Sunday, January 16, 2022

Organizing and Storing Small Group Materials

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Organizing and Storing Small Group Materials | Apples to Applique

I love hands-on activities for my students, especially for small groups and independent practice. It takes a lot of time to print, cut, and laminate activities, but it's worth it if I can keep them to reuse in future years. However, as I made and accumulated more activities, I quickly realized I needed a system to keep all of those materials organized. I love an organized classroom; clutter stresses me out and I hate wasting planning time digging through things.

I didn't want to use hanging files for my small group activities because most of them had smaller pieces that I also wanted to keep with it. For example, I had a weighing station that called for things like glue sticks, dominoes, and other classroom items for students to put in a scale. I wanted to be able to keep all of those things together so I could grab it and it would be ready to go.

Boxes take up too much space, especially if they are large enough to hold student worksheets, and they can get expensive.

These pocket file folders are perfect! They are large enough to hold manipulatives, cards, etc. while also storing any accompanying worksheets.

Organizing and Storing Small Group Materials | Apples to Applique

I put student worksheets in a folder, which goes inside the pocket file, so everything is together. I store the file folders in crates on shelves, but you could put them in a file cabinet. 

Organizing and Storing Small Group Materials | Apples to Applique

Whenever I'm needing students to practice a specific skill, I just look through the files and see what I already have prepped. It saves so much time and I love having tried-and-true activities at the ready.

Until next time, keep teaching with heart and passion!

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Teaching Young Students About Martin Luther King Jr.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on my  links, I receive a small commission at no cost to you! Thanks for your support!

Nobel Foundation, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

As I was prepping lessons for next week, I was planning to spend a few days talking about Martin Luther King, Jr. I turned to the corresponding page in my social studies curriculum and was sorely disappointed to see four short sentences, two of which were discussing how people commemorate MLK Day by having parades and closing schools. That left two sentences discussing the life and work of Dr. King. Even more disappointing, they glossed over the Civil Rights movement, simply stating that Dr. King worked for equal rights for all. There was not even a mention of for whom he was advocating; no discussion of segregation or the Black community.

I understand the thought of not going too in-depth with these heavy subjects with early elementary students, but I was deeply saddened by this casual approach. I fully believe young learners can, and should, engage with deep content. Here's how I approach this in my classroom.

Allow Time

Deeper subjects like this cannot be rushed. This isn't a lesson to throw in that random 10-minute slot you have before recess. Early in my teaching career, I did not allow enough time, and my students were in a place of somber processing as I was trying to get them out the door for lunch; it wasn't good for anyone. Carve out some time so you can approach this in a purposeful manner.

Use Quality Literature

Read alouds are one of the best ways to introduce children to historical figures and events. Take the time to fully read through the books first, selecting books that give sufficient facts and details. I also highly recommend books that have rich illustrations or photographs.

My all-time favorite is Martin's Big Words by Doreen Rappaport. This book is perfect for initiating conversations with students. It keeps things simple enough for K-2 students without ignoring or glossing over the difficult details, and incorporates many quotes from Dr. King.

Another wonderful book is Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Dream and You by Carole Boston Weatherford. I use this as a follow-up book, because it really doesn't give details about Dr. King's life, but it helps the students make connections to their own lives, seeing ways they can make a difference.

Cultivate Empathy

Take time to focus on social-emotional skills. Have conversations about how you would feel if you didn't have the same rights as others. Ask students to truly think about how they would feel if they were treated differently from others, such as if they could only go certain restaurants or drink from certain water fountains. Carry these conversations forward into areas of kindness and equality in the classroom, at recess, and in your community.

Answer the Difficult Questions

As you discuss topics like segregation, children will have big, difficult questions, and they deserve to hear honest answers to those questions. Give straightforward, non-biased facts. You'll be surprised at how well your students accept these facts and want to move forward to create a brighter future; I am always impressed with their insight.

Avoid Trivializing Activities 

Those of you who have read my blog for some time know that I am a huge advocate of teaching through play. However, this is a time when that is simply not appropriate. Do not attempt activities like assigning kids a race and role-playing segregation in your classroom (I can't believe I even have to write this, but every year there are news stories of teachers doing things just like this). I personally even avoid things like color-by-code pictures of historical figures like Dr. King, which is my own preference, because I feel like there are more meaningful ways to approach such subjects. I tell my students it is a serious topic and that we are going to have a serious discussion and they usually rise to the occasion; they love feeling trusted to have such conversations.

Through approaches like these, you can help your students engage purposefully with important historical content, laying a solid foundation for them to be critical thinkers as they begin to learn more about the complexities of history and society.

Keep teaching with heart and passion!

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Classroom Management: 5 Steps for Regrouping After Winter Break

Hello, Teacher Friends! I hope you've had a restful break and didn't spend the entire time grading or planning. 

As we come back together after a break and holidays, it is a great time to work on regrouping and refocusing your class for the second half of the school year. I don't know about you, but my class of firsties became a little dysregulated during the last part of December, between the tedium of middle of the year testing and excitement over holidays. Getting everyone back on track in January is going to take some work, but it can be done! I've got five steps that I've learned to follow over the last ten years in the classroom.

1. Expectations, Expectations, Expectations

Of course, every teacher has heard to spend time after a break revisiting expectations. There's a reason this advice is so often repeated--because it's necessary. Don't feel guilty if you get to very little actual curriculum the first week or so after coming back; the time you spend reestablishing procedures will more than be made up.

2. Rethink and Reflect

This is also an ideal time to rethink expectations for yourself, not just your students. Do a little reflection: what is working well in your classroom, and what would you like to change? Are there new procedures you would like to implement? This is the time to do it! Talk to colleagues about what works well for them, read internet articles, and try something new to address specific challenges in your classroom.

3. Involve Students

Every teacher has also heard the strategy of involving students in coming up with social contracts, class rules, etc. If you have already done this with your class this year, revisiting it in January is an excellent idea. The social contract strategy has had varying levels of success for me, depending on the class. However, I had a conversation with a colleague recently about some specifics to implement with this approach that are game changers. First, make sure every student buys in. When discussing expectations, if even one student thinks they cannot meet that expectation successfully, don't add it to the class contract. Explain to them that you want them to feel successful in the expectations they create. Second, after creating your contract, frequently check in with your students--not just when they are misbehaving. Throughout the day, do a whole-class check in, during lessons or after transitions, having kids show you a thumbs up, sideways thumb, or thumbs down, to self-assess how well they are personally doing with following the expectations. (Have them do this in front of their chest rather than with their hands up high, so that other kids can't see their responses). Talk them through what they need to do to reach a thumbs up. I love the level of accountability this gives students while helping them learn to self-reflect.

4. Be Sensitive

Be a safe landing place for them to return to after break; for many kids, school is their safe place and they dread extended breaks. Not all students had an exciting break filled with lavish gifts and experiences, so be mindful of this when facilitating discussions or giving writing assignments about their favorite Christmas gifts. Returning to normalcy as soon as possible will help these students be more successful.

5. Foster Relationships

A large part of successful classroom management comes down to relationships. Take some time this week to foster relationships with your students and between your students. Talk to them, give them time to talk to one another. When students know you genuinely care about them, and your classroom is a true community or family, they are much more likely to do their best and work well together.

Of course, no classroom management plan is a complete fail-safe, but I hope these tips are helpful to your classroom as we embark on 2022!

Keep teaching with heart and passion!

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Sound Wall | Science of Reading

Sound Wall - Science of Reading | Apples to Applique

I've been busy making the shift to the science of reading this summer, from prepping task cards with Elkonin boxes to adapting sight word resources to align with the heart words strategy. I knew there was one more resource I needed to prepare before the new school year started: a sound wall! The science of reading suggests that sound walls are more useful to students than word walls, as students reference the phonemes and corresponding graphemes.

There are various sound walls out there, but my favorites have real photographs of people articulating sounds. It was important to me that my sound wall have these photographs, and that these photographs feature diverse people.


Sound Wall - Science of Reading | Apples to Applique

The included grapheme cards also include photographs of familiar objects for each sound, to assist students in using the wall as a reference for their reading and writing.

Sound Wall - Science of Reading | Apples to Applique

These pictures show the completed vowel and consonant displays with all of the grapheme cards, but I wouldn't recommend starting the display with all of the cards; it would be far too overwhelming for students. Build the display a little at a time as you introduce the phonemes and graphemes to your class. This will familiarize them with the display and better enable them to use it in a meaningful manner.

I hope you are as excited as I am to implement more researched-based reading instruction in your  classroom! You can get a copy of this sound wall here in my store or here in my TPT shop.

Keep teaching with heart and passion!


Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Shifting from Sight Words to Heart Words


Shifting from Sight Words to Heart Words | Apples to Applique
I mentioned in my last post that I am taking time this summer to really delve into the science of reading, making plans to adapt my instruction this fall to better reflect what research shows about how children learn to read. 

One big shift when aligning instruction with the science of reading is in the area of sight words or high frequency words. Many of us have been told that these words are not decodable and that students simply need to memorize them, leading to well-intentioned drilling with flash cards, fun activities like rainbow writing, and other strategies that are only quasi-helpful. These things work fine for higher learners, but they typically leave struggling readers floundering.

Enter heart words! This shift is based on the premise that the majority of high frequency words are, actually, largely decodable. For example, the words and, big, in and many others are completely decodable, following phonics rules without any deviation. Students can simply apply letter-sound correspondence to decode these words, which takes so much pressure off of kids trying to memorize these words in isolation.

Many other high frequency words, such as have and said, are largely decodable, as most of the letters actually follow the letter-sound rules that students have already been taught. This means that they only have to really memorize the irregular part of the word, which significantly cuts down on the memorization students have to do, and simultaneously helps them learn to rely on the letter-sound correspondence they have learned.

Shifting from Sight Words to Heart Words | Apples to Applique

For example, analyzing the word said, there are 3 phonemes: /s/, /e/, /d/. The /s/ and /d/ are both easily decodable, as they are represented by the letters s and d, respectfully, just as students have been taught. That means there is only one phoneme left for students to memorize, which is the /e/. In the word said, the /e/ is represented by the letters ai; as this does not follow any phonics rule, it is marked with a heart. These letters are the ones students need to learn by heart, hence the term "heart words".

The good news is that shifting from the idea of sight words to heart words is easy! You can use whatever sight word list you are already using or is required by your district. My district uses Fry's, and I am required to keep track of how many sight words each student knows each quarter. I have an entire system I designed for use in my classroom which helps students track their own progress and facilitates communication with families. I believe it is a good system, but I knew the implementation needed updated to reflect science of reading principles.

Shifting from Sight Words to Heart Words | Apples to Applique

Adapting instruction is simple! The system is already set up to send home a sheet of flash cards with students at their individual paces. Now, I will utilize small group time to have students mark the heart words on their flash cards before sending them home. I could mark the words myself before making copies, but I want the students to mark the letters themselves as we discuss it to help them cement that knowledge. 

Shifting from Sight Words to Heart Words | Apples to Applique


Another component of my classroom system is having students check out a class set of flash cards; on these, which are laminated, I will have students mark them with dry erase markers. Again, this will be completed during small group time so that I can oversee the process and we can analyze the phonemes and graphemes together.

I hope this inspires you to make the shift away from drilling sight words to using heart words in your classroom; it's a simple move with a big payoff for your students!

If you are interested in my whole class sight word system, which has been updated to include tips on heart words and a parent letter about heart words, you can find it here in my store or here on TPT.

Keep teaching with heart and passion!