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.

Solids, Liquids, and Gases… Oh My!

We are in the homestretch – only 3 more days left until summer!

I’m gonna be real honest here. I did not have any lesson plans for this week. I had activities printed off and crafts prepped we could do, but I knew I needed something more engaging.

Since we’re a STEM school, I thought it would be fun to focus on a science topic we hadn’t gotten to cover this year – states of matter.

We began with this fun video from Harry’s Kindergarten on Youtube:

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Click here to watch Matter Chatter

We also read this book together as a whole group and brainstormed through the writing portions:

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{This wasn’t the best example of our brainstorming, but that’s ok!}

This is a freebie from Once Upon a Classroom.

And of course, it wouldn’t be right to end the morning without making oobleck!

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To make your own oobleck:

  1. Add 1 part water to 1.5-2 parts cornstarch.
  2. Use your hands to mix them together. The subtance should feel like a solid, but begin to melt when in contact with the heat of your hand. If it does not melt, you may need more water. If it stays a very runny liquid, you may need more cornstarch.
  3. DO NOT pour this down the sink!!!! It WILL clog your drains. Thankfully, it scrapes off tables and bowls easily and turns into an almost-powder. Washing the excess off is finethen.

It was a big ol’ mess in our room, but a lot of fun! Not bad for some last minute planning.

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!

Collaborating in Kinder is Live!

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Welcome to Collaborating in Kinder! My name is Natalie and i’m a kindergarten teacher from the Midwest. I’m also an author at TpT {Natalie Lynn}.

A little bit about me:

I’m going into my second year teaching kindergarten. Before this I taught first grade and elementary Montessori.

My classroom always smells like coffee. Probably because I have at least 2 cups at all times.

I’m a Chicago fan all the way.

I’m a strong believer in hands-on learning and most of the content of this blog will be focused ways to make learning fun.

I’m not technically proficient at all, so getting this blog completely set up will be a work in progress, but i’m excited to get started! In a few weeks, it will be looking completely different around here.

You may have been following me at collaboratinginkinder.blogspot.com. I’m working on moving that content over but again… Work in progress. 

Hope to see you around here!