Monday, October 18, 2021

5 Routines to Keep You Organized This School Year

An organized, clean classroom truly makes my heart happy! A clutter-free space relieves stress and makes my second-home a joyful place to be!  Here are 5 ways that I keep my classroom organized even during a chaotic school year.

1. Set aside a big chunk of time at the beginning to get your systems in place!

 As teachers, one thing we don't have a lot of is extra time. Sometimes it seems easier to just live with the clutter than take time to organize. But, investing time in developing organizational systems that work for you will save so much time in the long run! So grab a venti iced coffee and enjoy some quality alone time organizing!

 Everyone’s system will be different. You don’t need to go out and buy tons of new storage containers. Instead, gather what you already have and make a plan. If something isn’t working, don’t be afraid to change it! My first year teaching I made so many teaching binders for every subject and unit. Then I realized it was so much work to get out what I needed quickly, and put papers back after copying. I would have papers pile up on my table because I didn’t feel like putting them away (see tip 2). I ditched the binders and went to file folders the next year. While it was a pain to make a switch, I saved so much time in the long run!

If you are interested in reading about the organizational systems that have worked well for me, let me know in the comments and I will write a part 2!

2. Make sure things are easy to put away.

Have you seen the viral tiktok videos that tell you "Don't put it down! Put it away!"?This now plays in my head all day long. As teachers, we use so much stuff on a daily basis. It's easy to let everything pile up until you have a huge, overwhelming mess!

For me, the trick is having a place for every paper, center game, book, and math manipulative. Every single item that I use in my classroom needs to have a home. And these homes need to be as convenient as possible when it comes to putting things away. Because at the end of any exhausting school day, no teacher wants to run all over the classroom cleaning up materials! By making my storage systems as convenient as possible, I am able to clean as I go and avoid clutter piling up throughout the day.

3. Give students ownership of the space


An organized classroom also helps to create a positive classroom environment for students. I want my students to feel a sense of ownership in our classroom. When students know where learning materials are located and have access to them when needed, they feel empowered. If a student is working at a math center and needs a number line to solve a problem, my students know exactly which drawer number lines can be found. They also know that the number line should be put back as soon as they are finished with it! My last guided reading group of the day knows that it is their job to clean up the materials at the table. Students can also volunteer to be designated Classroom Organizers. After packing up at the end of the day, these students spend time looking for things out of place and returning them to their homes. When students know where things go and are able to put things away themselves, it will save so much time and energy for the teacher!



 4. Closing duties

Even after following tips 1, 2, and 3, there always seems to be some clutter at the end of a school day. This is where closing duties come in (this idea is also from TikTok- I might spend too much time there) This is my favorite tip! Every day after dismissal, set a timer for 10 minutes and play a favorite playlist filled with whatever makes you happy and energized. For me this includes a lot of Olivia Rodrigo and Taylor Swift. Use this time to put things away and make sure things are organized for the next day. It is amazing how much more I get done with a timer going. I love leaving school knowing that I will walk into a clean space the next morning!

Find Monthly Bin Labels here!

5. The Friday Reset

One of my favorite routines is a Friday Reset. I spend a little extra time after school doing some deep organizing for the next week. I make all my copies, switch out my seasonal books, sharpen dull pencils, restock my small group materials, and anything else that will help me to feel refreshed and ready to go for the next week. This helps me to truly be able to rest over the weekend!

You can find more organization products here!

What are your favorite routines and tips for staying organized? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Simplify and Streamline your Math Centers!

During my second year of teaching, I made the jump to guided math and it was hands-down the best instructional decision I’ve made! It allows me to support my learners at all levels and really get to know them as mathematicians. By working with all students in a small group every single day, I got a much clearer picture of what students were able to do and where they needed to grow! Read more about how I structure my guided math time in this blog post!

But you know what I didn’t love about guided math? Math centers. I loved the concept of students practicing and reviewing previously taught skills. I loved that they are able to practice these skills in fun, hands-on ways. But, every week I seemed to run into the same issues. It was taking me too long to introduce math centers and give directions to students. Introducing 5 new games and centers each week was a huge waste of instructional time! And even after taking this huge chunk of time to introduce the centers, I still had students interrupting my teacher table because they forgot how to play one of the math games. It was also taking me way to long each week to plan out my math centers. I wanted to simplify the process of changing out my centers!

Overtime, I realized that the key to engaging and productive math centers (like most other things in a primary classroom) is streamlined, structured routines! Instead of 5 new games each week, I found and created centers that students could visit every single week with minimal time spent giving directions. I simply taught procedures at the beginning of the year and we practiced the routine!

Here are five of my favorite weekly math centers.

1.     1. Solve the Room- this is a favorite in my classroom! Each week students visit our Solve the Room center. They grab a clipboard and a recording sheet and walk around the room searching for task cards. They solve the problems on the cards and write their answers on their recording sheet. Students know the procedures for this center so all I have to do is change out the cards each week!

(TIP: one of my classroom jobs is math station helper. I have two students who are responsible for taking old cards down each week and taping up new cards! They usually complete this job on Friday afternoons after packing up!)

To save time on grading Solve the Room recording sheets, I set up a grading station in my classroom. I leave the answer key and some special ink joy pens for students to grade their own work. Students learned that they should only visit the grading station if their recording sheet is complete. When checking their work, they should circle any incorrect answers. They can then go back and find the task card that they did incorrectly and try it again!

2.    2.Solve and Cover- this is another fun center where students practice and review different skills each week, but the structure and procedures for the game stays the same! Students can play this game with a partner, small group, or independently. This is a self-checking game as well, which helps students to be independent.

For this game, students need a box of task cards, a Solve and Cover mat, and some sort of manipulative. Students take turns choosing a card and solving the problem on their mats. When all students are ready, they turn the card over and check the answer on the back. If they were correct, they add a manipulative to one of the spaces on their mat. The first student to cover all the spaces is the winner! Students know that if they still have extra time, they can play again. I like to switch out my Solve and Cover Mats and manipulatives every few weeks to keep students engaged! Grab this game here! 

3.     3. Fact Fluency Center- Students visit this center to practice and grow fact fluency with addition and subtraction facts. Materials include flash cards, sand timers, and dry erase fact sheets. Students love to time themselves and their partners as they race to complete the fact sheets. Sometimes I’ll also switch out materials and add simple fact fluency games like POP!, Splat, or Shut the Box.

4.     4. Independent Work Station- I like to give students the opportunity to review important math skills independently. I always make sure these skills are review so that students are able to complete the work on their own. This is also an easy station to differentiate. I like to keep work in different color folders. Students know that they should grab work from the folder that matches their group color. 
OjColor by Code is one of my favorites for independent work or a fast finisher activity. Here are some differentiated Color by Codes I love!

5.     5. Differentiated 120 Chart Station- This is a favorite for my students! Check out this amazing resource from The Brown BagTeacher!

These are my five go-to stations that I use throughout the year. I, of course, like to throw in some fun, seasonal centers occasionally as well to keep students engaged and excited for guided math time! However, these are tried and true activities that I can use over and over. Students are reviewing and practicing the skills they need and they are able to be independent!

What are your favorite weekly math centers? What questions do you still have about our guided math time? Let me know in the comments!  

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Celebrate the 100th Day of School!

The 100th Day of School is one of my favorite days of the year in my first grade classroom! Like many primary classrooms, we count each day of school with straws and money during our calendar time. So when we get close to the 100th Day, anticipation builds for students! 100 days feels like quite a long time for first graders and definitely needs to be celebrated!

One of our favorite traditions on the 100th Day is dressing how we think we'll look when we are 100! There is grey hair, canes, walkers, and wrinkles galore! We usually start the day with writing about what we want our life to be like when we are 100!

We spend the majority of the rest of the school day working in centers and completing 100th Day challenges. I got inspiration from Catherine (The Brown Bag Teacher) and Cara (The First Grade Parade) for a centers sticker chart! I put students in teams of 2 or 3. As they complete each center challenge, they receive a sticker to add to their chart! Students went crazy over these stickers, and I love that they could take the sticker charts home and use them to share with their families about all the activities they did that day!

Students worked at each station for about 15 minutes and then would rotate to their next challenge! I used center signs as a visual reminder for students to easily find the next area of the classroom to head to for their next center. This kept transitions quick and calm and kept the day running smoothly!

For my stations, I rounded up some of my favorite activities that I've seen. In my 100th Day resource, I included editable versions of the center signs and sticker chart so that you can use your own favorite 100th Day activities! 

Station 1 Read 100 Books
I absolutely adore this idea from Catherine! I made an anchor chart, and at the beginning of the day we discussed how we could use teamwork to complete this challenge! We figured out that if each member of our class reads 5 books, we would get to 100. I left the chart up and set markers out, and as students finished a book (or 1 chapter of a chapter book) they could add the title to our chart. When students visited this center, they got cozy with pillows and stuffed animals to read, read, read!

Station 2 100 Cup Structure 

This classic 100th Day activity is always a favorite for my firsties! I simply set out a basket of 100 plastic cups and let students build! I love all the creative and different ideas they come up with for their structures!

Station 3 Hershey Kiss 100s Chart
I first saw this idea from Cara and was so excited to try it out with my kiddos! I labeled the bottom of hershey kisses with a dot sticker and wrote numbers from 1-100. (Confession- I may have used the same hershey kisses the past 2 years so I don't have to label new ones!!) Students work with their partner to pick a kiss from a basket and place it in the correct spot of the 100 chart. I made this activity a little more challenging for my first grade friends by giving them a blank 100 chart to use. They loved challenging their brains and I loved that they were building their number sense!

Station 4 100 Pattern Block Creation
Students begin by counting out 100 pattern blocks from a basket. I give them the suggestion to make 10 piles of 10 to help keep track! After counting out the blocks, they are free to build and create!

Station 5 100 Chart Puzzles
To create 100 Chart puzzles, take a 100 chart and cut into pieces. I print my 100s charts on different colors to keep them from getting mixed up. I cut some charts into bigger pieces and some charts into smaller pieces for different levels of challenge. I love using rainbow order for everything in my classroom, so students know that red is the easiest level and the puzzles get more challenging as they move through the colors of the rainbow. They love trying to get all the puzzles completed before time is up! Template for making puzzles is included in my 100th Day resource.

Station 6 100 Coin Flips
Students first make a prediction of which will win- heads or tails. Then, they flip a coin 100 times and record their data! In my 100th Day resource I included 2 versions of this activity. In one version, students record their data with tally marks. In the second version they color in a chart! After completing flipping their coin 100 times, they count their totals for heads and tails and write an equation the equals 100!

Station 7 Write 100 Words
Students grab a recording sheet and a clipboard and walk around the room searching for any words to write! Students can also write words they know- names, sight words, etc!

Station 8- Roll and Race to 100
This is a classic math station game that my students already know well! They get a 100 chart, roll two dice, and move their game piece that number of spaces! The first to get to 100 is the winner!

Station 9 100 Marshmallows and Toothpicks 
Students get a basket that contains 100 marshmallows and toothpicks. Their job is to build a structure using these materials. I also give them rulers to measure their creation when it is complete!

I hope you found some ideas that you can use to celebrate in your classroom! Happy 100th Day!

Check out my 100th Day Resources here! 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Words Their Way in the Primary Classroom

Changing your approach to word study in the classroom to support ALL of your students!

This year we began using Words their Way and said goodbye to traditional spelling lists and weekly spelling tests. While this was an adjustment, the results have been amazing! Students at all levels feel challenged and successful!

Words their Way can seem OVERWHELMING at first! But with the right plan of attack, teaching word study can become a joyful part of the school day for you and your students.

Organization, systems, and routines are critical to Words their Way success! While I am still making changes and continuously learning as I go, I am going to share what has worked for my classroom!

First, determine a developmental spelling level for all of your students. This is what ensures students are receiving instruction where they need it! To find this level you will give the Primary Spelling Inventory (or one of the other inventories depending on your grade level) and score it using the WTW scoring sheets. We plan to give the PSI 3x a year to show student growth.

Once I found levels for all of my students, I put them into word study groups. To keep this manageable (and avoid pulling my hair out) I kept this to 3 groups. Students within each group are at a similar developmental spelling level.


Important Note!! Before diving in to differentiated word study instruction, we spent 4 weeks learning and practicing routines together as a whole group. Every student had the SAME word sort and learned each type of word sort activity together. Once we modeled, practiced, and practiced some more we were ready to begin working in our word sort groups! Taking this time at the beginning of the year saves so much time in the long run!

 In first grade, keeping routines predictable is KEY. We follow the same schedule every week. Students love knowing exactly what to expect each day, and we don’t waste valuable instructional time explaining directions. I display our daily Word Study slide as a visual reminder for students. Here is the schedule that has worked for me!

Friday: When students come in on Friday morning, their job after unpacking is to glue their word sort from the previous week in their Word Study Journal. After gluing, if they have time, they can choose 5 words to write in sentences to earn a smelly star using their choice of Mr. Sketch marker! (It’s a pretty big deal J)

Friday Rotations: On Fridays we dedicate more time to word study than any other day. During rotations, students will visit 3 different centers with their groups.
1. Meet with the teacher: students will gather on the rug in a circle and I will introduce their new word sort. I love introducing a new sort with a Mystery Sort (see my cheat sheet for more info!) It's a great way to get kiddos thinking critically and collaborating with one another! After sorting, we discuss the headers and reflect on what we learn about words from the sort. We also talk about any unknown words and discuss their meaning. Sometimes we'll brainstorm more words that could fit within the headings. 
2. Cut out new sort: Students will grab their new word sort for the week from their group’s folder (color coded of course!) At their seats, they will cut out the new sort and write their initials on the back to avoid lost pieces. They will then practice sorting independently.
3. Technology Center: At our school we use IXL and Moby Max. You can make this work for what you have available. If technology isn’t an option, independent reading or some other word study activity works too!
We complete 3 rounds of rotations so each group has the chance to visit each center!

Monday-Wednesday have a similar routine. After the whole group part of our Word Study time, students will meet with their word study partner. I assigned partners so that each partner pair is in the same word study group and are therefore working with the same sort each week. Students will begin by sitting back-to-back with their partner and sorting independently. After sorting, they sit next to each other and take turns reading each word in their sort. After completing this, partners will work on an activity together.
Monday- speed sort or memory
Tuesday- Blind Sort
Wednesday- Writing Sort
(See cheat sheet for descriptions)
I display these Daily Slides on my Smart Board to review expectations and keep students on track!

Thursday is brain check day! I pull one group at a time to progress monitor. I pull one group at a time a give students 6 words to spell. These 6 words follow the patterns from their word sort. Some of the words could be words that are in their word sort, while others might not be. It is essential to make sure students are learning the pattern and can apply it to other words. It is not about memorization!
Check out my brain check forms here! 
While I am progress monitoring each group, the rest of my kiddos are working independently on a text hunt. Using books from their book baskets, students look for words that follow the pattern of their word sort. They keep their word collection in their word study journal.

Storage: I love using these Pencil Pouches from Amazon! I have found that they hold up a lot better than Ziplocs and don’t get lost as often! I just wrote student numbers in sharpie so I can use them year after year!

Leave any questions you still have and I’ll follow up in another post!

Happy Teaching Friends!