Creating Our Classroom Enviornment with Books

Summer has ended and for most of us, school has started.  All of our summer planning, relaxation, professional development ideas, and bloggy-inspiration are put to the test.  How are we going to create the classroom environment that we want?  How do we make the kids respect each other and all their differences?  How do I make them listen, trust me, respect me, and want to learn in my class this year?

Lucky us, there are so many great authors and illustrators that have created some amazing books to help us create the environment that we want.  Books that help us to illustrate good listening and respect for others.  I (Em from Curious Firsties) wanted to highlight a few of these books today.  You will have so many more to add to this list.  Please comment below and let us know what other books we can add to our "back to school toolbox."

Respecting Yourself and Others:

All of these books help our students to understand the importance of being yourself and being different from each other.  I always try to emphasize how boring our classroom would be if we were all the same.  And that I would never want to be in a classroom like that.

For "The Crayon Box That Talked" I ask the students to draw me a picture using all the different colors.  When they open the box of crayons that I hand them, they see that all the crayons are the same color.  They start shouting that they cannot make a picture with just one color.

But I make them do it anyway!  Then they get to color a picture with a regular box of crayons.  We discuss the importance of having many colors in our world, just like we need lots of differences in our classroom.

"Cat The Cat Who Is That?" may seem like an odd book to have on my list.  It is a very simple book.  But I read it right along with "I Like Me."  I want the students to think about why they like themselves.

 After they complete a self portrait, I ask them to mirror the language from "Cat The Cat."  They write "I am _________ the ________." (It is also a great book to begin introducing speech bubbles during that first week.)

"Arthur's Nose," "I'm The Best," and "Chrysanthemum" are all stories that do a great job of illustrating a character that does not feel comfortable with what sets them apart from others.  But as the book progresses, they learn to accept themselves and their differences.  What an important skill to hit over and over and over again.

Building Teamwork:

Teamwork....SO important.  I like to work on this skill throughout the whole year because I really believe that it is a life skill that our students need to survive in any job/career that they enter.  Here are a few books that can be used to help reinforce this skill:

I think all of these books help to set the tone for teamwork in a classroom environment, but it is the activities and discussions that you plan and implement with your students that make the most difference.  One example comes with "Rainbow Fish."  Teamwork is not the focus of this book.  It is more about sharing; however, I use it to teach teamwork by putting the kids into groups and asking them to make a fish together.  Once they work together to complete this task, they receive their "sparkle" fin.

This year I will use "Swimmy" to work on teamwork during our first full week of school.  My entire group of first graders will use their individual fish to create one large fish in the hallway!  I love this visual to help them understand the impact that teamwork can have.

Being a Good Listener:

I know that there are some really good books out there to help introduce good listening skills in the classroom but I want to focus on just one right now.

My firsties think this book is so funny!  They crack up as I read it because Rapunzel does not listen to the prince and throws many silly things out of her tower.  This book has some great vocabulary, includes rhyming, but really serves the purpose I need it to: listening.  Rapunzel is a terrible listener.  Once we complete the book, we discuss what a whole body listener would look like and we label those parts on a person.  The book is so engaging and funny that I can refer back to it and remind them to be a whole body listener.

What books do you use to create the classroom environment that you want?


Introducing Robust Vocabulary in the Classroom

Hi everyone! I know many of you are already back to school or are preparing for students to arrive next week like I am. Today I wanted to share a great activity that I have used in my classroom to help build a stronger vocabulary for my students!

I'm sure many of you have seen or maybe even used "vivid verbs" in your room, but I have a great activity for introducing adjectives.


Our school started a huge bullying prevention program a few years back, and part of the program included having morning meetings with your class at least once a week. It was tough to come up with meaningful discussions, plus I was frustrated to be losing instructional time. Then I found a solution from an edition of The Reading Teacher. It was an article about introducing more rigorous vocabulary in the classroom, and one of the ideas it mentioned was using simple compliments to teach synonyms. I loved this idea!

We would begin our morning meetings in a circle, so I asked students to look to their left and write one positive word to describe that person. Of course, many of them wrote words such as nice, funny, smart, etc. We went around the circle, and each person shared what they came up with. Then I gave the students an encyclopedia and encouraged them to find a synonym for that word that was more interesting. We shared those, and then I collected all of the words and made a bulletin board linking the "dull word" to its stronger companions. I searched my classroom high and low today to find a picture, but unfortunately I did this activity before I started blogging and saving everything AND when I was using my old computer that died at the end of that year. So I had to create a quick sample to share.

It's very simple, but the students were able to refer to it throughout the year not only for the morning meetings, but also in their writing. I really pushed them to avoid simple adjectives and find more creative ways to describe their peers. We had instances, of course, where students chose a synonym that didn't quite relate to what they were trying to describe, and I would address them as the students used the words. "Cool" was also a difficult word to find synonyms. In that case, I had the student describe what made their classmate "cool", and then we searched for a more appropriate term. Many times, it was something completely different, such as "athletic" that we found for the final adjective.

One other reason I like using the compliment circle is that it helps students recognize and connect with more appropriate character traits when they are reading. Many of my students have trouble coming up with the adjectives needed to describe characters. Through these meetings, hopefully students can begin to make those connections more easily!


Quick Time Savers for Back-to-School

This is Deniece from This Little Piggy Reads.  Normally I share a reading tip with you, but today I am going to share a few recipes that I hope will save you time (and sanity).  I know this time of year is incredibly busy and if you're like me, you're ACTUALLY beginning to feel tired in your bones!  These recipes will save you a little time and guess what?  They're on the healthy side.  All of these recipes have been tried in my home & approved my family.

And the final recipe is my MOST pinned PIN on Pinterest!  It gets atleast 30 PINS per day!  My family loves it.  BBQ chicken sandwiches with coleslaw on top.   If you're interested in the recipe, click the pic and it will take you to it.


Back To School Reading Jackpot!

It's back to school time again! As we classroom teachers and literacy leaders are preparing to begin a new school year, we spend a lot of our own money. Agreed? Who couldn't use a post with links to free materials? Today's post is for you. Anyone that has followed me for awhile on Facebook knows how much I love sharing reading jackpots.
What is a Reading Jackpot? Here's my criteria:
1. Found online.
2. Must be mostly free.
3. Has to have so many valuable reading resources for parents and educators, that there's too many to count. You feel like you hit the jackpot , because it's too good to be true.
Trust me. You WILL want to bookmark these hidden (or not so hidden) gems, and share them with friends and work colleagues. Enjoy!

Read Works is filled with comprehension lessons organized by grade level, skill and strategy. There's a large collection of high interest printable passages and questions, also organized by grade level, skill and strategy. All you need to do is sign up for free and you're ready to go.

The Florida Center for Reading Research has created an enormous database of lessons, and games organized by grade level and skill. Every lesson includes the printables you'll need, so there's no recreating anything! I love how the font on every printable is kid-friendly.

3. Carl's Corner
This is a little hidden gem I found during my OG training. I love Cherry Carl's printable board games for spelling and phonics practice, and have used many of them, but there's so much more. Go into the website directory and you'll find it all. If you teach Scott Forseman Reading or need a SMARTBOARD lesson, there's activities for those too. All of her resources are free!

4. The Literacy Shed
One word for this site: AMAZING. When I first posted about The Literacy Shed over the summer, I was blown away. So much talent has gone into created these videos and lessons for visual literacy. I watched The Flying Book Shed, and literally shed a tear. The site is dedicated to providing high quality, award-winning Literacy lessons, videos, and book suggestions for teachers.

Watch The Lighthouse by clicking the link below.

5. Reading Resource
Steve Griffin and Kathy Appel strive to provide excellent dyslexia resources for parents and/or teachers. MANY of the resources are free, but they have some products and apps for purchase that are well worth checking out. The site is well organized, and easy to navigate I've recently been using their new app, Sight Word Flip It and highly recommend it.

6. Reading Rockets
This is my old fav! If you haven't been to Reading Rockets before, prepare to get lost for several hours. This is a great go-to site for anything literacy related. Years ago, I first used it with my students to show author videos. Now I include their widgets on my blog (on the right sidebar, btw) and check their page regularly for new articles and resources. The site provides a nice balance of parent and/teacher resources. Their summer activities and book suggestions were fabulous. You'll find plenty of freebies on this site too!

Finally, I invite you all to enjoy Keepers Of The Flame, an inspirational video for educators. Click the link below to view it. Have a wonderful year, teachers. You truly are the keepers of the flame. :)

Do you have a reading jackpot?  Please comment below. Thank you!


Teaching English Language Learners: SEI

Hi everyone! It is Bex here from Reading and Writing Redhead! This summer, I have been engrossed in studying Sheltered English Immersion. In Massachusetts all non-English speaking students need to be enrolled in mainstream English-speaking classrooms (with a few exceptions). ESL instruction might be done in a pull-out setting but the majority of an ELL student's day is spent in the classroom. The state realized that we teachers needed to learn more about effective strategies to meet the needs of those English Language Learners, so all of us have to either take a  course or pass an SEI exam. Since I have been thinking so much about SEI lately, I realized many of you have English speaking students in your classroom and it might be the right topic for a post!

So if you are new to this, you may need to start at the beginning - what is SEI? In Massachusetts, SEI is Sheltered English Instruction. I know in other states, it stands for Structured English Immersion and has slightly different characteristics, but I will tell you what I know. By no means am I an expert- if you want to know more I will give you some resources at the end but if you want to learn more about teaching ELL students in your own state check resources at your school and your state Department of Education Website. Let us know what you learn and comment below.

The short answer is that every classroom in Massachusetts that has at least one ELL student is a SEI classroom. Each SEI classroom must have a Highly Qualified Teacher of English Language Learners- that means the teacher must be certified in ELL, taken and passed the required state SEI course or taken and passed the state teaching exam for SEI.  Basically, classroom teachers and school staff who interact with ELL students in any way are learning what are the best practices for teaching these students in the English speaking classroom.

I'd love to share with you some of the strategies I learned about being a teacher in an SEI classroom. There was a lot of information I had to learn about levels of English Proficiency and how to assess what level students were and a LOT of information on setting both content and language lessons for every lessons, plus differentiating lessons for students at  different levels of proficiency- too much for one blog post.  Here are a few tips I picked up on.

 I had done some reading and taken a course in teaching ELL students last spring, and combined with the materials I studied the summer, I picked up on some vocabulary strategies to try when working with ELL students.  There are a ton of effective strategies and each works best in different situations depending on the word, the content area, the age of the student, and their level of English proficiency.

Word Wheels are great to try. You write the word you are learning in the center and then it is flexible - you can write synonyms, antonyms, word forms, or semantic connections around the outside. Here are a couple examples with detailed directions on Word Wheels: Primary Education Oasis' Blog Post and's preteaching vocabulary brochure pdf.

A word form chart was another suggested strategy for teaching vocabulary to ELL students. I couldn't find a good example of it online but, basically you chart a vocabulary word that has different forms (great for verbs - you can do past tense, present tense, etc) and discuss how the meaning changes and how to use each form. A goal of vocabulary instruction is giving students the tools to unlock word meaning on their own and this is a good way to start!

Focusing on cognates is a solid strategy to use with ELL students. Cognates are words in different languages that are derived from the same original word or root (for example family - familia and conversation and conversacion). There are tons of words in Spanish, for example, that are cognates with words in English.

There are many more great strategies. I will provide links below so you can check more out!


There are many writing strategies that will support your ELL student. One that would be useful for students with lower English proficiency is sentence frames. Sentence frames are sentences the teacher writes, then removes one or more word from . A word bank can be provided for students with content specific words, for example. So a student who has limited writing skills in English can complete sentences such as: Plants need, ________, air, and light to grow.  The _______ of the plant take in water from the soil. The ______ of the plant carries the water to the leaves" and so on instead of having to write an open response stating what they know about plants. 

Here are a couple places where you can find more information on sentence frames:

For students who are early in their English language development and need a lot of assistance with literacy skills you can try the language experience approach. A student would verbally tell you their story and you write it down, word for word as he tells you. Then you read it back and discuss how the story sounds, if the message was communicated, and so on. Then you and he can edit it a little together. I am not an expert on this one, as I have never tried it myself but you can learn more here:
One more strategy that came up a lot as I was reading about teaching ELLs in the SEI classroom was graphic organizers. Graphic organizers have endless possibilities in the classroom anyway, and are so beneficial to ELL students to organize their thoughts and get their ideas written down. There are so many graphic organizers for skills like sequencing, cause and effect, etc. that can be use in writing assignments. Check out these ideas in detail:

I have even more ideas for strategies on teaching reading to ELL students and assessment but I am going to save them for a future post! For now here are some great resources from around the web if you are interested in learning more. Thanks and please comment below and let us know your thoughts and strategies for meeting the needs of ELL students in your classroom!

Mrs. Dailey's blog post on vocabulary
Color in Colorado
Adventures in TESOL
Sharing Learning- Teaching English with Technology Blog
Everything ESL

And a thank you to Ashley Hughes for the beautiful frames and Dollar Photo Club!


More Classroom Libraries!

Last month, I shared with you how to organize a great library.  I shared with you how to sort your books, label them, and make it student friendly.  You can check out that post here!

Today, I am showing you the (almost) finished product!

Doesn't it look so organized and pretty??  I am sure that it will not stay this way for long.

So, as you can see, I have my baskets sorted by interest.  I put picture labels on the outside of the tubs so that students can easily see what is inside of the basket.  Each book also contains the same picture label inside the front cover.  This way students can easily put away the books in the correct basket.

 I have two dark blue baskets on top of my bookshelf.  One holds my whisper phones, always available for students to use.  The other is a return basket.  This is where students will return their books.  Then the ONE person that is the class librarian helper will return them to the correct basket at the end of the day.

The white book boxes came from IKEA.  This is my first time ordering them, but for as inexpensive as they were, I would definitely say they are worth it!!  Each student will have a book box.  They get to choose 3 books per week to keep in their box to read.  Students may NOT choose books from the library throughout the rest of the week.  This saves on time and organization!  Of the three books that students choose, two of those books must be within their assigned reading level.  You can check out the reading level stickers that I use on the previous post.  The third book is purely for their interest!

See my fun reading tree?  It was easily made with a carpet roll (any carpet store will give you an empty one!) and an umbrella that I pulled the fabric off of.  I folded my big green leaves over the skeleton of the umbrella and glued it.  Easy Peasy!  As we do read alouds together, we like to hang images of the book cover from the "vines" and leaves!

Plus, every great reading corner needs to be welcoming and comfortable!  It needs to be appealing to students so that they will WANT to read there.  Pillows, rugs, colors....all of it makes it comfy and homey!

Now it is your turn!  Share with us pictures of your great library and link up below!  We want to see them!