Sunday, September 29, 2013

September 30, 2013 Classroom Newsletter

We had more students choose to read-aloud to their friends during our snack/read-aloud blocks last week.  We added a new routine to this activity that allows us to incorporate and work on the development of comprehension and collaboration skills.  The reader now has to pose a question to his/her classmates about details from the book when (s)he finishes reading.  We also added another task:  the listeners are encouraged to ask questions in order to gather additional information or clarify something that is not understood. 
I'm finding that active listening is a skill for which this group of first graders needs a lot of practice.  In second grade, the students are expected to paraphase and summarize information presented orally, so I have a lot of work to do to help these children make progress (smile.)




Sunday, September 22, 2013

Class Books

Class books are a wonderful way to encourage enthusiasm for reading and writing in school. Not that first graders lack enthusiasm; they come to us bubbling over with enthusiasm and excitement! Sometimes they need a little encouragement to spend time on activities that are meaningful to their reading development, however...
What I like most about class books is the opportunity for differentiation. The children write at their individual ability levels. The range of developmental levels of my first graders is significant, pretty typical for a first grade classroom.  More capable writers spend time writing sentences, while those students who need support with letter identification and formation or sound-letter correspondence, receive the support they need.  Class book writing is a great activity that allows students to be successful at their ability levels. 
Class books are also a terrific resource in our classroom library and great for daily centers. Many children choose to read the books during self-selected reading and the read to others centers. The students re-read the books all year long - literally.
Most first graders love the opportunity for creative expression. Illustrating class book pages provides time to be creative. Class book writing also allows children to become authors and illustrators, and provides them with a great sense of accomplishment and pride.

At the beginning of the school year, I typically use a lot of sentence frames and the children add words to complete a sentence. I provide room on the page for the more capable writers to add sentence(s) or they use the back side of the page. Spacing and the ability to write on lines is challenging for most first graders, and this activity provides the repeated practice they need. I try to use as many sight words as possible in the sentence frames at the beginning of the year because it’s great sight word reading practice.

At the end of the school year, our wonderful office staff takes each book apart and individual student pages are bound together for unique keepsake booklets. Many families have expressed appreciation for the collection of writing samples.


The first week of school, the children created a math book based on Ten Black Dots by Donald Crews.  The objective was to use colored dots to create and write about individual designs.  
 The students listened to multiple readings of the fabulous book, The Incredible Book Eating Boy and then, created a flap book about their favorite books. 

Student working on his page for the lift the flap "Favorite Books" class book.

 After we interviewed all the children in our class for the Four Blocks© Special Child of the Day activity, I typed the interview response writings and the children added pictures to their pages.  

 Book Cover

 Student Page
I typed the student writings and the children added a picture in this frame for the Special Child of the Day class book.

Student choosing to read a class book during the read-to-self center.

September 23, 2013 Classroom Newsletter



She’s a trendsetter!  This beautiful friend arrived to school one morning and asked if she could read to the class.  How could I possibly say no?  We had been in school just 17 days, and already a class mate was asking to read to her friends…wow!  When I announced we had a guest reader during snack/read-aloud time, most of the students looked toward our classroom door, expecting one of our second grade friends. When she got up to get her book and then, moved to sit in the teacher chair, all of her friends were thrilled!

That very afternoon, this young man asked if he could read to the class the next day.  As soon as I said yes, a handful of students asked to read during snack/read-aloud.  Their excitement led to a new classroom routine.  Now, our daily line leader (junior teacher) has another responsibility – read to the class during snack/read-aloud, thanks to our courageous first grade friend who asked to read to the class.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Poems and Songs

All of our first grade students have Song and Poetry Binders. The first poem was introduced on the first day of school and the children have been adding songs and poems to their poetry binders almost every day since.   The art and music teachers in my building immediately recognized this year’s group of first graders as a very creative group that loves music.  I have to say, already we have had so much fun singing and reading poetry together!
The children will have a wide variety of songs and poems added to their binders this year; some will include monthly themes, basic math skills, and social studies and science concepts; while others will be just for fun.  Last week, one of the songs we added was, “On Top of Spaghetti” – a song I would categorize as ‘just fun,’ and not surprisingly, this group LOVES the song!  I videotaped the students singing last Friday and uploaded the video to my YouTube account.  (The videos are not available to the public.  They are only available to those who have the link.) 
I love that my students who lack confidence with reading are working on skills such as tracking print and recognizing word wall words in print.  They are strengthening early literacy skills by building connections to the words they are singing and to the sounds they hear.  Reading poems and singing songs also helps the children develop focus and concentration skills. 
Throughout the year, I’ll share poems and songs on my blog.  This week, I’m sharing a few that my students are really enjoying at this time. 
Allosaurus by Jack Prelutsky

To view the YouTube video of my first graders singing, On Top of Spaghetti, click here.

September 16, 2013 Classroom Newsletter


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Back to School Activities

The Four Blocks © “Special Child of the Day” is one of my student’s favorite back to school activities.  I have found it to be a wonderful way to promote a sense of community as the children get to know one another through the interviewing and writing activities.  The Four Blocks © Literacy Model, Month-by-Month Phonics for First Grade book is a great resource for this activity.  I followed the suggested activities somewhat loosely this year but loved the way the authors designed the process to be a multi-level learning activity.    
The procedure went like this for my class: 
Each morning, children’s names were randomly selected from a basket.   (Four Blocks© suggests featuring one child each day; we featured 2-3 students each day in our classroom and that worked beautifully for this group!)  The children, whose names were chosen for the day, became our “special children” and sat in “special” chairs while they were interviewed by classmates.  As the children asked questions and learned about their friends, I was assessing the children’s ability to participate in collaborative conversations with their peers.  I also gathered information about the student’s knowledge of language conventions.

(The children gathered at the large-group carpet area for the interviewing/writing activities.  These two are sitting in their special chairs while being interviewed.)
After the interviews, we worked on shared writings about each child.  We wrote 3-5 sentences on chart paper, paying special attention to language and writing conventions.  (Although this is my tenth year teaching first grade , I am still surprised by the huge differences in the children’s ability levels.   This is a very diverse group.)  I wrote each child’s name on cardstock and we clapped and cheered for their names before adding them to the word wall.  We spent time analyzing each name, making note of such things as the number of consonants and vowels, the formation of each letter and connections to other words and names.  The most engaging part of this activity was when the children used the letters in the student’s name to make new words.  The children LOVED learning about their own names; finding rhymes and Word Wall words within their names; and, everyone enjoyed being word detectives and discovering new words.  I picked up more information about the children’s understanding of language conventions, phonics and word recognition with this part of the “Special Child of the Day.”
When the shared writings were complete, the children made pictures and wrote something to each child.  Everyone got to take their collection of student writings/drawings home.    Again, this was an opportunity for assessment and reflection about the needs of this group for future writing activities. 
(These pictures show the children working on their drawings and writings for the "special children.")

Table 1 Friends

Table 2 Friends

Table 3 Friends

Table 4 Friends

Throughout the first eleven days of school, the shared writings were displayed on a hallway bulletin board, featuring three to five students at a time.  Before the children take their shared writings (on chart paper) home, I will make a class book from this project.  I’ll type the shared writings into book pages so each child has his/her own page.  The children will add pictures to their page before the book is bound.  I think the children will really enjoy the book and continue to learn about their friends each time they re-read the book.

September 9, 2013 Classroom Newsletter

To upload or view the classroom newsletter, click here.

These kiddos posed so nicely for their first day pictures. 
We're starting our fourth week of school - day 12 on Monday.  Time is flying by already!








 (I upload pictures of the students and post student work, but I don't identify students by name.)