Sunday, July 5, 2015

Freebie - Classroom Management - Transition Songs for Lining Up

Having a repertoire of fun songs to sing when having your students line up is a great classroom management tool. Students can become bored with just one or two songs though, so its a good idea to have a bunch to rotate through so none of them get stale.

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/FREE-Transition-Songs-for-Lining-Up-1940028
I have mine laminated and hanging on a ring by my classroom door. This way I never have to struggle to remember lyrics or the tune. Sometimes I let a student choose which song we're going to sing - this is a great treat that students strive to earn!

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/FREE-Transition-Songs-for-Lining-Up-1940028
The most important thing about using songs during line up  is that your expectations are clear. When teaching procedures, I always make sure that students know exactly how I expect them to stand in line - facing forward, hands in a hug or behind their backs and lips closed. I don't require a bubble because holding one makes your cheeks very tired after just a short while and I don't want to require them to do something that they can't comfortably do because that sets us all up for failure! This is also why I allow them to choose whether to put their hands in a hug or behind their backs. It can feel very unnatural to not allow your arms to swing by your sides so I allow my students to switch it up.

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/FREE-Transition-Songs-for-Lining-Up-1940028
When we get to the end of the line up song, all students should be in procedure and we should be ready to leave the room. If not, then everyone sits back down and we start totally over at the beginning. In the first few weeks of school I always add a little bit of time to our transitions so that we can practice lining up several times if necessary without being late for lunch or specials. I never leave the room without a quiet line, even if we have to sit down and line up 5 times. It is so important for students to learn to line up quietly - especially when we get to things like fire drills, tornado drills or intruder alarms!

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/FREE-Transition-Songs-for-Lining-Up-1940028
I've compiled 14 easy to sing & easy to remember songs for lining up. Just click on any of the pictures in this post to download them for free in my TPT store! This version has bright chevron backgrounds, but I also have them in zebra stripes and owls!

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/FREE-Transition-Songs-for-Lining-Up-1940028

Friday, July 3, 2015

5 Essentials for Center Time

When trying to set up Centers for your Play-Based Learning classroom, there are 5 Essentials to take into consideration. Ignoring these 5 Essentials leads to the Top 5 Complaints about Centers. Cut critics off at the pass by thinking about these things BEFORE you set-up your classroom!

Noise: Let's face it, a kindergarten or Pre-K classroom is going to be noisy - especially at Center Time! However, some Centers lend themselves to noise more than others like Block Center and Dramatic Play. On the other hand, Listening Center and Reading Center are quieter activities. Put a noisy Center next to a quiet Center and you can almost guarantee that the quiet Center is not going to work out - the students will be too distracted by the noise from the next Center to concentrate! So before you start setting up your room, make a list of your Centers divided into 3 categories - Noisy, Quiet and Moderate. Then make sure that the moderate noise Centers act as buffers - between 2 noisy centers (because noisy+noisy=out of control!) and between noisy and quiet Centers. Your noisiest Centers should also not be near your classroom door - unless you plan to keep it closed at Center Time!

 
Space: There's never enough of it, and it's hard to decide which Center gets it and which doesn't. Obviously Block Center needs a lot of space, but does that mean Writing Center should get shorted? Ideally you wouldn't ever have to make that decision, but since we live in the real world, we do. My solution is to make certain Centers portable. With the weight of hardwood blocks, obviously Block Center can't be moved around the room, so that's a permanent Center. Your Listening Center needs to be located by an outlet and plugging it in and unplugging it daily would likely be a hassle so that's a permanent Center. Same with Reading Center - unless your Library is on wheels, you're going to want to keep that set up all the time. Once you've decided which Centers HAVE to be permanent, you can then look at ways to make your other Centers portable. I have a weird cubby space by the door to my heater/air conditioner. I can't block access to that door, but I CAN put a rolling table in that space. At Center time that table rolls out with our Dollhouse on top and can be moved anywhere in the  room. At the end of Centers it is a snap to roll it back into place! Similarly, our Puzzle Center and Play Dough Center are stored in bins on shelves during the day - come Center Time they're moved to a table top. If you train your students to help setup and put away these portable Centers, it takes just a few minutes to have them ready or cleaned up!

Mess: Center Time can be messy, it's part of the exploration and learning that students are doing. That doesn't mean your room has to be a wreck though. Keep your Art Center and Sensory Center on tile if possible or place a plastic tarp under them if you have wall to wall carpet. If you're lucky enough to have a sink in your room, obviously your Paint Center will need to be close to it. Make sure you have the tools for students to clean up their Centers too. We have 3 sets of dustpans and brushes sized just right for little hands. Part of our clean-up routine is sweeping the floor around Play Dough Center & Sand & Water Center. When water play is involved, I provide a basket of rags for wiping up spills. This helps to keep accidents down since slip hazards are removed plus it helps teach the students responsibility! Bonus? The custodians don't complain about my room!

Traffic: Have you ever noticed that on an open stretch of highway you tend to increase your speed? The same thing happens in the classroom - any time there is an opportunity to move in a straight line, students are going to run. Although we as teachers love nice, straight aisles, it's going to be a behavior problem at some point, because that wide open space is too tempting. Try to make sure that while there is space to get to the exits, there are no runways for students to build up speed around the classroom. Place a bookcase or table in the pathway to act as a speed bump so students have to slow down!

Behavior Management: Students can get bored of playing with the same toys day in and day out. A bored student can be a disruptive or destructive student! Once they have explored all of the acceptable ways to interact with a toy, they move on to the unacceptable ways! In order to prevent this, consider how you can switch out Center materials so that they remain "fresh" in the students' eyes. This may be as simple as changing out Roll & Cover game boards in your Math Center, or rotating books in Reading Center. Add a wooden train set to Block Center or new cookie cutters to Play Dough Center. And of course, don't put out every single activity on Day1 - start out with a few things, then after a couple of weeks add in some more. Take something out and add something different. If you keep switching it up, chances are students will be so enthralled with the ever-changing activities that they won't have a chance to get bored! Also, keep in mind how many students will be at a Center. If you allow 4 children at a Center, it should have enough materials for 4 so that fighting is kept to a minimum!

If you keep these 5 Essentials in mind when planning your classroom set-up and Centers, your Center Time will be more effective and less stressful plus give your critics less to fuss about! Have another tip? Please Rustle Up a Response below in the comments - I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Word Work Wednesday Linky

My friend Maggie over at Maggie's Kinder Corner is hosting an ongoing weekly linky party for Word Work Wednesdays! I'm joining it today to talk about sight words!

http://maggieskindercorner.blogspot.com/2015/07/word-work-wednesday-linky.html
There are tons of different opinions on how many sight words to teach, in what order, when to start teaching them etc. Personally, I believe that students need to know all of their letters and sounds before starting on sight words. There just isn't enough visual dissimilarity between a lot of sight words for students to correctly memorize them without having letter recognition.

Once students are ready for sight words, I find that they learn best with their peers. A few students are motivated enough to learn sight words from a list at home, but those are not the majority. The rest need lots of playful repetition - through songs, chants and games.

YouTube has a ton of sight word videos - its just a matter of finding ones with the words you need.


HeidiSongs and Dolch Dogs are also good resources for sight word songs!

Once of my students' favorite games to play with sight words is always Hide N Seek. You can play this with practically any concept, so once they know how to play, I just change out the cards throughout the year and they practice that skill, or a new skill, without me having to spend more time teaching game play!

The basic premise is super simple - the sight word cards are arranged in a pocket chart, face up. One student hides a small picture behind a card while the other students close their eyes. Then they have to "find" the small picture by guessing which card it is hidden behind. They can't just point, they have to read the word or the Hider won't turn the card around. Since this can be played in small group, there is always someone who can reinforce a word or correct a misread word. And I make multiple picture pieces so that game play can be extended - if they have to find all 3 pictures they generally read a ton of words before they find them all!


Generally, I  group together students who are within a few Dolch Word Lists of each other. I use the Dolch Word Lists because there are so many resources for it, as compared to the sight word list my school uses. The two word lists have almost exactly the same words, except in different order, so if students master the Dolch Word Lists, they can generally read all the other sight word lists out there!

I've created many different themed sets of Sight Word Games. Each time I change out the cards, my students act like its a totally new game and enthusiasm revs up! Here are some of the different theme I have - check out my TPT store for more!
https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Super-Hero-Superhero-Sight-Word-Game-Dolch-Word-Lists-1-11-802321

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Frog-Pond-Sight-Word-Game-Dolch-Word-Lists-1-11-1798466

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/What-Does-The-Fox-Say-Sight-Word-Game-Dolch-Word-Lists-1-11-1041302

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Movie-Themed-Sight-Word-Game-Dolch-Word-Lists-262154

Playing games, watching videos and singing chants helps my students learn the sight words in ways that are engaging and fun! Plus, I don't have a ton of worksheets to grade or papers to copy! Just create the game and let them play!When I do my required sight word assessments, I always see growth, so I can justify letting my students play games rather than tracing worksheets!

I hope that gave you a few ideas for making learning sight words more fun for your students! Head on over to the linky to see what other bloggers are talking about for Word Work Wednesday!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Math Monday with Positional Words


It's International Mud Day AND Math Monday! Lots of goodness in one day!
We created a mud pit in the field behind our house and the 3 youngest boys and I played in the mud. I have to admit that although I did get my feet muddy, and squished it in my hands, that was as far as I went. Tommy and Joshua got into the occasion though and ended up covered in mud from head to toe! Sully was not a fan of the mud, and actually spent more time trying to wash off his action figure than playing, but it was a fun experience anyways!

http://kinderkraziness.blogspot.com/2015/06/math-monday-calendar-time.html

Do you have to teach positional words? Positional words can be very tough for ELL students and for those students who have not been exposed to a wide vocabulary. It's one of those skills that I struggled with when I first started teaching, because it seemed so easy to me that it was hard to understand how my students could NOT know what "on" or "under" meant and that I would have to explicitly teach these words! My own children knew these words way before they were school aged, simply because of all the conversations we had - "Your car rolled under the couch, reach under and get it!" or  "Leave your cup on the table while we wipe your hands." or "Put your bear on the shelf next to your books." Obviously ELL students haven't had these experiences, but since I teach at a Title I school, I see many, many students who are not ELL who still don't have this vocabulary experience.

So now I explicitly teach positional words as part of my Morning Meeting or Calendar Time. I have a few favorite positional word videos:





I also use my Kohl's Cares animals that are usually in our Reading Center (did you know they have Laura Numeroff animals and books right now?!). I usually choose a few students a day to move our animals around the room. At first, I instruct the children as to where to put the animals - "Put the dog on the table." or "Can you fit the monkey under a chair?"


As the children get more comfortable with positional words, I start having them decide where to put the animal and then tell the class where it is using positional words - "The bear is in front of the door." or "The bear is between the caddies."

Showing a video and having students manipulate the animals literally takes only 5 minutes a day and my students LOVE it. The fun of getting to get up and put the animals in silly places means that this is a highly engaging activity - both for the student holding the animal and their friends who are watching and giggling up a storm!  And because it works so well whole group, it's a skill that I don't have to focus on in small groups!

Simple right? Math often is - it doesn't always have to be a big lesson with worksheets and assessments! Now head on over to Kinder Kraziness to read some more Math Monday goodness!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Defending Play

If you follow me on Facebook, you'll probably have noticed that I post a TON of play-based learning articles. I am a passionate advocate for play-based learning and love to share research based articles that back up the practice. To me, it just makes sense. I've always wondered WHY other teachers aren't letting their students play more.

And then, in a workshop, I heard a teacher ask "But isn't a worksheet just as good?" And it hit me that there is a LOT of work to be done, if there are still teachers who can't see the benefits of hands-on-learning over worksheets. If we as teachers don't see, or can't explain, the value of play-based learning, how do we expect parents or administrators to see it?

This is my version of a quote from Plato, I think he would have agreed with the sentiment ;)

One of the things I think we need to learn, as play-based learning advocates, is not only how to share the research, but also how to justify play in the classroom as it is happening. If someone came into your room at center time, would you be able to articulate what is being learned at each center? If they said "Convince me that your Block Center isn't a waste of  space." Could you?  If they said "Free choice centers are a waste of instructional time that could be better spent on your reading standards." could you argue differently?

One of the ways that I help myself out in situations like this, is through my Center Signs. I use the signs to mark each center and as a center management tool. At the bottom of my signs I place small stickers. Those stickers correspond to the maximum number of students allowed in that particular center - generally either 2 or 4. When the children get to the center, they use their clothespin to cover up a sticker. When all the stickers are covered, the other children know that the center is full and they have to find another center to play in. 
This helps me prevent situations like 8 kids duking it out in a center where I only have materials for 3. It also helps ensure that center time is not total chaos - if your clip is in Lego Center, you need to stay in that vicinity, not be scampering from Reading Center to Paint Center to Puppet Center scattering toys and disgruntled friends in your wake!
But the other reason I have my Center Signs is because each one has a section of "I am:" statements describing the learning taking place in that individual center. If you've ever had a discussion and then later on thought, "Oh! I wish I had remembered to say this." or "If only I had told them that." you'll know why I have those "I am" statements on my signs. They're my own little cheat sheets.
Sometimes, when people ask a question and you feel on the spot, you might not remember everything you want to say. You might not be able to clearly verbalize WHY puppets are important for your kids for example. Having the "I am" statements on the Center Signs helps me make sure that whenever someone asks about what the children are doing at a center, I can put together an articulate answer that will at least give them something to think about before declaring that my students shouldn't be doing so much "playing."

The other thing I think we need to do, as educators, is to examine the play we see in our classrooms and identify the learning taking place for ourselves. This is great for anecdotal records and informal documentation. Instead of writing "Timmy played at Block Center today." which gives absolutely no indication that any learning took place, instead you have to be able to observe and then record exactly what was going on.

To help myself with that skill this summer, I've been watching my youngest son (22 months) play. I try to catch him when he's absorbed in self-directed play so that I can see what ideas and skills he's trying on his own. I took the following video and then picked it apart:
What would I be able to tell an administrator who came to me wanting justification of why I let Sully  play instead of trying to teach him letters and sounds? 

Well, let's talk about perseverance and problem solving - Sully's action figures get stuck in the ship and although he's frustrated, he doesn't give up and so he learns that if he uses his other hand it is easier to get the figures out. I was pleased to note that although he was frustrated (as you can tell by his screech lol) his first instinct was to try to fix the problem himself instead of looking to me to solve it for him.

He's also experimenting with gravity - he's learned that if he drops something, it falls, and thus he has his figures "jump" off the stand. He repeats the jumping several times, with one and two figures, learning that gravity is constant. He knows that when he drops the figures they will land on the shelf below, and thus looks at the shelf and claps when the figures do what he expects them to do. At the 1:30 mark he drops a figure and it bounces to the floor. He briefly takes a seat to consider this surprise, and then stands up to experiment again.

He's developing his fine motor skills while manipulating the figures into and out of the cockpit and grasping them in his fingers as he moves them around. He's also developing gross motor skills - squatting, sitting, stretching, reaching - building strong core muscles as well as fine tuning control of his arms and legs.

He's increasing his vocabulary and story-telling abilities too. Although it's a simple story - men getting out of a ship and jumping off a cliff, he's practicing lots of the phrases that he knows. "Ready, go!" is one of his favorites. He's using his imagination by making up dialogue for his "bad guy" and "Dobby". As he has the figures fight about some issue, he's also exploring relationships and power dynamics - will the bad guy win or will "Dobby" prevail?

He even pauses for a moment to check on the hermit crabs - noticing that they're moving and commenting with "Crabs?" to verify that these creatures are indeed called "crabs". Although I try to coax him into a further interaction with the crabs, once I confirm the name, he loses interest. (The crabs spend the school year in my classroom, so they've only been home a few weeks.) Although he was distracted by the crabs, he quickly refocuses on the task at hand and continues with what he was doing before the interruption thus showing he is able to sustain his attention.

Although Sully's play isn't as sophisticated as the play you will see in a pre-k or K classroom, I think you get the basic idea. It's important to be able to watch children at play and be able to pick out the various skills that they are working on. If you can't do that, then when someone says "Isn't a worksheet just as good?" you'll be hard pressed to defend play. It's also a good idea to videotape each of your centers at some point (I recommend not letting students know you're taping them to make sure you're recording authentic play - Sully is too young to care about the camera, but older children might change their play if they know the teacher is filming).

First and foremost you should tape so that you know that the purpose of your center is being met even when you are not standing right there. Your students in Listening Center should be listening to, and discussing, a story - not talking about what movie they want to go see. Once you're assured that students are engaged in the kind of play you envisioned, make sure that you can identify all of the learning involved in that center. Practice justifying it to an imaginary administrator.

It is incredibly important to read the articles and know that play-based learning is backed by research, but handing an administrator an article is probably not going to convince him or her that your students need more center time and less teacher-led instruction time. However, being able to show that administrator what play-based learning looks like in your classroom and being able to tell him what is being learned at any given center, may make all the difference! If we want to keep play in the classroom, we have to be able to defend it!
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