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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.

     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.

     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 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
-content area textbooks (science, social studies, and even math textbooks)
-copies of travel brochures
-online articles
-fairy tales, folktales, myths, legends
-picture books
-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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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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