Sunday, October 1, 2017

Whole Body Listening

If you're like most primary teachers, you get the importance of establishing routines throughout the first few weeks of a new school year. Everything from dismissal procedures to how to properly use a glue stick- it may seem tedious to some of your kiddos, but the extra effort up front pays off big time when your classroom runs like a well-oiled machine! 

I spent several days during week 1 talking about Whole Body Listening. Whole Body Listening is the idea that listening extends beyond the ears to all parts of the body. I introduced the concept during one of our first Reader's Workshop mini-lessons. First, I gathered the class on the carpet and asked them to share what they know about listening. I led a Google Slides presentation. My favorite part of the presentation was discussing the idea of "brain thoughts" vs. "mouth thoughts." You know how first graders love to tell you EVERYTHING they think? Well, there's just not enough time in the day for them to do that. We talked about the difference between Brain Thoughts, or those ideas that can stay inside your brain, and Mouth Thoughts, or those thoughts that are so important that they need to be shared. 

Whole Body Listening Google Slides

Brain Thoughts vs. Mouth Thoughts

Some kiddos just love to share EVERYTHING they think!

Then, we created an anchor chart together. Last year, while reminding my class to listen like the boy on our chart, one of my kiddos spontaneously said, "You mean Steve?" and he became know as Steve for the rest of the year ;P I thought it would be funny to nickname our chart dude again this year, so I asked the class what we should call him... and one kiddo immediately replied, "Bob. He looks like a Bob." So it stuck! Now when we review Whole Body Listening, I remind them that they should look like a bunch of Bobs. Cracks me up!

Our Whole Body Listening Model, aka Bob

After creating the anchor chart, I led the class in a read-aloud while reinforcing the positive behaviors I saw from my kiddos. I said things such as, "I love how ___ is facing forward towards me!" and "____'s hands are so calm and still" to connect their behaviors to the anchor chart. I also had my minions complete a "Whole Body Listening" emergent reader to review the concepts. 

Emergent Reader

"I listen with my eyes."

"I listen with my whole body!"

I printed copies of the Whole Body Listening chart and the Mouth Thoughts/Brain Thoughts slides on standard-sized paper, laminated them, and hung them in our whole-group meeting area for reference. We have to review the concepts once in awhile, but sharing this common understanding of what it means to be a Whole Body Listener has made a huge difference in my classroom! I'm also a newbie to Class Dojo, the online classroom management tool, so I made "Whole Body Listening" into a skill worth 2 points. I also printed a copy of what it means to be a Whole Group Listener at tables and displayed it at my reading table. Kiddos can't know what you expect unless you teach it explicitly... I'm loving my "Bobs" this year! Happy teaching!

Whole Body Listening poster in black-and-white

Whole Body Listening poster in color

Sunday, September 10, 2017

New Year, New School, New Freebies!

Hey teacher friends! I've been going through some major upheavals throughout the past few months, and life is finally starting to settle down again. Since May, I left Japan to move back to the States, got married, bought a house with my new husband, and accepted a position as a first grade teacher in my local school district! I'm thrilled to find myself in first grade again after all the changes I've gone through recently. Starting the school year in a new place on short notice has been a bit daunting, but I've been blessed with friendly, collaborative coworkers. Here's a little glimpse into my life for the past two weeks!

My biggest focus lately has been classroom setup. I'm trying to keep things clean, organized, and simple from the get go. 

Alphabet Sound Chart and Matching Word Wall Labels Available Here

It's so important to establish rules, routines, and expectations during these first few weeks. On day 1, we read No, David by David Shannon, and made T-chart of things we DO at school, and things we DO NOT do at school. On day 2, we read Swimmy by Leo Lionni, and thought about the ways we work together at school. Then, we used these two stories to launch a discussion about respectful vs. disrespectful behaviors. We managed to boil our T-chart down to two rules:

1) Respect people (including yourself)
2) Respect materials

Next week, we're going to focus on Whole Body Listening. I've made a Google Slides presentation to lead a conversation about listening with ears, eyes, mouths, hands, and feet, and we'll make an anchor chart for referencing this lesson throughout the year!

Whole Body Listening Lesson
Whole Body Listening Lesson

Whole Body Listening Lesson

Whole Body Listening Lesson

Whole Body Listening Lesson

I've also added a new math freebie called Good Clues, Bad Clues to my store. It focuses on adding zero. 

Good Clues, Bad Blues FREEBIE available here!

Now that things have calmed down on the home front, I'll be getting back to my "First of the Month Freebies." In the meantime, enjoy this math game and b/d reversal posters! Happy teaching!

FREE b/d reversal posters available here!

Monday, May 1, 2017

May's First of the Month Freebie

Hey there, teacher friends! We're in the home stretch now, and I hope you're hanging in there. Just wanted to bring you a quick update to let you know about May's First of the Month Freebie. It's a math game called New Tools, Broken Tools. The game covers Common Core Standard 1.NBT.C.4: Use place value understanding and properties of operations to add and subtract. My first graders are currently working on this standard, so I developed this center activity as a fun way to reinforce it! 

Student-friendly directions 

Headings for the sort

Includes 40 sort cards with answer key

This game is a sample from my current project- Go Math! aligned centers for first grade. More games are available in a growing bundle here, and the product description includes links to individual units and games.

One more thing- since it's the first of the month, my entire store is 10% off! Hope this helps to make your end-of-year planning just a bit easier :)


Thanks for reading- happy teaching!

-Erika, Little Owl's Teacher Treats

Friday, March 31, 2017

First of the Month Freebies and Sales!

Hey there, teacher friends! I'm just bringing you a quick update to let you know about something special I've started for my followers. Each month, I'll be posting a "First of the Month Freebie" for you to download as a THANK YOU for the support you've given me since I started this journey a year and a half ago! Also, my entire store will be on sale the first of every month. No, this is not an April Fool's joke :) I truly appreciate you guys and am so grateful to be part of the TpT community.

Now, you're probably wondering... where are these freebies?! So glad you asked! April's freebie is a a place value game called Super Star

A fun game to reinforce greater than/less than and place value skills for first graders

In case you missed them, here are the freebies from February and March:

February's Freebie: "Barn Owls" Emergent Reader

March's Freebie: Helen Keller Fact Writing Activity

This one isn't a "First of the Month" freebie, but it's another THANK YOU to you! My first graders have enjoyed playing this place value game to reinforce hundreds grid skills. I organized it in a binder by placing each puzzle and matching cards into individual sleeves. I put the record sheets into sleeves also, so students can use whiteboard markers in order to save paper!

"Fill the Nest" free place value game

Follow my store to receive notifications when new freebies become available! If Pinterest is more your style, I've got you covered there, too.

Thank you so much, and I hope these freebies make planning a little easier for you :) Happy teaching!

-Erika Utz
Little Owl's Teacher Treats

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Latest from Little Owl's First Grade Nest

Hey teacher friends! March is upon us and Read Across America month is in full swing at my school. We’ve got a whole week of activities planned, including dress-up days and guest readers from the community to celebrate Dr. Seuss’s birthday on Thursday. “Wacky Wednesday” made for a slightly embarrassing coffee stop at 711 on my way to work… fortunately, I live in Japan, the mecca of weird fashions… so I barely raised an eyebrow with my get-up J I was also so tired when I got to work that I tried to open my classroom door with my car clicker... countdown to spring break, anyone?

Spoiler alert: it didn't work.

February was over in a snap, especially given the short weeks we had thanks to training and Presidents’ Day. By the way… I GOT TO GO WHALE WATCHING AND IT WAS AWESOME! Humpback whales visit the waters near Okinawa, Japan every winter to escape the cold and raise their young. Our boat followed a mother whale and her calf as they traveled for nearly an hour. We got to see them surface for air many times, and I was amazed by how close we got to them! I could go back again and again… it never gets old.

This whale was doing a "tail slap" for several minutes

First grade has been bustling, and we’re finally at that point in the year when things really start to click for the kiddos. It seems to happen every year around the end of February… bam, growth spurts left and right! Do any other first grade teachers notice this phenomenon? My students are really gaining independence, and I’m seeing reading skills take off all of a sudden. The progress that takes place in first grade… that’s one of my favorite parts of this job.

So… what have we been doing lately? That’s a big question to answer in one post! I’ll stick to the highlights:


My school adopted the Go Math curriculum this year, and like any new endeavor, it’s taking time for me to find my comfort zone. I was a little skeptical of the amount of time spent on addition and subtraction concepts in the beginning. However, now that we’ve moved on to addition and subtraction strategies and relationships, I must say that I’m impressed with the flexibility my students exhibit when solving problems. I think their abilities are owing to our in-depth study of these concepts during the first half of the school year. My class started a “Write It Wednesday” routine at the end of January. Each Wednesday, students work through various problems and learn to explain their thinking by using accurate math vocabulary. We made this anchor chart together and discussed the differences between tools (objects you can touch that help you solve problems) and strategies (ways you think about solving problems). They refer to the chart to find the appropriate math words needed to explain their thinking.

Right now, we’re just working on clear oral explanations. As students progress, they’re going to start writing sentences in their STEM journals. It’s been a worthy time investment; I’m hearing lots of math vocabulary in my students’ everyday conversations about the problems we solve!

We’ve been spending time on fact families for the past couple of weeks. Chapter 5 in Go Math focuses entirely on addition and subtraction relationships. When I gave the chapter 5 pretest, I was pleasantly surprised to find that several students aced it, and the overall average was fairly high. I’ve been sneaking fact families into our daily routines here and there, so I think it’s been sticking! For example, when I take lunch count each day, we cover a few quick math skills using the numbers. We’ll add the total number of students buying lunch by creating triple addend problems; make greater than/less than sentences to find out which lunch is the most popular for the day; or create “turn- around facts” (another name for fact family addition, such as 2 + 3 = 5 or 3 + 2 = 5) based on the count. Early in the year, I taught my students about the commutative property of addition by telling them that I was giving them secret 3rd grade knowledge. I told them I could get in serious trouble for teaching them 3rd grade words when they were supposed to be learning 1st grade stuff… and they’ve NOT forgotten that the 3rd grade term for “turn- around facts” is “commutative property of addition.” We whisper the term so no one else finds out I’m breaking school rules ;) It’s amazing what kids will remember when they think they’re getting away with something!

Sneaking math skills into our daily lunch count!

One thing evident in the results of the pretest was that students were adept at writing fact family sets, but needed to work on identifying facts that belong with each other. I created a couple of quick fact family sorts to reinforce the skill and assess student understanding.

You can download the fact family sorts for free here. They did really well with this concept once we reviewed it, so I think they’re ready to move on to using addition and subtraction relationships to solve word problems. That’s what we’ll be working on for the next week. In the meantime, they’re going to continue to practice writing fact families independently during centers. I printed fact family houses using our poster printer, laminated the poster, and hung it up for independent practice. Students have been doing this and a “number of the day” activity at the math center, in addition games.

Probably should've covered "keep the erasers off the walls" when introducing this center

The “number of the day” activity comes from this packet. I create monthly differentiated “number of the day” books for my students to deepen their number sense skills. Our number of the day is always the number of days we’ve been in school, so now that we’re past day 100, students are learning how to construct and write 3-digit numbers. Most of my class can do these routines independently at this point in the year. They work for about 10 minutes at the beginning of math, which gives me time to meet with an intervention group most days. I also color-code the spines on the differentiated books to indicate three groups: advanced (black), on-level (white), and intervention (blue). This makes it very easy to call groups to work with me as needed, and I change the groups each month based on student needs.

A page from the intervention group's February book
A page from the advanced group's February book

I use 3 colored spines to organize my groups each month, but printing the covers on different colors would work, too!

I’m also fortunate to have assistance from our gifted education teacher! She has just started coming to my classroom a couple times a week to support my students who need challenges. For her first session, she led students in solving word problems. They worked through the problems in their STEM journals, and discussed the strategies they used.

Some of the problems my advanced group worked with this week. 

The presidentially-themed word problems are available forfree here. The kids loved them since we’ve been discussing American symbols and presidents in honor of Presidents’ Day this month!

Language Arts

I’m completely in love with the Words Their Way developmental spelling program. It takes a lot of work to set it up initially, but once you have your students assessed and you’ve taught them the routines that you want to follow each week… it is amazing. I’m working on another post entirely devoted to how I run WtW in my classroom, so I’ll get that up as soon as I can. Basically, my students follow a 5-day word study schedule to engage with word family sorts at appropriate levels for them. On day 1, I introduce the sorts to each group. Day 2 = partner sort, day 3 = sort and write, day 4 = sort and glue into notebooks, and day 5 = quiz. Again, there’s lots more to it than this, so I’ll go into more details in another post!

With students working at different levels and some being speedier than others, I’m always looking for “early finisher” activities to keep the faster kids engaged. I found these mini- Play- dohs recently, and they have been a hit! They come in a “party pack” of 15, and they’re the perfect size for each student to have his or her own container of Play-doh. After reviewing the Play-doh rules on the first day, I gave students time to build words from their sorts for extra practice. I haven’t heard them this quiet in a long time…

By the way, our rules are:
1.     You are responsible for your own Play-doh. If it gets lost or dried out because you didn’t put it away properly, you don’t get a new one. This rule led to a discussion of "rights" v. "privileges." Play-doh is a privilege, not a right:)
2.     It’s not for playing- it’s for working! You are allowed to pull out the Play-doh when you have extra time. You can build sight words, WtW sort words, create fact families, or build 3-digit numbers. If you break this rule, you lose the Play-doh privilege.

Social Studies and Science

February was all about American Symbols, Presidents’ Day, and Black History Month. My kids absolutely loved learning about President Theodore Roosevelt’s role in the history of teddy bears (read all about it in my previous post). It was a fun spin on the usual Presidents’ Day activities for this time of year!

Our teddy wall!

From our lesson on the history of teddy bears

This week, we discussed Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African American female to go to space. My kids found her to be very inspiring and enjoyed this video biography, which features an interview of Dr. Jemison. Don’t you just love this writing and craft activity from Sweet Sensations? They were really into it!

Someone thought it would be funny to give Dr. Jemison a seat :)

We’re moving on to Women’s History Month in March. Last year, my students learned about Helen Keller and did a factual writing piece about her. They were also psyched about this Braille name activity, in which they used split peas to spell out their names in Braille. This packet includes a Braille alphabet chart, writing paper, and a craft template.

Example of the Braille name activity we did last year. The kids used split peas to spell their names in Braille. Dabs of Elmer's glue would work just as well! The packet includes a Braille alphabet chart.

If you don’t have time for the whole activity, here’s a free Helen Keller fact-writing activity- click the picture to download it! It’s my March “First of the Month” freebie J

Click here to download this free resource

In addition to Women’s History Month, we’ll be starting a unit on Earth Science soon. I’m planning a post on that, so stay tuned for more details! It’s one of my favorite first grade units to teach.

Well folks, I think that’s all for now. It’s 11pm and I should probably be in bed already… Ok, I AM in bed already, but I should probably be SLEEPING! Thank you for stopping by!


Alright, alright, I know I should be getting to bed, but one more thing… I started a new event for my TPT store! I’ll be posting a “First of the Month” freebie on… you guessed it… the first of every month! I actually started this on Februrary 1st, but I haven't really spread the word yet. I’ll also celebrate the 1st day of each month with a 10% off store-wide sale! Check out the links below for the first two freebies, and follow me on TPT so you don’t miss out on future updates!

February's Freebie
March's Freebie

You can also keep track of my “First of the Month” freebies by following my Pinterest board.

Ok, I’m REALLY going to bed this time! Thanks again and remember, I always welcome comments, feedback, and simple “hellos” at !