Saturday, January 28, 2017

Teaching With an Animals in Winter Theme - Differentiated, Leveled Instruction and a FREEBIE!

Hello Friends!! Can you believe that it is almost February??? It always amazes me how quickly the year goes after winter break! We have been working on a series of blog posts that provides you with ideas for differentiating your instruction around common winter themes in the classroom. Stay tuned at the end of this post to check out our previous posts and get the FREEBIES!!!

This will be our last post in our winter series as we begin to gear up for spring. We are going to dive into differentiating instruction while teaching about animals in winter.  Make sure to grab the FREEBIE at the end of this post :)

So, how do we go about differentiating instruction while teaching about animals in winter? The first thing we like to do is identify the cores we will be focusing on. Here are some cores that fit well with the texts that we have chosen:

RL 2- Retelling
RL 5- Story Structure
RL 6- Point of view
RI 9- Comparing and Contrasting

You could certainly do any core that works best with the texts that you have chosen, however, we like to try and incorporate a mix of literature and informational cores.

The two stories that we found, and love, are The Mitten by Jan Brett and Winter Lullaby by Barbara Seuling. The Mitten is, of course, a tried and true favorite. It is the perfect story to use to practice retelling because of its specific sequence. We like to introduce it whole group and map out a retell on an anchor. Winter Lullaby is a great way to introduce hibernation, migration and adaptation. It's a great way to introduce that vocabulary in a whole group setting. As you move onto small group, it will be easier to solidify that vocabulary. Our whole group lessons with these texts would focus on literature cores. We would look at the sequence of the story and the point of view of the characters in The Mitten. We would also being to compare animals in Winter Lullaby ,which will lend itself well to the informational core of comparing and contrasting.

As we move into small group instruction, we really begin to differentiate and reinforce strategies and vocabulary from the whole group lessons. For small group we like to use Animals in Winter, click HERE to get. This passage comes leveled at six different levels, A-I. This is an easy way to differentiate the text by making sure that all students are reading at their instructional level. As you guide students through their passage, they will be practicing the vocabulary introduced in the whole group lessons and using their knowledge from those lessons to apply with the passages. Students can also begin to compare animals that migrate, hibernate and adapt.

To continue to reinforce your instruction, students can independently work on leveled quick reads. These Winter themed quick reads, click HERE to get, have 5 short passages that are leveled A-I. Again, this allows students to work at their independent level on important skills from your whole group and small group lessons. Students continue to use the vocabulary and strategies they have been learning to independently make connections, infer, analyze and draw conclusions from the quick reads.

By layering your instruction, and differentiating the levels at which students are able to learn, it allows all students to feel successful. Now that they have practiced skills in three different forms of instruction they are ready to apply their knowledge.

As an independent practice activity, students can use this FREEBIE to demonstrate their knowledge of what animals do in the winter. There are two versions included. One allows for students to cut and paste pictures of the animals and the second allows students to write the animals names. Again, this allows you to differentiate for the different levels of learners you may have in your classroom. Click HERE to pick up your FREEBIE!!

By layering your instruction you are allowing your students to learn and practice the content in multiple ways. This allows students multiple opportunities to learn and practice the cores you have selected and demonstrate their knowledge of those cores.

We hope that this has sparked ideas about how you can layer and differentiate the instruction in your classroom! Click the pictures below to check out more ideas for layering and differentiating your instruction as well as to grab the FREEBIES! :)



Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Tuesday's Teaching Tip - Conferring Notes Debbie Miller Style

Hey teachers!  Do you do conferring with your students during independent reading time?  Have you found a note taking method that works for you?  When I started conferring, I tried all kinds of ways to keep the notes....notebooks, clipboards, sticky notes.  There are so many ways you can keep the notes and just need to find the one that works for you.  Being a H.U.G.E. Debbie Miller fan, I was curious how she did it.  In her book Teaching with Intention, she explains that she uses little memo books to keep her student's conferring notes in.  She uses one book per student.

That's a great idea! They are easy to hold in your hand, easy to carry around, easy to take home to reflect on or to take to a meeting about a student.  No more flipping through notebook pages or dividers to get to a student's notes.  Just grab and go!  Now that's my kind of note taking.  It is especially handy for my job, since I am off to intervention meetings about students 3 or 4 times a week.  LOVE it!  So, if you are conferring and not happy with your note taking, give Debbie's idea a try.  It might just be the thing you've been looking for.

Happy Teaching!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Teaching with a Seal Theme - Differentiated, Leveled Instruction and a Freebie!

Hi friends! Today, we wanted to share with you some ideas that will, hopefully, help you when designing and delivering differentiated instruction. We have been writing this series of posts for the last few Sunday's with the hopes that we can help ease some of the stress that comes along with layering instruction while teaching common themes in your classroom. With each post, we have been offering a craftivity FREEBIE! Stay tuned at the end of this post to find all of these FREEBIES!

Seals my not be a common, stand alone, theme in your classroom but it's a great one! It also fits well with any arctic animal units! Finding literature texts about seals is not the easiest task. We have found that using this theme works best when studying informational text.

Here are some cores that we think would fit well into this theme:

RI 1 - Asking and answering questions about a text
RI 2 - Identifying the main topic of a text or paragraph
RI 4 - Identifying the meaning of words and phrases
RI 6 - Identifying main purpose of a text

Let's begin with whole group instruction. We found this awesome text by Joan Hewett called A Harbor Seal Pup Grows Up. This is a great text to introduce your concept, whichever core you are focusing on. This text has great photographs! It's about a seal pup who is rescued and taken care of before released back into the wild. It has great vocabulary in it such as mammal, examines, pup and rescued. This text is mainly focused on what the pup needs to grow healthy, which makes it an easy way for students to identify the main idea and details to support it. The reason we like this text is because it is simple enough for young readers to easily understand but, contains enough information that you can pull a few different cores to focus on. Once you have taught the main concept or cores, it's important to support this learning in reading, or small, group instruction.

This passage is from our Polar Animals Leveled Passages bundle, but you can all purchase it individually. It is called Seals in the Sea and it comes in six different levels from A-I. Since these are leveled, it makes it easy to differentiate the levels students are working at! This is a great way to support your students in building background knowledge of seals. By adding to their schema, they will be able to focus on more difficult concepts, such as identifying the main idea. Another reason we like to use passages in groups is because we are able to highlight the main idea in one color and the supporting details in another. The main idea of this passage is about all about seals. They are mammals, they have hair, they have blubber, they eat fish, etc. It is written in a way that it is easy for kiddos to ask questions, answer questions and identify the main idea, purpose and key details. By using leveled passages, you can be sure that your students are working at their instructional level while still supporting your main instructional content for the week.

Finally, to allow students to demonstrate their learning, we have included a FREEBIE. This FREEBIE has two versions. Students can write down the main idea and supporting details or, for a simpler version, students can just write down different facts they've learned. You could do this at the end of the week, as a way for students to demonstrate what they've learned. Or, you could have them use the leveled passages, at their independent level, and have them work in partners or independently, to show what they have learned. We have found that when students are able to create a hands-on item to demonstrate their learning they are more successful in retaining it. Click HERE to grab this Seal Fact Spinner FREEBIE!

Hopefully this helps you, or at least gets your brain spinning, on different ways to layer and differentiate your instruction. To check our our previous posts and grab those FREEBIES, click the pictures below.



We hope this helps you in teaching your seals, or arctic animals, theme! Have a great week!! :)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Five for Friday!

Happy Friday friends! I hope that you all have been having a great week! What better way to kick off the weekend then with a Five for Friday linky??? Thanks to Doodle Bugs Teaching for hosting!

Seriously, Barnes and Nobles just gets me! I have a slight obsession with sharks. EVERY time I walk into Barnes and Noble they have some awesome shark finds! The game is my favorite! I could stay in that store forever!!

Have you checked out our latest blog series? We really wanted to share ideas on how to coordinate all areas of your reading instruction and layer them so that students are getting multiple exposure points to your topics. Plus, with each one we give away a FREEBIE! Yay! Click HERE to check out our latest post on owls. :)

This year we have been having STEM Fridays. I have been giving the kiddos a challenge to complete and discuss. They LOVE it! I have really enjoyed watching their thinking and dialogue stretch. They love sharing their ideas and helping each other figure out how to solve each challenge. It's pretty fantastic! This challenge came from Brooke Brown's January STEM Pack.


This week we have been focusing on MLK but we have also been working on using our inferring skills to discuss character's feelings and reactions in a story. I HAVE to recommend these stories! They are both set during segregation and they both talk about how the characters LOVE the library. It's a great way to talk about segregation, character response and reaction as well as text to text connections. 

This week we finally posted our Fairy Tales Leveled Passages Set! This has been a long time coming for us. There are five different fairy tales included. Each fairy tale comes leveled a - i. Click HERE or on the picture to check them out.

I hope that you all have a wonderful and restful weekend!! :)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Tuesday's Teaching Tip - Making Conferring Work

Wouldn’t it be great if you could sit down with all of the wonderful experts in reading and get quick tips from them?  While we can’t sit down personally with the likes of Richard Allington, Debbie Miller, Kathy Collins, Lucy Calkins…and all the other great teachers, we can share tips from their many books and conferences.  That’s what Tuesday’s Tips are about this year and we hope they give you some great ideas from the experts.

Today’s tip is from Kathy Collins in her book Growing Readers. Do you use conferring as part of your reader’s workshop?  It can get crazy trying to manage it at times and to ensure that your teaching points don’t get loosey goosey, right?  Two of the most prevalent problems we deal with are letting the conference go too long so we don’t get to all of our students in a timely manner, and making sure that our teaching point is targeted and intentional.  Kathy’s conferring steps helped me to keep conferences humming along smoothly and effectively when I was starting out, and we hope they will help you, too. 

Step 1:  No more than 3 – 5 minutes long. Set a timer if you need to.  You should meet with all of your students once a week and more often for your struggling readers.

Step 2:  Sit alongside the student and glance at your notes from last time.

Step 3:  Observe the student as she reads. Jot down what she already can do, and the very next thing that she needs to work on.

Step 4:  Compliment the student on what she is doing well.

Step 5:  Tell the student a quick strategy or skill that she needs to work on.  Model it for her, then watch as she tries it. 

Step 6:  Restate the teaching point and remind her to use the strategy or skill from now on.

Kathy also suggests that when choosing the teaching point, it can be overwhelming to observe students for what they can’t yet do.  Instead, start by observing what they can do and it will be easier to choose the very next step from there. 

Want to read more from the amazing Kathy Collins?  We highly recommend her book Growing Readers.  It’s available on Amazon. 

Happy Teaching!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Teaching Reading with a Owl Theme- Differentiated, Leveled Instruction with a FREEBIE!

Hey friends! We have been working on a series of blog posts that focuses on providing ideas that will help you teach differentiated and leveled instruction to your students. We also make sure to include a FREEBIE! Gotta love that! At the end of this post, I will link up the other posts in this series.

Now, let's get down to business!

Our goal with this post is to provide you whole group teaching ideas, differentiated for all your learners. Guided practice in guided reading to support your whole group content, as well as, independent comprehension practice that students can complete when not in group.

Let's start with whole group.

When teaching about Owls, we have provided some text ideas that allow you to incorporate literature and informational cores. Many use Owl Moon by Jane Yolen already, talk about a great text! We also found The Barn Owl by Tony Johnston. Have you read it? It's a great text about barn owls who live in a barn and shares what their habits are. A great way to introduce another type of owl! We also found a great informational read, Owls By Mary R. Dunn. This is a Pebble Plus book. The words are a great level for firsties and lower second graders. The vocabulary is perfect to go along with the vocabulary you will be teaching in guided reading.

So you may be asking...what cores do you teach with this? could really do a lot but here are some ideas...

RI and RL 1 - Asking questions
RI and RL 2 - Identify the main topic/main idea and key details 
RI 4 - Determine the meaning of words and phrases in a grade level text on a relevant topic or subject.
RI 6 - Distiguish between information provided by pictures…and information provided by words in a text.  Identify the main purpose of a text, including what the author wants to answer, explain, or describe. 
RI 7 - Use illustrations and details in texts to describe its key ideas.  Explain how specific images contribute to and clarify a text.
RL 9 - Comparing and Contrasting two texts

When you use a content theme, such as owls, it not only works to teach whatever core you may be focusing on at that time, but also adds to the students schema and helps build their vocabulary. These are two HUGE tools they will need when reading independently or working on other content in your classroom. 

In my classroom, I use Owl Moon to practicing retelling and inferencing. It also lends itself well to teaching about word choice and creating mental images. I like to use the informational texts to focus on main idea and key details.

So know that you've been focused on teaching about owls, it's important to support that learning in guided reading.

These are leveled passages. This is from our Polar Animals passage bundle but they are also available individually  They start at level A and progress in difficulty to level H/I. What does this mean for you? You can make one set of vocabulary cards, one set of sight word practice cards and then enough passages for each level and your groups are DONE! Snowy Owls will reinforce your instruction of owls and will also build the students schema by adding an additional type of owl.  The vocabulary included in this passage will lend itself well to the vocabulary you will be teaching whole group about owls. It also allows you provide an additional layer of support for your strugglers who benefit from hearing and reading content multiple times.

Here's how I break it down, to teach this passage for the week.

Monday: Activate schema/ Intro, review and highlight vocabulary in the text.
Tuesday: Read and discuss. Pull out important facts.
Wednesday: Text dependent questions 
Thursday: Fluency practice reads
Friday: Vocabulary exit slip/Partner read and discuss

Each day we review the vocabulary and the sight words. We will play games with the vocabulary and sight word cards. Then at the end of the week the students take the passage home and share it with their families. This is a great way to keep families connected AND, specifically for our demographic, provides them with something they are able to read at home. 

To continue to support my students' understanding of owls and to keep them practicing the vocabulary, I introduce leveled quick read cards for independent practice. 

Leveled quick read cards are also leveled A- I. I assign levels to students, to match their independent reading level. Since they have been focusing on vocabulary in whole group and small groups, they are easily able to read it independently in the quick reads. I put the quick reads on rings and put them into my comprehension tub for reading center time. Students keep the response booklet in their reading folder. Quick reads are a set of five short passages, all on one topic. For this week, our Owls Quick Reads are the perfect way to once again support the content of your week. Students are using a variety of skills such as analyzing, retelling, and inferring to respond to these short passages. I have my students read one a day and complete one response page. For these, I make sure to assign them to quick reads that are at their independent level. This way I know that they are able to access the text when working independently. 

Owls is such a diverse topic, with so many great texts available, that you could really use it as a vehicle to teach any standard. We wanted to make sure to include a FREEBIE that allows for you to have students apply their learning in whatever way you deem appropriate to support your teaching.

You could have students write the facts that they have learned, retell a story, ask and answer questions about owls, etc. The ideas are endless. Click HERE or on the picture to get this cutie! We hope that this will help your students share their learning!

Hopefully you found some of our ideas helpful when teaching about owls! We want to make sure to support and provide ideas for your differentiated and leveled instruction! Click on the pictures below to check out our previous posts and to get some great FREEBIES!


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Tuesday's Teaching Tip - Debbie Miller's Literacy Attendance Idea

Don't you just love all of the great literacy resources available from the amazing teacher experts?  If we haven't said it enough, (but pretty sure we have), Debbie Miller is the best and one of our favorites!  Here is another wonderful idea from her.  It is called "Literacy Attendance."  If you've ever seen any of the videos of Debbie in action, you know that she has the kindest, most welcoming way with her students. Starting the day with Literacy Attendance, gets that great feeling going first thing each day, and helps Debbie gain information about her students, and her students to widen their understanding of their own learning. 

So what is it? Instead of checking off the attendance list, or quickly clicking through attendance on the computer, Debbie gathers her students on the carpet and uses attendance to invite them to share an example of their learning from home.  First, she teaches students the ways we learn things at home, like counting out silverware for setting the table, reading the cereal box in the morning, reading at night, having a dream and writing a story based on it...and so much more.  She teaches them that they should share the important learning stuff, and that they each won't always be sharing every day. Then, as she reads the names of her students for attendance, the students have an opportunity to share something they learned at home.  Just think of the possibilities!

Why does she do it?  It sets the tone for the day.  It gives her insight into the children's thinking about their learning, their support at home, and their comfort level and skill at communicating their thoughts and ideas. It also helps the students understand that learning isn't something that happens just at school. It happens everywhere!  Debbie and the children get all of these benefits in about 5 minutes of sharing a day.  Now, isn't that a great idea?  

If you'd like to know more, to see it in action, and to hear Debbie explain it herself, check out her video "Literacy Attendance" at, and excerpts on YouTube.  

Happy teaching!