Ever feel like all you teach in your kinder or first grade classroom is reading?  Like you can't even start to think about doing that cool science experiment you saw on Pinterest because...ain't nobody got time for that?

The struggle is real in the primary grades, ya'll.  Our teacher hearts want so badly to teach science and social studies content and the kids WANT to learn about animals and inventors and do science experiments.  But reality hits, and we are pressured into making sure those little babies know their letters and can read and write and add and subtract so they can pass state tests.  It's super easy to fall into the trap of reading, writing, and arithmetic all. day. long. in the primary grades.

But let's face it...that can get pretty boring after a while.  So, what can we do about it?  I've been teaching content to my first graders for 10 years and watching the engagement and excitement in my classroom during science and social studies made me stick my foot down and refuse to compromise and give up content in my primary classroom!  Read 6 ways I teach content in my primary classroom without compromising the reading and writing rigor!

1. Trade Books

Integrate, Integrate, Integrate.  I'm always looking for ways to "kill two birds with one stone" in the classroom because of time.  Integration is the best way to double up your teaching standards.  So, I'm always looking for ways to integrate content into literacy.

It's easy to read non-fiction books, but it takes a little more planning to align the non-fiction books we are reading in the classroom with the science or social studies standards we need to cover.  More planning means thinking about the content first.  Do my kids need to learn about animal classification, or people in history?  Once I decide my content area, I can choose non-fiction and fiction books to support the content.

Non-fiction books are obvious... For example, if I'm learning about animal groups, I want to find content books that will teach about characteristics of mammals or birds or another animal group.

Fiction books are a little trickier.  But, I love to find good fiction texts to use during readers' workshop or for read alouds during our units.  So, if we go back to animals, I can pull fiction stories with animal characters in them.  We can contrast the attributes of these animals (they wear clothes, talk, personification, etc) to the attributes of animals in real life.  This expands my first graders' understanding because it helps them see what isn't true about animals...and it shows them in a new context!

In each of my 6 integrated units, I have suggested fiction and non-fiction read alouds that connect with the content for each unit already planned out for you!

2.  Writing Prompts

Integrate, Integrate, Integrate...have I already said that? :) But seriously, I plan how to integrate in reading first.  Then, once I have a good list of non-fiction and fiction texts to read during read alouds and readers' workshop, I work on writers' workshop.  There are a couple of questions to consider when I'm deciding how to integrate content into writing...

What type of writing fits best with this content?  If we are learning new content, I can work on shared research during our read aloud...simply picking out important facts and charting them.  There's my content, but it's under the umbrella of my "writing time."  After our shared research, I can focus on informational or expository writing.  Once my students are comfortable with the new content, I can even bring in opinion writing...like do you prefer mammals or birds?  Who was more important...Ben Franklin or Thomas Edison?

What characteristics of my mentor texts can I use to help my young writers?  When we read texts with lots of bold print, we talk about that feature during readers' workshop and then, we go a little deeper during writers' workshop and try to include bold print in our own writing to teach our readers more about those "smart words."  (Read more here.)  This is an especially powerful way to give young writers a purpose for writing and small attainable goals that help them feel like a "real author!"

3.  Readers' Workshop

Integrate, integrate, integrate....okay, okay, I know that I've said this already, but seriously, ya'll.  Integration is my BFF in the classroom.  This is the 3rd time I've mentioned it in this post already, which means I'm teaching the same content 3 different times during the day without ever setting aside a devoted "Science" or "Social Studies" block during my day!  If you're like me and time is precious in the classroom, then this is BIG TIME!  It seems so obvious, yet it can be so easy to get in the routine of teaching the day to day stuff without any content.  All it takes is a few minutes to purposefully plan out content that needs to be covered and how you can use reading and writing to support that content!

In readers' workshop, I have specific station set up (called, "Big Idea Station") where my kiddos can experience more of our content and big idea.  Our Big Idea Station is one of several stations set up in our classroom during guided reading.  You can read more about that set up here.   I have several things that I keep in this station to help my kids dig deeper into our content while I'm meeting with reading groups.

Close read information texts connected to our integrated big idea.  I love to use Scholastic Kids or Weekly Readers for this station.  The kids LOVE them, they are in full color AND they have a response page on the back to give them an opportunity to practice comprehension and writing skills.

Content sorts and activities.  In each of our units, I have content sorts for classifying and activities related to our big idea.  After we do each of these whole group in response to a read aloud, I add these to our big idea station as well.  They are easy to do independently or with partners.

Read alouds.  Each of our content read alouds go in this station (or our classroom library station) when we finish read them.  Students can independently read and retell the stories or buddy read with their partners.

4. Computer Lab

For some of us, computers are not always readily available.  But for others, an extra computer lab where you accompany your kids each week or daily are just part of the routine.  Why not use this time for content every now and then?

Here are a few websites that I love using for each of our units:
Unit 1, Rights and Responsibilities: Mr. Rogers, Build a Neighborhood Game
Unit 2, Human Body and Animals: San Diego Zoo Games, Body Organs Game
Unit 3, Fables and Economics: Fables Read Alouds
Unit 4, American Contributors: Inventors Game
Unit 5, Weather:  Young Meteorologist Game
Unit 6, Cinderella Around the World: PBS Kids Map Game, PBS Kids Culture Game

5.  Snack Time

One of the easiest ways I sneak in content is through youtube video clips on content during snack time.  Snack time is only 15-20 minutes in my room.  During that time, I can do a content read aloud, we can do a content sort that will go into our big idea station during readers' workshop or I can show a video that connects with the content we are learning.  Here are a few of my favorites.

Magic School Bus - they have episodes on animals, electricity, weather, human body, and sound (all things we cover in our units!)
Animal Atlas - they have videos on each animal group!
Animated Hero Classics - they have episodes related to our units on George Washington, Harriet Tubman, Thomas Edison, Ben Franklin, The Wright Brothers and so many more! (Some of the full episodes can be hard to find online, but you can get them on DVD if you are interested in them that way!)
Map Videos

6.  Science Lab

Last but not least, the best way to sneak in Science is to do experiments.  Reading and writing, websites and videos are great, but nothing can replace hands on experiments.  And they definitely deserve our attention and a place in our primary classrooms.  So how do we do it?  How do we make time for something we know is important for learning content and is a high engager for kids?  Here are a few of my suggestions I've tried in my own classroom.

Find one day a week (or bi-weekly) that you can reserve a 30 minute block for an experiment.  When I've done this in the past, it's been Fridays.  For two reasons.  One, we seem to be wrapping up a lot of things on Fridays or doing post-assessments and less big time teaching, like introducing new topics goes on.  This means, that I can shorten each block by a few minutes to carve out 30 minutes at the end of the day.  If nothing else, I shorten writing by just doing a quick journal write.  Because, we always do a science lab response page where my kiddos are having to write hypotheses, results and conclusions anyways, so it seems to work to shorten our writing time on lab days.

Use an extra science lab as a class reward.  I want to be clear on this one.  I do not endorse making your only lab times a reward time.  BUT, I always do some form of class rewards for my kiddos.  Sometimes, it's extra recess, sometimes it's a video time, and sometimes it's an extra science lab.  My kids always work super hard for this reward, because they love getting dirty with science! :)

Field trips.  In both districts I worked in, we were expected to take a certain number of field trips each year.  Our team worked hard to purposefully plan these field trips to line up with the content we were teaching at the time.  Live event learning is a buzz word in education in my neck of the woods.  Good, content driven field trips immerse our kids into our area of focus and provide them with a ton of hands on experiences and opportunities to learn from the experts.

Here are a few field trip suggestions for each of our units....
Unit 1, Rights and Responsibilities: bring in people from your school to talk about their responsibilities in our community, fire station
Unit 2, Human Body and Animals: petting zoo, local zoo, game and fish commission speakers, local state park rangers to speak on local animals
Unit 3, Fables and Economics: bank, bring in a guest speaker from a bank
Unit 4, American Contributors:  bring in local government speakers (like a mayor),
Unit 5, Weather: local news station tour, kids science museums usually have great exhibits for weather, bring in the local meteorologist
Unit 6, Cinderella Around the World: ballroom dancing instructors, someone to come speak on formal manners, local city museum to learn about our place in the world

You can find all 6 of these content units in my TPT store!

How do you find time to teach content in your primary classroom?


Math talks are a great way to engage kids in conversations about math.

They are as simple as talking to kids about math...so, what's the big deal? Why are math talks all the rage right now in the primary classroom?

Bang For Your Buck

Maybe it's just me, but, YA'LL!!  I'm stretched thin for time with my firsties.  And it keeps getting thinner every year it seems!  Math Talks are quick.  10 minutes or so in my first grade classroom.  Yet, when I do a math talk, I am addressing at least 5 of the 8 Standards for Math Practices.   Depending on the content for my math talk, I can easily hit 3-5 Common Core Math Standards in that 10 minutes as well.

With the precious little time I have with my little math minds, I want to be sure I'm getting the biggest bang for my buck.  Math Talks are perfect to squeeze in and make me feel like I'm spending my time wisely with meaningful content.

Enhance Your Math Block

Math Talks can be used in SO many ways to enhance my math block.

I've used them as a model lesson at the beginning of math workshop when we are doing partner math games as a way to give some content background before practicing a skill during game time.

I've modified our CGI share time and done a math talk instead.  When I do this, I take a story problem equation from that day and use it to do a math talk.  That way, I'm practicing the math within context (during story problem time) and outside of context using the equation only during our math talk.  This works really well when students have struggled with a new story problem type.

I've even used Math Talks as my entire math block by extending the length of it.  I don't recommend this all the time, but for math talks about shapes, measurement, or data/graphs, longer math talks can be really, really beneficial!

Fluency, Fluency, Fluency

Math Talks build confidence in my first graders.  And building confidence leads to fluency.  They are able to connect with and see other friends who think like they do.  And the power of adding kids' names to their strategy is a miracle worker!  6 year olds will do anything to be able to see their name on the board and "own" a strategy!

Besides the confidence boost, seeing strategies that are lower level strategies help build fluency in my on and above grade level math minds.  The more I have to explain something, the better I get at it.  So, the more I see a particular strategy, the faster I get at solving it.

Modeling Math Notation

Math Notation is simply writing equations to match a story problem or kids' thinking.

Which means that notation is the math version of spelling.  In writers' workshop, we ask kids to get an idea in their head, and then write what they say out loud.

If I can say it, I can write it.

If I've said that once in the last 11 years, I've said it 1,000 times!  Math notation is no different than spelling new words.  Whatever my math thinking is, I spell out as notation...in the same order I say it so that it matches my thinking.

Math Talks give kids the opportunity to say their strategy OUT LOUD for all of us to hear.  And that gives me, as the teacher, the perfect opportunity to record math notation to match their thinking.  Doing this out loud helps us model this process for kids so that when they are solving story problems independently, they can work through this same process on their own.  Just like practicing sounding out words as a class helps students spell more fluently on their own.  And, like spelling, kids' math notation isn't always perfect when they do it independently.  Math Talks give me the opportunity to model correct notation for my little math minds!


You can watch me model this ten frame math talk and how to notate kids' thinking here!

Beef Up the Math Toolbox

As we say down here in Arkansas....there's more than one way to skin a cat.  My preschooler is learning this big time right now--just not about math.  One of his morning chores is to make his bed.  And, depending on how he slept the night before, it can be a bit of a problem to get his sheets and quilt straight.  Right now, we are stuck in the "I can't do it!" phase.  You know, the one where he tries it the way he usually does it and it doesn't work???  Of course, momma doesn't accept that answer.  My answer is simply, "What else can you do?"

The same is true in math.  Sometimes, kids {and adults!} get in a rut of solving a problem the same way.  And then we are in for a rude awakening when our one strategy we've been using doesn't work for a math problem.  So, the question is, "What else can you do?"

Math Talks give kids the what else.  They add more tools to their math toolbox.  Then, when they are solving problems independently, they have more strategies to pull from to help solve their problem.  In math, we call this flexible thinking.  Flexible thinking starts off with just trying out new strategies.  And the better we get at being a flexible thinker, the more efficient we get at choosing a specific strategy to solve a specific problem for a specific reason.

How Did You Get Your Answer?

I ask this question so many times during a math talk I think I say it in my sleep now.  A good math talk is all about less is more.  In 10 minutes, I could solve several math equations in a workbook and basically just be a living robot.  But in a 10 minute math talk, I solve 1 or 2 math problems and spend more time talking about the how.

How did you get your answer?
Why did you choose that strategy?
How is this strategy different than yours?

Math Practice #3 says I can construct a viable argument and critique others.  Seriously, they should just add Math Talk at the end of that one!  Because that pretty much lays out the heart of Math Talks! So, why do I want to have kids tell me how?  Research shows that kids who spend more time on fewer problems and are asked to explain their thinking outperform their more traditionally taught peers (Adding it Up).  And it's not just a research theory.  I've seen this in my classroom.  Think about your kids.  The kids that can teach someone else how to do something are our top performing students.  So, why not include a routine that builds that culture in our classroom?

Real World Experience

Let's face it, Math Talks are a model for the real world.  As an adult, I'm constantly presented with a problem to solve and I have to come up with a solution for it.  Then, I have to defend my solution {to my boss, my husband, my principal, or maybe even just myself!}  And if my solution doesn't work, I have to have a big enough toolbox of strategies and solutions to find something else I can try.

That's real life.  And that's Math Talks.  Talking about math in our classroom is one of the best ways we can learn academics and prepare our kids for the real world all in one!

Watch these videos to learn more about math talks, including watching model lessons on dot images, ten frames, shapes and more!.  And find my math talks here:


I'm a CGI math junkie through and through.  You can read more about that here.  But it can be a struggle to get data from a CGI lesson, with all kinds of questions left unanswered, like...

How do I know if my kids successfully "got it" during our story problem time?  

How do I measure growth?  

How do I prove that my kids are actually learning...even if they don't get the right answer? 

Traditional grades don't work for CGI, so how do I tell parents how their kid is doing on math story problems?  

I am data girl.  I think in numbers.  So, I spent several years working on a system for collecting data for story problems.  Here's a look at my data collection system during my CGI time.

What Are CGI Anecdotal Records?

Anecdotal records for CGI are like running records in guided reading.  They give me a snapshot of a kid's math thinking on a particular day for a particular math story problem.

The record sheet I use...
*is organized by problem type...with a different sheet for each type of problem
*records the date and number sets I used for that day
*let's me write down which strategies I expect to see from kids for that problem type
*tells me who understands the problem and who doesn't
*tells me which kids used which strategy that day
*tells me which kids shared their thinking that day

Why Anecdotal Records?

Math story problems aren't one size fits all.  There are at least 14 different problem types, all kinds of variables depending on the number sets used, and even how we word our story problems is a variable.  So, the data collection for math story problems can't be a one size fits all either.  That's why I finally settled on anecdotal records.

Anecdotal records help me easily see who understands the story problem and who doesn't.

I simply write the names of my babies who have no understanding of the problem in the box under our number sets.  Then, this gives me a heads up on who I need to pull for small group intervention to work on story problem comprehension.

Anecdotal Records also help me see what strategies kids are using.  In my data records resource, I have left these gray boxes blank because I don't anticipate the same strategies for a problem type all year long.  Hopefully, as we grow throughout the year, our strategies grow too! :) I anticipate the strategies I expect to see kids use for this story problem type and record those in the gray boxes across the top from least sophisticated to most sophisticated strategies.

Anecdotal Records help me see patterns in a kid's thinking.  Is he using the same strategy each time we do this problem type? Or is she flexible in her strategies depending on the number sets? (I use an arrow to show flexibility within the same day like in the picture below):

How Do I Organize My Data?

A record sheet for each problem type can be a lot.  And by the end of the year, I have several pages for EACH problem type.  So, keeping everything organized is a must!

I keep my record sheets in a basic pocket folder.  It's nothing fancy, but it's the best system I've found in 11 years.  I keep blank pages and "unfinished" sheets on my "unfinished side."  The finished side is for...my data sheets that are all filled in.  Once I have more than one page for a problem type, I staple them together to stay a little more organized.
Here's an old picture with my old records sheets in my file folder with the index cards.  And excuse the privacy boxes! :)

I rotate which kids I conference with each day.
 There is no way I have time to adequately meet with every kid every day in a conference to interview them about their strategy!  If you do...kuddos to you!  But as a dear friend of mine says, "Ain't nobody got time for that!"  I wish I did.  I really do.  But the reality is I don't.  So at the beginning of the year, I do a basic story problem and I sort my kids into 3 piles: no understanding, some understanding/lower level thinking, higher level strategies.  This is very similar to what I do in writers' workshop...just with math!  Then, like in writing, I make 3 piles...each with 1/3 from each of the levels.  I want them to be mixed in levels so that I have time to meet with everyone.

Then, I write down my schedule on an index card with colored dots and staple it on one of my pockets.  The colored dots help me color code my records.  On the day I meet with my pink group, I record my data in pink.

This helps me remember who I met with last...because Lord knows I wouldn't remember it any other way! :)

I circle names of kids who share that day.  This is also just to help my feeble mind remember better!  If I'm not careful, and don't keep track, it's easy to have the same kids share each time.  By circling the names of kids I chose to share, it helps me vary kid strategies each day!

How Do I Use the Data from my Anecdotal Records?

I'm too busy to collect data I'm not gonna use...amen?!?!  I love being able to open up my folder and reflect on today's math problem, or a series of math problems from the same problem type!

I can pull intervention groups.  Kids who are constantly in my box under my number sets because they don't understand the problem type are my babies who need some extra small group attention.  And their names jump out at me after I have several days of records from a particular problem type.  I can also pull intervention groups for kids who are only direct modeling by ones.  In first grade, I want to see kids' strategies growing.  If I have kids who are "stuck" direct modeling every time, they need an extra small group push from me to help grow their math thinking!

I can decide what strategies I want my kids to move to next and how I will get them there.  In addition to looking at individual kids for intervention, I can see my class as a whole...and make some professional decisions just for my class' needs.

Are almost all of my kids not understanding the problem type?  Then, we need to work on this problem type again and I need to give more support when I launch the problem.

Are most of my kids direct modeling their thinking?  Then, I need to change my number types to make them uncomfortable and force them to try another strategy.

Are my kids direct modeling by tens and ones during story problem time, but I've seen flickers higher level, relational thinking during conferences?  Then, I need to plan some math talks to focus on notating thinking to give kids a bridge between base ten blocks and relational thinking.

And those are just a few, common examples I see in my own first grade classroom!

This system has worked well for me over the last several years and I am so so thankful for a way to record data that is meaningful for me and helps me track growth that I know my kids are making during our CGI math time! Grab the anecdotal record pages here!



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