Do you do sentence puzzles in your primary classroom?  This is one of my favorite ways to reinforce fluency and language skills for all primary kiddos, especially ELLS, in productive group work, literacy stations or centers, and as a guided reading warmup.   Here is the routine for how I used these in my first grade classroom.

How Do We Do Sentence Puzzles?

The goal of sentence puzzles is simple: Put words in order to make a complete sentence.

The first thing I always have kids do is read each of the words to practice fluency.  We do this together if we are using it as a guided reading warmup.  Or they read them on their own if they are doing in in literacy stations or group work.

Next, kids simply order the words to make a sentence.


Last, I ask kids to reread the sentence to self-check.  This forces them to practice the "Does it make sense?" reading strategy and gives ELL kids an opportunity to hear our language structure.


Once they have checked their sentence, they record it on our recording sheet for group work or literacy stations.

If we are doing this as a guided reading warmup, we either skip out on the writing portion for time, or I just have them write the sentence quickly on their dry erase board.

In productive groups, I love doing a carousel activity with these.  Where we choose "on grade level puzzles" and put a different puzzle at each station.  Then groups of 2-4 kids rotate through each station for 2 minutes each and order the puzzles and record them on their recording sheet.  Anything where we are up moving around and practicing literacy skills is a win! :)

Why Do We Do Sentence Puzzles?

With this one activity I can reach all of my kiddos:
-My good readers who need to practice fluency with high frequency and decodable words.
-My readers who struggle with errors for meaning (Does it make sense?)
-My ELL sweethearts who struggle with our language structure and need practice with grammar and syntax.

Cooper begged to try one out for me this afternoon while I was prepping the materials.  And although he could read most of the words, he struggled putting them in order.  It was difficult for him to hear that his sentence didn't make sentence grammatically!  And he's not even an ELL kiddo.

On top of sentence puzzles challenging all of my kids academically, it's also engaging for kids.

Whether it is a reinforcement or review activity or a language sequencing exercise, my kiddos LOVE these puzzles!  They are engaging, they are fun and they are easy to self-check!

But what about those emerging and non-readers?  Level A and B sentence puzzles are the same patterned sentence for each level.  So that kids can just practice concepts of print (think: What is a word? What is a sentence? Where is the beginning and end?) and one-to-one correspondence.

Plus, there is picture support to make reading the content words a breeze!

You can do your own sentence puzzles using index cards or Magnetiles, which you can read about in an upcoming blog post...or you can snag this pre-made differentiated packet of sentence puzzles that are leveled, color coded and ready to go here!

"Close reading for first graders?...Are you crazy?!?!?!"

That was my reaction when the district I was in talked to us about a K-12 initiative to do close readings in the classroom.

"I have kids who can't read a full sentence, and you want them to read quietly to themselves and annotate their thoughts? What planet are you from?"

And after the initial shock finished running through my body, our team settled down {somewhat} and got to work.  NOW...you should know that the way a close read is supposed to go is NOT how we did it in our room.  In fact, our team feels that a close read "by the books" is not developmentally appropriate for our first graders.  But, I have modified and adjusted it over the years...maybe so much that it's really not a close read anymore, but it works for my kids and helped me see success and growth in reading through close reading in first grade.

Step 1: Silent Sight Word Search

The first thing I do is pass out the passage and give my first graders 2 minutes to look for and circle sight words they know or that are on our word wall.  I'm going to use a non-fiction passage from our animals unit we did a while back for our example, but I've done this with fiction too!

I differentiate this step through the year.  At the beginning of the year (or if I have a lower group of kids), I may read the passage aloud to them first before passing out the passage, just to give them some context and comprehension for the passage.  Many times when I do this first, I will put the passage up on our Promethean Board and read it aloud once.  Then, we will read it aloud together twice.  And then I send them back to their desk to circle sight words.


Step 2: Highlight Key Details

Once students have sight words circled, we read the passage together again.  Later in the year, this may be the first time we've read it together as a class because we don't read it before they circle sight words at that point...they just read it independently and/or scan for sight words.

Before we read it together this time, I ask them to listen for the important details--the key details--in the passage {for non-fiction...they could listen for important events for fiction}.

After we choral read together, I ask, "What are some of the important details we learned about muscles from this passage?"  Then, we do a think-pair-share at their table and then they share out key details.  After each detail, I have my firsties point to the place in the text where their friend found that key detail.  This is to reinforce the idea that our research come from the text. Then, we highlight the details in green.  Not a whole sentence, just the key detail phrase.  As they highlight, I highlight on my model passage on the ELMO and then add the key detail to our anchor chart on muscles for our shared research/writing.

Step 3: Sight Words and Questions

This last step depends on the time of year.  At the beginning of the year (or with lower readers), I ask them to go back and reread with their shoulder buddy at their desk or independently and finish circling any sight words they missed and illustrate the details from the text.
Later in the year (or with higher groups in guided reading), I will have them think of a question they still have about the topic we read about and write it on a sticky note or at the bottom of the passage.

I have several non-fiction passages in each of my Science and Social Studies units that go along with those topics that I use for close reads in first grade.  And also, my Rock That Read Passages are great to start off with close reading and then end with comprehension questions to extend the passages even more!

So, no, I don't follow the ideal model of a close read....don't call the literacy police on me!  But, it actually has worked beautifully for my first graders.  I think I've finally found a way to make this work in first grade!

Happy Sunday!  I'm finishing up my last unit for my PreK Sunday School Bundle and it feels. so. good!  I'm so excited to be ending this project on Joseph!

One of the crafts we will be doing with this unit is making our own colorful coats.  So, of course, I had to try it out with my little one first!  Here's how we made our paper bag Joseph coats!

STEP 1: Cut It Up!

Cut a large hole in the bottom of a large paper sack.  This will be the hole for the head so it needs to be big enough for your kid's head to fit.  If your kiddo has a big head like mine... just keep cutting! :)

Then, on the sides, cut arm holes (about 5 inches in diameter).  Be sure and cut them close to the bottom of the bag where the head hole is.

Last, cut strips of construction paper lengthwise in 1-2" strips.  If you have regular construction paper, you will most likely need to do horizontal stripes like shown in my pictures.  If you have the longer construction paper, you can do vertical stripes with that size!

Now you are ready for kiddos! :)

STEP 2: Glue the Strips

Using a glue bottle, add a strips one at a time horizontally or vertically (however your strip size works out for you)!

Make sure you glue strips of paper to both sides!  We didn't glue strips on the sides...

Step 3: Wear the Coat

Isn't he just the cutest model?  Okay, maybe I'm biased, but Cooper loves his colorful coat and loves to pretend play in it now!
Be watching for this unit to be added to my store this week!  It will be half off for the first 24 hours and then the Bible Unit Bundle will go up to its final price too! :)
I hope you are enjoying this study as much as I am!  I am learning SO MUCH.  If you've missed this book study, you can catch up with these links!
Getting Started
Goals 1 & 2: Emergent Reading and Engagment
Goals 3 & 4: Decoding and Fluency
Goals 5 & 6: Plot and Characters

Today, let's talk about THEME and MAIN IDEA.
Which are basically the same thing.

Except they're not.

While both are about the reader determining big ideas, the reader has to do them in different ways for fiction (theme) and non-fiction (main idea).

Goal 7: Finding Theme in Fiction

I'm embarrassed to admit I was not great at teaching theme in first grade until the Common Core standards were released.  Our district used the suggested Common Core Units and one of them was on fables and life lessons.

Once I jumped in a learned how to teach life lessons, I fell in love with theme!  I love the quote from Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis (2000) from the book...

"We are likely to feel theme in our gut!"

I loved using literature to teach important life lessons to my firsties through theme.  Here are my favorite strategies from the book.

Strategy 7.2: The Difference Between Plot and Theme

I've had so many moments just like this one when reading this book....WHY DIDN'T I THINK OF THAT???

I loved the T-chart example she had in the book and the idea of jotting down the main plot points and what the big idea is about it!

This would be a great scaffold for struggling kiddos.  When it's hard to think about the whole story, we can break it down into the important plot points and just think about the theme for that part!

Strategy 7.7: Mistakes Can Lead to Lessons

This is what we used for our Life Lessons fables units.  But, I didn't use this exact language and I LOVE using the word mistake.  I feel like that is the perfect word for helping kiddos hone in on what went wrong and how that character might fix that behavior next time.  In fables, this is the perfect lead in to their theme or moral.

I prompted my kiddos with, "What lesson can we learn from this story?"  And that worked well for many kids.

But I think her prompt of, "What mistake did the character make? What lesson can we learn from his/her mistake?" gives easier access for ALL kids!  Love this idea!

Goal 8: Finding Main Idea in Non-Fiction

I don't know about you, but I find that teaching main idea in non-fiction is easier than theme in fiction in first grade.  I just think the first grade non-fiction books make the main ideas more obvious that others.  So, I love diving into non-fiction early to help my firsties understand main idea during our animals unit and then transferring that understanding to fiction later when we study fables.

Strategy 8.11: Add Up Facts To Determine Main Idea

This describes a strategy for readers on levels M-Z, which is clearly NOT the majority of our first grade readers! :)  BUT, I chose this strategy because it is very similar to one of the most popular main idea games we do in first grade.

In the strategy in the book, readers list similar facts and then look over them again more closely so that they can determine a main idea.

In first grade, I differentiated this strategy for Main Topics.  I made 6 bags of details that connected to our animals unit we were learning about or just the time of year.  Each bag represented a Main Topic with the details inside.

You can read more of the details of how this worked in this blog post and find the FREEBIE in that post.  But essentially, my firsties worked in groups to add up the details from a bag and determine a main topic.  It's engaging, it's group work, it's hands on, and was always a first grade favorite in my room!


This summer, I've been doing a book study on Jennifer Serravallo's book, The Reading Strategies Book, lead by Crystal from Teaching Little Miracles.

If you've missed this book study, you can catch up with these links!
Getting Started
Goals 1 & 2: Emergent Reading and Engagment
Goals 3 & 4: Decoding and Fluency

Today, we are talking about Reading Comprehension....the end goal for our sweet readers!  Let's dive in!!  And read all the way through to catch a FREEBIE!
{affiliate links are included in this post}

Goal 5: Supporting Comprehension in Fiction: Plot and Setting


At the end of the day, we read as adults because we understand and enjoy what we are reading.  So, we want that for our kiddos too!  For me, comprehension has always been a struggle.  I am that reader who reads and rereads the same paragraph 3-4 times so I can understand it.  And I naturally pick easy fiction reads as an adult that I don't have to "think" too much about.  I know all the skills, but it's just something I didn't completely learn well until I started taking education classes as an adult.

So, that influenced me as a teacher.  I want my own kiddo and my firsties to understand what they are reading!  Here's a look at some of my favorite strategies from the plot and setting section of fiction comprehension.

Strategy 5.3: What's Most Essential

This is one of my go-to comprehension strategies in first grade!  In this strategy, kids tell the characters and setting and then summarize the beginning the middle and the end.  I usually use these graphic organizers from my guided reading packet, but I also love Serravallo's foldable she used too!

What I love most about BME graphic organizers is they are the perfect scaffold for both sides of the spectrum.  I love the ease of differentiation with just one tool!

When I have kids that do not comprehend well, this organizer helps give them focus and order to retelling the story.

And when I have kids that comprehend so well that they want to give me every little detail in the story, this organizer helps them lock down on 3 major events from the story.  It gives them a way to think about the most important parts and filter out the supporting details.

Strategy 5.9: Who's Speaking

In this strategy, readers "try to have a mental picture of the people in the scene to keep track of who is speaking."  After all, if you can't figure out who saying what, you can't understand the story!  I have used this strategy in whole group reading before during our Wizard of Oz reading unit.  You can read about the "Who Said That?" whole group game we play in this blog post.

But I have not used this strategy much in guided reading--I have no idea why!!  In our Wizard of Oz game, we connected it to character traits and inferring.  But in guided reading, Serravallo suggests connecting this to comprehension of the plot--which I LOVE!

I loved the way she color coded the dialogue for the characters!

Goal 6: Supporting Comprehension in Fiction: Characters


Serravallo says,

"Underneath the umbrella of 'fiction comprehension,' I consider plot and setting to be first...and character to be a very close second."

In general, I think first grade teachers do a great job of identifying characters and a not-so-great job of understanding characters. #raisingmyhandtoo  In my mind, it's very easy for me to brush that aside for older grades to take care of.

But we have to work hard to teach both of these aspects of characters along side each other....just like we teach visual and meaning cues together in decoding.  Here are my favorite strategies from this section.

Strategy 6.3: Put On The Character's Face

In this strategy, kids look at the pictures and think about the words to infer the character's feeling as they read.  I loved the real picture chart of kid faces for each emotions!

As I was reading this strategy, I was trying to visualize what this could look like in guided reading.  For my firsties, I think it would be super engaging to have some mirrors (this is the one shown in the picture) at the reading table.  I could have 2-3 pre-determined spots to stop and check on character feeling.  We would have sticky notes in those spots.  Then, at each spot, the readers would stop, think about the text and pictures, infer the character feeling and then put on the character's face with the mirror!  How fun is that??

Strategy 6.1: How's the Character Feeling?

This strategy goes hand in hand with the other strategy, but I love that it extends the concept into text evidence.  In this strategy, students  make sure they "care about how the characters feel, talk, act and think."  They imagine themselves to be "in the same situation and think about how we felt or would feel."

What I love most about this strategy besides the extension is the scaffolds she gives.  She gives our little readers categories and questions to answer about the character and his/her traits during reading time so that they can make a better inference on how the character feels.

I made a character feelings organizer FREEBIE for this strategy to add to the other organizers in my guided reading packet.






This week in our book study we are talking about Goals 3 and 4: Decoding and Fluency.

If you've missed this book study, you can catch up with these links!
Getting Started
Goals 1 & 2: Emergent Reading and Engagment
Goals 3 & 4: Decoding and Fluency
{affiliate links are included in this post}

Goal 3: Supporting Print Work {Decoding}


Decoding is pretty much our jam in first grade, right?  I have all of the decoding strategies posted (found HERE) in my room just like any good primary teacher... But sometimes we get so caught up in decoding and sounding out words (visual cues), that comprehension suffers (meaning and syntax clues).  As Serravallo says on page 76...

"Sometimes, as children are learning to read, they overemphasize on one or two of the sources of information or use each inconsistently.  This affects their accuracy rate and often ultimately limits their comprehension."

I believe that we have good intentions, but it is easy to fall into the trap of sounding out, segmenting and blending and leave comprehension at the door.  I'm as guilty as anyone else!  The way I've tried to get around this is by forcing myself to pair a VISUAL strategy with either a MEANING or SYNTAX strategy at the same time, instead of teaching them in isolation.

As I blogged about last week, I am focusing on getting your mouth ready in our tutoring sessions (which, interestingly, I didn't read a specific strategy for this one in this chapter...maybe I missed it, but I use this all the time!).  But each time we discuss this strategy or I prompt my kiddo, I make sure and say, "Look at the picture, then get your mouth ready."  That way I'm prompting her to use meaning and visual clues together.  I believe that in the long run, this with make her a more successful reader.

Strategy 3.7: Slow Down the Zoom, Zoom, Zoom to Make Sense

I loved the wording in this strategy.  I typically have prompted with, "Stop. Think. Does this make sense" which worked just fine.  BUT, I love the race car strategy and think this would work well for engaging boys. Basically, you tell readers to try not to be a zoom zoom reader, but to slow down and think during reading.

I thought it would be fantastic to give little reading cars/hot wheels to kids who are tactile and let them drive their car the pace they are reading.  When they get to a spot they need help making sense of, they would slow down or stop their car.  I don't think this would be appropriate for lower level students, but levels E and higher I think it could be a powerful visual for kids!

Goal 4: Teaching Fluency


Just as decoding is my jam in first grade, I feel like I have to work really hard to give fluency the attention it deserves.  But as I've seen with my own kiddo, even modeling fluency transfers to kids and goes hand in hand with comprehension.  There were so many great strategies, but I narrowed it down to one that I seem to focus a lot on in first grade.

Strategy 4.6: Punctuation at the End of a Sentence

As Serravallo mentions, once kids hit a level D or so, it is blatantly obvious who can recognize and attend to punctuation.  I think missing out on reading the punctuation is one of the biggest reasons kids struggle comprehending text.  It completely changes the meaning when punctation isn't read!

I use many of the same prompts mentioned for this strategy, but I love how she talks about having kids "look ahead" to get ready for the punctuation!  I have this chart hanging in my guided reading area and I give each punctuation mark and hand motion to help give some TPR to my kids that like to move! :)


Here are the motions I use for each punctuation mark...
? - scoop and slide your hand to the air as your voice sliiiiiiides up!
! - make your hand blinking for excitement as your voice reads excitedly.
. - make your hand into the stop signal as your voice stops to read the period.
, - snap your fingers as this is a quick break.

I don't usually focus on the comma until about level G or so, but then we talk about how a period is a longer break I can take a breath for and a comma is as quick as a snap.

It seems tedious, but it really does work.  And it's amazing how much more kids understand when they read with expression and attend to punctuation!


It's not just the students that enjoy getting new school supplies.

We teachers love a good cart full of fresh school supplies!  I love the smell of fresh crayons, the crisp corners of the crayon boxes, the sharp tips of pencils and the bright colors of cardstock and flair pens!  I don't know a single teacher that doesn't enjoy getting new supplies every year.

Here's my list of school supplies that every teacher should be shopping for before school starts!
{This post includes afflilate links}

1. Pre-Sharpened Pencils

I don't know why it took me almost 7 years to buy in to these things, but man was my teacher life better once I discovered pre-sharpened pencils.  There is nothing teachers loathe more than standing at the pencil sharpener for 28 hours a day sharpening pencils. #badmathintended

When I bought school supplies for my entire class instead of kids bringing their own, this was at the top of my list.  And when I moved schools and the kids brought their own supplies, this was STILL at the top of my list.  Those kids that bought the pre-sharpened pencils to add to our stash? Yeah, they were pretty much immediate teacher pets! :)

2. Pencil Sharpener

But, alas, even the pre-sharpened pencils dull up... #wompwomp  And when they are dull, raise your hand if you still use this guy?
Yeah, no one?  That's what I thought.  This ol' guy was one of the first things to get taken down in my room my first year teaching.  Not only was it in the most horrible spot EVER, but I just can't even deal with the squeaks and squawks that go along with this guy. #realtalk

So, when my kids do have to sharpen pencils (I have a helper that does it every afternoon for me during our afternoon stack and pack time!), I love using this battery powered sharpener.  I don't have to worry about where to put it, and if my helper is still sharpening after our stack and pack time when we read aloud our chapter book at the end of the day, she can take the sharpener in the hallway to finish or in a quieter corner of the room!  Word to the wise though: I buy an extra one every year because every now and then one just dies on me.  Doesn't happen every year, but it's good to have an extra just in case!

3. Cardstock

Not much makes me happier than fresh, crisp cardstock arranged by color in my cabinets.  It's pretty much my happy place.  Astrobrights cardstock and colored paper are must haves on my list!  The only complaint I have is that I can never find a packet that has ALL the rainbow colors included!  Why do we always leave out purple?!? I need a complete rainbow, please!

4. Flair pens

My most favorite thing to write with.  Ever.  I love all the colors and I love that the ink doesn't leak and gel up like regular pens. #grossesmeouteverytime

My favorite part is using them for records and color coding.  I use a different color for each quarter on my report cards.  And I use different colors each time I do a running record to keep my records from running together!  See what I did there? :)

5. Colored Sticky Notes

Yes, I could use the banana yellow sticky notes my school keeps in the office for us, but what fun is that?  I'd much rather buy packs of bright color stickies that get the "ooooohs" and "awwwwws" out of my firsties!  We love using them to color code our class graphs, to respond to our books during guided reading, and to spell with color coded sticky notes during phonics!  I usually several packs of these to last me through the year!

Of course, I love writing odds and ends on bright sticky notes, but these are my absolute favorite for organizing guided reading.

They are slick like plastic and last the entire year...even through all of our flexible grouping switches and such.  Plus, I can color code them to match my color reading groups. #winning

6. Dry Erase Markers

I refuse to live in a world where only black, red, blue and green dry erase markers exist.  Since dry erase markers are my main squeeze for anchor chart drawing and writing, I have to have color.

I buy 2 packs of these colored markers every year and they last me all year.  Some years, I luck out and have enough left over that I only have to buy 1 more packet!

Even with my interactive whiteboard becoming my main source for number talks, calendar math, writers' workshop model lessons, and more, I still use dry erase markers enough to make this a must have purchase in my book!

7. Laminator

Am I the only teacher that loves to laminate?  From the smell to the warm film to the crisp edges when I cut it...I love every bit of it!

Having my own small laminator in my classroom was a life saver!  I still laminated things on our large school laminator, but when I didn't feel like booking it all the way to the library or was in a time crunch, this small laminator was PERFECTION!  The laminator is still going strong almost 6 years later and a pack of 100 thermal sheets was enough to make it through an entire school year for me (and sometimes longer!)

8. Paper Cutter

Last but not least is a paper cutter!  I bought mine as soon as I was hired for my first teaching job.  I learned from my mentor when I was interning that it's just not worth the walk down the hall to use a paper cutter you may have to wait in line for...and that is probably going to be dull and add those fuzzy edges to your cut.  You know what I'm talking about!  That's a major sad face situation for this girl.  I had my own and it stayed sharp and crisp enough all 10 years for me...and my teacher buddies loved coming to borrow my paper cutter too! :)

What's on your must have list of teacher school supplies?


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