I’m not sure who loves game-based literacy activities more – me or the kiddos! Today we enjoyed hunting for Easter eggs with sight words inside. Each student was assigned a colour so that everyone would get a chance to find eggs. Assigning colours also allowed me to put specific words inside each egg to target each of their needs. Once they read me the word I replaced the plastic egg with gum, chocolate, and candy-filled eggs. It was a win-win for all involved!
As per our school’s Learning Improvement Plan (LIP) focusing on student writing growth, I am embedding different modalities of letter formation into our phonics lessons. The students are enjoying a multi-sensory approach to writing: play-dough, chalkboards, whiteboard tables, wiki sticks, letter magnets, wooden pieces, etc. A new favorite is writing our letters with paint brushes in shaving cream. It is a really simple lesson that warrants student engagement.
Shaving Cream Letters Lesson:
- Hold up letter cards and get students to state the letter name, sound, and action.
- Students copy the letter, starting at the top, with paint brushes in shaving cream. They form the lowercase and the uppercase for each letter.
- Students “erase” their letter with their brushes and repeat the process for the rest of the target letters.
But What About the Mess?
I find that it is not as messy as it may seem. Each student needs to roll up their sleeves and be reminded not to eat, fling, or touch the shaving cream with their hands. We talk about how it smells good but would not taste good (you may want to note that it is NOT whipped cream). I get students to wipe off any excess shaving cream on the side of their tin (get baking pan tins with higher edges rather than baking sheet tins with lower edges) and then at the end of the lesson we use paper towel to clean the brushes before putting them in water.
The best part of shaving cream letters is that students do not feel pressure to form their letters perfectly. If they make a mistake, they simply can “erase” and try again! The teacher can observe the letter formation and remind students to hold brushes appropriately and start from the top during the lesson so the practice is meaningful. All students, especially those who dislike pencil-to-paper work, seem to buy-in to the novelty of shaving cream letters. No tears, busy minds at work, and smiling faces… seems like a win to me!
Today we will be talking about learning with task bags. I worked alongside my Educational Psychologist, Jenn Osberg, and my Consultant, Michelle Michaluk, to create literacy, math, fine motor, and life skills task bags that would meet the needs of my learners. As a primary Student Support Teacher, task bags are part of my regular intervention and we love them because they:
- are play-based and hands-on
- cover a variety of curriculum and/or individual outcomes
- are simple to use and model (if another teacher or Educational Assistant will be implementing them)
- include high-interest materials
- promote student engagement
- can be accomplished quickly (5-10 minutes of practice)
- can be used with 1-3 students to add social goals, such as sharing and turn-taking
- are quick interventions that reinforce previously taught outcomes
- are easy and cost effective to create
- can be created from “Busy Bag” idea books, simple internet searches, or unused items around the classroom
I have used my task bags with a variety of students, particularly a student who could only say two words when they started in our Kindergarten program. Task bags became an easy way to develop this student’s vocabulary, name recognition knowledge, and keep them engaged. What I like most about these task bags is that after modeling the use of the task bags a few times, they are easy for any other adult to take and use and they fit nicely into any schedule. I use my task bags for intervention times. I have also used them for additional literacy and math practice with Kindergarten students who need additional practice time after our centers. It is quick and easy to pull them for 5-10 minutes and target the specific concept and can be done within their classroom. In the classroom, these task bags could be set up as a center after teacher modeling/explicit instruction. I recommend using task bags with 1-2 students but I have used them with up to 3 learners.
I have organized my task bags into two shelves and four categories:
a) early math skills
b) early literacy skills
c) fine motor skills
d) life skills
There are countless other tasks bags that could be made and I hope you find use for them in your own room. Please find the task bag labels and instructions attached: Task Bag Instruction Templates. Happy teaching!
Today we will be talking about classroom libraries! The Saskatchewan Reads document states that “libraries play an important role in supporting and engaging students as readers. “They provide environments rich in information, literature, and technology that, together with effective instruction, enable students to achieve curriculum learning outcomes and acquire the attitudes and skills for lifelong learning” (Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, 2008, p. 1).” It is recommended to have books around the room, in addition to on the shelf, and students can assist with this book selection. I plan to display books on top of the shelves once I have read them aloud to the students. Another option is to switch out books based on current units of study and/or student interests. Routman (2014) states that “excellent classroom libraries” should be of top priority “ahead of the latest technology, resources, programs and standards. It is only through wide, self-selected reading that we will produce proficient and joyful readers as well as writers” (p. 99). It has been one of my main back-to-school priorities, as I know the importance of a well-stocked and organized classroom library for student literacy achievement.
My classroom library has both leveled books (blue bins) and interest books (green bins). Students select from both blue and green bins to fill their individual pouches so that during guided reading they have books to keep them engaged and improving during read-to-self and partner reading. Having students self-select these books regularly helps avoid interruptions to my guided reading lessons, as students are excited to read. Students get to choose where to sit, whether it is the reading cubbies, couch, Tipi, swivel chair, standing desk, carpet, or pretty much anywhere but the roof! We even get to enjoy the outdoor classroom space in the fall and summer.
When students are both comfortable and interested, classroom management takes care of itself. Well… pretty much. We do have to go over stamina training (graphing time on-task to meet a class duration goal) and lessons on the “Right Fit” books using the 5 Finger strategy.
Scholastic notes that “experts claim a classroom library should have at least 20 books per student, so a typical class of 28 students would have a classroom library of close to 600 books.” While that may seem like a lot of books, 20 books per student is on the lower end, especially when considering the diverse learning needs in our classrooms. I am proud to say that I have grown my classroom library to 500 books over the past three years. I found the best sources are garage sales, family members and friends with young children, and talking to administration. As a Student Support Teacher, the number of students that I serve varies so 500 books feels like the right amount… for now!
The changes I made this year to my classroom library were to my green bins, or interest book sections. I created more sections so that books can be found easier. I used to put multiple categories in a bin but this just didn’t work for student put-back. Using the labels I found, I created 12 categories: Friends, Family, Cultures/Canada, ABCs, Math, Weather/Seasons, Animals, Fiction, Feelings, Good Character, School Stories, and rhymes and poetry. There are many other categories but I found these worked best with my previous system. The labels were easy to use and I printed the bin labels on Avery 8168 labels. The corresponding book labels were printed on Avery 8293. Everything printed well and it looks visually appealing but not too distracting (in case you are interested in these labels for your own classroom).
My hope is that students will be able to select books that they are interested in and also put them back in the correct bins. I will explicitly show them how to select and re-shelf books. At this time, I will also explore with students the books that can be found in each section and we will move books around if needed so that it makes sense to the kids. The system is self-explanatory enough that educational assistants, substitute teachers, co-teachers, administrators, and parents will be able to come into my room and select and re-shelf books to read with learners without me having to explain things. This should help books stay where they should.
My blue bins, or leveled books, are relatively the same as last year with a color-coded dot that roughly correlates to 2 levels of Fountas and Pinnell. I am not too worried about each book being precisely leveled as students will learn how to select “Just Right” books. The idea is that they are reading books that are within their level so that they can build fluency, maintain comprehension, and feel successful, albeit while still being challenged.
I am beyond excited to share the classroom library with a new set of learners and some returning friends! As I always say, reading is succeeding!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, not Christmas time; back to school time! This classroom – and more importantly, this teacher – is ready for the kiddos to return!
‘Twas the week before school, when all through the class
Not a student was stirring, not even a gasp;
The sight words were hung on the bulletin with care,
In hopes that the new students soon would be there;
The teacher planned guided reading snug in her bed,
While visions of comprehension strategies danced in her head;
Link: The Measured Mom
Soon students in their new shoes, and I in my dress,
Would settle our brains and bodies to do our best.
When inside the Tipi there arose no chatter,
The students would learn Zones of Regulation to solve a matter.
Student-friendly labels on the books for sorting in a flash,
Will make it easy for students to have a reading bash!
Some students, to the reading cubbies will go
Some at the standing table looking at objects below,
When, will students to my wondering eyes appear,
I can’t wait until tomorrow when they are finally here.
But will the little students be so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment Whole Body Listening was it!
More eager each day for the students that came,
She whistled, and planned, and labelled by name;
“Now, Sweetheart! Now, Honey! Now, Buddy and Friend!
Learn, reading! Learn, math! Learn, writing and pretend!
Write on the whiteboard tables but not on the wall!
Now walk only, no running, walk only in the hall.”
Link: Kindergarten Lifestyle
A clean class before the hustle-and-bustle fly,
When met with an obstacle, give growth mindset a try.
So students, the outcomes and lessons we’ll do,
With buckets full of books, and F&P sight words too.
And then, for the wiggles, a sensory cushion on the seat
Let the kids be kids and move their little feet.
Another option for those who need turning around,
A swivel egg chair the students will be glad I found.
The board all dressed in Letterland, letters from head to foot,
The math manipulatives covered so I get student input.
A bundle of Good/Poor choices, Inside Out in the back,
And Circle of Courage is all part of our pack.
Her eyes-how they twinkled! Her smile how bright!
The students were coming, their minds like a light!
Her small little class wrapped up like a bow
And the tabletops for writing were as white as the snow;
The classroom bulletins were covered by curtain,
Weighted dogs, Telemircale teddies, and pillows were there for certain.
The room felt like home with plants in their pots,
The students would care for, and water them lots.
The teacher area was organized, set to work like an elf,
And I’d work in the space, that was all to myself.
In a wink of the eye, in the guided reading zone,
Students would soon know how to read on their own.
Looking at the I Cans, and getting straight to work time,
LLI at the horseshoe table to ensure all is fine.
And laying on the couch when the teacher knows,
That a strategy is needed to care for the woes.
She can see the whole group, from any spot,
But the students snuggled in their sections cannot.
I heard the teacher cheer, as she prepped into the night,
“Happy School Year to all, and to all a learning right!”
Adapted from A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore, 1779 – 1863
I asked my Grade 1s to share some of their favorite tools for learning! Here are their top picks:
This year I combined Inside Out lessons with our Bucket Filling, good/poor choices, and Zones of Regulation emotional programming. I have found that the students are more engaged with the lessons and are able to relate better.. (this could be because we watch the movie together with some delicious popcorn!?). The “Let’s Talk About” book series is also a learning tool that we utilize.
Zones of Regulation Curriculum by Leah Kuypers
The Grade 1s enjoy Flashlight Fridays and using our slinkies to sound out words, our ropes to retell a story, and our mirrors to visualize our pronunciation of words and letter sounds!
Sight Word and Alphabet Learning:
The students love forming letters with magnets, salt, play dough, and shaving cream. Writing on our Buddha boards and chalkboards is always fun, too! Some alphabet and sight word games that they enjoy are: upper/lower match boxes with popsicle sticks, bowling, fishing, balloon pop, ball toss, golfing, toppling bunnies, scavenger hunts, fly swatter, cup stacking, bingo dabber, egg flip, and toppling towers sight word/alphabet games. We enjoy sounding out CVC words on our pool noodles and by jumping in our hula hoops. As a teacher, my favorites are the word walls and my Lakeshore rhyme and alphabet buckets with initial sound or word family toys/examples. The picture cards are also a great find! As always, I recommend the Florida Center for Reading Research for engaging, research-based phonics and phonological awareness games.
Here are some classroom Book Teaching Resources that I am fortunate to be able to share with my learners. I have found that having a categorized system ensures that no book gets left behind!
What are some books that you love to use in the primary grades? What organizational system works for you!? Happy reading!
A glimpse into my room! So far I am loving the calm-down area (equipped with a tent, a couch, fidgets, timers, and the Zones of Regulation!!), the reading cubbies, and the guided reading horseshoe table. I am very fortunate to have such a wonderful space to get to share the wonder of reading and literacy with my learners!
This year I had the opportunity to attend a Joyful Literacy Reading Summit in Saskatoon. We learned all about helping struggling readers thrive through a games-based approach. I spent the next couple months trying to implement my newfound knowledge into my teaching, as it positively applies to my work as a Student Support Teacher. So far the kids are loving the games and our Grade 1 reading scores are improving!
With my brain full of great ideas and seemingly not enough hours in a day, my first step was to read Putting on the Blitz by Janet Mort. The text offers ideas about setting up meaningful interventions and there are great game-based resources and examples to learn from. My task was to try and figure out how this would work for my students and within my environment with the resources allotted to me. The next step was to approach my room and resources with a different lens. I had to figure out what I already had in my room that could be used to create game-based phonics and phonological awareness interventions. Suddenly fly swatters were looking like tools for learning in our Sight Word Splat instead of for their intended use! However, I did also have to purchase resources and took advantage of great finds at the Dollar Store, as well as, the Teacher Tax Credit. It is amazing what resources you can find when you look at things with a different perspective.
With significantly less money in my pocket, my next step was to pull everything together and create a phonics and phonological awareness intervention year plan. This year plan utilizes the games that I have already created in my classroom, as well as, the Florida Center for Reading Research’s Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading curriculum. If you are a primary teacher and especially if you are a primary Student Support Teacher, I highly recommend taking the time to utilize this resource. It does take a lot of time to create – printing each game on cardstock, cutting, laminating, labeling the resources in Ziploc bags, and filing – but in the end you have hundreds of age-appropriate lessons, games, and assessments that focus on phonological awareness, phonics, comprehension, fluency, and vocabulary. The best part is that it is research-based and the kids are highly engaged by the games! They ask me to play them again and again!
The intervention plan is flexible in regards to the proposed timelines and activities – the students’ understanding will dictate the speed in which you proceed or review concepts and your classroom resources and game creations will vary from my own but can easily be incorporated into this plan. There are Saskatchewan curriculum connections. And since reading intervention is one piece of the literacy pie for my Grade 1’s, I have included guided reading plans with reading strategies and resources.
I find that having this intervention plan posted in my room allows for easy planning in my Weekly Planner, which can also be adjusted to meet your planning needs. This planner helps when you need a substitute teacher due to an unforeseen event, such as illness. At a quick glance, my substitute teacher is informed about our daily activities, where to find the materials, who I am teaching at what time, and the behavior and academic needs of my learners. So far I am finding that the two resources work nicely together.
May your literacy and intervention planning be as joyous as your play-based teaching!