Kindergarten Portfolios and Memory Books

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When people ask what I love about teaching kindergarten, one of my first answers is always the growth that happens each year. Students come in not knowing their own name or having held ย a pencil before and leave first grade ready.

One of the best ways to show that growth to both students and parents is through portfolios. Portfolios are a place to keep writing samples, work students are proud of, and to track data and goals. And at the end of the year, they become a wonderful memory book to send home to parents!

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I keep my portfolios in individual binders because it’s easy to quickly insert pages. However, you could just keep each student’s pages in a file folder and then bind at the end of the year.

I start collecting work samples from the very first day of school. Each month has it’s own section. Instead of buying dividers, I have students make a simple craft on construction paper, which is slightly larger than printer paper and makes the perfect divider. As you can see in the picture above, the construction paper is slightly taller than the binder, so if that bothered you, you could trim them down.

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At the beginning of each month, students also draw a portrait of themselves and write their names. I love to see how the pictures get so much more detailed throughout the year!

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I also have them write their uppercase and lowercase letters and fill out a calendar to show number writing. At the beginning of the year, this is rough, but again, the growth is always amazing to see!

Throughout the year, students choose some of their work samples that they are proud of to put in their portfolio. I also choose work that I think represents them as a students and I have a few seasonal writing prompts that I give the whole class.

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Finally, I have one of my FAVORITE sections in the portfolios: Data tracking and goal setting.

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Students help me track their data – sometimes by coloring in what they know and sometimes just by discussing it with me. I let them set their own goals, usually just one or two at a time, that they want to work towards. When they achieve it, they get to add a page to the binder celebrating ย the achievement.

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I have students (or me depending on time) use different colors each time I assess so I can easily see where they started and how much they grew each time. This is also very helpful to have on hand during parent teacher conferences – you can just pull out their child’s binder and show how much they’ve grown from the very beginning.

You can find everything you need to easily put together your own portfolios here:

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8 Fun, Free Letter Review Activities

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If you are a kindergarten teacher, you know how important it is to teach and review letters until it feels like you’re in a real life version ofย Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. It can get old, fast to us and to our kiddos.

Thankfully, it’s SO easy to spice things up a little bit and keep those letters interesting to both us and our students! All of these activities require little to no prep and if they use materials, it’s probably something you have already in your classroom!

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I don’t think this activity is new to anyone, but it’s a staple. I know some teachers absolutely despise playdough in the classroom because of the mess, but really, I say the bigger the mess the more learning is happening!

This activity is awesome for for fine motor and it helps students really see the lines and curves of each letter. Win!

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Another playdough activity! Just like some teachers despise playdough, I despise ink pads. I’ll admit it – ink covered hands touching every important paper and surface is my kryptonite.

As an alternative, I let my students stamp letters in playdough! They just pick a letter, find the stamp, and stamp it in the playdough. As an added bonus, this stamp set has each letter on printed on the tray so students have to match them when they all accidentally on purpose get jumbled up. I just got it on Amazon.

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This is another activity that is great for fine motor because students have to really work to manipulate the pipe cleaners just right. Eventually, I let them make sight words using pipe cleaners too! It’s always a favorite.

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This activity I just thought of on the spot, but I LOVE it! Students pick a letter and then have to find the matching letter in the bag of letter beads. Then they string them onto a pipe cleaner.

This is another activity that could also be used to practice sight words! Just have students string the letters to make each word onto the pipe cleaners! How easy it that??

The next few activities are meant to be done whole group or in small groups and would be great for when you have an extra 5 minutes to fill.

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For this activity, you will think of a letter and give students clues to guess what it is. You can use features such as “It has a circle then a stick” or sounds “Bear begins with it.”

Once students get the hang of this, they can be the ones to think of the letters and give clues!

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This game practices beginning sounds. You will say a letter and a word that begins with that letter (b balloon). Then you will go around the circle as students say words that begin with that letter (ball, bear, bee). When they cannot think of any more, that letter ends. You can make it a competition by seeing which letter they can think of the most words for!

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For this activity, you will need a bowl of letter magnets or tiles. You could make it really interesting by getting a plastic cauldron around Halloween time! You will stir the pot while saying,

Letters, letters, in my stew. Pick a letter just for you!

A students will reach in and grab a letter. You can differentiate by having them name the letter, say the letter sound, or name something that begins with that letter. If you want to make it REALLY hard, you can have them try to guess the letter by feel before they take it out!

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This is probably not an activity you have room for in your classroom (and if you do, i’m jealous!), but it would be fun to do outside or in the gym.

Students will work together in small groups of 2-3 to form letters with their bodies! They can do this laying down or standing up, but some letters will be much easier laying down.

I hope these ideas were useful to you! These letter review activities are a bonus included in all of my Little Readers Whole Group Literacy units, but i’m also offering them as a blog exclusive FREEBIE here:

Letter Review Activities FREEBIE

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How To Differentiate Your Centers in Kindergarten

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I talked previously about how I managed my differentiated centers last year in this post. However, i’m in a new school this year and i’m not sure i’ll have all that space!

I wanted to show you an EASY way to differentiate your centers and then give you a peek into HOW I differentiate them. It doesn’t have to be a lot of work!

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I have different colors for below level, on level, and above level. I wish that yellow folder was purple but beggars can’t be choosers! These are normally at least $4 at Office Depot, but I got them when they were 2/$1 plus I had a coupon making them around 30 cents each!

So in each basket center, I would have 3 folders. I spend a lot of time at the beginning of the year teaching my students how to get out THEIR color. If you assign students centers, you could have 1 basket at each center and that basket would hold the 3 folders for any students who go to that center so you don’t have to change it out.

You could also just have one basket hold all the blue folders, one hold all the pink folders, and one hold all the purple folders for students to choose from if you want to give them more choice. It cuts out a lot of space!

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What I LOVE about these folders are the pockets! I can keep the recording sheets and instructions in the zipped pocket and smaller pieces in the little pockets!

I promise this isn’t an ad for these, I just really wanted to show you because I am SO excited about that feature. ๐Ÿ˜‰

So then the activities as that center are very similar, but at different levels. To the students, it looks like they are doing the same center or almost the same center, but I know each student is getting what they need.

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This is the below level sight word center from my September pack. Students are matching sight words to sight words. They are just working on recognizing the word in print.

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This is the on level center. Now students are building the sight word and working on spelling it.

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The above level activity is, again, very similar but now students have to unscramble the sight word. This requires them to use higher order thinking skills.

I differentiate my math centers in the same way.

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Oops! Notice the mistake? Even teachers have trouble subitizing. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I change it up by what numbers are used and sometimes by the task. So for the subitizing center above, my below level students are sorting up to 5, my on level students are sorting up to 10, and my above level students are sorting up to 20.

You can get all of these differentiated centers by month in my store, or you can get the growing year-long bundle right now! It is a STEAL right now as I add in the months and it’s guaranteed to make differentiating your centers easy!

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Easy Name Activities

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Every year that I have taught kindergarten, I have always had multiple students come in not even able to recognize their own name. So it’s no surprise then that we spend a LOT of time our first few weeks of school focusing on names.

The activities i’m going to show you today do not take a lot of prep at all but are fun and would be perfect for Pre-K to 1st grade kiddos who need some name practice.

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This activity is probably not new to you, but it’s a staple in my classroom! I use these name puzzles in guided reading groups and I let my students keep them in baggies in their book boxes to pull out throughout the day.

If I have a student who is just beginning to learn their name, I only make one cut right in the middle of their name. As they master the puzzle, I cut more and more pieces until it is finally all cut apart!

If you are doing this as part of guided reading groups, it is always a big motivator to cut the puzzles at the table. My kiddos practice extra just so they can have the most pieces!

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I LOVE this rainbow names craft because it is SO easy but it brightens up our room beautifully!

I just write each kiddo’s name on the clouds and then give them enough rays to write 1 letter of their name on each ray (for some students, I write the letters). They have to put the rays in order and I check them before they glue.

I have this craft as a freebie in my store! If you don’t want to print the rays page on colored paper, you can also cut strips of construction paper.

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Another easy word work activity! All you need is a name and magnetic letters or letter tiles. I’ll find all sorts of different letters just to make this more interesting.

You can also take a picture of students at the beginning of the year and put it next to their name so they can easily pull out the right one!

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Along with those cards, I use sentence frames for students to practice reading.

Now, I know it would be easy to type these up and laminate them but, just being honest, i’m not likely to do that! I like easy, low prep!

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The last activity is this fun name craft! I like this one because it doubles as a name puzzle – students can take the crayons out of the box and put them in order to make their names.

This craft is very similar to the rainbow craft. The students cut out their boxes and I staple the sides and write their name on the front. Then they write 1 letter on each crayon and put them in their box.

I’ve just added options for longer names too! You can check that out here.

I hope you enjoyed these easy name activities! If you have any go to ways to practice names, i’d love it if you left them below!

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What’s In Your Writing Center?

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The writing center has always been one of my favorite centers; probably because it has always been one of my students’ favorite centers as well! Seriously, they choose to go to the writing center during free time over computers or legos.

So what’s the key to making your writing center so engaging to your students that they choose to go there over playing? The answer is: choice!

Of course, choice doesn’t mean having a free for all at the writing center. I make sure to set high expectations for the materials at this center and I don’t put out all the choices at once. I introduce 3 at the beginning of the year and then 1-2 each quarter.

The choices then stay the same, but the vocabulary cards and the themes change to keep it fresh. I have themed writing centers that I can keep all month or change out whenever we focus on a new topic. This keeps my students excited and connects what we’re learning in other areas to our center time!

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I keep the choices in these letter trays. You could hang the vocabulary cards on hooks or on a ribbon using clothespins. I’ve done both and they both work just fine! I also keep visual directions for each activity here so students always know the expectations.

I’m going to show you some of my favorite activities to keep at my writing center below!

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This free activity is perfect for beginning writers because it exposes them to sentence structure, sight words, and vocabulary, but also scaffolds their writing by providing the sentence frame.

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In this activity, students will trace the sentence and use the vocabulary cards to finish the sentence. They will also draw a matching picture, which gives them practice drawing matching illustrations.

You could also save paper and make this reusable by sticking it in a dry erase sleeve.

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Again, you can find this activity free here.

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This is another great activity for beginning writers, but I love this activity for all year because it exposes students to vocabulary and gives them practice with longer words.

Some of my students choose to stretch out the words instead of looking at the vocabulary cards and that is perfectly fine with me! I love seeing their progress throughout the year.

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ANOTHER easy activity, but it’s also easy to differentiate! Students can write generic lists, which I usually keep out from day 1, or I can have them write lists on specific topics.

Again, this exposes them to new vocabulary and drawing pictures to match their words.

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I have two different levels of writing paper. One just has a couple lines and is perfect for emergent writers. Once my students can write multiple pages for one story, I also let them add covers to make their own books!

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I also have story starter paper, which is great for those students who take ten years to think of a writing topic. They already have the topic provided for them; they just have to write about the picture!

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This is an activity I usually introduce the second semester, because I like to take the time to teach my students the proper way to right a letter. It annoys me so much to see a page with just a heart or “hi.” written on it!

How engaging would this be if you actually had a mailbox, though?? I know they usually put small ones in the Target Dollar Spot around Valentine’s Day. You could let students “mail” their letters and have a mailman as a classroom job to deliver the letters!

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This is another activity I save either for the end of the year or for my more advanced writers. If you taught 1st or 2nd grade, though, this would be perfect for all year long!

I have so many of these research flip books, so I can keep ones out that match with what we’re learning or put out ones that match student interest. The National Geographic Kids books are perfect for research, or I let my students use Kiddle (the kid-friendly Google) on the computers!

If you want to start your own writing center, or even just change yours up, i’m offering my Themed Writing Centers for the Year for just $15 right now as I add in the themes! There are currently 10 themes included (a $30 value), and I will be adding in at least 29 more!

In each themed pack, you’ll get the visual directions posters you can display, picture vocabulary cards, multiple labeling pages, list pages, writing and story start paper, a card, and letter paper.

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Little Readers: Whole Group Literacy for K-1 (Freebies included!)

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I’m not going to lie, i’m a little bit sentimental about the “birth” of this curriculum! It has been a LONG time coming!

Each unit contains everything you need to teach an effective and engaging whole group literacy block, including phonemic awareness, reading comprehension, writing, vocabulary, phonics, and crafts – all you need to add is the books!

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What does a typical unit look like?

Each unit contains 4 weeks worth of materials (except August/September which contains 6 weeks). Each week will focus on one text you will do a close read on as a whole class.

Why a close read? By focusing on one book a week, but reading it for different information and thinking about it in a different way, students really get to know the text and can really focus on the reading comprehension strategies they are practicing each week.

NOT every week will look the same, though! In the August/September unit, most of the weeks focus on the same comprehension skills to build a routine, but by the 6th week, the strategies change as nonfiction text is also introduced. In the October unit, students some of the comprehension skills will stay the same, but 1-2 will be different each week.

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Each week, you will have a week overview and 5 days worth of lesson plans. These lesson plans offer easy ways to differentiate for K/1 (or for your higher/lower students).

Each week generally contains 4 vocabulary words students will focus on and one day a week is generally dedicated to working with that vocabulary.

You are given two options for these vocabulary cards to make it easy for you! You may also choose to just print the picture and word card and let the students generate the definition using context clues in the text. For kindergarten, this is a skill I would introduce later on in the year.

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This is one of the fun phonemic awareness activities included for kindergarten! I can’t take credit for this idea, but I can guarantee that students LOVE this game!

 

These are an example of one of the comprehension skills covered – making predictions. You can see how the pages might be different for kindergarten or first, but the skills stay the same. If you have students at different levels in your classroom, you could also use these to differentiate their work.

 

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Each week contains one craft or extension activity. Above you can see an example of the August/September crafts, and below you can see examples of the October crafts.

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Phonics is also differentiated for K/1. In the August/September unit, kindergarten will focus on being introduce to the letters and reviewing the letters. In October, they will focus on reviewing letter sounds, working with beginning sounds, and learn medial vowel a.

 

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First grade will focus on all of the medial vowels and cvc words in August/September. In October, they will focus on word families. Their word work generally contains one paper activity or interactive board activity per day and a short assessment/check in for Fridays.

Interested but still not completely sure if this is for you?

Try the first week FREE for a limited time!

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I’m interested! Where can I find this?

Right now, August/September and October are available and they will be discounted to 50% off through Friday 6/23.

BUT you can also save a HUGE amount of money by getting the growing bundle! This bundle will be $25 (a $102 value) through Friday only as well. Right now it contains the first 2 units, but each additional unit will be added at least 2 months before the actual month.

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Interactive Anchor Charts

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If you’re a teacher, you already know the importance of anchor charts. They literally “anchor” our learning and provide a resource for students to look back to throughout the year.

But have you ever felt like you put all this time into making a cute, pinterest-worthy anchor chart and your students rarely, if ever, look at it again? It seems like it just became a part of the classroom decor? Well, most likely, the students didn’t have a connection with that anchor chart!

 

When students contribute to anchor charts and they become interactive, yes, the charts may not come out quite as cute, but they make a connection to the chart and its content and they will be much more likely to use it as a resource.

 

Here are some ideas and different types of interactive anchor charts you may want to implement in your own classroom:

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This is a type of chart that many of us are already implementing in our classrooms. As I introduce each letter of the alphabet, I have students brainstorm words they know that begin with that letter. I quickly write the word and sketch the matching picture.

 

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I add ANY word the students think of, so long as it begins with the correct letter and is school appropriate.

 

This is a great time to build connections with your ESL students as well! If they give me a word in their home language, I will add it to the chart with a picture (Google Translate is my BFF), and explain to the class why we are adding it and what it means. It means SO much to them to see words in their own language on these charts!

 

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I use charts with sound boxes all the time as we’re learning cvc words and short vowels. The cute “Aw Man O” at the top comes from Michelle Hudgeons.

 

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Of course, I could just write words that students brainstorm on the chart, but I think it means so much more to have them help me stretch out the words and use the sound boxes themselves. We will use sound boxes all year long and I want my students to become experts at stretching out words that they’re writing, so I need to make sure i’m modeling it as much as possible.

 

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Similar to sound boxes, as we begin learning more complex phonetic patterns, I begin having my students stretch out the words and label the pictures on our anchor charts.

 

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I am NOT worried about spelling here! If they forget a phonics rule we’ve already learned I may remind them, but otherwise I let them use inventive spelling to encourage taking risks in their own writing.

 

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These charts may be pre-made, but they show students how to do something step-by-step and they should match the task exactly.

 

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This chart shows students step-by-step how to solve our addition word problems.

 

I had the steps already written on the chart, but I made sure we referred to this chart constantly as we practiced solving word problems whole group. Every time we did a step, I had a student tell me what number it was and what it said. They HAD to refer to this chart so that it would be more likely they would refer to it later on when they needed help.

 

Another example is letter writing. This time I did start with a blank chart:

 

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I only had the numbers written on here so students knew how many steps there were. Then I wrote the letter in front of the class explaining what I was doing as I went.

 

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I made sure to use different colors to make the difference in each step obvious.

 

After we finished this chart and went through the steps a few more times, I put this at the writing center. Letter writing was now an option and, because they had this chart to refer to, I expected all students to follow this format.

 

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Again, these are charts that you are probably already using in your classroom! These charts are your KWL charts, your Can, Have, Are charts, and your bubble charts. These charts are meant to document student learning.

 

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Here is a very sorry looking dinosaur Can, Have, Are chart. ๐Ÿ˜‰ We completed one column every day and wrote about that part. Students were able to use the chart as a resource and were more likely to be able to recognize the words because they contributed the information.

 

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This is a bubble chart we made after reading a book about spring. The pictures help students know what the sentence is about, which helps them recognize the words because, again, they came up with the words.

 

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This last chart type is one that is usually pre-made and they can be easy for students to forget about if you are not diligent about making sure to refer to them often.

 

We used this chart when learning about character traits, but we also had a chart with even more traits I displayed on the SmartBoard:

 

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We read “Tops and Bottoms” and then used both charts to fill out this character traits sheet:

 

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I made sure that we referred to that chart often throughout the rest of the year as we read stories together.

 

If you have any great anchor chart tips, be sure to leave them below!

 

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How Do Butterflies Eat? A Science Experiment

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We kicked off butterfly week today with one of my favorite experiments – discovering why butterflies only eat liquids!

Honestly, it can be hard for kindergartners to understand how a butterfly’s mouth works. If we’re going to be using the word “proboscis,” however, I want to make sure it’s not going over their heads every time I say it!

The materials are pretty simple:

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-2 cups per student

-1 straw per student (I used colored straws so students at the same table didn’t mix them up)

-Cereal too large to fit up a straw

-Juice (I used fruit punch to represent nectar)

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Every student got a cup with some fruit loops, a cup with some juice, and a straw.

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I had students stand with the straw in their mouth and their hands behind their back. They couldn’t touch anything and they had to listen for each direction.

First, students tried to suck up the cereal with the straws. Obviously, this won’t work! We got a lot of laughs as some students managed to get cereal out of the cups, but couldn’t eat it.

Then students tried to suck up the juice. Of course, this time it worked!

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We talked about how butterflies also have straws for mouths (the proboscis) and discussed which one we thought would be easier for them to eat (the liquid, of course)!

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Together, we reflected and wrote about our experiment and what we learned. And then we ate fruit loops! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Would your students love to learn all about butterflies? Find this experiment and much, much more in this fun Butterfly nonfiction unit:

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All About Spring!

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I LOVE spring! The days get longer, the weather gets warmer, and we get to learn about some of my favorite subjects!

I always like to talk about the season of spring the week we get back from spring break. I’m always surprised at how many of my students have no idea what a season is, but I also secretly love it because they get SO excited to learn about what makes each season unique!

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I highly, highly recommend all the seasons books in the Exploring series:

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The pages aren’t very wordy and the pictures are big and vibrant. My students always pull out so much information form these!

We put it all into a bubble chart:

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From there, I tasked my students with choosing 3 things to write about spring. They could be things we added to our chart or things they already knew.

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They then added a cover and made tissue paper flowers to complete this cute writing craft!

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You can find these in my All About Spring unit:

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From there we moved on to insects. We read about different types of insects using these pages, again from my All About Spring unit:

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Of course, insects are one of those topics that certain students will already know A LOT about. ๐Ÿ˜‰ So I let them add their information to our discussion too.

Then students each chose 1 of the 5 insects to write about. We ended by making this cute directed drawing craft inspired by Doodlebugs Teaching:

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And, of course, we couldn’t talk about spring without talking about the changing weather! We actually are required to cover weather the entire second quarter in STEM, so we were already weather experts, but we spent some time talking about storms – a big deal this time of year in the midwest!

We started with what they already knew about storms:

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And then we added our new learning after reading a few nonfiction books:

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If you think your students would also love learning about spring, insects, plants, weather, and more, be sure to check out All About Springย and then let me know some of your favorite topics to teach in the spring!

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Transitional Readers in Kindergarten

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If you’re a kindergarten teacher, you know that every year is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get. Every year I have kiddos come in who range from not knowing their own name to knowing a few letters to being able to read and comprehend chapter books.

Today i’m going to talk about what you can do to meet the needs of those high students without cloning yourself… because let’s be real, sometimes it feels like you need to if you want to fit it all in! And these ideas aren’t just for kindergarten – many can be used with any primary grade level!

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I’m going to start with talking about guided reading. Right now I have a group of kiddos who read and comprehend at a range of levels M-U (3rd-5th grade levels). The word comprehend is so important because it doesn’t matter if a student can read a higher level text if they don’t understand what they read.

Sometimes that can be difficult to explain to parents why I have their student at a lower reading level when they’re convinced they can read every Harry Potter book back-to-back, but what’s the point of reading if you don’t do anything with it? (Does that make sense? I’ve got spring break brain, HA!)

We’ve been working all year, and one area I found my kiddos struggled in was retelling nonfiction.

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I LOVE these Scholastic Kids newsletters! Yes, they’re a lower reading level, but they are laid out perfectly to show my students how to pick out the main idea and supporting details.

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After reading a few times, I have my students fill out this graphic organizer. You can find it here. If it was a magazine with 4 points, i’d either have them just choose 3 or add another on the back.

On day 2, we would put this into paragraph form, which was definitely a challenge as they had never done that before! First, I had students write a topic sentence using the main idea,ย then put the 3 details into sentences, then write a closing sentence. I taught them that they could just reword the topic sentence to write the closing sentence (So “There are dangerous animals in summer.” might become “Those are some of the dangerous animals of summer.”)

Then, because I do want to push my students further, I have them go back and add more to each detail (this extends over multiple days – so a day for the graphic organizer, a day for writing,ย a day for adding more details, etc).

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Students use sticky notes to add on to each detail. Often they want to say “But there’s no more here!” and I have to make them go back and read because of course there is. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Now, this step is extra, butย  I wanted a way to make the structure more visual to them.

 

First, I had my students cut apart their paragraph. Then they glued it down in order, this time adding in those expanded details with the post it notes.

Then, they wrote their paragraph again and this time illustrated it:

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Pretty impressive! Now that they understand the structure of a paragraph, we’re working on writing multiple paragraphs about an animal they’re researching. Once they’re done, we’ll learn how to type it up and they will get to present to an upper grade class (they’re dying to do this!)

Again, those graphic organizers can be found here. Honestly, I use them every day for any skill I think we need to work on – making connections, predicting, retelling, and more!

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What about literacy centers? If you go back to this post, I show you how I differentiate my literacy centers to meet the needs of all my students:

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This group is my purple group, so they know that they can choose any basket with a purple ribbon or any purple folder.

Some centers are very easy to differentiate because I just need to change up the sight words. For example:

-Read it, Make it, Write it

Mystery Sight Words

-Sight Word Stamp

-Roll and Write a Sight Word

I also like to have them do research and write as a basket. One basket contains a bunch of Scholastic Kids magazines and the same graphic organizer so that they can get more practice even when they’re not at my table.

I LOVE the PBL projects from Digital Divide and Conquer! I sometimes start these with the students and then make them a basket.

I also put out these animal research tab booksย out and let my students choose an animal to write about. You can try the lion tab book out for free here:

 

I hope these ideas were helpful to you! Do you have any great ideas for meeting the needs of your higher students? I’d love to hear them!

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