Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Get Word Study Up and Running

Some teachers have asked me to post charts or photos of the word study routines that other teachers have used while teaching with Words Their Way Resources.

Remember that before you begin your word study work, you will want to assess your students to determine their spelling stage.  You can use the Spelling Inventory in the back of the Words Their Way guidebook.

Then, you'll need to read about the activities appropriate for each stage and get the sorts or other materials to match those activities.  I think the teacher resource guides are the most helpful.  You'll want to be sure you get the right guide to match the stage(s) where your students need to work.  The stages are as follows (with links for the teacher guidebooks):

After that, you'll want to read about the work your children will do in this stage and decide on a 4-5 day word study routine for your class.  Marcella and her colleagues decided on the following routine for second grade students.  Most of the students were in the Letter Name Alphabetic Stage or the Within Word Pattern Stage.  This meant students could do more written recording in word study notebooks.  Photos from Marcella's room are featured below.

Marcella also made the shelf below with bins for each small group in her classroom.  Students have a notebook for recording their work, and a folder that holds baggies or envelopes with their sorts.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Video Tips for Parents

Parents may be wondering how to support kids with reading and writing.  I have shared some of my tips on NBC's Today Show.

Here are two video links to those segments:

Teachers’ tips for struggling students
  Statistics show that a child drops out of school every 11 seconds. Experts share advice on how you can keep your child interested in school at a young age.

This segment highlights some of the issues kids encounter in primary grades and tips for parents to support their children.  Here are a few of the tips:

1.  If your child says, "I don't like reading," it may be that we just have not found the right books for the child.  You can do the following things:

  • Find out your child's reading level by asking the teacher.  Find books on your child's level.  She may not like reading because the books in her hands are frustrating.  If you get her matched to books at her level, the frustration will lessen and the joy will increase.
  • Find out the topics your child loves and then search for texts about those topics at the library and bookstore.  Ask the librarian or specialist in the children's section at the store to help you find the right texts.
2.  If your child has trouble decoding or what appears to you as actually reading the words on the page, there are things you can say and do to support them.  Here are a few things:
  • Give some wait time.  Count to three or five in your mind.  Let the child read on to the end of the sentence.  They often will be bale to self-correct their own error.
  • If they do not notice their error or have trouble self-correcting it, you can ask, "What strategy can you try?"  or one of the following:
    • "What word would make sense here?"
    • "What word would sound right here?"
    • "Take a look at that part of the word." (point to a part that you think they may know)
3.  If your child has trouble with reading comprehension, meaning she can read all the words just fine but has trouble retelling the text or making inferences (how/why questions for example), here are a few things you can do:
  • Be a reading partner to your child.  Read some of the same books your child is reading.  Then, after your child finishes a chapter or a section of the text, ask her to retell it to you or as a few how or why questions.  You can use the questions below in any book to start up conversation.  Remember, you want to start a conversation, not give a multiple choice test about the book.
    • In fiction text, you can ask...
      • What just happened?
      • What do you think will happen next?  Why do you think that will happen?
      • How do you think the character feels?  Why do you think he feels that way?
    • In non-fiction text, you can ask...
      • What did you just learn?
      • What do you think about that?
      • How does that compare with the information you read about the topic in other texts?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Big Books and Small Copies for Emergent Readers

Teachers with emergent readers will want to do plenty of shared reading throughout the school year.  You may be searching for some big books at lower levels or examples of experience charts so students can practice the following concepts about print as well as level A and B reading behaviors:
  • Locating front and back cover.
  • Directionality.
  • Return sweep.
  • Difference between letter and word.
  • Difference between pictures and words.
  • 1 to 1 matching.
  • Locating known high frequency words in the text.
  • Using the picture and meaning to help problem solve tricky parts.
Pictured below is a basket of familiar shared reading in small copies for emergent readers to reread during reading workshop:

Pictured below is an example of a familiar experience chart for emergent readers to reread during a read around the room activity during reading workshop:

Here is a list of some favorite big books at level A and B (and some above those levels) and small books to match.

from The Wright Group
Huggles Breakfast (A)                  0780257065
Huggles Can Juggle (A)               0780257073
Huggles Goes Away (A)              0780257081
Dinner (A)                                     0780257049

The Bridge (B)                              0780293649
Mrs. Wishy Washy's Tub  (B)      1404520341***
After School (B)                           0780270193

Dan the Flying Man (C)                1404541470
A Child's Day (C)                         0780245296
A Day at School (C)                     0780245245
Going to School (C)                      0780245237

The Farm Concert (D)                                          
Mr. Grump (D)                             0322039118*
Shopping (D)                                0780245261
The Snow (D)                               078024527X

The Meanies Came to School (E)  0780224035
Splishy-Sploshy (E)                                  ***
Dishy Washy (E)                                      ***
Mrs. Wishy Washy (E)                             ***
Wishy Washy Day (E)                             ***
Fall  (E)                                         0780270177
Spring (E)                                     0780270223

Move Over! (F)                            0780294459
One Stormy Night  (F)                0780208706
Mud Walk (F)                                        ***
The Scrubbing Machine (F)                  ***

*This is sold with a Big Book, 6-pack of small books, cassette, poster and teaching guide.
***  The Mrs. Wishy Washy Collection is purchased as a collection of Big Books under one ISBN Number.

Big Books and Little Copies at level A and B from Heinemann
My Big Bear (lg) Getting Started Lap Book 0-325-01461-2 978-0-325-01461-6

My Family (lg) Getting Started Lap Book 0-325-01463-9 978-0-325-01463-0
My Family (4 pack) 0-325-02337-9 978-0-325-02337-3

Making Soup (lg) Getting Started Lap Book 0-325-01465-5 978-0-325-01465-4
Making Soup (4 pack) 0-325-02339-5 978-0-325-02339-7

The Baby Animals (lg) Getting Started Lap Book 0-325-01467-1 978-0-325-01467-8
The Baby Animals (4 pack) 0-325-02341-7  978-0-325-02341-0

At the Market (lg) Getting Started Lap Book 0-325-01469-8 978-0-325-01469-2
At the Market (4 pack) 0-325-02343-3  978-0-325-02343-4

Over the River (lg) Getting Started Lap Book 0-325-01471-X 978-0-325-01471-5
Over the River (4 pack) 0-325-02345-X 978-0-325-02345-8

Funny Things (lg) Getting Started Lap Book 0-325-01473-6 978-0-325-01473-9
Funny Things (4 pack) 0-325-02347-6 978-0-325-02347-2

Mouse (lg) Getting Started Lap Book 0-325-01475-2 978-0-325-01475-3
Mouse (4 pack) 0-325-02349-2 978-0-325-02349-6

Rex (lg) Getting Started Lap Book 0-325-01477-9 978-0-325-01477-7
Rex (4 pack) 0-325-02351-4 978-0-325-02351-9

Mop (lg) Getting Started Lap Book 0-325-01479-5 978-0-325-01479-1
Mop (4 pack) 0-325-02353-0 978-0-325-02353-3

Book Rooms

Many teachers wish to have every book for every unit of study within their grasp and within their closets in their rooms.  But, the reality is, budgets do not permit this.  However, if we share books with colleagues on our grades and among all the grade levels in our school, we can have all the books we need within our grasp at just the moment we need them.

Most schools create book rooms to organize and store materials that teachers can check out and return on an as needed basis.  Schools may decide to have a book room party on a few lunches or evenings to get the room started, label baskets, level books, and arrange shelving.  Then, it is often the case that coaches or a different grade level each month maintains the upkeep of the room.  Most schools also enlist the help of a few parent volunteers to sort and level new books and perhaps to even stop by classrooms to gather books that can go back into the book room.  Special thanks for this post go to coaches Gina and Belinda, as well as the administrators and teachers at OWNCS in Astoria, Queens for organizing this ever-evolving book room for us to see.

To get started, you may want to have some of the following sections:

  • Emergent Story Books
    • 8-10 copies of each title for each Kindergarten classroom.  The photo above is from the OWNCS book room.  The pink labeled baskets are the emergent story books.  This school has three kindergarten classrooms.  Each title has a basket and there are about 18-20 copies of each title.
  • Big Books and Small Copies to Match
  • Above:  The bog books and the corresponding small copies to match each book hang in a small area of the OWNCS book room.
  • Non-Fiction Books
    • Leveled non-fiction topic baskets.  Survey the kids to find out their interests and also shop for books that will match content area teaching.  Some popular baskets are transportation, bugs, sports, birds, sharks, trees, solar system, and human body.
    • The photo above from the OWNCS book room shows topic baskets and the levels for the books in the bin.
  • Character Club books for grades K-2 on levels A-N.
  • Above:  Three of the character bins at OWNCS in Astoria, Queens.  Note the main character as well as the level is labeled on the bucket.  This school has 3 classes on a grade and so coaches ordered 6-8 copies of each title in the bucket.  
    Above:  The character shelves of bins in the OWNCS book room.  Three of the bins are in the photo above, but this photo shows the variety of titles and characters spanning levels A-N for grades K-2.  
    • At least 2 copies of each title for each classroom that will be doing this unit at the same time.  For example, if you have 3 first grade classrooms studying in the character reading club reading unit, you'll want 6 copies of each title. 
  • Book Club Books for Grades 3-5 or 3-8
    • You will want to have books to match the genres and content areas you are teaching.  Some favorites at other schools include mystery, historical fiction, fantasy, science fiction, and social issues.  The shelf pictured above from OWNCS is just one of three whole book shelves devoted to book club books for the students in grades 3-5.  
  • Character focussed books for grades 3-5 or 3-8 on levels K-Z.
    • At least 2 copies of each title for each classroom that will be doing this unit at the same time.
    • Note:  You can use some of the lower level books for 3-5 students reading at lower levels.
  • Guided Reading books or short text to support readers as they make the move (with our support) from one level to the next.

For more support with Book Rooms and shopping for books see the following sources:

What Really Matters for Struggling Readers by Richard Allington

Units of Study for Teaching Reading by Lucy Calkins and Kathleen Tolan

Writing Tools

We all want our students to be independent writers and our kids will be independent if we give them access to the tools they need.  Many teachers use baskets like the ones pictured below to make sure the supplies students need are at their table and within easy reach.  Baskets like these keep the different tools organized and allow students to reach for them at tables rather than walking over to the writing center each time they need something.

Most importantly, kids need a tool to sketch their pictures and write their words.  I like the black flair pens pictured in the red cup on the right.  They allow for the following:
  • Kids to write without having to use a ton of pressure.
  • Kids to write without having to worry about a sharpening a pencil in the middle of writing time.
  • Kids to write without having to stop to erase.  Teachers who provide these pens teach students to cross out words or letters they do not want with one simple line and then to keep on going.
  • Teachers to see all of the children's approximations.  
Students who need color to support their drawing do need colored pencils or markers at their table.  You'll know that they need this support when you see what appears to be scribbles on the page.  Color in the drawing will help these students remember their story when then they reread their sketches and practice orally telling their story across the pages.  Many kindergarten teachers provide tools to add color on their tables but most first and second grade teachers provide these tools only as needed for some students. 

For more supports and advice about writing tools and representational drawing, see the following books:
Talking, Drawing, Writing by Horn and Giacobbe

About the Authors by Katie Wood Ray and Lisa Cleaveland

Launching the Writing Workshop by Calkins and Colleagues (part of the Units of Study in Primary Writing Workshop series)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Record Keeping

 We could say a lot about record keeping.  Here's the bare bones:

I think teachers want two things out of their record keeping format.

  • Teachers want to see each child's growth across time so they need to see not just this week's goals for a child and his/her progress but also his/her goals and progress across time.
  • Teachers want to see trends in their classroom to help plan minilessons and small groups so they need to be able to see the class as a whole.
And, some teachers like this little extra bit...
  • Some teachers like to have a little cheat sheet or list of possible compliments/teaching points on their record keeping sheets too.  You could carry prompts for each reading level or possible teaching points for each writing unit along side of your record keeping sheet, or these possible teaching points could be on your record keeping sheet.
Take a look at Maureen's record keeping notebook below.  She can see her whole class for this current week and all of the previous weeks.   

Look for more record keeping sheets soon!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Demo Writing for Small Moments

You are the best writer in the room!  The stories you model in front of your students are important.  They are watching your every move as a writer so be brave, be bold, and write!  Here are some tips:

  • Write yourself into the same predictable trouble as your students and then carefully, step by step, show them how you work out of that trouble and raise the quality of your writing.
  • Choose topics in which your students can relate to you.  I like writing about moments from my childhood.  Some of these moments are happy but some are not.  I also like writing moments from my life now that show me in a different or not so perfect light in front of my students.  I'll write about losing the laundry card (an urban living mishap), chasing a moth in our apartment, discovering that Oliver the dog was sick at Gina's house, or running in the rain because I had to have a special cupcake with my friend Ellen.  
  • As kids get older I tend to model for them how I search for not just any story idea, but stories that are significant to me and the other people in my life.
Here are some of the examples of the writing I keep with me to use in minilessons.  This is just a small sample of what is inside my folder and I encourage teachers to write more than one demo piece per unit so kids can see how you finish one story, move on to the next, and perhaps revise an older one.

"Lost and Found Watch"
This is a story about the time when I found my lost watch at the Pike's Place Fish Market at 6:00 am!  I sketched the story so I could teach the writers how to draw representational pictures to match my oral story.  I also use this piece to teach young writers that they can add dialogue in their oral story just by adding speech bubbles to the pictures.  I touch the bubbles when I say the dialogue in my oral story.

"I ran down to the market early in the morning where I thought I may have left my watch.  I asked the fish guy, 'Do you have my watch?  I think I left it here last night.  I caught a fish behind the counter and I think I took it off to wash my hands.'  The fish guy said, 'Yea, I think we have it.  Hang on.'"

The fish guy ran in the back of the market and talked to another guy.  I stood there in my dress and waited.  Then he came running out.  'Here you go,' he said as he held it up.  'Oh, thank you so much,' I said.  He dropped his shovel and brought it to me.

"I was so happy that I started to cry a little bit.  The fish guys brought me a dirty fish towel to wipe my tears away.  'Thanks' I said, as they wiped my tear.  I was so happy to have the watch back on my wrist."

You can also see a page of this same story that I used to teach kindergarten writers to use the ABC chart to add labels to their pictures.  I usually coach kids to label at least 5 things in their pictures so they get lots of practice using the ABC chart as a tool as well as what they learn in word study time.

"Single Scoop of Mint Chip"
I use this piece of writing to demonstrate some elaboration techniques such as slowing down the action, adding dialogue, and setting.  You will also notice I have done some revision on the run with students and bigger revisions with the strips.  I like the Revision Unit of Study book in the Primary Units of Study by Lucy Calkins.  The book in the series on revision was co-authored by Pat Bleichman and I think her story of writing in front of students is particularly powerful. 

See page two revisions with the strip below:

I also used this past page to demonstrate rereading and listening for places where a writer needs to use punctuation.

I also want to include demo writing from teachers on this blog.  Jolene is a second grade teacher who worked hard to support her students to write significant stories from their lives and imbue them with meaning using various elaboration techniques.  Bravo to Jolene and her colleagues Dimitra and Charles for writing in front of their students and in turn, raising the quality of the students' writing.  I can't wait to feature more of you!

"New Kid on the Block"


Paper Choices for Writing Workshop (Story booklets)

Teachers want to provide students with the paper choices they will need.  I suggest the following to support their growth as narrative writers:
  • Make booklets out of 3-5 sheets of paper stapled together.  This supports the kids to write stories with a beginning, middle, and end.  It also gives them a way to physically touch the pages, rehearse their story out loud, and envision their story on the pages.
  • Make a space for the name and date to go on the top.  You'll want to keep track of how many books your students write in a week AND if they go back to revise their stories.
  •   If your students currently draw and label their stories, you may want to give them paper with just one or two lines per page as this paper will support their growth as emergent writers.  Once students can label pictures with initial and final consonants, encourage them to write their stories on the lines too.

  •  Students can use more lines as they become more fluent and write more words.  As soon as you see a student filling up the two lines, encourage the 4 line paper.  As soon as they fill up the 4 line paper, encourage them to use the 8 or 11 line paper.

  • If your school uses Handwriting Without Tears, feel free to make  the lines match the same kind of lines your students use to practice the letter formation in handwriting time.
  • You will probably have a mix of these paper choices in the baskets at your writing center - perhaps a basket for each type so students can choose the paper that feels just right for them.
See pages 33-34 of  The Nuts and Bolts small book inside the Units of Study for Primary Writing Workshop by Lucy Calkins to answer more questions about paper choices in the primary writing workshop.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Designing a Meeting Area and Work Spaces

I hope to post lots of photos here of well designed classrooms where workshop teaching takes place.  I think you need the following things in order to support demonstration teaching, engaged learning, and independent work time with young students.

  • A meeting area with assigned spots for students to sit next to partners.
  • An easel to demonstrate reading and writing.
  • A schedule posted at the meeting area.
  • Tables and other clear work spaces for students to work beside other students.  For management purposes, I tend to think tables of 4 are best, but you may like tables of up to 6 students.
  • A writing center.
  • A place for each student to keep his/her reading like a book baggie in a table bin or a magazine box for each student lined up on a shelf.

Student Writing Samples

Teachers often ask me, "What are we expecting students to make as they write in this unit?"  Sometimes we all need a vision of what is possible and so the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP) has put student samples from various units of study up on the Project's website.

Here is a link:

Many TCRWP member schools also know about the narrative writing continuum on the website.  Schools have used this helpful tool to describe student progress to parents as well as assess student writing and plan for units of study across grades in a school.

Here is the link for this important tool:

Literacy in the Block Area: Pigeon Construction Company

This photo from a kindergarten classroom is the result of a collaboration between my teacher-friends Sara and Ellen.  You can see how this construction area would welcome any young builder.  They have some of the following tools available to kids so their play in this area is full of planning, revising, language, and cooperation:

  • Caution tape.
  • Blueprints.
  • Construction books.
  • A construction worker mentor in Pigeon from the Mo Williams books.
  • Blocks.
  • Sanding paper.
  • Construction tools safe for kindergarten students like hard hats, tape measures, and levelers.
  • Paper and pencils for planning and revising.

Writing Center Photos

An easy-to-use writing center is a vital part of an independent writing workshop.  You'll want to make sure kids can get to it from all the tables and areas in the classroom via a clear path.  The one pictured from Katie's room below has the following features:

  • Baskets of supplied for each table.
  • Sharpened and unsharpened pencil cups.
  • Flair pens.
  • Multiple paper choices for different learners.  Some have 2 lines, some have 4 lines, and some have 8 lines.  
  • A box for each table that holds the writing folders for students.
  • Supports like alphabet charts and mentor text.

    Sara's first grade writing center below has a folder bucket for each table as well as a cup holder for different kinds of supplies.  You can place pens, scissors, and revision strips and pens in most first grade classrooms (especially if kids learned how to use scissors, tape and revision strips in kindergarten).   You can also see Sara has her own bucket in the writing center.  This can hold samples of your own writing, your conferring notes, or perhaps some mentor text you want to carry around with you as you confer.  The paper choices are in the baskets on the top of the shelving unit.

    Launching the Writing Workshop

    You may be launching your writing workshops in September with a unit that invites students to write small moments or personal narratives like in the Units of Study series.  Read a sample minilesson from the Units of Study series by Lucy Calkins at this link:

    You can view some charts that other teachers made while teaching this unit to help their students carry on with independent writing as they confer.  Some of the charts remind kids of ways to plan their writing.  Other charts remind students of the writing process, and yet another one reminds students of all they learned in writing workshop the year before this school year.  Thanks for sharing Patty, Marcella, and Lucy!

    First Day of School Pictures

    My friend Ellen pointed out this NY times article and I am in love with all the first day of school pictures.  Flip through the slideshow yourself to see all the first day of school faces.

    Emergent Story Books in the Classroom Library

    "Read it again!" the kindergarten kids say.  We read these familiar titles over and over again in the fall of kindergarten so kids strengthen their reading muscles before they begin to read conventionally.  Following the research of Elizabeth Sulzby, we put the books out in the classroom library after repeated readings so kids can read them during reading workshop.

    Click on the following links to learn more about Elizabeth Sulzby:

    For her bio

    For part of her research, click on this page and scroll down to the section, Children's Concepts of Literacy

    The pictures below show some ways that a few kindergarten teachers have made the Emergent Story Books (a.k.a. Star Books or Old Favorites) easily accessible to their students for book shopping and independent reading.

    Classroom Library Photos

    These are some of my favorite pictures of classroom libraries in Kindergarten, First Grade, and Second Grade Classrooms.

    This Second Grade Library from Marcella's classroom has many sections.  One section has baskets just for leveled books.  The baskets are colorful and well labeled.  In addition each basket is not too full so students can flip through books with ease and find the titles they love.  A few books from familiar series are in the leveled bins but you can also see a separate series section in this section grade library.  I like this because kids can get to know lots of different books in a leveled bin and then, if they find a series they love, they can move to that basket and read all the books in that series.

    The Kindergarten Classroom Library pictured below from Sara's classroom has sections for non-fiction topics, authors students love, as well as leveled books and emergent story books.  Notice how the leveled library reflects the needs of the students at the time.  In this particular classroom there are many students reading at F&P level C.  You will see there are two of the bins of these books on the shelf.  In time, the bins will change to reflect the growing readers in the classroom.

    Katie's classroom library features a leveled section.  Her school uses a dot system to represent the levels. I also really love the way she has organized her baskets.  They are roomy so little hands can dig in and browse.  She has many kids reading green dot books at the time of this photo so she has 2 bins containing books of that level.  


    She also has familiar character books grouped together on top of the leveled shelf.  In the picture below you can also see the way Katie has categorized her other topic bins as well as nonfiction bins.  I salute her for separating the giant category of "Science" books and "Animal" books.  Her kids can now shop with confidence in specific nonfiction interest bins. 

    Note:  You can level the books that are in these buckets so kids can shop for leveled books within their specific interests as well as the leveled library.