Story Problems Made Easy

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I’m one of those weird people who LOVE word problems. Probably because I’ve never been great at math, but reading has always come easily. So reading and math? Oh, yeah!

But if you’ve ever tried to teach kindergarteners to follow multi-step directions, you know just how difficult word problems can be to teach! And what about those kiddos who don’t read yet? Never fear – i’m going to show you how I taught word problems in a way that ALL of my kiddos were able to work a problem independently.

It started with this chart:

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Right now i’m ONLY teaching addition word problems. Once we have a good grasp on that, i’ll go back and make another chart for subtraction.

On this chart, I put step-by-step how I wanted my students to go about solving their word problem and proving their answer. I color coded it so it would be as simple as possible to follow the directions. In fact, with my kiddos who have a hard time following directions, I made them color-code their work with crayons so that they HAD to look at this chart.

No, not all of my students can read yet. As long as they follow these steps, they don’t need to. Along with “more,” I later added on underline “all together.” I just didn’t want to overwhelm students right away.

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We practiced, and practiced, and practiced together on the interactive board. I constantly referred back to the anchor chart and had students tell me the next step. Honestly, I think I could put any work onto the board and my students would become instantly more engaged.

The sheets we were using were from my Addition Word Problems pack. I think its important that, whatever you are using, your practice matches exactly what the students will be expected to do. You may have noticed that these also match my anchor chart.

Last, students completed a word problem themselves:

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As one of my little boys would say, “Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezey.”

Find addition and subtraction story problems here!

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Differentiating Literacy Centers For All Learners

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Differentiation is important in every grade, but I think it is especially important in kindergarten. We really have no idea who will walk through our door on the first day of school, but I can guarantee they won’t all be in the same place academically.

This year alone, I had students who started in February not knowing their name or any letters, students slightly below level, students slightly above level, and students reading at 3rd-5th grade reading levels (really).

So how do I meet the needs of all of my learners? Well, I got the inspiration for my current center set up from Mr. Greg at the Kindergarten Smorgasboard, and i’m lucky to have the space this year. If you don’t have this space or you just don’t want to give as many options, Deedee Wills also has a great post here.

First off, here is how I organize my centers:

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I have 5 colors which are for 5 different groups with pink being the lowest and purple being the highest. Each group has 6 baskets to choose from and 4 folders that they can choose paper options from.

Isn’t it a lot of work to prep all those centers?!

Ok, i’m not going to lie – at first it was until I got the hang of it. Now I only switch out 2-3 baskets each week and I just move them from one color to another. For example, I might take a beginning sounds center from the green group and give it to the yellow group.

The only groups I have to plan separately are pink and purple, and that’s because they’re on such different levels from everyone else. Still, all the groups have centers that never really change, like my Mystery Sight Words center and Roll a Sight Word.

How do students know which color to choose?

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I laminated the different color paper at the beginning of the year and wrote names with Vis-à-vis markers. I can easily erase and move students around as needed.

We also practiced a lot. Like, to the point where I think they thought I was ridiculous, but I wanted to make sure our year would go smooth. So we practiced finding our color, getting out the right color, putting it back on the right shelf, and making sure everything in the basket is put away where it belongs.

Do you have any other centers or just these baskets?

I have a writing center that also offers a lot of choice. I started the year with just 3 choices, but eventually bumped it up to 5. All the activities and vocab cards are from my monthly writing center bundle. That bundle actually offers enough activities that I can switch up those options throughout the year to keep it fresh.

Obviously I need to refill some of the options! This is a favorite during Friday Fun so we’re always running out.

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I also have a library, listening center, and computers.

How do students know what center to be at? Do you do rotations?

When we were learning how to do each center, we did rotate. By October, I had done away with rotations and gave my students choice. I got this idea from Mr. Greg again, but mine is digital on the SMART board:

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I made it by typing all of my student names into a circle partitioned into fifths and saving that as a picture. Then I inserted that into a SmartNotebook document and put my center clip art around it like Greg’s wheel above. I can just tap the wheel and use the green circle that appears to rotate it, which I love.

What are your rotations?

I have a 5 day rotation and I never switch it up because I have a lot of students who are dependent on routine. The rotations are:

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write the room/baskets

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The baskets are always an option because they allow for so much choice.

What about students who can’t handle the choice?

I do have a few who either don’t have the stamina or aren’t able to make a positive choice right now. For some of them, I made a picture schedule. Instead of rotating on the wheel, they follow their picture schedule which usually goes – basket, library, basket, writing center, computers. Computers are last as an incentive to get it al done, but if they don’t get there, we just celebrate what they did get done.

I also have one student who just couldn’t be safe around other students, and it was disrupting my guided reading groups. He has his own work that has some choice, but not as much as others unfortunately, and his own set place to work that is right next to my table.

I hope this was helpful to you! If you have any questions, feel free to leave them below and i’ll answer them to the best of my ability.

 

Building Number Sense

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By this time of the year, we expect that most of our students can identify the numbers 0-20. Even more important, though, students need to understand that those numbers aren’t just lines – they represent a quantity and they can take many different forms. That can be hard for a kindergartener!

Even our on-level and above-level students can struggle when it comes to teen numbers. Today i’m sharing some of my favorite activities for working on number sense with ALL of my students.

First off, one of my favorite ways to build number sense is to start representing numbers on ten frames. We actually did this way back in October, but we come back to this giant ten frame a lot, especially when we started learning about teen numbers.

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I like this game from Mr. Greg at The Kindergarten Smorgasboard for more practice with ten frames! My students LOVE a good memory game and would seriously play this all day every day. Get it free here.

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Next up is another favorite. Playdough mats! What student doesn’t like playdough? And I love that I can differentiate these (and all of these activities) for my below, on, and above level students.

 

Next up is Spin & Build. I like this and Tall Towers for my RtI groups and tutors. It hits so many areas at once!

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For my above-level students, I like to spend time on subitizing and different ways to represent numbers. These puzzles are the perfect way to do that!

 

 

All of these activities and MANY, many more can be found in my Number Sense Intervention & RtI unit (which is definitely not just for intervention)! I use this unit literally every single day in my classroom, either in small groups, with tutors, or as centers.

Organizing for Guided Reading & Guided Math

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If there is one place I am organized (the only place I am organized), it is at my small group table. What happens at this table is so important, and it happens SO fast, that I find I need to be as efficient as possible.

Keep in mind, this is what works for me and its taken me 4 years to figure out exactly what did and did not work. Hopefully you can use some of these ideas, but if something doesn’t work for you – find something that will!

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Ignore the mess in the background! It’s proof that i’m human. 😉 This is how my table is set up each day. I’m supposed to be able to fit 6 at my table, but I can only fit 5 right now and i’ll show you why in a minute. I prefer to have 5 or less in my groups if possible (We share kids between classrooms to try to make this doable).

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This set of drawers is where my 6th chair would be and without them I would be lost. I keep my alphabet charts, sound boxes, and analogy charts on top in dry erase pockets.

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In the small top drawer, I keep my magnetic letter trays. I used to keep these out, but I found that letters would mysteriously “walk away.” 😉

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In the middle drawer, I keep things I need for guided reading. I keep my pencil trays with dry erase markers, erasers, pencils, and highlighters in them and I keep one tray to the side filled with extras just in case. I also keep small sentence strips from the dollar spot in here.

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In the bottom drawer, I keep my items for guided math. Most of my manipulatives are kept in separate tubs, but I keep things I bought myself in here. I have counting bears, 50 & 100-charts to practice counting, magnetic ten frames, and playdough.

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I also keep this 10-drawer cart over here because you can never have enough drawers. On the top is a “junk drawer basket.” I keep random things like sticky notes, scissors, and glue in there and I also throw in anything students bring up to me during guided reading.

The top 5 drawers are for each of my guided reading groups.

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In each drawer I keep a folder with any printables I need. For example, my Pre-A drawer has all the letter pages we will be doing from my Letter ID Intervention pack. In my Pre-A drawer, I also keep a pile of magnetic letters to match to alphabet charts.

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I also keep each groups’ writing journals in here so that I don’t have to sort through one big pile. These were just blank journals I found in a cabinet. If it’s day 1, I keep their books in here too. After that they go in their book boxes.

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This binder is my LIFE. Seriously. It was originally just for guided reading, but I recently made the back half for guided math. In the very front I keep my schedule and the interventionist’s schedule side-by-side, but I won’t show you that for privacy purposes.

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I have a tab for each group. In each tab, I keep a chart with what letters/sounds they know, what sight words they can write, and then all my lesson plans. I switch kids around quite a bit, so I just change out the charts as needed. We use Jan Richardson’s lesson plans (which I seriously love and suggest you check out), so I don’t have anything fancy to show you there.

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After that, I have my math intervention groups tabbed by what skill they need to work on. I just write the students on the front with a vis-à-vis and I can easily erase/add as needed. I also put the day of the week I aim to meet with that group on the bottom.

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After that, I have all my regular guided math groups. Again, I write their names on the tab cover. I can only meet with 1-2 of these groups a day unfortunately.

Hopefully some of these ideas were useful to you!  I will have blog posts up soon about how I organize and teach each reading level in kindergarten – from Pre-A all the way to Transitional!

Gus the Plus & Linus the Minus

OH my goodness! Can you say long time no blog??  All I can say is it has been a crazy semester. But I’m back and ready to roll!

If you’ve been teaching for a while, or even if you haven’t, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Gus the Plus and Linus the Minus before. After all, they’re one of the cutest ways to help your students remember the plus and minus signs!

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We’ve spent the last few weeks becoming familiar with addition and subtraction and I feel like its *clicked* with most of my students.

That said, I feel like one of the hardest things for my students every year is being able to switch back and forth easily. They want to do just addition or just subtraction, and they tend to not pay any attention to the signs.

That’s where the idea of this craftivity was born! First, I introduced Gus & Linus. Then, we did a sort whole class. Yes, it looks rough but I literally had the spark of inspiration for this activity and prepped it all in my 20 minute lunch!

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Then, I walked my students through the steps of creating Gus & Linus and sorting the problems themselves. I chose to have already solved problems for them to sort because I wanted them to JUST focus on the sign, but if you choose to do this, I included a version where students can solve the problems too!

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They all ended up so unique and adorable! We will definitely require much more practice with mixed facts, but I LOVED introducing it this way.

This activity is FREE here. Just click the picture or click here to download:

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Teaching Writing At The Beginning Of Kindergarten

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I’m linking up for Writing Wednesday to walk about something that I think remains a mystery for  lot of people… How do you teach writing to students who have never written before???

If you teach any grade other than kindergarten, your students may not come to you exactly where you want in writing, but they have some working knowledge of the writing process.

But if you teach kindergarten, you know that you may have students who don’t know what a pencil is, who don’t know their own name, and who don’t understand the difference between a letter and a word. Its enough to keep you up at night worrying that there just isn’t enough time to get them where they need to be!

Believe it or not, though, my students do get past that and even get to the point where they can independently write a research book (yes, really!). So how do I start out?

Picture18.pngWell, I spend the first two weeks of school JUST focusing on drawing. Yes, I teach letters and sight words too, but when its “writing time”, we draw. Drawing is such an important part of kindergarten writing, but it often gets pushed aside with the demands of today’s curriculum.

Don’t let it! Think about how we teach children to read books. Before they can read the words, we teach them to read the pictures. We teach them that the pictures can tell a story too, and that eventually they will be able to read the words to go along with the pictures.

If a student cannot yet write sentences, their pictures can tell the story. The more details, the more interesting the story.

Do your kiddos drawings look like this at the beginning of the year?

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Cute, yes, but we don’t want their people to look like this forever!

Here are some ideas to get students to focus on the details:

Give them a mirror and have them draw themselves. You will have to model first how to use shapes to draw different body parts. This will help them see that, no, we don’t have legs coming out of our heads and, no, our hair is probably not rainbow colored!

Go outside and give students an object or person to draw. After they draw it, have them focus on what they see around it. What color is the grass? What is in the sky? 

Developmentally, your students are not ready to draw from memory. They need to physically see an object. If its not possible to have that object in real life, bring up a photo on an ipad or computer.

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As you teach some sight words those first few weeks, your students will be ready to begin seeing how those words fit together to form sentences. 

Interactive writing is the best way I know how to do this. We do interactive writing together daily for most of the first quarter.

It looks like this:

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I may decide on the sentence or we may come up with it together. Then I draw a line for each word, just like you might do in guided writing.

I call up students one at a time who can write the sight words in the sentence. When we get to the unknown word, we stretch it out together.

At the beginning of the year, we may just focus on the beginning sound. I’ll have a student identify and write the first letter, then i’ll write the rest of the word. Once we get going, though, I have students identify and write the beginning and ending sound or the beginning, medial, and ending sounds and that’s all we put up there. 

I don’t worry about showing them the correct spelling because that is not something they are ready for yet. It will only frustrate them. I want them to know that they can stretch words out and any attempt will make me happy.

Picture20.pngThen its time to put it on paper. I have taught students how to use the word wall and modeled, modeled, modeled how to stretch words out.

Still, you’ll get students who put a random string of words on their paper. Or they’ll copy your interactive writings word for word. That is OK at first. One they get the concept of what is a sentence, I will  start encouraging them to think of their own sentence. I may even brainstorm with a student a sentence they can write.

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What if you have a student who still struggles with letter formation?

If a students still struggles with letter formation and it is seriously impacting their writing, I may have them come up with the sentence and then trace over words I have written with highlighter.

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I do try to ease them away from this as soon as possible, but you may have students who need it for a good portion of the year.

What if you have students who still struggle with sentence conventions?

Sentence conventions can be one of the trickiest parts of writing. Even after a students understands that words in the right order make a sentence, they may still struggle with spacing, punctuation, and putting capital letters in the right spot.

We practice this every day in Writer’s Workshop, but for extra practice, I like to have my students work on these sentence scrambles:

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These are a fun way for students to practice conventions. The cut apart words help them see the physical spaces between words and to put them in the right order they need to look for the word that is capitalized and the word with a period after it.

I ALWAYS have these as part of my writing center and they are included in my monthly writing centers, but I also keep multiple seasonal and holiday themed sentence scrambles on hand.

Last year my studend LOVED to do these as early finisher work or for morning work. I even used them in my guided writing groups sometimes when I wanted to do a lesson on a specific convection.

You can find all of my themed sentence scrambles here:

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Do you have any tips for writing at the beginning of the year that I haven’t covered here? I would love to hear about them! You can even link up below:

Lesson Planning Bonanza! {With a Template Freebie}

Ok. Before you throw rotten tomatoes at me, I know, you’re on summer break or you’re about to be on summer break and the very.last.thing you want to be thinking about is lesson planning.

I 100% understand. During the last 2 weeks of school, my lesson plans were single words scribbled into a mini-notebook I found while cleaning out cabinets {true story}. #typebteacher

But my brain has been on overload planning mode now that it has nothing to do, so I’ve been putting my all into getting my lesson plans for next year pumped out. It’s going to be a crazy busy year, so I thought i’d deal by getting ahead.

Just in case you’re in my same boat, or you’re just browsing for ideas for next year, I thought i’d share how I lesson plan with you {and stay tuned for a freebie at the end!}

You might have seen a picture of my lesson plan binder that I shared in this post. I have a yearly curriculum outline and then weekly plans. The only day that gets its own page for planning is the first day of school.

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This is what the curriculum overview looks like. This is a great free template I got here.

This doesn’t go into a lot of detail, but it gives me a quick glance at themes and what i’ll be teaching that month. The “GK” stands for Guiding Kinders, which is what I will be using for shared reading this year. LOVE Deanna and DeeDee.

I like having this monthly overview at the front of my binder so I can quickly look ahead and feel more prepared.

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This is what my actual lesson plans look like. I print them back to back so that when I open my binder I can see both the morning and the afteroon.

Again, these aren’t super detailed. You could make them that way if you wanted, but I view lesson plans as more of a guide. They tell me what lesson to teach or what activity I want to do, but most of those lessons already have full lesson plans in another binder somewhere.

I made these lesson plans before we changed our daily schedule for next year and i’m too lazy to go back and change them all so the subjects aren’t quite in the right order. That’s ok.

Here is the daily schedule I put in my binder:

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Like I said before, the only day that is special enough to get it’s own full 2-page lesson plan is the first day of school. Here is how I made that:

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Oh goodness. I just realized these have changed as well now that I need to introduce flexible seating! I’ll go over how I will introduce that in another post.

We actually have two first days. Half of the class comes for a full day Thursday and the other half come Friday. The lesson plan this day is pretty much all routines routines routines.

SO. Here is the freebie I promised you!

There are templates that look just like my pages but without the words, then there are blank pages with just the frames. The font I used on every page was “HelloTypewriter” from Hello Literacy and you can add tables to the blank pages by clicking “insert table.”

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Five for Friday 5/27/2016




Do you know what this means??! After today, I’m officially on summer break!



The kids’ last day was yesterday. We tried to trick parents into taking their kids home early by hosting a family picnic…

But it backfired when they showed up, pumped them with sugar, then left them there wound up for the rest of the day. Just a warning if you get any “great ideas” like we did 😉



This last week was crazy with field day and field trips and picnics, but we still had to learn something.

You can read about our fun with states of matter here. The best part was when we visited a goat farm the next day and one kiddo said the cheese making process was like when we learned about how matter changes forms.

Real world connections for the win! 




I’m officially in charge of writing a kindergarten weather unit that fully aligns to NGSS standards this summer. One topic that was a surprising hit this year was learning how to read weather maps.

Do you have any suggestions/topics you’d like to see covered in a weather unit? I’m open to every idea!


Last but definitely not least… Guess who got our alternative seating approved?

These babies are now sitting in my cart. Has anyone used these and loved/hated them? They’re cheaper than bath mats right now.

Five for Friday

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First things first… Collaborating in Kinder is live!

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 I’m not gonna lie, it was a pretty stressful set-up, just because of my own technical incompetence. That said, i’m so happy with the set up and can’t wait to refine it more.

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The end of the year stress was starting to get to me a few weeks ago, so when I got the idea to put together monthly tubs for next year, I jumped on it.

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If you want to see what’s in these tubs and the other ways i’m beginning to prepare for next year, check out my last post here.

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After today, we only have 4 days left until we’re first graders!

This week is probably going to be one of the craziest weeks of my life. We have field day, a field trip, and a family picnic all planned, but we also have to fill all that extra time when we all know the students’ brains are 100% not in the classroom.

I’m planning lots of hands-on crafts and activities like this memory flip-up book:

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This is a freebie you can download here.

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I’ve been doing some research this week to present to my administration on a little something that rhymes with shno shtables, shno shairs (aka no tables, no chairs).

Of course, I have the success of Greg over at The Kindergarten Smorgasboard to thank for sparking my interest.

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I actually taught Montessori for a little bit, so this isn’t a new idea for me, but it wasn’t one I was necessarily comfortable with in my current traditional school setting. Honestly, its still not something i’m totally comfortable with {giving up control is hard, all!}, but after a lot of research, I am convinced its best practice.

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Its May and its the last week of school  and all chaos and I know your brains are probably just as fried as mine, so i’ll just leave you with this:

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Preparing for Next Year – Before This Year Is Even Over!

Let me preface this post by saying I am a complete Type B personality. I could keep all of my things in piles upon piles and never be bothered.

So I am completely aware of the irony of me writing a post about organizing and preparing. But stress does funny things to people. For example, it turns me into a Type A organizing machine.

As the school year winds down, i’m dealing with the stress by getting as prepared as possible for next year. Just in case you’re similar to me, or you’re just looking for some ideas to get ahead, I have some ideas for you.

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I started putting together monthly bins I can throw everything i’ll know i’ll need each month into. These bins are 2/$5 at Target and the stickers on the front are from Target as well.

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Here’s what’s in each bin:

  • Books for Shared Reading
  • Pieces for whole group word work (in the small file)
  • Themed units (in the large file)
  • Morning work/printables
  • BUILD Centers
  • Writing Center Vocabulary Cards (not pictured)

What’s not in these bins?

  • Other literacy and math centers (I keep these organized by center/skill)
  • Reading, Writing, Math curriculum (I keep these in monthly binders)
  • Lesson Plans (I keep these in a big binder all together)

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This is the time of year I also start thinking about what theme and colors I want next year. I saw this Washi Classroom Decor set by Sharp in Second and I fell head over heels in love. I’m getting it all printed and laminated now so I can spend free time this summer cutting it out.

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I went through a small panic-induced planning session when I found out I was going to be the lead kindergarten teacher next year with two new teachers and I also needed to write a new science curriculum for our school, so I sat down and created a yearly overview for each subject.

You’re going to think i’m 100% crazy now…

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I finished general lesson plans for the year as well. Again, stress-induced planning attack.

These plans are actually very basic, because they just highlight what lesson we’ll hit in the curriculum, what sight words/phonics skills we’ll cover, and what themed activities we may do.

Last but not least:

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I get data tracking sheets prepared for each skill we need to assess for our report cards and one for each unit. These are a freebie from Brandy Showmaker and I LOVE them.

This is the second section in my lesson plans & data tracking binder. By having these all prepared, its just one more step in guaranteeing i’ll actually track in a uniform way (not just piles of papers stuffed in folders… oops).

I hope some of these ideas got you inspired to do a little end of the year planning as well! If you have any amazing organizational/planning ideas, PLEASE let me know!