Keeping things organized
Like always, I like to create a space that's easy for my kiddos to maneuver and work with. My goal is always to get my students to be as independent as possible so that they can take responsibility for their own learning. This is why I put all of the centers and materials that they'll be using on a daily basis on a low level that's easy for them to reach. I also do my best to keep everything labeled and in bins or baskets so that they're easy to carry around the room - my students take the baskets from the shelves to a spot in the room to work in. Here is how I have my word work center set up:
As you can see, since it's the beginning of the year, we're focusing primarily on letter identification and sound recognition. I threw in some rhyming because we've worked on that and it needs to be reinforced independently. I only introduce three baskets at a time so that students aren't overwhelmed with new activities and the directions that go with them. This is also a way to keep students engaged and to prevent them from getting bored quickly by introducing at once and as a result, overusing the activities.
Introducing the concept of word work
Word work is one of the few centers that my students are allowed to move around in. We put a lot of focus on staying in one spot for centers like read to self or tablets. For word work, I want students to be able to work on multiple activities, but I want them to learn how to do that respectfully and quietly. To introduce the concept, I sometimes do a "write the room" like I did today. Write the room is an activity I sometimes incorporate into word work throughout the year and it encourages movement and focus. We did a trial run today with the letters F-N. I explained to students that our word work center would be similar to this and we talked about how important it is to keep focus even while moving around the room. Write the room also encourages students to look in multiple places for an answer they may need such as the word wall, the Phonics Dance letters, the focus wall etc. Here's what write the room looked like for us this morning - the students did really well with it and it carried over to their behavior during word work!
Working Together In the Center
Something I do in the beginning of the year during word work is intentionally put out less centers than there are students. This encourages sharing, community building and the ability for students to learn from each other. Right now students are grouped by RTI tiers (mostly so that I can remember who belongs in what tier), but throughout the year I will probably split them into heterogeneous groups so that students can learn from others who are on different levels. I also change groups frequently so that students can never get too comfortable and stick with just one partner - I think it's important for them to form bonds with everyone in the class. Working together in these centers sets a strong foundation for our classroom community and for other centers/group activities throughout the day.
Our reading centers are about an hour after our day starts so it really sets the tone for how our day will go.
The students and I review our expectations together before centers every day and we have silent signals to help get each other back on track. I've come to find that the less kiddos can engage themselves in silly, off track behavior during centers (even if they're genuinely trying to get other kids on track), the better off we are. That's why we created our silent signals! Students can put their finger on their lips to remind others to use quiet voices, they can point to our expectations poster if someone is having a difficult time or they can give students a "zero" sign if they are in a center that is intended to be silent (like tablets or read to self).
Here's how some of my students looked while working on word work today!
What are you doing for your word work centers? I'm always looking for fun new activities to add in!
Still working on character description this week! Last week students had a pretty tricky time with the whale and with other characters in the book. This week we created a character - my cat at home. As you can see from all the dashes coming off of him, my students are getting much better at describing! They had a lot of fun with this because we compared it to a real picture of Sammy so that they could do a comparison before describing. I'm so proud of how quickly they're progressing!
Following suit with more ReadyGen activities, we're still working on Little Pip. Students have been a little antsy about the length of time we're spending on the book, so I decided to add some fun background information and nonfiction activities. This week we watched the live penguin cam at the Sea World. The kiddos were fascinated! We were able to pick apart their features, watch them swim in shallow (and deep) water and we also spent some time counting how many we could find in each area of their habitat. My students were so engaged during the lesson, they actually begged to watch the penguins swim during their free choice one afternoon!
Have you seen all of the AMAZING tape options out there right now? I have an entire BIN of just decorative (and, of course, sensible) tape stored in my classroom. Scotch Expressions is my favorite brand right now. Also, I found this great (and shockingly usable) whiteboard tape at Michael's sometime before the school year. I've used it in a couple of places around my classroom. If you haven't seen these - I definitely suggest investing!
I've put my Name Activities product to use this week! It has been working really well so far! I've only put out three of the activities in the writing center so far and students have caught on really quickly and have had little to no trouble understanding what they need to do. I love how the activities allow my kiddos to be so independent! For more on this, check out yesterday's post.
Here's a snapshot of my Kindergarten Portfolio product that we've started working on this week. We're not quite finished, but it's fun to see the progress students make from month to month! They love seeing how they're growing academically and they like to point out what they've learned so far. The writing prompt is still mostly drawing at this point, but one month (hopefully soon) there will be some words written by them on those lines at the top!
I like to get my centers going and running smoothly as soon as possible in my classroom. As mentioned in previous posts, I usually start with community building centers and sneak in the academic ones one at a time each week. This week we introduced the writing center. The most important thing for a child to learn to write is his or her name! It builds confidence for their ability to write all other things. That's why before I use my writing center as an actual "writing center", it's used as a name center. This gives students the opportunity to practice writing their names and their friends names in a variety of ways before they start working on sight words, sentences and stories.
Because I started my year off with several young kiddos with late summer or early fall birthdays, the name center is essential to my classroom this year. We started with it full swing this week and it has been very successful so far! Here is how I have it set up to ensure that students can be as independent as possible during center time!
Starting off, students can pick one of three activities provided in drawers next to the writing center. They are labeled with my favorite chalkboard labels from the Dollar Spot at Target. I loaded up on these at the beginning of the year and find new uses for them almost every day! The drawers are clearly labeled with numbers so students know which ones they can pick from.
I've noticed that one of the most important things for me to do for my writing center is to have everything prepared for the students so that they don't have to get up! Nothing is more distracting for a kindergartener than to see a classmate wandering the room looking for supplies during center time. They tend to stop, chat, and the next thing you know, they're talking about recess, and that one time they played at grandma's house. As funny as kindergarten conversations can be, it's important for them to stay focused during center time. That's why I have all the writing supplies they could need in little cups at the writing station. Additionally, I have all of their names posted on the writing bulletin board so that they don't have to walk over to the word wall to find them. I'm planning on adding their pictures near their names to help them with associating the names to the correct people.
In my name center, I start out with some of the easiest, no prep activities in my Name Activities pack in my TPT store to get students familiar with name writing. Right now, we're using an activity in which students write their names and then measure how long their name is with counting bears, an activity where students circle the letters in their name and an activity where students write their own name, a friend's name and then draw a picture of their friend. Students have really enjoyed these so far! My product has nine different activities in it so I can go for three weeks, rotating centers without having to recycle them!
Hanging above the center is a poster reminding my kiddos to work on stamina! This seems to be our mantra in Room 7 this year, I can't turn around during centers without hearing someone saying they're working on their stamina! This poster can be found in my What Can I Write About product. This word has been very effective for my group this year - it reminds them that it's okay if it's hard, but that practicing helps them to get better!
In a few weeks, my students will be ready for sight words and simple sentences in the writing center and I'll be redoing the entire thing (with a similar framework) so that they can still be challenged. Look for posts about how it changes throughout the year.
It was a three day weekend and it was much needed! I celebrated Labor Day by watching the WEBN fireworks display from my back porch. Cincinnati always puts on a great show every year and I'm lucky enough to have the perfect view from my house! The school year gets so busy - I was grateful for the extra day this weekend to spend time doing something I love - creating activities! I was busy working to create my newest Teachers Pay Teachers product for classroom newsletters for most of the day Monday. While I was working from the comfort of my couch in PJs, my view was of my napping animals all day! I just love when Sammy lays with his paws in the air like that!
It's tough to come back ready to go after a three day weekend for some kinders - but mine have really handled this week like champs! We're knee deep into our schedule and we've almost got our routines established. We've introduced 2 out of the 5 reading center choices and this is their second week on tablets. These two boys were working hard on a phonics game - they decided to play the same game so that they could help each other through the tough parts. Building community and working together takes a lot of work and it can be really hard! My kiddos are finally settling in and figuring out how to not only be around each other all day, but work cohesively as well. It makes all those chaotic and tear-filled days worth it to see them come together!
We have introduced Read to Self this week - I would say this is one of the toughest centers for my little ones, especially at the beginning of the year! In my classroom, instead of using book boxes this year, I'm using book-in-a-bags to save space. The students really like to have their own bag to carry with them anywhere in the classroom. To encourage students to be excited about this center, I let them lie down, get comfortable and use pillows during this time. Stamina is our key word for the first 6 weeks and all the kiddos know it! I hear them telling each other "even though this is hard and I'm BORED I'm NOT giving up!" So exciting to see them intrinsically motivated this early!
Our district adopted the ReadyGen program this year and my team is figuring out a way to make it work for our kindergarteners. We're starting the year out with the book Where Is Home Little Pip? It's a sweet book that captures the importance of home to all living things. It has really opened my students' eyes up to the world around them - they couldn't believe there was a place on the bottom of the Earth that's cold all year round! We worked on describing words this week and we decided to describe the whale in the book. It was tough at first - adjective are a difficult concept at this age! But by today they were able to create a short list of adjectives as a class.
Last year, we created these self assessment posters for our students and I rarely got around to using them. I was determined to pull them out this year and make them meaningful! One of my personal goals this year is to work on helping my students with their metacognitive skills and to really get them thinking about their thinking. In the middle of the week I had students think about whether or not it was easy to describe something. We did the whale activity and afterwards, I had them write their names on post-its and we introduced these charts. I told them about the importance of being honest because it helps me to know when they need help and when something is too easy. I expected everyone to put their names on green, but was happily surprised to see that many were honest about how well they thought they were doing with describing! Hopefully I'll find more use for these throughout the year and that they will be accurate and effective for my kinders.
I've missed a couple of these and I'm so glad I can check it off of my to do list this week! We have been working on so many things this week - I can only capture a few on camera!
Every year we start off by learning the colors through the color monsters! We have been introducing and reviewing them throughout the last couple of weeks - today we started working on their own book to take home. The color monsters are not only great for identifying colors, but they introduce rhyming as well. We focused a lot on underlining rhyming words today while going through the book.
Another big focus this week is learning how to identify and write our names. I wanted to check out how well my kiddos can cut, so I had them cut up strips of paper for this activity. To help them with knowing how to write their names, they traced prewritten letters with glue sticks to stick the papers on. For my students who know how to write their names already, this is just good extra practice and helps them to sharpen their cutting skills.
Another name activity! These are our name trains. We compare how long each name is with the others. This one is fun because it has a graph to go with it and it's something we can do whole group. It not only helps with writing and cutting, but also number sense and value. We did a lot of counting activities with this activity! I love practicing writing with names at the beginning of the year because it shows me so much about their abilities early on. I'll be starting to work with some of my other name activities soon when my students are a little more independent - you can find on them on my Teachers Pay Teachers store!
We're doing a big push on stamina this week! With 25 4 and 5 year old kindergarteners, stamina is a tough concept! We made a list of agreed upon expectations for our centers today (which I'll add photos to later) and talked about why they are important. We then read The Little Engine That Could to help motivate us to work hard during reading centers. It really helped! When students have something to relate to, even if it is a little train, they feel much more encouraged.
This afternoon we had The NED Show come in for an assembly! It was fun to watch my kids experience their very first assembly - they were amazed at absolutely everything the presenter did. The NED Show has a great message for kids to always do their best to make good choices in life. The presenter was really enthusiastic and kept the kids engaged the entire time - I'm always amazed at their ability to captivate 300+ kids in an un-air conditioned gym!! It was a great way to send the kids off for Labor Day weekend - and a great way to wear the teachers out just in time for our 3 day weekend :) Enjoy yours!
Wow these last couple of weeks have just flown right by me - I have really slacked on posting!! I know you all feel as immersed in your students and classrooms as I do. With all the mandated data intake and formal assessments which unfortunately infringe on our daily routine, I have hardly had time to do my own informal assessments! Luckily, my kiddos and I have been working really hard on routines, procedures and community building, so I'll be able to do some one-on-one things with them starting tomorrow. I can't wait!! Before I dive into what I've been doing in our reading centers, I have to share this sweet picture of our retell of Brown Bear. This was one of our first whole group literacy activities and the students really enjoyed working together to piece all the characters together. Each child doing the retell became the character and helped to narrate.
After our whole group literacy activities each morning, which are included in our Morning Meeting, I introduce our reading centers for the day. Reading centers are something I tweak each year according to the needs of my group, but one resource I CANNOT live without is Jan Richardson's book The Next Step in Guided Reading. I follow her steps to setting up centers step by step and it gets the kiddos working like clockwork! Jan Richardson really understands the need for kindergarteners to start slow and build community before inundating them with academics. I have had some structured play centers out for the students during this time, using our center chart.
The pocket chart has since been updated with centers and days assigned to each group. Using the chart at the beginning with structured play centers will really help students to get used to the routine of looking at it when reading centers are introduced. I also use simple post-its to label the play centers, but center cards (that I downloaded for FREE on TPT) for the reading centers. I told the students that this symbolized that the post-its were temporary, but the center cards would be used throughout the year. This helps my group to know that we are transitioning from play centers to reading centers.
This week we introduced listening center with our tablets. Of course, these little ones are already pros, so there wasn't much to teach them! Because the first official center was introduced this week, we discussed the importance of stamina and respect for those who need to concentrate. Each morning we review the importance of these things and if I feel the noise level is too high or students are off task, I pause the centers, we talk about it and resume. I also started a new way of pausing/stopping centers this year - chimes! I know many of you already do this, but typically I use timers. I always thought they were a little too abrupt, so I placed some mini wind chimes behind my table and it works really well! The students respond quickly, but they aren't overwhelmed or startled by the noise they make.
I like the method Jan Richardson gives in her book - adding one center a week. This give students time to continually adjust to the routine while also gradually learning new things. The students above are working on lacing - although this center isn't exactly academic, it gives me a good idea of how well their fine motor skills work and how easily they can maneuver through the small holes with string. Having these centers also shows students the discipline of cleaning up quickly and as a team after centers are over (we're still working very hard on the quietly part!).
Additionally, at the beginning and end of the day, I have tubs on tables for students to "read" books. I usually put old books out at the beginning of the year because students are still learning how to handle them properly. This activity not only builds stamina, but encourages community reading, sharing and excitement for getting their own books for Read to Self!
I don't know about you, but reading centers are my prime focus at the beginning of the year! I really want to work hard on getting them right early so that we don't have to fix them later! I'll continue to post updates on how we're progressing as we add centers!