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 !

February in First Grade

Well folks, it's a brand new month. That means my entire store is 10% off for the first three days and you can snag my latest First of t...