkmarks work as a reminder of the skill or strategy that was just presented in a lesson.  Kids can respond on the back of the thinkmark or in their response journal.


Here’s a chart with example focused lesson topics, goals, the assigned task, and accountability check.

The 3 essential elements of whole class reading lessons in a literacy block.  Whole class lessons are the starting point in your literacy block.  It's when you introduce important skills, strategies, and procedures to your class.  Learn more about the 3 elements that should be in every whole class reading lesson.

     This is a very, very short list of ideas.  Hopefully, it shows the variety of tasks and accountability checks.  The point is for kids to immediately practice. or try out, the focus of the focused lesson.  


Helpful Resources:  

The Ultimate Literacy Block (Editable) Planner is free!  Click on the image to become one of my email friends and I'll send it to you right away!



Planning is a whole lot easier with this planner.  There are so many pages that will help you keep your teaching life totally organized!  Pages include calendars, monthly planning, weekly planning, small group planning, record keeping and so much more.  Click on the image to preview the planner in my TpT store.


Thinkmarks are amazing!  You can use them in so many situations. They give the student a little tip or reminder and help them focus on a recently presented strategy.  Accountability goes way up when readers use thinkmarks.




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Daily Agenda

The Easiest Daily Agenda, EVER!

 Editable Agenda---Crockett's Classroom

Right now you probably display the schedule for the day somewhere on a whiteboard.  On the whiteboard, you can erase the daily lessons/activities/events every day and write in new ones.  The problem with this is the agenda is gone at the end of each day!  But I have a way to keep your daily schedule/agenda.  This way it will serve as a record of the lesson objectives, activities, lessons, assignments, and other important class information.

Here’s how. . .
  • Using PowerPoint type out a basic daily agenda in the table.  You can add more cells, rows or columns. 
  • Once you have the basic layout, duplicate that slide 5 times, one for each day of the week.  (My school was on a 6-day rotation for special classes so I made 6 slides.)
  • You can download this free agenda and change it to meet your needs. (Click on the image to download.)
This editable agenda makes it super easy to keep a record of what goes on in your classroom every day!

  • The editable table can have the times, subjects, lessons, page numbers, due dates, etc.  At the bottom, I like to keep a record of who is absent that day and a spot for class reminders.

Now, you’re all set!  I like to have the agenda up on the big screen as students walk in.  That way they’ll see the schedule for the day.


As we go through the day I type in brief notes to summarize what we did.  I also type in any assignments or projects with their due dates.

Here's the unique part of doing your agenda in this way.  At the end of the day save it with the day's date.  That way you can go back to that day at any time to see what happened! In my files, I have an agenda folder for each month.  I save the files by date into that month's folder.  Now I have a record for the whole year.

You can also print out that one page, hole punch it and keep it in a binder.  When a student returns after being absent they can look through the binder and easily see what he/she missed.

You can also save the agendas in a folder on Google Docs that you share with parents.  This is a great way to keep parents up to date.




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