September 2013 - Queen of the First Grade Jungle

Why I LOVE Writer’s Workshop

As you all know I am at a new school this year.  In changing to a new school, I have brought many of my practices and routines with me.  My new school is a little bit looser in terms of HOW we HAVE to do things so I have complete control over what my day looks like.  I have come to the conclusion that if the practice made the “cut” it must be something I am pretty passionate about.

Writer’s Workshop is one of those things I just can’t give up.  To give you a little background about me as a writing teacher: 

-I taught seven years at a school which valued writer’s workshop.

-We used Lucy Calkins Units of Study to guide us, but supplemented with Opinion writing resources to meet the Common Core.

-We had an hour a day to teach writing in addition to our ELA block of instruction (yes friends- between reading groups, ELA instruction and writing it was THREE hours).

-Students started Writer’s Workshop within the first month of school in Kindergarten so when they came to me in first grade, Writer’s Workshop was a very familiar idea to them.


When I got to my new school I gradually began to realize that I was a very different writing teacher then what my students were used to having.  Here I am talking about “painting pictures in your reader’s mind” and “small moments,” and my kids were looking at my like I had five heads. It was time to stop, reflect, and come up with a new game plan.


We talked and talked and TALKED some more about focusing on small moments.  The hardest habit to break in a writer is the LIST story. You know the kind “and then, and then, and then” finishing up with a big ole “and then I went to bed!”

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“I’m done” quickly became an outlawed phrase in my 2nd grade classroom.


After learning to focus our narratives, I taught them all about their Writer’s Eye.  What do you know the kids didn’t know they had one of those things Smile .

I am the kind of teacher that gets hung up on things.  When I am stuck on how to fix things in my classroom, it consumes me.  I took the picture below on a beach trip with my family because I just knew it would serve as a PERFECT illustration of how to use our Writers’ Eyes.

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Along with using our Writers’ Eyes, we focused on our five senses.  I wish I could have videotaped the next mini-lesson.  I had the kids close their eyes and imagine walking into their kitchen to mom frying bacon! Now if your kids can’t taste, smell, hear, touch, and see bacon sizzling in a hot pan—they may be a lost cause. I got some of the best descriptions out of them!  They kept closing their eyes and describing what they imagined.

Sad to say I had to two sweet friends who said they had NEVER eaten bacon.  Needless to say, those two kiddos went home with some homework Smile.

With my new Workshop babies I had to explore lots of different forms of prewriting to see what worked best with them.  They really enjoyed Circle maps- small moment in the middle with detail words all around.

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I have to admit though that one thing has helped my kids plan their writing better than anything else. 


My kids are INCREDIBLE artists, but most importantly the details in their drawings are exactly the kind of details that need to be included in their narratives.

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For example, below:

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This child had the skeleton of a great personal narrative, but her Beginning-Middle-End prewriting sketch included details that her story did not. When I conferenced with her I was able to help her better paint the picture in my head that I wanted.


One of my colleagues that I reached out to reminded me of the importance of author’s chair (a staple in Writer’s Workshop). If you haven’t ever checked out Susan’s blog The Wonder Teacher what are you waiting for?!?

Everyday I snatch four or five journals from my students and brag about their writing to the class.  I specifically seek out these narratives that showcase some skill that we have been working on EVEN IF it is one simple word.  I try really hard to make all my writers feel important while at the same time keeping my students focused on our goals.

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I also post student work in the room with specific feedback to my students.  This serves two goals: praising a student and reminding my students what I need from them.

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My students are also beginning to explore conferencing and editing together in partners. I was thoroughly impressed by the suggestions that they offered to each other.

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This week it is all about publishing a few narratives before we move on to Information Writing!

Phew--are you still with me?

I hope you got something out of this post!  I genuinely, truly with all my heart believe that writing is the key to making my kids thinkers.


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“Sum” Fall Fun for Second Graders


One of the staples of my classroom-the cannot live without parts of my room- is Math Work Stations!

This is my 3rd year using the format that I do for math, and I absolutely love it! I plan on taking TONS of pictures this week so I can do a more detailed post about how it works in my room---so hold me to it!

I posted this picture on my instagram and facebook earlier this summer. 

Did you wonder what was in them?

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Well, starting tomorrow they will house my “Sum” Fall Fun for 2nd Graders Centers.


Even though this was my view yesterday, it is technically Fall now!





You can snag these centers on discount today or tomorrow in my store!

For all of you snuggled up in hoodies, this is how you can picture me!  Doing lesson plans with my toes in the sand!

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Remember- you LOVE me Smile


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Why we do what we do...

I went to a district literacy meeting today.  The kind of meeting where you usually go "ugh- let me write my To-do list, plan out my evening, and pretend to pay attention."  

Except this wasn't that kind of meeting.  Our presenter shared a wonderful book with us. 

Although her intention was not to get me all mushy and sentimental, that is what she did. The presenter was  actually teaching us engaging strategies for instructing students in Close Reading (and I learned a ton I swear), but what really hit me was the story line of the book. The main character in the book is a slave boy.  The boy ends up meeting a teacher who is willing to risk her job and safety in order to teach the little boy to read. When she loses her job for helping him, he gives her a piece of bark with his handwriting to remember him.  She tells him that she will never forget him. 

I have so many of those kids.  And I am sure you do too.  Those kids that you won't ever forget because they make you remember why you got into teaching in the first place.

The story line in Up the Learning Tree made me think of one my favorite books That Book Woman.

Heather Henson is a Kentucky author and I was given this book by my aunt (a former teacher herself).  The story takes place in the Appalachian Mountains and features a Pack Horse Librarian who scales the mountain sides to deliver books to children who wouldn't have a chance to read otherwise. At some point in the book, the main character Cal who previously had no interest in books, is won over by the extreme measures of the Book Woman. She lets him know that hearing him read is all she wants.

   I choose to read this book to my kids at the beginning of every school year.  I struggle through--sniffling back tears--- because we (the kids and I) need to know why I do what I do.  Even though it may go over a lot of their heads.  I need the kids to know that I am sticking it out with them through thick and thin. That it isn't always going to be easy.

Every once in a while, I need to remember why I do what I do....

*sharing a joke with my non-English speaking student (in my broken Spanish) and hearing her giggle for the first time.

*seeing a normally agitated student choose to participate in an activity that he would normally label "dumb" AND enjoy it!

*watching students go the extra mile to be kind to each other when they don't know a teacher is watching.

*sharing those hundreds of moments when they finally get it.

There are so many more moments that keep us coming back for more.  Sometimes I get caught up in staying on schedule, formulating my data, or establishing my procedures, but just in case you needed to hear it tonight...

What you do is life-changing and oh-so important. 

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Kindergarten Busy Teacher!?! Say What?

I have always been slightly nervous when people have requested a Kindergarten Busy Teacher’s Best Friend.  Here’s a little secret- kindergarteners SCARE me.  They are so little and cute that I want to just snuggle them—not make them behave and learn to the best of their ability Smile
Here is the answer to all of that. 
Meet Stacey!

Stacey and I go way back.  We were sorority sisters in college….

We married boys that grew up together….

and we taught together at the same school for 4 years! 

This year Stacey has made the decision to stay home with her beautiful baby Abe. 

Emmie and Sweet Abe!

I needed Stacey (for Kindergarten Busy Teacher), and she needed me to help her get her teaching “fix” (with the Kindergarten Busy Teacher).
See how that works??? Perfect!
If you have ever used one of my packets, it follows the same format. Lots of pages to be used in a Reader’s Workshop, Daily Five, or Whole group in response to a book.
The ELA skills part of packet addresses beginning Kinder skills- ABCs, colors, basic sight words, and beginning letter sounds.
The math portion of the packet focuses on numbers 1-5, shapes, patterns, ten frames, and number words.
And last but not least—Writing!  Stacey added in a Predictable Sentence Writing portion.  I think this was a great idea and perfect for those sweet Kinders!  You can find the unit in my TPT store for 20 % off today and tomorrow!
This is near and dear to my heart because remember—I have one of those sweet kinders myself!
Nash first day

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