Sometimes building your class community can feel more like laying down the law the first few weeks of school!  And while laying down the law definitely has its place in my classroom, it has to be balanced with growing relationships with the little people in our classroom.

The first school I taught at was an International Baccalaureate (IB) school.  And even though I don't teach at an IB school anymore, I've taken a few of my favorite elements from that philosophy with me!  The IB attitudes and learner profile were some of my favorite of that curriculum.  I love spending time at the beginning of each year talking about what kind of attitudes we should show and what kind of learners we are expected to be in our classroom.  Not only does it help me learn my students better, but it also helps me "lay down the law" in a more positive way!

Each day we read a book (find the list of books here) and discuss the attitude the character did or didn't show in the story.  We chart our ideas...(grab these anchor charts templates to help!)

Add the book covers only to the templates or add notes from your attitude word discussion too!



And these templates even work great as Brag Boards!  Hang the anchor charts up in your room blank and add student names to an attitude chart when they show that attitude!  ...work that positive reinforcement to your advantage! :)

If you like these awesome attitudes posters, download the FREEBIE sample!

The other thing I love from the IB curriculum was the learner profile.

I love that these words give kids purpose at school.  With awesome attitudes, I am teaching little people how to be awesome adults.  With the learner profile, I'm training little people to become life-long learners.

We have a similar routine with the learner profile words as we do with Awesome Attitudes....

We read and brainstorm ways to demonstrate our focus learner word...


I love attaching each learner profile word with a part of our body because the learner profile is who we are!

Then, we add our focus word in our "I Am A Learner" booklet and illustrate the meaning of the word.

This packet even includes writing prompt papers and more anchor chart and poster options for these words!

Download a FREEBIE sample of the learner profile packet too! :)  Let's make this a *great* start to our school year!

Have you jumped on the counting collections bandwagon yet?  Because if you haven't, you need to take the leap NOW!  Counting Collections are one of my absolute favorite parts of teaching math in first grade.  My kids learn so so much counting random objects each week...each May my mind is *blown* by the amount of growth in their counting skills, teamwork skills, skip counting skills, mental math skills, base ten understanding and notation/equation writing skills!  So much math jam packed into one activity.

So, have you been in the dark with this whole Counting Collections movement?  Read more about what it is and what it looks like in the classroom in this blog post.

This blog is dedicated to setting up and organizing Counting Collections in your classroom!

1.  Collect all your random stuff :)
The first thing I did when I set up my Counting Collections shelf was go through old things to find stuff for kids to count.  Anything will work.  ANYTHING.  I pulled out math manipulatives at school that we never used (transportation counters, colored bears, colored cubes...).  At home, I went through my pantry to find things I could use (pasta, popcorn kernels, beans...).  I went through my kitchen and bathroom too and found toothpicks, q-tips, cotton balls...  Then, I went through my craft cabinets at home and at school and collected craft supplies I hadn't used in forever: buttons, beads, sequins, pom poms...

And after all of that searching I ended up with over 30 different things for kids to count and hadn't bought a thing.  And truth be told I didn't even miss the stuff I grabbed from home and school--really, it was a great way to clean out! :)

2. Count your random stuff!
After I collected all 34 of my items, I got to counting.  I knew that since my first grade standard says kids should count to 120 most of my sets would need to be between 100 and 120 and 50 and 100.  My counting categories ended up looking like this...

1 - 20: 3 sets
20 - 50: 4 sets
50 - 100: 9 sets
100 - 120: 7 sets
120 - 200: 7 sets
200 - 500: 4 sets

Obviously, you do what works for your kids, but this has worked fairly well for me for the last several years.  I used bigger items for smaller sets and smaller items for bigger sets just to help with storage.  And as I counted, I recorded how many I counted for each set on my Counting Collections key (editable template is included in my Counting Collections packet.)

3. Label Your Tubs
After everything was counted and recorded, I started labeling.  Labeling makes me unexplainably happy.  And add color coding to that labeling and I'm on cloud 9! :)  I like to go in rainbow order so pink/red are my low babies and blues and purples and whites are my high babies.  That just keeps things easy for me.

For my original tubs, I simply wrote on neon labels with a sharpie and added them to our tubs...

But honestly, those labels just didn't stick as well as I had hoped.  By the end of our first counting collections year, they were peeling off.  So, I made and printed my own labels on colored paper or white paper based on my coding system and taped the labels on with clear packing tape.  SO MUCH BETTER and more durable too!



And the photos on the labels make it super colorful and easy for my little people to use!  I've recently added these labels to my Counting Collections packet so redownload if you already own this packet for the update!

4. Get Your Counting On!

It's as easy as that!  You're ready to launch Counting Collections!  My packet includes lesson plans for helping you establish launching and sharing routines.


This summer has been hit or miss with "playing school" as Cooper calls it at home.  I am consciously trying not to push academics on him because he is fine academically for his age and I don't want to squash his enthusiasm for learning.  So currently, our school schedule is tentatively 3 days a week for about 30-45 minutes--if Cooper is interested.  And more when he asks for it more (which is quite often!)

Back in the Spring, Cooper begged to play school one day.  When, I asked him if he wanted to reading or math he said, "Yet's do weading, Mommy...but wif wuhds not just yetters!" {Forgive my spelling, but I just can't type it correctly when it so much cuter sounding how he says it! ;)}  So, we started practicing sight words.

And he loves it!  Here's a look at our sight word practice routine...perfect for any preschooler at home, kindergartener, or RTI intervention group.  Plus, just make the words a little more difficult and it works for first graders too.

Review sight words we know
Cooper's favorite way to review sight words we know is the fly swatter game.

He loves to play it by himself and he also loves to race Daddy! :)  Of course, this is a classic game in elementary school with a TON of ideas for reviewing skills, but I love that it's easy to do at home.  The sight word cards are from my iTeach Tots packet, but this could easily be done with sticky notes and a pen too!

We also review with reading races:  I flash the sight word cards up and see how fast he can read through all of them....this one always produces giggles galore! :)

The third way we review is reading and sorting:  Cooper reads a word and sorts it under the number of letters in the word.  Then, he rereads all of the words under each number!  My kiddo loves this one...and teacher mommy loves that he's learning sight words and concepts of print (differentiating between letters and words) at the same time!

These are just a few of a million and one ways to review sight words, but right now they're our favorites and what Cooper asks for the most!

Introduce New Sight Word
Once we spend 2-3 minutes reviewing sight words {seriously, the length of that video was all we did that day for review!}, I introduce the new sight word.   Right now, we are using these sight word pages from my packet for this.

He seriously is obsessed with these right now!  After we did the first one this summer, he begged to do a new one every single day until we left on vacation!  And after the first few, I was able to get him started and he finished on his own while I finished up a few things around the house.  It takes my almost 4 year old a good 15-20 minutes to to all of it on his own.  #thankyouJesus

We read the new word together and spell it as we build it with something fun...whatever we can find around the house!  We've used yarn, beans, pasta, spaghetti noodles.  There are so many fun options!


Then, he reads each word in the Read It! section and circles the sight word we are working on.  He loves using my flair pens too...a boy after my own heart! :)

Then, we build it by cutting the letters from the bottom to build the word in a sentence.  We find it by choosing the letters in the correct order to spell our word.  Last, he traces and writes the new word!

Read it in Context
This is the most important part to me as a teacher.  In first grade, I see kids all the time that can pass their first 100 sight word list, but still can't read past a Guided Reading Level A or B.  So, while I think sight word practice is crucial for many kids, it means nothing if they can't transfer that learning into reading.  That's the end goal!  At home, I practice this with Cooper after we learn his new word.  And it looks very similar to how I practice this with first graders too!

We play fly swatter again with the new word included.  And I call on the new word more than the others to give him more practice with the new word.

Then, we build sentences with our review sight words including our new sight word.  And he loves to use that stinkin' fly swatter as his pointer! ;)

I try to mix it up and do several sentences with the new word.  And then we stop when he is done.  Because we all know, it doesn't do anybody any good to keep going past the "over it" stage! #keepinitreal

I'll be blogging more about practicing sight words in context with my sight word readers (also included in my iTeach Tots packet) later this month so check back in for more sight word work!

What's your favorite way to practice sight words?


In my last post, we talked about teaching kids steps to spell new words in a meaningful and engaging way.  So, what do you do when Friday comes?  Do you give that traditional spelling test that's been around since the one room school house?  Or do you forget it altogether in the name of "What's the Point"? {yes, I've seriously considered it before!}

But then, parents are looking at you like--say WhAt?!?!?!?--if you do away with them altogether. #thestruggleisreal

Let's talk ways to assess kids' spelling abilities in a less than traditional way!

First of all, when thinking about assessing kids' spelling we need to think about what the expectations are for our grade level.  Just because it's listed as a spelling word in a phonics program doesn't mean it's grade level appropriate.  The Common Core standard for first grade spelling says...

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.1.2.D
Use conventional spelling for words with common spelling patterns and for frequently occurring irregular words.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.1.2.E
Spell untaught words phonetically, drawing on phonemic awareness and spelling conventions.
Common spelling patterns? What's common? My state has defined these as CVC, blends, digraphs, CVCe patterns and a few vowel digraphs like ai and ay.

So, why does the phonics program my district uses have spelling words with all kinds of spelling patterns in the words? Ones that can seem a little bit of a stretch for 6 and 7 year olds?  Probably because of these Common Core Standards...

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RF.1.3
Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RF.1.3.A
Know the spelling-sound correspondences for common consonant digraphs.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RF.1.3.B
Decode regularly spelled one-syllable words.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RF.1.3.C
Know final -e and common vowel team conventions for representing long vowel sounds.
But the important language to note in these standards is know and decode.  Students have to be able to apply the phonics patterns they learn in their decoding skills.  Not spell them blindly on a spelling test.  They need to be able to recognize those patterns and decode words.

Yes, there are still many words our first graders need to be able to "spell cold" so to speak.  But not all of them.  The standards still say to spell new words phonetically--not correctly!

So, for those words with "common spelling patterns" that students need to spell correctly, a traditional test is still appropriate...with some modifications!  I love this traditional spelling test because it gives me the option of a self-check rubric.  I love having kids double check their work on their own.  At the end of the test, I have them go over the rubric we have practiced together all week and check their work for mistakes in each category.  Then I can add my checks next to theirs so parents can see how our checks measured up.

I use these traditional tests for words with blends, digraphs, CVCe words and some vowel patterns that I feel are common enough for first graders to know.  In my spelling tests packet, I have these traditional tests for those same sounds.  There is a template that can be used for any sound and the rest are marked with what phonics week we are on {if you are using the same program I am...if not, my phonics pacing is included for free with the demo download}.

Once we get into words that are developmentally inappropriate to expect first graders to spell, we move to the non-traditional spelling test.  Because even though correct spelling may not be appropriate, they still must be able to decode regularly spelled one-syllable words.  So, the non-traditional test focuses a bit more on the application of those spelling patterns.  My kids are given 3 or 4 choices for the correct spelling, I say the word, and they circle the correct spelling.  They are having to decode, use their eyes and sometimes even use their mind to spell...all things we work on all week long.

These tests come with 2 grading options: a score box that you can use however you see fit, or a 5 star system which is meant to focus on how many words they spell right instead of what they are missing!

In my spelling test packet, there are also 7 unit tests.  At the end of each group of sounds, we review all of these similar sounds {all of the blends, not just l-blends or all of the vowel digraphs, not just ai/ay}.

These assessments are perfect for seeing which kids are remember spelling patterns long-term.  I think they work best when parents aren't given a list of these words to study again to discourage memorization.  Instead, encourage parents to study all of the previous weeks' sounds.  Or just give it as an informal, impromptu assessment in the classroom.  This is GREAT information to form intervention groups for also!

In addition to our spelling test, I give students a dictation sentence or two to write each Friday also.  This is less about spelling and more about kids' abilities to spell words in the context of a sentence or in their writing.  It's also about seeing who remembers how to use correct mechanics.

These sentences also have a mechanics rubric that my first graders fill out before turning in their test.  It forces them to double check their capitals, handwriting, spelling and punctuation.  These tests are really big eye openers for me each week on who has great control of their writing mechanics and who doesn't.

All of these assessments plus pacing guides, a year's worth of spelling words and dictation sentences are included in my Year's Worth of Spelling Tests!


Spelling.  If I'm being honest...I'm not a fan.  No, actually, I LOATHE it.

At least the way it's been for the last 234 years.  We all have those children who memorize words for the test and then can't spell worth squat during writers' workshop.

Yet...they have to learn to spell somehow.

So how do we teach what we know is an important skill {nothing more annoying than an adult who can't spell basic words!} in a meaningful way that helps kids remember spelling patterns long term?  Let's chat today about giving kids meaningful ways to learn to spell and in the next post we will talk about how to assess their learning in a way that's best for kids.

The more we focus on memorizing a list of words, the more that's exactly what kids will do...memorize a list of words.  And I don't want my first graders memorizing words.  I want them to spell words fluently, but with understanding...and past Friday's test!

The first thing we work on is setting routines for spelling a new word--whether it's a word on our spelling test or any other word.  I want kids to know what I am thinking about when I'm spelling new words and to train their brain to think about specific, purposeful things when spelling new words too.  So, from day one we train our brains to spell.  

At the beginning of the year, I start with step one...

We sound out our words with our ears.  We spend a lot of time breaking down words into each sound that we hear.  {I blogged earlier this year about the engaging songs and chants we use to break words apart into sounds.}  And I emphasize writing at least one letter for every sound they hear by writing lines for each sound they hear {more in that previous blog.}

Once we move into vowel digraphs in phonics and sounds that have more than one spelling pattern for them {like ai and ay}, we talk about how using our ears is not enough to spell.  We have to use our ears first, then our eyes.

We break down the word the same way...let's use rain as an example: /r/ /ai/ /n/.  We count 3 sounds we hear across our fingers and we write 4 lines during our guided spelling time because rain has 3 sounds but 4 letters.

We add the "scoop" below the two middle letters to show they are two letters but have one sound.

The rest goes like this:
What's the first sound in rain?
/r/
What letter makes that sound?
r

What's the next sound in rain?
/ai/
What letters can make that sound?
/ai/ or /ay/
There are two ways to make the sound so we can't just use our ears...we have to use our eyes to see which one sounds look right.  Let's come back to this sound once we finish the other sounds.

What's the last sound in rain?
/n/
What letter makes that sound?
n

Let's try spelling that middle sound with both patterns we know, ai and ay.

Which spelling looks right?

We vote on the spelling just to make it a little more fun and then I have them drumroll and I reveal the correct spelling.  They absolutely LOVE this simple addition to our spelling routines!

Once our phonics program moves into more advanced phonics patterns where homonyms and homophones come into play, it's no longer enough to use our ears and our eyes.  We have to use our mind to help us determine which meaning describes the word we are trying to spell.

So, at this stage of the year, we go through a similar routine as before: breaking down our word into sounds we hear with our ears, writing lines for each sound we hear, and writing all of our spelling options down so we can "see" which ones look right.  Like with the word blue.  Our options that all sound correct are...
bloo
blue
blew

But only 2 look right.
bloo
blue
blew

But only 1 is the correct meaning.  We talk about how one is a color and one is a past tense for blowing.  We talk about which one is which and then which one describes the word we were trying to spell.
bloo
blue
blew

Yes, it seems like a lot to go through with each word.  But once you get in a groove, it's really not. And it's totally worth it because we are training our little to think before they spell.  And to think purposefully...with 3 easy steps!

Still not convinced it's really that simple?  Well, I convinced myself to do a video for you to help you understand the routines a little bit better.

In the meantime, grab these spelling anchor charts I use to help my kids remember what they should be actively thinking about when spelling a new word.  They come in full color or a black and white option that can be printed on pretty bright colors! Yay! #clappinghands  Each color scheme also comes with my bullet points already typed in or blank space like the pic below for you to fill in as you learn with the kids!

Catch all of these in my spelling anchor charts packet! 


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