Organizing Literacy Centers

I've had a lot of questions about how I organize my literacy centers. Here goes!

This is inside one of my closets. My literacy centers for every month are stored here. All the folders I use for each month go in the monthly folder holders (what are they really called?). Each month, I take out the folders I need and...

Place them in these folder holders (below). These are set out for the students. They are divided into four categories: reading, word work, writing, and sentence building. There are four centers for each category.

Students keep track of their centers using the menu. The categories on the student menu match the magazine holders with the center folders (Reading, Word Work, Sentence Building, and Writing). 

The center menu helps them keep track of completed centers. They color in a box on their menu to show when they finished a center. They color it halfway to show they started but didn't finish it.  

Each center has a folder with a cover. The cover matches the menu.

This center is under the Word Work category on the menu, so it can be found in the Word Work folder holder. There is also a label on the top right of the folder. All the contents of that center are in that folder. 

When choosing a center, the menu can help students locate the center they want. 

They keep their menus, unfinished centers, writing notebook, books for daily 5, and student sight word dictionaries here in their book boxes. 

 To keep track of student centers, I have a checklist. They work on their centers ALL month. Once they complete a center, they turn it in. I grade them with a plus, check or minus.

If you really want to keep track of student progress, you could do your checks in a different colors for each week. That would help you keep track of how many centers they are completing each week (which will also set you up for how to support them the next month).

If a center is incomplete, I pass it back to them to complete. If a center is super sloppy, I pass it back to them (in most cases). If a student gets a minus I take that a sign that I need to sit down with them and find out why (was it lack of effort or understanding). There's a mini-conference right there! It usually ends up being well worth the chat and full of teachable moments. :) As the year goes on, if you continually set those expectations and follow through, you have fewer instances of passing back assignments that were sloppy or incomplete. 

At the end of the month, I put the centers, the menu and this rubric (below) together in a packet and send it home.

You can download this for free rubric here. It could be used for any literacy centers that you use.

At the end of the month I take the folders out of here:

and put them back here:

and get the next month's folders. Don't you love how I came full circle there. :)

If you are interested in purchasing them, you can get them at my TPT Store.   I also have 2nd grade and  kindergarten available!

It's taken me a while to find what works for me. What works for you? I'm always looking for tips and tricks for organization! :)

Back to School Virtual Teaching Expo

I'm so excited about the Back to School Virtual Teaching Expo. 

There are some great presenters, including the fabulous Annie Moffatt. All five presentation topics sound so good! There will also be vendor hall with tons of items on sale and a goodie bag full of free products! My Inferences mini pack will be included in the goodie bag and three of my products will be on sale.

You don't want to wait. Get your tickets now!

Click here to buy your ticket for only $10!!

Sound Boxes (a.k.a. Elkonin Boxes)

Have you ever used sound boxes (otherwise known as Elkonin Boxes) in your classroom? Basically, it's a way to strengthen your students' phonological awareness by segmenting words into individual sounds. This will help with their spelling and reading. When using sound boxes, students will count the number of sounds (or phonemes) in a word, not letters. Each box represents one sound. That means that each box could have more than one letter. For example, the word chair would have three boxes (ch-ai-r). In first grade, I use them when teaching spelling, but you could also use them without including letters at all. I've seen them used with dot counters (students push a dot counter into each box as they segment a word orally).

Each month, I make a Sound Box "journal" for my students. I usually use the spelling patterns that we are using in class (but not necessarily the same words). There are always some students who memorize spelling words, and this is my way of helping them to really learn the phonetic patterns and develop their phonological awareness.

At the beginning of the year, most words only use 3 boxes but I have four available so they still have to count the phonemes and determine the number of sounds in the words themselves. They simply cross out the last box. After they sound out the word and write the letters in the boxes, they write a sentence using that word. They are expected to use the rules of writing that we have learned up to that point (at the beginning that is just capitals, periods, spaces). Then I pass out colored pencils and we make sure the words in the sound boxes are spelled correctly. That way I have a whole packet of information to use when report cards come out. I can look back and see how well they sounded out the words and I can use their sentences as an assessment too. Also, if I see a group of kids (or even just one) that are struggling with sound boxes, I know that I need to work more with them.

If you are interested in using sounds boxes, you can click on one of the pictures to download your freebie. 

I'd love to hear from you all. Do you use sound boxes? Do you have any tips/ideas for me? 

Click on the picture to download. 

Writing Notebooks

As much as I love to come up with clever writing prompts and activities for my students, I also love to see what they come up with on their own. At the beginning of the year, I make a big deal about how first graders get to make a lot of choices with their learning. One example is with their writing notebooks. Their writing notebooks get to be filled with their creative, brilliant, interesting ideas. Don't get me wrong, I for sure get those kids who end up writing about the same topic over and over (star wars, DS games, and cats to name a few). When I see too much repetition, that's a sign that we need to have a writing conference (or two) to brainstorm some new ideas. Sometimes a small group mini-lesson (or two or three) really help with this issue too. 

At the beginning of the year, we brainstorm a list of ideas for what to write about. It's always so exciting at first with hands shooting up in the air. I learned the hard way that you can't just have this conversation once and expect the excitement to last the whole year. That's why I revisit this over and over again throughout the year. 

Organizing Notebooks:
For their writer's notebooks I just use spiral notebooks, which ends up saving a lot on my copies!

Last year, I started putting tabs in my students' writer's notebooks. 

The tabs are a part of a page that they cut out (basically cutting around the tab) and then they glue it in their notebooks on the next available page. 

There are a few reasons why I did this:

1. Helps with organization (even when they should be putting the date on each page)
2. It's easy to quickly flip to where they left off.
3. It's easy for me (and my student) to see how much they wrote for each month. I know quality is more important that quantity, but I also want to make sure they are meeting my expectations in this way. I love the way the tabs make this so easy to do. 

You can see in the picture below that there were reading logs attached to the tabs. This is meant to be a record of the reading they do during Daily 5 throughout the month. It became a way for me to hold them accountable for Daily 5 and it helped keep them on track as well. I'm so in awe of those teachers who don't need any of these things! 

(Oops, the tab got cut off in this pic)
I recommend training your students to jot down the date and title by practicing this as a class. Get them used to doing this before expecting them to do it every time independently! If it becomes habit, then they're more likely to remember to log down their books when they are independently reading during Daily 5. I tell them not to write it down until they finished the book. Since they keep all their books and writer's notebooks in their book boxes, this isn't a problem (usually) as long as you train them! :)  I also like this because it gets them used to identifying the title and rating a story. We do a minilesson on how to rate a book. A few minilessons about opinions work with with this. (That's one of the common core standards too!) When I meet with them, their "ratings" can be a good conversation topic. If I see a lot of 3 star ratings, I tend to ask lots of questions about what they liked about the books to get them thinking more critically about the books. 

I use these for a writer's notebook:

Print enough for your class (I do one month at a time). Cut on outer solid lines. Glue so that the edge of the paper lines up to the edge of the paper on the notebook page. That way the tab is sticking out but not the rest of the paper.

*UPDATE: As of June 2015, I've updated these reading and writing tabs. These look much better! :) 

When do they use their notebooks?
Students write in their writer's notebooks during daily 5 when I am meeting with reading groups or having conferences. It's one of their rotations (along with literacy centers). 
They also can write in their notebooks anytime they have extra time (early finishers). When I do small group writing lessons, they always bring their notebooks with them. During writer's workshop I do a variety of things, so they may not always use their notebooks (sometimes I model, sometimes we do shared writing, and sometimes I may have a separate writing page with a prompt).

 Setting expectations for Writer's Notebooks
Don't learn the hard way like I did! Set those expectations and be clear and follow through. I was a little too free with writer's notebooks at first. Kids need those boundaries. I confess, I've had a few kids only drawing pictures (well past the point when they were more than capable of writing) or it was so sloppy and all over the place that I couldn't figure out what was going on. Rookie mistake! My expectations for the beginning of the year are:

1. Draw a picture to go with your writing.
2. Use spaces between words and between lines (model and practice this! It's not as easy as it sounds and some kids take a while to start using spaces between words.)
3. Use nice handwriting (don't rush your writing).
4. Use best guess spelling and any other resources (word wall or words around the room)

As the year goes on, they don't have to draw a picture but I do expect more writing. I also have student conferences where I set my expectations with that individual student to go along with goals. I think this is important so I can make sure I'm meeting the needs of each student and giving them an appropriate expectation. I still continue to have tons of lessons where I model good writing and review expectations. Naturally, as you teach new skills, your expectations will evolve.

Here's an example of a student's notebook:
I wish I had a better camera so you could actually read the writing! I like to write notes in their notebooks (with their permission- some prefer sticky notes). If I check these on my own time, then I write my notes and the next time we have a conference together we can go over my notes. 

I don't always "grade" their notebooks the same way I would other writing assignments. Instead, I assess by looking for evidence of certain skills. I use this sheet:

Click on the left picture to go to my Teacher's Notebook store and the right picture to go to my TPT store to download for free. (You don't need to go to both though. All freebies can be found at both.) If you do, please consider "following" or adding to your favorites. 

I circle a few skills that I observed in their notebooks and then I circle one or two things that the student needs to work on.  I try to do a couple a day so that I check every student's notebook every few weeks. This could be done with the student during a writing conference or it could be done after school on your own time. In a perfect world I would do all assessments during a writing conference but sometimes it doesn't work out how I planned and I want to make sure that I check in on everyone's notebooks. 

This year I'll keep track of it all using this checklist:

 These two above are both to keep track of the class.(I'll put multiple checks in each box if I see a skill demonstrated on multiple occasions.

And these two will be per student. Dates will go at the top.

When I need to get an actual grade, I'll choose an entry from the journal or do another writing assignment and use a rubric to get an objective score. To read more about how I use rubrics, click on the pink pictures below. To read more about my reader response pack, click on the green picture.

Reading Response Rubrics and Prompts Pack (freebie too)

I had such a great response from my Writing Rubrics Pack and a request to make a Reader Response Rubric pack. I'm so excited about this pack! I made 30 reader response prompt pages and cut-out options to use with journals. There are rubrics to go with these prompts and then I made some generic rubrics that would work for a basic retell reading response. There are 33 different rubrics. I used the Common Core Standards to guide this pack. 

Here's a sneak peak:

The reason there are two sets is because I wanted to give you the option of two different grading scales. One set of rubrics with the scale: Needs improvement, Fair, Good, Excellent
The other set has the scale: Developing, Almost There, Just Right, Excellent

I don't start school until September 4th (which is actually sort of early for me compared to the past few years), so I won't have pictures/posts about these in action until then. :( 

I plan on printing these out and organizing them by focus. For example, I'll put all the prompts and rubrics about characters together, all the prompts/rubrics about plot together and so on. When I teach those skills, I'll know where to find them! I'll be posting more about how I will teach the skills necessary to complete these reader responses when I start school. I love how rubrics keep me on track when setting my objectives and expectations for assignments. That leads me to better communicate those expectations to my students. 

If you are interested in this pack, you can get it at my Teacher's Notebook store or my TPT store.

Here's a freebie from this pack! 
I'll probably save this particular one for later in the year and build a lesson around it. (In this pack, there are some prompts/rubrics that are best used earlier in the year and others for later in the year. They would also work for 2nd and 3rd grade and a few would be great for kinders!)

Click on one of the pictures to grab your freebie!

Who Doesn't Love a Smore?

I hope you are all enjoying your summers. I've read in blog land that some of you are already back to school! I've still got another month left but I'm already starting to get anxious excited to get back into my classroom. I swear, it takes me an entire month to get my class set up! 

Since we're going camping (in my dad's backyard) this weekend, I thought it would be a great time to give you one last summer freebie. We will be for sure making smores! 

This is from my June 1st grade centers AND my August 2nd grade centers. 

There are three options for this How-To writing assignment.

Cut and paste pictures:

Pictures provided in spaces:

 No pictures:

You can download this smore freebie HERE.

I just had to throw this in the mix:

August Literacy Centers and a FREEBIE

I decided to start with your freebie. 
Here are two of the Read and Sequence from the first grade August literacy center pack. I love giving kids the opportunity to practice sequencing skills on a smaller scale. For this one, they use their schema about camping to figure out what order the sentences should go in. In other menus, there may be a "how to" type of sequencing activity. Either way, it's a great way to practice this skill.


You can get these here or here.

Please consider following or "liking" one of my stores if you take this freebie. Thanks:) While you're there, check out other freebies! 

Now on to August Literacy Centers!

I finally got around to making an August literacy menu. You can get them at my Teacher's Notebook Store or my TPT store. I've had requests to make it since many of you are in school in August. I'm on the Sept-June schedule. Back in June I made a literacy menu for June, and it turned out to be one of my favorites! BUT so many of you don't have any need for it. SO, I decided to use it for a 2nd grade August menu (assuming you wouldn't need both-unless you are year-around?) and then I modified it a bit (a lot) to work for an August first grade menu. 

I should start by explaining how I would use this. I would use this as a way to introduce routines and procedures for the literacy centers for the rest of the year. That means I would walk through each of these centers as a whole group or just with modeling. It depends on your class and how early you start in August.

The entire pack is 101 pages in all. Here's a small preview of what you get:

Two menus to choose from (only 2 centers are different) with a total of 18 centers.

Read and Sequence: 4 choices (3 shown)
Read, Think, Match (2 options)
Read, visualize draw (2 options)
Rebuild a poem: original poem with student sheet

Bird Sort (sorting short a words)

Springtime Spin:

Monkey words: Real and "silly" (sorting real and nonsense words)

Watermelon Words:

Syllable Sort

Make a sentence 
This is an easier version of Super sentence seen later on in the menus. Students choose the subject (with picture clues), the verb (action) and where to make a sentence.

Match a sentence: Match two parts of sentence

Sentence Scrambler:

Word Endings: Adding s to words

This could be a personal narrative or just writing about each picture. 
There are two options: the one you see below or an option to cut out 6 pictures and choose 4 to write about.

Roll and Write: Make a cube with pictures to prompt writing.

Picture Prompt: 3 versions
Post office

Here is the 2nd grade August menu:

You can get this at my Teacher's Notebook store or my TPT store.

Click here to see all the pictures of what's inside the 2nd Grade August Menu (remember it's the June first grade centers, just with an August menu).

I have not been a good blogger this summer. It feels like it's been FOREVER since I've posted! I have so many good excuses, but still... My best excuse:

My sweet boys!

Owen is now 10 months old and starting to pull himself up and shuffle around!

He's a happy baby:)

 and Shawn who loves everything summer: swimming, fountains, the park and of course ice cream!

Too cool:)