Setting up writers' workshop at the beginning of the year in first grade takes lots of patience!  Here's a look at how I get started with strong writers at the beginning of the year!

We started our first week with a Frozen Time Capsule activity and a little visit from Olaf in a {{chilly}} ice chest!  And even if you've already been in school a bit, it's not too late.  Last year was my first year with this activity, and my kids just loved seeing the changes they made during the year!  Such an engaging way to get kids to want to start writing!

The second day of school, we wrote about what they wanted to learn in first grade {This paper and simple activity is in my first Unit}.  Really, this is just a preassessment for me.  You can use any prompt at the beginning of the year.  I took up the papers when they were finished and sorted the papers into four stacks:
1) Super low (below basic) writers,
2) low (basic) writers,
3) proficient writers and
4) advanced writers.

This is not a formal's just a quick, gut reaction on where each kid is at the beginning of the year before they get much help from me.

Once I have my piles, I divide each pile into 4 groups {pink, orange, green and 1...I usually have a yellow group instead of a 1 group, but I could not find any of these silly stickers that had four colors this year!!!!  GRRR!  So, I had to settle for a "1" group! :)

Anyways...I give each colored dot a friend from my lowest stack until I'm out of lows....then I pass out the proficient stacks to each dot....then the advanced ones.  This gives me 4, heterogenous groups to work with.  My groups aren't on anything fancy....just the ol' handwritten index card with dots.  But it works!!  Monday-Thursday I conference with one of these colored dot groups.  Fridays I can conference with an additional group, a different group {like more intervention for my lows} or it just leaves it open to not conference and do some whole group writing activities.  I've used this system for most of my 10 years teaching and I love it!
Why heterogenous groups?  Mainly, it's a time thing.  If I conferenced with all of my low writers one day, it would take for. ever. to finish our conferences because they need so much from me.  If I conferenced with all of my highs one day, I'd be done in 5 seconds.  So, I mix it up so that I use up just the write amount of time conferencing!

Even though I do all of that pre assessing stuff right off the bat, I don't actually start full writers' workshop until the 2nd week of school.  We spend the first 6 days charting what good writers do on our pencil chart!

The format is the same as Writers Workshop: mini-lesson and model write, and then independent writing time, but instead of just journal writing, we work on Silly Sentences!!

These might be my favorite thing ever!  I loved this for my ELL babies!  They have green, yellow and red cards.  They turn over one color of each card and try to turn it into a complete sentence.
So, "penguin swims school" becomes, "The penguin swims at the school." On the first day we do them altogether.  I turn over 3 cards on our ELMO and we write the sentence together on the board and their dry erase boards.  Then, as with the Gradual Release of Responsibility, they begin to write the sentence we discuss together on their boards instead of just copying.  We do this on the first and the second day.

By the third or fourth day, they are ready to write with partners.  So, with partners they turn over the cards and write their complete sentences.  Even though the school I'm at now is not as high ESL as before, this activity was still so good for these babies too.  Each day we focused on a new mechanics skill from our What Good Writers Do pencil anchor chart and focused on that with our silly sentences.  We also were able to talk about whether the sentence could be a fiction or non-fiction sentence.  And this class enjoyed trying to turn over the cards out of, red, yellow instead of green, yellow, red.  {I made my ELL babies do it in order to help them with syntax.}  It was an extra challenge for these kids to think about what order to arrange the parts of the sentence.

My kids BEG to do silly sentences every year!  It's such a fun way to start off the year with some serious mechanics practice!  And it's the first thing that goes in my writing literacy station too!

Grab your own copy for your ELL babies---or non-ELL babies too!  Or get my entire Common Core Unit 1 which includes this activity and other writing activities!
If you are just catching up with my Sunday Open House Series, then here are the links for the other posts:
1. Kitchen
2. Curb Appeal & Landscaping
3. Dining Room
4. Fireworks (4th of July)
5. Blueprints
6. Back-To-School Decor
7. Cooper's Bedroom
8. Football Season Decor
9. Fall Decor

It's almost football season which means it's time to get the house ready for tailgating and cheers!
Door Hanger: Melody's Choices {local boutique, 2 years ago}

Some left over red burlap ribbon added the perfect splash of Razorback color.  The black ribbon stayed from the previous back to school set up.  The footballs are just cut from extra brown card stock with a white chalk marker to add details.  And the flags and signs I made, printed, cut, and attached to some extra clear floral picks.  You can grab your own set of Woo Pig Sooie Signs here.  Lots of patterns and versions to choose from!

Our local shop, Melody's Choices, sells the Happy Everything attachments.  They have a new Razorback one, but when I brought it home, I realized it's too small for the cookie jar and you can see the velcro behind it...which totally drove my OCD side crazy!!  So I stuck with the plain football and added a hog sticker to it! {Which I think I actually like better!}  I love my Happy Everything stuff and it makes the perfect birthday gift!

For my apothecary, I ordered some mini stress ball footballs.  I added a pom-pom to the bottom for some color and added in the footballs.  And I was looking for just the perfect thing to display with it...And then Cooper came running in from Justin's office saying, "Yook, Mommy! I found Tooper!"

And I just love the way this old picture of my tiny baby in his crochet football helmet looks with this display!  Such a sweet flood of memories!!

And the lantern got a facelift!

This sock monkey was a baby gift for Cooper before he was born.  And even though it's a little childish I think he just looks cute a whimsical in the lantern!

More Hog Labels from my TPT Store! Grab yours and ready your house, fans! 

Now...if my Hogs can just make for an even better football season!!  *Fingers crossed*

Once again I'm linking up with my pal #TeacherMom for some Buidling Back to School goodness on reading....

So, the last few years I've considered an overhaul in guided reading time for my students.  I've been a major Debbie Diller fan from day one and have loved using her Literacy Workstation & small groups model in my classroom.

But...9 years later, I was starting to get a little bored with it.  And thought it needed to be beefed up just a bit.  I had seen and heard a ton of stuff on Readers' Workshop and Daily 5 over the years and had read up on both.

But I just kept going back to Debbie Diller, because....well, honestly, it's really hard for me to see how Readers' Workshop would work effectively in a first grade classroom with wiggly 6 year olds.  Asking kids to read quietly--aka be STILL--every day for long enough to get at least 2 reading groups finished effectively??  This just seems like something better suited for 3rd graders and higher.

Am I the only one who has thought this??  Please, tell me I am not alone in my concerns....

And then, I moved to a new district with the expectation of Readers' Workshop in my first grade classroom.

Sigh...guess that was the push I needed to figure out how I was going to make this model work for me.  And, actually, I was super excited for a fresh start!  So, here it goes!

What I love about Readers' Workshop:
1. Mini-Lesson to focus the entire class on a specific reading strategy.
2. Book shopping for books on a child's level.
3. Focus on comprehension with responding to literature.

What I don't love about Readers' Workshop:
1. It's not hands on enough for my struggling readers and ELL babies.
2. It's mostly independent.  And six year olds are social...and need to be social.
3. What about all of those low readers who just can't read very long on their own? I'm counting on my emerging readers to read and analyze a text quietly on their own...that doesn't add up to meaningful time spent for those kiddos.  Plus, I just see behavior problems with this part...

What I love about Literacy Workstations:
1. It's hands on practice of skills that students have already learned with the teacher in class.
2. There is no introducing stations each week...students already know what to do.
3. Students collaborate with partners on their work

What I don't love about Literacy Workstations:
1. There are a gazillion focuses and objectives happening at the same time...which causes a lack of coherence.
2. Not all stations have an accountability piece for their work.

So, after much reflecting, I've come up with a way to combine the two...and get the best of both worlds.  Here's what my Not-100%- Readers' Workshop routine will look like {Shhh...don't tell on me!}

10 minute mini lesson: This is straight from Readers' Workshop and to add some cohesiveness.  We will focus on reading strategies and model whole group.
50 minute independent practice: This is a mesh of Daily 5, Readers' Workshop, and Literacy Workstations.  I still have a stations work board.  I am still assigning stations.  But they are all literacy based...and most have a literature response piece that ties with our mini-lesson goal for the week or our phonics goal for the word work parts.  I tried to use the Daily 5 model when building these...each station ties back to one of the daily 5 in some way...but I choose what they do.  And it's with partners, not independent.  Here are the stations I came up with that best mesh with Readers' Workshop:
1. Classroom Library/Read to Self - book shopping and response sheet
2. Buddy Reading - with response sheet
3. Buddy Reading - yes, I have it on there twice...needed 12 stations so I had to double up.
4. Read to Self - RAZ kids - this is a online reading computer program that is individualized with student levels with quizzes at the end...yes, it costs money, yes our PTA paid for it! :)
5. Read to Self - Starfall - honestly, I'm the least okay with this one because star fall can get out of hand.  We will see how it goes.  Still thinking about the accountability piece on this one or if there is a better website for practicing reading skills... #keepinitreal
6. Big Idea/Content Reading - students close read informational texts together and respond
7. Listening Station - listen to a fluent reader read a book and respond
8. Word Work, Phonics - students will do a phonics sort to tie in with our weekly phonics goal
9. Word Work, Sight Words - students will practice reading, writing and spelling sight words through sight word games from my sight word packets.
10. Word Work, Read-Write-Draw - students will decode words with our phonics feature for the week and illustrate their meaning to show they are actually reading the words.
11.  Writing Station - students will be sequencing sentences or stories they read and responding.
12. iPad Station - students will practice first grade skills on Teach Me First app.  This is my favorite app because it's a mix of skills and students love the coin incentives.  PLUS, I can track their progress and it's individualized!  No, this does not directly tie in with our readers' workshop goals each week, but it's a worthwhile station that just had to stay.  Plus, anytime you can put headphones on two more kiddos and it's an engaging and meaningful learning activity, there's a little more peace and quiet for all.  Win-Win.
10 minute share time: This is also a mesh...sharing what worked, what we learned, and what didn't work.

I'm 3 weeks into school and Readers' Workshop is still not up and running completely.  So, here's a look at how I've worked to set routines up for this in my room...

Day 1, we set our I can list expectations.  We have read over these at the beginning of each Readers' Workshop.

We also charted ways to be a book lover....this phrasing is new for me and I LOVE this idea from Readers' Workshop.

And then we started modeling and practicing literacy stations...Here's a great example of why I just couldn't go 100% Readers' Workshop.  I'm a firm believer in kids listening to reading.  It's a great way for them to hear fluent readers use good pacing and expression.  Plus, kids with headphones on are always quieter...which is a double plus during reading groups! *wink*  This year, I'm without my year long set of listening we're sharing a laptop at this station and listening to a story of my choice from  Once we are officially started, I will post the cover of the book they will listen to on the I can list.

Love all of my extra drawers in my new room.  Makes station storage so much easier!!

Here's a look at our Buddy Reading practice.  This is carried over from literacy stations too...and can also be found in Daily 5 {Read to Others}.  But this year, I've upped the game and added a response sheet for this one too that will match our weekly comprehension goal.

I've loved having a station for content in the past...where students practiced what we'd been learning about during our unit time.  So, to make this work with Readers' Workshop, I've added our Scholastic news subscriptions to this station!  I am sorting each magazine by which unit they fit best with as I get them in.
Each week, I will place a new magazine in the Big Idea station tub.  Partners will work together to close read the magazine and respond to their reading on the back by answering questions together.  We modeled this together once already and will probably model it again before we start.  I'm excited about this compromise with content and responding to literature for my own Readers' Workshop model.

Friday we began talking about Read to Self {from Daily 5...and essentially all of what true Readers' Workshop is}.  We started by talking about stamina...a huge thanks to my teammate for explaining exactly what this looked like in her classroom!  It was just hard for me to visualize!

In the past, I've talked about staying focused while your reading, 3 ways to read a book during classroom library station, yaddy yadda....but I love this word.  It's so official.  And kids love big words.  And I loved actually charting it out! I saw a ton of charts on this on Pinterest, but I wanted to find a way to combine the charts into an all-in-one place for stamina.  So we charted builders and breakers for stamina and practiced reading independently.  And after 2 tries on the same day...we made it to 5 minutes of quiet on task reading.  YAY! We've set our goal for 20 minutes, and hopefully we will be there soon.  This is something we will practice every day now until we start full Readers' Workshop.

Friday, students read from their familiar reading in their browsing boxes...which includes a sight word reader we made together the first week of school, library books, and poems from their poetry folder... 
Not much to read...which is why I was super happy with 5 minutes.  

Next week, we will start talking about shopping for books on their level so they'll have more to choose from...I'm a little nervous and excited about how I've decided to combine this with literacy stations...and I'll be blogging about it soon!  Follow me on Facebook, Blog Lovin' and Instagram to keep up with my journey with Readers' Workshop.

In the meantime, check out my Literacy Stations and more has all of my station signs, cards, I can objective cards {with CCSS attached to each}, plus the printables I'm using at each station to respond to reading!
How do you make Readers' Workshop work for your littles?  Does it actually work for you?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Language is so basic and organic that sometimes I think we forget about how important it really is...

Anybody remember that there are actually 5 language standards with 23 sub points in our Common Core Standards.'s not just reading and writing, people.  Oh yeah, and there's a whole 'nother strand on speaking too. {How 'bout that Arkansaseese for ya?}  So, yeah...language is *kinda* important!

So let's get back to the basics with a few of my most tried and true language tools.

I'm linking up with my friend, #TeacherMom, again for some Back-To-School language tools!

From a teacher who taught for 9 years in a high poverty, high ELL school {and still teaches in a diverse school this year}, here are my tried and true language tools for building good language with our ELL babies! And {*psssst!*} works for everyone else too!

1. Ranch Hands
Since my room is western themed and all, it's only fitting that my star student/weekly helper/whatever you wanna call it kid is called our "Ranch Hand."  You may be thinking, what does a class helper have to do with language?

Wait for it.  Just wait.

Each year I handle ranch hands differently...some years I've done too much and felt stretched too thin, and other years I've not done enough and felt too guilty.  But so far, this's feeling just right.  It is of course, just two weeks into school, so we'll see how I feel in May.

Anyhoo.... I'm a big believer it making kids feel wanted and important.  I think kids gain confidence when they feel this way.  And confident kids become confident speakers. #language 

Also, when students are asked to be leaders and share with us about their family, who they are, what they like, and answer questions, they feel loved, appreciated, and included.  AND, they have to practice language skills.  #language

Here's a look at how I'm handling my ranch hands each week....
I never really had a good spot for my ranch hands to sit in my old classroom, so I was super excited that I was able to find a spot this year in my new room.... {it helps that I left my big ole' easel in my old room too!}  

This red desk has been with me since my first year.  My dad found it on the side of the road for free and I painted it red and glazed it.  In my old classroom, it sat out in the hallway, but this year I had a spot to bring it inside and use it for my ranch hand's desk!  My ranch hand gets to move in here for their special week....and, of course, wear the cowboy hat!

I stole the banners from one of my teammates from last year.  I loved how she personalized the alliteration for each kiddo so I decided to carry that on this year!  The chalkboard banners are from amazon and I laminated each pennant so I could reuse them each week.

Each day, we do something special to introduce our ranch hand.  I send parents a note on Monday telling them their child is the ranch hand this week.  It gives them a list of things to bring each day and what our schedule looks like for the week.

Monday: Meet the ranch hand....we introduce our new ranch hand and interview them with these questions to fill out their wanted poster.  Pretty much covering Common Core Speaking & Listening {SL} 1, 2, 3, and 6 right here. #language

Then, we hang the wanted ad for everyone to see {names marked out for privacy!}  At the end of the week, I add my own special note at the bottom to our ranch hand and send it home with them.

On Tuesdays, our ranch hand brings in 3 photos to share with us about their family.  They must say at least one complete sentence about each picture...building language skills again right here and covering those same ol' S&L standards!  Plus, you should see the grins on their faces when they get to share pictures.  They love it!!  The pictures get taped and added to our wall as well...and sent home on Friday.

Wednesdays we make a wordle describing our ranch hand.  Each student must think of one adjective to describe our friend.  And they must speak in a complete sentence.  We use sentence frames to help them...."Whitney is _____." or "Whitney has _______." etc.  I type it in to and make the wordle right there with the kiddos, print it out and hang it on the wall too!  I've done this one other year, but I quit for a few years in between because I was trying to print them in color and it was just too much.  So this year I decided to bring back the wordles with black and white only!  And I still think they look great!  All kinds of language skills wrapped up with this activity.  We get to talk about adjectives once a week so it's always on their brain, they have to speak in complete sentences {and later in the year, they have to write their sentence on a sticky note for our ranch just takes way too long at the beginning of the year}, and our ranch hand just beams the whole time.  I can't think of a happier way to practice basic language skills than building each other up.

Thursdays: Show & Tell.  The ranch hand tells about ONE thing they bring to share and must answer 3 questions from the audience about their item.

Friday: On the last Friday of each month, I eat lunch with all of my ranch hands from that month for some good ol' friendly conversations.

So, yeah, it's an oldie, but a goodie...featuring kids and letting them talk in front of the class about what they want to talk about and making them ask and answer questions is just the most old fashioned, but most organic way, to develop language!

2. Verb Tenses
Here's another language tool from my store...

Year after year, I use this chart and sort from my TPT store.  Yeah, it's a little bit a lot-a-bit old and needs to be updated {like from my pre-cute-cover days}, but it's got some good meat inside of it!
I blogged about this one in detail back in the spring.  Check it out here!

3. Productive Group Work
When kids work by themselves, they don't have to talk.   When kids work in groups, they are supposed to talk.  When kids work in productive groups and have to "share the pen," they HAVE to talk. #language

Here are just a few blog posts are productive group work in literacy and math...
>>>Main Idea {FREEBIE}

>>>Non-Fiction Feature Scavenger Hunt

>>>Math Fact Fluency Partner Work

It seems so basic, but language is just that...basic.

If you are just catching up with my Sunday Open House Series, then here are the links for the other posts:
1. Kitchen
2. Curb Appeal & Landscaping
3. Dining Room
4. Fireworks (4th of July)
5. Blueprints
6. Back-To-School Decor
7. Cooper's Bedroom
8. Football Season Decor
9. Fall Decor

It's time to blog about one of my favorite rooms in the house....Cooper's big boy bedroom.

This room was so much fun to put together!  I've been sad about a lot--a LOT--of milestones, but transitioning to a big boy bedroom was not one of them.  I was super excited!!

Maybe it's just me but I was just so over the crib thing....I actually would've transitioned him earlier, but we agreed it made the best sense to stay in the crib during our apartment life and transition once we moved it.

He slept in his big boy bed from night one at our "new house" and he has done great!

Here's a peek into his room...

If you saw my nursery picks (back pre-blog when they were just on Facebook), you know a lot of the same stuff transferred over.  I'm a big believer in decorating nurseries so they can grow old with the kids!  And here's a look at his nursery from our old house so you can see the resemblance!

It was important to me to be able to reuse a lot of his nursery "stuff" because I just love being able to reuse, and I didn't want to have to remake EVERYTHING when he graduated to his big boy room.  Plus, it's sentimental!  So, I chose things for his nursery with that in mind!  But I had no idea what his big boy room would look like, just knew this color scheme would grow up with him well!

At the time we moved, Cooper was super into the movie Planes and so we decided to go with vintage airplanes for his "theme."  It also helps that Doc had handmade him a plane for Christmas! #instantroomdecor

View from the closet corner...

I made the curtains when we decorated his nursery.  One thing I wanted to make sure of was that I could reuse lots of stuff from his nursery.  So glad it worked out! (Curtain fabric is a Premier Print pattern.)

View from window corner...

Dresser wall...
Floating shelf: online {I think it was Home Depot!}
Dresser: Craigslist and I repainted it

Most everything came from his nursery here except for a few changes: I traded out the hanging baby clothes for "school" work, added a vintage airplane poster and a vintage airplane on the dresser (bye bye, changing pad!)
Stuffed bear: gift from "Amee" (Aunt Amber)
Pooh bear books: gift to me from my grandmother (a librarian).  They are legit 1950's books. 
Vintage plane sign: Amazon
Huffy Puffy Train: Ebay
Train sign: from Justin's nursery

The basket from his nursery is still being used in the big boy bedroom!  It's from Target and I just changed out the plain off white fabric for fabric that matched.

Vintage airplane from Hobby Lobby, $15 on sale!

Here's the picture wall.  I still haven't changed out the images from his nursery, but it is a sweet reminder of how little he once was!

Love this verse!  It was perfect in his nursery and I think it's still perfect in his big boy bed!

Here's the awesome wooden airplane my Daddy made for Cooper....

So, you might be wondering...where's all of your 2 year old's STUFF?!?!?

It's true...I'm a minimalist.  We've established that already.  And although I think Cooper should have toys to play with, I don't want them out all over the place because it just stresses me out!  #keepinitreal

Most of his toys are upstairs in his play room, which I'll blog about another Sunday, but he has a good assortment of toys tucked away in his closet too....

Here's his closet.  The big majority of his clothes stay in his dresser....except for collared shirts.  And I know, I'm OCD to the max and I don't have his clothes by color.  While that *looks* nice, I'm a little obsessed about not wearing outfits too close together.  {Like, I may have had a schedule when I was in high school to make sure this didn't happen...} So mine is sorted by time it was worn--worn most recently in the back.
What I love about his closet is he actually has floor space to play in his room.  His shoes are stored on the back wall and he has tubs of toys on the floor for easy access (Puzzles, trains, mega block and random toys...every boy has one of those, right??)

I'm still not completely excited about this shelf.  Still thinking about the best way to organize all of the games and puzzles.... 

And I LOVE that his train track fits in the bottom of his closet.  He even loves to snuggle inside his closet to play with it...kiddos love tight spaces that are their own and this is just perfect for him!

Now to the big boy bed!
Quilt: Pottery Barn Kids, current
Bedsheets: Pottery Barn Kids, current
Accent Pillow: Etsy

I knew from the get-go that I wanted a pallet wood headboard.  I knew it would look great and be a money saver!

The pallets we have collected have boards that are varying widths.  So Justin varied the widths of the boards for me for the perfect look!  He used two boards on the back going vertically as support and nailed the other boards horizontally into the supports.

And he ended up with a board that split coming off of the pallet, but I thought it would make the perfect top piece.  And I'm just in love once again with the work my hubby did!! (And he's pretty swell too!)

Yes, the boards aren't lined up on purpose.  I think it gives it more of an old and original feel!

The lamp graduated up from the nursery, along with his toddler Bible stories book.  The end table was one we had in another room.  His nursery had a white end table.  I didn't think the white would quite go with the big boy theme so we just switched out the end tables!

 I LOVE this personalized pillow I found on Etsy!

Cooper loves his big boy room and I do too!

Back to Top