Post-It Chart Paper Comparison

I know, I know….most of you are rolling your eyes as you read that title, and probably at the whole idea of this post. But, for the rest of you crazies like me, this is probably something you’re excited about! I know who you are….

Also, let’s be honest, we can all use a little distraction while we wait for our districts to release our back to school plans for the fall…

Like I’ve mentioned in a previous post, anchor charts are my jam. I love creating them, teaching with them, referring back to them, and sharing them with others. I’ve used every size that Post-It offers and have found that certain sizes work better depending on the purpose. If you’re crazy like me, and want to find the perfect anchor chart paper for you, I’m comparing three different sizes below.

Here is an overview I created to help you see the different sizes compared to each other!

Largest Size (25 in x 30 in)

This size is great for charts that you intend to hang up so students can reference it from across the room. It’s large enough for you to write everything you need to and kids will be able to easily see it. The problem…..if you tend to create a lot of anchor charts, these can quickly take over all your walls and space.

Portable Easel Pad (20 in x 23 in)

This paper is smaller than the one above, but it can still feel large when you start putting multiple anchor charts on your wall. However, this one is great when you’re working with a guided reading group. You can prop it up on the table and record thoughts and ideas down so everyone can see at once!

Mini Easel Pad (15 in x 18 in)

THE BEST ONE!! Here it is….my new favorite!! This one is much smaller than the other two and is going to be perfect for so many things. I facilitate a lot of PD for teachers, so I plan on using this for our collaborative conversations. In the classroom, it can be used for anything! Guided reading groups, mini-lessons, review games, book clubs, and more! I found a 3 pack on Amazon and they’re already in the trunk of my car waiting to go to my office!

Seriously though, you can’t go wrong with any of these and honestly, I have all three sizes in my office. Whatever you end up choosing, just remember your purpose: teaching and engaging your students!


Hashtag Reading Responses

Reading response journals, notebooks, and prompts have been around for as long as I can remember. For those of you that may not know what I mean….students read a piece of text and then are either assigned, or get to choose, a prompt to respond to about their reading.

For the most part, I’m a fan of reading responses. They get our students to think deeply about what they’re reading. They are able to connect with the text and learn new things. Students can even share their responses with peers and begin to have some authentic conversations about a piece of text. All amazing things!

These two 5th graders ended their reader’s workshop time sharing their responses with each other.

But…there’s also two big downfalls for me. One: teachers can often get hung up on the amount that a student writes each day. They assign number of paragraphs, or sometime pages, and expect their students to have that done by the end of the day. The kids end up getting stressed out, frustrated, and then shut down without even completing the reading! Sometimes, a chapter or section of book doesn’t give you that much to want to write about and that’s ok.

My second downfall? The prompts tend to stay the same year after year. Write a one page summary about what you read. Write about a personal connection you had. Do you agree with the author? Kids end up responding to these prompts over and over; eventually they’re bored with them and end up resenting independent reading time all together….which is what we DON’T want to happen.

If you’re reading this and thinking that maybe you need a little refresh with some reading responses or maybe you’re just needing something new and fun to start your year off with, I’ve got Hashtag Reading Responses!

These would be fun, quick, and engaging ways to get your students to reflect on their reading in a non-traditional way. They still address some of the basic reading skills that we want students to continually strengthen, but in a fun way. The idea is for them to pick a hashtag response and try to write their response as if they’re on Twitter…with only 240 characters (if possible). Limiting their characters to only 240, really pushes them to synthesize what they read and extract the most important information, another great skill for them to have! **Click here or on the image to download your own PDF copy!!

I’m visualizing each student having a copy of the hashtags in their notebook so they can easily decide which one they are going to complete at the end of their reading time. If you have different visions of how you can use these in your classroom, please reach out! I love hearing new ideas!

However your school year begins, in-person or remotely, these reading responses will hopefully add some fun and engagement to your students’ reading.

Classroom Library Diversity

Imagine for a minute…’re a 6 year old black student, so excited to finally get back into school since being out since March! You’re eager to get your hands on books again since you didn’t have access to any of your own at home. You finally walk up to the classroom library in your new room excited to find a book that has a main character that looks like you. You start rifling through the first bucket….none. You go to the second and third bucket, and you finally find a couple. You must have looked at 100 books; and of those 100 books, you found only 10 that have a black main character.

Now, imagine being a latinx student; of those 100 books, you found 5 with a character that looks like you. Native American student? 1 out of 100 books has a character that looks like you.

I first saw this graphic at a Donalyn Miller event I attended a couple of years ago. I remember when she projected it, and explained that out of the 3,100 children’s books that were published in 2018, these are the percentages of each ethnicity that was represented as a main character. I wish I could say that I was completely shocked and taken aback, but as someone who’s been an avid reader since grade school, sadly, these percentages seemed right to me.

Half of all these books had a white main character, while 27% of the books’ main characters were animals! I truly believe we can do better for our students of color. They should not be finding more books with animals, than they do of their own ethnicity. I do have to say that we have made some improvements since the last study was done in 2015, but we still have a long way to go. For your reference, here is the graphic from 2015.

Summer is the perfect time to do some reflecting and thinking about the books that you have in your classroom library. Do the books in your library have equal representation? Will your students be able to see themselves in your books? Will they be able to look into others’ cultures and experiences? Here are a few tips to get you started.

Rethink your definition of diversity. Maybe you’re thinking that you have tons of diverse books already. But, do the diverse characters that you’re thinking of play a main role in the story, or are they just simply a secondary character? Often times, the only times students can find themselves in a book is as a “sidekick” to the main character.

Be honest with where you’re starting. Maybe you’ve done the inventory of your books and your collection falls more into the 2015 graphic. That’s ok. You’re acknowledging it and ready to work towards making it equal.

Use your resources. If this idea feels overwhelming to you, look around. Chances are you have people in your corner ready and willing to help you! If you’re not sure where to start or what types of books to invest in, reach out to your librarian, literacy coach, or someone else that can steer you in a direction.

You’re in this for the long haul. I totally get how much of an investment it is to build a strong classroom library. DO NOT try to do it all at once. Just tackle a little bit at a time. Maybe this year, your goal is to acquire more LGBTQ books and next year, you’re going to work on finding strong books with Native American characters. Visit garage sales, thrift stores, Half-Price Books to find some great books at a great price.

This is such exciting work! If you happen to be local, please reach out to me; I would HAPPY to come help you in the process. Sometimes it’s helpful for a set of new eyes to look things over with you.

If you are looking to learn more about the misrepresentation and what we can do, check out We Need Diverse Books. This organization is wonderful and a wealth in information to help you!

Covid Questions

Just like every other educator in the world right now, my mind is swirling with questions for next school year. I know we don’t have all the answers right now…or even some of them, but I just needed to write them down. I’m hoping that writing them down and sharing them with others, will help ease my anxiety about the upcoming school year.

Graphic from A Perfect Blend Teaching

I’m not looking for anyone to respond and try to answer them all….it’s just what’s on my heart at the moment…

We already have a sub shortage, how are we going to possibly find subs now?

If I have to quarantine, will I have to use my sick days?

Are students going to be able to use the books from the library and classrooms?

What if I’m back in school, but my son’s district decides to do remote learning?

How do we social distance in classrooms that have tables rather than desks?

What are we doing to protect our teachers’ mental health during this time?

Do we have enough busses for all the students to be able to maintain proper social distancing?

We have class sizes of around 26 and 27. Besides taking all the furniture out of the classroom, how can we social distance them?

Will students all be getting their own set of math manipulatives to use?

Will teachers be responsible for online and in-person teaching?

Again, these are just questions that have been weighing on my heart and mind. This isn’t meant to stress anyone out (more than you probably already are). I just needed to get them out….

First Chapter Fridays

Over the past school year I’ve been trying to come up with new and fun ways to engage our students in different types of books. I’ve learned that third through fifth graders can either fall into two different stages as a reader: excited to read as many books as they can OR won’t even pick up a book…there’s rarely an in between.

I noticed that our avid readers will typically only read one genre, or style, of a book. They end up limiting themselves when they could very well end up loving multiple different genres.

One of the things that I started introducing into a few different classrooms was First Chapter Fridays. Teachers were coming to me asking for ideas that they could use in their rooms to help expose students to new books and authors, but also just get them excited for the possibility of a great book. This is a quick, but effective way to hook kids on multiple books in a short amount of time.

The first thing I did was to gather about five or six different grade appropriate books, ranging in all different levels and genres. After talking with the teacher, we determined the our goal was simply exposure. Exposure to new authors, exposure to different genres, and exposure to how to give a book a chance.

I had all the students come sit on the carpet with a notebook and pencil. Their task was to write down any questions or reactions they had as I introduced each book. My hope was that they could refer back to their notes later on to see which books caught their attention.

I introduced each book by first displaying the cover of each book and then having a conversation about the genre would be. Then I read out loud the first chapter. SIMPLE AS THAT. Kids are so used to just looking at the cover of a book to see if they like it, that they rarely ever open it to read a little to find out if they would like it.

By reading the first chapter out loud, students are able to get introduced to some of the characters and are given a foundation for the story. Usually, the chapter ends with some sort of cliffhanger or abrupt scene, that now, the kids are hooked and are dying to know what happens next.

As I’m reading, they are taking their notes and when I finish with all the books, I give them a minute to rank the books. If there is a student that is just dying to keep reading a certain book, I just give it to him/her right then. Building off of the momentum will keep that reader engaged.

One of my secrets when picking out the books….I try to find books that are either the first in a series or by an author that has many other books. My hope is that once they finish reading the first book, they’ll want to keep going and read others that are similar.

Do you have other ways of implementing First Chapter Fridays? I’m always looking for new ideas!

Getting Ready for Kindergarten

My oldest is starting full day kindergarten this year and I’ve been waiting for this moment since he was born; I know that sounds crazy. Most parents usually look forward to other milestones, and dread when their kids start “real” school, but as a public school employee and advocate, I am so excited for his schooling journey to begin.

I’ve always been on the “teacher side” of school so I’ve able to see firsthand, just how amazing our public schools are, including kindergarten. Prior to becoming a reading specialist, and then an instructional coach, I taught kindergarten for five years. I like to think I have a few tricks up my sleeve for preparing my son for kindergarten, but in all honesty, a lot has changed since I was in front of a bunch of 5 year olds!

We’ve been extremely fortunate to be able to send him to an amazing daycare, starting when he was just eight months old. Since he’s been there we have seen him grow physically, emotionally, and academically. He’s learned to sit appropriately on the carpet with a group of peers, all his letters/sounds, appreciation for science and math, and most importantly, manners and respect.

Just because I know that he is more than ready for kindergarten and new challenges, doesn’t mean I’m not doing my part at home to prepare him. I think he’s quickly realized what it means to have an educator for a parent…..

Taking frequent walks over to his new school to talk about which window might be his classroom has gotten him so excited!
Incorporating counting and number activities whenever I can. Around Easter, I had him glue on the matching number of stems to each carrot.
As much I don’t want to admit it, there’s a good chance we’ll be remote learning. We’ve been having Zoom calls with his friends to help him get used to it.
Alphabet scavenger hunts around our house are our favorite! Sometimes we look for upper case, lower case, or even numbers!
Using different colored post-its to match uppercase with the lower case letters.
As much as he would beg for me to do the writing for him, I would say no. He eventually has stopped asking and now writes his friends and family’s names all by himself!
Reading all the kindergarten books!!

Since we’ve been quarantined at home, I’ve put my “kindergarten teacher hat” back on to do the best I can to help prepare him for this exciting change! These have been a few of my favorites things to help us get kindergarten ready!

Kindergarten Workbook

I bought this book for us to work through while we’ve been home to prevent any regression and to keep his brain active! It includes letters, numbers, addition and subtraction, and short stories. It’s made by Highlights so it includes a lot of the fun hidden pictures and spot the differences, too!

Maze Book

Not only does he LOVE doing mazes, making him use a pencil while he completes them reinforces proper pencil grip, too!

Paper Mate Triangle Pencils

These are amazing and only $3! They are triangle shaped so they aren’t constantly rolling on the floor like everything else, AND they are easy for young children to grasp correctly.

Kindergarten, Here I Come!

This book is on repeat in our house. We laugh through all the funny poems and talk about what we think his kindergarten class is going to be like. Such a sweet book!

Mr. Sketch Markers

Is there anything more exciting to a 5 year old than smelly markers?!

Seriously though….if you came here to get ideas of what you can do to help your little one prepare, the best thing you can do: talk it up and get them excited! Kindergarten teachers are the most amazing people on our planet and will do everything they can to love, and teach, your children!

Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco

Thank You, Mr. Falker, Chicken Sunday, Pink and Say, and my very favorite, Thunder Cake. Patricia Polacco remains one of my very favorite children’s authors. Her books are written with so much emotion and feeling, and are based off of her own experiences growing up.

Thunder Cake is my favorite book to read aloud to students of any age. I looked closer at it the other day and thought about some great teaching opportunities that this particular book presents.

Click here or on the picture to order your own copy!

This book is about a little girl, Patricia, that is absolutely terrified of thunderstorms. Her grandmother helps her overcome her fear by teaching her how to make her own thunder cake.

This book would work well for a few different things. In the primary grades I would recommend using this book to review story elements; the story fits in nicely to a simple plot diagram and students will be able to easily identify the problem and solution. For primary students, this story lends itself well to some visualizing work. This book (and really, any book by Patricia Polacco) is filled with descriptive language. As your reading, I would have students sketch pictures of what they’re visualizing in their mind: setting, characters, and more.

I’m using my AMAZING transparent sticky notes here (and for everything else I do in life now). Click here to order your own set!

Sequencing is also another important reading skill that you could teach using this book as a mentor text. With teacher support, students can sequence the events in 1st and 2nd grade. I’d say students in 3rd and 4th grade could definitely do the sequencing as an independent activity.

In the book, the grandma teaches Patricia how to count in between the lightning and thunder to find out how far away it is. With each time she counts, Patricia does something brave without even realizing it. When the story is over, you can have students work together to try to put all ten events in order. See if they can do it without the story first, and then provide the book for them to use as a guide.

I would give students a simple guide to complete as they work on putting the events in order. See my example in the picture above.

For the intermediate students, I would use this book to teach about character development and to introduce some great new vocabulary words. There’s also some rich figurative language throughout this whole book: onomatopoeia, metaphors, hyperboles, and more. Students would have a blast looking through to see how many different types they would be able to find.

Patricia goes through some pretty big changes throughout this story. I would model how to identify those changes together with the class and then allow them to have conversations with each other around why and how she changes.

Seriously though, this book is beautifully written and I’m sure you’re all able to find even more teaching opportunities throughout. Just as you would with any picture book, the first time students hear this book, it should be read straight through. Before you even attempt to do any teaching, the first exposure should just be for enjoyment and understanding. Then, dive in for additional readings to begin to focus on different skills!


Tips for Setting Up Your Classroom Library

Just like the kitchen is the heart of your home, the library should be the heart of your classroom.

I saw this amazing classroom library while I attended a Donalyn Miller event

When I sat down to write this post, I really had to rein myself in. Classroom libraries are one of those topics that I could talk for hours about: how to acquire books, how to organize them, how to get students excited about them, and probably a dozen more things. And since my engineer husband doesn’t exactly share (or understand) my love of setting up a classroom library….it all gets written on here to share with you!

I was with some of my girlfriends this past week, who happen to all be educators, too….an AP, a 2nd grade teacher, a high school PE teacher, and a HS child development teacher (who is currently at home enjoying some newborn baby snuggles). Anyway, my friend and I started casually talking about classroom libraries, because what else do teachers talk about when we get together, and she casually just said something about who knows if we can even have our students using the books in the library due to COVID. Now, I know that school is going to look completely different from anything we’ve ever seen before, but I never once thought about the books not being able to be used due to possible contamination. I’ll be fine with a mask everyday, staying 6 feet away from everyone and I can even get on board with the other new things we’ll have to do, but I’m not going to lie….thinking about not being able to share books with students, crushed me a little.

Miss Morgan organizes her spine out so her students can easily see the titles

But…I’m choosing to remain optimistic and believe that our classroom libraries will be up and running normally, just maybe with an extra pack of wipes near it to clean books as they get returned. So for all of you other optimistic people, I’m just going to start with some of my favorite tips for setting up your library!!

  • Find your ideal flow. Check out pictures online for inspiration and think about the setup of your classroom. Be realistic in what you need to make your library feel successful. Don’t try to set it up like your neighbor, choose a flow that will work well for YOU!
Miss Rosendahl’s library
  • Categorize books that will support student choice. Organize the books in a way that students can easily find something the interests them. Genre, topic, theme, or author, are all possible ways you could think about organizing them. Students should be easily able to find something they are interested in, or should easily be able to find something new to try.
  • Decide on buckets, shelves, or both! Are you going to be using buckets to keep them in or maybe you’re ditching the buckets and just putting them straight onto the shelves, spine out. Again, decide what is going to work for you and commit!
Mrs. Klukas used a mix of buckets and shelf space in her library
  • Create an organization system. This is my absolute favorite part! When I taught kindergarten, I had a picture on the front of the shelf for each topic, and then each individual book had a matching sticker with that picture on the back, ensuring that even my little 5 year olds could figure out where to correctly put them back. You could also use colored dot stickers for each genre or theme. Find a system that will work for you and your students!
Mrs. Lulek organized hers using colored dot stickers and created this key to help her students
  • Leave some space to display different books. Kids will gravitate towards books when they can see the cover. Plan on leaving shelf space open for different displays. Maybe you display outer space books one week for science, and then poetry the next week for ELA. Or just keep a permanent section open with your favorite book recommendations.
  • Don’t put all your books out at once. Now I know storage is limited in most classrooms, but try not to put all your books out at once. Being able to rotate new books in and out will add to the excitement and get your students excited!
  • Check your collection for gaps in representation and fill them in. Windows and mirrors. Ensure that your collection allows students to see themselves in your books and see other perspectives, too. Include books of different race, cultures, LGBTQ, and more.

Informational Text Raffles!

As I’m writing this, I’m realizing this is my third post about something I did in my LRC. I promise I actually do things in my building that require me to actually leave the LRC!!

Over the past couple years, I’ve been wanting to build more engagement for our students while they visit the LRC for their weekly book check-out. It was starting to feel monotonous for them and the teachers. They would come in, check out their book, and then just sit at a table waiting for their whole class to be done.

I wanted to do something that would be fun for our students, but also didn’t require much involvement from our teachers since they were also helping students find books they wanted around the library. After trying a few things that weren’t quite a hit, I finally found an idea that everyone seemed to love: informational text raffles!

My final setup for the very first informational text raffle was ready to go!

Based off of different reading standards that were currently being taught around the school, I would create different challenges for the students to try and complete after they were done checking out their new books. When students completed their challenge, they were able to fill out a raffle ticket for a prize! Each challenge lasted for about a month and our secretary would then pull a winner on the morning announcements on the last day!

Our first challenge just happened to be around our fall book fair time, so we gave away gift certificates for it. The informational reading standards have been an area that we have been working on as a school fr a while so I centered the first challenge all around text features. It’s familiar to most of our kids and would be easy to create some excitement around it.

Off to the side was a display of various informational text books that they could choose from to complete their challenge. They had to flip through the book and identify two different text features and why they were useful. Then they had to quickly create their own text feature that could be added to the book. That’s it!

This teacher explained the directions to the challenge to her class before they went off to find books.

Like I’ve mentioned multiple times, the teachers in my building are incredible and helped build the excitement every time they came through with their classes!

Celebrating a job well done!

Another challenge I created included some sketchnoting. Students had to choose another informational book and read a small section. When they were done, they had to sketch a quick picture and then write three words to describe their drawing. Again, teachers would quickly check it, then they got a raffle ticket to put in the bucket!

One of my favorite prizes to raffle off was this movie basket. It was all put together from donations from our teachers and the kids LOVED this one!

Hope this inspires you to do something similar in your school; if you do, I’d love to hear how it went!! Feel free to email me, if you need any support!

2 Quick Reading Strategies

I just wanted to bop on here and share two of my very favorite reading strategies to use with our students. You could easily use these either of these strategies for different standards, and can be utilized with a wide variety of genres. Because of how versatile these two strategies are, students can use these independently in book clubs or as a reading response, but you can also use them as a teaching aid in a guided reading group.

Just like with anything else you expect students to be able to complete independently, make sure you spend enough time modeling it with your class before. These would be great to model during a “launch” in the beginning of the year so you can continue to use these throughout the rest of the year.

Lifting A Line

After reading a passage, chapter, or section, readers find a line that stood out to them while reading.

Students then “lift the line” out of the text and copy it at the top of a notebook page and write about it.

Below are just a few examples of things they could write about; there are countless other possibilities, depending on what you’re teaching at the time:

  • Why did that line stand out to them?
  • Why is it significant to the story?
  • Connections they may have had
  • Do you notice any specific author moves in it and why did the author add them?

This strategy also lends itself well to practicing with citing direct quotes from the text….which we all know can be hard for our students to do! Reinforce that when they “lift the line” all the punctuation comes with it exactly how it is, and then to put quotes around it.

Drop In and Give Advice

During a significant point in the book, the student stops and reflects about what is happening with a character.

The student then writes an entry in which he or she talks to the character and offers advice. If your student is reading a nonfiction book, then he or she should write an entry to the author about what he/she needs to understand.

By completing this strategy, students gain a deeper understanding of both the character and the plot of the story. This strategy goes well with teaching character point of view/perspective or character development. This strategy also is a great one for book clubs. Students can all pick the same scene to give advice for and then share the specific advice they each offered. This lends itself well to rich conversations about the story and characters.