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FIVE THINGS that Should Be on Your Classroom Agenda - EVERY DAY!

How do you spend your minutes each day?  As teachers, our time seems so very limited.  There is never enough time to accomplish everything that needs to get done.  Each teacher, each day, makes choices about what stays on the plate and what goes.  That's just life as a classroom teacher.  That being said, I have found FIVE THINGS that should be a PRIORITY every, single day....

This is so simple but so HUGE!  The very best way to help your students to start their day off right is to give them a SMILE, make EYE CONTACT, and greet them BY NAME.  Some teachers like to add a little sparkle to this routine by asking a question, or giving a compliment!  I just read about this teacher from North Carolina who has a special handshake that he uses to greet his students each morning!  Check it out HERE.  When you physically SHOW UP for students each morning...they know that you care and this instantly relaxes them, and allows them to start their day in the frontal cortex of their brain....that special place where the most amazing learning can happen!

After our morning meeting, I like to give students the low-down on "what's up" today.  I go through our agenda by talking about the day's learning targets, and always try to throw in a tidbit that will get them excited about what's to come..... "And IN SCIENCE....we will learn about a VERY SPECIAL property of the mineral calcite!!!!"  OMG...their eyes get so big and their mouths open wide.  All of a sudden they are looking forward to the learning ahead, instead of thinking about lunch and recess.  Brain research supports this too....brains tend to remember the FIRST part and the LAST part of things.  This overview is one of the BOOK ENDS that will help them to retain what they learn during the day {see the other BOOK END toward the end of this post....REFLECTION}.  Finally, doing this at the front end of the day will help your students to organize their thinking and plan ahead and set goals for new learning throughout the day.

I cannot say enough about the importance of STORY TIME in our classrooms.  I don't care what grade you is ALWAYS worth the time.  The benefits of reading aloud include {but are not limited to) modeling fluency, exposure to challenging texts, great book discussion, creates excitement around books and reading, models the craft of great writing, etc., etc., etc.!!  My favorite thing about reading aloud to my class is how it helps to build a sense of classroom community.  When you read a GREAT STORY to your class, you are all IN IT TOGETHER...sharing the ups, the downs, the bumpy ride of the characters and their emotional ride through the story. There is nothing better than the collective sigh of agony that you hear when you close that book for the day....because they want you to keep reading!  Or when I hear them whispering to one another their predictions for what is going to happen next (Did they just practice a reading strategy without me asking and without a worksheet??).   There really is nothing like it!!  It is my favorite part of every day that I teach.

Some call it snack time.  Some call it inside recess.  Some call it free time.  Some call it a brain break.  Whatever you call it...your students need it...that is, some time to just be with their classmates, shooting the breeze, not thinking really hard and just being FREE.  In my class, I try to give my students down time twice per day for about 10 minutes.  Sometimes we do a fun activity together to get everyone laughing.  Sometimes I just let them get out a snack and chat with their friends.  Other times, they can play a game or draw.  This down time allows my kiddos to exhale and get ready for another bout of thinking and learning.....kind of like hitting the reset button.

The best time for students to reflect on their learning is....AT THE END OF THE DAY!  There are so many ways to help students to process their daily learning, from the simple to the complex.  Some teachers like to have students do a written reflection in a daily reflection journal.  They might even have students include a goal {or a wish} for the next day.  I keep it very simple.  I gather my friends on the carpet and have them close their eyes {my comedians in the class like to strike a meditation pose}.  I then go through all of the important learning concepts from the day....."Today we learned that the mineral calcite reacts with cold acid, which was so helpful in helping us to identify calcite in our rock samples.....We also learned that writers find a way to "hook" their readers at the beginning of of their make us want to keep reading."  You get the idea.  It usually takes about five minutes or less, but my students love this and I believe that it helps them to process and retain their learning.  Sometimes, if there is time, I will then have them turn and talk about their favorite part of the day and what they would like to accomplish as a reader/writer/scientist/mathematician tomorrow.

Well..there your have FIVE MUST-DOS for each day of the week.  What are yours??

Thanks again for visiting and I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed writing it for you!!

Oh...If you are looking for some great "read aloud" ideas, check out my TPT store:

Because of Winn Dixie Literature Resource Kit

The Tale of Despereaux Literature Resource Kit

Patricia Polacco -- Literature Resources for 6 Favorite Books

Kevin Henkes -- Author Study Tri-folds

Common Core Writing - In Hand!!

Whether you're a fan of the common core or not, it has definitely defined three different text types and how we need to teach our students to structure their writing pieces.

The common core outlined the following text types:  Narrative Writing, Opinion Writing and Informational Writing.  Within each of those text types, you can find a great variety of writing genres including narrative poetry, informational books and articles, fictional narratives, opinion letters, essays and literary essays.  But the structure generally stays consistent for every genre.

I have found that if students know these structures, literally like the back of their hand, they are well on their way to becoming successful writers!

ALL text types have this basic structure:


The intro and conclusion are consistent in all text types but the body will vary.  I like to use a graphic organizer to help my students remember the structure of each text that is always with them wherever they go...THEIR HAND!

Here are the basic structures that I teach for each text type:

I look for these structures when I analyze their on-demand writing prompts, and will form strategy groups based upon who demonstrates these structures in their pieces and who does not.  During every lesson, I will have students put up their hands and tell me these structures by pointing at each finger on their hand and stating the parts.  I print out enlarged versions of these hand posters and post them in my classroom.  

It seems redundant and even silly, but my kiddos KNOW THESE STRUCTURES, and they have become much better writers as a result.  When they are asked to write something, they know how to set it up and they can then focus on the "good parts" of their pieces....the details, dialogue, reasons with evidence, examples, facts, etc.  

Knowing these structures (like the back of their hand) sets them up for successful paragraph writing as well!  They realize early on that each "finger" represents a new paragraph.  I use this same "hand" to teach them how to write a good paragraph...after all, the organization is the same in a good paragraph...topic sentence, supporting sentences, concluding sentence. 

In the past I have used a similar teaching strategy...using a hamburger (you know the one).  But this is so much better...because they ALWAYS have their hand....but the hamburger...well it just makes them hungry!  

If you would like a copy of these posters, you can grab them for free HERE!  Also, you can find them in my Common Core Writing Mentor Text Kit, which also contains some great examples of each text type, along with some really helpful graphic organizers to put in your students' writing folders!

Daily Five Reading Rotations

Math Workshop Rotations have been a huge success in my classroom for the past two years.  I love that I have time to work with the whole group on new math concepts, but my rotations have also given me the much needed time to meet with small groups.  See HERE for more information about how I do math rotations.

This got me to thinking about how I could incorporate this same structure with reading.  I know literacy work stations and Daily 5 are not new ideas, but I have never been able to make them work for me....until now!  In this post, I will outline reading rotations that allow me to teach whole group lessons and meet with small groups EVERY DAY!

First, I thought it would be helpful to outline my daily schedule, to give you an idea about how much time I spend on each subject area.  At our school, we have a weekly intervention block that takes 45 minutes, three days per week.  Because of this, we are forced to "integrate" our science and social studies content.  On the two days per week that I do not have intervention groups, I will do hands-on science, or a social studies activity.  Spelling, which used to be in in its own block, is now integrated into my new reading rotation schedule.  Here is my current schedule:

8:30-9:00        Attendance/Morning Announcements/Bell Work/Morning Meeting
9:00-9:45        Science/S.S. (M&F); Intervention Groups (T-W-Th)
9:45-10:55      Math Workshop
11:00-12:00    Lunch
12:00-12:20    Math Workshop (Continued)
12:20-1:10      Writer's Workshop
1:10-1:15        Snack Break
1:15-2:30        Reader's Workshop/Reading Rotations
2:30-2:45        Sharing and/or Read Aloud w/Accountable Talk
2:45-3:25        Gym/Art/Music
3:25-3:35        Daily Reflection/Read Aloud
3:35-3:45        Pack Up

I usually have some wiggle room in there, just in case I need more/less time for a subject, or we just need a bit of breathing room.

My reading block includes a whole class lesson and three rotations.  Here is how it plays out:

1:15-1:30        Whole Class Reading Lesson
1:30-1:50        Rotation 1
1:50-2:10        Rotation 2
2:10-2:30        Rotation 3

As you may notice, each rotation is 20 minutes, which gives me just enough time to meet with a small group for guided reading or spelling.  I usually have no problem meeting with three groups during this time.

I started by grouping my students, using information from various data points including Fountas and Pinnell benchmark assessments and NWEA RIT scores.   I do not meet with all groups every day.  In fact, I only meet with my three groups that are performing at or below grade level.  That leaves two groups that do not meet with me during the week.  Of course, I do check in with them from time to time to ensure that they are choosing just-right books and keeping up with their daily reading requirements.  I do meet with all groups for spelling, one day per week, usually on Monday.

When I created the rotation board, I wanted to incorporate the different components of the daily five, including read to self, buddy reading, write about reading, word study, and listen to reading (for my lowest readers).  Since our reading block is long, and comes in the afternoon (our hardest time of day), I knew the rotations would need to keep students engaged.  Reading silently for an hour would definitely NOT work!  Therefore, each rotation offers students a reading activity that is engaging and differentiated to meet the needs of the particular learners in that group.  Here are the boards that I created (I display this on our interactive white board during reading time):

Because I have five groups, but only three rotations, it is necessary to have a different board each day so that all students can do each of the available rotations throughout the week.  You can download all of my rotation boards HERE.  These are Powerpoint files and can be edited to meet your needs!  (Keep in mind the clipart that you see in my version is not included due to copyright protection.  The font also will not transfer but you can download it for FREE HERE.)

Group 4 and 5 are my highest groups and have an extra rotation space because they do not meet with me for guided reading.  You can see that on Monday and Friday they have a literacy work station activity.  The numbers represent the labeled bin that contains the game that they are assigned.  These games are common core aligned language and vocabulary games that I purchased from Lakeshore Learning that work great with my more advanced readers.  Task cards or another engaging and fun activity would also be great to use here.  

During the Word Work rotation, students complete tasks and games that go with our Words Their Way program.  They are responsible for practicing their word sort, writing it out, and writing the words in sentences before Friday.  They also have some other choices for working on their words during this twenty minute rotation.

Twice per week students write about their reading.  I use Reading Response Menus which work perfectly for a quick 20 minute writing choice.  You can pick those up at my TPT store...they include 12 different menu boards (7 fiction; 5 non-fiction) and are common core aligned.  I have even included a rubric for scoring them.  I simply have students write out their response on plain loose-leaf paper and turn it in at the end of their reading time.  I love reading these and always give students feedback on their response.

For Reading Response, you might also like these THINKMARKS:

or this comprehension menu system RISE:

During Read to Self, student are reading silently from their self-selected books.  They keep a book box filled with books, and they can "shop" for new ones each week.  During this time my lowest readers have the opportunity to read on Raz Kids and other sites where they can "listen" to reading, which is critical for those reading below third grade level.

When students have Buddy Reading, they get with their (pre-arranged) reading partner to read together or to discuss a book they are reading.  Many students choose to read the same book as their reading partner.  I have a mini-library of partnership books (sets of two) that students can pick from, which is very popular with third graders! 

It is very important that I am prepared for each of my daily Guided Reading Groups by having a lesson and books prepared in advance.  I like to plan for the whole week in advance...just like I do for all of my other lessons delivered throughout the week.  For more information about Guided Reading, please visit my recent post GUIDED READING MADE SIMPLE.  I have also created a Guided Reading Planning Kit that you may find helpful:

I hope you enjoyed this post!  How do you manage your reading block?  Please feel free to respond with any questions or comments below...I love to hear from YOU!

Guided Reading Made Simple

You meticulously plan and prep for reading, writing, math, spelling, science, social studies and language I right?  But when it comes time for small group guided reading lessons, you fly by the seat of your pants!  It's okay...we have all been there!  Who has time to plan for five subjects AND 3-5 guided reading lessons each day?!  Today I offer you a way to plan your guided reading lessons in a very simple way, without re-creating the wheel.  It's almost like following a recipe....just get your ingredients all lined up and follow the steps.

You will want to plan your guided reading lessons ahead of time.  I like to plan all of my guided reading groups for a whole week.  I fill out my 2-page planning worksheet for each group, gather the books I will need and I am set for a whole week.  You can pick that up for free HERE!

Also, you will want to take notes during the lesson.  I take notes right on my planning worksheet, which simplifies things.  Take note of student strengths and difficulties as well as things you that you will want to work on for next time.  It would also be helpful to make notes about the text or materials that you used during the lesson as reminders for next time you use them.

In third grade, you will likely not need to meet with all students in a guided reading group.  My groups consist of students who are reading exactly at grade level or below.  I do not place students who are reading above grade level in a guided reading group.  I try to meet with them once every week or so to check in with their reading selections.  I have a daily whole-class reading lesson, and our school has leveled reading intervention time three times per week.  That is ample instruction for my higher achieving readers.  I have three groups, and I do my best to do a guided reading lesson with each one 3-5 times per week.

I keep my guided reading lesson plans in a binder with a tabbed section for each group.  I keep the books organized for each group in hanging files that I keep in a small rolling file cart.  That cart also has a drawer where I keep everything else including magnetic letters, sticky notes, marker boards and pens.  I try not to use a lot of fancy supplies for guided reading time so that I am not wasting time juggling a lot of materials.  Most of the work we do in guided reading involves a book, a marker board and possibly sticky notes.  On a rare occasion, I will use magnetic letters (with my lower achieving readers).  The fewer materials you use, the quicker your lesson will go.  Let's face is TOUGH to get a guided reading lesson finished in 20 minutes!!  I need things to run like a well-oiled machine!

Choose books that are either at your students’ instructional or independent reading level.  If the focus of the lesson is comprehension or fluency, it can help to choose books that students can read independently with 99-100% accuracy.  If you are lucky, you have a school-wide book room with plenty of leveled fiction and non-fiction selections.  If you are not lucky, I highly recommend Reading A-Z.  There you will find lots and lots of leveled readers.  You have to print them out and run the copies, but its better than nothing!  The books are high-quality teaching texts and perfect for guided reading!  When I use Reading A-Z books, I print out a set of 7, and keep them in ziploc bags so that I can use them again and again.

You will need to verse the rest of your class on what is expected from them when you are with a small group (whisper voices, no interruptions, etc.).   They should know what to do and be able to do it with little direction from you.  Many teachers have their students reading silently during this time.  Other teachers opt to do Daily Five rotations or literacy work stations.  Do what works best for you and your students, but make sure students have had a chance to practice the routine BEFORE you start your guided reading groups.  Otherwise, you will find that you have a lot of interruptions.

Time is short in a guided reading lesson, so students in the group should be on-task the whole time in order to accomplish the objectives of the lesson.  You will want to set up group norms as part of your first group lesson.  Students should be taught ahead of time that interrupting is not acceptable, and members of the group will take turns talking and respect each other’s ideas.  

The components of a guided reading can include:  

  • Reread Known Text
  • Introduce New Text
  • Read New Text
  • Comprehension Conversation (Within, Beyond & About the Text)
  • Written Response (optional)
  • Word Study (optional)

These components may not be included in EVERY lesson.  Some teachers like to alternate the written response activity and the word study, since there is usually not time to do both of these in one lesson.   Also, you may wish to order these components in a way that makes sense for your group.  Depending upon the amount of time that you have for each group, you may have to split the components into multiple sessions.   Again, do what works best for you and your students.

Most teachers will begin their guided reading session, with a quick re-read of known text (from a previous lesson).  You may wish to do a running record assessment on one of your students at this time.  Otherwise, you can listen to each student read independently (not round robin) as they are reading quietly to themselves, giving prompts for meaning, fluency and accuracy as needed.

When giving students a new book, you will want to give a thorough introduction of the book.  This will include decoding and discussing new, tricky vocabulary words.  You can do this separately from the text by writing the words on the whiteboard or on flashcards, and having students decode the words and determine their meanings.   You could, instead, do this as you introduce the book, having students find the words within the text as you do a picture/page walk.  Have students clap out the new words, listening for their parts, or syllables.  This will aid in decoding.

As part of the introduction, you will want to give a synopsis of the book, introducing the characters, setting and plot of the story.  You may want to refer students to certain pages to point out illustrations and or text/dialogue that will be important to note as students read the story independently.  You may ask some thought-provoking questions and encourage students to make connections during the introduction, but avoid getting into a long conversation.  This should not take more than a few minutes.

Finally, you may want to offer a decoding or fluency strategy for students to try as they are reading.  Also, you should give them a purpose for reading by telling them to notice something or think about something as they are reading that will help them to focus on meaning.  This could be framed as a question (i.e., As you read, think about what kind of person Danny is.  As you read, be thinking about why the author wrote this book.).

Students should have a reader’s notebook that they bring with them to their guided reading book.  This can be just some blank loose leaf paper stapled together, a composition notebook or a spiral bound notebook.  1-2 times per week, students should write about their reading.  Most teachers will give students a specific prompt to write about, and then give students a brief amount of time to do this.   It will mostly be just a few sentences or a graphic organizer that they write in relation to a book they have just finished.  You could also have students do this as part of their homework, and then have them share their responses at the next session.

Most students will benefit from a short word study activity.  It could connect with words that are in the book they are reading, but it should focus on student need.  There are a variety of phonics assessments available that can help you to determine what your students may need to work on.  I recommend the Elementary or Primary Spelling Inventory, which is part of the Words Their Way program.  Most of the word study that I do with my guided reading groups is word sorting (words their way), and/or making and writing words (using a white board).  Very low readers may need more intensive word study and phonics work using magnetic letters and/or elkonin boxes,and possibly a phonics program such as Read Well.

If your students take the NWEA reading assessment, you can use their RIT scores to help plan your guided reading lessons.  You will want to group your students using their RIT range (in combination with other reading assessments).  NWEA has a learning continuum that organizes the skills students need to master according to their RIT range.  I use the continuum to help plan focused guided reading lessons.  I simply pick on of the skills from their RIT band and use it as a learning target in the lesson by including it in the comprehension conversation and/or the written response.

Our school also uses the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark system to assess our students.  You can find a RIT conversion chart HERE!

I have put together a Guided Reading Kit that includes a collection of resources that will make planning your lessons soooo easy!  It includes:

  • Planning for Guided Reading - A tips sheet for planning and implementing effective guided reading groups
  • Lesson Planning Pages (shown above) - A print-and-go worksheet to make planning for guided reading super easy!
  • Prompting Guide - This invaluable guide includes "on the run" teacher prompts to use while students are reading aloud (fluency, decoding, self-monitoring, and comprehension), fiction and informational written response prompts, comprehension conversation prompts (within, beyond and about the text). Print, place in page protectors and you are ready to go!
  • Learning Target Checklists (example shown above) - These are organized by RIT band and include all of the skills students in each RIT band still need to master. Includes checklists for informational text, literature and vocabulary. These are based on the NWEA learning continuum. These checklists make planning for each group super easy!

I hope you find this post helpful in getting guided reading started with your students!

Flexible Seating - The REAL Scoop!

I took the leap and implemented flexible seating in my classroom this year!

Here are the things that I LOVE and the things I DON'T LOVE about it.....


Students have the opportunity to make decisions about where they sit.  This helps them learn about making good choices, being responsible, and taking charge of their own learning.

Many seating options, including yoga ball chairs, wobble stools, flex bands, seat cushions, bean bags, camp chairs, and even working on the floor, are available to my students.  They can work in a place where they are comfortable!

I love that students can MOVE!  Wobble stools, flex bands, yoga ball chairs and other options allow students to move as they sit.  I also have standing tables for my non-sitters.  In addition, I do allow my students to move about the room as needed, and this allows my wigglers the freedom they need to take moving brain breaks!

If a student is having a conflict with the person sitting by them....they can get up and move away!  I can't tell you how this has simplified things!

Students always have the choice to work next to someone or by themselves in a quiet area.  I have a class set of study carrels, which easily turns any spot into a private "office."

No more late nights trying to work out the perfect seating arrangement, separating talkers and making sure to give everyone a turn sitting next to "that one kid that bugs everyone."

I am able to arrange my classroom in a much more visually pleasing arrangement that is also more spread out.  This has given our classroom an amazing feeling of open space and makes things a bit quieter (because the kids are spread out around the room).

The kids LOVE it and surprisingly, the parents do too!


It is very, very difficult to pass out papers when students are not in the classroom (since they don't have a desk of their own).  I have come up with a system that works for me to resolve this issue, but it is still kind of a pain.

We have to use storage bins and cubbies for keeping student supplies and materials.  It works...but is not as convenient as having a desk or chair pocket right on hand.  Students are forever having to go get something out of their bin...which takes up more time than I would like.

Most of our whole group lessons must take place on the floor.  There are some benefits to this (students are in close proximity to me when I'm teaching), but during longer lessons, students can become fidgety and uncomfortable.  Also, being on the floor makes it difficult to use manipulatives for math.  We have made this work, but I can see how it would be difficult for some (more challenging) groups of students.  Students do have assigned floor spaces, which helps a lot!

Substitute teachers DO NOT understand or enjoy flexible seating!

Some students clique together and have to be strongly encouraged to sit with new friends every once in a while.  This is currently a real issue in my class.  We are planning a class meeting to come up with some solutions!

Although we have many, many different and appealing seat choices, students still argue over the BEST ones (i.e., the wobble stools and yoga ball chairs).  I had to implement a VIP seating schedule for our comfy camp chairs and Big Joe bean bags!

I really, really like flexible seating!  It works great with my class this year and I think it has gone a long way to help us to create a very special sense of community in our classroom!

I would not say that it is for every teacher or every class.  It takes EXTREME organization and planning, not to mention $$.  Also, some classes just need more structure and flexible seating is the opposite of structured!  It could be a disaster for a classroom full of students that struggle with listening, following directions and getting along with one another.

I would love to answer any questions that you have about flexible seating!  Thanks for visiting!

2016 Classroom Reveal!!

I still have some things to finish up, but my classroom is mostly ready for a new school year!  I am making the dive into flexible seating.  I don't have a lot of options at the moment, but I have made the best with what I have.  I plan to add more choices as the year progresses...and as some funding hopefully comes through!  Enjoy the photos...I'd love to know what you think!!

Have a great year!!