Saturday, November 16, 2013

Classroom Advent Calendar

Christmas is my absolute FAVORITE time of year.  I love the anticipation of Christmas day.  I get so excited about each passing day.  I LOVE advent calendars!  They are so visual!  I have always used advent calendars at home with my own daughters and started using them at school a few years ago.  It is just so much fun!  Why not? 

Here is a picture of the advent calendar I use.

Waiting for Christmas: A Story about the Advent CalendarI always kick off the advent calendar by reading Waiting for Christmas: A Story about the Advent Calendar by Kathleen Long Bostrom.  This story tells about the origins of the advent calendar. 

When I started this tradition with my class, I just bought a cheap chocolate advent calendar from the store.  It worked well and was really easy!  I had 24 students so I even got to eat a chocolate before we started!  BONUS!  The following year I had 26 students, so the chocolate calendar would not work.  I made my own out of plastic storage drawers for organizing tools.  The set I purchased has 30 drawers and that has always been more than enough.  THANK HEAVENS!  This is perfect because I can adjust the number of days according to the size of my class each year.  If  have 23 students, we use only 23 drawers.  If I have 28 students, we use 28 drawers.  I put small prizes in each drawer.  Each drawer has a piece of candy and a reward coupon. 

Here is how I make advent calendars work in my classroom. 
  1. Count the number of school days until Christmas break to find the number of days that equals the number of students in your classroom.  This is when you will begin to countdown!
  2. Put all the names of your students into a jar.  I use a gift bag because it is festive!
  3. Everyday, I pick one name and that student can open a drawer and get a surprise. 
  4. Labels on the drawers are attached with Velcro.  After we pick from that day, I take the numbers and store them inside the drawers. 
We need to start this towards the end of November to give all students a turn.  When you begin will be determined by when your Christmas break starts and the number of students in your class.  This has become a really fun tradition in my class.  Do you have any fun holiday traditions in your classroom?  Share them with us in the comments below.  Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Goldfish Games and Fire Safety

Love these!
Last weekend, when I was doing the dreaded grocery shopping (ugh!), I spotted some FABULOUS new goldfish crackers.  They are made for GAMES!  No way, right?  Of course I bought a few bags.  How could I say no?  The crackers are white and dark blue (almost black).  My kiddos used them for playing sight word Connect Four.  I have Connect Four mats in my store that go with my reading series so we used those.  There are also some really great Dolch Phrase mats over at the School Bell that you can download for free!  You guys all know, right?  I get lots of classroom resources there.  I plan on using these goldfish for math activities in the near future.  We are going to use them for adding, subtracting (yum!), and greater than/less than.  I love it when school tastes good!  If you have any ideas for using goldfish games, please share them below! 

 We also had a visitor from the fire department teach us about what to do in case of a fire. He comes every year and I love this demonstration he does with balloons.  

Here, he is telling the kids that the blue balloon is the clean air, the black is the smoke, and the orange is the fire.  The balloons are all tied in a cluster while he is explaining this.

Next, he tells them how the fire and smoke rise to the top, but the clean air stays down low.

Finally, he releases the clip and the kids SEE the smoke and fire rise and the clean air sinks to the floor.  I think this is SUCH a great visual and I have not seen this done by other firefighters who visited us.  (Of course this works because the black and orange are full of helium and blue is full of regular air.  I am a visual learner so I thought this was awesome! 

Well, that about wraps up my week.  I hope you all have a great week.  Play some games, eat some snacks, make it fun!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Spider Math Craftivity FREEBIE!!!


I love to make cute projects to decorate my room, but always feel the need to make them as educational as possible.  These spiders are the perfect cuties for my smarties! 
We painted the outside of two small paper plates purple.  I printed blank addition sentences on purple paper.  In my class, all students are working on mastering facts at various levels.  They move on once they can pass timed tests - no time for counting fingers!  This is nice because it really tied into what the kids are working on.  I have differentiated spiders on my ceiling!  Kids wrote facts on the legs of the spiders.  We accordion folded them and stapled the plates together.  One side of the spider got google eyes and the kids painted mouths.  The other side is totally math! 
These little guys look so cute hanging from my ceiling.  Click here to get the printable for legs and math fact circles. I have included circles for facts 8-22. 

Thanks for reading.  Have a great week!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Differentiating Instruction with Watch, Think, Color games

Watch, Think, Color bundles contain several designs in many different skills.  I have had teachers ask "why would we want to do this game over and over when we are making the same picture?"  That is not the purpose of the bundles.  I want to share with you how I use bundles to differentiate instruction in my classroom.  This is how I Watch, Think, Color!

I download a WTC bundle on the computer that runs my board and on all of my laptops.  I open the same design but in a variety of skills on the different laptops. 

All of these computers are showing number 114 but in a variety of ways.

I make the timing the same on all the games.  There are directions to do this in the games.  It is usually on the third or fourth slide.  I need the timings to be the same so that we finish at the same time.  I get all the games to the slide that says "get your crayons ready".  MOST of my class will play the game on the board.  I make a group of kids who need to review a skill that has already been taught and the majority of the kids are ready to move past.  I make a group of kids who are ready for a challenge.  They could easily do the game on the board but would benefit from a more difficult skill.  I put somebody in each group in charge of pressing enter when I say "go".  We count "1, 2, 3, GO" and the games are started.  One more important thing is to turn off the sound on the laptops.  There is a chime sound at each transition.  This draws the attention back to the game and keeps kids focused and on-task.  It is super annoying to hear multiple chimes!  When the game is finished, we have all made the same game but in a variety of ways.  My groups are always changing and it is not a big deal who is doing what.  I collect the pictures and can quickly assess who struggled with a concept. 

Look at the pictures on the left.  This student needs more practice of the skills.  The student on the right has mastered the skill and is ready to move on to a new skill. 

This game used the skill 10 More/10 Less.  By looking at the finished pictures, I can see that the student on the top really struggled with this concept.  I will pull them for one-on-one help with this concept and they will continue to play 10 More/10 Less WTC games for the next few weeks or until they have mastered this skill.
My friend had a special education student who loved WTC, but was frustrated by the timings.  She just turned them off for him and gave him a laptop to use.  When he was ready, he pressed enter to move to the next slide. 

I have used WTC during math centers this way.  My different groups work on different skills.  I prefer for my whole class to WTC at the same time because it keeps them all engaged, focused, and quiet.  There are not many things that keep an ENTIRE class focused for the same length of time.  All assignments have some early finishers and some slow pokies.  I know I can count on 15-20 minutes of work time with WTC games.  I have built Watch, Think, Color into my weekly lesson plans.  Every Monday, they WTC while I get homework ready for the week.  It is a huge time-saver for me plus it is great math practice for my kiddos.  With weekly practice, kids get SO fluent with numbers and such a strong foundation of number sense.  I see HUGE math progress with repeated practice of these games.  Visit my TpT store to check out my Watch, Think, Color Bundles!

Please let me know if you have any questions, ideas, or suggestions.  Thanks for reading!  Have a wonderful week!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Apple Play Dough for Math Manipulatives and a FREEBIE

I LOVE celebrating Johnny Appleseed's birthday!  It is like the official kick-off to fall!  I have lots o traditions in my class.  I spent my weekend getting ready for it!  I just finished some apple play dough and it smells DE-LISH!

Play Dough Pan - See the scratched up bottom and sides?
Before I tell you about the apple play dough, let me tell you about my play dough pan.  I got married when I was WAY too young.  I was 18 (told you too young!), and my new mother-in-law game me a set of Pampered Chef pans as a wedding gift.  At the time, I worked at a preschool.  My kids were doing a beach theme, and I decided to make sand play dough.  I cooked it in one of my new Pampered Chef pans.  As I stirred, I could hear it scrrrrrratch, scrrrrrrraaaaatch, sccrrrrrraaaaattttch the bottom of the pan.  Years later, I went to a Pampered Chef party and saw how expensive those pans were.  OOPS!!!!  That is now my "play dough pan".  It is just perfect for all types of play dough!  Please don't tell my mother-in-law and if she should ever stumble across this post, I AM SORRY!!!  I KNOW BETTER NOW!!!  Ok - back to the apple play dough!
This is one whole batch!  I made 3.
Here is the recipe: (I got it from

  • 1 cup flour
  •  1/2 cup salt
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 1/2 tbsp apple fragranced shampoo
  • red or green food coloring
    Step 1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the flour, salt and cream of tartar. Pour in the water, oil and shampoo
    Step 2. Add a couple of drops of your chosen food colouring and whisk in.
    Step 3. Place over a medium heat. Using a wooden spoon, stir constantly until the mixture forms a ball.
    Step 4. Turn out onto a clean surface and leave to cool for a few minutes. Knead until you have a smooth ball. Store in a resealable bag or closed container in the fridge.

    This play dough made a very small batch, so I made red, yellow, and green.  It smelled great while it was cooking.  The only bad thing is my 3 year-old was pretty mad that I was using her shampoo!  I LOVE play dough!

    I am going to use this for math manipulatives this week.  I am going to tell them word problems and have them act it out with the play dough.  I am going to use this with small math groups and give each student a small bag of each color.  "If you have three red apples, six yellow apples, and 2 green apples, how many do you have all together?"  "Joey made 10 play dough apples them smooshed four of them.  How many were left?"  "Johnny has 3 apples.  Sally has 1 less than Johnny.  How many do they have all together."  I like word problems so I think adding play dough to them will be SUPER FUN!

    I also made a fun Apple Life Cycle Crown that I wanted to share with you. Click the link to download!  These crowns are SUPER easy to make.  The apple life cycle goes around the band of the hat.  This crown is similar to my Phonics Crowns and Alphabet Crowns

     I have lots of other apple stuff in the works!  I will blog about it soon!  Have a fun week!

    Tuesday, September 17, 2013

    Managing Good-Fit Books

    I LOVE read-to-self and good-fit books!  These are ESSENTIAL for all first graders!  When I first read CAFE and The Daily 5, I was really overwhelmed.  How could I manage this?  How could I set it up?  Where am I supposed to store all these books?  I have solved all of these problems in my classroom and this runs so smoothly now!  Here is how I made it work for me -

      I purchased a "book pouch" for each of my kiddos.  We have used these for the past three years and they are still in EXCELLENT shape!  They were about $5 each.  They are from Really Good Stuff.  Click here if you want to check them out!  I give my kids blank 3x5 index cards to write their names on and decorate.  These fit perfectly in the label.

      Leveled Library Mobile Storage CartI ordered a cart to store my leveled books in. I also have tons of other books in my classroom library. The books in the library can be looked at whenever my kids are reading in the library. The books in the cart are not to be messed with unless we are switching books. Click here if you are interested in ordering a cart like this.  The cute signs above my cart are from Chart Parts by Andrea Knight.  I love everything in this set!

      I put cute stickers on the front to label.  Easy and it works!

      I went through my books and looked them up on Scholastic's Book Wizard. This is a great tool that allows you to type in the title of a book and it will give you the reading level. I printed labels with letters and put them on the front cover of the books as I leveled them. By putting my books in the cart, I was able to see which levels I needed more of.   I also stamp all of my books with my name so that they don't get lost.

       When school starts, I don't know what level my kids will be, but I want them to practice read-to-self right away. I bought 30 copies of some books that I found in Scholastic's book orders for only $1 each. Before school starts, I stuff the pouches with a whisper phone (which I made out of PVC) and three books. They all have the same three when school starts. We use these to practice the three ways to read.

      My goal the first week is to listen to everybody read.  I just pull a level C and open to any page and listen to them.  I will move them up or down depending on if this level is too easy or too difficult.  Once my kids are placed in a level, I let them choose eight good-fit books from the cart to put in their pouches.  Eight books for each student sounds like a lot, but in the early levels, the books are so short!  Kids that are in level M choose fewer books because they take much longer to read.  I always record what level I put them in so that I can monitor their progress.  Click here to print this form!

      My kids store their book pouches inside their desks.  I TRY to get them new books every week, usually it is closer to every other week.  Kids get so excited about getting new books for their pouches.  Once this system was established, it is really simple to maintain.  I love that they are excited about books and they are practicing reading at their individual levels. 

      Kids reading books makes me a happy teacher! 

      Monday, September 16, 2013

      Reading Rugs - Read-to-Self for the Holidays

      I keep my bags in a large tote and swap them out seasonally.
      Doormats and gift bags from the dollar store.  4 centers = $8
      I started "Reading Rugs" last year, and they are always a huge hit with my kiddos.  I found the cutest little rugs at Target in the dollar section.  (They are actually $3.)  These are small rugs (about 2 square foot).  I bought 4 rugs and 4 bags.  I put seasonal books in seasonal bags.  I have trick-or-treat bags for Halloween and gift bags for Christmas, etc.  The books in the bags range from level A to level O.  I want these bags to have a little somethin' for everybody. 

      We use "reading rugs" as a part of Read-to-Self.  The kids grab a bag and a rug and go find some place to sit and read.  I sometimes put fun pointers in the bags too - witch fingers in the Halloween bag, plastic icicles in my winter bag, toothbrush in my dental health bag, etc.  These are totally fun and I feel like I am USING all these fun holiday books I always buy.
      The kids are always SUPER excited to go to this center.  By changing out the rugs, bags, and books, the center is always fresh and exciting.  Plus, kids LOVE holidays and seasons!  This really gets them motivated to read. 

      When the season is over, I just put the rugs in the bags with the books and put them in a cabinet until next year.  When the holiday or season rolls around again, all I need to do is take them out!  I LOVE IT WHEN IT'S EASY!!!  If you are interested in doing this in your class, you can find Halloween and Thanksgiving rugs at Target right now.  I have also found some fun rugs at the Dollar Tree.  Place mats and squares of fabric also work.

      Check out some of my rugs!!!
      Just found these cute Thanksgiving/Fall rugs at Target!


      My Dr. Seuss bag includes a fun hat to wear!

      Here is an entire center - rug, bag, and books!
      Valentine Rugs

      St. Patrick's Day Reading Rugs


      Saturday, September 14, 2013

      Phonics Hunts and Hats!

      Every week, my kiddos work on a different phonics sound.  We start with short vowels and work our way up to vowel teams and digraphs.  This year, I created some fun crowns to use with our sound of the week.  Here is what I am loving about these crowns -
      • Only 1 page per kid!  The entire project and the directions are on one sheet.  I don't feel guilty about wasting paper!
      • Educational AND Cute!  They have to fill-in the missing sound to complete words that feature the sound we are working on.  When they are done writing, they can color, cut and glue.
      • No prep for me!  I literally showed my firsties how to do this ONCE and they have done it independently for the past 3 weeks.  LOVE THAT! 
      • The kids look so darn cute in them!
      I give my kiddos 20 minutes to complete the project.  When they are finished, they take out their "Word Work Notebooks" (these are just spiral bound notebooks that we use for lots of word work activities) and go on a hunt for the sound we are working on.  They can look in their reading books, good-fit books, and dictionaries.  This is nice because early finishers always have something meaningful to keep them busy.  My kids have always done these word hunts.  The crowns are adding a new level of fun because they make us "experts" on the sound.  When we wear our crowns, they help our brains find even more words than we would have without them. 

      The set of hats comes in short vowels, long vowels, r-controlled vowels, and digraphs.  It is available in my TpT store.  Click here to check them out! 

      My kinder teachers loved them so I made another set that feature all the letters of the alphabet.  Click here to find my Alphabet Crowns.

      Thanks for reading!  Have a terrific week!