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!

I used to HATE the nonsense word fluency portion of the DIBELS assessment.  Like HATE it.  I thought it was pointless.  Afterall, I didn't care if my kids could read nonsense words.  

I wanted them reading REAL words!

But then, my science of reading journey hit me across the forehead again with another big learning AHA!  

Nonsense words are the building blocks of multisyllabic words.  

Let me say it a different way: Words with more than one syllable often are built by putting two or more nonsense one-syllable words together.

Like COMPUTER.  This word is built with 3 nonsense words.

COM-PU-TER.  So, if we want kids reading longer words, they need lots of practice reading short, nonsense words.

My absolute favorite way to practice decoding both real and nonsense words is playing the Word Chunks Game.

What You'll Need

This word work game is super low prep.  All I need is onset and rime cards and a way to record the words.  This can be as simple as writing sound chunks you are teaching on sticky notes and using dry erase boards to record words.

Or, you can use these premade word building cards that include all of the phonics sounds from short vowels and blends to vowel teams and diphthongs. All I have to do is laminate the onset and rime cards and store them in a bag.  I love using the different themed word building cards each month to make the game fresh and new for the kids!

Once you have the game prepped, you are ready to play this game with kids no matter what their decoding level!  Each of the word chunks game sets are differentiated into short vowel words, CVCe and ending blend words, and vowel combo words.  All sets include consonants and blends and digraphs as the onsets. 

Just grab the bag with the skill cards your kids need to work on and you are ready to play!

How To Play The Word Chunks Game

Lay out the headers "real" and "wacky" words and talk to kids about what this means.  After decoding each word, they will need to determine if the word is a real word or not.

Then, make a pile of the onset words and the rime word cards.  Kids will take turns turning over one of each to build the word.

(NOTE: I put an orange dot on the back of my rime cards so I could easily sort the cards into onsets and rimes)

Once the kid builds the new word, they will decide if the word is real or wacky and move the word card under the correct header.

Then, they will write their word on the recording sheet under the correct header.

You play as long or as short as time allows.  When time is up, the person with the most REAL words wins!

More Word Work Practice

If your kids need more word building practice, there are 3 premade sorts included in each month of the Word Chunks Game.  And they are themed for the month and match the levels included for each game set!

Use the sorts for independent practice, sub plans, morning work, and more!  You can find the October Word Chunks Game here or get the bundle for a huge discount here.

Do you have kids that are struggling decoding CVC words?  Do they know their letters and sounds, but they just can't seem to put it all together to read words with short vowels?  

Kids must have multiple exposures to words in multiple contexts to map words and read them with automaticity.  So, it's helpful to have multiple interventions in our toolkit to help kids decode.

Today, we're chatting about my favorite--Science of Reading aligned--ways to help your kids learn to decode simple CVC short vowel words.

The Blending Slide

Phonemic awareness is the foundation of decoding.  Without being able to blend and segment sounds kids hear, it is next to impossible to blend and segment even the simplest words.

Let's start with one of my favorites: The Blending Slide.  I start this routine whole group from week 1.

I chant, 

Slide, slide, slippety slide.

I say the sounds.

YOU make it glide!

/c/ /a/ /t/

I touch my shoulder, elbow, and hand as I say each sound.  Then, without saying anything else, I slide my hand down my arm from shoulder to hand and the kids blend the sound.

As I'm touching each sound on my arm and blending, they are touching their arms in the same way at the same time.  This Total Physical Response is crucial to helping kids solidify their learning.

The sliding arm is MAGIC!  We use it for just phonemic awareness (sounds only).  And we use it as we begin reading.  And I see those little arms pop out all the time while they are practicing reading.  Especially for my tactile learners.  It is a HUGE built-in manipulative and support for them.  And when they reach automaticity, that arm no longer is needed!

Segmenting on Arms

At the same time we are working on blending, we are also working on segmenting with a chant called, "Break It Down."

I start this routine whole group from week 1 also.  I snap to the beat and chant,

Break it down (snap)

Break it down (snap)

Break. It. (snap) Down. (snap)

I say the word,

YOU say the sounds.


Then, we all stick our arm out in front of us.  We use our other arm to touch our shoulder, elbow, and hand while saying each of the sounds we hear in the word CAT.

/c/ /a/ /t/, CAT!

When we say the word at the end, we slide our hand all the way down our arm as we blend our word. You can read more about how I use the Break It Down and Slide Chants for reading intervention here.

Don't skip this practice, y'all.

Let me say it louder for the teachers in the back:  DON'T SKIP PHONEMIC AWARENESS.

Especially for intervention, the Science of Reading tells us it's super important that kids have opportunities to blend sounds together without having to think about the letter-sound correlation.  Don't worry, we are about to talk about connecting it to letters.... that's the end goal after all, right?

Connect It To Letters

In addition to manipulating sounds, we know from the science of reading research that kids should also be connecting their blending and segmenting skills to letters--and as soon as possible!  Sometimes, that comes immediately after manipulating sounds by asking, "And what letter makes that sound?"  

And sometimes it's a stand-alone phonics lesson.

This can be as simple as writing a CVC word on the board and having kids hold out their arms to say and blend the sounds.  

Another way I like to do this is by using magnetiles.  I love this intervention because I can use it for decoding CVC words all the way up to multisyllabic words (read those details here).

No matter how we connect it to letters, I have found that continuing to use the arm as a manipulative to blend the sounds helps kids tremendously!

Making Words

Decoding one word at a time using dry erase boards or magnetiles is perfect for kids starting to decode.

Once kids' decoding skills are increasing and they are in need of LOTS of decoding repetition, we move to making words.  Making words gives us the chance to manipulate and decode more words in a short amount of time so the focus is on automaticity and fluency!

If we do this whole group, I use dry erase markers to speed up the gathering materials process!

But for intervention groups, I still love using magnetic letters and the tactile learning it adds.

Making words is a word building game that makes phonics practice more like a puzzle so the kids are hooked from the first word!  You can read more about how I use this intervention in this post.

And you can find the premade lessons and mats that I use here.

Decodable Texts

Once kids are getting faster and more automatic with making words, they are ready to read in context.  For these kiddos, decodable texts are the ONLY way to go!

I LOVE giving kids authentic ways to practice decoding as soon as they are ready!  These decodable texts give kids passages and booklets to practice CVC short vowel words, but with silly stories that will entertain your kids!

Find decodable word lists, passages, booklets, and checkups for CVC words here!

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