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Book in a Bag Volunteer Program

One of my favorite programs to do with my students is Book in a Bag. This program helps my students get books in their hands that are at their level. In order to be a better read, you need to read. This is a difficult task for beginning readers because many families don't have access to the right books. 

It all begins with a leveled library of books and the students reading level. I'm sure every school is different in how they assess and what sort of system they use. In my school, we assess using the DRA (Diagnostic Reading Assessment). Once I have those levels, I use them to determine a starting point for each student.   This is how I set up my book in a bag program. 


First I ask for parent volunteers. I usually divide my students into 3 groups and have 3 different volunteers come every week. You will want parents who are willing to come every week consistently to make the program work.  


You will need leveled books. I started with a base of books from years of teaching and every year I add to my cart. Thankfully Scholastic now shows the level on their books. When I get a book order, I check my cart to see what level is low and then I hunt through the order for those books. Don't forget to save yourself a copy. Once the books come in, you will need to level them. This year I was able to fill my cart up nicely with a variety of books. 


I try not to make it too complicated. Each student gets a file folder and I staple a recording sheet inside. On the first day, I write the level the starting level for the student. When the parent comes, they pick out 2 books for the students at that level. I have the children help them choose. If you don't have a lot of books, don't worry. Just have your students take 1 book home. That is how I started years ago.  On the recording form, I have the parent record the titles of the books. I do this just to keep track in case they lose a book at home. 

This is what I send home with the students. They also have a recording sheet that is a little different. It has boxes at the end where an adult can let us know if they have mastered the books or if they need more support. I also include an introductory letter explaining how the program works. It tells the parent what day the students need to return their books and that they should read them 5 out of the 7 days of the week. Of course, I also include the two books they picked out. 

In the bottom of the cart, I have extra copies for the parents to use if they need them throughout the year. 

How it Works

Every week when a parent volunteer comes, they pull one student out in the hallway to read. The students pick 1 of the 2 books to read to the adult. If it is a longer book, they read a little piece of it. After reading, the parent helps the child pick out 2 new books. Once they are finished, the student puts their "book in a bag" books in their mailbox and gets the next student to come out in the hallway. It is less distracting this way and you hardly know they are there.

Q & A

How do they move up?
I let the parents use their own judgment as well as the notes from the parents on whether to move a student up or not. 

What do you do if they don't bring back a book?
I let them get another set of books. If they have 2 sets out, we usually wait to send more home.

What do you do if a parent volunteer cancels?
I usually try to switch the books out or have a different volunteer help switch them out. 

What do you do if the parent doesn't read with them at home?
I have used high school helpers, parent volunteers or I spend a little extra time reading with them.

If you would like some of the forms to get you started on this program CLICK HERE!



Building Number Sense with Scrolls

Building Number Sense

In first grade, our goal is to write our numbers to 120. For some students, this is an easy task while others may struggle. To help students understand our number system and increase their number sense, we scroll. I'm going to share with you how simple this task is to set up and implement in your own classroom. 

Number scrolls have been a favorite activity in my first grade classroom for years. All you need is a paper towel roll and these two sheets that you can download. Your students will begin to #numbersense #scrolls

Paper Towel Roll

At the beginning of the year, I send a note home to parents asking for them to send in an empty paper towel roll. This is what we use for our scrolls. 

Print Pages and Begin

As a class, we complete the first page together. We start at number 1 and write to 100.

Attach Page

Next, I tape the first page to the paper towel roll. After it is taped, they can begin the 2nd page. They will just continue to count by ones. Once they are finished, they will trim off the top and glue it to the scroll where it says "glue here".  **I usually check their second page before having them glue just to be sure they are on the right track**

Organization & Storage

In my classroom, we have seat sacks. My students keep their scrolls in their seat sacks at all times. They are allowed to scroll if they finish a task and have free time. We get these out a lot in Master Math Rotations.  Read more about MASTER math here!   I have an empty bin filled with the second page in my classroom. When they need a second page they grab one and go. ***HELPFUL TIP*** Don't let them unroll the scroll every time they work. It can be very distracting. We do scroll checks every once in a while to make sure they are on track and to allow them time to share how high they have written. 

Here is a picture from the end of the year. They were so excited to open their scrolls and show off their progress from the year. This activity had my students writing their numbers in the thousands and definitely increased their number sense throughout the year. Even some of my students who struggled with this pushed themselves and eventually got it. 

If you are looking for a fun way to increase your student's number sense CLICK HERE!


Guided Math using MASTER Math Curriculum

     Over the past 10 years, I have been using guided math instruction in my classroom. I have spent countless hours trying to gather materials from everywhere to make this approach work. This year I decided to put everything I wanted in one place and write my own first grade math curriculum. Introducing....Master Math. 

What is Master Math?

      Master Math is an acronym that I created to represent the way I teach guided math to my first graders. In the past, I had struggled to teach math in a whole group setting. I decided  I needed to make a change. I thought about all of the components I wanted in a math program and that is how this was born. Each letter represents a different part of our math learning.

What does each letter stand for in Master Math?

M: Manipulatives
A: Apply Skills
S: Small Group
T: Technology
E: Enrichment
R: Review

How does guided math look in Master Math?

           First, we gather together for a 5-10 minute whole group lesson. I use the SMART board for these lessons and I have them laid out and ready to go (they come in a pdf version too). I go through the slides with the class. They contain discussion questions to introduce the topic we will be working on. At the end of the slides, there are 6 different activities they will do for each rotation. I provide just a visual of the activity. I use the visual to explain what they will be doing at each rotation. 

           After the whole group lesson, the students go to their first rotation. There are 5 total rotations. The 6th rotation is an open rotation for any time during math. I use a SMART notebook slide to designate where my students start. Then, I switch the slide approximately every 8 minutes for the next rotation. 

            At each station, you will find two tubs. I use yellow and orange tubs. The orange tub contains the activity they will be completing. The yellow tub is the turn in tray for that activity. This keeps things nice and tidy for each rotation. 

Let's take a look at each part of Master Math!


           Manipulatives are a must in a math program. In this rotation, we work on skills through movement. It can be moving math objects, building puzzles, or moving our body through a scoot activity. It is simply math with some sort of movement. 

Apply Skills

           In apply skills, my students work on applying what they are learning by playing a game. Math games are a great way to learn math and have a little fun too. This station is a favorite. It really helps my students work on being kind, playing fair, and working together. Take a peek!

Small Group

            The small group is my station. This is where I sit and work with a group of 4-5 students at a time. It is a paper-pencil station where they work on the skills we are learning. This is where I can see first-hand if my students are understanding the concept. Not just one student, but my eyes are on ALL of my students daily. It is the best feedback I can get to guide my instruction. To say this is my favorite station is an understatement. I love the small-group interaction, the formative assessment, and watching them grow. 


            My students love technology. It is all around us so why not embrace it. It is also another avenue to reach your learners.  In my classroom, we have Chrome books. I only need 5 at a time, although I do have more. During this time, my students work on either Google Slide activities or digital task cards call Boom Decks. They do prefer Boom Decks because they get instant feedback from them. Who doesn't LOVE instant feedback? I also prefer Boom Decks because I also get a report on their progress.  In my units, I offer both means of technology. 


             This rotation is an open rotation. Students are never sent to this rotation, but they can go when they finish any activity if they choose. I have also used the activities from enrichment during small group with my higher learners. Some years I have enough students to make an enrichment group. When they come to me, if they already know the small group material, we just do the enrichment. It varies from year to year.   


             The review rotation is a paper-pencil pencil center where students work on previously learned material. This rotation is SOOOO important. It keeps students fresh with learned material and it also helps those students who didn't quite get it the first time. It's like a second chance at mastery.

Here are Some Helpful Tips

      1. I always color code my worksheets when printing.
            *small group is white
            *review is green
            *enrichment is yellow
            *apply skills are pink
            * manipulatives blue
        2. I always stick to my 8 minutes with a 2 minute transition time.  If they don't finish, it is ok.  We do our best and move on.
        3. At the last rotation, the students bring all materials in the two tubs over to an assigned area. Then, I go through and gather papers and replace the tubs for the next day's activities.
        4. I copy an entire chapter and have it all prepped by the day before beginning a unit. 
        5. I store all of my lesson plans in a binder.
        6. I store all of my games and activities in a tub.

           Did I mention that every math unit ends with an assessment and a cumulative project/craft?  Since the assessment doesn't take as long as Master Math, we add a little fun in at the end. Each unit is theme based so the project or craft is based on the theme. Here is a peek at a few.

Would you like to see the units covered in Master Math? Here are the different units I created using the Common Core State Standards for First Grade

             I could never teach math in a whole group setting again. Not only do I love everything about Master Math, but my students do as well. They are upset on shortened days when we can't fit it in. Guided Math has changed the way I teach math instruction for the better! 


My Top 5 First Day of School Activities {with freebies}

After 20+ years of teaching, I have fine-tuned my first day of school activities. This has helped me create a fun and seamless first day back.

Here are my "go to" Top 5 First Day of School Activities.

1. Unpacking

There are so many routines to learn at the beginning of the year, and morning routines are one of them. Every year for the past 15 years I have done the same thing, and it works like a charm. I stand at the front door of the classroom and greet my first graders as they come in. Instead of having them go to their lockers or cubbies and unpack, I have them bring their bookbags right into the classroom and set them on the floor by their seat. After announcements, I discuss our morning routines as a whole class. Then, I take one table at a time and we unpack their bookbags together. In my room I have a turn in tray for all papers (the wooden box next to the mailboxes), they put their folders in their mailbox, and all other items go in their lockers. 

2. Morning Activity

My students come into first grade with varying levels of ability. I have done worksheets in the morning but some students finish early and some don't finish at all. When they come into my room, they have an empty file folder at their seat. I use file folders for our parent volunteer programs with sight words and book in bag. Instead of just using plain ones, I have them decorate their folder. Everyone can do this and it can take as long as you let them do it.  Once all students are seated, announcements are over, and I have begun helping them with the unpacking, we switch over to mini puzzles. I have enough puzzles for each student to have their own and then they can switch with each other. You can check out my Back to School Puzzles here.


3. Shared Reading

Once we are unpacked, it is time to gather and begin building our community. I like to establish rules and routines, and begin our schedule on day one, without overwhelming them. I want my students to feel welcome and comfortable in the classroom immediately. My favorite story to share on the first day of school is First Day Jitters.  This story has an amazing twist at the end, the teacher is actually the one with jitters.   Before coming to school I give the students a little poem with jitter glitter as a lead into this story.  First, we begin by discussing what jitters are, and if any of us had jitters the night before. Then, we list things that help us take our jitters away. After reading the story, we make jitter jars. I have done these two different ways. Sometimes we write what gives us the jitters, and sometimes we write the things that take our jitters away. Here is a picture from last year's jitter jars. 


4. Math & Snack

In my room, we have a community snack. Due to all of the allergies, I like to make sure we have a safe environment when snacking. I provide the snack on the first day of school. I made these cute little tags and I attach them to some fish crackers. After having a snack, we play this fun little fishy math game that goes along with it. You can grab these free first day of school activities here!


5. Calendar

During the first week of school, I do not start a math unit. I use that time to begin building our calendar routines, doing a little assessment, and playing math games. I have a morning helper pick a friend to complete our classroom calendar independently as morning work. For the first two weeks of school, I am the helper.  Every day we ALL complete a calendar journal. I have made a calendar journal for each month in school. My August calendar is free, just click here.  This journal is very repetitive and builds as the year progresses. By December, my students are completing this independently with little to no support. I love that they all get to participate in the calendar routines daily. 

This list of 5 first day of school activities has made the transition back to school seamless for my students. We have a great first day, we learn a little, and we begin to establish those must needed routines. You can check out more of my back to school goodies here. Back to School Bundle  & Back to School for the Teacher

Here's to wishing you an amazing year! I hope you can use some of these back to school activities in your own classroom! Best of Luck, Megan


Butterfly Lifecycle

Every year in first grade, we purchase caterpillars in the Spring. The best way to learn about the butterfly lifecycle is to actually see it with your own eyes. When the caterpillars arrive the excitement begins and so does the metamorphosis.  

As we observe this butterfly lifecycle, we work in the student journals I have created. They are much like a book, providing information through the whole process.  In addition, there are activities for them to complete and build their knowledge. First, we focus on our cute little caterpillars that come in these little plastic cups. 

We record the date they arrive, gather our schema, and observe what they look like. Then, we learn how to take care of our new insects. We observe their food, how they shed their skin, and begin to watch them spin silk. We also make these cute little caterpillars.

Once our caterpillars have changed into a chrysalis, we begin to learn and observe this stage. Since there isn't a ton going on during this time, we do some fun word work activities and writing during the wait. We work on increasing their vocabulary. 

Eventually, our beautiful butterflies emerge. We get back into our journals and do more observing and learning. We look closely at a butterfly's body and learn how to care for them.   We don't keep them very long before it is time to return them to their natural environment. 

Once we release them, we make these fun little butterflies. We complete the lifecycle of a butterfly and send them on their way. 

This unit lasts for several days but we only spend a few minutes on it each day. It is definitely the highlight of our Spring. They love seeing the changes of the butterfly lifecycle. You can't ask for a more hands-on learning experience. 


Shark Unit CHOMP!

Every year after Spring Break, it has been a tradition to teach my first graders about sharks. It all started 17 years ago when I had zero resources to use in my classroom due to our building closing from a mold. We were displaced to a local church that was kind enough to take us in. It was my first year transitioning from 4th grade to 1st grade,  and I literally had nothing. So, I looked at the standards and asked my first graders what they wanted to learn about. That is how this shark unit was born. It has of course grown, just like every other unit of mine, but the joy it brings my students hasn't changed a bit. These animals are fascinating and a bit scary. (Which is why I don't teach it before Spring Break). 
Here are my favorite books to share with my class. I like to have a paper pencil book as you can see above so we can really dig into the non-fiction text features. Then we just build on our learning from story to story. This is part of Guided Reading with a Purpose Series Week 32. Our focus for the week is captions and labels. So with each story shared, we do discuss and work on these specific features among many other things. 

With every non-fiction unit I teach, I love to have some sort of interactive anchor chart. Here are just a few of the ones I have used in the past. Not only do these build each day, but they also provide a place for my students to go and visit when needed throughout the week.

In this picture, you can see my two focus strategies, captions and labels. I also have some real shark photographs for my students to refer to. 

Here is a photo of just some of the things we do during the week. There favorite is the Non-fiction text feature checklist. We use the mini book and dig through it with our highlighter and pencils. They learn so much being able to circle and highlight in the book.

Here is a picture of  a diagram and label from last year. This is an activity we did after reading All about Sharks.   When working on captions, we draw a picture from the story and write a short 1-2 sentence description of our picture.

This is the first time we complete a research project on an animal, so we do it all together. Each day we work on a page during writing. This is an activity that we will do throughout all of our animal group units so I love doing it whole group first. When we are finished at the end of the week, they have an awesome shark report!

This shark unit wouldn't be complete without a little fun. At the end of the week, we measure 4 different sharks using 1st graders. Last year I got smart and used a tape measure and blue tape to mark the length of each shark. (Previously I was using calculator tape that I had to roll up year after year) Then we laid first graders in between the two tape lines to see how many first graders it takes to make each one. You should hear their excitement when we do the whale shark. It is almost hard to imagine the animal being that size.

Here is what we do with the information.

Another example.
You can see the calculator tape here! 

Finally, we end the unit with a craft. I usually switch it up from year to year because there are two different options. 

If you are looking for a great non-fiction unit that your students will love, I can promise you this shark one will do it. 

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