My Paperless Classroom Journey: Digital Resources

25 Jan

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In my last “My Paperless Classroom Journey” post, I introduced a wonderful app for going paperless in your classroom – Notability. I provided an overview of the app features and a general summary of how I integrate the app into my RTI instruction. Now, it’s time to dig deeper into the content! (Did you miss Part I about getting started with Notability? Go back and read it HERE!) 

notability

Notability is a note-taking app that allows you to take notes, annotate PDFs and photos, collect student work, and capture voice recordings. It’s the perfect app for practicing literacy skills and a fabulous digital alternative for paper-and-pencil activities.

As you can imagine, downloading and setting up the app is just half the battle. Implementing the app into your instruction effectively is the other half. Sure, your students can just use the app as a notepad; but that’s like buying a Smartphone and only using it to make phone calls. Don’t ignore the amazing features it has to offer!

As I mentioned in my last post, the PDF annotation feature is the element I use the most. Of course, in order to annotate PDFs, I need quality PDF files that are accessible and ready to use. Enter, my digital resource toolbox… Dropbox.

So, where do I get the PDFs that fill my Dropbox? 

Most of what I use comes from my own creations, but my collection of PDFs definitely includes some valuable resources from other websites, programs, and other educators. My Dropbox holds a nice balance of new materials I developed for this purpose and materials I already had in the classroom. Not everything I had was ready-to-go, so it took some time in the beginning to convert files and “go paperless.”

NOTE: The PDFs I upload to Notability are for personal use in my classroom, and I do NOT share the files publicly. Depending on the product license, and the “terms of use” for particular resources, you need to be careful about how you manage and store your files. You tread a fine-line with uploading files to digital folders and importing the files onto your devices. It is my recommendation to read the “terms of use” first and to look into the copyright policies of resources. Be especially cautious with how you use school-purchased materials and programs, and definitely do not share your files. (Sorry… necessary disclaimer!)

That being said, it’s easy to create PDFs to use with Notability. Any word processing document can be converted into a PDF, and you can easily scan or take pictures of documents that you’ve created, as well. You can upload non-PDF files, but formatting can sometimes become an issue.  A PDF is a common file type and much easier to work with!

A Sample of PDF Resources

For those of you just getting started and looking for ideas, below is a sample of free and paid resources that my students interact with using Notability. Some of the resources are ones I created, some I purchased with my own money (i.e., TpT resources), and some of the items were purchased by my district (i.e., Reading A-Z, Toolkit Texts, etc.). I wanted the list to reflect the actual digital resources I use day-to-day, not just my MsJordanReads products (although, I do use those products a lot!).

COMPREHENSION

Non-Fiction Articles — Actively reading non-fiction is a great way to kick-start PDF annotation. I upload ReadWorks articles (free), Toolkit Texts (paid), and Reading A-Z skill passages (subscription) for my comprehension students to close read, mark, and highlight! One Stop Teacher Shop also has a great list of FREE resources for Non-fiction texts.

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Finding Text Evidence —  My students love finding and highlighting text evidence using Notability. When I discovered Luckeyfrog’s Super Text Detectives resources, I knew they would be perfect for practicing this skill. I took the plunge and purchased the whole spring bundle (LOVE it). Now I have to go back and buy the other bundles for next year! The passages are short and perfect for my RTI comprehension groups. The students use the highlighter tool with the different color options to find the text evidence. (Check the resource out here!)

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Graphic Organizers — For FREE comprehension graphic organizers, check out FCRR, ReadWriteThink, and TeacherVision. You can also create your own graphic organizers (using Microsoft Word or any word processing program) and convert to a PDF to annotate.

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FLUENCY

Daily Fluency — Many of my fluency students complete a Daily Fluency page each day for fluency practice! There are 20 pages for each month and two levels of difficulty in the series – Beginner & Intermediate. (Check out a sample here!)

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Daily Phonics — Some of my decoding/phonics students complete a Daily Phonics page each day to practice breaking apart words and identifying phonics patterns! They use a stylus pen for these activity pages. Just like Daily Fluency, there are 20 pages for each month. (Check out a sample here!)

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Fluency Booster Pages — My fluency students complete Daily Fluency Booster Packs to reinforce specific fluency skills! These are great follow-ups to my Daily Fluency warm-up pages and help students practice one fluency component at a time: Accuracy, Pace, Phrasing, and Expression!

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Fluency Passages — I use Fluency A-Z passages (subscription only), but you can really use any short reading passage for fluency practice. Students record their voice, mark their errors, calculate their wpm, and graph their progress for two different readings of the same passage (cold/hot). Students can record their progress on fluency graphs to track progress throughout the year. For RTI, the students work with me for this “fluency coaching” intervention, but you could easily have the students work in partners in your classroom.

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Fluency Speed Drills — Students can read lists of words, phrases or sentences multiple times to build fluency. They mark errors and mark how far they read on a list using the annotating tools. They can also record their progress on fluency graphs!

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Fluency Practice Pages — I’m obsessed with The Moffatt Girls’  I Can Read! NO PREP products. They’re fabulous, and I use them with many of my fluency/decoding groups. I recently purchased the bundle of all 3 sets and the activities are perfect for extra fluency practice! You will still need dice and printed spinners, but students can complete activity pages digitally on the iPad. (Check out the resource here!)

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PHONICS

Phonics Word Sorts — As an alternative to word sorts that they have to cut and sort, students can color-code and sort words into the different categories. I have some of my decoding/phonics groups complete Color & Sort Activity Pages to reinforce specific phonics skills.

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Phonics Word Hunts — Students can use PDF texts to hunt for specific phonics spelling & sound patterns. My students love going on word hunts in my partner poetry series (“The Winter Escape” is shown below!). I have them highlight specific patterns using the highlighting tool and then record the words on a word hunting graphic organizer. You can use the graphic organizers with real books too!

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The list above is just a sample of PDF resources to use with Notability. It does not reflect the other ways I practice annotating texts with my students (there is still a place for sticky notes and paper!), and it does not reflect the other ways I use the app (e.g., voice recording, notepad for word work/writing, web quests, etc.). Working with PDFs is a great way to start using Notability, but there are plenty of other ways to use the app throughout the day. (That may be an additional blog post… perhaps Part III?) :)

Also, please note that Notability is just a small part of my instruction and only for some of my groups. There are other apps that I integrate into my teaching and there are still plenty of interventions I use that are completely iPad-free. There are days where we don’t even touch technology! I strongly believe it’s all about a balance.

It may be a while (if ever) before I’m 100% digital, and as the year continues, I definitely will continue my journey toward a more paperless classroom. I hope to follow-up and share more of my experiences soon. In the mean time, though, I would love to hear what resources you have in your digital toolbox! Comment below or email me your suggestions (msjordanreads@gmail.com). Feel free to share your experiences and thoughts on going paperless, as well!

Happy (Paperless) Teaching

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My Paperless Classroom Journey: Getting Started

22 Jan

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Are you 100% digital in your teaching? 

If yes… you’re my hero. Seriously.

I’ve always been intrigued by 1:1 classrooms – the organization of them, the day-to-day management, the student accountability… all of it. It seems to be a direction that many schools are moving toward, and I can’t help but wonder if it will soon be the norm. Will all my students be completing their work on computers or iPads in the near future? Will our copy machines soon start collecting dust? (Will that mean I don’t have to make any more copies?! YES!)

The idea of a paperless classroom is exciting, but I’ve always been curious about “the back-up plan.” What if you show up to school one day and you don’t have an internet connection for the whole day? What if there’s an issue with the classroom management system? What if all the iPads break and your students start climbing the walls? Well, maybe that last one’s a bit dramatic, but I feel like my teaching nightmares would include ALL of those things.

Having one too many bad experiences with “technology fails” (i.e., losing the internet connection during STAR screening week, having a SMARTBoard crash during an observation lesson, etc.), I must say I’m nervous about relying on technology 100%. I suppose once our school’s renovation project is complete, which promises WiFi in every classroom and a more reliable internet connection throughout the building, I may be less hesitant. But for now, our school’s just not there yet, and therefore, I’m not 100% there yet. (At least that’s what I’m telling myself this year.)

After taking a few PD courses, reading countless blogs, attending conferences, and actually speaking with teachers who are in the trenches with a 1:1 program, I decided to take the first step. I have six iPads (5 student, 1 teacher), and I’m working toward integrating them into my day-to-day teaching. Slowly. The goal is for my students to use the iPads independently and for the tablets to be interactive tools for my students to practice their reading skills. The year is half-way over, and I must say – it’s going pretty well! :)

Notability

notability

Last year, I learned about a great app called Notability which I downloaded for my personal use. I needed a note-taking app for my 101 meetings, and it was perfect for recording, organizing, and accessing my notes. I then started using it as a digital student binder for my classroom, to collect anecdotal notes and student data (more about this at a later date!).

This year, I started using Notability with my students. It has proven to be, by far, the best $2.99 I’ve ever spent on iTunes. (NOTE: This is not a product review. The opinion is completely my own and based on my own experiences with using the app!) I’m yet to find another app that I love more for my reading instruction. I will share a few FREE options you can explore, but if you have a few bucks to spare, it’s totally worth it. (Again, entirely my opinion.)

Features of Notability

Here are a few of the app features that I found to be most helpful to my RTI instruction:

  • Annotate PDFs – Students can underline, highlight, take notes, and complete activities using the Notability tools
  • Voice Recording – Students can record their voices reading for fluency
  • Response Writing – Students can type or handwrite a response to a question or image
  • Snapshots of Text – Students take pictures of objects or text to annotate, highlight, or add a written response
  • Submitting Work – Students can export and share their “notes” as PDF files via DropBox, Google Drive, Email, etc.

Want to learn more? Read more about the features of Notability on the app’s developer website here!

Getting Started with Notability

Each student is assigned an iPad when they work in my RTI groups. With only five iPads, it’s pretty easy to manage. I don’t have my Notability accounts synced up, so students need to use the same device day-to-day. I created a student folder for each of them on their assigned devices, but you can easily use Notability without assigning student iPads. (NOTE: You could also easily connect your account to the iCloud to sync and back-up all your folders/notes across devices as another option.) Once the students open the app on their assigned device, they find their personal folder and open it up to access their “notes.”

Annotating PDFs

Annotating PDFs is my starting point with all students. They love underlining, highlighting, and taking notes on PDFs. I have many intervention activities that I’ve uploaded for student practice (check out the examples below!).

I link all the iPads to my teacher Dropbox account, and then I allow the app to access my account. This allows students to import PDFs easily to each of their folders. (You may want to do this part for them first until they’re able to navigate Dropbox successfully!)

The best part is you can select specific pages of a PDF to upload to a student folder. If it’s a 50 page packet, I can upload a single page or a smaller range for them to complete. This keeps the student work organized sequentially, AND the students don’t have to search through large files for the task pages they need to complete.

Annotating Tools

For most of the activities, my students use a fine-tip stylus pen. After trying a handful of stylus options, my favorite to use with students is the Musemee Notier Prime pen (Amazon, $17.99). The rubber tip ones work too but just won’t give you as fine of a tip for writing.

Obviously, it’s expensive to purchase a class set, so feel free to have students use their fingers or knuckles. If you’re just having them underline or highlight, a finger works JUST fine!

Submitting Student Work

With just five devices, I could easily go into each one to access student work, but that’s time-consuming. I have students export select “notes” to a shared Dropbox folder. I don’t need to see every page they complete, but every once in a while I like to see a sample of their work. They can send a screenshot (which automatically syncs to my Dropbox account), or I’ll ask them to pick a page to send me via the sharing buttons. Once the files are sent, I can access the files from my computer or teacher iPad without having to go into the five individual devices. This also allows me to add the work samples to my digital binder of student work samples and progress monitoring notes.

Some teachers with 1:1 classrooms use management systems like Edmodo or Schoology. These Learning Management Systems (LMS) allow you to post assignments and collect student work via an app or website that functions the same as many social media sites. Students can shift back-and-forth between the LMS and Notability to complete assignments and then submit using the linked Dropbox account. (This structure is great for students who use their own personal devices or if you’re unable to assign devices to each student.)

Looking for Step-by-Step Directions?

Below are a couple of resources I found helpful for navigating and getting started with the app. The tutorials introduce you to the features and provides directions for how to use them!

  • Notability AWESOME! (A Review & Tutorial)
  • Notability Tutorial (PDF includes diagrams of note-taking screens & app buttons. The app price is outdated, but the visual tutorial is aligned with the current version of the app!)

Are you on the fence about whether or not to take the first step?

A few Pros & Cons to consider (for whatever they’re worth!) —

PROS:

  • I’ve saved a TON of time and paper with not having to copy every packet for every student!
  • I have copies of ALL my students’ work in one spot! (This is great for monitoring progress and making instructional decisions.)
  • Students are SUPER motivated to complete tasks and activities!
  • Students are now tech-savvy 21st century learners!
  • I’m becoming technologically “fluent” (and so are my students!)

CONS:

  • It takes time to “go digital” — scanning pages, uploading PDFs, organizing folders, creating a management system that works for you, etc. (TOTALLY worth it, though!)
  • Students will need TIME to learn how to upload documents, annotate PDFs, submit work, and function independently on the device. It’s a lot of upfront modeling and practice, but once the students pick-up the skills they are pretty self-sufficient. (Many students have devices at home, which helps with basic device navigation!)
  • Technology access. A paperless classroom only works if you have access to technology (obviously). When I push-into different rooms for reading support, or if my groups are larger than 6, I’m stuck.
  • It’s hard to share my archived student work samples at the end of the year with other teachers who are NOT tech-savvy
  • Technology let-downs. (Let’s face it… technology isn’t always reliable and “technology fails” will happen.)

Notability Alternatives (FREE)

In my efforts to find FREE alternatives to Notability, I came across a few websites that review the features of each. As you will see, there are MANY great free options to try out and explore before making the decision to purchase an app. Some of the reviewers prefer those apps OVER Notability. I have not explored enough of them to share my comparison feedback, but they’re definitely worth checking out for yourself!

Here are some of the FREE Apps for Note-Taking: 

Stay Tuned for Part II!

This weekend, I’ll be sharing different interventions I use with my students that are perfect for Notability. The list keeps growing, so I’m sure there will be many follow-ups to this post. In the mean time, follow me on BlogLovin‘ or subscribe to my emails so you don’t miss my next one! :)

(Update 1/25: Here’s the LINK to the next post in the series about the Digital Resources I use with Notability. Continue following my journey!)

Happy (Paperless) Teaching

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Winter Fluency Freebie & Cyber Monday Sale!

1 Dec

Last week, I watched as parts of Buffalo, N.Y. were buried with over SEVEN feet of snow (yikes!). Living just 15 miles north of the crazy snow band, I felt extremely lucky — lucky to not have to shovel out from all that snow, and even luckier to be part of such a wonderful city of “good neighbors.” The community came together to overcome this “Snowvember” event, spotlighting many moments of strength, courage, and perseverance. It was a timely reminder, heading into the Thanksgiving holiday, of the importance of giving back and sharing!

With December arriving today, I am ready to jump into a month of crazy holiday preparations and parties. To help kick-off this wonderfully busy season, I’m offering a new winter-themed FREEBIE. This set of 24 task cards is similar to my FREE fall-themed set and is perfect for reinforcing fluency in your classroom!

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 (Download by clicking HERE or on the image above!)

Have students complete the fluency task cards for morning bell-work, Daily 5, literacy centers, or as take-home task card sets. All you have to do is print, laminate, and cut! You can even use as a PDF and display using a SMARTboard or projector.

If you like these task cards, check out my other Daily Fluency Task Card sets. My beginner-level set has been a huge hit, and I just uploaded my newest Daily Fluency Task Card set for upper-level readers. Grab both sets for differentiating your fluency practice!

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NOTE: These products are currently 20% off and part of my HUGE Cyber Monday sale that starts today! Grab your sets today!

CyberSale

TpT Cyber Monday sale will run 12/1 – 12/2. Use Promo Code TPTCYBER for an additional 10% off my already discounted prices! Check out everything in my store HERE!

Happy December & Happy Teaching! 

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Phonics for Small Groups

3 Nov

It’s two months into the school year, and we’re about to wrap up the first quarter in my building (Yikes! Where did the time go?!).With October in the rearview mirror, I’m reflecting on all the blog posts I never found time to finish and all the blog posts I’ve been wishing to write. My reading program is officially under way, so now I’m hoping to go back and share some the resources and tools I’ve been using.

Phonics is the target area of instruction for one of my reading groups. For those of you just getting started with phonics instruction, here are a few assessment ideas and instructional tools that may be helpful to you! (Pssst… there are many freebies & samples included below!)

FREEDailyPhonicsPosters

(Download this FREE poster as part of my “Daily Phonics Posters” resource!)

Assessment

At the beginning of the year, I used formal and informal assessments to determine an instructional scope and sequence for my phonics group. As with all my reading groups, I look at the assessments to establish my starting point and use the data to essentially drive my instruction each week.

Looking at my beginning-of-the-year Qualitative Reading Inventory (QRI) and Fountas & Pinnell running records for each student, I was able to identify consonant blends as a common area of weakness for my students. However, I needed to determine which blends and where to start, so I had to dig even deeper.

I absolutely LOVE the word lists offered by Intervention Depot! I use these lists as pre-/post- assessments to drive my instruction and monitor student progress. The different assessments (like the “Blends” word list pictured below) allow me to quickly analyze student errors and determine which vowel and sound patterns to focus on. There are many different word lists for short vowels, long vowels, consonant blends, and r-controlled vowels. The website also includes reading passages for each area, to assess automaticity and identification of sounds and patterns within context (these passages are also great for fluency!). As if that’s not awesome enough, the website also features additional assessments for skills such as syllable identification and phoneme segmentation.

I created an Intervention Depot binder with assessment pages copied and ready to go. This binder is a great resource to add to your “Literacy Toolbox” and keep by your side during small group instruction. Check it out… especially while it’s still a FREE resource!

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Interventions

Once you have an instructional focus, there are many interventions you can use to reinforce phonics skills with your small groups. Keep in mind, the interventions you choose will depend on the grade-level, group size, and instructional target you’re working with, but here are a few ideas to get you started!

Word Building

Word building is an effective and hands-on way for students to practice phonics. You can use foam letters, magnetic letters, or even word building templates. Sometimes the word building will be guided (e.g., “add a /t/, take away the /e/, etc.), and sometimes I’ll just see how many words my students can build using the letters I give them.

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To take word building one step farther, students can record the words they build on graphic organizers or in writing notebooks. If we’re focusing on specific sounds or word families, I’ll have my students record the words they build on a “If I Can Spell _______, I Can Also Spell….” page (see below). This is a great way for students to make connections between the different words they are building and see how they can be sorted into word families.

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(Download the sample page for Ending Blends by clicking here or the image above!)

I also use “Build a Word” Buddy Bags with my students. This printable resource is a great alternative to foam or magnetic letters, especially if you have larger groups of students or you want to send the word-building activity home. Students can build words in partners or independently.

BuildaWordBossyRPic

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(Download the sample page by clicking here or the image above! Directions are included.)

Word Hunts

Word hunts provide students with the opportunity to search for different phonics patterns in context. The best part about integrating this activity into your instruction is that you can pretty much use any text. Students can use books they’ve read throughout the week or you can provide them with a specific text.  Depending on the level of my students, I sometimes choose texts for them that showcase the specific phonics patterns.

My district purchased a site license for Reading A-Z, giving us access to some great decodable books that feature a variety of sound patterns. You can also purchase some great phonics poetry books, like this resource which focuses on word families. I love using phonics poetry, even if many of the poems sound silly due to the over-use of the specific target sound patterns. Any poetry would work though, especially if they’re hunting for common sounds like consonant blends and short vowels. (See the image below of how my students use my partner poems for word hunts!).

Blends MsJordanReads

Students can highlight blends within words and go on a hunt for specific blend patterns.

Students can hunt and highlight the words in the poem. If students can’t highlight the text, use highlighting tape! They can also just tally up the number of words that feature the target pattern/sound or “finger frame” the words to show a partner or the teacher. Typically, I have the students hunt for the words, highlight them, and then record them on a graphic organizer. The students can create their own graphic organizer in their writing notebooks, or you can provide one for them!

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(Download the sample “Let’s Go On a Word Hunt!” page by clicking here or the image above!)

Color & Sort 

Phonics “Color & Sort” pages are great for sound pattern reinforcement. Students color the words that showcase the phonics pattern and then record the words in the correct columns. You can print the page or upload to a SMART Board document for students to complete together!

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(Download the sample Color & Sort page by clicking here or the image above!)

Daily Phonics

Daily Phonics is another ready-to-use resource for reinforcing phonics. I use this resource as a warm-up for my phonics group and have found that each week the students are getting quicker and stronger with their phonics identification skills. Once the students know how to complete the pages, they can complete independently within 5-10 minutes. If I feel they need more guidance, I’ll sometimes just display a page on the SMART Board for students to work together and complete.

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(Download the sample page by clicking here or the image above!)

If you’re looking for new interventions to try, I’ve found that many of these simple activities are extremely effective and provide students with wonderful opportunities to practice their phonics skills. In my experience, with so many activities and interventions to choose from, you need to find what works for your students. It may be one specific intervention, or it may be a combination of a few.

If my students aren’t making progress with one intervention, I try something else. One intervention does NOT fit all! The intervention that ends up working for your students may come from a purchased intervention program, or it may come from a website like FCRR or Intervention Central. (It may even be something you create yourself!)

Additional Resources

I’m hoping to share more interventions as the year goes on, but if you’re looking for additional intervention resources to explore in the mean time, the FCRR website has a TON of free downloads for Phonics instruction. I have binders filled with research-based interventions from this website. Click HERE to check out their resources!

I would love to hear what interventions YOU use to teach phonics! Please share in the comments below. :)

Happy Teaching! 

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Pumpkin Visualizing!

18 Oct

With the fall season upon us, I thought it would be the perfect time to bring more PUMPKINS into my teaching! ‘Tis the season, right? :)

Last week, I reviewed visualizing with one of my 3rd grade RtI groups. We talked about the purpose of descriptive words and spent some time reviewing adjectives.

To reinforce descriptive language, we went on an adjective word hunt using various pumpkin poetry. I love using Virginia Kroll’s “Pumpkins” poem (you can find this poem in Read and Understand Poems, Grades 2-3). It has a fun rhythm, and it really hooks my reluctant readers. Plus, it has over a dozen adjectives crammed into the poem! If you don’t have this resource, you can use any poem about pumpkins that includes adjectives.

MsJordanReads Poems About Pumpkins:

Other Poems About Pumpkins:

The students highlighted the adjectives in the poem, and we recorded our adjectives on an anchor chart.

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My students then helped me brainstorm additional adjectives for the different categories. We made our own roll-a-pumpkin chart and the students had fun rolling dice for adjectives and visualizing pumpkins using the adjectives they rolled.

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They recorded their first round of Roll-a-Pumpkin adjectives in their writing notebooks and sketched using a pencil.

Photo Oct 06, 11 17 47 AM

This was a great activity for students to practice visualizing because they had to incorporate ALL the adjectives they rolled and had to make their pumpkins come to life! We made final copies of our illustrated pumpkins with an adjective sentence to display in the hallway.

Interested in trying out this activity?

Create your own roll-a-pumpkin charts with your students, or grab the ready-to-use Roll-a-Pumpkin! activity packet I uploaded to TpT. All you have to do is print and provide a dice! There are two different chart & recording options (3 adjectives or 5 adjectives).

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Photo Oct 15, 9 47 37 AM

Happy Teaching! 

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Hooking Reluctant Readers With Series Starters!

13 Oct

Half of my battle as a Reading Specialist is to help my struggling readers fall in love with reading. It’s a vicious cycle: When you struggle to read, it’s not fun. When you don’t think it’s fun, you don’t practice reading. When you don’t practice reading, you’ll continue to struggle. — This cycle is extremely frustrating for the parents and myself!

I have a leveled classroom library of books the students choose from for take-home reading practice. Fiction and non-fiction. Easy books and chapter books. Each year I watch as my struggling readers choose the short, easy books only. (“Chapter books?! No thanks!”) I think they get intimidated by longer texts. They don’t feel “they’re ready.” They’re afraid of being unable to read it or of getting frustrated. It’s my job to encourage my students to move away from the easy readers (or at least to find a balance), and to help them realize that chapter books are NOT so scary!

To help with this goal, I’m always on the look-out for new books. This year, I’ve been on the hunt for books (level L-O) that would be appropriate and interesting for my 3rd and 4th grade struggling readers. I’m typically a Scholastic shopper (Scholastic Points!) or an Amazon shopper (Prime = 2 day delivery!) when I have titles in mind, but when I am exploring new books, I always need to sit on the floor and actually dive into the books. An hour in Barnes & Noble later… I chose FIVE series I thought my students would love!

“Series Starters” are the best way to hook struggling readers. I always choose the first in the series with the hope that they’ll love the book and want to read more. If I discover a series they absolutely love, I take it on as my personal mission to find more. I’ll check garage sales, Half.com, Amazon, and eBay for used books, or I’ll save up my Scholastic points. I’ve also spent quite a few dollars from my own pocket because a growing, diverse classroom library full of books my kids will actually READ is important to me. (Check out Scholastic’s article “Ten Easy Ways to Get Books for Your Classroom Library” for more ideas!)

Before I share the five series starters I chose, I wanted to share my FAVORITE series find from last year… (or in this case, should I say “favourite?”)

Oliver Moon

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Even though this is not a series I bought this year, I feel it’s great way to kick-off my list. These books are actually the reason I started collecting series starters and have a whole bookshelf dedicated to series “firsts.”

Last year, I fell in love with the Oliver Moon series by Sue Mongredien. I always ask my students what they’re reading at home, and one of my students introduced me to a whole slew of books I never even heard of, including this series. I borrowed his copy of Oliver Moon and the Potion Commotion and proceeded to buy the whole series on eBay that night… only to find out I bought the UK version, not the US version. #teacherfail #sortof. I didn’t realize there were two different versions; however, Barnes & Nobles only carries a few of the Oliver Moon books. I suppose I’d rather have the whole set, but for those who aren’t familiar to Harry Potter, I had to teach them some UK translations (i.e., mum, pyjamas, etc.). Teachable moment, I guess? I still sent the books home with my kids, but with the disclaimer that they would have to use their context clues strategies (or parents) to help them with unfamiliar words. :)

Junior wizards with magic and potions? At a level O/P? Yes, please! My 3rd and 4th grade students love these books, and they can enjoy a parallel world to Harry Potter without having to read level X, Y, Z books! (There is a great interactive website of activities to go along with the book series, too!)

The Notebook of Doom

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As for this year’s finds, one of my 4th grade students told about The Notebook of Doom series. This particular student loves graphic novels but was getting frustrated reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid. At a level T, the Wimpy Kid books are OK for some 4th graders, but way above his level! He still wants to read them someday, which is a great incentive for him to practice reading, but this new series is a much better fit for him.

The Notebook of Doom series, by Troy Cummings, is a hybrid of graphic novel and prose, like the Wimpy Kid books, but much more appropriate for my 4th & 5th grade struggling readers. They’re about a new kid, Alexander Bopp, who finds a notebook filled with drawings of monsters and starts seeing these monsters all over town. The series covers his run-ins with these monsters and his adventures trying to uncover the mystery of the monster-filled notebook.

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The series starter, The Rise of the Balloon Goons, is a level N, but the rest are levels O/P. (Here’s a sample from Scholastic if you want to check it out!)

Shark School

The Shark School series by Davy Ocean is all about the (mis)adventures of Harry, a hammerhead shark, and his under-the-sea friends. Right away, I thought to myself, the boys are going to LOVE this series!

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The series starter, Deep-Sea Disaster, is about Harry wanting to be a different kind of shark, anything but a hammerhead. After a disaster during a class field trip, Harry learns to appreciate being exactly who he is — a great character lesson!

I had difficulty finding extra information or resources on this series (it seems like a spin-off of the Harry Hammer series in the UK), but it looks promising! I feel like it will grow with popularity, especially now that Scholastic offers the series starter as part of their Scholastic Reading Club!

NOTE: I couldn’t find an exact level of these books, but my best guess based on readability is a Level P. (Please email me if you know the exact level. I was comparing to other level P’s in my library!) 

Bad Kitty

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Bad Kitty is a well-developed, popular graphic novel series by Nick Bruel! My students have always loved the picture book (level I), so I decided to check out the chapter books. They are hilarious and do not disappoint. Like always, I started with #1 in the series (there are seven in all).

With the series starter, Bad Kitty Gets a Bath, I know my students will love reading about how the “bad kitty” misbehaves in order to avoid a bath. I was laughing as I was exploring this series at the bookstore, especially since I have a cat at home that would probably behave the same way.

Most of the books within the series are levels P/Q, but a few are R-T. There are many interactive games and activities for this series, as well! I downloaded a mad libs activity for the series starter, which I know will be a huge hit.

My Weird School

Dan Gutman is the author of the hilarious multi-series, My Weird SchoolMy Weirder School, and My Weird School Daze (Level N/O). His books are perfect for reluctant readers, as he draws them in with his silly humor. The idea that there’s a school full of “weird” teachers just makes students giggle. (Let’s face it… we’re all a little weird, right?) :)

In addition to his wonderful collection of books, there is a fabulous website for teachers and students: My Weird Classroom Club. I shared this as a link on my classroom website so that my students can explore the author’s “wacky world of weird” before, during, and after reading the series starter!

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(Teachers can download classroom resources and printable activities, while students can explore the website to read about the books, play online games, and so much more!)

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The series starter, Miss Daisy is Crazy, is just one of MANY books I look forward to sharing with my students! I just know that I’m going to have to collect them all since my students are already asking for more adventures from Dan Gutman’s Ella Mentry School.

The Never Girls

The Never Girls series is perfect for students who love the world of Disney and Peter Pan. The series dives into the wondrous world of Never Land, filled with the oh-so-famous Tinkerbell and other fairies. Each book is a new adventure of four real girls, who are best friends, in a fairy’s world.

The series starter, In a Blink, is filled with imagination. It’s perfect for my struggling readers who still believe in the magic of Disney and fairies.

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Similar to other popular series, Disney has a whole interactive page of book activities through the Random House Kids website. These activities are perfect for the students who fall in love with this series. I especially like the acrostic poetry page!

NOTE: As with the Shark School series, I couldn’t find an exact level of these books, but my best guess based on readability is a Level P. (Again, please email me if you know the exact level. I was comparing to other level P’s in my library!) 

Reading Series by Level

With so many series to keep track of, I created a Popular Reading Series by Level resource to document the different series options in my classroom library. This would be a wonderful at-a-glance resource for helping students pick out “just right” books. Feel free to download this file for your classroom.

(Don’t know how to download Google Docs? Click the link, or the image below, and click “File” and then “Download As.” You can choose to download it as a Word document or a PDF. If you choose to download as a Word document, you should be able to edit it for your own classroom use!)

Leveling Books

Within each series, the reading levels of books often varies. If you’re looking for the exact levels for specific titles within a series, use Scholastic Book Wizard (FREE website or app) or the Level It Books app ($3.99). Unfortunately, not every title is listed, but it will at least give you a start!

I hope this blog post introduced you to a few new series! My plan is to share a few more later on in the school year, especially as I come across new series. If you have any to recommend, though, I would love to hear from you! Comment below or email me: msjordanreads@gmail.com.

What series do you use in your classroom? Are there any other “Series Starters” I should add to my classroom library? Any that I should add to my growing “Popular Reading Series by Level” resource list? 

Happy Teaching!

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A Harvest of Freebies — Blog Hop!

2 Oct

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First, I want to shout out a big THANK YOU to Andrea (Reading Toward the Stars) and Wendy (Read With Me ABC) for organizing this literacy blog hop! Fall is my favorite time of year, and I love all the teaching resources that teachers have created to bring the fall season into our classrooms! Not only will you be able to collect new ideas and resources for October/November, but all the resources are FREE! Really, who doesn’t love freebies?

If you’re just joining the blog hop, you may want to go back to the first stop at Wendy’s blog: Read With Me ABC. There are over a dozen blogs participating, so make sure you hop through all of them and collect your free blog hop resources!

To help you focus on fluency in your classroom, I’m sharing my brand-new Daily Fluency Task Cards — Fall FreebieThese task cards are perfect for reinforcing fluency skills in the classroom. Students will love the different activities focusing on pace, phrasing, expression and attention to punctuation. There is a total of 24 fall-themed fluency task cards that you can use for the months of October/November. I hope your students enjoy them as much as my students do! :)

(NOTE: The resource I’m sharing is an off-shoot of my new Daily Fluency Task Card series. Read more about this series in my blog post here!)

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Happy Teaching! 

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Daily Fluency Task Cards

22 Sep

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With the school year under way and my RTI intervention groups going full force, I’m excited to announce the launch of my newest product series… Daily Fluency Task Cards!

I just laminated and put together my own classroom set of task cards, and I can’t wait to start using them with my students this week! For the past year, I’ve been using the Daily Fluency Activity Packs (Beginner & Intermediate) with my targeted RTI fluency groups. Students complete these daily activity pages as a 5-minute warm-up while they wait for their intervention group to start. I am still using these activity packets this year for RTI, but I wanted additional task activities that I could send with my students to reinforce fluency in the classroom and at home.

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Daily Fluency Task Cards are the perfect supplement to any classroom reading program and would be perfect for independent practice. Each task card allows students to “dig deeper” into fluency and focuses on specific fluency skills. Use the cards as part of your Daily 5 rotations, RTI interventions, small group instruction/guided reading, and even as informal assessments of fluency skills.

For those of you familiar with my Daily Fluency Activity Packs, these fluency task cards are a modified version of the resource. (Not familiar? Read more about this product series here!) The big difference is that the task cards feature one task per card, as opposed to five tasks per page. The categories are the same, but the content is new!

The Daily Fluency Task Card activities are quick, and you can customize which tasks the students complete. Differentiate your sets of tasks cards to fit your students needs!

Introducing Fluency

Before using my Daily Fluency Activity Packs or these Daily Fluency Task Cards, I would highly recommend teaching a unit on fluency. For many students it may be a review, but it’s important for them to be able to identify the different parts of fluency. Consider setting up a Fluency Boot Camp in your classroom to introduce fluency and the different components. You can also download my FREE “What is Fluency?” reference sheet to support your fluency lessons.

The Daily Fluency Task Cards resource include fluency posters that can be used to review the components. Display the posters in your classroom or print them out for student fluency folders. You can even print four to a page (using “Print Preferences”) to create a one-page student reference!

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Integrating Fluency Task Cards

There are 116 task cards (29 different tasks) included in this resource.

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The first five tasks are dedicated to reviewing the major parts of fluency: Pace, Phrasing, Expression, and attention to Punctuation.

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The remaining 24 tasks reinforce these fluency components. The variety of tasks provides students with the opportunity to practice specific fluency skills in a fun and engaging way. Pick and choose which to include in your sets, or use them all!

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Getting Started

The prep for these task cards is simple! There are two versions of this resource – light gray background (as seen in preview pictures) and white background (not shown but for teachers who wish to save ink!). Both are included in the .Zip file. All you have to do is print the version of your choice and then laminate, cut, and sort. You can sort the cards by set (i.e., A, B, C, D), one task card per activity in each set. Or you can sort them by target area (i.e., Pace, Phrasing, Expression, Punctuation). You can include ALL the cards or just pick and choose the task cards you want your students to complete.

I like to use key rings to organize my different sets. I hang the task cards around my classroom for students to have easy access. Plus, it keeps the cards together!

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If you don’t wish to use key rings, you can also organize the task cards with envelopes, baskets, or index card organizers.

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Task Card Management

To help manage Daily Fluency Task Cards as an activity or literacy center in your classroom, encourage students to record which task cards they’ve completed. Not only does it ensure that students eventually work through all the tasks, but it also provides a level of accountability. Use the log if you’re using custom sets or having students choose the cards at random. Use the checklist if they’re working through a specific set.

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Using the Task Cards

There is a “Directions” task card that can be included with each task card set. Directions for each activity are also listed on the task cards themselves. Be sure to read the directions and model each activity with your students so that they may complete the tasks independently. You can introduce them ALL at once or introduce one a day/week.

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Once your students have practiced each of the activities, they should able to work in partners or independently to complete the tasks. Task Cards are the perfect tool to add to your classroom reading “toolbox!”

What fluency resources do you use? How do you reinforce fluency in the classroom? Please comment & share! :)

Grab This Product!

Are you interested in purchasing this resource? Check it out in my TpT store by clicking HERE or the image below!

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 NOTE: I will be creating additional Beginner level fluency task card collections and will be working on Intermediate level ones, too! As soon as they’re done they will be listed in the “Daily Fluency Task Cards” category in my TpT store.

Enter the MsJordanReads Task Card Giveaway!

A winner will be chosen September 28th (and it could be YOU!). Click HERE or the image below to enter this Rafflecopter Giveaway!

Congratulations to Heather S. — You are the winner!!

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Follow my store or follow me on Facebook for updates!

Happy Teaching!

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FarFaria Subscription Giveaway!

30 Aug

As many of you know, I’m always looking for new literacy resources to help support my struggling readers, especially ones that can I can use with my classroom iPads. A few months ago, I was given the opportunity to try-out a great app for kids – FarFaria. I was not familiar with the app, and I typically don’t do a lot of product reviews, but I was curious to try it out and explore what it had to offer!

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Although FarFaria is designed for children (ages 2-9) with bedtime routines and story time in mind, I would recommend the app as a perfect resource for classrooms too! If you are a teacher with a limited classroom library, or are looking for eBooks to use with your iPads and devices, this app would definitely be for you!

Getting Started

The FarFaria app is a free download from Apple or Google. With the download, you’ll have access to ONE free story a day! I like that the company gives you a chance to explore the stories and experience the app without feeling obligated to buy a subscription. If you are interested, you can buy a subscription which includes unlimited access to all the book collections (over 750 stories!). The best part is they add FIVE new stories each week, so the collection is always growing and changing!

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The app itself is very student-friendly, and it allows students to read independently. This would be perfect for DEAR time or for “Read to Self” during a Daily 5 rotation. If you only have a few iPads in your room, students could take turns using the app during your scheduled literacy blocks. You would need a set of headphones, but the students could sit at their desks (or pretty much anywhere in the classroom) to interact with this app!

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Classroom Perks

I can see many perks for owning this app as a parent. The number one perk would be the unlimited reading opportunities. You could bring your iPad in the car, share a story at bedtime, and provide iPad time during downtime throughout the day. Completing at least 20 minutes of reading every day would be no problem! It’s like having a children’s library in your pocket (well, maybe not your pocket… but maybe your purse or backpack?).

As a teacher, I really enjoy the variety of texts. The FarFaria collection includes quality books that cater to the interests of every child. With eleven categories of books (e.g., fairy tales, animal stories, adventure stories, classics, etc.), the children in your home or classroom will have many different genres and topics to explore.

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Each category includes books at different levels. The levels range from 1 (Pre-Readers) to 4 (Fluent Readers). Your children can pick a “just right” book and read on their own, or they can choose an easier book to read for fluency practice. They can even choose a challenging book and read along with the app! For the classroom, you can have students complete individual “FarFaria Reading Logs” so you can check-in on the levels and genres they’re choosing.

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The “Read to Me” feature is probably my favorite part of FarFaria. From my experience with read along books, I would assume it would be the kids’ favorite feature too. Kids love story time! They love being read to. Similar to RaZ-Kids and the B&N Nook (color) “Read to Me” books, though, I always encourage parents to make sure there’s a balance of using the “Read to Me” feature and having their children read on their own. Listening and following along with a story is great for modeling fluency (and great for bedtime!), but it’s even more powerful if the children listen to the story and then read it on their own after. If the text is to hard to read independently, parents can encourage their children to listen to a story that’s challenging and then pick an easier text to read and practice their fluency. Reading on their own allows kids to practice reading with good pace, phrasing, expression, and attention to punctuation. They can challenge themselves to “read like the iPad” and use it as a model for good fluency!

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Another great feature is that the FarFaria app allows the children to choose stories to read when they don’t have WiFi or internet access. By selecting a story as a “Favorite,” it allows them to access the text offline. This is great for when you’re traveling and you want your child to read in the car or during those in-between times when you don’t have WiFi. Again, I’m not sure how this could work with a whole class using one device and selecting favorites, but it’s great if you only have one child or a small group using it.

FarFaria Resources

Check out the FarFaria blog if you get a chance! Not only do they share new books and app features on the blog, but they also share awesome literacy resources, such as homework tips and literacy games you can play at home. There are many strategies and ideas for encouraging your child to read beyond the app!

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FarFaria App Giveaway

Do you have an iPad at home or in your classroom? Would you like to try-out this wonderful literacy resource? I’m offering a Rafflecopter giveaway for a 3-month iPad subscription to FarFaria. The giveaway will run for one week, so please share using Facebook and Twitter for an extra chance to win. I will be picking ONE winner September 6th! Good luck!

ENTER my giveaway by clicking HERE or the picture below!

This giveaway has ended. Thank you for everyone who entered!

Congratulations to Pam Kobza! You are the WINNER! 

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Happy Teaching!

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“Blasting Off a Great Year” — Blog Hop

21 Aug

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3… 2… 1… Blast Off!

First, I want to shout-out a huge THANK YOU to Carla from Comprehension Connection and Andrea from Reading Toward the Stars for organizing this “Back-to-School” blog hop. I love opportunities to collaborate with our amazing group of literacy bloggers, and I can’t wait to read through all the ideas that are shared! I’m sure they will be out of this world! (See what I did there?) ;)

For this blog hop, each blogger was asked to dig into their teacher toolboxes to share something that would help “blast off” the school year. As you navigate through this blog hop, you’ll find a variety of fun literacy resources and ideas to use in your classroom for the months of August & September. There are book ideas, guided reading tips, classroom set-up suggestions, and SO much more!

(NOTE: If you’re just joining the hop now, you may want to go back and see the other blog posts you missed. The first stop is Reading Toward the Stars.)

When brainstorming what to share with you, I couldn’t help but think about the CRAZINESS of this time of year. Not to say it isn’t crazy during other months… but “Back to School” season is especially busy. Between getting READY for the school year (i.e., setting up classrooms, organizing resources & materials, getting lesson plans in order, etc.) and SURVIVING the first week of school (i.e., establishing classroom routines, getting to know your new students, keeping your sanity, etc.), it’s just… C.R.A.Z.Y.

To help manage the “crazy,” I decided to share a few of my “getting organized for guided reading” ideas and resources with you. Hopefully they can help you get started with small group instruction during the first few weeks!

Getting Organized for Guided Reading

Getting guided reading up and running shouldn’t be an overwhelming, painful task. Some teachers feel they can’t start their small group instruction until they have beginning-of-the-year data on every single student. For those classrooms, guided reading and small groups could be delayed for many weeks while assessments take over and pause instruction. My suggestion is to get started right away, if possible, and to use the spring data that you have. Yes, there may be some summer regression (or a lot, in some cases), but it gives you a starting point. You can always make adjustments as you collect up-to-date assessment data and get to know your students.

Grouping Your Students

Unless I have the past year’s anecdotal records or running records, I try to group the students initially by reading level. Later, I may change the groups to strategy groups or a combination of the two. It’s difficult to guess at which strategies your students will need until you have a chance to read with them or analyze past records.

Use a form like this one (bel0w) to help you map out groups. It used to be a paid product in my store, but I recently changed it to be a free download. It’s a 2-page product – one page is organized by colors and F&P levels, and the other page is completely blank so you can customize your own.

Guided Reading Grouping

You don’t need to meet in a group with every student, every day. Create a rotating schedule and try to stick to it. You could even consider implementing 1:1 conferences versus regular guided reading groups. Pick what works for you and what you can manage!

Picking Texts for the First Week

If you’re not sure what text-level to pick for your groups, and you don’t already have a text in mind, you should consider starting your first round of guided reading with a poem. Poetry is a fun way to kick-start reading instruction at the beginning of the year and allows students to show off what they can do! Plus, most students could use a little fluency practice after a few months out of the classroom. You could even use the same poem for every group but differentiate the instruction. As you observe student reading behavior within the small groups, start filling-out an informal skills assessment for each student (TeacherVision has a great printable form here). A skills assessment will allow you to start monitoring each student’s level of proficiency with different oral reading skills and comprehension strategies. It will also help you plan strategy lessons for students while you’re still collecting assessment data.

If you’re looking for a fun “Back to School” poem to use, check out the partner poem I shared in a blog post a few days ago. A few other options are listed below!

Back to School Poetry:

Independent Tasks for Students

We use Daily 5 in my building, which helps build-up stamina and independence in students. I love this structure because, once it’s up and running, it allows teachers to work with small groups without interruptions. Of course, a structure like this takes TIME to model and practice at the beginning of the year, so your small group instruction may need to be modified for the first week or so. If you are not familiar with Daily 5, consider activities like literacy centers, task cards, or independent choice boards for your students to complete while you meet with your small groups. You could even have them work on back-to-school writing pieces like Hello School Year, Goodbye Summer poems.

Collecting Anecdotal Notes During Guided Reading

A big part of guided reading, especially in the beginning, is collecting and organizing anecdotal notes and informal assessments. Find a system that works for you! Some teachers use clipboards. Some teachers use mailing labels. I use a big binder and create tabs within the binder for each student. This only works if you have a small group table where it can stay (it gets VERY heavy!). I record anecdotal notes for each student and collect running records, sight word lists, student samples, etc. Sometimes I will jot a quick note on a post-it and will later transfer it to the anecdotal page, or I will create a summary page of anecdotal post-it notes for each student.

Download a FREE packet of Anecdotal Notes Forms for Guided Reading:

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If you have access to an iPad, I’ve also used digital forms (Google Docs) or apps (e.g., Notability) that I can take type notes into. For the Google Doc form, once you submit notes for a student, it exports the data into a spreadsheet that you can sort, print, etc. I only used the iPads when I traveled around the classroom to the students (vs. them traveling to me) because the iPad was portable. In the end, I went back-and-forth between this and a sticky note system because I ended up typing WAY too slow. If you’re quick with the iPad keyboard, though, it’s a great way to organize anecdotal notes. (I blogged about how to do this last year! Check out the post here.)

Getting organized and ready to start small group instruction is half the battle. I hope these resources help you blast off a great year, especially with guided reading. Do you have any suggestions? Feel free to comment with any tips, suggestions, or resources YOU have for getting started with guided reading!

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Now it’s time to “Blast Off!” to the next blog stop, This Little Piggy Reads. Click the rocket ship (below) to hop directly to the post!

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Happy Teaching! 

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