Make a Great First Impression {BTS Link Up}

Back to School Linky

I'm linking up with Christina from Hanging Around in Primary and Katie at Pop Into Primary to share our best back to school tips.

Here in New Jersey we don't go back to school until September. So I won't have access to my classroom until late August. Truth is, there isn't a whole lot we can do before we get into our classrooms. But one thing we can do is reach out to the parents of our future students to introduce ourselves.

Make a Great First Impression with Parents

You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and the letter you mail home introducing yourself is your only chance to do so with most of your students. I know that not all teachers mail a letter home, but I strongly recommend it. Parents appreciate hearing from you and the little ones get excited that something came in the mail from their new teacher!

As soon as I get my hands on my class list (usually mid August) I mail the following things home to each new student:
  • A letter to the parents introducing myself
  • A list of suggested school supplies and wish list items
  • The web address of our class website
  • A survey for the parents to complete about their child
  • A tiny bag of Jitter Glitter and "Jitter Glitter" poem
  • A postcard (sent separately) written directly to the student 

Summer Letter, Supply List, and Jitter Glitter for Back to School
Here is the letter I send home to each family. Years ago I found a letter on another teacher's blog that I absolutely LOVED and tweaked it to meet my needs. I wish I could remember who it was, I would love to give credit but it was such a long time ago.
Back to School Summer Letter for Parents

This is the page that includes suggested supplies, wish list items, and our class web site address.
Supply and Donation Wish List for New Students
Here is the famous "Jitter Glitter" poem! I cannot take credit for writing this poem, but I also do not know who to give credit to. If you Google "Jitter Glitter" a million versions pop up. In the envelope, I include a tiny bag of "Jitter Glitter" (confetti and purple glitter). You might notice that I ask the kids to just place the bag near their pillow (on their nightstand) instead of sprinkle it like some others do. I don't know about you, but if I had a child, and the teacher asked him or her to sprinkle glitter on their pillow I'd have a heart attack! :P If you like this version of the poem, click here for a copy (minus the note on the bottom).
The big :) I am referring to in the note box above is a smiley face balloon. I get one from the dollar store the night before and bring it with me to the courtyard on the first day. The kids love it! I got this idea from my wonderful cooperating teacher when I was student teaching, and have been doing it ever since!

And lastly- the most valuable thing I send home over the summer: a parent survey. I find that most  of the parents do take the time to complete it and send it to school on the first day. I LOVE reading these! Right off the bat it gives you a little perspective! The survey is available at my TPT store now!

Click here to grab this survey (color and black/white)!
Back to School Survey for Parents

For those of you who have already been teaching a while, what do you send home to parents over the summer? What are some "must have" supplies you request?

Assess Me: A Get to Know You Linky

Assess Me Link Up

I decided to link up with Rachel Lamb over at The Tattooed Teacher. Such a fun way to get to know one another a little better! Does this remind anyone else of the days of AOL (dial-up) surveys and profiles, or am I the only one? :P

Assess Me: Melissa Glenn

My Word Wall Doesn't Look Like the Others- And That's Okay

A Word Wall is a "must have" in any elementary school classroom. Although they vary in color and style, it's safe to say I've seen one displayed in every primary classroom I've visited.

My classroom is no exception.


Word Wall

Yup. That's my word wall. I know what you're thinking. You are wondering- Why is it so small? Where are the letters of the alphabet?! Why are some of the words out of alphabetical order?

My Word Wall does not look like the others and that is okay!
  • My Word Wall isn't tremendous because I think it's too overwhelming for children to have more than this amount of words with this kind of set up. Also, this is all I have space for on my pocket chart.
  • The most noticeable difference between my word wall and others is the lack of letters identifying each group of words. Again- the reason is that I simply do not have space to put each letter up. I'd have no room for the words!
  • As for a couple of the words being out of order- that is because we are constantly pulling words down and putting them back up- sometimes things get mixed up in the shuffle. But they always get corrected (eventually). Also, the last column of the Word Wall (after your) includes newly introduced sight words, which get moved into alphabetical order after we spend a week on them.
With so many word cards, it's important for me to stay organized. I keep the cards in basket with little dividers so I can find what I need quickly and easily.

I LOVE using a pocket chart as my Word Wall. Even though it limits the space I have to work with, it is worth it. It allows for easy interaction throughout our day! Despite the differences between my word wall and others' word walls, it still WORKS. My students are fantastic at reading, writing, and spelling sight words!

Here are some reasons my Word Wall works despite its unusual size and organization:
  • We read the Word Wall EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. It is part of our morning routine. The kids start on the first word and read the words chorally, moving down each column, pausing before starting a new column. It only takes a minute or two and it helps reinforce not only how to read the words, but how to identify where the words are on the chart. (This is why we aren't missing the letter of the alphabet- we don't need them!)
  • We spend five minutes every day going over newly introduced sight words (three to five a week). We read, spell, and "sky write" them. We don't need to spend more time than this during the school day because it is being reinforced every day.
  • Students read Weekly Review Lists nightly at home with their parents. These lists include words with the specific sound/spelling taught the previous week as well as a list of mixed new/old sight words. This is done in order to improve automaticity and fluency. I will post more about this another time.
  • Our spelling word tests include sight words ONLY. That's right. However- I do test my students on encoding (breaking apart words to spell them correctly) words weekly, but they do not study for those and I do not call them "Spelling Tests". Our spelling tests are only sight words. Read below for more information about my spelling system.
  • The words on the wall are constantly changing. As new words are added, the ones my students have mastered are removed. I encourage my students to take ownership of the Word Wall by asking which words they think are too easy. If I agree- it comes down. If I don't agree, I say something like "Wow! I'm so happy to hear you think that word is easy! Some of our friends are still having trouble with that one, though- so we are going to keep it up for right now."
  • We play games with the Word Wall. One of my favorite games is called "Swat". Two children go up to the word wall with fly swatters in their hands. I give them a word, and their goal is to "swat" the word before the other person. It's simple, but the kids absolutely love it!
I have been teaching sight words this way for eight years now and this works great for me and my students!

Reading sight words is hard enough for first graders- when it comes to spelling, forget about it! This is why I use sight words as my spelling words. I believe a child should be able to encode words like "cat" off the cuff, but words like "the" cannot be sounded out. Many sight words must just be memorized, which is why I use them as spelling words my kids can study. I will be posting more about my spelling system at a later date. For now- check out the packet I use with my students for sight word spelling below! I use these pages as homework assignments every day. It's available on Teacher's Pay Teachers now!

How do you use your Word Wall in your classroom? 

Five for Friday

Five for Friday is a weekly teacher linky party where you post five random things from today or this past week on your blog.

For years I got gel manicures and pedicures at the salon, but lately I've been doing them myself. After a lot of trial and error I've found that my go-to brand is Essie for color and Seche Vite for top coat. I'm loving all the summer colors! I keep my nail stuff on my computer desk, because I love to do my nails while working on the computer. It sounds crazy, but it really helps time pass when I'm waiting for them to dry. It's tricky to type while I do so, but can be done! I heart multi-tasking.

I promised myself I wouldn't shop for the new school year until August started. But... someone posted about these on Instagram and I just had to have them! These were $9.97 for a pack of five at Walmart. They are sturdier than the ones at the dollar store, so it's worth it to me! I'm planning to use them for writing folders and writing station materials.


Being off this summer has given me an opportunity to spend a lot of time with my sweet fur baby, Klaus. He's a one year old miniature schnauzer. He is everything to my husband and me. He isn't supposed to be in the bed, but managed to sneak his way in... I snapped this pic to catch the grumpy look he gave me before I made him move. Spoiled! (I know, my fault).

During the school year I don't watch much TV, so I'm really taking advantage of the time I have during the summer. I love to binge-watch shows on Netflix through my iPad while doing random things around the house... washing dishes, cooking, blowing out/straightening my hair, cleaning, painting my nails, etc. Through this, I managed to watch the ENTIRE series of Gilmore Girls (all seven seasons). My friends tease me, but I LOVE THIS SHOW. The only bad part- the realization that I am now closer in age to Lorelai than to Rory. Yikes! There's nothing worse than that "You know your old when" moment when you relate to the parent more than the child. ::Sigh::

After being married for over a year and a half my husband and I finally picked the images for our wedding album! The pictures have been paid for since the wedding, but it was just so overwhelming. We had over 3,000  images (not an exaggeration, believe it or not) to comb through and narrow it down to just 90 images. JUST 90. It was exhausting! But it's finally done! Maybe we will have the album in our hands in time for our two year anniversary. Hah!

Getting Kids to WANT To Wear Their Glasses

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I understand what it is like to not be able to see well. One of my teachers identified that I needed glasses when I was in the fourth grade. My parents promptly took me to the eye doctor to get a pair- and I promptly hid them in my backpack where I never used them. By the time I was in the seventh grade, I grew really tired of not being able to see the board in class. At this point, I was able to convince my parents that glasses were actually not the solution to my vision problems, and thus became the first person in my class to have contacts. Point is- I get it. While I don't have an issue as much of an issue with wearing glasses, I do wear them occasionally to give my eyes a rest.

Over the years, I've had my fair share of students who hid their glasses in their backpacks in silent protest. I'll tell you, I can't think of a word to describe the feeling when you're sitting in a conference with a parent, explaining that you've noticed their child has trouble seeing- and they look at you and say "Yes, we know... that's why he has glasses?" ::Mouth drops::

So the big question- once a child gets his or her glasses, how do you get him or her to actually wear them [and be comfortable with it]?

Getting Kids to Want to Wear Glasses

 A colleague suggested getting a book about wearing glasses to read with the class. Why hadn't I thought of that?! After a little Google/Amazon research, I discovered a sweet book called Arlo Needs Glasses.

Using Arlo Needs Glasses to Get Kids to Wear Glasses

Arlo Needs Glasses is an interactive popup book. I shared this book with my class back in March. My kids were springing out of their criss-cross-applesauce positions to get a closer look at the pages. We experienced Arlo's eye exam through reading an eye chart, looking through a phoropter, and trying on different pairs. By the end of the book, even the kids who don't need glasses were wishing they did! ;) Again, I get it- when I was in the sixth grade I wanted braces (even though I didn't need them) so I could have cool glow-in-the-dark rubber bands in my mouth like all of my friends. My parents did not bite at that one.

To really make the book meaningful to my students, we did some great follow up activities, first we created our own pairs of glasses for Arlo using templates included in an activity kit from Barney Saltzberg (the author of Arlo Needs Glasses). Click here to grab it.

We then brainstormed reasons why it's so important for Arlo to wear his glasses and recorded them on a chart. 

Anchor Chart for Arlo Needs Glasses

We voted on which pair of glasses from the book we each thought he should have picked. We then organized and analyzed the data on a graph. Click here to grab a copy of the graph for free.

Graph Activity: Which Pair of Glasses Should Arlo Choose?
We also completed some writing activities as a follow up, including a persuasive piece to convince Arlo to wear his glasses.

I created a free pack of supplemental writing activities for Arlo Needs Glasses. It includes:
  • Two Persuasive Writing Prompts w/ Simple Checklists
  • Letter Writing Prompt w/ Two Differentiated Lined Pages
  • Narrative Story Prompt w/ Planner Organizer, Draft Page, and Publishing Pages
It is available for free-
You can grab it by clicking here
Supplemental Activities for Arlo Need's Glasses

Have you ever had students that had issues with wearing glasses? How did you handle it?

Helping Kids Make Better Choices: Think Time

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Classroom management is a huge part of maintaining a successful classroom environment. As teachers, it's important we find ways to help our little ones make good choices and contribute to a peaceful, cohesive classroom community. Nowadays you can find thousands of fantastic tricks and tips to support students from different schools of thought. I believe in clear expectations and accountability. One of my favorite things to use to help students take ownership over poor choices is Think Time.

 In my classroom, student are asked to complete a Think Time sheet if they have received a reminder about a specific behavior and have chosen to repeat or continue the behavior. It gives the child a chance to reflect on the choices they have made and how it affects others around them. Think Time is not the same as Time Out! I do not have a specific Think Time desk or table in my classroom-  students complete it right at their own desks. Its purpose is not to shame or punish the child, but provide them with a consequence that focuses on reflection and problem solving.

Think Time Response Sheet for Primary GradesThink Time Response Sheet for Kindergarten

Once the Think Time sheet is completed:
  • I hold onto it until the child has had enough time to calm down and meet with them one on one
  • I get on his or her level (sitting or kneeling as necessary) and kindly ask them to explain why they think they needed Think Time. This is so important! You wouldn't believe how quickly some little ones forget what happened! 
  • I then use "I" statements to explain specifically what he or she did, and why it wasn't acceptable. I do not scold- it feels a bit more like a heart to heart. Touching base with the student is vital... obviously, children do not like to receive consequences (which can cause anger or resentment) but this allows them to see and hear that you aren't mad at them, you love them, and just want them to do well! Also, kids sometimes don't understand why some actions aren't okay... this clears up any confusion and helps them understand.
  • At the end of the day, the Think Time sheet is sent home so they parents can read it, go over it with their child, and then sign/return it to school.

I started used Think Time back when I very first started teaching, and although I've changed the format and process a little bit- it remains a major aspect of my classroom management system.

My Think Time sheets are available for free at my Teachers Pay Teachers store. Check it out here! There are now two different styles to choose from, and three versions (boxes, primary lines, regular lines).  I hope you find it to be as helpful as I do!

What are some things you do the help your students stay accountable for the choices they make?

Engaging Kids with Decodable Readers

Let's be real. 
Despite what we were led to believe in college, not everything we do in the classroom is exciting and fun. Especially when it comes to reading, and especially if your district has a traditional reading program.

In an effort to increase student motivation and engagement, it's so important to look for ways to take mandated practices and make them more appealing to young children. Reading is hard enough for kids who enjoy it- it can be downright tortuous for those little ones who struggle. 
Truth is- some of the most valuable phonics activities are also the most monotonous!

Decodable readers are just one example of the many "traditional" materials/activities that are both extremely valuable but also tedious for students. I mean, I don't know about you- but text like 
 "Dan likes Cat. Cat likes Dan. 
Cat is on the mat. Dan and Cat play on the mat." 
doesn't exactly excite me, never mind my students. That being said, decodable books only include previously learned sounds/spellings and high frequency sight words, which provides kids with a chance to apply new skills in context and build confidence in reading ability. There is definitely value to using decodable books.

Engaging Kids with Decodable Books

While there isn't much we can do to improve the content of beginning decodable books, we can improve the process or practice! 
Here are some ways I get my kids excited to read decodable books.
  • We use Martian Finger Reading Pointers to track the print while reading. You can find a set of 24 at Really Good Stuff for $5.99. I call them "witch" fingers, and my students love using them. I keep them in this little lidded basket, which makes them feel more special and strange than just keeping them in the plastic bag.
  • We go on Word Hunts. I tell the kids they are going to be detectives on the lookout for the specific sound/spelling we are working on that week. For example- "Today we are hunting for words with long a spelled "_ay"." I challenge them to find them all, and foster a little healthy competition by saying, "Let's see who finds the most!" Just a note- I recommend setting a timer, otherwise this can drag! When we are done, the kids share their "findings" with their group mates. 
  • To make Word Hunts even more fun, we use magnifying glasses to look for the words. This is a no brainer, in my opinion. You can find them at Oriental Trading for $7.50 for a set of ten- a worthy investment as you can use them for all kinds of activities, especially when it comes to science!
  • While you could just have the kids circle the words they find with a pencil, it is so much more fun to use a highlighter! I have yet to meet a first grader that wasn't hypnotized by the bright yellow glow a highlighter provides. Definitely do a mini lesson on proper use of highlighters if your students haven't used them before. Some children can get a little... um... overenthusiastic when it comes to using them, if you know what I mean. ;)
  • Have students record the words they find on fun paper. Use different colored paper and/or pages with fun borders and graphics. Change them up frequently. If your school has an Ellison machine, cut the paper into fun shapes. Little tweaks like this can make any "boring" activity fun!
If your district using Macmillan McGraw-Hill's Treasures Reading program, check out the pack I've created to accompany the decodable readers. It includes fun recording sheets and comprehension questions for every decodable reader! My kids loved when I switched over to using these!
Word Hunts and Comprehension Questions for Treasures
Word Hunts and Comprehension Checks for Treasures
What are some ways you get students engaged while working with decodable readers?

Getting Ready and Set to Teach

Having the summer off lends me plenty of time to ready myself for a new school year. Each year I aim to get myself more organized and structured with my planning. Planning in advance takes a lot of time initially, but saves time in the long run, since I rarely need to scramble at the last minute.

While I submit electronic plans to my principal, I use an Erin Condren Planner to organize and plan my thoughts before typing it into the computer. This will be my second year using an Erin Condren- and while it's a significant investment (at least for a planner), I find it to be completely worthwhile. I love the way it looks and feels, and writing it in makes me happy. It helps me to not view planning as a chore, which says a lot!

Erin Condren Teacher Planners

In an effort to further simplify planning this school year, I created an English Language Arts Scope and Sequence Chart for each unit. At a glance I can find the focus of my ELA instruction for the week (phonics, comprehension, writing/grammar). I tend to be an impulsive Teachers Pay Teachers shopper, and I know this will help me focus on what I need rather than what I want. Once I can get back into my classroom, I'm going to use it to finally organize my files (which may be a little completely out of control).

Treasures First Grade Scope and Sequence

This scope and sequence is aligned to Macmillan/McGraw-Hill's Treasures Reading Program, which is what my district uses. As of right now, I haven't created an editable version, but if anyone is interested, please let me know and I will see what I can do! Hope you find this as helpful as I do!