Friday, August 30, 2013

Family Response Journals with a FREEBIE

I am so happy to have finished making my Family Response Journals!  We use these every week.  The kids and parents just love them!  These journals are for parents and kids to write letters back and forth.  In the beginning of the year, we brainstorm a letter that we can all write about - "Dear Mom,  We are learning about bugs.  My favorite bug is a _______________.  What is your favorite bug?  Love, ________."  If kids can or want to write independently, they are encouraged to do so.  I write the "generic" letter on the board for beginning readers to copy.  We write in our journals on Monday and then they go home in our homework pouches.  Parents have all week to write back before sending them back in the pouches on Friday. 

Kids LOVE to get letters back from their parents!  Here are some tips I always share with my parents:
  • If you don't send the journals, they can't do it!  This is a really fun way to encourage reading and writing.  PLEASE write back to your child and send journals back to school! 
  • Remember that this is being read by a beginning reader!  Use your NICEST printing.  The kids gain reading practice with this activity.  Cursive makes this impossible with little guys.
  • Kids should write to someone in their house, so they can write back.  Sometimes my journals are missing for weeks because a student decided to write to his grandma and left the journal at her house. 

 To make the journals, I print covers on colored paper and laminate.  The back cover has a word bank with words kids commonly use in their journals.  I have two types of pages for the inside - primary lined for the kids to use and regular lines for parents.  I print kids on the front and parents on the back.  My journals have 34 pages in them.  We are usually done with them a couple weeks before school gets out.  I find this nice because the end of the year can be hectic and it is nice to have something DONE.  I use a binding machine to bind the book and E6000 to glue the binding comb shut. 

These make sweet keepsakes to send home at the end of the year.  They take about 20-30 minutes a week, but are great reading and writing practice. 

Click here to download these pages for FREE!

Please let me know if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about Family Response Journals.  Have a great week, friends!

Monday, August 26, 2013

How other teachers WTC

Sometimes I get the coolest feedback about how teachers are using Watch, Think, Color games in their classrooms!  I decided to take some of those ideas and share them with you.

  • Calculators - One second grade teacher has a class set of calculators.  She slows the timing down on the multiplication games and has kids key in the equations.  Cool, right?
  • Math Bulletin Boards - A teacher displays finished WTC pictures on bulletin boards. 
  • Math Journals - I recently heard from a teacher who uses the smaller size charts to glue in math journals.  They can write about what strategies they used to find the numbers.
  • Individual Computers - One teacher told me that she had a learning disabled student who LOVED these games, but was frustrated by the timings.  She turned the timings off and put him on his own laptop.  He would just press enter to advance the slide when he was ready.
I just love these ideas!  Are you using Watch, Think, Color games in a unique or different way?  Share your ideas with us!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Morning Songs

This is what my morning looks like:

In this photo we are singing "Twinkle Friends" by Dr. Jean.  I love using songs that gets the kids moving around and interacting with each other!  You can see the PowerPoint on the board in the background. 

Pretty cute, huh?  We sing EVERY morning!  Let me tell ya why!  Several years ago, I went to a conference and heard over and over about how important music was for children. I decided to incorporate music into my daily routine. I reflected on my own childhood and singing songs in church. Songs were displayed on an overhead and we read the words as we sang. I think this helped me learn to read. I wanted to recreate this in my classroom. I burned a CD for each week with a variety of songs related to what we were learning. I used Dr. Jean's Money Song when we learned about money, Twin Sisters Long A Vowel song when that was our focus sound, Greg and Steve We All Live Together when we learned about communities, etc. I typed the lyrics and printed them on transparencies. Each morning, we would play the CD and sing the songs. The "Star Student" would change the transparencies for us and point to the words on the board as we sang.

Two years ago, I got a SmartBoard. I changed all my "Morning Songs" to PowerPoints. The songs are embedded in the file. This means LESS STUFF!!! No more CDs and transparencies to put away. I can also use great graphics on the PowerPoints!  When we sing "The Money Song", I have images of the front and back of each coin.  At first, I made the slides timed to change automatically after each song finished. This was really no more convenient and took away a fun job, so I changed it to where my star student clicks to change songs. I was also really bad about forgetting to say the pledge in the morning. Some days we did it at 2:30 when a kid finally remembered. Some days we didn't do it at all. Now, my first slide is a flag with the words to the pledge under it. We ALWAYS remember and it is another reading opportunity.

Morning Songs also buy me TIME! I can get things situated for the day while the kids are engaged and learning. I usually use this time to check their folders for notes from parents.  It is nice to know that I always have about 15 minutes before I have to be "on". 

Our songs are educational and are tied to our curriculum.  I often refer back to the songs when I am doing a lesson. If kids know "Oh, Those Contractions", but are struggling with contractions, I can refer to the song and this helps them to grasp the concepts. There are SO many great songs out there. By using morning songs, I am FINALLY utilizing them. On the first day of school we discuss WHY do we do morning songs - it gets oxygen to our brains (getting them ready to learn), we are reading the words on the board, and we are learning from the songs. I tell them what is expected - they are singing and not playing around. This is a learning time and we are singing songs for a purpose.

Each day when songs are finished, I choose 3-4 "Star Singers" to move up on our behavior chart. I begin with only 3 songs on the first week of school. We need to keep them focused. (BORED = NAUGHTY!) The next week we have 4. We continue to build up stamina until we have about 6-8 songs a day. This takes about 15 minutes. They get really excited when we have songs they have had in the past. As soon as they see it, I hear many kids say, "Oh, I LOVE this song!" At the end of the year, all my first graders know their 50 states and can list the presidents - not because I taught this, but because they SANG it!

You literally CANNOT be in a bad mood after singing Bananaphone!  Songs make everybody happy!  They also help unite us as a class.  This is a ritual we all participate in every morning.  Morning songs just might be my FAVORITE time of day! 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

It's time to Move IT!

Last year, I had a little guy who as REALLY wiggly!  He would not work for me.  Ever had a kid like that?  He was like Tigger - BOING!  BOING!  BOING!  All that bouncing makes it hard to hold a pencil!  I made Move It games as a compromise.  We do a bit of work then get up and move!  It's a win-win!  I made these games for one, but they ALL loved them! 

Move It games are PowerPoint that have built-in brain breaks.  There are animated timers and sound effects.  In these pictures, we were playing Beginning Sounds Move It.  I have these games for tons of reading and math skills.  My kiddos usually use dry erase boards to show their work.  I love this because I can do a quick assessment.  It is a great opportunity to talk out our thinking - how did we get our answers, what strategies did we use.  

Show your answers!
Desk Push-Ups!

Show your answers!

Run in place!  See the timer on the board?
Show your answers!

We work our brains then our bodies - brains then bodies - brains then bodies. We can do these activities for a long or short period of time. We don't need to "finish" the entire PowerPoint. If we have just ten or 15 minutes, this is a great time filler. I usually spend lots of time talking about each question and I can spend 45 minutes doing Move It activities and not even get to the end. We repeat the same games again and again because they are good practice. 

I have a bunch of these games that are plain and great to use any time of year. 

I also have some fun theme games.  There are some fun Pirate Move It games.  These include fun activities like "Hop on yer peg leg!".  There is pirate music and a parrot squawks to get back to the game. 

I have Ocean themed games where kids will "wiggle their tentacles" and more to wipe-out music.  A shark swims across the screen to signal them to get back to work. 

I have Halloween games and will be releasing more holidays and other fun themes. 


This is a terrific way to practice skills with your kiddos and have fun at the same time!   Please let me know if you have any questions or comments about these activities! 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Place Value, Shock & Awe, and a FREEBIE!

My first shock - A few years ago, I was walking around my classroom saying "25 BLUE.  Everybody color number 25 blue.  Did you get it?  Ok, hurry up.  Yes, you can use sky blue.  Color 25 blue.  Did you guys get it?"  This was a fun mystery picture game.  The kids liked doing it.  I was getting frustrated thinking of all other things I could be doing with my time - grading papers, testing kids, writing a note back to a parent.  I also wanted to make this more educational.  What if instead of saying "25 blue" I could SHOW them 25?  That is when lightening hit!  I can make my computer do this for me!  I spent about 4 hours making my first game.  It was a jack-o-lantern that used tens blocks to represent numbers.  AS SOON as I put it on for my kids, I was SHOCKED!  My kids had never been so quiet!  You could literally SEE them thinking!  I knew this was magic!  And that is how Watch, Think, Color games were born. 

We played one a week for the rest of the year - all place value with tens blocks.  My kids got faster and faster.  They were able to see the groups of objects and visually recognize how many there were without counting.  They got SO good at these games! 

Then came my second shock - STATE TESTING!  My kids, MY PLACE VALUE GENIUSES, bombed place value!  We had spent SO much time looking at those tens blocks that they were confused by seeing baskets of strawberries or bags of carrots or groups of pencils.  That is when I decided to make some games using non-standard units.  My kids now play a Watch, Think, Color place value game to celebrate each holiday.  This way, I make sure that we are reviewing this skill all year and I know that I can throw anything at them and have them interpret it as a number.  If an egg is a one and a basket is a ten, what is this number?   If a soldier is a one and a tank is a ten, what is this number? 

These games are terrific because they keep the whole class busy and engaged the whole time.  There are no early finishers.  Nobody has time to fight over crayons because the game is timed to run itself.  These are also a great way to tie a little math into a class party.  I usually find myself using this quiet time to last minute prep a party game or craft project.  I have put all of my holiday place value games in a bundle in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. 

I literally have HUNDREDS of these games in dozens of math skills.  If you have not used Watch, Think, Color games before, try this place value game for free!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Handwriting Royalty

It is always so hard for me to motivate my kids to have nice handwriting.  I can give them handwriting practice pages and they look BEAUTIFUL but the rest of their work looks like chicken scratch.  To help with this little problem, I invented Handwriting Royalty.  Each week, I look for someone who uses nice writing on ALL of their work - not just the handwriting sheets!  On Monday, we have a royal announcement and a crowning ceremony.  There is only one king OR queen each week.  Students may be crowned more than once.  This is not something that is designed to be "fair" and give everyone a turn.  Sometimes I crown somebody who I see is really trying - even though they may not actually have the nicest writing. 

The king or queen gets a crown to wear all week.  They can take it home and keep it at the end of the week.  Every morning, they start on light blue (moved their clip up).  There are certificates of recognition for the new king or queen to take home and show their royal parents.  This was SO easy to implement!  I just buy a pack of plain crowns at the beginning of the school year and make lots of copies of the certificates to keep on hand.  Kids love it.  ANYTHING to help with handwriting!  (Plus, it's fun!)

Read like a TECHIE!

This is going to be a long post because I have so much to say about scanning books! 

Three years ago, I got my smartboard and had no clue how to use it.  I WANTED to use it, but didn't know where to start.  One of the very first stories in my reading series is about ants.  I have paired lots of fiction and non-fiction with each theme.  There is this ant book that I just LOVE!  For five years in a row, I read this story to my class during "ant week".  They DON'T like it!  They wiggle and disrupt.  It does not keep their attention AT ALL.  Why do I keep reading it?  I like it!  I want them to like it too.  I read about half the book and got mad about all the disruptions.  I asked them, "Why don't you guys like this book?"  Somebody said "because we can't see it".  I sent them to recess and scanned every page in that darn book and put it together as a PowerPoint.  The next day I read it again and the results were AMAZING!  They LOVED my ant book!  They said "Oh gross!  He is eating trash!"  "Look you can see his head, thorax and abdomen!"  I was SHOCKED by the difference this made.  I have read that book to about 150 six year-olds and they DON'T like it!  Now this group LOVED it!  It is like the ultimate BIG BOOKS!  I began scanning every book I read!  I scanned before school, at recess, and after school.  That first year, I scanned 500 books!  I currently have about 800 scanned.  After I scan a book, I put a paper clip on the front cover to mark it as done.  I have not even scanned 10% of the books in my classroom.  I am such a hoarder! 
See my paperclips?  These are DONE!

I felt really guilty about all this scanning - like I am totally breaking some major copyright laws!  I spoke to three police officers and one lawyer .  They all told me that as long as I am not selling or sharing these images, I am okay.  They compared it to buying a CD and then burning it onto your computer.  It is alright as long as it is for your own use only.  I never scan books that I do not own. 

There is such a difference in the reading experience.  I am not reading TO my kids, I am reading WITH my kids.  It is a much more intimate way of reading - like when you read to your own child sitting on your lap.  We really SHARE the books.  I was also amazed by how much their print awareness increased.  I can't get through a page without somebody noticing that the author used italics or bold words.  We stop to talk about SO many more things reading this way.  Somebody will say "oh, the mouse even looks worried".  That would never happen if I was holding a book and that mouse was the size of a nickel.  When the book is scanned, and the mouse is the size of a football we can see his little worried expression.  We can talk about why the illustrator might have chosen to make him so worried or when we have felt worried.  Reading this way opens the doors to think alouds.  My kids are SUPER at text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to real world connections. 

One of my proudest teacher moments happened at the end of the year that first year of scanning.  Our school had a book drive - bring a book, take a book.  One of my little guys (who really struggled academically) brought me a book and said "Look, Mrs. Morrison!  It is Tomie dePaola!"  It was an old basil reader with a Tomie dePaola picture on the cover.  It did not say "Tomie dePaola" anywhere.  I said, "How did you know this was Tomie dePaola?"  He said "I recognized the illustrations."  I do an author study with Tomie dePaola in the beginning of October.  This kid was still able to recognize his work in May.  My teacher heart grew three sizes that day!  I knew that all my scanning was worth it!

I do not sit in a chair and read to them, I often sit on the floor WITH them.  Sometimes, we lay on the floor and read.  I have a clicker (bought from Target about $30) that I use to turn the pages.  This is also GREAT for audio books.  I scan the book, burn the disc, and attach the audio file.  Kids just click to turn the page.  I have also recorded many people reading.  I bought a digital recorder from Target (about $70).  I recorded our kindergarten teacher reading "The Night Before First Grade".  On the first day of school, they hear their old teacher read them a story!  I have my principal, janitor, and school secretary.  When I teach them about re-reading, I tell them I always loved it when my mom read "Miss Suzie" to me when I was a little girl.  We read it over and over.  Then I put on the book with the audio of MY MOM reading it!  There is a story in my reading series about grandmas.  My grandma reads "What Grandmas Can't Do".  The kids LOVE to hear new people.  They are so impressed that I have a mom and a grandma!  I have a local pediatrician read "Germs Make Me Sick".  They can't believe it when THEIR doctor is reading them a story!  I also have kids recorded.  It is a great way to work on fluency and they love to hear themselves and their friends reading. 

Another super thing about scanning books is that they are always there when you need them.  I NEVER go to shelf and look for books.  I type in the title and it comes right up.  You can search by subject.  If I type "pumpkin" 15 books appear about pumpkins.  I also have folders for different authors and teaching themes.  It took me a LONG time to scan my books (and I still have MANY more that I need to scan), but it was SO worth it!  If I read a book that is not scanned, my kids will ALWAYS ask me to scan it after school and read it again tomorrow.  They want to SEE it!  Scanning books is one of the best things I have done in my classroom.  When you invest all this time, you need to make sure that you BACK IT UP!  I have suffered some severe losses with viruses and broken jump drives.  I have my files saved in multiple places both at school and at home.  I also use Dropbox. 

Please leave any thoughts, comments, or questions below!  Thanks for reading and have a happy week!

Friday, August 16, 2013

On your marks...Get set...GO!

Did you hear about the big TpT back to school sale?  I will be offering 20% off of my WHOLE store PLUS TpT will give you an ADDITIONAL 8% off if you enter the promo code BTS13 at checkout.  That is an incredible savings!  The sale will run this Sunday and Monday (August 18-19).  Pretty exciting stuff, right?!?!  So what can you do to prep for the big sale?

  • Start filling your wishlist now!  That way, you are ready to go first thing Sunday morning.  My wishlist is currently 5 pages long.  Oh, boy!
  • Give feedback for all your past purchases.  You earn credits that you can use to save EVEN more!  I have lots of things that I still need to go back and leave feedback on.  I am planning on working on that tonight. 
  • Stock-up while the prices are low!  There are only a few sales this big each year.  You might as well take advantage of the savings!
  • Tell your friends! 28% off is AMAZING!  Good friends share news like this! 
Happy shopping! 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Poetry Journals

Each week, my class learns a new poem.  The poem is a part of our morning slideshow so we read it everyday.  On Monday, I read it to them once and then we echo read it.  On Tuesday, we echo read after me, and then choose a student to echo read after.  On Wednesday, we echo read after a student, and then choral read it.  On Thursday, we choral read it, and then they read it to their shoulder-partners.  On Friday, they read it to themselves with their whisper phones.  I choose poems that go with our current theme.  We glue the poems into journals and the kids take them home to read to their parents.  I made all of the pages for the poems so they also have activities.  For example - next week, we are learning short a.  Our poem is called A-A-Animals.  It is full of short a words.  The kids will highlight all the short a words and then we brainstorm animals that have a short a in their names.  I make a list of these on the board and then they draw one in their journal.  This is just one example of how the journals are used.  We do TONS of fun stuff with them. 

Making the journals is tedious, but in the end it is so worth it!  I print a cover with each child's name on cute printer paper.  I glue this to 9x12 construction paper.  I laminate this front cover and a blank paper for the back cover.  I cut cardstock into strips that are 3" by 8.5".  I hole-punch one side with my binding machine.   These serve as the "pages" for our book.  I bind it all together with a binding comb.  The pages will be glued to these strips.  If the cover were made with a standard 8.5x11 paper, the inside pages would stick out.  That is why I use 9x12 covers.

 Because I want these to last all year, I run a line of E6000 glue along the spine.  You DO know about E600, right?  BEST glue EVER!!!  Each week, a new poem is glued to these little strips.  This makes a really nice poetry book for the kids to keep at the end of the year.  It is like a memory book/portfolio. 

Poems are WONDERFUL for building fluency, working on rhymes and building confidence in beginning readers.  Making these journals takes me about 8 hours from start to finish, but they are a wonderful resource all year long. 

Do you use poetry journals in your classroom?  If you have any ideas, questions, or suggestions, please share them in the comments.  Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

more FLASH less CARDS!

Lots of times I find that I have just a few minutes before the end of the day or recess.  I want to keep my kids busy and engaged, but there isn't really much time.  Down time = naughty time!  When those kiddos are not engaged, that is when all the trouble starts!  I always WANT to practice some skills in these few minutes, but it seems like I spend those precious few minutes looking for what it was I wanted to do with them.  (Did you see the pictures of my room?  Organization is a goal I am working towards!) 

Another problem; I have a TON of flash cards, but they are too small for kids to see them.  I solved both my problems by making digital flash cards!  Yep!  They are pretty cool!  I keep these powerpoints pinned to my desktop so that I never lose them!  They have fun sound effects and animations so the kids stay focused and engaged!  Most of my "more FLASH less CARDS" also have different speeds.  I can choose for them to run themselves.  This is really useful if I need a minute to call the office or deal with a crying kiddo.  I have a bunch of these games in my TpT store.  Here are a few of them:

Firework Flash Dice - watch as dice "burst" into the air.  Can you say the number of dots without counting?  Also available in Firework Flash Dice Sums to 12.


 Fishy Letters and Sounds - Fish with letters "swim" across the screen.  Have your kiddos say the letter name or its sound before he swims away.  Nice quiet ocean sound in the background and three speeds to choose from.  This is one of my top go-to items in my room.  It is quiet and calming. I also really love the soft ocean sound.


The Magic 10 Trick - there are two cards but only one is face-up.  Can you guess the other?  Abra Cadabra!  The wand waves and the card magically appear making a set of 10.  Great sound effects and graphics in this one!

I have even MORE of these "more FLASH less CARDS" games in my store.   I love that they keep my kids focused, engaged, and thinking so we don't waste time.  Less down time = less naughty kids!  More engaging activities = more happy kids!  Gotta love that!