One of the first things I struggled with when I began my science of reading journey a few years ago was how to adjust our schedule.

I knew there were parts of our balanced literacy block that were not science of reading aligned and had to go.  But what should that be replaced with?  My brain works in schedules.  I truly believe my brain is one giant Excel spreadsheet, lol.  Spreadsheets are my love language.

Okay, you get it.  But seriously.  Scheduling is how I make sense of my day to day world.  So, when a big shift happens in how I'm teaching--hey there, Science of Reading, I go straight to the schedule to process, and start changing.

Here's a peek at how my literacy block schedule shifted from balanced literacy to structured literacy.

Goodbye, Familiar Reading

Hello, morning work!

My day always started with familiar reading.  Kids came into the classroom, did their morning chores, and then sat down with their book tubs we called browsing boxes.  It had charts and leveled readers from guided reading that they would read and reread.

Now, let me be clear.  Rereading has it's place.  I believe in it.  We still do it.  But the problem was that part of what kids could choose to do when they finished early was read from their browsing boxes.  It was kinda the catch all.  

So our morning time was less quiet reading and more just faking it...or bopping a friend over the head with an abc chart...

Instead, we did morning tubs or phonics cut and paste activities for a skill we learned the day before.  These are my favorite phonics sorts and activities for morning work.

Goodbye, Calendar

Hello, Phonemic Awareness and Phonics!  

Truth time: Calendar wasn't completely gone.  When I was in kinder, we moved the calendar block to our math time.  In first grade, it became a quick morning meeting so we could take about our day and schedule... because, YES, my firsties had to endure my obsession with schedules! :)

Phonics wasn't new for me.  I had been doing some phonics work in small groups and a tad at the beginning of the year whole group.  But my big shift was making phonics systematic and a consistent block of time for our whole group.  You can read more about my weekly phonics routine here and find the digital curriculum I use here.

Phonemic awareness was COMPLETELY new to me.  I mean, we learned about it in college, but I had it in my mind that it was really more prek and kinder.  Not for first grade--and certainly not second grade!

I use Heggerty for my phonemic awareness curriculum.  It's quick.  We add TPR and hand motions to make it fun.  It's systematic.  And most of all, it WORKS!  So much so, that I've been using it with my 3 year olds to help with their speech and language delays at home.

Welcome Back, Read Alouds!

The one thing I missed so much is read alouds.  Every year, it seemed like I had less and less time to really read a book to my kids.  Sure, we read a chapter book together at the end of the day.  And I squeezed in a book here and there during transition.  

But a read aloud?  A real, genuine, read aloud where we talk about the book, and work on comprehension together and do some related activies?  That was missing because there just wasn't time.

And I told myself it was fine because they were getting some of that in guided reading.

But y'all, those leveled guided readers were NOT read aloud quality.

With structured literacy, we are focusing on oral comprehension in K-2 and that means READ ALOUDS!  I love using the same book for several days or an entire week with a different focus.  One of our focus days was always Tier 2 vocabulary.  You can read about those routines here and find a free sample of the lessons and activities I use here.

Our writing is now connected with our read aloud and oral comprehension work.  We write about what we read.  On vocabulary days, we write about our vocab words.  On retelling days, we write to retell a story.  

It's so much more connected to our learning and meaningful for our kids.  Not to mention, they know EXACTLY what to write about instead of trying to constantly come up with an idea to write about. :)

Goodbye, Guided Reading

This is such a HUGE shift, that it got its own blog post a while back.  So, if you want all the juicy details from an EX guided reading mega fan, the read here.

I also, go over in detail what I replaced it with.  Because small groups aren't going anywhere in my classroom.  I'm a firm believer in that.  We just had to work hard to figure out what that was going to look like.

And it looks more skill based, intervention focused, faster, and wayyyyyy more flexible.

Yes, I still do centers during small group time.  This is the bundle of centers I used for kindergarten.  (There are plenty of free samples linked in there for you to try out too!) 

I pulled small groups during this time, but also during our morning work time.  Because the skill groups are so focused and fast, it's easy to squeeze in a small group during any part of the day when kids are working independently.

The Actual Schedule

Here's a look at how it all comes together and what the differences look like...

In a spreadsheet, no less! :)

One of my favorite teacher things to do is curriculum unit planning.

Now, before you roll your eyes, close the tab and go back to Instagram Reels, don't panic.  And listen for just a minute.

I'm a planner.  I'm a control freak.  I like to know what's coming.  And I think that's exactly why as soon as I got a teaching job, I was planning out what curriculum units I might teach during my first year teaching first grade.

But it's not just about me.  Kids need structure and organization to their learning.  When we just teach a string of random lessons, it's less effective for kids because they are having to do all of the extra work on how to process and remember that random information.

When we organize the lessons into big ideas or units, it serves as a brain filing system for kids.  Now they know exactly how to organize their new learning and where to find it in their brain when they need it.  Think of it like a learning anchor... similar to anchor charts.

I know you may still have a racing heart and be ready to bolt, but writing units doesn't have to be that hard.  I have written over 100 units for Science, math, integrated literacy and content units, and Bible units.  

And I'm not gonna pretend like it's always a walk in the park, but there are 4 simple steps that I follow every time that makes curriculum unit planning simple, effective and FUN!  I promise you CAN do it.

(Psst.  Feeling stuck with the boring units your district has written for you or are included in your textbooks?  You can totally use this process to elevate the existing units and make it work even better for you and your students while still "following" the district outline.)

Write Your Big Idea

The first step is writing your big idea.  What's the big idea? 

See what I did there?  A big idea is the main understanding or take away that kids must understand by the end of the unit.  It's the umbrella.  It's the overarching idea.  

It's not just a student objective.  Instead of, "The students will be able to count to 120," it's, "Counting to 120 is useful."

Instead of, "The students will be able to read and comprehend CVC words," it's, "Authors write to tell stories."

Instead of, "The students will be able to name characteristics of birds," it's, "The survival needs of animals determine their characteristics."

The big idea zooms out a bit so that it can be connected to multiple topics, standards, objectives, and even subjects!

Still struggling with writing a big idea?  Here are a few tips...

  • Don't use TSW (The students will) like you learned in college for writing objectives.2
  • Write it like you are writing the topic sentence for an expository or opinion writing essay so that it has multiple supporting points available.
  • Brainstorm and list key words or phrases (like community, rights, responsibilities).  Then write a sentence using as many of those as possible (Individuals within a community share rights and responsibilities).

Our big idea was posted on a huge bulletin board in my first grade classroom.  This was one of my first bulletin boards I had made when I started teaching.  Because organizing the lessons for my kids was top priority.  

This is the first big idea board I had (so excuse the ancient picture).  I taught in an IB school so we were required to include some IB lingo with it.  But we made it work for us too! :)

Here is the next big idea board I used in a new school, new classroom.  With wayyyyy less bulletin board space.  I used the chalkboard to post our big idea quote on.

And when I homeschooled my second grader, I included our big idea in our learning space as well so we could constantly refer back to it and make connections.

Plan Your Essential Questions

Once you have your big idea, you are ready for your essential questions.  An essential question is just what it sounds like... a goal that is essential for kids to understand2 the big idea... in question form!

If we go back to the umbrella strategy, the essential questions (EQ) are the supports for the umbrella.

They still are NOT learning goals.  They are a little bigger.  And they must connect to the big idea.

A unit can have anywhere from 2-4 essential questions.  They can have more, but I find that keeping it to 2, 3 or 4 is much easier for the younger kids to manage.

If I go back to the big idea example I used from my first integrated unit, the big idea was, "Individuals in a community have rights and responsibilities."

The essential questions for this unit are...

  • What is a community?
  • What are my rights and responsibilities?
  • Who is part of our school community?
  • What makes our learning community successful?

Your essential questions need to be smaller in scope than your big idea, but bigger than an individual lesson.  Typically, we work on an essential question for a week or two.

And you may notice from the umbrella example above that the essential questions are listed in the order they will be taught and there is a natural progression of learning happening.

Sort Your Standards Into the Essential Questions

Now you will want to use your district's pacing guide or your own pacing to decide which standards fall under which essential question.

For this integrated social studies and literacy unit, I added the Social Studies standards for each essential question.  Then, I looked through our literacy standards for the first quarter and chose standards that would support the essential question and help develop those social studies ideas.

So, for the essential question, "Who is part of our school community?" I will add reading and writing standards for informational writing and reading.

Getting the standards set in place first ensures that I have my standards in mind when I am planning lessons.  Instead of just forcing the standards to fit into lessons I want to teach and possibly leaving out standards.


Set Your Daily Goals and Lessons

After writing your big idea, listing your essential questions and sorting your standards, you are ready for the "fun" part.  

Writing your goals, lessons, and activities.  When I'm in this initial unit planning phase, I am just listing the activities or goals or lessons that will help kids fulling answer and understand the essential question.

And, of course, tie back to the big idea.  

But I'm not writing detailed lesson scripts.  It's basically like I'm jotting notes down to myself so that when I get to that week and start planning, I'll remember what I was thinking and can elaborate then.

In our umbrella example, this is the raindrop phase of planning! :)  

And, no, there doesn't have to be exactly 3 activities for each essential question.  I just love symmetry, lol!

For our beginning of the year integrated unit, it would look some like this...

Now, I have my unit at a glance planned and I can add this plan to my lesson planning file or folder to have handy when I am planning.   Here's a FREE digital template in color and black and white for you to use to plan your curriculum unit.

This unit I used in my example can be found here and I've already done the detailed daily planning for you and included all the print and digital materials you need! :)

And if you need help pacing out your standards or just want to take a peek at what my entire year looks like, check out this first grade pacing guide that also comes with digital templates to make your own!

I love looking for fresh classroom decor ideas!  And a new back to school bulletin board is one of the easiest ways to make my classroom look new and fresh without a whole lot of effort.

Here are 3 of my favorite bulletin boards for back to school or any time of the school year!

Lego Bulletin Board

When my oldest was in 2nd grade, we homeschooled because....Covid.  And he was (and still is) obsessed with legos.  

So it only made sense to do a lego themed classroom and bulletin board.  This lego bulletin board was quick and easy to make and made a huge visual impact in our space!

I covered the bulletin board in black fabric.  Then I used Mega blocks and hot glued them around the edge of the bulletin.

After that, I used our board to attach all of our anchor charts as we made them.  It made the perfect learning board!  You can read more details about how I created our homeschool space here.

This bulletin board also worked great for adding some inspirational quotes as well!  Grab this set to make your own here.

Paintbrush Bulletin Board

Another one of my favorite back to school bulletin boards is this paintbrush bulletin board.  I made this bulletin for my preschool Sunday School class and it stayed up for several years because it looked so stinkin cute!  

I started with a black fabric background again because....easy! :)

Then, I got paint swatches for the border.  This was back when teachers were using paint swatches for all the things because they were free and super cute.  I think most paint stores figured out what was happening and don't offer them like this anymore.  But I have this border that I've also used that has the same effect!

Then, I made the paintbrush and added the lettering.  You can find detailed directions on how I made the paintbrush here.  I love how gigantic it is, but don't be scared.  It's really pretty easy and can be done in about 30 minutes or so.

I used this for my Christian education space, but this set of bulletin board letters comes with general education wording as well so it can be used in so many places!

Good Fruits Bulletin Board

This last bulletin board is another colorful and eye catching one!  It's another great back to school bulletin board and interactive too!

I love using this one as a Fruit of the Spirit bulletin board for Sunday School to encourage those traits. But it also works well in public school for character education because it comes with apples to add to the tree as kids are showing that good character trait or fruit.

You can find the set of bulletin board letters with 26 character traits included here.

You can get more details on how to make and use this bulletin board interactively in your classroom in this post.

Looking for an entire year of bulletin boards?  Check out this money saving bundle of bulletin boards for each month.  All 3 of the boards featured in this blog are included!

We've talked a lot about the science of reading around here the last few years.  And, specifically about small group instruction that aligns with the science of reading.

We've chatted about why we should use decodables in the classroom, how to use decodables, and how to assess your kids' decoding needs for small group instruction.

But what about non-fiction texts?  Is there a world where a good, non-fiction science text can be a decodable text?

YES!  Let's chat about decodable science readers and how to use them in the classroom!

What Are Decodable Science Readers?

Decodable science readers are exactly what they sound like.  A science passage or booklet that is also decodable.

The difference is that science readers often have academic vocabulary words like force or amphibians and those may not be decodable for the level of kids we are working with!

So, decodable science readers include vocabulary words instead of high-frequency words that show up in the text.  And each set of decodables comes with a vocab word list to practice reading before starting a text.

Decodable science readers are great for integrating literacy into science...especially during small groups!

Each set of science decodables focuses on a topic from the Next Gen Science standards for K-2.  And whichever grade level the topic is for, the decodable words are written for that end of year level.  For example, the Force and Motion set of decodables are written on an end of year kindergarten decoding level because the Force and Motion science standards are part of the kindergarten Next Gen Science standards.

Routines for Decodable Science Readers

Once we have learned our science vocabulary, we are ready to tackle the science passages or science readers.

For kids who struggled with the vocabulary words, I would use the passages with picture clues first.  These are made to give extra support for reading the vocabulary words.

They have simple pictures or symbols above the academic vocabulary words to help support reading fluency.  

The kids who are doing well with the vocabulary words can use the passages without vocab picture clues or the science readers.  In these passages and booklets, the science vocab words are bolded and underlined when they first appear... just like in a science textbook.

After we have read the text in our small group (or as a whole group!), we work on the comprehension questions.  These questions are not necessarily decodable, but intended to do as a teacher-led discussion!

Each set of these science of reading aligned decodables includes multiple books and passages on the same strand of Next Gen Science Standards.  Each book has a matching passage with and without vocabulary symbols. 

You can find the Force and Motion set shown in this post here.  And the full, K-2 bundle here.

Teacher appreciation week is just around the corner!  And because it's in Spring, I love giving flowers of some kind for Teacher appreciation.  Here are two of my favorite ways to gift flowers to teachers!

Teacher Appreciation Flower Gift

Pots of flowers are one of my favorite things to buy for myself in Spring.  And I love buying them for my mom and mother-in-law on Mother's Day and for teachers during Teacher appreciation week!

It's so easy you don't even need directions!  I just pick out a pot of flowers and add these grow tags on a wooden skewer and sign our kid's name on the back.  The one in this photo is also backed on green cardstock.

These are violas and are great for late fall or early spring in Arkansas.  For Mother's Day and Teacher Appreciation week around here I love to give pots of geraniums or impatiens because they are just so colorful and generally easy to take care of.

Teacher Appreciation Seeds Gift

I usually reserve the nice large pots of flowers for classroom teachers, but seed packets make a great small gift for teacher aids, specials teachers, or teammates! 

I grab 3 packs of seeds and tape them to a wooden skewer and put them in a small pot filled with dirt.  Then, I add the grow gift tags just like for the others and that's it!  This is an under $5 total gift that looks adorable and well thought out.

For seeds, I love to give at least one perennial packet with some annuals.  And I always look for ones that are super easy to start... like they can just be scattered in the flowerbed or pots and grow just fine.  Zinnias work great in pots and any wildflower mix looks great in larger flower beds.

Get the grow tags here and gift some spring flowers to your favorite teacher!

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