Writing is one of those subjects in lower elementary where there isn't a lot of guidance other than our writing standards.  In the classroom, I'm constantly trying to figure out the best way to improve my first graders' writing...without a real district curriculum to follow.

Thanks to the science of reading, we've learned that tying writing to reading with reading response is best practice.

But still, when I stare at my first graders' writing all I can see are more things we need to work on.  So, how do you choose what to focus on for your writing mini-lesson?  How do you decide what skill to attack first?  Or what skills are worth your time?

Let's chat about how I used our writing rubrics to guide our writing lesson topics.

Sequencing Writing Skills

I don't have a specific scope and sequence for teaching writing skills because it really just depends on my kids.  

But, in general, I start the beginning of the year working on mechanics.  We are literally writing one or two sentences over and over and mastering capitals, punctuation, spacing, handwriting, and sounding out words.

We make this anchor chart together and do a LOT of silly sentence writing!

We use our writing checklist rubrics for this part so that kids are constantly going back and "editing" to make sure their mechanics are on grade level with our checklist writing paper.

Once we have our mechanics down, we move to different types of writing and begin using our writing rubrics.  Our district tells us which order to teach writing types in, but most often we start with informative writing.

Again, there is no hard or fast rule on sequence, but I generally work on the content section of our rubric after our first few weeks of mechanics work.  Then, we work on language and sentence formation as needed.

Prioritizing Missing Writing Skills

Let's get down to the nitty gritty.  When I am planning our writing lessons, I have the rubric out for the writing genre we are working on.  

We start working on content so we can learn the characteristics of a particular writing genre.  I literally go through that checklist in the "3" or on grade level column and make sure we work through that together.  

So, the first day, I might introduce the entire structure of the paragraph.  Then, another day, we may really focus on introduction sentences or supporting facts for informative writing.   

At the beginning, I don't show the entire rubric to the kids.  I just show them the area we are working on, like content.

These mini-rubrics have the same checklists and wordings as the big rubric, but they just focus on one area so that it's less overwhelming for the kids.  When we are farther into learning a writing genre, I pull out the entire rubric so kids are familiar with it and can use it to check their own writing.

As I'm planning, I'm thinking about what most of my kids are struggling with on the rubric.  And that becomes our focus for writing that day or week.

Peer Editing

As you may have guessed, we use the small rubrics for one area to peer edit or self-check the kids' writing.  I have the kids check their own writing alone or with a peer and fill out a mini-rubric slip to attach to their writing. 

Then, I call them back a few at a time to check with them.  I fill out the same slip in a colored pen so that they (and parents) can see the difference in how the student assessed his/her writing and how I did and if we agreed or disagreed.

It is SUPER important for kids to be involved in evaluating their writing from even the first week or school.  It helps kids understand expectations, helps them look for and correct their own mistakes, and it can be a powerful tool to guide our writing lessons if we let it!

You can find the writing rubrics I use, including the checklists, writing paper, and mini-rubrics here.

Christmas is my SECOND favorite holiday. (Thanksgiving girl all the way right here, y'all!)  And I love learning and celebrating Christmas in the classroom, too!  Here are 3 of my favorite ways to learn and celebrate Christmas in the classroom.

Christmas Around the World

I remember when I was an elementary school kid and we learned about Christmas traditions around the world.  It's one of my fondest memories as a student and one of my favorite things to teach as a teacher!

My favorite way to teach this is with my team.  We each take on a country and then rotate our kids through our classrooms.  Some years, we did a "Christmas around the world" rotation every afternoon until we rotated through all of them.  Other years, we took 2 days and all we did was rotate through Christmas tradition classrooms. 

The kids LOVE learning about how different people celebrate similar holidays differently.  And I love helping them see how the United States is really just a melting pot of so many older traditions!

The best part about Christmas around the world is that it's not fluff.  At least in Arkansas, these lessons tie in nicely with our state social studies standards in learning about traditions, holidays, and customs around the world! #winning

You can read more about how we do Christmas around the world in this blog post!

Pancakes, Pajamas, & Polar Express

It's not Christmas in the classroom without a Christmas (or Winter) party!  Our first grade winter party was my favorite all year.  And it alliterates which makes it even better!! :)  Pancakes, PJs, and Polar Express!

If you haven't tried a breakfast party at Christmas, you are missing out.  Truth bomb:  Kids come to school on party day jacked up and ready for the party at the end of the day.  Reigning them in until the party is a next-to-impossible feat.

That's why a Christmas breakfast party is so genius.  Kids came to school in their pajamas and got to "party" right away.  I (and some parent volunteers) made pancakes for our Christmas breakfast party with all the fun toppings. My favorite is building Rudolph pancakes together!

And while we called this a "breakfast party," we also ended the day with hot chocolate and the Polar Express movie.  You can read all the details for this party in this blog post.

The Christmas Story

As a Christian teacher, nothing beats being able to teach my kids the REAL meaning of Christmas.  Of course, this is a no-no in public schools where I taught for 10 years.

But it is an absolute HIGHLIGHT in my preschool Sunday School class.  Preschoolers are one of my favorite ages because they are so literal, hilarious, and help remind you that play is the key to learning.

Each Christmas, we bring out the kids play nativity set to play and "rehearse" the birth of Jesus Christ. 

We play games.  We make Christmas sensory bins.  We make ornaments.  But most importantly, we talk about Jesus' birth and what it means to us all during our play and exploration.  You can find all these activities here and read more about the lessons in this blog post.

Christmas and crafts are almost synonymous.  I love making Christmas crafts with my kids at home and my school babies.  But the Christmas crafts serve a purpose--gifts for parents or gifts for teachers or church volunteers!  Read to find out 3 easy Christmas gifts I make with kids every year!

No Bake Gingerbread Ornaments

A teacher friend of mine introduced me to no bake gingerbread ornaments years ago and I've made them every year since.

In the classroom, we start these a week or two before Christmas break.  They take a few days to dry and make the room smell so super yummy!  We make the dough together and then I call back kids one at a time to cut out their gingerbread man.  Then, I write their name on the wax paper next to their ornament and we leave them out to dry and fill our room with Christmas smells!

We also make these with our kids at home the day after Thanksgiving.  And they make our kitchen smell just as yummy.  We've made these at home for 10 years and every year I keep one gingerbread ornament for our kitchen tree.  Even the very first gingerbread ornament we made still smells delicious a decade later!

You can read all the detailed steps and get the recipe for these in this no bake gingerbread ornaments blog post.

Rudolph Ornaments

Can I be honest with you?  Handprint ornaments are cute, but I'm a sucker for a craft made with wooden sticks.  That's why I love these Rudolph ornaments so much!

This one is a piece of cake for my first graders...almost.  The pipe cleaner antlers take some help for some kids with not as strong fine motor kids.  But I always have a handful of kids that are really good at twisting the antlers and walk around and help the others!

I also get premade red ribbons for the girls if they want them! :)  You can find the detailed step by step directions on this ornament in this wooden reindeer ornament blog post.

Christmas Potpourri Jars

We have about a bazillion and one people to give Christmas gifts to in our family.  Okay, I'm kidding.  Kinda.

But by the time we add up school teachers, OT/PT/ST therapists, church teachers for all the kids... it adds up!  And I don't know about you, but this momma can't afford a $20 gift basket for each one.

That's why we make Christmas potpourri jars every year for my own kids' teachers and volunteers. 

My mom has made this basic Christmas potpourri recipe since I was little.  I don't remember a Christmas without smelling stove top potpourri.  I put some on the stove starting the day after Thanksgiving when we decorate for Christmas, and every year, without fault, that smell takes me back to my childhood Christmases.  Isn't it amazing how smells do that?

When I was looking for a cheap, but thoughtful Christmas gift to give out in mass, I knew I needed to find a way to bottle up my Momma's Christmas potpourri.

I used her same basic recipe and added a few green twigs of pine or rosemary to make it prettier and every single year these gifts are a hit!  And with all the homemade Christmas candies that get exchanged each year, I love being able to give a smell!

Get the recipe and ideas for how I've packaged it over the years in this Christmas Potpourri blog post.

Painted Presents

Last, but definitely not least are painted presents.  We started this family tradition when my oldest was 3 years old and have continued it since then. I'm not big into buying Christmas cards for everyone, so this is our way of making "cards" for our family at Christmas.

I wrap all of our Christmas gifts in brown kraft paper and write names on the gifts in sharpie.  Then, once I have the gifts ready, we spend a family night painting.

We brainstorm Christmas pictures that we could paint to help the younger kids.  Then, we grab a box and get to painting.  We all paint--even Mom and Dad!  Every year I'm floored with how perfect they turn out.

For my 4 year olds, we are still doing handprint art on their boxes, but they will hopefully be able to paint on their own in the next year or two.

The grandparents LOVE this so much and keep all of their artwork from each year.  My kids talk about this every year now, and I hope it's a unique Christmas gift tradition that they always remember! You can see more closeups of presents we did a few years ago in this brown paper painted packages post.

What preschool or kindergartner doesn't love playing with cars?  Especially boys!  My 4 year old preschoolers LOVE driving our hot wheels All. Over. The. House.  So, I knew they would love doing this force and motion kindergarten science lab with me this week!  

This is a great science lab for teaching kids about cause and effect, force and motion, and helping them critically think about what they are doing!  Plus, this kindergarten OR preschool science experiment is the easiest prep...  I'm all about simple right now, so I bet you already have everything you need to do this lab right away!

This post may contain affiliate links to outside resources.  By using these affiliate links to purchase your materials, you are supporting this little corner of cyberspace, my family....and my Diet Dr. Pepper additction! :)

Materials & Prep

For this force and motion kindergarten science lab, you will need...

To prep this kindergarten OR preschool science experiment, you will need to tape the colored papers together in rainbow order as a race track.  I taped mine together on the short edge to make our track longer.

Science Lab Steps

First, we set out the rainbow race track.  My unicorn and rainbow-loving girl LOVED this part! :)

Next, we lined up a car.  I asked, "What do we need to do to race our car?"  

"PUSH IT!"  

I reinforced, "Yes, we have to push the car if we want it to move."  Then, I told one of them to move the car.  

We cheered for the car and then recorded how far our car traveled.

Then, I let the other twin have a turn.  And I asked her the same questions about how to move the car.  We cheered for the car and then recorded how far our car traveled.  (We used the same car for both kids so there would be no confusion that maybe one car is faster.)

Again, we cheered for the car and then recorded how far our car traveled that time.

Then, I asked, "Which car moved the farthest?  Why do you think it did?"  I was trying to get them to see that a bigger push moves the car farther.

Finally, I asked, "What can we do to make this car move even farther?"  We try one more time and record how far our car traveled!

Teaching Points

Once all of the races are finished, we talk together about why are cars moved, what made them move farther, not as far, etc.  

The main idea I'm trying to get my preschoolers or kindergarteners to understand is...

An object needs a force in order to move.  OR  An object cannot move without force.

In a kindergarten class, this force and motion science experiment can be done whole group, or you can start whole group and then have groups test out races with partners.  It's definitely a flexible science activity for kindergarten or preschool!

You can find this experiment and much more in this Force and Motion Kindergarten Science unit that is aligned with the Next Gen Science Standards!

I get questions and DMs all the time about lesson plans for small groups.   For teachers (like me), that "grew up" teaching small groups, it's part of our DNA.  Yet, we know now that guided reading is not the way. 

Over the last several years, I've dedicated this space to sharing why I said goodbye to guided reading.  And then, sharing how I set up small groups that aligned with the science of reading.  If you haven't read those posts, and want more background, go read those now and then come back!  We will wait for ya! :)

Today, let's talk about what makes a good, research based reading group lesson plan.  From start to finish.  We will talk about lesson planning a decoding-focused small group, choosing materials for the lesson, and what the actual lesson looks like!  And most importantly, it will be familiar enough for us small group loving teachers, but still aligned to the science of reading.

Assessing and Placing Kids In Small Groups

I'm not going to go into lots of detail about how I assess kids since I spill ALLLLLL the details on that in this blog post, but I will say that for decoding focused groups, I use these decoding screeners to help me decide who needs to work on what decoding skill! 

When I'm finished assessing decoding levels at the beginning of the year, I keep this record to update throughout the year.

Our decodable reader sets have checkups at the end of each set that I use as formative assessments in between our benchmark assessments at the beginnning, middle and end of the year. As kids master a decoding skill, I update our record sheet.

The record sheet is how I group my kids.  I write down the lowest decoding level for each kid and group them in this folder accordingly.

(The teams I've taught with in the past have worked together to combine groups as needed so that none of us has more than 4-5 groups.  For example, if I only have 2 CVC kids, and my partner teacher has 4, I will give her my 2 CVC kids and that frees up a group for me to take some extra CVCe kids or whatever.  Maybe I'll blog about that process in the future.... let me know if you'd be more interested in hearing about all of this!)

Focused Lesson Planning for Small Groups

Once we have our groups organized, we are ready to plan the lessons.  

The first thing I do is write down the focus sound we need to work on and the title of the book or passage I will be using.  In case it's not clear yet, I do NOT used leveled readers.  Period.  I only use decodable texts.  These decodable readers to be specific.  

Warning: Some texts are labeled "decodable" and far from it.  In order to be a true decodable, the majority of words should be words that are currently or previously have been taught.  The scope and sequence of the decodables should align with the science of reading.  And the books should actually be interesting!  That's exactly why I created these K-2 decodables.

Once I have my decodable text planned, I start honing in on each of the 4 parts of a decoding small group reading lesson plan: Activate, Preview, Read, and Retell.

Let's take a closer look at each one of them.

Decodable Small Group Lesson Plan: Activate

The first part of a decoding small group lesson is activate.  The purpose is to review or teach the focus sound of the text.  In this kindergarten reading lesson plan example, we are focusing on the short o sound in CVC words.  I chose some words to practice blending.  These will be 3-5 words that come straight from the text we will read.  For this example, I chose the words pin, cop, top, pot, and pops

Pin should be a review word because these kids have already mastered short i.  They have already learned the letter sounds for the consonants p, n, c, t, and s, so the only new sound should be /o/.

There are all kinds of ways to blend the words, so I will write how I plan to blend them as well.  A few blending practice ideas that I use are...

  • Use magnetic letters to build and blend each word.  
  • Have students write each word on dry erase boards and blend.
  • Write the word on your dry erase board and have students use their arm to tap and blend the sounds.
  • Use pencil boxes with sand in them to let kids write the word in sand and blend.

There are obviously more ways, but these are my favorite and go to ideas.  For this lesson, we will build and blend each word because it will be one of their first exposures to this new sound.  I love using these word building mats to help us.

The last part of activating is scanning the text for vocabulary words.  I will list out any words I think we need to talk about their meaning.  My kindergarten reading lesson plan example does not have any vocab words so we will skip this part, but for this 2nd grade decodable reader, I wrote down the words fetch and hutch.  We will quickly go over what these mean and I will have a photo of a hutch to help teach that word!

The activate section should take about 5-10 minutes depending on the number of words and how use choose to activate!

Decodable Small Group Lesson Plan: Preview

Back in our guided reading days, this part was called the "Picture Walk."  But previewing is slightly different.  In a guided reading picture walk you are basically giving away the story so that the kids know how to guess and read based on the pictures.

A preview is not about guessing.  It's about building some background knowledge to support comprehension of the text. 

In our kindergarten reading lesson plan example, I will show kids the cover and say, this book is called, Pop! Pop!  It is about things that make a popping sound.  What kinds of things do you know about that can pop?  

We will list out things that can pop.  Then, I will say, "Let's read to find out what pops in this book."  In this way, we have given them a preview of what's to come in the book without giving it away AND given them a purpose to read the book.

This preview and purpose section is VERY short.  Like 2-3 minutes. Max.  Don't spend too much time here so that you can get to the real meat of the lesson...

Decodable Small Group Lesson Plan: Read

Now that we have activated their decoding skills, previewed the book and given kids a purpose for reading, we are ready to READ!

This part of the lesson depends on your kids.  If it is a review, you may want them to just read independently and listen in to individual kids to record how they are reading the decodable book. 

If it is a brand new skill, you may want to read together!  However you choose to read, I like to give us time to read it at least 3 times to give them rereading practice.  

For my kindergarten reading lesson plan example, we will choral read together one time and then I will let them read independently the next 2 times.  For my 2nd grade reading lesson plan example, they will read it twice independently and then we will read it together to review.

As they are reading independently, I like to listen in and record how kids are reading and decoding.  This is just an informal way to check in with kids, track our interventions for RTI purposes, and share with parents or other colleagues on how a kid is doing.

The reading part of the lesson can take anywhere from 5-10 minutes depending on the length of the book.

Decodable Small Group Lesson Plan: Retell

Once we have read the book 3 times, we are ready to focus on comprehension.  Full disclosure, most of the time we stop here for the day and come back to this part the next day.  It just depends on how long it takes to get through the lesson.  I like to keep small group lessons 20 minutes or less.  If we are under 20 minutes and I really just want to quickly do the retelling, we will just orally go through the steps and be done.

But, if we've already been working for 20 minutes, I save the retell part for the next meeting time.  At that point, I will have kids jump in and start independently reading the decodable text right away for 5 minutes or so as a review and then we will move into retelling.

I start by planning a language or comprehension goal.  For this 2nd grade reading lesson plan example, we will be practicing retelling using key details. 

Our focus question is, "What key detail is most important from the beginning/middle/end of the story?"

We will use one of the retelling graphic organizers from this small group planning resource and fill this out together!

Retelling orally can take 3-5 minutes.  But if we work on writing the retelling with a graphic organizer and go more in depth, it will take 15-20 minutes and need to be done as a follow up lesson.

A Few Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use this same reading lesson plan format for whole group reading lessons?

Yes!  This lesson structure works great for whole group when teaching on grade level decoding skills and texts.  It may take a little longer, and could actually be stretched out across several days, but I have used this very successfully in kindergarten and first grade.  You can read more about my whole group decodable routines for the week here.

Where do you store the materials and plans to stay organized?

The decodable books are stored in tubs with labels for each skill set.

I also keep a binder that has the current weeks lesson(s) for each group.  I use these color-coded tabs to correlate with the color group they are in on my groups folder. In each tab pocket, I keep the lesson plan and book for that group.

How do you have time to write multiple lesson plans each week for multiple groups?

I don't! Ha!  It's more work in the beginning, but as you go, you will reuse the lessons over and over.  The key is to keep the lesson plan copy after you write it and put it in a small group lesson plan folder.  Use tabs to organize them by the skill.  

The next time you are needing to use that same book or skill, you will already have a lesson plan ready to go!  And if you are blessed like I have been to work with a great team, you can have a grade level binder of lesson plans that everyone is filling up and you will be shocked how fast you can get dozens of small group lessons ready to pull and teach!

Where can I find the resources used in these lessons?

All of the lesson plan templates, teacher organization tools and graphic organizers are in this small group planning resource.

You can shop all of the decodable texts here.  You can find a decodable reader that focuses on any phonics skill from kinder to second grade--from letter sounds to greek and latin roots!

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