One of my favorite mini-units to do after testing is Arkansas History.  In fact, I've even done this the week of testing because so many of the activities are just coloring and cutting and gluing--which are great to spread out and do on the floor after a full morning of sitting quietly in a desk filling in bubbles. ***rolling eyes***

In Arkansas, we can get FREE coloring books with our state symbols in them.  After a morning of testing, we grab our crayons and find a friend to color with and spread out on the floor to color!  No, it's not super academic, but it's mindless and just what my firsties need after an exhausting morning of testing.

The other thing I love about it is it gives me time to pull small groups.  Here's a look at how we use this mini-unit during testing week to learn about Natural Resources in Arkansas!

For my first graders, natural resource is not a new term by the time we are learning about it with Arkansas History.  Our third content unit is all about economics.  So, now we are just focusing on the natural resources in our state.

First, we read through our Arkansas, Arkansas, What Do You See digital booklet. (The powerpoint shared reading file comes with the unit.)  We talk about the natural resources and symbols as we read.

Then, students color in their state symbols book.

Or, they can work on their Arkansas, Arkansas, What Do You See booklets. For this option, we do 1-2 symbols a day to write and color on.  The writing can be as simple as copying a sentence you write together.
 

While they are working, I pull a small group to glue their natural resources on their map.  Yes, this can be done as a whole group, but after testing, it just seems like this works better for exhausted littles!


These make great hallway displays at the end of the year, too!  You can find this activity and many more in this Arkansas Unit for K-2 kiddos!

Want to see more of this unit in action?

Read about our state flag craftivity and map puzzles here.  And find all of the Me On the Map actiivties here.
I love giving my kids a gift at the end of the year.  This especially worked well when we had our end of the year awards party! (Read about those parties here and here.)

One of the reasons why I love giving them so much is that I love the challenge of finding something memorable, fun, but on a budget!  After all, who here can afford to spend tons of spare cash on 25 littles?? #notme

Here are some of my favorite gift ideas for kids at the end of the year that won't break your cheap teacher bank! (And many are great for birthday favors or small random teacher gifts too!)
{affiliate links are included in this post to help feed my sweet tooth and support my corner of cyber real estate!}

Rootbeer

This was one of my end of the year gifts the year we had a western themed awards party.  I just used rafia to tie the tag around the Root Beer bottle.  So cute and easy!  This one would also be perfect for a Root Beer loving teacher during teacher appreciation week! Find the tags HERE!

Krazy Straws

I actually used this one for Valentine gifts for my son's friends one year, but they work perfectly for the end of the year too!  I bought a bag of krazy straws for super cheap.  Then, we threaded them through the tag and they were ready to go!  Find these tags for all occasions HERE!  And krazy straws are super cheap too.  Find those HERE.

Leis

The year we had a Luau awards party, I gave leis as gifts!  The kids LOVED these!  Since then, I've updated these tags and you can grab them HERE!  Find packs of leis for cheap HERE.

Sunglasses

Our summer countdown elf brought these one year as one of "his" gifts.  The kids opened them and wore them all day long as we worked.  It was a huge hit with the kids and helped keep learning fun those last few days before summer break!  Find these versatile tags HERE.  And get a dozen sunglasses for super cheap HERE.

What are your favorite class gifts for summer?
If you've followed my corner of cyber real estate for long, then you know I LOVE a good anchor chart!  Spring time and a this weather unit are the perfect opportunity to make some fabulous anchor charts with kids that support great learning.

So, here's a look at 12 of my favorite weather anchor charts for the primary classroom!

Print and Write Charts

Anchor charts don't have to take hours to create!  Who has time for that?? Many anchor charts in my room are used for shared research.  That means, I set them up before hand with the titles/headings and then we fill in the facts together as a class.

This day and night chart I just printed out and then recorded each word in a different color.  This is to help when they are using these facts to write.  If I can use a coordinating color, I do.  But it doesn't always work out that way.

Here's another chart that was printed.  I just printed the title and star headings, glued it to my chart paper and was ready to fill in with my kids!

**TIP: Don't want to remake it every year?  Just laminate the chart after you attach the headings and title and before you fill in with kids.  Then, just clean off the filled in part each year and save for your next group of kiddos!**

Illustrated Anchor Charts

Charts that are going to have a lot of text need to be broken up visually for primary students.  A chart with all black letters and no images on it is very overwhelming to read!  

I love this chart for so many reasons.  I used some color coding (blue and red for cause and purple for effect) to help show the key phrases for each word.

The illustrations help break this chart up nicely also!  And, no, I didn't do all of this with the kids.  Before the lesson, I made the Cause and Effect title and that's it.

During the lesson, I added the key words and then as we brainstormed cause and effect examples, I added the words and the arrow outlines with the kids.  I also drew the outlines for some of the pictures...but no coloring or details.

After the lesson, I went back with crayons to color in and add details to the illustrations.

Here's another example of using illustrations with the anchor chart.  Nothing fancy about these illustrations...just enough detail to help my early readers find the words they need to use in their writing!

Using Shapes With Anchor Charts

Visually speaking, shapes are very powerful for anchor charts.  They can help kids quickly find the chart they are looking for on a wall full of anchor charts.  And they can be an additional aid in helping early readers understand the chart.

When we are learning about weather types, we are filing out a new shared research chart almost every day.  So, they need to stand out some way.  And making the chart the shape of the weather type makes this so easy!

I was also thoughtful in the color of paper I used for these charts to help them coordinate! (Note: these are all made from large sized construction paper!)




Student-Made Anchor Charts

My favorite charts to make are the ones kids help me create!  These are charts that we've brainstormed together on and kids added their own clouds or labels to the charts.  Both of these charts are from the first year I made them--so I filled in the clouds and labels and the kids added them because I wanted them to be "perfectly cute."

But in the years after these, I learned it's so much better when the kids get to write their own words for the clouds and labels (or whatever you are using!) I have even had them sign their names to them so they can take ownership of helping with that chart!


You can find TONS of these anchor chart templates and more in this integrated weather unit.  Just print out the templates and fill them in with your class!  Or if you want them to be a larger size, pull the templates up on your projector and trace them onto butcher paper.  Find them here.

Early finishers.

The kids college didn't prepare me for.

I mean, when I wrote out my 30 minute lesson plan with 20 minutes of work time, student-teacher me fully expected all kids to be working exactly 20 minutes on my assignment, group project, whatever.

Boy, was I in for it the first time I taught a lesson.

You mean to tell me some kids will take 5 minutes to finish the assignment, some 10, some 15 minutes, some 45 minutes, and almost NO ONE will take my planned 20 minutes to finish the assignment???

THAT was a rude awakening!

10 years in the classroom later, and I learned exactly how to manage all of these different finish times.  I definitely didn't get it right the first year, but it was definitely closer by year 10.

When I Finish, I Can...

Somewhere into my first year teaching, I came up with an I can list for my early finishers.  And at first, it wasn't that great.  It basically said,

"When I finish, I can...read a book."

#newteacherprobs

But over the years, I found many more things to add to that list that I was comfortable with my early finishers doing and that would actually challenge them.

It's important to note that there are PLENTY more things that I could add to this list that would be challenging...like STEM related and building challenges.  But one thing I've learned is that choices for early finishers need to be challenging and engaging, but also easy to clean up.  If it takes the early finishers three times as long to clean up a mess they got out just 5 minutes ago, it is instructional time wasted and defeats the point!

So to make it to my list for early finishers, it has to be engaging, challenging, and an easy clean up!

Let's look at 7 things to use for early finishers.

1. Unfinished Work

Okay, so this one isn't glamorous.  And it isn't necessarily engaging and challenging, but it is necessary.

In my classroom, unfinished work is always ALWAYS the first thing early finishers do.  Now, many of my early finishers don't have work that is unfinished because that's why they are early finishers.

But some of my early finisher friends are ones who...ya know... rush through writing because they don't like writing and do "just enough" in the messiest of ways to finish through.  And those kids often have work from other areas they need to finish.  And sometimes that's all the encouragement they need to actually go back and do their best work on their writing so they can actually get to the other, more "engaging" early finisher options! :) #realtalk

Each kid has a folder in his/her desk for unfinished work.  And unless that folder is empty, early finishers will camp out here.

2. Reading

Yep, you read that right.  Reading is still on my list.  Because there are plenty of kiddos out there who are engaged, challenged and on-task when their nose is in a book.  My own kid is one of those.  Give him a good book, and you won't hear from him for at least 30 minutes!

But reading isn't just about babysitting.

I always give my early finishers specific things to read for specific reasons:
  • familiar reading (like guided reading books, poetry folder, etc to practice fluency)
  • independent reading (like library books, books they've chosen on their independent reading level, etc.)
  • content reading (like books that are connected to our big idea in science or social studies)

Those content books are kept in a tub in our room for those early finishers to browse through and read.

So our early finisher chart says, "I can read to practice fluency" and "I can read to learn more about our big idea."
   

Adding purpose to their reading adds challenge and engagement.

3. Puzzles

The next thing I love to do is give puzzles.  This gives a choice for my math minded firsties!  I always have 100's chart puzzles on hand for kids to work on alone or with a partner.

These puzzles are easy prep, and can be changed throughout the year to add freshness, but with the same routine, so there is no need to teach how to do this over and over!

Also, when I return to the classroom, I would love to add a class puzzle!  This is an idea that came to me while I have been on mommy leave.  Our family loves having a puzzle going--especially during the winter!
   

I would love to have a table in our room devoted to a class puzzle with 100 pieces or more for kids to sit at and work on as they finish early.  What a great way to encourage collaboration, teamwork and logic all while engaging and challenging early finishers!  Plus, there's no need to clean it up until the puzzle is finished!

4. Handwriting

Handwriting always seems to get cut in my first grade classroom.  We have time for it the first few weeks and then once guided reading starts, handwriting goes! #realtalk

But that doesn't mean handwriting doesn't need work.  And many times, early finishers struggle the most with taking their time to write neatly. #amiright?

I actually got this idea from another teacher late in my teaching career.  We save extra handwriting practice pages from the beginning of the year and put them in a bucket.  Then, early finishers can go grab a page and they practice writing with a marker or crayon.

Because everyone knows that handwriting is way more fun with markers! :)

Later in the year, when we run out of pages, I just print some off from my handwriting packet and add to the tub as needed!

Truth Time:  Some of my early finisher friends, have this choice as a must before moving on, because they need the extra practice (and don't always want to choose to work on it!)

5. Journal Writing

This one has been on my early finishers chart from the beginning!  Sometimes, kids just finish writing from writers' workshop.

But I also have letter paper available.  Kids can write a private note to me about whatever they want (best way to get info on kids--ever!) or a note to a friend.  Notes are turned in to me and then I read them and deliver them to the other kids (after I make sure they are ok) as needed!

The notes that are written to me, I try and write a quick note back to those kiddos before I return them--which makes this choice super engaging for lots of attention seeking friends!
   

6. Board Games

Here's another one I plan to add when I return to the classroom: Board Games!  Over the last couple of years, I have learned how important specific board games can be in growing critical thinking skills and logic in our kids!  You can read more about that in this blog post.

Board games that encourage these important skills and are easy and quick to clean up are on my list!  For early finishers, I would prefer games that I can limit the players to 2 players only to help the noise level.  In my classroom early finishers always work alone or with one partner only just to help the management!

You can find my must have games for the classroom in this post and plenty of these are easy clean up and good for just 2 players!

7. Counting Collections

I just love counting collections.  And, yes, this is probably the one that's the most difficult to clean up quickly, but if managed correctly, can be done.

If you are unfamiliar with Counting Collections, start with this post and then meet me back here. :)

Now that we all know what Counting Collections is, we can all see how fabulous this could be for early finishers!  This is not one I had in my classroom (other than our regular CC routine), but I definitely plan to add it to my early finisher list when I return to the classroom after Mommy break!

Many counting tubs can be done quickly with an easy clean up.  Some can't.  So, you will need to be choosy about which tubs qualify for early finishers.

The best way to organize this is to have a separate shelf for early finisher Counting Collections.  I plan to have just 2-3 tubs or ziplock bags of seasonal items to count.  Things I'm thinking about that would be easy cleanup would be...

  • Seasonal Diecuts
  • Pop Cubes or other math manipulatives
  • Small Stickers - great for fine motor practice and easy to record counting

Of course, just like regular Counting Collections, students will need to record how they counted to extend their thinking!

Managing Early Finishers

From the first week of school, we have our early finishers chart posted in our room.  But it's not a complete chart.  It usually just starts out with reading only as a choice!  That's because that's one of the few things we know a routine for during the first week of school.

I'd be asking for it if I let kids play board games and puzzles the first week!

As the year progresses, we add unfinished work, handwriting, journal writing, and more "hands on" options later in the year!  For example, once our counting collections regular routine is strong and kids can handle it independently while I pull groups, then I know they are ready for it to be a choice for early finishers!

Want the early finisher chart I use?  Download it here for FREE!

I just recently redid my Sunday School classroom.  It was in desperate need of an update and it was just the perfect time!  I share this classroom with another class on Wednesday nights, but they have stopped using this room for now.  I decided to go with a rainbow theme for a few reasons.  The main reason is because it's just SOOOO bright and so stinkin' colorful and fun.  But the other reason is because when the Wednesday night crew needs this class again, their class is called "Rainbows" so it will work for them as well!

Here's a closer look at this Rainbow Reno!
{this post contains affiliate links to fund my sweet tooth and my corner of cyber real estate! :)}

I made these curtains from some left over black dot fabric and added the rainbow striped fabric I found.  I love how the curtains turned out!

And the crepe paper rainbow is perfect up against the window!

This bulletin board might be my favorite ever.  I can still feel the hand cramps from cutting out the font letters, but it was totally worth it!  I've started adding pictures of our crew and still have a few more to add.  Right now I have a smaller class, but when we get more kids, I'm planning to just take some pictures of some of the kids together in the same frame!

Along with new bulletin boards, I added rainbow block signs to our exploration stations.  I brought this table and chairs from our house that we don't use anymore to set up in our game corner.  I have a memory game in almost all of my Bible units, and several units have other games I can add here too!

Blocks is another station we always have.  I change out the kind of blocks we have depending on our unit and task.

The I Can cards from each unit for this station specifically relate to the unit and give purpose to the station.  So it's not just playing with blocks, but during this unit we are building a tower to tear it down like in the Jericho Bible story!

Our coloring station stays the same too for each unit.  Most of my kids are boys right now though, so this station is less popular! :) We always take about 3 minutes to color after our Bible story though while we listen to music.  This has been FANTASTIC practice for staying focused on one task during our unit song.

We also have a classroom library with fictional books and Bible stories.  I have some store bought Bible stories.  But I also add our printable Bible stories from our units when we finish reading them!

I added part of these tissue paper tassels in the corner to soften the edge.  And I bought white wooden letters for READ and hot glued them to this sign.  I painted the background of the sign blue with craft paint.  Both of these came from Hobby Lobby and were super cheap and easy to fix up!

This is the last station that stays the same throughout all the units.  Sometimes, I pull out a relevant Bible story puzzle if it goes with our story we are reading that day.

The rest of the stations are stored in our closet and come out just for certain units since they aren't always the same for all the units!

This is our Bible time set up.  I hang our unit anchor chart {find the one shown in the pic here} and because it's interactive, this can be used as a station too!  We also have our sticker chart to keep track of who is here Bible Verse pocket chart cards that we practice after our Bible story!

I'm thrilled with how our room turned out!
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