Columbus Day in the Primary Clasroom

Since we typically have the day off for Columbus Day, I do acknowledge it.  And it's in our standards to teach it, too.   However, instead of focusing on Columbus being the first to discover America...which, by the way is highly disputed...we focus on exploration, new discoveries, and Christopher Columbus' explorations.

I figured today would be a great day to share with y'all what I posted last case you're planning, too!  

If you're all about the snacks....which you know I am!!!...then these are pretty fun...and cute, to boot!  Of course, this will take a little ambition which I don't always have when it comes to preparation the night before.  I'm usually too tired to make dinner :)  Ha!


This version is fun, too!  

You could even have your kids assemble the snack and then write an expository piece about how they made it.

I like to start most of my themed units with a poem or song of some sort.  There are lots of Columbus Day type songs out there.  I made up this little one and my boys won't stop singing it.  Oy.  

I included a printable version for poetry folders/independent reading station/etc. as well as song strips for the pocket chart...

I absolutely LOVE incorporating vocabulary activities into anything I can.  After reading the book Word Nerds last year, I was on a mission to amp up the vocabulary instruction in my classroom.  I think our babies definitely have the capacity to not only learn, but use "big words" in their every day vocabulary...we just have to guide them in the right direction and provide lots of opportunities for them to work with these words.  

I wrote a little "Let's Learn About Columbus" booklet and highlighted some important vocabulary words from the story...

I also included printable story vocabulary cards and a couple of activities to go with those words.

I'm also loving this "ship-shape" sequencing book that follows along with the story, too!

It's this time of the year that I like to talk about symbols.  I create a symbols anchor chart that describes what they are and how they are used.  I included a printable where the kids have to sort symbols and match them to their corresponding holiday and I also included this little booklet.  For this activity, the kids have to look at the symbol on the sail and then write the word on on the lines.  This would be a great independent writing activity!

We're going to have the kids use these vocabulary picture/word cards as a resource when completing these activities.  They're also going to have them displayed in their writing center.

I thought it would be fun for the kids to take some of those same vocabulary words and sort them into alphabetical order, so I made this little cut and paste booklet for that...

I also included this little writing craftivity and two different writing prompts.  My oldest wanted to make one of his own as soon as he saw this one.  Bless. 
You can check out this resource & read the details HERE.  

I hope this helps with your planning!!!

Tuesday Teacher Time Savers

Hey Y'all!  

Hope you had a wonderful Labor Day weekend and if you started back to school today, I hope your summer treated you well!

I thought it would be fun to pop-in once a this case, on Tuesdays...and share some time savers with you guys.  I know how utterly hard it is to effectively juggle all the demands given the time we have, so any little tips and tricks for time management, whether at home or school, is always helpful!  This week we're talking all about time saving meals. 

I know how important it is for teachers to have access to quick and easy meals.  The last thing I want to do at the end of an exhausting day is come home, cook an elaborate meal, and clean the aftermath.  Inevitably my kitchen always looks like a war zone when it's all said and done.  Thanks, but no thanks.  I LOVE quick and easy.  I love making food that will last me several days.  I chose some of my most favorite fast and easy meals to share with you today.  I think you'll LOVE them!  You can find these, and a ton more, on my domestic blog - Pearls, Handcuffs, & Happy Hour.  

Let's start with breakfast.  The most important meal of the day.  

This is one of my go-to morning meals.  Grab & Go Egg Muffins.  These are great to prep on a Sunday, bake, and refrigerate.  The recipes makes a dozen and can be reheated in the morning and eaten for breakfast.  I LOVE these!  You can really add any ingredients you like.  This is just what I prefer in mine.  It's like an omelet muffin!!  YUM!

While we're on the subject of breakfast, I'd be remiss not to include this amazingly delicious pumpkin bread!  Since it's September and closer to Fall, I had to share.  If you're making this, grab about 3 disposable loaf pans because this recipe makes a ton.  You can freeze the extra loaves and pull them out when you're ready for them.  This makes a great breakfast...or dessert :)  I also love giving the extra loaves to teachers or co-workers!!  Great little surprise gift :)

Now let's move on to dinner. I wanted to give y'all a few of our favorites that are SUPER simple to prep and cook.  A must for the teachers of the world!

First up, let's talk ravioli.  Do you like it?!  I LOVE it.  And this Fiesta Ravioli recipe couldn't be any easier.  You can use the refrigerated cheese or beef ravioli.  I prefer the cheese.  You could also use the cheese and pair it with cooked ground beef, but that's just another step I don't have time for, so I cook it just as is.  This takes about 15 minutes start to finish and tastes amazing!  Always a hit and great to make for company, too!!  

Here's a little something for your slow cooker.  Baja Pork Tacos.  YUM.  As you can see, the ingredient list is minimal and you can toss it all in your crock pot and come home to the most amazing smell and delectable flavors when you walk through your door.  This is my husband's favorite.  I like to eat this in corn tortillas filled with pico de gallo and avocado.  I'll also shred the pork and place it on top of a bed of romaine lettuce and sprinkle with Bolthouse Creamy Avocado Dressing.  Makes great leftovers and perfect take-me-to-school lunches :)

Last but not least, I'll leave you with some soup.  Spinach Tomato Tortellini Soup to be exact.   This is definitely one of the easiest soup recipes in my arsenal. One of the tastiest, too.  I love soup recipes because they always make a ton and are fabulous for leftovers.  I could eat soup everyday of the week...especially in the cooler months ahead.  And pair that with my favorite carb (pasta)?!?!  Heaven in a bowl :)

If you want more meal ideas, head on over to my blog Pearls, Handcuffs, & Happy Hour to see what's in my kitchen!

Hope these little time saving recipes free up more time for you to relax and enjoy your evenings!!!

If you have a time saving tip and would like to be featured, email me at I'd love to hear from you, too!

Small Group Alphabet Instruction

Sunday I posted all about how I introduce the alphabet in my classroom.  I told y'all a little bit about what I do during small group and showed y'all a little sample of what that small group instruction entails....

Now let's go ahead and dive a little deeper.

Before I get started, let's quickly talk about some invaluable resources I've used in my classroom to help teach and reinforce letter recognition and letter to sound linking.  These are materials I use during small group, tutoring, and I keep these out in literacy tubs as well.  This isn't everything I doesn't even really touch the surface...but I've found that year after year these tend to be my "go-to" materials...especially when teaching my struggling learners.

I will refer to some of these things in my plans below, so here's my basic set-up I have at teacher table for teaching the alphabet.

The Alphabet Anchor Charts were one of my most frequently used resources last year and you'll see how I use these in my plans below.

The clipboard, plastic sheet protectors, & dry erase markers are used for practicing letter formation.  I also had the kids write on the wiped perfectly clean!!  Of course, dry erase spots would work just as well.

Alphabet Linking Chart - I keep these EVERYWHERE and I always have a small group set at the teacher table.  In case you missed it yesterday, you can grab your copy by clicking the pic below.

As you saw earlier, I introduce three new letters a week.  This typically starts on the third week of school, but y''s never too late to start :)  Here's what each day looks like.  I'll use the first 3 letters I usually introduce for this sample schedule of activities.

  •  The kids come to the teacher table and each student gets an alphabet linking chart.  We go through the entire linking chart saying the name of the letter/the name of the picture that corresponds with the beginning sound/the letter sound and the motion - example: "A, apple, /a/-with motion"  {Remember yesterday's post...I introduce the linking chart the week PRIOR to starting formal alphabet instruction during small group, so they know how to recite the linking chart by this point}
  • When we finish reciting the linking chart, I tell the kids to take out their magic alphabet finger {pointer finger} and then instruct them with prompts.  "Point to the letter that says /t/.  What letter is that?"  "Point to the vowel that says /a/.  What letter is that?"  This helps me to quickly assess who knows what.  I include letters to review what we are learning at teacher table as well as letters I'm checking to see if they're just "getting" through informal exposure {station activities, reciting the linking chart, etc.}
  •  Collect the linking charts and pass out dry erase markers and a tissue/eraser {an individual white board or dry erase spot if you have those.  A plastic sheet protector on a clipboard works perfect, too}.  I make sure they know they can't touch their materials unless they're instructed.  If they do, they lose their privileges to use them and they have to write with invisible ink {their fingers}.  Sadsville.
  •  Introduce the letter Mm.  Prior to introducing the letter, I make sure to display the letter M anchor chart on the white board next to my teacher table.  I will refer to this several times throughout our lesson.  I use an uppercase and a lowercase letter Mm card {separate from the anchor chart, you could just write them on index cards} to show them the letter and tell them the sound it makes.  We use the letter M anchor chart to take about different objects and words that begin with that letter sound.  I use the alphabet tubs too...these are great for my kinesthetic learners.
  •  I show them how to write an uppercase M following the correct path of motion.  I talk them through it as well.  For example:  "Start at the top and drag a line to the bottom.  Frog jump back to the top.  Slide down to the bottom right and stop.  Now climb up to the top right and stop.  Drag a line down to the bottom."  If there's a right way to do this, I'm probably not doing it.  I made up my own verbiage because it was easier to remember.  I write the letter and talk through it first as they're watching me.  Then I'll ask them to tell me the name of the letter, repeat the letter sound, and then call on a couple of friends to give me a word beginning with the letter M.  I encourage them to use a resource {the anchor chart or linking chart} if they need it OR they can think of ANY word they know that starts with that letter sound.  
  •  Now the kids write the letter with their dry erase markers.  I talk them through it the first time and they have to follow along with me....even if they already know how to write the letter on their own.  I want to make sure they know the correct path of motion.  Then they erase the letter and then write it again by themselves and I monitor for mastery/mistakes/etc.
  •   Now it's time for the lowercase letter.  I introduce the lowercase letter, write it on my white board and talk through the path of motion.   I also review the sound and have my friends repeat it for me.  Now I instruct my friends to pick up their markers and write the lowercase letter.  First they write the letter WITH me as I talk them through it.  We erase and then they write the letter using the correct path of motion on their own.  If they are struggling, we talk through it and write it together again.
  • After writing both the capital and lowercase letters, I have one friend at the table "teach" the rest of the kids how to write the letters...this is just a basic, student led review of what we just learned.  Another friend gets to "teach" the table what sound the letter makes and then he/she calls on the students who haven't had a turn to name words/objects that begin with that sound.  

After this, I usually still have time for a quick activity.  I typically choose activities this time of the year that reinforce letter recognition and letter to sound linking.  Depending on the day here are some of the activities I might choose from....

1.  I start them on their Interactive Alphabet Notebooks this first full week of formal alphabet instruction.  I show them how they're used and put together.  I won't have them do this for every single letter this week.  This will be something that is incorporated into their independent literacy tubs, but first we learn how it works!!  I love using this to reinforce what we're learning at the teacher table.

2.  I printed out the alphabet activities in my A, B, C Easy as 1, 2, 3 packet on colored cardstock, laminated them, and prepped them to use with my small groups.  I made a copy for each student in my small about 5-6 copies per activity.  For the cut and paste activities, I personally cut them myself and then had the kids use the "pieces" for sorting.  Instead of using a bingo dotter for the "dot the letter" activities, I have my kids use seasonal counters or transparent chips. And they use a vis-a-vis for the handwriting piece.

3.  The random games and activities are just that...completely random.  Games & activities I've collected and/or created over the years and I keep them in a drawer next to my teacher table to pull out & use as needed.

  •  The kids come to the teacher table and each student gets an alphabet linking chart.  We go through the entire linking chart saying the name of the letter/the name of the picture that corresponds with the beginning sound/the letter sound and the motion just like we did on Monday.  We do this at the start of small group EVERY.SINGLE.DAY.
  • Alphabet Linking Chart prompts - today I'll give them a set of transparent chips and have them cover up the letters using prompts.  "Cover the letter that comes BEFORE Mm."  "Cover the letter you hear at the beginning of APPLE."  {etc....}
  •  Collect the linking charts and pass out dry erase markers, a white board/sheet protector/etc., & a tissue/eraser.
  • Review the letter Mm.  I review the letters lots of different ways.  Today, I'll say "who remembers the letter we learned how to write yesterday?"  Hopefully they'll remember :)  If they don't, I'll point to the anchor chart on the white board.  If they still can't remember the name of the letter, I'll use a mnemonic cue.  I won't say the name or make the sound, I'll just use the cue and that typically illicits a correct response.  
  • I'll reinforce that letter saying, "That's right!  It was the letter Mm.  Who can tell me what sound the Mm makes? (wait for response)  GREAT!!!  Yes! The letter Mm says /m/.  Great job.  Now who can remember how to write the letter Mm using the correct path of motion?"  At this time they're completely jumping up and down excited to show you they remember...even when they don't.  Cuties.  
  • Instruct the kids to open their markers and write the letter WITH them while talking it out.  I write the letters one at a time.  Uppercase then lowercase or vice versa.  Then I have them write it on their own.  And then we review the sound.  Again.  As they're erasing their letters, I ask them to tell me some words that begin with  /m/.  Then I tell them to put the caps on their markers and sit with their hands in their laps.
  •  Introduce the letter Ss.  So as not to confuse my kids, I'll put up the letter Ss anchor chart on the white board AS I'm introducing it. We discuss the letter sound.  I model and we practice together.  Then we talk about the different objects/words that begin with that sound using the anchor chart.
  •  Model write the uppercase & lowercase Ss while talking through the path of motion.  Then I'll ask them to tell me the name of the letter, repeat the letter sound, and then call on a couple of friends to give me a word beginning with the letter Ss. Again, just a quick review...something to keep them thinking and making connections.
  • Independent letter writing - I write the uppercase WITH them, then they write it independently.  Then I write the lowercase WITH them, and they write it independently.  Then I have them write them both.  
  • To switch it up, I'll throw in yesterday's letter.  "You showed me how to write the letter Ss.  Now show me how to write a lowercase Mm", or something to that effect.  If I ask them to write a different letter, I'll also ask them to give me a word that begins with that sound.
  • Student teach - one friend "teaches" the rest of the table how to write the uppercase/lowercase letter Ss.  Choose another student teacher to tell the kids how the letter Ss sounds.  Then have that student teacher choose the rest of the table to give you words beginning with that sound.
  • Quick activity as discussed in Monday's plans.

  • Recite the alphabet linking chart with motions & point to each letter as you say it.
  • Alphabet Linking Chart prompts - today I'll give them 5 M&M's. (yes, we can use candy...don't throw rocks!!!  you can use goldfish or anything else...that is, if you're allowed to use food for instruction).  I'll tell them that they can eat ALL of their M&M's if they cover the correct worries, though.  I do help them if they get stuck and no one feels left out.  I'll prompt them to cover the letters using the prompts we used on Monday & Tuesday and then I let them eat their answers :)  If they get stuck, I prompt them to use the anchor charts or show them a mnemonic cue to jog their memory.  I don't want them to be wrong and I don't want to discourage them...the M&M's just help to get them a little excited and it's a special mid-week fun snack :)
  •  Collect the linking charts and pass out dry erase markers, a white board/sheet protector/etc., & a tissue/eraser.
  • Review both letters Mm & Ss.  I'll pass out a little container filled with letter tiles filled with about 8 different letters. Both the uppercase & lowercase letters (Mm & Ss) are in the container.  I tell them to take out their tiles and place them in a straight row (I use every opportunity I can to build and reinforce vocabulary as well).  Then I'll give them prompts.  "Push up the letter you hear at the beginning of "monkey".  Push up the letter that comes after Rr.  Push up the letter that says /s/.  Push up the letter that you write by starting at the top, drag a line down, frog jump back up to the top, etc."  (This is just an example of some prompts I might use.  I always keep an alphabet linking chart displayed at my teacher table as well so that the kids have that as a resource).
  • Pack up the tiles and pass out the markers, white boards, & erasers.  
  • Instruct the kids to open their markers and tell them that we're going to practice writing letters using the correct path of motion.  "Write the CAPITAL/UPPERCASE letter you hear at the beginning of MOUSE."  If I see someone struggling to recall, I'll show them a mnemonic cue and then refer them to the anchor chart.  If they're still struggling, I'll point to the letter on the linking chart and ask them to tell me what letter it is and what sound it makes. I make sure to tell them and practice it with them as well.  I'll repeat this with both uppercase and lowercase letters Mm & Ss.
  • Erase the letters and gather up the markers.  Now I'll have the kids do some sort of sort for me.  It could be a letter sort (sorting M's & S's, both uppercase and lowercase) or a picture sort (beginning M & S words/pictures).  You can do this with hands-on materials (letter tiles, flashcards, picture cards, etc.) or something that you've typed up and made yourself.  Whatever works.
  • If I do have them work on a paper/pencil type sort, I make sure to have them add that to their interactive alphabet notebooks.  
  • Quick activity - optional

  • Recite the alphabet linking chart with motions & point to each letter as you say it.
  • Alphabet Linking Chart prompts - today I'll hand out little square picture chips to each of my kids.  I have a baggie of these for each student at my table. The baggie contains about 4-5 different pictures and I tell the kids that they have to remove each picture from the baggie and cover up the picture/letter on the linking chart that starts the same way.  For example, if they pull out a picture of  a "sock", they have to place it over the "snake".  This is a great little on-the-go assessment and it helps me see who's getting what.  I get individual time with my kids during this activity as I stop in with each student at my table and have them talk out their thinking and then tell me the letter that matches the sound they hear at the beginning of the word/picture.
  •  Clear the charts, bag up the pictures, and then collect the linking charts and pass out dry erase markers, a white board/sheet protector/etc., & a tissue/eraser.
  • Review the letters Mm & Ss.  Today's review is a writing review.  I'll say, "write the uppercase S using the correct path of motion.  Write the lowercase letter you hear at the beginning of moon.  Can anyone tell me any other words that start the same as moon?  What letter is that that you hear at the beginning of moon?", etc.  This is all pretty quickfire.  I help them as needed, but I always encourage them to use a resource first.  
  • Now we erase the letters and close up our markers and I introduce the letter Ff.  I'll pull out my F anchor chart and I'll tell them the name of the letter, the sound that it makes, and then we'll talk about the pictures on the anchor chart that are associated with the beginning sound.  Then we'll brainstorm a few more words of our own.  I'll usually try to draw those pictures on the white board as we brainstorm.  We'll end this quick activity by reviewing the name of the letter and the letter sound.
  •  Model write the uppercase & lowercase Ff  while talking through the path of motion.  Then I'll ask them to tell me the name of the letter, repeat the letter sound, and then call on a couple of friends to give me a word beginning with the letter Ff. Again, just a quick review...something to keep them thinking and making connections.
  • Independent letter writing - I write the uppercase WITH them, then they write it independently.  Then I write the lowercase WITH them, and they write it independently.  Then I have them write them both.  
  • To switch it up, I'll throw in Monday & Tuesday's letters.  "You showed me how to write the letter Ff.  Now show me how to write a lowercase Mm/uppercase S", or something to that effect.  If I ask them to write a different letter, I'll also ask them to give me a word that begins with that sound.
  • Student teach - one friend "teaches" the rest of the table how to write the uppercase/lowercase letter Ff.  Choose another student teacher to tell the kids how the letter Ff sounds.  Then have that student teacher choose the rest of the table to give you words beginning with that sound.
  • Quick activity as discussed in Monday's plans.

  • Recite the alphabet linking chart with motions & point to each letter as you say it.
  • Alphabet Linking Chart prompts - today I'll gather up the linking chart and then pass out a linking chart that has missing pieces {letters, pictures, or both}.  I also pass out baggies that include the missing pieces.  The kids have to determine what letters/pictures/both are missing.  I keep a linking chart on my desk for the kids to use as a resource if they get stuck.  This is also a good anchor activity to include in your dessert tubs or regular literacy stations.
  •  Clear the charts, bag up the pictures, and then collect the linking charts and pass out dry erase markers, a white board/sheet protector/etc., & a tissue/eraser.
  • Review the letters Mm, Ss, & Ff.  I pull up a large pocket chart on an easel for this activity, but you don't NEED one.  You can do it on your table just as easy.  I have a set of alphabet cards {lowercase & uppercase are separate} that I'll prep to show to the kids.  I pull out the uppercase M, S, & F.  I'll show them to the kids one at a time and ask them to tell me the name of the letter and how the letter sounds.  Then I have one or two kids give me a word that goes with the letter.   I'll place the uppercase letter card at the top of the pocket chart.  I'll do the same thing for the other two letters.  Then I'll take the lowercase letter cards and matching picture cards and place them face down on the table in front of them.  I give each of the kids a turn turning over a card and putting it in the matching column on the pocket chart.  If they turn over a lowercase f, they place the card under the uppercase F.  If they turn over a picture of a snake, they place the card under the uppercase S, etc.
  • Now we quickly practice writing the letters using the correct path of motion.  I'll start with the uppercase and lowercase Ff since we just learned those yesterday and I may need to talk them through the correct path and model it again.  I'll repeat the letter, letter sound, and then ask my friends to give me words that match the beginning sound.
  •  Review write the uppercase & lowercase Mm & Ss.
  • Quick activity as discussed in Monday's plans.

In a nutshell, that's how I introduce and teach the alphabet {formally}.  As a whole group we typically recite the linking chart with motions about 2-3 times a day....especially at the beginning of the year.  We won't do this all year long, but I've seen a lot of success when we do this frequently in the beginning.

This is the longest post ever.  I'm applauding you all the way from my little house in Texas if you've made it this far.  Bless you, child.  

I want to reiterate that by NO means do I think this is the best way to instruct your kids.  This is what works for ME.  I love to try new methods and new ways of teaching, but sometimes I like to stick to what I know works best for ME.  You might be shaking your head at this post wondering what in the world I'm doing in my classroom.  I totally understand if you are :)  This little method has worked for me for the last 13 years.  Each year I have to tweak it to work for my crop of kids because no two years or kids are the same, y'know?!  Overall, this is how my small group runs until all of the letters have been formally introduced.

It is truly AMAZING to witness how fast these babies pick up these skills.  Of course, you may have friends who struggle a bit.  You may have to differentiate your instruction and slow things down for those guys.  I love watching how quickly they take to the instruction and apply what they know.  Then we get to move onto concepts like digraphs, cvc words, etc.  It blows my mind every year!

The activities explained above typically take no more than 10-12 minutes of instructional time.  15 at the very most.  I have about 30 minutes to work with each small group.  2 hours total.  I have about 5 kids in each group.  After our alphabet activity, they visit their literacy stations and then I work on guided reading concepts in small groups of 2-4 kids, depending on their level.  At the beginning of the year, those skills are very basic so we can build a strong foundation in reading, but that's a topic for a whole different post.  

I also want to mention that it's important to be flexible with your instruction.  If you have a class that's really, really struggling with letter recognition and letter to sound linking, scale it back to two letters per week instead of three and really spend time practicing, reviewing, and reinforcing what you learned.  At that rate you'll still be learning the alphabet in 12 weeks as opposed to 26 :)  I typically only introduce  2 letters a week on short weeks...if we've had an extended weekend or something like that.  

I do hope this lengthy, drawn out explanation helps a little :)  

Now here are a few FAQ's that might help you out, too!! 
Hope this helps!

The only video I have is this one of my antsy son.  I asked him to recite the alphabet with motions the way he was taught by his teacher {who I taught right next door to}.

If he's hard to understand {which I totally get!  He's a crazy 5 year old!!!}, here's an explanation of each of the motions.  

A:  Place your hands on either side of your mouth and say "/a/". {kind of like Kevin did in Home Alone, but without the screaming}

B:  B is for bat.  Pretend that you are holding and swinging a bat.  

C:  C is for cold.  I have the kids cross their arms over their chest and shiver because they are "cold".

D:  D is for dig.  Use both of your hands to pretend that you are digging.

E:  E is for "eh?"  Cup an ear and say "eh".  Kind of like an old lady who's having a hard time hearing.

F:  F is for fly.  Flap your arms up and down like you're flying.

G:  When you make the /g/ sound, you can feel it on your throat.  Have your kids place two fingers on their throat to "feel" the sound.

H:  H is for hot or hello.  I taught my kids to wave "hello".  My son's teacher taught them to place a hand in front of their mouth and say "/h/" to feel how hot their breath is.

I:  We dot our noses for the letter I, just like we dot the lowercase letter when we write.  We actually made the "hang ten" motion with our pinky and thumb and dotted our chin with the thumb and our nose with the pinky.

J:  J is for jump.  In your seat, pretend to jump up and down.

K:  K is for kick.  When my son does this he kicks with his feet.  I had a very spirited group last year, so we kicked with our fingers.  It was a lot easier for them to manage that motion at the teacher table.

L:  L is for lick.  Make the letter L with your thumb and pointer finger and pretend to lick the L like a lollipop.

M:  M is for m-m-m-m-m-m good.  We rubbed our bellies for this one and I told them that M is the most DELICIOUS letter in the alphabet :)

N:  N is for NO!  Shake your head back and forth as if you're saying NO. You can also wag your finger back and forth, too.

O:  Use your finger to trace the shape around your mouth when you make this sound. {you're making the O shape :)}

P:  P is for pop. Pretend to make a popping motion with your hands, like popcorn popping. {you can see this better on the video}.

Q:  Watch the video for this one.  I don't even know how to explain what we're doing here :)  My son's teacher taught me this one when we were teaching next to each other.  It just stuck!!!

R:  R is for race.  Pretend to hold a steering wheel like you're racing down a race track.

S:  S is for snake.  Take a finger or a hand and make a slithering motion {like a snake through the grass}

T:  T is for time.  Tap your wrist like you are tapping your watch to check the time.

U:  U is for up.  Take both thumbs and thrust them in an upward motion.

V:  V is for vibrate {or as my son likes to say, "vimurate"}.  Shake your body like it's vibrating {great way to incorporate new vocabulary!!}

W:  W is for "wassup" or wings.  My son's teacher taught him how to do a little motion that indicates he's saying "wassup" {I LOVE IT!!!}  and I taught my kids to tuck their fists into their armpits and flap up and down like they have chicken wings.  

X:  Cross both arms in front of your body to make an "X".  I also explain to my kids that I have two pieces of bacon in the frying pan.  I'm taking those two pieces and crossing them over one another like an "x".  When it starts to fry, it makes the /x/ sound.

Y:  Y is for "yes" or "yawn".  My son's teacher taught them to put their arms above their head in a Y shape {like the Y in YMCA} and say "YES!".  I taught my kids that Y was the sleepiest letter in the alphabet...they raised their arms in a Y above their head, made the /y/ sound, and followed it up with a yawn.

Z:  Z if for z-z-z-z-z-z-z.   The alphabet is finally asleep!!!  Pretend that you are sleeping as you make the /z/ sound.  Place your hands together, tilt your head, and place your hands under your cheek like you're resting/taking a nap.


I hope this helps explain those motions!  Most of them I learned from my son's teacher.  She made most of them up.  I made a lot of mine up when I couldn't remember hers :)  Really, there's no right or wrong way to do this {in my opinion}.  As long as your kids can make a connection to a cue.   You might have some ideas for motions that you think would work better for your kids.  If you do, share those here!!  I'd love to know what they are!!!

My first year teaching, I was taught to use the McCracken order for introducing the alphabet.  It just stuck.  That's the way I started doing it and that's the way I've always done it.  It just kind of became second nature I guess.  

Here's the order:
M, S, F
B, T, C
short A, R, L
P, short O, D
G, N, W
short I, H, J
K, V, short U
Y, Qu, Z
X, E

In addition to teaching the short vowel sounds, I also teach the kids that vowels have two sounds....long and short.  I try to introduce the concept of vowels pretty early on in the year....maybe the third week or so?!  We sing the Vowel song and we are constantly identifying vowels in our shared reading/writing activities.  Each time we identify a vowel, I have the kids give me both sounds.  You might want to change up the order that you teach the letters if you do decide to use this sequence.  

For more info on McCracken Phonics, you should check out this book....

I haven't used the lessons in this book...I just use the letter order.  The theory behind using this order is that you start with the letters that are the easiest to hear and say.  There are SO many different studies that suggest one method is better than the other, so by no means am I saying I think this is the best.  It's just what's worked best for me in my classroom.  I would definitely suggest doing your research if you're wanting to see what other methods and sequences are out there!!!

I do not use a basal and have not for years.  When I did have a "curriculum" to follow, I believe we used houghton mifflin and followed the sequence of letter instruction in those books.  I was still teaching 3 letters a week during small group, but I'd use the basal to guide my planning for whole group and literacy stations.   Whatever objectives were supposed to be taught in our curriculum was incorporated into whole group {shared reading/writing, poetry, morning message}and literacy tubs.  

Again, the sequence for formal alphabet instruction was something I was taught to do my first year and it just stuck.  When I was at my last school, we used Horizons phonics to guide our "anchor" letter instruction....this was the sequence of letters we introduced during our whole group activities.  It was generally one letter a week and that was our "anchor letter".  I was still introducing 3 different letters {following the McCracken order} at teacher table.

Clear as mud, right?!?!?!

Great question!!!!  

This is almost exactly how it works out.  The first couple of weeks of school, I call the kids up to the teacher table individually to assess their alphabet knowledge.  I go through all the letters, both uppercase and lowercase, and I include the fancy g and a as well.  We ask the kids to identify the letters and sounds.  

I take all of that data and then use it to form my groups.  The kids who know very few letters are put in a group together and I know that those kids will need a more "intensive" approach to learning the alphabet.  I'll slow down with them and maybe introduce 2 letters a week as opposed to 3.  Really, I just take it week by week.  You'd be surprised at how quickly they learn!!!  

These groups are typically the same as my guided reading groups with the exception of a few kids.  These groups are constantly changing.  I do running records on my kids at least 3 times a week to ensure that they are comprehending and applying the skills they are learning.  I love having lots of "PROOF" of their learning.  

When the kids weren't with me, they were working in their literacy tubs/stations.

I can't imagine living the classroom life without independent learning stations.  This is what helps me maintain my sanity.  It takes a LOOOOOOOOONG time to establish a good routine when it comes to working independently without lots of help, but the time you invest in setting expectations and teaching them rules and procedures really does pay off in the end.  I know I'm not telling you anything you don't already know.  I'm sure you already do that now!

My other kids were always doing hands-on station activities...word work, pocket chart, etc.  I had a lot of stations set up so that they had a lot of choice.  I also had a shelf full of anchor activities so that if they did get stuck on something and I wasn't immediately available to help them, they knew they could visit the anchor activities to work on until I could help.   As the year progressed, my kids also had the option to read to self as well.  

Science of September

Hello friends! Happy Monday!

I'm heading out for mentoring in just a minute, but before I leave I just wanted to pop in and let y'all know that The Science of September has been posted...just in time for September, HA!  
It's jam-packed and chock full of 4 weeks worth of  science lesson plans, vocabulary, read alouds, anchor chart suggestions, experiments, and cross-curricular activities.  Whew!  

September's resource will cover various science skills and concepts using the themes of Five Senses, Farm, Apples, and Fall.  Some of the skills covered included observable changes, organisms & their environment, changes in physical properties, plant & animal comparisons, plant parts, five senses to explore, seasons, and MORE!

We're starting the month working with our five senses and this is a theme that will carry throughout the remainder of the weeks included in this resource as well. LOTS of opportunities for exploration through the five senses.

You'll follow-up your five senses investigations with a week full of fun on the farm!  Not only are there a few farm animal activities included in the mix, but the week of farm fun will also cover items produced by plants vs. animals, plant and animal comparisons, and farm crop & animal experiments!  Get ready to get your kids excited about what they can do with things found on farms!

Of course, NO September resource would be complete without included some type of apple activity, so we included a full week full of apple experiments, lesson plans, vocabulary, and cross-curricular activities.  Anchor chart suggestions are included as always, as well as a variety of (optional) craftivities to provide your students with hands-on visuals of their learning.

And just in time to head into October, we're ending the month with a study all about Fall.  Lots of opportunities for hands-on investigations and exploration using five senses.  

September is definitely going to be a GREAT month full of lots and LOTS of learning...and FUN!!!  Exactly what we believe learning should be...hands-on, engaging, and FUN!  

If you're interested in checking out this resources in greater detail, just click on the pic below.  

Have a great week!!!

All About the Alphabet

When I hosted a little Coffee Talk a few weeks ago, one of the things a few of y'all wanted to know about was how I introduce the alphabet to my Kinder friends.  Instead of answering with a little blurb, I felt like this was a concept that deserved a lot more than just a little explanation.  So let's get started, shall we?!

Before I start, I think it's important for you to know that I wholeheartedly DO NOT believe in "letter of the week" alphabet instruction. Although letter identification and letter to sound relationships should be taught systematically and thoroughly, the sequence and spacing of instruction doesn't need to be drawn out.  We need our babies to crawl before they can walk and that crawling process shouldn't last for the majority of the year.  I mean shoo...we practically want them running by the end of the year, y'know?!

So let's move them from crawling to walking pretty quickly.  It can be done effectively without being rushed.  I've seen it year after year.  And year after year it amazes me each and every time.  

You know at the beginning of the year {in Kindergarten} our babies come in pretty much all over the board.  Some of our kids are reading chapter books...some of our friends can identify most letters of the alphabet...and some of our sweeties don't even know the letters in their names.  I always have a mild panic attack at the beginning of each year wondering how in the world I can possibly teach them all.  How will I bring my emergent learners into the same playing field as my readers?!  How will I differentiate learning so that my sweet & lows aren't lost and my high flyers aren't bored?!  The struggle is real! {and they all said AMEN}.

I feel like the alphabetic principle is the most urgent literacy skill to introduce and implement at the start of each school year.  Research has proven that the difference between good readers and readers who struggle is their ability to use letter to sound relationships to identify and read words.  If we're stuck teaching a letter of the week, how in the heck are we supposed to get them reading fluently and independently by the end of the year?  
At the beginning of the year, I tell my kids, "I'm having an ALPHABET PARTY and you're ALL invited!!!"  Naturally, I'm completely dramatic about this and the kids just go a little wild.  Then we have to tap the breaks thismuch.  I basically quote my Texas brother, Robert Earl Keen, and tell them "the road goes on forever and the party never ends."  We'll be using the letters in the alphabet forever and we'll need to be ready to party with them  Then we get the party started.

At the beginning of the 2nd week of school, I introduce the mnemonic strategies {motions/cues/pictures} we use for each letter of the alphabet.  The purpose of incorporating these strategies into our alphabet instruction is to help the kids make connections and improve their ability to remember the letter to sound relationships. When I first introduce these motions, I go through about 3-4 and then practice {always with the alphabet linking chart}.  Then 3-4 more...and practice them all again.  Then we practice those 6-8 a few more times and then brain break.  We switch it up a bit and then do a totally different activity and then revisit the linking chart and motions again.  I know how short those attention spans can be...especially those first few weeks.  We do a lot of introduction and acting out that 2nd week...and lots, and lots, and lots of practice.

I asked my little guy to help me show y'all what I'm talking about with the motions.  He does this in is class, too.  If you do watch this, let's keep in mind that this child is ALL boy.  Ohmydear.  There is no such thing as sitting still or keeping his hands out of his pants.  Bless his sweet soul.  #sorrynotsorry

Of course, we would've been doing this little exercise WITH the linking chart, but I was doing good just to get him to cooperate with me for that brief 3 minutes.  I didn't want to push my luck. #bribedwithcandy #noshame 

After we practice this for about a week during our whole group block, we incorporate it into our small group instruction, too.  This is when I do my explicit alphabet instruction and activities.  I formally introduce about 3 letters per week {following the McCracken order}.  I've followed the McCracken sequence for the last 13 years and it seems to work well with my kids.  

Here's a sample of how it all breaks down during small group....

Right now you might be shaking your head and thinking I speed way too fast through the alphabet and my kids surely don't learn a darn thing.   I can assure you that they do!  Between targeted small group instruction and daily review and repetition of the linking chart & motions, my babies learn those letters & their sounds quickly!  In fact, I would say that 18 out of 20 kids have learned and mastered all of their letters and letter sounds by the end of October/early November and they definitely ALL know their letters/letter sounds by January {assessments}. There are very rare occasions when this isn't the case and in those instances there are usually medical reasons why retention isn't possible.

Let me just tell y'all my favorite success story from last year. One of my favorite successes of my 13 years in the classroom for that matter.  I had a lot of friends last year who struggled with letter recognition and letter to sound relationships.  It was pretty significant.  I had several friends who had little to no working knowledge of the alphabet at all.  They weren't able to write their names let alone identify them {or any of the letters in their names for that matter either}.  One little friend in particular...we'll call her Matilda Jane...was really struggling.  I was so worried about her.  She came into Kindergarten knowing only 4 capital letters...none of them in her name.  Matilda Jane was very shy and terrified of taking risks, so I knew that the familiar repetition of activities and instruction would help her to feel more comfortable in the learning process.  I saw her grow a little every day.  At first, I didn't see progress like I had hoped.  But then Matilda slowly started to come along.  She had mastered all of her capital & lowercase letters {recognition} and letter to sound correspondence by the end of October.  I remember that specifically because it coincided with our Book Parade and I had a special Halloween treat saved just for her for her amazing accomplishment.  

Reading was a different story.  It took a little bit longer to make those connections.  We continued to review the alphabet and those letter to sound relationships pretty much every day before guided reading and then applied that to making words and manipulating sounds.  At mid-year assessment time,  I was THRILLED to have her reading independently on a 2 {B}.  I mean, if y'all only knew how hard we worked to get there, y'all would've been just as proud of her, too!  By the end of the year, she was independently reading on an 8.  AN 8!!!!!  My sweet Matilda Jane!!!  She read so fluently...her comprehension was flawless...and she made the most amazing text to self connections.  She blossomed into such a great reader!!!  I'm not saying she never would've achieved that goal if her alphabet instruction was different, but I think it would've been a little bit more challenging to get there.

My kids use the motions with the linking chart until they've reached the point of automaticity with their letter to sound relationships.  I give each of my kids a quick alphabet assessment every Friday afternoon to make sure they are retaining and recalling the letters that are formally introduced during small group instruction and to see what they're picking up through repeated exposure.  The assessment is super quick.  I basically just call them up to the teacher table one at a time {while the rest of the class is occupied in Friday Free Centers} and then I have my kids go through a separate set of capital and lowercase letter cards and tell me the name of each letter and the sound that it makes.  I only give them about 3 seconds per letter because the goal is automaticity and I'm using these little assessments to guide my small group instruction for the following week.  If they are able to recall the letter and sound, I'll write down the date next to the corresponding letter on their check sheet.  If not, I'll just leave it blank and use that info to plan.

I also make sure to have lots of alphabet resources available in the classroom.  These are prominently displayed and/or kept in areas of the classroom that are easy to access.  I want my kids to become responsible for their learning and use these resources when they get "stuck".

Those desk plates are my favorite.  I love that they have picture cues for each letter. I keep a set of the letter books in my alphabet station.  This is in a pretty easy-to-access area in the classroom and the kids know they can use these as a resource any time they need.  

I have a million and one of these linking charts around the room at any given time.  I keep one in all of my literacy tubs, my kids keep one in their guided reading folders, and I have a small group set I keep at my teacher table.  You probably have them, too!  If you don't, or if you just want a new set, you can download it HERE.

I also love these anchor charts and so do the kids.  I will bring them out when I introduce a new letter and keep it displayed on my white board next to my teacher table.  After the week is over and the 3 letters have been introduced and reviewed, I add the letters to our alphabet anchor wall.  

So this is a basic little overview of how I introduce and sequence my alphabet instruction.  For the rest of the week, I'll be posting a little more about what I do to help my kids master this skill as well as some of my favorite whole and small group activities!!