Tag Archive: ideas

Contraction Surgery

IMG_0407I’ve been noticing with my 1st graders we’ve been having a lot of troubles while reading when we come to contractions.  Students say, “it is” when we see “it’s” or “do not” when we see “didn’t”.  Sometimes we’ll even get something a little more wonky like “didn’t not”.  I’ve done some word work with contractions, but it hasn’t really stuck.  I decided to do something with these 1st graders that I did with my 1st graders about 6 years ago–contraction surgery.

IMG_0419Students each got their own surgical mask, gloves, and “scalpel” AKA scissors.  We turned words into contractions by taking out the letters we didn’t need, “stitching them back up” (gluing them to the paper), and giving them a “surgery scar” (AKA the apostrophe).

We did a couple of examples together and then students were able to do 5 of them at their own pace with my support as needed.  They LOVED this and I think it helped because I haven’t noticed as much of the issues when reading as I have previously noticed.

They were extra excited because they got to keep all of their surgical gear AND I called each of them doctor. 🙂



Social Stories

IMG_0394It’s getting to be that time of the year when friends are going a little stir crazy and patience for each other can sometimes be low.  I’ve noticed in 1st grade especially patience for dealing with peers has been a challenge for students.  We took this as a learning opportunity.

I had the students read Calming Down and The Rude Robot to learn about ways we could practice patience and kindness to each other.

In Calming Down students learned that it’s ok to get angry, but to channel that anger into something positive and find ways to calm down.  Once we finished reading the story, we created a group anchor chart of ways we could calm down at school to help us stay positive and on task.  Each student then received a pocket-sized version of our chart to keep in their book box as a bookmark to use when they found themselves getting upset with another classmate.

IMG_0395We also read The Rude Robot about a boy who gets a robot for a birthday present, but the robot is rude to everyone so the boy has to teach it manners so his friends will want to come back and play.  When we finished reading the book we came up with a list of ways we could be more kind to each other in the classroom.  They also got a pocket-sized version of this anchor chart to keep in their book boxes as continual reminders on how even when we get mad at someone in the class we can still be kind to them.

I was impressed with all the great ideas students had.


img_0371I came across this awesome ipad app called Whack-A-Word and thought it was the cutest thing ever.  I don’t have ipad for all of my kiddos so I tweaked what I saw on the app and created my own using sheets for ABCs, blends and digraphs, and Jolly Phonics.  (If you want any of my materials, let me know!)  My teammate also found some stuff on Teachers Pay Teachers, but we created our own to match with what we wanted.

I took a pool noodle and cut them into about 2 inch wide slices and inserted jumbo craft sticks into a slit I made with scissors.  img_0372

The kids LOVED THIS!!! “Ms. Acuff, why haven’t we played this before?  This game is AWESOME!”  The way it works is you tell them something to find and they have to locate it and “whack the word” or in this case–the sound.  “Whack the sound that says ch-ch-ch.”  This has been a great way to reinforce letter identification and word parts for the Kindergarten kiddos who have needed some extra practice without it being so “skill and drill” with them.img_0373

AWESOME BOOK: Forest Friends

IMG_0096I have to give a big shout-out to a book our Kindergarten team used they found on Teachers Pay Teachers from Ashley Watson called Forest Friends Go To School.  If you are a teacher then you have at some point had at least one book destroyed at home by one of your kiddos.  It’s frustrating and expensive and the kids always feel bad, but at the end of the day, it still is one more book you need to replace.

I used this book with my Reading Recovery kids before I sent a bag of books home with the kids.  The book goes over different “bad scenarios” of things that happen to the book–coloring on the pages, stickers on the pages, dirt/mud on the pages, juice and chocolate on the pages, ripped pages, and pencil on the pages.  And then has the kids think about how we should take care of books while they are using them.

My 1st graders were really upset that this book was ruined (BONUS: you get to be the one to ruin the book.  Mwahaha!) and came up with a lot of good ideas on how to care for the books.

Do I think I won’t have anymore lost or destroyed books?  No, I’m not naïve, but I certainly hope this book comes to mind of the kiddos when they go to read my books at home and take a little better care of them.

You can get the book for only $3.00 from Ashley!  Go buy it, it’s definitely worth the $3.00 plus you are supporting another teacher.


I was finding my students kind of grumbling when it came to discussion after reading a new book.  Normally this is an opportunity for me to check their reading and comprehension.  I decided I needed to make this time of the lesson a little more fun.

I decided to make my own Top Secret comprehension cards.  Really Good Stuff makes their own cards, but I wanted to customize my cards based on what we’re working on in the classroom.  I ended up with about 30 cards.  I tried this today with my 2nd and 3rd graders and they absolutely loved it.  I started out by telling them to read their story carefully because I would be giving them an ultra-top secret mission after they finished reading.  Students began to giggle, but they were all very curious what this secret mission was.  They read and as they were reading I went through my cards and picked out the card I felt was most appropriate for each student.   On little envelopes I wrote TOP SECRET and slid the mission cards into an envelope for each student.

As they finished reading and were waiting for their card I totally played it up.  I made them promise they would keep it completely top secret–that they would show no one their card.  It was for their eyes only!  Each student had a ginormous grin.  Who doesn’t love a good secret??  Some students were so into the secret that they went and go dividers for their desk so no one could see what they were writing.  It was so cute to see students carefully slide their card out of their envelopes just far enough to read it and then push it back into the envelope until they needed to check it again to make sure they had written down the correct information.

From there students wrote their answers either in a journal or on a post it note.  We did end up sharing our secret notes at the very end, but it was really cool to see students looking back in the book for information, taking their time, and really thinking about the story.  They were all so bummed when group was over and secret mission time was over.  I promised them these cards would be back.  I’m super excited to see how these cards will continue to help students read more carefully, comprehend more information, and take their reading to the next level.


1st grade has been working on problem, solution, characters, and setting in their classrooms.  Today, I decided to do a little comprehension check and incorporate what they’ve been doing in the classroom as a quick little “get up and move” activity.  My 4 boys absolutely loved this activity.

I first had the boys re-read the story Pinky the Pig.  I told them to read carefully as I was going to be asking/telling about certain things that happened in the book later on.  We then went out into the hallway and I put 4 pieces of paper on the lockers in 4 sections of the lockers: Characters, Setting, Problem, Solution.  I had the boys take pieces of paper (although I think tape would work better so no one slips, but I didn’t want to take the extra time since this wasn’t my classroom and couldn’t permanently be there.) and divide the hallway into 4 sections/squares.

I then made a series of statements or questions (I.E. Who is Pinky?) and then said–is Pinky a problem, solution, character, or setting?  The students then had to move to the appropriate square.  Sometimes the students agreed and sometimes they disagreed.  Characters and problems seemed to be the easiest for the students, but for some reason (and it could have been because of the way I phrased the question) the students struggled with setting.  The solution questions made the students really think, but they were able to get those questions relatively easily as well.

The boys absolutely loved hopping into different squares and were all eager to tell their teacher what we had just played once we went back into the classroom to write.  This definitely was a good strategy to use with the kids and I’ll try to incorporate it again at different times throughout the year, but maybe fashion it with different categories as what they are learning will change throughout the year.

 I have 2 Reading Recovery students who are very wiggly and have a hard time getting through the 30 minute lesson without the constant need to move around.  I had in the past used the yoga balls before with my students but I felt like I was nearly sitting on the ground and the students seem to spend more time bouncing on the balls than actually getting their work done, so I took them home.

During a meeting where we talked about how we could help wiggly students be more successful in the classroom we decided maybe it was time for the yoga ball to come back.

I knew that potentially what I did for one student with the yoga ball I would need to do for them all.  I have a very tiny office and there isn’t a place to hide the yoga ball.  Also, I have some braggers who like to tell the others when I do something special for one of them.  So of course all 4 of my students wanted to use the ball.  The 2 who normally don’t need any type of accommodation were the 2 that had to have the ball removed and exchanged for a chair.  The 2 who have lots of wiggles and difficulties getting through the lesson it was very helpful.

One of my students ended up producing the best writing I’ve ever seen him produce while he was with me.  With a little rocking to the side and back and forth, he was focused and worked quickly.  The other student needed a few minutes to get a couple of good bounces in before he settled in.  “Can I bounce like this?” *tries a big bounce* “Can I bounce like this?” *tries a medium bounce*…and so on.  I get it–we need to test the boundaries first.  But once the boundaries were set I had 2 happy boys who were ready to wiggle and learn.  Hopefully this continues to be a successful way to get wiggles out while still helping them be successful in the classroom.


One of my students’ very favorite reading strategies is called Stepping Through The Story.  Today I did this retelling strategy with my first graders.

What is this strategy for?: To be used as a retelling tool for students.

How does the strategy work?: Students are given 1 piece of paper per plot point in the story.  You hand each student their pieces of paper and ask them to lay them out–can be in a line or a curve.  I ask my students to lay them out with spaces in between.  (My kids in the photo above didn’t leave themselves very much room.  I typically like there to be a good 8-12 inches between the papers so the kids really get the movement of stepping through the story.)  Students are to start on the first paper and tell what happened at the beginning of the story.  Students then step to the next paper when they tell the next plot point or what happened next in the story.  They continue stepping to the next pieces of paper as they retell the story until the land on the final piece of paper and tell what happened at the end of the story.

Why use this strategy?: Students in our building really struggled with retelling when it came to DRA2 testing throughout the year.  We quickly realized this was something we needed to work harder on.  Brain-based research has shown a connection with students retaining more information when you cross both sides of the brain–such as involving moment/Physical Education into the learning.  My kids love getting out of their seat and hopping on pieces of paper to retell the story.  It always seems that they remember the story much better after we use this strategy rather than just a verbal retelling or just comprehension questions alone.  Students are eager to share and can’t wait to move to the next paper.  It’s good to get the wiggles out while having fun and learning.  I’ve found that all of my groups in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade love this strategy.

Materials needed: 1 piece of paper per plot point in the story times however many students you have in a group.  (10 plot points x 4 students = 40 pieces of paper)  I am big of visual representation and so I really like to use a different color for each plot point.  I think it just really shows that this is a different point in the story and it’s easy to see with the color change.

Helpful information: The first time I did this last year I used one piece of paper for a group of 4 students.  I thought they could each put a foot on the corner of the paper.  This did not work.  There was plenty of pushing and arguing and I spent more time doing crowd control than helping them with retelling.  I decided to cut the paper into 1/4th the size so they each could have their own section.  This takes up more space, but it has eliminated all behavior problems.  Now they get to lay down their own cards in their own space and it just makes more sense!  All students love to help so I have them each pick up their own papers and hand them in when finished.

This is a strategy that I use with my groups as frequently as possible.  I usually devote 10 minutes to this strategy by the time you hand out papers, step through the story, and pick up the papers.  It’s a quick way to move, learn, and have fun!


As a specialist I hear many times from the classroom teacher, “Whoa!  He was able to do that with you?” or “No!  She isn’t using that strategy when she’s in group with me.”  These types of comments can be extremely frustrating for me AND the classroom teacher as the student is seemingly not transferring knowledge from me to the classroom or vice versa.

One of the things I decided to try with my 2nd and 3rd graders is a “What stuck with you?” chart.  (I wish I could say this was my own creation, but I stole the idea from Title 1 teacher, Erin Sale, from Lincoln, who is in my Reading Intervention cohort)  Today I had my students write on a post-it note something that “stuck with them” from our reading or writing conferences we had.  Things varied from “break down the word”, “the edge is my friend” (referring to filling the page and not just writing in the center of the paper) to “using capitals”.  My hope is that each student will really stop and think after each lesson about something that really stood out or stuck with them that they can use in the classroom when I am not there.

This worked really well with my 3rd graders.  They each very easily were able to talk about something we had conferenced about and made it their goal to work on for the next time.  This was a difficult task for my 2nd graders.  When I asked them what stuck with them about our conference, they each started talking about the story they had read or about their writing.  They weren’t mentioning anything we talked about that they needed to work on or a strategy they could use to help themselves at a later point.  It took a lot of discussing before we got to a point where they could write something down.  Perhaps in the next coming weeks we’ll do some goal setting and work our way up to using the “what stuck with you” chart.  I will continue to use this with my 3rd graders.  I’m excited to see in the coming weeks if there starts to be more of a transfer from the work they do with me to the work they do with their teacher.

It’s inevitable that at some point when your child is reading, he or she will come to a word he/she doesn’t know.  What are some strategies your child should be using?  What are some strategies you could prompt for?

  1. Look at the picture. (Yes, we want your child looking at the picture!  Please don’t cover the picture up.  There are many helpful clues he or she can find from searching the picture!)
  2. Think about the story.  What would make sense here?
  3. Get your mouth ready.  Point and slide your finger under the word.  Then go back and re-read the sentence.
  4. Read to the end of the sentences and then go back and see if you can figure out the word.  Then go back and re-read the entire sentence together.
  5. Try a word!  Does it make sense?  Does it look right?  Does it sound right?
  6. Look for chunks or parts in the word you know!

Encourage your child to try multiple strategies before telling them the word.  If after several attempts at the word and your child is still struggling, give them the word, but run your finger under the word slowly while you tell them.  Most importantly, help make reading fun.