February 2017 - Susan Jones Teaching

Jamie O'Rourke & The Big Potato - Read Aloud Lesson

When it comes to St. Patrick's Day, Jamie O'Rourke is one of my favorite characters! Jamie O'Rourke and the Big Potato to focus on cause and effect.


I thought I would offer a free read aloud lesson this month to my newsletter subscribers! If you already are subscribed - check your mailbox! You should've received your monthly newsletter with this free lesson inside. If you are not a member, just click the image above and you can sign up to receive the free lesson right away!

In my read aloud lessons, I go through the entire book with a focus skill in mind. I list out terms to define to your students, a preview of the text to read aloud to your kids, and then I list out all the important questions I want to ask and the pages they are on - all on one, easy page!

Example below:

A couple years ago I created an entire year's worth of read aloud lessons that are all one page so that you can quickly print your lessons and have them ready to go! They are also great for a sub. All the hard work of thinking of the questions is done for you. Recently, I added both a reading response page and a writing response page to each text for some added practice.

If you like the FREE lesson above, you can check out more by clicking my interactive read aloud lessons unit below and download another free lesson in the preview!

Happy teaching!

Three Ways to Promote Higher Order Thinking in the Primary Grades!

What is higher order thinking?

When I am talking about my students and higher order thinking, I am talking about the ability to use critical thinking skills to transfer their knowledge in order to solve a problem.

Well that wasn't the most simple way to put it... but essentially I want my students to take all the tools I have taught them and be able to APPLY them in order to solve something! 

"Here is the problem. Here is your tool kit. Go ahead! Solve it however you see fit!"

Higher order thinking can seem like a big task when talking about teaching 5-7 year old students, but it is honestly one of my favorite ways to teach. I love to watch my students surprise themselves with what they can do! I can see it in their eyes when they are at first, taken aback by the problem, and then when they solve it, they are just so proud. It is a beautiful thing!

I believe the earlier students are exposed to higher order thinking type questions, the more they will feel prepared to solve these problems as they continue onto the higher grades and be put in more complex situations.

While these types of tasks are certainly difficult at first, they are great practice for your young learners to start thinking in different ways. The more practice and exposure they get to these types of problems, the better they become!

I wanted to share a few ways I promote higher order thinking in my first grade classroom that you can go ahead and implement right away:

Once your students have learned a skill, I like to have them apply it to many different types of real world problems. By giving your students open ended tasks to solve, it gives them the freedom to solve the problem however best fits their needs. It also lets them recall their own past experiences to help them solve a problem and bring their learning outside the school walls!

When you sit back and watch how your students solve these types of problems, you learn a lot about the way each child thinks. You see strengths and weaknesses that may not be readily assessed through simple "recall" questions.

Here are some example questions to get you started:

- You are having a big party and everyone in the class is invited! You want to bring in cupcakes but you need to know how many boxes to bring. There are 4 cupcakes in each box.
(students use addition skills)
Students will first have to count up everyone in the class and brainstorm ways to figure out how many boxes of cupcakes they will need.

-  You get to pick out some new furniture to go along the biggest wall in your room. The wall is 15 feet long and your mom/dad want you to get a chair, a dresser, and a new bed. How long should each piece of furniture be to make sure it all fits?
(students use addition and subtraction skills, ways to make 15)
Students will choose all different measurements to see if they equal 15. Then we talk about if those measurements make sense (will your chair be longer than your bed? etc.)

- Our principal said we can choose which kind of new recess equipment we can get for the playground! What should we get and how can we decide fairly?
(students use graphing and data skills)
Students will likely suggest taking a vote and will need to decide on which options to put up on the board and how to collect and analyze the data.

- Bring in a Hershey chocolate bar (or draw a rectangle on the board) and explain that you and 3 friends would like to share it equally. How can we go about doing this?
(students use knowledge about fractions and 2D shapes)
This is an easy visual and when i do this in small group I actually give my students the candy once they have divided it up equally - boy that makes them want to get it right! Students mention all the different ways to divide the rectangle shape into equal parts and we discuss whether there is a "best" way to do it or not.

- Your after-school piano lessons are an hour long and you must be home by 6pm for dinner. What time should your piano lessons start?
(students use knowledge of time and elapsed time)
This type of problem has students thinking about all sorts of real-life situations. When I use a word like "should" it puts pressure on my students to think of the best time for the lessons to start. Students will start to discuss what time school gets out and how long it might take them to get to the lessons and then back home in enough time for dinner. Of course, there are a few different answers to this depending on what time you get of school. 

- Dress Teddy:
Students look at the different clothing options to dress their teddy bear and figure out how many different outfits they can make.
(students use number sense skills)
This type of problem really shows the different ways my students think! Some students like to write down all their options, others draw pictures, others like to go through each clothing item 1-by-1 to make sure it's being used. All of these are just perfect!

I like to pose these types of questions in whole group or small group situations. My students tend to bounce ideas off one another as many of these tasks are multi-step and can take a long time to solve. Once one student gets started sharing their ideas or strategies, it starts to spark other students' ideas!

You can do this simply by purposely doing something WRONG! Now, of course, you only want to do this after you have taught something correctly and after your students have mastered the skill... and you may want to add a little theatrics to it while you are making a mistake to help your students catch the hint....

I love to do this in my classroom with "fix it" cards!

These types of tasks can be used for all subjects, but here are some examples of them being used in math:

Close up for subtraction:
Identifying the problem and fixing it requires students to completely understand the skill at hand and then analyze the situation to determine what is incorrect. Then, students can go about solving these in more than one way! For example, in number 5 shown above, I have had students "fix" a problem like that by saying "they only get to open 3 more, not 4" and I have also had a few students say "They must have had 6 gifts." Both are correct and they both show that the student understands subtraction!

You can find all sorts of examples of {math fix it cards here!}

During my math warm up time, I love to pose simple guess & solve problems to get students thinking about how they would come up with a solution. I do this in two general ways: Estimation Station and More/Less.

Estimation Station:
This can be done by putting items into a clear container or bucket and asking students to estimate how many ______ they think are in the container. We write down our guesses and possible ways to figure out how many are inside.

After repeating this with your class a few times with the same container, it is fun to hear their reasoning for their estimates. They may notice that the items are much larger than ones used previously so there is likely less in the container. Once my students grasp that idea, I start putting items in different sized containers.

Depending on the type and amount of items, we also discuss should we group the items to count them? How can we make sure we don't count the same small item twice? Etc.

We don't just estimate items in containers either. We estimate how many markers we can lay across the board, how many one-foot hops we can do in 30 seconds, and how many steps it takes us to walk from one door to the other. There are many things to estimate!

This activity is a switch up from estimation station, where I will pose the following types of statements and my students will use their reasoning to decide if my statement is correct or incorrect.

- There are MORE than 30 counting bears in this container.

- It will take me LESS than 20 steps to walk from one end of the rug to the other.

- I can do MORE than 25 sit ups in one minute.

- There are LESS than 50 books on that shelf.

These types of statements have students thinking differently. I could easily ask my students to just count how many bears are in the container to see if they are able to count accurately, but this way my students must pick a side. Do they agree or disagree? They must provide reasoning for their choice and they then will figure out the best way to prove or disprove my statement!

Those are three, easy things you can start doing right away in your primary classroom to promote higher order thinking! I hope you liked these ideas and if you are looking for more higher order thinking math tasks you can find a bunch more ideas by clicking the image below:

I also have many fun warm up, modeled lessons, and activities for first grade in my yearlong math workshop curriculum. If you are interested in embedding higher order thinking into all your daily math lessons, check out the lesson by clicking the image below:

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Writing Poetry in the Primary Grades

Having your first graders dive into writing poetry can be a tricky thing, but it is so much fun if you really give them plenty of freedom! During poetry month it is nice to take a break from our very structured writing units and let loose with a little poetry! I created a writing poetry unit that helps young students do just that.

Students work through both free verse and form poetry in this unit. I included the following types of poems:
- Sensory poems
- Feelings poems
- Acrostic poems
- Cinquain poems
- Shape poems
- Color poems
- Haiku poems

There are also poetry topic cards to help students brainstorm and poetry book templates to make a class book.

For each type of poem I went about teaching it by introducing that poem type and the structure that makes it that type of poem. Then I walk through a teacher example of each poem. 
There is a typed teacher example for each  poem type in case you don't want to create one on the fly!

After I have shown how to create that type of poem, each student will get a graphic organizer to map out their poem. This allows me to walk around and guide as needed, but I really try to emphasize during our poetry unit that there are very few rules when it comes to poetry. This lets my students off the hook. It takes away their fear of writing and allows them to just go with it!

Here are some of the amazing poems my students have created over the years:

 ^^ This is a two page sensory poem that I just love!

Throughout the month of April I like to leave out all sorts of poetry sheets in a writing center for my students to complete during any down time we may have. They really get into it when they see what their creativity can create!

You can grab all the poetry planning activities in my writing poetry unit below:

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Diving Deeper into Characters - My Favorite Read Alouds

Looking at how characters change throughout a story. Comparing characters. Completing a character study. These are some of my favorite skills to teach in my first grade classroom! I wanted to share some of my go-to read aloud books for teaching these skills!

When I teach character changes I love using:

Julius, The Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes:
This story is about a young mouse, Lily, who gets a new younger brother. I have my students really pay attention to how Lily acts and feels at the beginning of the story and we watch her feelings and actions evolve as the story continues. This story takes a turn when someone else says mean things about baby Julius. Your young students will clearly see how Lily responds and they will use their inferring skills to determine how her feelings have changed.

My Sister Gracie by Gillian Johnson:
This was a newer book to me, but I found it at my school one day and it ended up being just perfect for character changes. It is very similar to Julius, The Baby of the World in its story line. In this story, a dog, Fabio, gets his world turned upside down when his parents adopt another puppy. Fabio, had all sorts of hopes and expectations before he met his new sibling and my students love to watch his feelings change as the story goes on. Since the plot of this story and Julius are so similar, they are great to compare and contrast with one another at the end!

When teaching character comparisons, there are 2 classic books I love to use:

Frog & Toad Together by Arnold Lobel:
This collection of short stories is a must have in any primary classroom. The two main characters play off one another and compliment one another really well. They both react differently in all sorts of situations and their friendship is something special! You can really use any of the short stories in this collection to compare and contrast the two characters. I will usually start by describing all the character traits of Frog and then repeating the same with Toad. We then have a lengthy discussion about if we believe Frog and Toad's character traits allow them to have a good friendship.

Toot & Puddle by Holly Hobbie:
This is another classic story which has many follow up stories after their original adventure. Toot and Puddle have many different interests and in this story they actually are very far away from one another throughout most of the story. As we read about their separate adventures, we discuss what their interests say about them as characters and compare their thoughts, actions, feelings and dialogue. I also love to ask my students to dig deeper and compare themselves to the characters. We discuss which character we think we are more alike and give evidence from the text to support our opinions.

After I have taught character changes and character comparisons, I like to have a complete character study of a main character in a story. We talk about who the character is, all their inner and outer traits. We discuss the character's personality (their thoughts and actions) and we discuss the ways a character may or may not develop throughout a story. Do they grow? Do they change?

My favorite character study books are:

Brave Irene by William Steig:
This story is about a young girl who completes and errand for her mother even when it is very, very difficult to do so. As we read this story we have great discussions about why Irene is doing what she is doing and what is says about her as a character. Irene is very persistent and we can see if she evolves throughout her enduring process. We also like to discuss if Irene's mother's opinion changes of her daughter as well.

Koala Lou by Mem Fox:
This sweet book is about a koala whose mother loves her very much but as Koala Lou gets older she seeks her mom's attention even more. She comes up with a plan to get her mother's attention and as we read we study her thoughts and actions to see how they change throughout the story. *Spoiler alert* at the end of this book Koala Lou loses the games she had been training for and it teaches her a valuable lesson. This is a great opportunity to teach your students the lesson of losing gracefully and that sometimes you will try your hardest and do your best and still lose.

You can grab any of the above books on Amazon here:

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

I also created  COMPLETE read aloud lessons and response sheets for all of the above books (and more). If you want to check those out, just click the image below and you can try a FREE lesson:

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Phonics Games!

I am always on the hunt for new, fun phonics games! Teaching the same phonics patterns and skills over and over can be difficult for both my students and for me as the teacher to try and have students practice these skills without getting bored.

Before we play phonics games, there is always a direct teaching lesson where I explain the phonics rules and sounds and some manipulation of the words as well. Often, I will use letter tiles to build the words and then change out the pattern for a new pattern. I have my students read both real and nonsense words with the pattern I have taught.

It is only after that explicit instruction that I introduce different phonics games. I believe that the game portion is to help students with fluency. When they are learning to read and decode new words, it is only through practice and repetition that students gain the fluency and ability to read the words quickly.

I recently came out with a ton of print and play math games for different skills in the classroom which was designed to help students with the same thing -  fluency! Since creating those games, I knew I wanted to do the same for different phonics patterns so students could have many different options and activities to practice their fluency.

All the games only require dice, crayons, cubes, a paperclip, and a pencil! They are designed for ease! I wanted teachers to be able to quickly print out a game from their computer and teach it so they can get back to efficiently teaching the other students in their classroom. The directions on the games are simple for students to understand and many of the same game-playing concepts are seen throughout all the games.

I have created six games for each of the different phonics skills:
- short vowels (CVC words)
- long vowels with silent e (CVCe words)
- long vowel teams
- consonant blends
- digraphs
- r-controlled vowels

I thought I would take a minute to share some examples of the games.

Short Vowels:
 Roll, Complete, and Color:
In this game students roll the die and they must figure out which word in their column will be complete with the vowel they rolled. The first student to fill in their column wins! This game has two versions. The one shown above has a picture already there (for example f_n with a fan next to it, so students would have to put an a in the middle) and another version without a picture so if a student rolled an "i" they could choose to make the word fin and draw a picture of a fin. I like that it allows for a bit of differentiation!

Long Vowels with Silent e:
 Replace & Race:
In this game students race to be the first to fill their tower. Students roll a die and see if they can put it anywhere in their tower to make a real word. 

Long Vowel Teams:
 Roll, Read, & Draw:
This game has students practicing their understanding of the words they are decoding. Students simply roll 2 dice to find the sum. Then, they read the word aloud to their partner and illustrate to show understanding.

Consonant Blends:
 Roll & Fill:
This game has students reading real and nonsense words. Students roll the die and move their game pieces along the game board. They read the word they land on aloud and determine if it is real or nonsense. If the word is real, they get to write it in their grid. Students race to be the first to fill their grid with real words! There is a gameboard for r-blends (shown above), l-blends, and s-blends.

 Roll, Read & Gather:
In this simple game, students roll a die and find that matching box. That student will read the words in the box and try to find a real word. Once they find one, they can highlight it with their color marker and it is now "their" word. Students continue rolling, reading, and gathering words until all the real words are taken! At the end, students see who gathered the most real words!

R-Controlled Vowels:
 Spin & Find:
Each set of games also has an identification type of game as shown above. In this game, students simply spin the spinner and find a word in the grid that contains that r-controlled vowel. Students can play until all squares are colored then see who colored the most or they can play to be the first the get 5-in-a-row!

If you would like to try a FREE phonics game, just click the image below and download the preview! You can just print and play your game right away!

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Long Vowel Phonics Games!

When I teach phonics in my classroom, it usually has 2 parts. I quickly introduce/review a phonics pattern with the whole group (for example, long vowels with silent e). I will model how to read words and apply the silent e. Then I will have students read aloud real and nonsense words with that phonics pattern on the board.

After the short whole group lesson, we go quickly into phonics games and small group activities.

Most of my students will play a game or complete an activity that goes along with my modeled lesson. While my struggling students will come to me for explicit phonics instruction (building words, blending sounds, etc.) When they come to me, they may or may not be working on the skill of the day. For instance, they will still be exposed to the silent e phonics rule in whole group, but in small group, they may be continuing to work on blending or segmenting CVC words.

My higher students who have already mastered CVCe words will work on whatever skill they have progressed to (vowel teams, r-controlled vowels, etc.).

Since this time of my phonics block can be a lot to juggle with students working on many different skills, I like to use simple, easy to prep, games and activities that students can just take and go.

I recently created a bunch of long vowel print and play games (for silent e and vowel teams) that have students reading real and nonsense words, substituting sounds, practicing fluency and more! I thought I would share a few.

Climb Your Ladder:
This game has students applying vowel teams to the middle of words to try and find enough real worlds to make it to the top of their ladder first! 

 Spin & Reveal:
In this game, students must apply the silent e to CVC words to create a new word. They will find that image in the grid and color it in!

Read & Search:
This game helps with fluency practice as students must roll the die and read the sentence aloud to their opponent. They then must try to find a word that matches the vowel team for the page (in this case, oa/ow). Students take turns trying to find more words than their partner!

These games are fun and EASY to use!
You can see these long vowel games by clicking the image below. 

There are also games for short vowels, digraphs, blends and r-controlled vowels.

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Silent E Fluency Passages

I am so happy to share some brand new, silent e fluency passages I made... and they are FREE! These phonics "read & illustrate" passages are the perfect way to assess students understanding of what they are reading.

phonics passages

There are 2 activities for each of the following phonics skills:

There is a longer paragraph and there is also a sheet with three short sentences so you can choose which sheet to give your students. These types of passages and sentences allow students to build their rate of reading tricky silent e words after they have learned the phonics rule. Students not only show that they know how to decode with these passages, but they also show their ability to comprehend what the passage is saying when they illustrate.

long vowel passages

I like to use passages like these after I already teach the skill (silent e) in isolation. So first, my students practice applying the silent e to different CVCe words. Once my students are able to do that successfully I will generally have them add the silent e to CVC words to make them CVCe (cap to cape, tap to tape, etc.) After they have mastered those two skills is when I will give students fluency passages. These let me assess my students ability to not only decode these words, but understand them in context.

silent e phonics

If you think you'd like to use these fluency passages in your classroom, just click below to join my newsletter! As a subscriber you will receive a monthly email with tips, tricks, updates and an exclusive members-only freebie:

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