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Do you ever have assistance from parents or paraprofessionals and struggle with what to have them work on with your students? Are you in the middle of teaching when the helper arrives? How do you keep the lesson flowing AND give the helper the information they need?

In this post, I'm going to share ways you can plan for these situations with quality grab and go activities that are easy to follow and organize.
Plan for the Unexpected:
The best way to juggle all the teaching tasks you have is by planning ahead. In my former job as a Title 1 reading specialist, I was responsible for planning for six intervention groups and groups for two teaching assistants. In order to keep my blood pressure under control (and my mood happy), I started using color coded baskets for all of my intervention groups and for each assistant. For the assistants, I also used color coded folders for each grade level they worked with, put plans in one pocket, and lesson materials paper clipped for each day in the other. Even with this system, I won't lie. It was TOUGH to keep on top of it all, and although planning for parent helpers and paraprofessionals may not be this complicated, the system is very helpful for keeping the routine flowing. 
Get Your Baskets Prepped:
I have tried a few different sizes of baskets, but the ones that seemed to work best for me came from The Dollar Tree. Every year, The Dollar Tree has a variety of basket styles in various colors like the ones in my title image, so I purchased one of each. If you are using this system in the classroom, you can also get other baskets in the same colors for holding classroom supplies, collecting group papers, etc. Next, with all of my students' interactive notebooks, I add a strip of color coded duct tape to the binding and use color coded folders to hold their work in progress. The only thing I'd need to add to the basket then were our guided reading books and lesson materials. 

Each of my intervention groups were typically 4-6 students, and I was able to include everything in the one basket. For tutors, I would suggest a color coded basket for each student placed by your doorway for easy access. (If they aren't by the door, it could be very distracting to the other students.) Here are suggestions for what you might include in the baskets based on the needs of the student:
Decoding Deficits:
For this student, I would include word building materials in clearly marked gallon sized bags with a direction sheet of how to use the materials. You might include:

✅ a dry erase board and markers
✅ magnetic letters and a cookie sheet
✅ mats with Elkonin boxes for short and long vowels
✅ real and nonsense word cards for decoding work and word building
✅ word building games such as Bananagrams or ones you've made
✅ word sorts that you are working on
Fluency Deficits:
For students struggling with fluency, you can use timed repeated readings, poetry to work on phrasing and rhythm, independent level texts for repeated reading, close reads, and partner plays. Like the word building basket, you'll want to include directions on how to use the materials. You can include a folder with a basic lesson checklist and suggestions for how to work on fluency. 
Book Buddies:
If you are lucky enough to have an assistant who can work with specific students or a consistent parent volunteer, you might use the Book Buddy model. I've had wonderful success using the book buddy system. Now you might have in mind pairing upper and lower elementary students for "book buddies", but I'm referring to the University of Virginia model HERE.  It is very similar to Reading Recovery if you've heard of it. The lesson format includes repeated reading of independent level books (10 minutes), word building (10 minutes), introducing a new book for reading together (10 minutes), and writing about reading (10 minutes). In the basket, you would include the following:

✅ books from previous lessons for repeated reading
✅ word sort, letter tiles, and other word building materials
✅ a new book for introduction and cold read
✅ a graphic organizer or journal that the student uses to write about the story
✅extras-alphabet/sound chart, visual aids the tutor might use for modeling

Teachers can modify this schedule to the level of the specific student. For example, an emergent reader basket might include work on alphabet letters and sounds activities, concept of word poetry, a  decodable book, and a journal for writing about reading (or draw/label about reading). Imagine the growth your struggling student would experience with a double dip of one-on-one reading.
Comprehension Deficits:
For kids with skill deficits, you can also create a skill based basket that includes anchor charts, close reads geared to the skill or a selected book, and an interactive notebook for note taking and written responses. Skill groups are highly recommended as an alternative to a guided reading lesson as needed.
Certainly, we all love extra help in the classroom, and I hope these tips help you make the most of the help you receive. I believe organization makes a HUGE difference in keeping everything flowing in the classroom. Check out this board for organizational hacks and tips:
What organizational tips have worked for you? Feel free to comment with anything you've found helpful in working with parent volunteers and paraprofessionals.

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Writing routines begin in the primary grades, and why not begin with consistent language? The Six Writing Traits offer that to us. They help our students spot the traits in material they read, know what to work on with their own writing, and direct us as teachers on what to teach our students. They include writing ideas, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, organization, and writing conventions. So what should writing look like in the primary grades? Today, we will explore this topic.
Shared WritingMost of my students are struggling readers and writers, so writing can be very frustrating.  They struggle to come up with writing ideas and getting ideas on paper is another slow process. Scaffolding their learning is very important, so shared writing experiences work well, especially with K/1.  Shared writing means we compose the paragraph together and share the pen.  We discuss how we want the sentences to read, and I have the students tell me how to spell some of the words (we segment words by stretching them out by sound/syllable and tap each phoneme if needed).  Shared writing allows the teacher to model spacing on the page too which is important as the students take over (I follow the I do, we do, you do model). As we are working on a shared writing piece, it's the perfect time to talk about word choice, building ideas through discussion, sentence fluency, and voice. In fact, all of the traits. Students can visually see what we are talking about as we write and revise together.
Writing FramesAnother writing technique I use often with K-2 is the framed paragraph.  These work well to reinforce comprehension too if the teacher would like students to respond after reading.  With framed paragraphs, the teacher begins sentences and leaves the ending off.  Students complete the writing by adding the ending details.  I usually start with a topic sentence and have my students add in the details.  Framed paragraphs are not typically used in the writing process, but they work very well in response to reading or as journal prompts. Again, we model organization and sentence fluency with frames. Later, with revision, a framed paragraph can be revised for voice and word choice too.
The Reading-Writing ConnectionTying literature to writing is very important for providing students with models of the Six Traits. Great literature shows students how to think as writers, gives them ideas, shows them how to structure a story or informational paragraph, provides them with vivid vocabulary (we should always point that out as we read to our students), and so much more.  I love using read alouds for primary and upper elementary to introduce writing assignments.   Great literature gets the creative juices flowing, and as a post reading activity, teachers can use strategies such as ABC Brainstorm or a Word Splash to get students thinking about their own writing.  These group anchor charts can provide students with a word bank too which alleviates the stress students feel with thinking of words to use and spelling them (and we can introduce new vocabulary this way).  I think the best way to make writing fun is to choose your books first and draw from the books, writing prompts. As you select books, analyze them yourself for the Six Traits.  Will you focus on the idea, organization, voice, sentence fluency, word choice, or the writing conventions?  Most importantly, be sure to use a mix of fiction and nonfiction.  (We tend to gravitate to fiction, but most reading students do for learning is nonfiction, so writing factual paragraphs helps students better understand nonfiction as readers).
The Writing Fix: A Must Use Website
One of the best websites I have found for writing is The Writing Fix.  If you have not visited this site, zip on over today.  Here's the link to 12 lesson plans using great literature for the primary grades with step by step lesson plans.  Each plan, whether you care for the book or not, will give you an idea of how you might structure a primary writing experience.  After you've checked out these plans, you might pull your favorite books and use the sample plan as a template for your own ideas.

Included in the list on The Writing Fix are these titles:
Process Writing
The last thought I had with primary writing is to be sure you use the writing process.  Emphasize revising and use of the writing process terminology.  Many students hate revising because they "want to get it right the first time", but it's important to learn how to cope with redoing work to make it better.  Doing a mix of informal writing (journals, quick writes, responding to literature) and process writing helps students move along the continuum.  If progress doesn't seem like it's happening quick enough, pull out that writing sample you took the first week.  You will feel very good about the progress once you make a comparison.  Progress doesn't happen overnight, but if we keep in mind that we are helping students learn to enjoy writing, feel comfortable with not having it perfect, and provide them with lots of opportunities, we will be building both their reading and writing skills. Remember...they go hand in hand!

I hope you've learned at least an idea or two, but if not, be sure to visit the other links below. I also hope you'll share your ideas too.  Please add your link below or post a comment with your teacher tested ideas.  

Until next time, happy reading!

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Kids are really drawn to icky things, aren't they? Well, why not use the ick factor to your advantage with a frog and toad themed week?  Today, I'll share with you resources and ideas to get your started.
For starters, how about checking out this themed Pinterest board.
Fun with Frog and Toads Pinterest Board
On this board, you'll find links to life cycle lessons, frog and toad crafts, book lessons, and more.

Book Suggestions for the Study of Frogs
There are so many wonderful nonfiction frog books available. I have two favorites, Frogs! by Elizabeth Carney and Frogs by Nic Bishop.  The photographs in both are just phenomenal. In Frogs!, my favorite is one of the Goliath frog. My students were in shock when they read that it is the size of a rabbit. Nic Bishop is a nonfiction author and photographer. [His website] is one to check out to learn about how he has captured such great photos of the animals he writes about.

Pairing fiction with nonfiction pulls in other genres and gives teachers the opportunity to read some of those classic books that all children need to experience. You probably noticed that the Frog and Toad series take up four of the eight titles I included for fiction. Arnold Lobel is a first/second grade author that must be on all teacher's lists for author studies. Lobel has a long list of published works to choose from.
Other Reading Resources
In addition to fiction and nonfiction book options, including poetry and reader's theater are great options too.  Here are a few options you might include (depending on your grade level)
Fun Activities to Explore Frogs and Toads
If you're looking for activities to use with the theme, here are a few fun freebies that accompany this week's theme and book options.
Frog and Toad Resources from Comprehension Connection
I am a fan of the Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel. The set includes materials for Frog and Toad Are Friends, Frog and Toad Together, Frog and Toad All Year, and Days with Frog and Toad.

Each chapter of each book is done in a before/during/after style, so it is definitely a Print and Go unit that you can use with guided reading groups or partner work. A variety of activities are included to address many different comprehension, vocabulary, and writing skills.  Here is a preview of the four units, and you can access the link by clicking [here] or on the image to the right.
Finally, I thought I'd share a few video clips I found.  The first one is only 3 minutes, but the footage is incredible. It teaches the life cycle of the frog.
Life Cycle of a Frog

Life cycle of a Frog! - YouTube

It's so fun to learn about frogs and toads. Your kids are sure to enjoy the unit with these fun resources and teaching ideas. If you want to come back to this post later, here's an image to pin. Thanks for dropping by.
Pin for Later:

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As a teacher, what has been your biggest challenge to overcome?  Perhaps it's been juggling planning and prep with a busy schedule.  Maybe it's been working with the child in the classroom who never has homework, always needs to use the bathroom or run an errand, and never stops talking. It might even be working with difficult parents. In my situation, the obstacle I lose more sleep over and stress about is reaching what Donalyn Miller in The Book Whisperer calls, "The Dormant Reader".  Yes, I have worked with all reader types throughout my teaching career, but this one is personal.  This one is my youngest.  
Her StoryReading did not start out this way for her.  She was an avid reader through second grade, but gradually, she's lost momentum.  She began abandoning books and/or making comments such as, "This book is boring," or "I hate reading." I think some of the conflict has been her way of being an individual and not just going along with what is really important to mom.  We've also battled the appeal of games on the computers, ipods, and ipads, but we seem to be moving in the right direction now, and I want to share a few strategies I've used to make this happen.
Take Trips to the Library
I helped my girl create a list of topics she was interested in and books that she liked.  I also suggested that she look on Amazon for books by the topics she was interested in and put them on the list.  (This can be done at school with our students too.)  When we got to the library, I suggested that she ask the librarian to help her locate books that would match her interests.  That took me out of the equation, and she came home with a huge stack (and finished two straight away).  

Another great book recommending site is Goodreads. You have to get a subscription, but it is free.  This is a great thing because you can save your list, review books, see which titles are like those you like, and more. As a teacher, we could use this site with our students to check out and leave book reviews for books read.  This is the next thing I plan to mention to my girl.
Make Reading Cozy
At school, I set up a corner of my room for my class library. I brought in pillows, bean bags, a cozy rug, and made crate seats. I also set up other reading nooks for paired reading. All my seating options are easy to move and allow kids to lay on the floor for reading.

At home, we lofted my daughters bed to set up a comfortable area with a lounge chair, and this worked well. However, my daughter is not one to sit for long, so we will also be reading on the fringes more such as when we are waiting for dinner to come in the restaurant, for appointments, as we ride in the car, and before school. During school, if you have children who aren't reading at home, use the fringe time to get in the minutes at school.
Launching Our Book Club
Today was the first day of Early Morning Book Club, and I thank Jeff Gunhus for this great idea. Jeff spoke at the Virginia State Reading Conference this weekend about how he used this strategy to inspire his son, Jackson, and I just love it.

For their routine, he and Jackson meet several days a week an hour earlier than normal to have special time for just the two of them to read together.  He set it up with a great cup of coffee and hot chocolate, a comfy place on the sofa in front of the fire, and a book that could not be put down.  The big rule...the book could only be read together and only during book club. That gave the motivation for both to get up to find out what happens next.  Here are the suggestions he shared with us, and I share them with you with his permission.
❶Find the time that works best for your family.❷Read with a pencil or sticky notes (if it's a library book) to mark the words that aren't familiar or that are tough to pronounce.❸Read out loud...alternating pages. If an audio version is available, this is an option too. The reason for this is for the child to hear fluent reading.❹Make the reader feel safe. No judgement in book club allowed.❺Choose the right book...high interest, fast paced, strong lead, short chapters, and cliff hangers.❻Limit access to the book to only during book club.❼Relate to the book after reading. Talk about it after, but avoid a list of questions.❽Write your own stories after...another adventure the main character is involved in or just free writing about topics of your own choice. ❾Celebrate finishing the book with a special dinner, going to the movie, or something the reader chooses.❿Finally, make it fun. Have snacks and make it a special time together.

    Our Choice
    My daughter and I chose to read The Book Thief.  She was up at 6:30 this morning ready to go, so I hope the enthusiasm continues.  If you are a Title 1 school and wish to offer this to your families, Jeff has put together a very inexpensive book about it and other ways to engage "reluctant" readers at home (less than $1.00). More information can be found on his website.

    If you've been wanting to try book clubs in your classroom, you might check out the posts below. I'm also including a subscriber freebie related to this post.

    Other Posts to Check Out:
    Keeping Kids Reading with Summer Book ClubsStrategies Teachers Can Use to Build a Love of ReadingSubscriber Freebie:
    One thing I learned from The Book Whisperer is that real reading is the best motivator, so if we can just get kids into a series or a genre that they can relate too, we'll get them over the hurdle. Mine now is an avid reader, loves blogging about her books, and writes LOTS of reviews.

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    It's no secret that small group instruction is where it's at! Teachers have kids working in small groups with guided reading, guided math, writer's workshop, science labs, literacy workstations, and more. One small group option not in this list is literature circles, and although literature circles have been around a while, there are many teachers who haven't put them into practice. Today, I'd like to delve into this topic a bit more and hopefully, offer you tips that will excite both you and your students.
    If you are looking for information on literature circles, Harry Daniels is your guy. I heard him speak about 5-6 years ago, and what he said made lots of sense. First of all, literature circles allow two things voice and choice. Adolescent readers need crave these two options. They want to be in charge, and this gives them just a little piece of it which we can use as motivation. Plus, we know that the effectiveness of cooperative learning is well documented too. (Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement (Marzano, Pickering & Pollack, 2001) In most companies today, employees aren't working on an island either. Companies want employees to be team players and to follow the "many heads are better than one" philosophy. 

    Another important point to keep in mind is that literature circles are all about discussion. We know that student talk leads to deeper thinking and when there is a disconnect, student talk can clarify. Might kids get off track? possibly. Will one child dominate the conversation? Maybe. Will kids be unprepared? Likely. Even though there is a possibility of it not running perfectly the first few times, with training, students can very effectively run their groups. We want our students building their oral language skills and increase independent reading, and with literature circles, these opportunities are included. [This article] includes supporting documentation.
    HOW TO GET STARTEDScheduling:
    When I think about the language arts block, the first thing I think about is the schedule. Regardless of what you WANT to do, we all have time limitations. Literature circles can work really well as part of the small group rotations. Consider this:
    Whole Group Mini Lesson (20 minutes)Small Group Rotations (60 minutes for 3 groups)Debrief/Closure
    If you run literature circles, you could have a guided reading group working with you, one or two lit groups meeting together, and the remaining students working in stations. On the second rotation, you can pull the students in stations for guided reading giving 40 minutes for the literature circles to read and discuss (or basically run their own guided reading group), and on the last rotation, have one of the two groups meet with you and one group go to stations while the other two groups prepare for lit circles the next day. Of course, this is just one scenario used as an example. My point is training students to run their own small group shifts the workload to the students building thinking power and responsibility. 
    Literature Circle Format:Reciprocal Teaching

    There are a few options for running your groups. One option I touched on with my vocabulary post the other day is Reciprocal Teaching. With reciprocal teaching, you form groups of four. Each student in the group has a specific role or job. The roles include Predictor, Summarizer, Clarifier, and Questioner. If you needed a group of six, you could include a Word Wizard and a Leader who facilitates the group. 

    The role cards to the right are from Felton Firsties. They can be given as the assignments for the day. (Or previous day so the student can prepare) Reciprocal teaching brings the group focus to key reading skills such as making predictions, vocabulary, questioning, discussion, and summarizing. If you have a specific skill you'd like the group to address, that could either be another role or added to each student's tasks.
    Book Club
    Another option for literature circles is a book club format. Like Reciprocal Teaching, you can establish group roles, and I think by doing so, you'll have greater accountability in the group's discussion and workload. I have run after school book clubs with our students. One struggle we ran into with some was not being prepared to discuss the assigned reading or incomplete work, so be sure you have a game plan in mind for those who need support with organization and time management.

    To establish individual accountability, you might consider requiring an exit ticket or response log for each meeting date where the student includes the starting point and ending point for their reading and turn something in.  To mix things up, you might assign a discussion in the form of a "chat" where students respond to chapter questions and each other through Google Docs.

    My experience with book clubs has been pretty positive. The kids like the discussion, working on group projects, and the fact that it feels more like "fun" versus "work". Plus, book clubs tend to lead to increased independent reading time and gives students the opportunity to converse and recommend books to each other too.

    To help you get started with book clubs, you might check out the Book Clubs Made Easy set I've created. You have both PDF and Digital options with this resource. With the PDF, you will print out the pages you need for each child for each session. I've set up the pages so that they can be used with any book.

    The digital version is intended for use with iPads or laptops using Google slides. With the file, the teacher can assign the specific slide to the student and during the meeting time, the student completes his/her responses and submits via Google Classroom or shares the file with the teacher for grading. For a closer look, you can view the image to the right and below.
    Novel Studies

    One last option for literature circles is to go with a novel study. Certainly, there are lots of options to choose from, and with TPT, you can find relatively inexpensive options. Like Book Clubs, you'd have to copy the discussion guides, and your students would need time to read and complete them prior to discussing. The positive is that you can use the novel study for grading purposes and with discussion questions, students have the opportunity to all be prepared for the discussion. The one negative I see with novel studies is that there is a lack of authenticity with the discussion. In a way, we're laying out what the discussion will be versus letting students naturally share their opinions. I think novel studies help expose students to great literature, and in my opinion, there are just some books that every child needs to read such as Where the Red Fern Grows, Because of Winn Dixie, and My Side of the Mountain

    With novel studies, I think it is important to move beyond questions and answers though. Kids love hands on projects and writing about their reading, so if you're using a novel study, be sure to include ones that have choices for the student just to keep it fun and fresh. 
    Final thoughts:
    If literature circles is a new concept to you and you feel like you need more information before getting started, I do have a few links you should explore.

    I hope you've found a few ideas to get your lit circle wheels turning. If you have any questions, I am happy to answer them if I can.
    Have a great school year, and remember, small group instruction is where it's at! 

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    Which of Kevin Henkes' characters have you met? Lilly? Chester? Owen? or maybe it's that guy, Wendell? No matter which you met first, you are sure to agree that they make reading fun. Today, I'd like to share what I love most about Kevin Henkes books and how I've used them in my classroom for teaching specific skills.
    Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse
    Of Kevin Henkes books, I'd have to say that Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse is my favorite. You can't help be read this book and try to be a teacher like Mr. Slinger, right? Well, I may not have the "cool factor", but connecting with kids in a special way is the point of this book. I just love Mr. Slinger's Lightbulb Lab and the special way he greets his students (With a "Howdy!"). I love how he asks his students to sit in a semi-circle and uses other rich vocabulary to ignite the learning of his students.

    In my classroom, this book is perfect for teaching character traits, character change, and author's craft. As the story is shared, the teacher can model finding text evidence of traits and model how we look to character words, behaviors, and feelings to infer character traits. Author's craft is demonstrated through text examples, plot, and illustrations. Additionally, students can reflect on the themes in the book and share important things we as teachers should know about them. Lilly and Mr. Slinger have a wonderful relationship, and relationships can greatly motivate kids. Through writing extensions, we can learn what's important to our students.
    A Weekend with Wendell

    Another favorite of mine is A Weekend with Wendell. Character development is one skill you can teach with this book because Wendell is a spitfire character that your students will enjoy discussing. He's a bully at the beginning of the story, and your kids can see how Sophie turns the tables on the bully and also shifts the story to show character change. 

    This book also is a great example of how to be a polite guest in someone else's home. Wendell isn't exactly a polite guest. In fact, Sophie's parents indicate at the end that he won't be welcomed back! Eek! 

    If you need to teach comparisons across multiple texts, Kevin Henkes' books are great for teaching that as the majority of his books have common mouse characters. 

    If you're a primary teacher, then your students will remember what it was like to start school and leave behind their favorite "lovey". Well, Owen does not want to leave his blanket behind...ever. Over time, his blanket shows it's age, and it's time to go to school.

    So how can this book be used for teaching? Well, as we look at this book, we might work on sequencing and plot development, and it's also a great example of problem solving. This book is a great beginning of the year choice as students reflect on starting school and their past school experiences. Included in this unit is a First Day of School Class Book, so you can have your students write about their first sample about your first day.
    Another great beginning of school book is Chrysanthemum. If you have students with long names or unique names, then Chrysanthemum is the perfect book to give value to all of your students. 

    Believe it or not, this is a very vocabulary rich book, so your kids will certainly learn new words. It is also a wonderful choice for making connections and plot development. Additionally, I love using it as a springboard for helping my kids introduce themselves to the rest of the class. Your kids can do a little research on what their name means or where the name came from. They can share all of their favorites too.  There is a planner included as well as a class book with boy pages and girl pages. You can check it out in the previews below.
    Wemberly Worried
    The last in my collection is Wemberly Worried, and like Owen, Wemberly is anxious about everything, and when she goes to school, it is nearly a disaster. Who knew that she'd find her clone in her classroom! 

    With this book, you can certainly use it to drive discussion about things your students are concerned about and write about these worries as a way to work through them. 

    Another way to use this book is to work on characterization with it. In the story, we meet Wemberly's new friend, Jewel who has a stuffed friend that she brings to school too. The girls have much in common, but have differences too.
    In addition to these five titles, there are quite a few others I love by Kevin Henkes. Here are the title:
    Sheila Rae, The Brave
    Chester's Way
    Julius, The Baby of the World, and
    Lilly's Big Day
    Whether you opt to purchase this author study bundle or not, I hope you'll feature Kevin Henkes in your classroom. There are so many ways to use his books, and I hope I gave you a few ideas. You can also check out THIS SITE from Kevin Henkes himself. It includes his biographical information, book list, and book links and ideas.

    Happy reading and see you soon..

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