Wednesday, June 17, 2015

TPT Challenge Accepted! {Makeover Madness}

Just give a product a facelift they said. Add a little something new. Update it! It’ll be easy! Well, one product deleted and completely recreated later… was fun and so much more than just a little facelift! =)


I’m so glad I jumped into the TPT Seller Challenge that started this week! At first, I wasn’t sure which product I wanted to tackle first….BUT then, I went to a two day training. In the midst of the training, my creative wheels started turning and I knew EXACTLY what I needed to change…..and quickly! The training was over writer’s workshop with a word wall component. Not just any old run of the mill word wall though…..a new {to our area} word wall system!


Like most of you, my word wall was set up like this at the beginning of the year….in two neat rows, divided between M and N. Well, once upon a time ago….in a PreK training we were advised to hang our word walls horizontally in ONE long alphabetical row from A to Z. Some of us did, space allowing….BUT most of us continued to utilize our word wall in the formation above. It’s worked…it’s been updated to be manipulative. It’s become interactive. NOW….it’s being revolutionized! Which leads me to the product that I made over! Stay with me….I promise we’re going somewhere with this.

Next year, when I go in to set up my word wall…that writing goals chart will have to find a new home because letters WILL be arranged horizontally from A-Z. In addition to adopting the new structure, the background will be black. High frequency words will be posted above the alphabet strip and vocabulary words will be added below the alphabet strip. Different right? There’s more…

With there being two types of high frequency words, differentiation will [visually] come into play. Decodable sight words will be printed on neon paper and cut to the shape of the word. Phonetically irregular words will be printed on white paper and framed in black to the shape of the word. Vocabulary words will be added onto rectangular cut manila paper…below the letter. My classroom “theme” is black and white with pops of color soooo, hearing this started my heart to leaping and gave an educational reason to the color students will be seeing on the word wall.


…and it inspired my makeover item! A couple years ago, I created the little book above as a resource for our writer’s workshop folders. The old one is on the left. The NEW and IMPROVED one is on the right!

Instead of it being sized to fit into one of the side pockets of the folder, its now been edited for hole punching to fit onto the prongs running down the middle of the folder…to use as a resource to record and find spellings of frequently used words.


Notice the difference on the inside?!!! HUGE! THIS will also be how our word wall will look…, the book students will use to record new words will be a reflection of the wall we post them on! Lines will help with organization and they will have the alphabet with accompanying symbols to assist as a formation reference. Mind blown! If you can’t tell….I’m a little excited about the upcoming change! We’ve only been out of school for a week and my head is spinning with ideas to begin preparing for the new year!


Sometimes, friends' names can be a little hard to spell. There’s a space for those names and subject specific words at the end of the book.



I just uploaded this cutie to my TPT store and because I’m so excited about how it turned out, I listed it as a forever FREEbie! Click HERE to grab it! Stay tuned…inspiration is flowing. More is in the works to accompany this….

See ya next week, when we continue the challenge by daring to dream……..BIG!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Desks or Tables?

Hey, Friends! How are ya? The hustle and bustle of ending the year have come and gone. Now, that I’ve had a quick second to catch my breath, I thought I’d stop by to answer a question I seem to keep getting asked over and over …….and over again! =) You know, as teachers, we celebrate ending one year while simultaneously preparing to begin the next one. One of the things I love to do is reflect on my room arrangement and how it affected our learning over the course of the year….then plan for how I’d like to change it to begin the following year.

Oh…the question I keep getting asked? Which do I prefer…desks or tables?

If I were asked this question a few years ago, I would definitely have answered desks…BUT a lot has changed from a few years ago. Beliefs have made a shift. Kids are definitely different. My space is different. My teaching style has evolved.  Kiddo learning styles have been better incorporated. I’ve embraced change.

Here’s what my classroom looked like way back in August…


Was making the switch easy? Not initially.

I had read an article online about a teacher’s success without desks and wanted to give it a try. I whole heartedly believe that student choice-driven classroom environments inspire engagement and learning. Having a variation of seating so that students could work where they were most comfortable was high on my priority list for set-up last year.

Even so, I was nervous about letting go of the desks completely. That’s why you see a small group of them. Keep in mind, this picture was snapped as I was preparing for kids. Wanna guess what happened when the kids showed up? The room got completely switched around! It’s a funny thing how we try to anticipate the flow, their needs, what they’ll like and often times we’re very successful….BUT no one can tell you what they’ll like better than the little people who’ll actually be using the space!


By the end of the year, our furniture arrangement looked a little more like this! See? No desks! How’d it go? Did I like it? Were my kids able to control themselves? Awesome! We LOVED it! Absolutely!

Looking at this picture, the classroom looks pretty big. I promise you, it is NOT. Our classrooms are pretty cozy {real estate synonym for small}. Without the desks, our classroom looked and felt bigger. We had much more room for movement activities, to work on the floor and for bringing in different types of seating. ANNNND guess what? Our classroom was cleaner! There was no place for long lost papers from Christmas past to go and hide. Everything in our classroom had a place. If we didn’t need it, it was out of there! We used our space wisely and were forced to be efficient.

Every student had a space at the table available to them. Including the guided reading table, 3 round tables and 1 rectangle table…there were exactly 22 seats, when needed. You’ll also notice that I did not have a teacher desk. Hate them! They just become a spot to throw stuff on and when exactly would I have time to sit at it anyway?


One of our alternative seating choices was the blue trampoline chairs. EVERYONE on my campus stopped in just to bounce their bottoms out of these at some time or another. They were great for kids that needed to work and wiggle.


Not every kid feels comfortable sitting in a hard plastic chair. The carpet was another area made available for students to work. Wanna lay on your tummy and work…wanna sit crisscross applesauce….need space to spread out? Then the carpet is a good spot! There was also a carpet “capacity limit”. 1 kid could sit in each corner and one in the middle…that way, the WHOLE class couldn’t try sitting at the carpet to work.


See my little computer stand? Not a whole teacher desk and I loved it because it provided the perfect amount of open storage with no room for me to pile anything on it. I shared this space with the kids too which allowed for an additional computer space, when needed. We kinda shared everything!


The red chair was used for sharing at the carpet and doubled as another seating option for independent work time. There was also an upholstered ottoman on top of the chevron carpet. It served as seating and storage in our classroom library.


No mess. No mystery papers floating around. No place to hide things. A clear view throughout the room. Lots of floor space for work, fun and games. Lots and lots of opportunity for collaboration because the arrangement is not focused on the teacher but on kids. When we all needed to meet, it was generally done at the carpet to mimic the closeness of  “lap reading”. Our classroom felt more like a comfy lounge, a collaborative setting...where kids were in control of their learning.


A few things that helped to make working with tables instead of desks successful was the use of clipboards and lap desks. If students chose to sit in a comfy chair, they knew where these were stored in the classroom and were free to grab one. This picture to the top left is the ottoman that was in our classroom library. We used it to store reading books and dictionaries. See the little silver spots on the floor? Smallest chair ever, right? Ha! Those little circles were placed on the floor around the room to designate spots for seating.

So….long story, short...We LOVED having tables over desks. Using tables along with different choices for comfortable seating allowed for my students to choose the setting that best suited their learning style. We rolled with choice.... a LOT. I gave my students the opportunity to make choices with the understanding that the choice also comes with responsibility. They were free to choose as long as they showed me they were capable of handling the choice….ONLY.

I loved using tables so much….I’m taking them with me to SECOND GRADE next year! That’s right peeps…A+ Firsties just got promoted!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on using tables or desks…chime in with a comment below! 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Filling Buckets with Class Books {Love Notes}

Hi, Friends! Long time, no blog! We’re down to the final stretch of the school year and things are starting to clear away a little….we have exactly 18 days left! 18! That’s it!

While it’s hard to believe that we ARE actually in the days of the final countdown, we have worked hard as a little school family and are ready for some rest and relaxation! I’m linking up with my bud, Kacey for a Five for Friday bucket filling idea!


As we’re winding down the final six weeks, our focus in writer’s workshop is creating class books. By doing so, we can review a number of topics in a fun way that the kids can’t wait to get their hands on. Alliteration. Rhyming. Phonics patterns. Conventions. Punctuation…..BUT, most of all….filling buckets and continuing to build our classroom community right up until the very last minute!

Like normal, I gave my littles a voice in the planning of this endeavor. We brainstormed a list of topics they’d like to write about. After compiling the list, students voted to choose their ‘Top 3’ ideas. To my surprise, their #1 choice was little ole ME! I have the best class of littles on the planet, but it can be a little scary to give them free reign to write a book about YOU! =)

After a little prayer…..and prepping a cover… [Yep, they told me EXACTLY what they wanted on that too!]…the kids set to work with a starter sentence to give the book a little rhythm. The starter sentence was……Ms. Dwyer is my teacher. Beyond that, they added anything they liked to describe me as a teacher and tell what or how I taught them in 1st grade. We were reviewing adjectives that week and let me tell you, those little stinkers made me cry! Like….for REAL TEARS!!! I cried! I tried to wipe them away and play it off, but ya’ll, the things they said were so heartwarming…..and I’m a big ole softie when it comes to my kids…..melted my heart as I read every page! That little book is one I’ll treasure for a long, long time!

….and just like THAT, one idea birthed ANOTHER!


It started with bringing adjectives to LIFE! We used one courageous friend as a living anchor chart! This brave little stood at the carpet, glowing from ear to ear as friends used adjectives to describe HER. As they provided adjectives, I jotted them down quickly and we labeled away!


We couldn’t exactly leave her there standing all day, so we created a “Flat Stanley” version and placed the sticky notes on the chart. After the adjectives were added, she got to add a noun under each adjective to name what it was describing. The next day, we used the chart as a class again to review each item students described and how we use adjectives in sentences before beginning a surprise project! It was super top secret and we had a limited amount of time to get it down while our friend was out of the classroom!

Did you notice the other little book covers on the 1st picture? Well, if my bucket was filled as an adult getting such a sweet gift from my class of littles, I got to thinking about how each of them would feel getting the same thing! So, as one of my littles was out of the room, we each sat down and wrote a note to tell her exactly how terrific she is! As she returned, I projected the book on the document camera and turned the pages. Each student read the page aloud and you could just see the pride and warmth bursting from each of their pores! It was one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever seen as a teacher. To hear each student, one by one, tell a classmate what makes them special…..especially, during the wonky times of these last few days was uh-mazing!!!!

I wish I had taken pictures of the actual book, BUT I think its now under guarded lock and key because the student receiving it LOVED it just that much! Each day from then until the end of the year, we’ve decided to fill a bucket for a friend or two! Love, love, love my littles and the care they show for each other.


Our guided reading groups have all blended to form strategy groups. During the first 20 days of school, we worked to build routines to foster a collaborative learning environment. During the final 20 days, students are collaborating and sharing what they’ve learned throughout the year as they review comprehension skills in mixed ability groups. In short, they’re teaching each other! Again…..teacher heart melted!


We’ve had a great year filled with lots of learning with great friends! While I get a little teary eyed this time of year, it’s only because I’m so proud of my kiddos. They don’t need me anymore. I’m just in the room to make sure there’s adult supervision. They know the routines because they’ve helped to create them and practiced them all year. They’re working together. They’re teaching each other…..and they’re ready, ready for all 2nd grade has to offer! And me, I’m the lucky one….because I got to be a part of their journey! I got the privilege to make learning fun!

…..and that little book that we created as a surprise? The student receiving it, proudly declared THAT day as the BEST day of her life! She felt special and was stronger than me because she was able to hold back her tears of joy! It’s the little things that make teaching so fulfilling, that remind me daily of why the extra effort to love on each kiddo in my class is the most important part of what I do. It’s what makes the learning possible.


Think your class might like to end the year filling each other’s buckets too? Click the pic above to grab a cover and a writing page insert to use! There are options to print the cover in color or in black in white to be colored. There are also 3 different simple double-sided writing pages to choose from. Enjoy these last few days…summer will be here before you know it!


Thanks for stopping by!


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