Thursday, March 30, 2017

Poetry Packs a Powerful Punch!

April is National Poetry Month!  Although we will do some special poetry related activities during the month, we also enjoy poetry throughout the year.

We start every day with a poem displayed on the Smart Board.  It's there from the moment the students walk in.  I keep the same poem up for one week as we use it for repeated readings, phonics, and vocabulary work.

I like using poems in this way for several reasons.  First, kids like them!  They are short and often funny.  Even reluctant readers enjoy reading these poems.  They feel a sense of accomplishment when they are able to read an entire piece independently from start to finish.  It's a great way to build fluency skills as we read and reread every day.  It only takes a few minutes at the beginning of our day.

After announcements are finished, we read the poem together one time as a class.  This choral reading supports everyone, even those who may find the reading challenging at first.  Next, I choose 1 person to read it alone.  This is always voluntary.  We often talk about expression, rate, and attending to punctuation in the poem as we read.

Each day I pick one small area to focus on.  For example, we might look for certain "hunks and chunks"or spelling patterns.  We will underline them and discuss what we see.  We also might choose 1-2 words as vocabulary development.  Poetry provides a rich resource for interesting words.

The whole process takes about 5 minutes out of our day but provides many opportunities for learning.  In addition to seeing the poems on the Smart Board, I have each poem printed and bound into a book for the students.  They keep them in their book boxes and use them during Daily 5.  Again, it's a great way to develop fluency skills, and it's fun!

How do you use poetry in your class?  I would love to hear more ideas!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Positive Parent Partnerships

We all dread having to make a phone call to a parent that is NOT so positive.  It's a reality that every teacher faces from time to time.  You can increase the odds that you will get parental support by taking a few steps throughout the year to build a positive relationship with your parent partners.

One of the first things I do at the beginning of the year is invite parents to write a letter to me about their child. Some parents send a handwritten or typed letter.  Others send an e-mail.  I ask the parents to share any special information they think I might want to know about their child.  What are their child's likes, dislikes, strengths, and challenges?   Have they had any special trips or experiences that are unique?  I ask parents to tell me what their goals are for their child and what they expect from me. Parents often enjoy writing about their kids and they appreciate the opportunity to have a voice.  I explain that this information helps me to get to know my students personally but also gives me ideas to help the students with writing topics in the future.  I keep these letters to refer to throughout the year.  When a child is stuck and can't think of anything to write about, I have some ideas to help.  I try to follow up  with a personal e-mail to the parents.  I let them know I received the letter and also mention something interesting that was shared.  Again, parents appreciate being heard.  The personal response lets them know you are listening.  It doesn't take that long to send a quick e-mail.  Since most of these letters come in rather staggered the first couple of weeks of school, I only have to respond to a few each evening.

Another way to build positive relationships with families is to send postcards.  I make address labels at the beginning of the year for each student.  Then I attach one label to a postcard.  I use the cards to send a quick positive note home.  You can thank a child for being a great leader in class, for sharing their writing ideas, for doing well on a math test…  There are so many opportunities to use these cards. The students LOVE getting mail and the parents appreciate the positive communication.

Although the next idea takes some planning, it's worth it.  Each month I host one parent or family meeting in the evening.  The topics cover a wide range of things from daily routines and class expectations at the beginning of the year to a family science night later in the year.  Here's a list of the topics and meetings I host each year.
parent night list
Although it does take some time to plan and organize each meeting, once I have the structure and idea, I can use the same material each year.  It's much easier to implement when I have thought out what I want to do and say.

Here are links to some resources I use for family math night and family science night.

Give parents an inside look at your teaching methods with apps like Educreations.  I have created numerous short videos that explain what we are working on in math and how parents can help at home.  I know there are other apps and programs available as well.  Again, there is some work to do up front but once these videos are created, you can use them from year to year.

Our math series provides school to home connection letters for each chapter.  I make sure and utilize these so that parents stay informed.  I created similar letters for some of our language arts standards. This is another way that I keep parents informed.

Most teachers send a monthly newsletter and/or weekly update about what is happening at school and in the classroom.  These should be foundational things that take place in every classroom.  As a parent myself, I always appreciated getting communication from my son's teachers.

I think the key to positive parent partnerships is frequent and consistent communication.  When parents feel supported and informed, they are more likely to be receptive to communication from you that might not be so positive.  The bottom line is to follow "The Golden Rule" with parents.  Treat them as you, as a parent, would want to be treated.

How do you build positive parent partnerships?  What tips can you share?

Friday, March 24, 2017

Second Grade Science Day

What do you do the day before spring break?  Have a science day!  Let's face it.  The day before spring break everyone is ready for a break.  My second grade colleagues and I decided that we would try this out and it was awesome!

There are 5 second grade teachers in my building.  We each planned a fun science activity that would take about 45 minutes to complete.  The activities we picked were ones that focused on second grade science standards.  In my class, the students made marshmallow shooters as we learned about force and motion.

The students came in this morning to the tune of Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me with Science." For morning work, they used their iPads to draw a scientist on Doodle Buddy.  They were so excited!

We spent the whole day doing fun activities that met our science standards.  The students rotated from room to room while the teachers stayed in their own rooms.  When we did have a little down time, we watched a Bill Nye video on inventions.
That's me on the right and one of my colleagues on the left.
I enjoyed working with all of the second grade classes.  Plus, it was kind of nice to get a break from my own "little darlings."  You know what I mean??  I have empathy for my coworkers and they have empathy for me!  Anyhoo, the whole day was a blast.  We want to do it again next year!

Do you do anything fun on the last day before spring break?  What kind of "special days" do you do at your school?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

5 Tips to Increase Vocabulary Instruction

I recently read a quote that tied 80% of students' reading comprehension test scores directly to knowledge of vocabulary.  Unfortunately, this hasn't translated into increased vocabulary instruction in most schools.  Despite the obvious positive impact vocabulary instruction may have on student success, many classroom teachers say they don't have the time to fit it in. Although I am certainly NOT an expert, I have learned a few tricks to increase vocabulary instruction in my classroom.

1) Word of the Week- Students find words of interest in their reading and write those words on index cards.  Each week, I select 2 words that become our "Words of the Week."  We learn the meaning of the words and try to use the words in our conversations and writing.  From the words we have chosen, we make a class book to use as a resource in future writings.

2) Focus on Prefixes and Suffixes- We learn word parts throughout the year and often have them posted on the board.  We make lists of words that have the same prefix or suffix. Students love to find prefixes and suffixes in their reading and point them out to others.

3) Student Word Collectors- Each student has a book in his or her book box that is a "Word Collector." When interesting words are found, they are written in the student's personal book.  These books are used as references for writing, reading, and spelling.

4) Teach "Expand Vocabulary"- I use The Daily 5 and The Cafe frameworks in my classroom.  The E in Cafe stands for "Expand Vocabulary."  Under this heading, I teach the students several strategies for learning unknown words and expanding their vocabularies.

5) Model Through Think Alouds- It's important for students to see how we as adults utilize the skills we teach.  When reading to students, let them see you "get stuck" on a word and work through the process of figuring it out.  Be sure to explain your thinking so that students can apply the same process on their own.

6) Poem of the Week- We have one poem that we read everyday for a week.  The main purpose of this is for fluency, but we also use it for phonics, spelling, and vocabulary instruction.  Poems often have rich vocabulary words that can be hi-lighted and studied closely.

Knowing that vocabulary acquisition is so important to the success of my students keeps me looking for ways to improve my own instruction.  What tips can you share for vocabulary instruction?

Monday, March 13, 2017

March Math Madness

Just a quick post to let you know about some great freebies!  I have linked up with Chalkboard Creations  to share some free math games.  There are actually 2 posts.  One is for K-2 and the other is for 3-5.  Check it out!  Who doesn't love free stuff?  Click on the link below!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Chew and Chat- Building Class Community

Lunch is my favorite part of the day for lots of reasons.  I'll spare you the majority of them and just focus on one- building class community.  Twice a month I have lunch in the classroom with 4 students. It's a time to bond and get to know each other better.  We call it "Chew and Chat."

I randomly select 2 students who each get to invite a friend.  I give them written invitations to attend.  You can download them here:

I set up our little cafe in the classroom.  It does give it a special feeling to add a few details.  We eat lunch together and talk.  I actually really enjoy it (and I treasure my lunch break with my colleagues)!

I enjoy "Chew and Chat" because it gives me a chance to connect with the kids on a different level.  I find out little tidbits of their lives that I would otherwise never know.  Students who are too shy to speak in class often open up in this setting.

I have created these conversation starter cards to use during this lunch time or any time!  You might also use them as prompts for writing, especially opinion writing.

What are some ways you develop class community in your classroom or school?