Sunday, November 16, 2014

Helping Writers Self-Check Their Work

Hello again from the Crazy Critter Café! Thanks for stopping by!
This year I've struggled with getting my first graders to self-check their writing before I conference with them. We use graphic organizers to help get their thoughts on paper, but they're still struggling with capitalization, punctuation, and writing overall "good" sentences. I feel like I need to re-teach myself how to teach writing every year! Is it just me or anybody else feel the same way???
Last year I introduced my CAPS poster, based on the Dr. Seuss character. I thought this would be a fun visual for students to use. This anchor chart helped remind students of qualities found in a "good" sentence.
This year I decided to create another anchor chart to go along with the CAPS poster. This chart is more like a step-by-step process to help students write sentences.
One day I was describing strategies good writers use and I thought it would make a good supplement chart to our already existing CAPS poster. Students WRITE their sentence. They READ it. Then they CHECK IT {using the CAPS poster} and then they FIX IT if their sentence lacks any of the characteristics on the CAPS poster.
 It's working! I see students now glancing up at the charts when they're working on a writing activity! Anchor charts.....success! 
Another idea I had to help students become excited and more "into" their writing was to create thematic writing paper.
Of course, this isn't something we use everyday, but these thematic writing templates get students away from the plain ol' primary writing paper and gets them motivated to write on "fancy" paper.
 I also use these templates to post the final draft on bulletin boards with a cute, related craftivity.
It'll soon be time to start planning Christmas Activities!
I'll use this creative writing pack during the month of December. This holiday pack includes various graphic organizers, blank templates, and many topics for narrative, opinion, and informative writing.
Again, I'm trying to keep students excited about writing by using the templates they can color. Some of them I'll even add some glitter to and "sparkle" them up a little for a cute Christmas display!
Thanks for stopping by the café! Hope you all have a wonderful, relaxing Thanksgiving break. Take time to think of all the things you are thankful for ~ big and small. We tend to look over the small things in our lives, and they're usually our biggest blessings!
Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fall Literacy and Art Fun

Welcome back to the Crazy Critter Café!
Is it already Saturday again? I'm certainly not complaining that the weekend is here, but last week flew by! That means another week of school down and there's still lots of learning left to do! {stress level just escalated a little}
I want to share some fun things we've been working on to celebrate the fall season and improve literacy skills.
We started with one of my favorite activities...
We read Fletcher and the Falling Leaves by, Julia Rawlinson and discussed character traits of Fletcher. He was very persistent, but didn't understand why his tree was losing its leaves. Some of the other character traits mentioned were: caring, friendly, helpful, didn't give up, and confused.
Then we created our unique fall trees from torn paper. This isn't nearly as messy as it sounds. I love how these turn out each year. Some of my little first graders can get so creative!
Here's how we do it (I use a document camera to project so everyone can see):
(Step 1)
 I give students a plain, white piece of paper and tell them this is a listening activity, so they must listen closely to hear what fun part will come next. I tell them to write their name in the middle of the paper. Once I've checked to see they all have their names, we move on to step 2.
(Step 2)
I tell students to take out a brown crayon from their table tub and hold it up "high to the sky". Once they've done it, and everyone has a brown crayon, we're ready to begin. I tell students to turn their papers over {so their name is now on the back} and draw a tree trunk, starting from the bottom of the page. {I model this, drawing two lines to make a fat tree trunk.}
Then I model drawing lots of branches. I tell them it doesn't really matter what the branches look like because we're going to cover most of them up with leaves. I make sure to remind them there's no wrong way to do this ~ it's their unique tree and they're supposed to look different. {and believe me, they do all look different}. Then students color in their tree trunk and any large branches.
(Step 3)
I tell them we have to have some grass, so they take out a green crayon {any shade of green} and I model how to draw the landscape and color it in.
(Step 4)
We now take out a blue crayon {any shade of blue--may be a daytime tree or a tree at night} and I model how to color in the remaining space for the sky.
(Step 5 - time for some leaves)
I explain to them that we will not use scissors, but we'll tear little pieces of paper to use as leaves. I show them how to use the glue stick to put glue on the branches they've drawn (NOT ON THE LEAVES THEY TEAR--been there, done that, what a mess!)
I have tables, so I prepared 6 containers with construction paper scraps in fall colors (dark green, yellow, red, orange, brown..) and let them loose on decorating their branches with leaves. They're reminded to keep all scrap torn paper in the container.
Here are a few more of our adorable trees:

As a follow up writing activity to practice writing a complete sentence, students use the fall leaf template to write a sentence about fall leaves.
Another fun fall activity we've been working on is thematic phonemic awareness and reading fluency. These skills are so important for helping students become successful readers. {and like I mentioned earlier, time is ticking and we have a lot of work to do in order to meet reading goals}
During guided reading group time I've had some of my students use these word triangles to help practice fluency skills.
The half sheets below can easily be copied, colored by students and sent home for extra practice.

These are from my Fall Phonemic Awareness and Fluency Fun pack. These are great ideas for literacy centers and small groups. The fall theme keeps them interested and makes reading even more fun.
I hope you've enjoyed these fall ideas!
Hope you all have a super week!!! 

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Monday, October 6, 2014

Sentence Building with Short Vowel Words

Happy Fall Y'all!!
It's pumpkin spice and Little Debbie Pumpkin Delights time! {Those little cakes are my weakness.}
School is in full-swing now.
 Assess, assess, assess.
Teach and progress monitor.
Assess some more.
Conference some more.
Anybody with me?
To help with some informal assessment I recently introduced my students to sentence building with short vowels using Sentence Solvers. This interactive activity allows students to read words related to the short vowel phonics skill, cut and unscramble the sentence {I remind my students that their sentences must make sense - just like when they're writing.}
Students, then, are asked to check their own work for neatness, spacing, capital letters, punctuation, and word reading fluency {if they could read the sentence fluently without needing to sound out words}.
Another alternative I've used is to pair students at tables to help check those skills. They love being the "teacher". They're to check their partner's skills and "teach" them if an area is unable to be checked at the bottom of the sheet.
 I love to walk around and hear them sharing ideas and helping one another! It certainly creates a positive atmosphere.
I've used Sentence Solvers for morning work, in literacy centers, and to review short vowels we've learned so far {especially helpful for students who are struggling with phonics skills}.

To check out Sentence Solvers ~ Short Vowels, click HERE:

You can also check out the Sentence Solvers Digraphs by clicking HERE:
View Sentence Solvers Bossy e {CVCe} HERE:
Save on Sentence Solvers when you purchase a BUNDLE!
Thanks for stopping by the Crazy Critter Café!
 If you use Sentence Solvers in your class I'd love to hear how you use them!

Now it's time for a Mocha K-Cup and a warm, fuzzy blanket!

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

TPT Gift Certificate & Pick A Product Giveaway Winner!

Happy Saturday everybody!! The weekend has finally arrived!
Three weeks down. WOW! Can't believe we've been in school almost a month now. Time's flying by!
THANK YOU to everyone who stopped by the Crazy Critter Café to enter the giveaway for a TPT gift certificate & pick a product from my store. I really appreciate your visit!
 Rafflecopter's random picker has found a winner...........
Congratulations Ashley!!!  It's definitely your lucky day-----since TPT doesn't offer gift certificates in the amount of $15.00,  you'll be receiving (2) $10.00 TPT gift certificates! Enjoy your $20 in products. Hope this gets you back in the school groove this year!
I'll be emailing you shortly!

Hope you all have a great weekend! :-)

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Getting Back in the School Groove: TpT Product & Gift Certificate Giveaway

Welcome back to the Crazy Critter Café!
One week of school down and boy was it an exhausting one! {good, but exhausting}
Monday was a whirlwind.
Tuesday....was there even a Tuesday in this week? I can't remember WHAT went on Tuesday......busy, busy, busy!
 Wednesday I'm feeling good because my kids are starting to learn some of our new routines.
 By Thursday I felt like I was getting back in the swing of things ~ remembering how to teach. What!? I'm a teacher. I shouldn't forget how to do that, especially after 14 years!
 Friday it was all good! Long weekend coming up and a 4 day week next week. Kids are getting adjusted to first grade. My family's getting adjusted to early morning routines. And I'm feeling like a teacher again.
Long weekend: yay! More time for me to work on planning and enjoy the last weeks of summer!
 I've been trying to collect fresh lessons and activities to use this year and I'm so excited when I find products that I know will help make my life easier with planning. Plus, the new ideas are exciting for me to teach and for my students to use when learning.
So... to help fellow teachers get back into the school groove and add new ideas to lessons I decided to host another giveaway!!!
I'm giving away a $15.00 Teachers Pay Teachers Gift Certificate {good toward any TpT products} and I'm also giving away one product from my Teachers Pay Teachers store {any price}.

 You may enter any time from Monday 9/1/14 - Friday, 9/12/14 at 12:00 am.
One lucky winner will receive the gift certificate and be able to choose any product from my TpT store!
Click below to enter via Rafflecopter.

I will email the winner once the raffle has ended to send your TpT gift certificate code and your free product!
Thanks for stopping by the café! Hope you all are getting back in the school groove! :-)
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Friday, August 15, 2014

10 Helpful Tips & Ideas to Get You Ready for Back to School

Welcome back to the Crazy Critter Café! Things are getting ready to get really CrAzY in the next few weeks!

Many of you have been back in school for a week or so. We start next week! {Just think, those of you who already started back will get out for summer earlier! ;-)}

I've been going out to my class a few days to try and get things *organized*. I don't think there's a true meaning for that word, because I've never seemed to be able to figure it out! However, I did clean out a closet and filled up a huge trash bag. {Yay me for actually wanting to get rid of something!} And now I feel much more *organized* in that area, at least.
Then I started to think about things I plan to do {or things I've done in the past} to get myself ready for back to school. I'd like to share some of the ideas I've used in my class that helped me over the years to make back to school a little easier:
(1) Paint your bulletin boards~
 If it's too late this year, plan to do it for next year! Go to the local home improvement store and buy a small amount of paint (I used latex and it worked just fine). I also bought 2 sample jars at Lowes and that covered a small board. It may take 2 or 3 coats, depending on the color and how it absorbs into the cork.
I've had many of my boards painted for at least 3 years and they still look vibrant and new!
(2) Laminate file folders to use for keeping track of all of those orientation papers~
This used to be a paper nightmare for me! Emergency forms, lunch forms, handbook forms, classroom discipline acknowledgement form, etc., etc.....some regular-sized, some 1/2 sheets, some extra long sheets.....whew!
I've had my folders for years and they still look neat if they're out on the table during orientation. Put labels on the front so you'll know what papers go where. {lunch forms to cafeteria, copy of emergency forms to school nurse, office, and bus drivers, etc.} If I still have papers in the folders, then I know I haven't turned them in yet! And it ensures they didn't get lost in the mix of the first week madness!
 I also have a master checklist of the papers that need to be returned and I check off when that student has turned in forms and paid fees. It's easy for me to see who's turned in what.
I keep all of these folders in a little book bin.
(3) If you use tables consider having crayon table tubs for kindergarten or first grade~
After many years of trying to solve the dilemma of missing / stolen / broken crayons, I decided to create a table tub for crayons that members of the table would share. I've used this for many years and it's worked like a charm!
NO MORE ARGUING OVER CRAYONS!! Because it doesn't matter how many times you remind the little ones to please take out only 1 crayon at a time and be sure to put it back so it doesn't get lost.....they DON'T DO IT! {most of them, anyway} They're so focused on their work, they're not worried about putting the crayon back. And what if a friend needs to borrow one? Oh no! That crayon might not find it's way back home!
I ask students to bring in 4 boxes of crayons {a box of 16 regular crayons - no twistables or fancy ones}; one box for each 9 weeks. I put 4 boxes in each table tub. This usually lasts throughout the 9 weeks.
 If students need a crayon I have 2 tubs of extras {leftovers that were donated by students at the end of years past}.
No more arguing over crayons!! I love it!
I also purchase crayons at the back to school sales and contribute to the tubs if students aren't able to purchase supplies. We'll check the good crayons at the end of each nine weeks, weed out the broken ones, and add more boxes to refresh.
Students have chair pockets, so they keep their pencils in a pencil pouch and store it in their chair pocket.
(4) Eliminate distraction and mess with table tubs for scissors, glue, colored pencils~
 I can't tell you how many times I've had kids cutting papers or gluing during class when they had scissors and glue on-hand.
Kids will be kids, I understand. But I wanted to keep this distraction away from them so they could focus more and the room would be a lot neater {no more paper snow on the floor}.
I created table tubs, labeled with their table's name. I store these on top of our cubbies. When it's time to get scissors, glue, etc. I'll call a member from the table {I use cooperative groups, so I may say "I need my number 3's to get their table's tub}. I only have 4 or 5 students up walking at a time to get their tubs.
They keep trash balled up in the lid unless it's a lot, then I'll get my trash helpers to walk around and collect. It's a really simple, effective way to manage scissors, glue and colored pencils. Plus, I can reward tables for keeping their tubs neat! When it's time to clean up, the same helpers put the tubs back on top of the cubbies.

(5) Get your orientation treats ready~ 
For the past few years I've used this cute little idea I created. I've collected so many smiley face stickers free from Highlights magazine, I decided to use them in my back to school orientation treats.
 I purchased 4"x6" bags from Hobby Lobby for under $5.00. They came in a pack of 150, so I'll have plenty for years to come.
I add a few pieces of candy and a smiley face sticker for this quick treat. The tag says "Looking forward to a sweet year with lots of smiles and laughs"
I put these out on the desks of students to pick up at orientation.
(6) Go ahead and write upcoming dates in your calendar - or GET A CALENDAR~
I feel like this is a no-brainer for a teacher, but I wanted to share anyway since it's a very important part of my back to school routine.
I print our district's calendar and mark all of the dates, such as report card days, progress report days, workdays (whether they're required or optional), holidays, early dismissals, end of the nine week marking periods, and any other personal dates that I might need to know of when planning. 
When I get our school's Dates At A Glance I'll go ahead and pencil those dates in - sometimes they'll change so I don't mark those in ink. {picture days, fundraisers, testing days, staff meetings, committee meetings, etc.}
I also write down the stories / units from our reading series we'll be working on each week over in the Sunday column. I write the spelling test # we're on that week. This is a quick reference when planning, although I also keep a more detailed weekly planning calendar just for planning.
If you don't have a calendar, you may want to get one. This is my lifesaver during the year. It's nothing fancy, but for @$10.00 it'll work just fine!
 I added the cute little sticker.
The pages look empty now, but will certainly fill up fast once school starts!
(7) Make some quick center activities from old file folders and extra copies of worksheets~
Have old file folders you don't use anymore? Have extra copies of worksheets?
Glue the worksheets inside the file folders, put a title on the outside, laminate, and ...Ta have instant quick center / time-filler activities!
Use dry-erase crayons or markers and fun socks as erasers {from the Dollar Tree}. Kids can do this at table groups, then switch with their group members once they've finished.
(8) Get organized with drawers~
I purchased one of these carts for under $30. I went back and got 2 more at that price!
These little drawers are perfect for storing materials for reading groups, Class Dojo treats, copies of worksheets, supplies, etc.
If you don't use rolling carts, you can use any drawers, or think about reorganizing ones you already have.
Finding places to store my math and literacy center activities was so simple when I bought these carts! I put little games in Ziploc bags and store in the drawers.
We use Reading Street and there are 6 weekly stories in one unit. I copy the spelling, comprehension, and other papers related to each weekly story and file them in 6 drawers - one drawer for each story. It keeps pre-copied papers from piling up on shelves!
 (9) Don't securely tape down student name tags until after the first week of school~
Many times I've wanted to go ahead and make my seating arrangements and mark that off my list. I securely taped down student name tags to only have to switch them within the first few weeks of school {Special needs, behaviors, parent concerns, etc.}
I learned, then, that using masking tape on the backs to temporarily assign seats was a better idea.
 Or, rather than putting down my new name tags I'd use some leftover tags from past years {if I had enough for the class}.
Once the first week or so is over and most of the roster changes are made, I'd put down my new ones.
I place clear, packaging tape over the tags to keep them down and in place.

(10) Make Back to School Survival Kits for fellow teachers~
We're always asking, "Who has chocolate!?" after a stressful day, so I created these First Week Survival candy tubs full of chocolate and lots of stress-relief for getting through that first week.

This is a great way to start the year. I made these for other teachers on my grade level, but they would be great for interns or, if you're a parent, give a candy tub to your child's teacher to start the year. Depending on the size of your container, you can crumple up a piece of tissue paper in the bottom and fill it with candy!

{You can DOWNLOAD both labels below}


I hope you'll find some of these tips and ideas helpful when getting ready for back to school.
Please feel free to share ideas you use for back to school.

Have a great year and thanks for stopping by the Café!
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Monday, August 11, 2014

Back to School Blues & Some Zoo Themed FREEBIES

Well, it's the last week of my summer break and I'm really feelin' the back to school blues. Many of you may already be back and you probably can relate to these feelings.

 Feelin' blue NOT because we're starting school and I'm getting ready to meet my new, sweet first graders, not because I've been working on school stuff all summer and I can't wait to get back in class and use it.

Feelin' blue because, freedom, as we know it, is coming to an end.
 Freedom to sleep in.
 Freedom to eat whenever we feel the need for a little snacky snack.
Freedom to use the bathroom whenever we need to {this one's gonna be interesting since I've been trying to do right this summer with drinking water throughout the day}.
Going to the beach during the week. Shopping when it's not crowded. Sleeping in.
Hanging out with my family. Taking mini-vacations without having to plan around a schedule.
No schedules. Sleeping in. {I'm sure you can tell what I'll miss most about summer. haha}
Nevertheless, it's that time again and, ready or not, we'll be reporting back next week for staff development and {more} room organizing and planning. So I'd better shake off these blues and get myself in high gear to be ready next week.
I'm excited about my latest project "Busy Bodies Zoo Themed Math & Literacy Printables".  I remember each year during the first few weeks of school I'm SO busy trying to do individual assessments, organize forms, contact information, etc.
I created this zoo themed math & literacy pack to have as an extra quick printable resource to keep my class "busy' doing something educational while I had a few extra minutes to assess. The zoo theme is perfect for any time of the year, so I plan to make copies and keep them in storage drawers and just pull the copies if I need a last minute independent time-filler.
I also plan to use some of these during my math and literacy centers since many of the pages meet common core standards for kindergarten and first grade.
You can download 2 FREEBIE pages below. Click on the links below to download.
Hope you'll enjoy using these freebies in your class! 
 I plan to start my first graders with the color words, number words, rhymes and writing pages. I could use the writing as a pre-and post- informal assessment. Give them the same prompt later in the year and compare their work. Be sure to date them!
If you'd like to learn more about the zoo pack, click HERE
Hopefully if you're also feeling back to school blues, it'll be gone soon!
Whether you've started school already or not, I hope your year is off to a great start and it's the best one yet!
Thanks for stopping by the Crazy Critter Café!
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Friday, August 1, 2014

GIGANTIC Back to School Rally Giveaway!

It's time for a GIGANTIC GIVEAWAY!!! I've partnered up with Teaching with Hope for this ENORMOUS Back to School Rally giveaway!

 Over 100 TpT sellers and Etsy creators have donated these products. There are 7 prize packs and each are grouped by grade level. You can enter to win them all! The more entry tasks you complete the better your chances of winning. Plus you can share this giveaway on your Blog, Facebook or Pinterest once a day for an additional 10 entries each day!
Check out these AWESOME Prize Packs! Be sure to click on the individual covers to see more details about the products up for grabs.

Prize Pack #1 includes 18 products from TpT sellers, a handmade "welcome" banner for your classroom from M Paper Designs and a personalized teacher cup from Sugar Stitches Designs!
Click any of the pictures below and a link will take you to the listing for each product. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Prize Pack #2 includes 19 products from TpT sellers, a teacher planner  from The Nifty Planner, and a  personalized teacher sign from Blended Creations Inc.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

                                                          Product of your choice!

Prize Pack #3 includes 17 products from TpT sellers, a handmade classroom garland from MPaper Designs and a pencil door sign from Details in the Deisgn.
 Prize Pack #4 includes 18 products from TpT sellers, a handmade classroom garland from MPaper Designs, and a personalized pencil door sign from Bows and Bells Hangers.


Prize Pack #5 includes 15 products from TpT sellers a personalized sign from MACInspired Crafts plus a personalized teacher block sign from Blended Creations Inc!

Prize Pack #6 includes products from 16 TpT sellers a personalized door sign from Cara's Southern Designs, and a personalized teacher cup from Mommy's Latte Fund!

Prize Pack #7 includes 16 products from TpT sellers, a teacher planner of your choice from Little Drop Designs, a personalized door sign from MACInspired Creations plus a personalized teacher cup from Mommy's Latte Fund!

All winners will be announced and an email will be sent. Good luck!

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