Monday, May 13, 2019

Creating & Planning Math Centers Ahead of Time

In my classroom, I only have three math rotations, and the third rotation, math centers/games, is the only one I routinely have to plan & prep ahead of time. Today I want to share with you how I plan and choose the best math centers to make that third rotation meaningful and effective!

Within each small group, my students have a partner (chosen by me). That's the partner that students complete math centers with. The math centers students complete with their partner are meant to be review - I do not have students work on brand new skills during math centers. I usually try to pull a variety of skills each week: fact fluency practice, telling time, counting coins, graphing/measurement, addition & subtraction, etc. I use 5 centers a week, so students complete one center a day.
Fact fluency practice
I like to choose centers that match the standards we've already worked on, so I use these 2nd grade stations by standard (find the first grade version here) - This allows me to pull centers that match exactly what I want my students working on or reviewing without having to worry about them being seasonal (although I do use some seasonal/themed ones still too!)
Board game center to match 2nd grade array/multiplication standard
Sometimes I'll even print & prep two versions of the same center, that way students have the same games & activities but at the level they need. I use these differentiated centers to help with that!

I really like to plan and prep my centers a month ahead of time. I can look at the month ahead and know what I'm teaching, what I want my students reviewing, and more. Click the image below if you'd like your free Math Centers Monthly Planning Sheet!
Happy planning!

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Holding Students Accountable During Math & Literacy Centers

One of my favorite ways to keep up with grading & checking work is by going paperless. Let's be honest, there's been a few times that I've taken a stack of completed worksheets or recording sheets from centers and just tossed them in the recycling bin.
I know, I know. That's terrible. But if we're being honest, it's really hard to keep up with it all! That's why I decided I'd share with you a little bit about how I maintain center accountability without having to throw away work.

The big question: How can I reduce the amount of work I have to grade/check while still holding students accountable for centers?

The solution: Take pictures!

Here are examples of some of the times I have students take pictures rather than turn in work into the turn-in bin. Note: Students took these pictures so the quality isn't great, but I do love the messages they add for me to see!
My students love math puzzles and matching activities, and it's so easy to just let them snap pictures to show what they've completed.
 Any time we do practice work in our interactive notebooks, I have students take pictures to show me. This student worked on the interactive notebook puzzle above for an entire week before he finally mastered it.
During word work, I always have word sorts available, and this is a great way to show the sort. You can also have students take pictures of any pocket chart activities they complete!

Because I'm sure some of you are wondering... YES, my students do complete worksheets/recording sheets with their center work. I manage this a few different ways. If time allows, I laminate the recording sheets for students to use with a dry erase marker and take a picture. However, when I don't have time, I just make the copies like normal and still have them take a picture.

Now you just need to have students submit their work to you. I use the free app Seesaw so my students can upload their work. I know some teachers use ClassDojo, and I'm sure there's many more options out there!

Want to share/collaborate with other teachers about holding students accountable? Join our free Facebook group, just for elementary teachers - Simply Creative Teachers!

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Effective Word Work Centers & Activities for Phonics Instruction

When setting up your word work center, there's lots of things you need to consider. In my classroom, I want my word work center activities to match the phonics skills we are working on. 
I also wanted to make sure that my students could do these activities independently! That's why I keep the activities veeeerrrryyyy similar, but I change out the skills in my word work center.

First activity: Word Sort - In this activity, students sort the cards depending on the skill. For example, they might sort by putting all of the AR words in one column and the OR words in another. 

To differentiate, I include various sorting cards. Some students will write the entire word with a dry erase marker, some will write the missing phonics skills, and some won't write anything and will only sort the cards.
Activity Two: Puzzles - My students LOVE puzzles, so I LOVE to include various puzzles with our phonics skills! Sometimes they're simple two-piece matching puzzles, and sometimes they're puzzles with multiple pieces. No matter what kind of puzzle it is, it's a super easy activity to include in my word work center because students know what they have to do!
Activity Three: Dominoes - I love letting my students match the dominoes end-to-end! It's another super engaging activity for students to practice phonics & word work skills! 
Activity Four: Task Cards - Task cards are great to include in your word work center. My favorite task cards are the ones where students use letter magnets or letter tiles to build words. It's a hands-on, simple way for students to continue practicing these skills. 
Activity Five: Paper/Pencil Practice - While you've probably noticed that the first four activities were worksheet-free, the final activity I'm including is worksheets. While I don't always love paper pencil activities, I do believe students need some practice with it!
If you're in need of word work centers that match the phonics skills you're working on, you can find them below!

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Simple, No Prep Sight Word Game for Word Work

Looking for a new way to practice sight words? Today I'm sharing with you a one of my favorite sight word games that my students LOVE! Bonus: It's a NO PREP, easy to implement game!
This game is called Guess My Sight Word and works best if you have a classroom word wall filled with sight words. You could also have students use a printable word wall if you don't have one hanging in your room.

I teach this game whole group first, but once students get the hang of it they can play in pairs. First, choose a sight word on the board and write 3-5 clues about the sight word. See example clues below for the sight word think. (Grab the free download here)
To start, I tell students that my sight word is any word on the word wall. They love to try to read my mind think, and they it's silly because there are so many to choose from! Students will write down a guess next to #1 on a post-it note, index card, or paper.

Then I give the 2nd clue. As students hear the next clue, they should be able to make a more accurate guess. After each clue, give students a chance to write down their next guess. After the final clue, students can make their most accurate guess.

Below is a sample list of guesses a student might make given the clues above.
This is a fun game to play during word work, and once students get the hang of it, they're able to play in partners or small groups. I also love to use this game when I need random 3-5 minutes time filler!

You can play this game with post-its, index cards, or scraps of paper. However, if you want the free printables for your word work center, just leave click here! Share ideas & get other sight word center ideas in the free Facebook group: Simply Creative Teachers!

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Top 5 Favorite Chapter Book Read Alouds for First & Second Grade

What's the one time you look forward to every single day when you come to school? For my class, it's our read aloud time. Right when we come inside from recess and are trying to calm down, we settle at the carpet for our chapter book read aloud.

It is seriously the BEST time of our day. Every day when we inevitably have to end our read aloud time, my kiddos all say, "Touch your nose if you want Mrs. Fretwell to read one more chapter!!!" They never want our time to end!
I thought it would be best to share our TOP 5 FAVORITE read alouds for the year. You can find the links to all of them (and a few more) in my Amazon shop.

Heads Up: My post contains Amazon affiliate links, so if you buy something through it, you won't pay a penny more, but I'll get a small commission to help keep Simply Creative Teaching up and running!

5. My Dog, My Hero by Betsy Byars
I really love to read this book at the beginning of the year. In this book, eight dogs are chosen to compete for the Hero medal. In each chapter, the owner nominating the dog tells the story of how that dog is a hero. The chapters and stories for each dog are short, but the stories are engaging, detailed, and kids are absolutely captivated! By the end of the book, everyone is debating which dog they think will win the Hero medal. It's the perfect book to read at the beginning of the year to hook your students into daily read aloud time. I promise they'll love it!

This is another favorite book that I usually read at the beginning of the year. These stories are silly, weird, and your kids will LOVE hearing all of the craziness that happens at Wayside School!

3. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
This is my personal FAVORITE. I cannot go a year without reading this book to my kiddos. This book tells the story of a brave mouse named Desepereaux who is banished to a dungeon, but he is also in love with a princess named Pea. Kate DiCamillo often speaks to the readers in this book and asks questions of those reading by saying things like, "Reader, do you believe ____?" Your kids will LOVE it. Cross my heart. 

Yes, it's another animal story, but I promise The World According to Humphrey is another wonderful book your class will love! Humphrey, a hamster, is a class pet. Each weekend he goes home with students and has amazing adventures. But, there's one problem... Everyone loves Humphrey, except the dreaded teacher, Mrs. Brisbane, seems to be out to get him! 

1. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
Edward Tulane is by far my number one favorite every single year. Edward is a rabbit who belonged to a little girl named Abilene who loved him very much. However, one day he gets lost and his miraculous journey begins. It's an incredibly well-written, engaging story, and my students are always eager to hear what's happening next on Edward's journey and who he'll meet.

Hopefully you found a title or two that you want to read to your class! Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Creating Effective Individual Student Behavior Charts

Finding yourself with a student who might need a little extra help when it comes to managing behavior? I feel you! That's why I wanted to quickly show you my favorite little behavior charts that you might find helpful with one (or a few!) of your students!

These {editable} behavior charts are designed 2 per page, and you can add your daily schedule to them. As students go throughout the day, they will color in the emoji that aligns with their behavior. You can choose between 2 emojis (happy/sad) or 3 emojis (happy, straight, sad).
For one of my students, I used these Crayola Color Switchers (affiliate link), which are basically just magic markers. You can use them to hide smiley faces, and I let my student color in boxes in a little grid when he earned a certain number of smiley faces for the day. When he found a hidden 5 smiley faces, he earned a reward.

Recently I decided it'd be fun to add seasonal/monthly behavior charts. They are basically the same, except they have seasonal emojis for each month. For example, February has heart face emojis, October has pumpkin faces, etc.
Hope these little charts help some of your students! :)

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Organizing Math & Reading Rotations for Small Group Instruction

After seven years of teaching, I finally found the best way to organize my small group rotations. I'm going to share with you how I organize my rotations. Keep in mind this is what worked for my students and my classroom - you might adapt or change these ideas as you see fit! You can ask/share how other teachers organize rotations in our free Facebook group: Simply Creative Teachers!

First: Rotation Charts
I've tried multiple ways of making sure my students knew where they were supposed to go during rotations, but I always encountered a problem... Poster/Chart on the wall = not enough wall space; Rotation chart displayed on my interactive whiteboard/screen = technology is never on my side and won't work OR I have a sub and he/she can't log in so students don't know where to go... SO. MANY. PROBLEMS.

Soooooo... I finally decided that EVERYONE gets a chart! For math, I had 3 small groups and named them different fruits. For reading, I had 5-6 small groups and named them different animals. Every group had their own chart (see picture below), and every student kept their chart in a sheet protector. (I also kept master rotation charts in my guided math & guided reading binders for my reference).
Next: How many rotations do students have?
In math, I had my students in 3 rotations a day.

  • Teacher Table: students work at the carpet with me
  • Independent Work: students go to this station AFTER teacher table & complete a few practice activities that we learned about during teacher table (also a good time to get in district mandated math curriculum work)
  • Games & Centers: students complete differentiated math centers that include card games, board games, puzzles, fact practice, and more.

I differentiate my independent work each day by putting appropriate work in the folders for each group. When students go to independent work, they pull their work out of the correct folder.  
Here's a sample math rotation chart:
In reading, my students go to 3 rotations a day; however, they will only go to teacher table a few times a week (so they'll have 5-6 total rotations). I always have my lowest group meet with me every day (ex: they start their reading rotation at teacher table everyday). My highest reading group meets with me 2x a week (ex: they meet with me on a Tues/Thurs rotation). My on level groups meet with me 3x a week (ex: they meet with me on Mon/Wed/Fri).

Here's a sample reading rotation chart:
Last: How long do students spend in each rotation?
For math, I begin with a 10-12 minute whole group lesson. This includes a number talk and a short mini-lesson so I can be sure that EVERY student is getting grade level instruction. Then, we start rotations and students spend about 20 minutes in each rotation.

For reading, I usually have a read aloud (10ish minutes) and mini-lesson (5-6ish minutes) before starting rotations. Student spend about 15-20 minutes in each rotation. I do not include read to self time as a rotation; we ALL do read to self at the same time together later in the day so that I can conduct one-on-one reading conferences.

I hope you've found some of these ideas for organizing your rotations helpful. You can create your own rotation charts here!