Friday, August 31, 2012

Back to School Books

In the book This School Year Will Be the Best is about students on the first day of school being asked to share what they would most like to have happen during the school year. The responses range from having a skateboard day to not wanting to be a vegetable in the school play. At the end of the story the students get to draw their day and as the story comes to a close the students think that this will be best school year yet!

A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue is a great story to read the first week of school. You can use this story as a springboard into the difference between tattling and telling in your classroom and the consequences for constant tattling. Not only does this book have a great lesson but the kids will love the story!

The Night Before First Grade is a wonderful story that is told in rhyme (as all the "Night Before" books are) and deals with the realities of being nervous on your first day of school.

Penny is very excited and nervous for her first day of first grade and is okay knowing that her best friend will be with her, until she gets to school and realizes that her best friend is in another class. As the day comes to a close Penny has had a great day in first grade and overcame her first grade jitters!

Big Bad Bruce is one big bad bully. This story is about Bruce, a bully that likes to pick on things that are smaller than he is, until the day he meets Roxy the witch. Roxy teaches Bruce a valuable lesson about being a big mean bully.

This is another great book that can lead to a class discussion on being mean or a bully and the consequences of such behavior.

Mean Jean is the recess queen and nobody is allowed to do anything until she does. This book gives wonderful examples of how not to behave on the playground, and let's face it we have all come across a "Mean Jean" at least once in our life. This story will be a great lead into talking about playground rules and consequences for "Mean Jean" types of behavior.

Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon is a delightful story about a little girls determination to prove that she can do anything she sets her mind to, despite all the teasing and put downs. This book is great for the start of school because after reading it you can talk about determination and what that means to your students when it comes to doing something a that might be too difficult for them. If Molly Lou Melon can do it, so can they!

Mind Your Manners In School is a collection of stories about all different kinds of behaviors and manners that are appropriate for school. Stories such as friendship, sharing, how to borrow and picking up your things after working. The best one is being quiet when the teacher is giving a lesson :) With this book you are sure to find a story for a behavior or situation that needs to be addressed in your room.

What's in a name? Everything - meaning, tradition, heritage, honor and sometimes shame. Your name is who you are and when this little girl is afraid to tell her Korean name, one little boy in her class finds out her name and its beautiful meaning and talks her into keeping that name and not any of the names in the name jar. This is a great story for the start of school. You can have your students find out what their name means or why their parents picked the name they did. You can talk about how you are uniquely you and your name is part of what makes you unique and special.

All little boys and girls want to have what everyone else has. This story, Those Shoes helps show that not everyone gets to have the newest "thing" and there is a big difference between "want" and "need". This book can lead to great discussions on acceptance - being friends with someone even if they don't have the newest "thing" and what it means to need something as opposed to wanting something.

Reading Makes You Feel Good, isn't that such a true statement! This is a great book to kick off the school year with just to show your students how important reading is going to be and how it can make them feel good. Showing the kids how reading can be a positive in their life rather than a burden they will (hopefully) have a good year reading and exploring their books.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How Full is Your Bucket For Kids

I shared this delightful book at our faculty meeting Monday and some of the faculty missed it.
I thought you guys might want to know what the "drops" are all about.

The PARCC Assessment | PARCC

The PARCC Assessment | PARCC

The state of Louisiana has teamed with and has representatives on the board.  They have released prototype test questions that you might find helpful as we transition into common core state standards.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Tim Shanahan on Literacy

This is a comment section quote from Tim Shanahan from his website.   The article was on guided reading versus common core.   "At kindergarten and grade 1, my advice is that you should not ramp up text difficulty on the reading end. I am a big believer in reading complex texts to kids (books that they definitely cannot read themselves), but with regard to beginning reading you want a mix of texts that expose kids to a high concentration of very high frequency words and that have a large percentage of words that can be decoded with relatively simple phonics (such as one-to-one correspondences of letters to sounds, and preferably non-conditional matches of letters to sounds). By the time students can handle high first grade level texts, then you can start to move them up in difficulty. Initially, keep your emphasis on mastering the decoding system. If you ramp up the text difficulty too early, I fear that you will slow that process down."

Text complexity is a BIG issue with common core and I think this clarifies his stand on how it effects students at the "learning to read" stage.

His website has some great information.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How Full is Your Bucket

At our interventionist meeting today Dr. G. read this book to us. 
 I love it!  I've already ordered it from Amazon.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


"It only takes one “home run” book to make a life-long reader."   Julie Bellow

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Wow! Anchor Charts

I am very impressed by this lady's collection of anchor charts! Cruise through her collection and you will certainly find something your students need.

Here is just one example of what you will find:

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Last Friday, I delivered CCSS training for a group of first grade teachers.  At break, I spoke with a delightful teacher who was very enthusiastic about Kagan methods.  She was trained 6 years ago and is a believer in the use of Kagan strategies.  So today as I give up my last day of summer to be a learner of new things to help students, I go with expectations of learning new and wonderful things. 

                                Be a lifelong learner!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Task Cards

"We use task cards all the time. Students would rather do those than a worksheet. Plus, it's great for a quick mini-assessment. I usually use them after teaching the skill for a couple of days. We play Scoot a lot; students will do them in small groups, and sometimes in groups of three they will work on the activity cards."

-5th grade teacher

Are You Using Task Cards with Your Students?

This student is playing "Scoot," a game in which students move from card to card to complete each task.
Before you distribute yet another worksheet, ask yourself: Could I accomplish the same objective with task cards? Task cards are highly motivating and effective teaching tool that can be used across the curriculum. Here are just a few reasons you should consider utilizing this valuable tool:
  • Task cards are motivating for students because there is only one task per card. Imagine that you are a fourth grader struggling with summarizing. Receiving a packet of paragraphs to summarize will likely feel overwhelming. However, if those same paragraphs are placed on task cards, the student need only deal with one paragraph at a time. He or she feels that sense of accomplishment when one is completed before moving on to the next.
  • Task cards can be made to target specific learning objectives. This is great news if your district has adopted the new Common Core Standards. If your students are weak in a specific area, you can make or purchase a set of cards that focuses on the specific skill. This also makes task cards great for test prep!
  • Task cards make differentiation easy. Struggling students can just complete a few cards or complete cards with multiple choice answers. Another option is to allow some students to answer verbally. More able students will enjoy the challenge of open-ended cards and you can also require longer answers. In addition, you can create or purchase sets for different levels.
  • Task cards are versatile. A single set of task cards can be used in a variety of ways; at individually at centers or stations, in pairs or small groups, and even with the whole class. They can be part used as part of your daily routine, as enrichment, with games, or even as homework. Further, they can be used with any age group from kindergarten to adult.
  • Task cards save paper. Copy, cut, and laminate once. Use for years. Instead of copying piles of worksheets, you need only copy a single answer sheet for each student, or better yet, students can answer on notebook paper or individual white boards.
Putting Task Cards into prize globes or plastic eggs is a fun way to draw a random card!

Ways to Use Task Cards

One of the great things about task cards is that they can be used in so many different ways. You can make them a regular part of your day for all students, use them as extra practice for students who are struggling with a specific concept, or use them for enrichment for fast finishers. Here are some ideas.

Individual Use
If you are having one student at a time use a set of cards, you will need a method to keep track of who has completed each set of cards. You could have students keep track of the cards they have completed on individual recording sheets, in your grade book, or on a bulletin board or star chart. You may also want to provide an answer key so that students can check their own work. Here are some ideas for individual task card use:
  • At a center: You can make a center devoted specifically to a certain type of task card, or you can make task cards a part of a math or literacy center. Students could work on the cards during designated center times or when they have extra time.
  • At a station: Some teachers set up literacy or math stations that students rotate through. Task cards could be one or more stations in your rotation.
  • At seats: Students could take task cards to their seats to complete.
  • As homework: Do you have a student that is really struggling with a particular concept? Try sending home a set of task cards that targets that specific skill. Not only does this give the student some extra time to focus on a challenging skill, it also takes away the possible embarrassment the student might feel if he or she had to work on a remedial skill within sight of peers. On the other end of the scale, if you have parents begging for more homework for their gifted child, how about sending home some open-ended cards as enrichment?
  • As Assessment: Task cards don't feel like a test, but there is no reason you can't use them in place of one. Use a whole set or just a few to see if a student really "gets it."

In Pairs or Small Groups

Some task cards lend themselves to partner work or small groups. Here are some ideas:
  • In pairs, students can take turns reading cards to each other and answering. The reader can use the answer key to check his or her partner's answer.
  • In small groups, a leader reads the card and the rest of the group writes their answers on individual white boards, which they keep hidden until the leader says, "Answers Up!" The leader can rotate or stay the same for the whole time.
  • Since the cards do not have to be answered in order, several students could work on the same set at a center, sharing the cards between them.
  • Task cards also work well with games. You can get three free game boards here or use task cards with traditional game boards. Simply require each player to draw and answer a card before taking his or her turn. Using this rule, task cards could be used with Checkers, Jenga, Connect-4, Battleship, Trouble, Don't Break the Ice, and Pick-Up Sticks, just to name a few.
With the Whole Class
Teachers who choose not to use centers can use task cards with the whole class. Here are some ideas:
  • As bell work. Display an open-ended card (such as a journal prompt) on the overhead for students to work on as soon as they walk in.
  • Display a card with your document camera. Students respond on individual white boards or if you are using multiple choice cards, using sign-language for the correct letters. This allows you to easily scan to make sure everyone is responding correctly. Also, kids love using those white boards!
  • Use to play the game Scoot. You can get more details on how to play Scoot here along with a free set of "Mini-Break" cards that you can intersperse with any task card set when you have more students than cards. To play Scoot, distribute a card and a numbered answer sheet to each student. Students place the cards face up on their desks. To start, each student stands behind his or her own desk and answers the question on the card in the appropriate spot on the answer sheet. After a few minutes, the teacher says, "Scoot," at which time each child moves to the next desk and answers the next question. Continue moving until everyone has completed all of the cards. You may need to practice moving through the traffic pattern before playing the game and clipboards for answer sheets are also a nice addition. Another option is to post task cards on the wall in the hall as pictured at the top of this page.
  • Have students draw cards randomly. This would work well for longer answer cards or open-ended cards, such as journal prompts. It could also work well for cards that have good discussion prompts. You could put the cards in prize globes as pictured above. Plastic eggs would also work well. Another option is to roll them up like scrolls or fold them into fours.
  • Integrate task cards into a PowerPoint game such as Jeopardy or Who Wants to be a Millionaire.
Four types of Task Cards

Types of Task Cards

Task cards come in many flavors and it is important to make sure that you use the set that is right for your grade level, objective, and activity. Of course, there are task cards for different grade levels and subjects, but task cards also vary in format. One thing to consider is the type of answer the card requires. Different answer types lend themselves to different kinds of activities.

Multiple Choice
Multiple choice task cards are probably the easiest to manage. Students can complete them relatively quickly and because the format is similar to many types of standardized tests, they make ideal test prep. Answering is quick and easy since the student needs only to write a letter. If an answer key is available, students can easily self-check. Multiple choice cards are also ideal for using with the whole class, either in a game like Scoot, or by displaying the card with the document camera and having students answer on individual white boards or even with sign-language letters.

Short Answer
The main advantage of short answer task cards is that they are more challenging than multiple choice. One way to differentiate is to have two sets of cards with similar challenges, but have one be short answer for more advanced students. Short answer cards generally take longer to complete since the student must write more than just a letter. Again, if an answer key is provided, students can self-check.

Open-EndedOpen-Ended task cards do not have just one correct answer. There may be a range of acceptable answers or it could be totally open-ended with each student's answer being unique. This type of card allows for more creativity and is often a favorite of students. Writing prompts are an example of open-ended task cards.

Activity Cards
Activity cards don't usually pose a question. Instead, they require the student to complete a task. These cards are not likely to be completed in one sitting. A single card could take several hours to complete. This type of card is ideal for individual use. These Reading Response Activity Cards are and example of this kind of card.
These Inference Task Cards have been printed, cut, and laminated.

Other Considerations


In most cases, you will be printing, cutting, and laminating the task cards yourself. Whether you purchase task cards online or create them yourself, you will want to consider the time and materials that go into making the cards as well as how you intend to use them.
  • The size of the cards: Larger cards are great for younger students and they are easier to keep track of, but smaller cards save paper.
  • How color is used: Some Task Cards have colorful backgrounds. That can make for an appealing set of cards, but can also use up a lot of your printer ink.
  • Overall quality: I have seen task cards that are not aligned properly, task cards with text that runs into the graphics, and even cards with numerous errors. You also want to make sure that any cards you are using with your students are well-laid out and appealing.
  • If you are using a lot of task cards, you may want to invest in your own laminator. You can get a good one for about $30.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Jan Brett's Website

Check out for some great retelling props.  The following is just one example of what you'll find.

The Umbrella Animals

You can print these masks and use them for a play.

This is a great project to use with my book The Umbrella

Thanks to excellent illustrator, Miron Kiriliv, for these great masks. The files are quite large and download slowly,
but I hope that you'll be pleased by the quality.
Click on each animal to display the full sized mask artwork.


Umbrella Masks Froggy
Click here for PDF

"Hola", Froggy croaks happily.
"I have this puddle all to myself."
Umbrella Masks Toucan
Click here for PDF
"¡Vete!" he peeps.
"Go away!"
Umbrella Masks Kinkajou
Click here for PDF
Something is sliding down the tree.
Kinkajou tumbles in.
Umbrella Masks Tapir
Click here for PDF
Thump! Crash! Thump!
Baby Tapir blunders into the green umbrella.
Umbrella Masks Quetzal
Click here for PDF
Swish! Swish!
A most beautiful bird sails
down onto the umbrella handle.
Umbrella Masks Monkey
Click here for PDF
Suddenly, frisky
Monkey jumps down.
Umbrella Masks Jaguar
Click here for PDF
Jaguar is cleaning his silky
black spots when he hears all
the squabbling and looks up.
Umbrella Masks Hummingbird
Click here for PDF
Hummingbird flashes by,
smaller than small. He
sees the big green umbrella
handle sticking up.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Cafeteria Expectations

I told my administrative team about this activity yesterday .  I wanted them to have this link.   Ms. Lively will surely appreciate any help we can give her!
The first few days weeks of school, I go over every single routine I can think of and explicitly teach students the expectationsregarding those routines. Never take anything for granted!! Trust me--if you just assume that five-year olds know how to sit at a cafeteria table with 20 or so of their new friends and quietly eat their lunches--you're going to end up with 20 or so kids running around the cafeteria with chicken nuggets in their pockets and peanut butter in their hair!

On the very first morning of school, well before their their little bellies start rumbling, I take the kids down to the empty cafeteria (this is actually a school-wide expectation.) We go over everything--step by step. We line up, we go through the cafeteria line, we get our invisible milk, we get our invisible trays, we make our invisible side choices, we scan our lunch cards--all the while, I'm talking about what their bodies should look like and their voices should sound like.
We go to our table and I show them exactly how to sit. And then I show them what not to do--stand on the benches, crawl under the table, run around, scream, yell--they love that part.
Then I show them exactly how to clean up. We go through the whole routine with our invisible lunches. And then we line up to leave.
I try my best to think of every possibility and cover it all (although they always manage to think of something else. I mean, who knew that some kids think it's funny to stick pretzel sticks up their noses?)
It takes a big chunk of time, but it's well worth it. Depending on the class, I sometimes do this 2 or 3 times that first week. And I always do it again mid-year as a refresher.
After we return to the room, we make a T-chart of good choices and bad choices. I let the kids act these out (they always want to act out the bad ones!) From this list, we make a final list of expectations.
The next day, I print these out. We review them again and then we make fun little paper lunchboxes and glue them inside (good coloring, cutting and gluing practice). I let the kids take them home and ask the parents to go over these expectations with their children for a little added reinforcement.
Here is a blackline master for lunchboxes. I've included a MS Word document as well in case you would like to use your own class/school cafeteria expectations.
I always read the book Lunch by Denise Fleming to introduce this activity. The kids love to guess what food the mouse will eat next.

But I also found these on Amazon:
Manners in the Lunchroom (Way to Be!)
Manners in the Lunchroom by Amanda Doering Tourville
I just ordered this one. I have Manners at School already and really like it, so I'm hoping this one is good as well.

Mealtimeby Elizabeth Verdick
I love all of these Free Spirit Publishing books. Even though they're for toddlers, I find they are good jumping off points for kindergarten discussions.
Please Pass the Manners!: Mealtime Tips for Everyone
Please Pass the Manners by Lola Schaefer

May your year be filled with many, many, completely boring, uneventful lunch periods!

Retelling Literacy Center

Check out this post over at


never ending story

I keep my promises. Something that I know is important: live a life of integrity and accountability. So as promised, I would share more about my literacy centers.

This center is the one I enjoy "spying" on while I'm reading with my guided reading groups the most. I strain from halfway across the room to hear the book language my kinders are using and to listen to the biggest billy goat gruff say, "Well come along! I've got two hard horns and four hard hooves. See what you can do!"
Fondly known to my kinders as the retell center, this center is all about developing a love of books by playing out the parts, recalling text, and every part of a story. Know those Common Core standards that are all about the parts of a story?
  • K.RL.1 - With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
  • K.RL.2 - With prompting and support, retell familiar stories, including key details.
  • K.RL.3 - With prompting and support, identify characters, setting and major events in a story.
Well, this center is fondly known to me as the center where books come alive, I see my students recreating the book's setting, becoming the characters (oh, and they won't leave out a one!) and living out the major events and key details. With a few props and a lot of imagination, this center is always a favorite!

How do kinders know these books so well that they can retell them independently? I understand that to avoid frustration with kinders is that they must know what to do and be very familiar with it before they can and will do it independently. Its not boring to them, they love it when its familiar and they know how to do it on their own. (Its the same reason they can watch the same movie over and over and over.) We read the book until they are familiar with it and can almost repeat it word for word. The first time is always just for read aloud pleasure, then the work begins dissecting the book.

This center has a poster which dictates what their activity options are is simple (they get one option) but choice comes into play with what book they choose. I often see lots of cooperative learning and social skill building going on here too (bonus!) because they'd rather retell with more kinders than less to share the parts.

So what materials does it take?
Anything you can find! I've made lots of my "props," but many of them came from scanning pictures in a book, finding freebies in the FREE box at garage sales, and the Dollar Tree. Any left over beanie babies? Be sure to have a copy of the book that is just for this center. It will get lots of love and need replacing in a few years, but the price in value is golden.

scanned pictures
homemade & printables
dollar tree leaves
dollar tree princess toys, rat loofah
dollar tree bugs, dress up wings, puppet
printable, finger puppets
dollar tree grapes, play food,
homemade pb jar
homemade, rocks
printables, puppet
printables, homemade
printable, beanie babies, homemade poster
printables, beanie babies, troll doll
scanned pictures
scanned pictures, beanie baby
printable, gift finger puppets

Having shown you those, know that we will read the story aloud at least 4 times before ever releasing it into this center. We retell it as a class on the last reading. I change out the books as we learn more and then throw in some favorite older ones to keep it fresh for my kinders.

It make me laugh at the end of the year when I put in one or two of the first books we ever did and they're like, "I don't really remember the words to this one." All it takes is a mention of, "Have you tried reading the words to see if you can do it on your own?" and they beam because by this point they aren't just "remembering" the words like they were at the beginning of the year - they are reading! And we all know that kinders reading parts and pieces of a read aloud book is huge!

Keeping it all organized with kinders means a bucket they can put all of the pieces into and for me, a velcro label on the front to switch out the materials as needed.

A couple of blankets to create a floor mat, stage or cozy retelling space. With your finds and a little imagination you too can have a never ending story and enjoy "spying" on your kinders as they are learning in their own retelling imagination bubble.

Share your retelling props finds and printables available on the web here:
*Note (doesn't have to be your blog's post, just a url you found on the internet) So readers, join in!

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