Friday, August 31, 2012

1st Grade Research Making Connections and the Common Core

I spent 2 days volunteering this week showing how to teach research skills to 1st grade students.  Research can be developmentally appropriate and connected to a young child's egocentric sense of self.  Actually it can be fun!

I'm volunteering at a beautiful new school that was completed last December, so the children made the move after the winter break.  Here is some history on the school.  I actually attended this school when I was in 3rd grade (long ago:) as did all 3 of my children (now 20, 26, & 28).  So I have history with the school climate, but am experiencing it in a new facility.  Wow, it is so beautiful and much deserved.  They work on integrating the arts throughout their curriculum and the building itself lends nicely to this endeavor.  I only took a few pictures that didn't have students in them, but these might help you get the feel of the physical environment.
Art Work on Walls

Actual Flat Screen Televisions with a Real View of this Aquarium

Performance Theater in the Media Center for Classrooms to do Reader's Theater or other Dramatic Arts' Performances

Each Grade Level Pod is a Type of Tree with Art Work to Match

Close Up Details on the Paintings that Line the Hallways

Entrance into a Grade Level Pod
Our first research project was to learn about our school.  Now I know what you are thinking.  We all do that "annual" "first of the year" building tour where we learn where everything is.  It usually takes place the first or second day of school.  Yes, we did that tour.  It served its purpose of locating "where we need to go" for all the different parts of the day.

Since the Common Core has really bumped up the writing for K-2 (early childhood), we need to think of ways to help our children connect to their writing.  We do this by providing them with experiences to write about.  So that's how this first research project started.  It was to lay the foundation of what is to come over the next year in this first grade class.


Yes, I put that in bold and in all caps.  Sometimes we forget to put the procedures into place to do a project and then it is not successful.  We tend to throw some valuable educational experiences "out the window" because they failed, or the children didn't follow through the way we intended.  Instead of "throwing out the idea" why not step back and see what needs to be taught first in order to "do the activity."

A walking field trip in the hallways of a building they are familiar with sounds easy right?  Not really.  Throw in notebooks, pencils, and movement . . . Now you are getting the visual.  Those procedures need to be taught in a small environment before we open up the "doors" to larger places.  So we practiced by taking a walking field trip in our class.   We talked about what it would look like, sound like, feel like.  We modeled that sometimes we draw pictures, sometimes we write words, and sometimes we do both when recording information.  All of these are critical components of beginning research. We did a "turn and talk" to your friends about what they noticed in our classroom to get the vocabulary and thinking flowing.  And then we did the most important part . . . we called up a few children at a time to actually take their spiral notebooks and pencils to start recording what they saw in the classroom.  The rest of the class observed what it looked like, sounded like, and felt like.  That's crucial.  You have talked about it before, you let the class see a few doing it, and then you release more children (about 4-5 at a time) to join in until the whole class is walking around the room on their "walking field trip."  We made notice of students who were researching their classroom appropriately.  I took pictures with my iPhone to show them instantly what they looked like when they were working.  Young children need to "see" what it looks like when they are doing it right.  

After about 5 minutes of the whole group participating, we called them back to the floor to share what they recorded.  It wasn't a long process.  Just basically making a quick auditory list of what we found.  Then we lined up (those procedures were already in place), but once again talked about what it looked like, sounded like, and felt like to line up with something in our hands.  And again, we chanted, (teacher) "Who's job is it to keep you safe?"  (students) "You and me."  You can see my previous post on classroom routines for more information on this.  

So now we were ready.  We opened the door slowly, and began our walking field trip through the school.  And guess what?  They did it!   And they were great at it.  Why?  Because we laid the foundation, modeled it, practiced it, and discussed it in a smaller setting before the actual release.  Did we have to remind or regroup?  Absolutely!  But it was easy because they had the terminology and the experience to do it successfully.

Each child documented what they saw in the building that was important to them.  This was their first writing attempt of documenting evidence and it was interesting to see the different levels of writing. Some attempted to draw pictures or representations of what they saw, some drew the actual pictures, some drew pictures with inventive spelling, and some wrote lists with just words.  That is very important.  We allowed them to use the format that makes them successful writers.  Young children progress through different phases in literacy at different paces.  We need to provide them with opportunities and support to become writers.  And you need a purpose to your research.  The ultimate goal that started it all was to connect it to adding our own art to the building.  The students finished their project by painting the different parts of the school.  Yes, it would have been easier to say, "Stacee you paint this, Kathy you paint that, Dalton you paint this."  But where is the learning in that?  Where is the student "ownership?" We were able to go deeper and make connections which is what the Common Core and Language Arts is all about :

Going deeper and making connections to learning
Building vocabulary that is rich and varied
Exposing children to research and creative thinking

And they CAN do it with supports in place.  This post is for Sam from Mrs. Kelly's Klass.  She is a new teacher this year and was wanting advice for the first of school.  She asked that other teachers start posting their procedures on their blogs.  So Sam . . . This one's for you:) I am a quote person and a teacher who likes to make up chants for learning.  So here is a my new quote or mantra for all early childhood teachers to think about when planning any activity.  "The end result is what you prepare for.  Kathy Griffin"  I know that sounds so simple, but true.  Try making a list of what you want your students to accomplish.  Then think of all of the steps required to get there.  And this is for every activity.  See how you can build successful steps for your students to complete the activity.  Start small for success then build their stamina for more. What should it look like?  What should it sound like?  What should it feel like?  Pretty soon you will be a "pro" at classroom management and procedures.

Here is the end result of their research.  What a wonderful way to add to the beautiful artwork in a school that focuses on the "arts." And these students feel even more connected to their learning environment.

Thanks for stopping by.  

Monday, August 20, 2012

Back to School Procedures

I spent today with a friend on her first day of school teaching first grade.  She has been out of the classroom for a few years and use to teach 5th grade. So I spent last week helping her get her room ready for today - the first day of school.

And what did we do all day long?  Procedures, procedures, procedures.  It was fun for me to be able to tag team with her, and it made me realize that I am very much a procedure chanting teacher.  You see, I strongly believe, that young children need lots of repetition involving movement activities, along with visual, and auditory connections.  So today I thought I would share the "Griffin's Top 4 Tips" for making your classroom run more smoothly.

#1  Provide movement activities for your students as soon they enter.  Music and movement can engage children and set a positive climate for learning.   What songs do I use?  Jack Hartmann's, CJ,  and MINE :)  It's been really fun to use my songs and movement activities over the last few years with my students.  But it was even more fun to work alongside another teacher and show how much music can help them settle into the new year's routines.

#2 My favorite teaching quote from The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss:  "It's fun to have fun, but you have to know how."  This is my "mantra" for teaching all parts of our day.  We talk about in order to do fun things during the school day, we have to first learn the procedures for doing those fun activities.  I make it a chant

Teacher:  It's fun to have fun . . .
Students:  But you have to know how!

We practiced this all day today, when transitioning or learning a new part of our day.  I can't wait to show you the activity/bulletin board we are creating to reinforce this concept.  Check back or follow my blog so you don't miss it.

Of course you have to throw in some fun activities to reinforce it.  Check out this post for one of the listening activities we did today using our grabbers.  Right now we are just doing 2-3 step directions to learn the procedures.  When we can do this successfully, we will start adding academics to the games.  Sometimes we speed along too fast and don't take time to teach children how to follow directions.

#3 Another quote that just slips right out while I am teaching procedures:

Teacher:  Whose job is it to keep you safe?
Students:  You and me (They point to the teacher and then to themselves).

How does this help?  It makes you a collaborative team in following the rules.  Rules are not just some arbitrary random judgement calls that infringe on their FUN!  They have to know the "why" behind the rule. For example:  We keep our legs criss-crossed in group time because if you stretch your legs out and someone walks by, they might trip over your legs and fall on you.  Is that keeping you safe?  And of course they say, NO!  Have them share the responsibility of keeping them safe.

#4 Listening Strategies

I recently wrote a post about these strategies and how they help my students get rid of their "wiggles."  I just released my new "Listening Strategies" packet on Teacher Pay Teachers and it is getting great feedback from others.  If I had to ask my friend Stacee what helped her the most today, she would say "The Listening Strategies."  We used the big cards from the pack and put them up on a magnetic dry erase bulletin board.  This peaked the students curiosity in what movement activity we did for each strategy.  It became a visual, kinesthetic, and auditory way of learning strategies to become better listeners.   Stacee would call on different students throughout the day during each group time to choose another large card off the bulletin board.  They were able to bring it to group time as we learned the strategy.  Then throughout the day, we did "listening strategies" quick checks to see if they could remember the different ones.  It's amazing how some children were already figuring out which one works for them.  Here is an important key concept that is written in the directions in the packet and one that I say when presenting at conferences.

"A strategy is only a strategy if it helps you.  If it disturbs your friends, it is not a strategy."

Yes, I am a chanting teacher.  Chants, rhythms, and repeat - echo games help keep your students engaged.  Click HERE to take you to my Listening Strategies for the Early Childhood Classroom which includes 4 new songs.  We did the Wiggle Line Up March today.
And if you need some fun activities that engage your students while providing motivation and learning, check out my multimedia files.  You can use them with your digital projector, interactive whiteboard, or Smart Board.  What did we do today?  "Won't Forget No More" which focuses on letter sounds and "Five Word Families."  I love to do "Five Word Families" with all ages because it teaches and reinforces those short vowel sounds in a fun way.

This is "Won't Forget No More" with an example of how I use it in the classroom.
This is a short clip from "Five Word Families."
Click HERE for the link to purchase "Won't Forget No More." Click HERE for the link to purchase "Five Word Families." Each multimedia file is $4.00.  It's an effective way to bring kinesthetic movement, visual, and auditory learning to meet the needs of all your students.  And while they are having fun, you can work on the Common Core Standards for Language Arts - Reading Foundational Skills K-1st in the areas of Phonological Awareness, Phonics and Word Recognition. If you are a visual learner, check out my YouTube Channel: Kathy Griffin's Teacher Channel  To see how I use these multimedia files in my classroom.
Thanks for stopping by!  I hope everyone is taking their vitamins, drinking lots of water, and getting some sleep.  Well, 2 out of 3 will help.  I know extra sleep or even 7 hours is hard to fit in when we have all of the "First of the School Year" activities to complete.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Listening Strategies for the Wiggles

This post is very special to me because it is the result of my experience teaching young children for 15 years.  Do you have students that get wiggly at group time?  OF COURSE!  They are young children, and their attention spans are short.  They tie and untie their shoes.  They twist and turn. Sometimes when you glance up at them while reading them a book, they look like little ants crawling everywhere.

As adults we learn strategies that help us pay attention and to sit appropriately during long meetings (LOL! I know teachers can sometimes be the worst at sitting still during professional development.).  So here is a collection of strategies that I have used with my students over the last few years. Make them an integral part of your classroom procedures, and you will empower them to figure out what helps them focus better. And to make it even more fun and engaging, I recorded 4 new songs to go with it.  You can listen to a sample of the songs by clicking on the video below.
Click HERE to see it on Teacher Pay Teachers
Everything is ready to print to help your children get rid of  their "WIGGLES!" Yay! And tomorrow starts the Back to School Sale on TpT.  All of my products are 20% off August 12-13.  Enter the TpT Sale Code and receive another 10% off of the sale price.  So place it in your shopping cart tonight and be ready for the sale tomorrow.
I got the idea to do this packet when one of my anchor charts that I posted on Pinterest was pinned like crazy.  I thought - Hey we are all in the same position trying to help children retain all of the information that we need to teach.  So I decided to create this packet to help early childhood teachers.  Here is the anchor chart that started it all. I start by teaching the first 2 strategies on the first day of school.  I increase their choices for what to do with their hands over the next few weeks depending on how old they are.  Pre-K and Kindergarten students should learn them slowly and internalize their options.  1st grade and 2nd grade can move at a faster pace. But always remember, if you look up from reading that wonderful book and all of your students are using a strategy, you have been sitting too long :-)  Have a great school year and have fun teaching the strategies.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Superheroes to the Writing Rescue

I am really excited to announce a new packet that I have made for young writers.  I know the challenges teachers face when motivating young writers and reluctant writers to write stories.  And with all of the Common Core Standards being implemented into the early childhood classrooms (K-2), we need tools to help our children be successful and to motivate them. While watching one of the many "Superhero" movies that my husband loves so dearly, I thought, "We need SUPERHEROES in our classrooms too!"  Amazing how ideas just pop into teachers' heads!

What's more fun than being a superhero?  Being a Superhero Who Writes!  This packet contains the following:

9 "Everyday" Character Cards
2 Student Samples for Making Their Own Character Cards
7 Superhero Speech Bubble Rescue Cards Bright Blue
7 Superhero Speech Bubble Rescue Cards Star Border
7 Small Blue Pocket Chart Superhero Speech Bubble Rescue Cards
7 Small Pocket Chart Superhero Speech Bubble Rescue Cards
Without Border
5 Different Versions of Superheroes Training Camp and Checklist Conferencing Cards
1 Anchor Chart Superheroes Use Capital Letters
1 Anchor Chart Superheroes Use Punctuation
Directions for Making Reminder Conferencing Sticks
WOW and BAM Conferencing Sticks
Everyday - Superhero Switch Conference Sticks
Extra Blank Chart for Other Use

Click HERE to view it on my Teachers Pay Teachers store. 

My friend Stacee introduced me to a blog that shows how to make DIY Superhero Capes out of t-shirts and scissors. No sewing is required! Click HERE to get to the blog. Follow the directions for making very CUTE Superhero Capes. My suggestion is to use an old t-shirt as a practice run.  Lessons learned - I got so excited, I didn't read all of the directions.  After the first failed attempt, I made 5 in less than 30 minutes.  I am going to let the students wear the capes when it is time for "their writing conference with the teacher."  By School Day - Everyday Kiddos - with the Superhero Capes - Superhero Writers.

Thanks for stopping by!  Check back over the next few days.  I have 2 more packets that I am getting ready to post on Teachers Pay Teachers.  I am just waiting on the songs to be ready from the recording studio.  And hint, hint . . . one packet is for Listening Strategies to help children get "their wiggles out." The other one is a surprise.  Follow me on Teachers Pay Teachers and this blog so you don't miss out.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

DIY ABC Letter Tubs and the Common Core

I started making my own letter tubs about 10 years ago after I saw the cute ones in the Lakeshore Learning sales catalog.  I loved them, but for that price, I decided to make my own.  I started out by sending home weekly letters asking for objects that began with a certain letter of the alphabet.  I didn't receive a lot of response from my families and decided to change my letter to just ask for donations of their "small toys."  Sometimes it's hard to find something in the house that begins with an "f" or a "b."  But it you leave your letter open-ended, it makes it easier for parents to donate items to your letter tubs.  

So what can you do with letter tubs?  
*Phonemic Awareness Activities
*Isolate the Beginning Sound
*Isolate the Ending Sound
*Isolate the Middle Sound
*Produce Rhyming Words
*Delete Beginning Sound
*Delete Ending Sound
*Substitute the Beginning Sound
*Substitute the Ending Sound
*Segment Sounds
*Blend Sounds
*Count Syllables
*Letter/Sound Word Sorts
*Blend Word Sorts
*Sorting by Vowel Sound
*Sorting by Digraphs
*Play Guess What's in My Box

Here is a picture of my letter tub boxes and some pictures of the activities,

Here is a sample picture of the newsletter I send home to my families.

Here are the Common Core Standards for Kindergarten and 1st Grade that go along with the letter tubs.

Language Arts - Reading - Foundation Skills - Kindergarten - Phonological Awareness

RR.K.2 Demonstrate understanding of spoken words, syllables, and sounds (phonemes).

Recognize and produce rhyming words.
Count, pronounce, blend, and segment syllables in spoken words.
Blend and segment onsets and rimes of single-syllable spoken words.
Isolate and pronounce the initial, medial vowel, and final sounds (phonemes) in three-phoneme (consonant-vowel-consonant or CVC) words.
Add or substitute individual sounds (phonemes) in simple, one-syllable words to make new sounds.

Language Arts - Reading - Foundation Skills - Kindergarten - Phonological Awareness

RF. 1.2. Demonstrate understanding of spoken words, syllables, and sounds (phonemes).

Distinguish long from short vowel sounds in spoken single-syllable words.
Orally produce single-syllable words by blending sounds (phonemes), including consonant blends.
Isolate and pronounce initial, medial vowel, and final sounds (phonemes) in spoken single-syllable words.
Segment spoken single-syllable words into their complete sequence of individual sounds (phonemes).

Go ahead, give it a try.  You'll be glad you did.  But remember, let them play with the letter tubs first before you give them a task to do.  Young children need to explore first.

If you would like a copy of this parent newsletter, email me at or leave your email in the comments section, and I will email it to you. 

Thanks for stopping by. Click on the follow me button to the right.  I have a lot more to share over the next few days, weeks, and months!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Back to School Name Cheer Book

Where did the summer go?  I spent most of my summer presenting at conferences and playing with my 9 month old grandson.  Fun, fun, fun!

So now it's back to the world of blogging, and I have so much to share.  But to get everyone into the "Back to School Spirit" I revised and revamped my old "Name Cheer Book."   I make a book for each student  to place in his/her book box for just right reading and for practicing their ABC's.  I also print the copies in grayscale to put in my writing center.  Students can make "Cheer Books" for their friends and family.  Graphics are by Thistle Girl Designs.

I included a version so you can take your students' pictures and place it on the cover of the book.
I updated this file today (Sunday, August 5th) to include a Class Cheer Book.

Click HERE to download a FREE copy of these books.

Thanks for stopping by!