Archive | August, 2014

FarFaria App Review

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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Happy Teaching!

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Getting Organized for Guided Reading

21 Aug

For teachers around the world, “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 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’s a 2-page resource – 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.)

Resources for Getting Started with Guided Reading

Are you looking for some professional resources to help you get started? Here are a few books that I’ve found to be a HUGE help in setting up guided reading in the classroom.


(Update 4/2017 — There is a new version available for teachers with actual videos of Jan Richardson teaching model lessons. Check them out: Next Step Guided Reading in Action K-2 and Next Step Guided Reading in Action 3-6. Also she came out with a Guided Reading companion book called The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading. You can check out the book plus the companion guide below!)


Getting organized and ready to start small group instruction is only half the battle, but dedicating time to create a system that works for you helps with running a smooth reading program throughout the year. I hope these resources help you as you navigate the first few weeks of guided reading.

Do you have any suggestions for getting organized? Feel free to comment with any tips, suggestions, or resources YOU have for getting started with guided reading!

(NOTE: This blog post was originally part of the “Blasting Off to a Great Year” blog hop. Check out all the blog posts in the series by hopping back to the first stop at Reading Toward the Stars, or visit the next blog post in the series with This Little Piggy Reads.)

Happy Teaching! 

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A FREE Back to School Poem

18 Aug

Two more weeks and then it’s back to school for me! (Seriously… where did the summer go?!?) I’d like to say that I was extremely productive and accomplished everything on my to-do list, but… not so much. I started to feel guilty and disappointed in myself, but then I came across Jenny’s post at Luckeyfrog’s Lilypad, “The Summer That Should Have Been,” and it helped put things into perspective for me. I’m feeling a LITTLE less guilty about the neglected task items on my list, because looking back, I’ve had a pretty awesome summer!

Just to share a few things I was lucky enough to do:

I went to Ireland with my husband’s family for a week. (One word: AMAZING)

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(Lough Leane, Killarney, Ireland – July 2014)

I spent three days in Belgium with my husband where we ate lots of waffles, chocolate, and frites (and tried MANY new beers!).

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I spent time with family and friends, near and far. Threw a (successful) surprise retirement party for my father-in-law. Went to a couple of weddings, from Buffalo to Chicago, to celebrate the marriage of some of my favorite people. Snuggled with my adorable pup, Kiko. I even read seven books (YESSS!).

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For teaching-related tasks, I completed two online courses for continuing ed credit, published two new partner poems (I now have 14 total!), and filled up a notebook with fun ideas for the school year. I’m also in the process of planning a new intervention block with the 2nd grade team in my building.

Productive summer? Yes. As productive as I wanted to be? No. Am I okay with it? ABSOLUTELY, yes. I feel accomplished, yet refreshed. My summer was FULL… full of fun, relaxation, travel, and wonderful memories (with a little work mixed in there). 🙂

Despite all of that, I’m still struggling with the summer being almost over. It’s one thing to create lessons and resources by the pool, another to get up, get dressed, and get myself out the door each morning! I’m not looking forward to that, but I am eager to kick-off another fun school year. I have so many new ideas I want to try out, and I can’t wait to see all my students!

A *FREE* Back-to-School Poem!

As I mentioned above, I’ve been working on a few new partner poems to use with my students this year! If you love partner poetry (aka, “poems for two voices”) and are interested in checking them out, click HERE! They’re great for fluency practice and for teaching character perspective. My students love them, and I bet yours would too! You can buy a collection of just the poems (PDF eBook), or I sell each poem individually with activity pages. I’m working on getting them published as a REAL book (wouldn’t that be awesome?!). 🙂

In the mean time, to celebrate my growing partner poetry collection and the back-to-school season… I’m offering my newest poem for FREE on TpT (if you’re not already a member of TpT, you should join here!). Grab the FREE poetry packet HERE or by clicking the images below!

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Happy Teaching!

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