5 Reasons why I use Google Apps in my 1st Grade Classroom

I have a confession to make, never in a million years could I have imagined the capabilities of my first graders until I experienced them myself.  Google has proven to be one aspect of learning that I have put off and avoided for years. This past year they proved me wrong! 

5 Reasons why I use Google Apps in my 1st Grade Classroom

In the Fall,  I decided it was time to explore all the avenues that I could to help my first graders gain knowledge using the amazing technology they had at their fingertips.  I took it in baby steps, and by the end of the year I was so happy I had explored all of it.  Truth be told, my first graders were too!  So I want to share with you the 5 reasons why I DID and will CONTINUE to use Google Apps in my classroom.

I differentiate as much as I can in my classroom and technology is the EASIEST way to do so!  When you have activities that are multi-level, you can reach all of your learners.  Google Classroom is AMAZING.  It reminds me of Facebook with posts that continue on your feed.  It is also super EASY.  It lets you select which students you send an assignment to.  In math, I can send out the same kind of assignment, but at different levels. When teaching greater than, less than, or equal to, I can send out an assignment with numbers up to 10, 100, and 1000.  While they are working on their computer, they have no idea that they may all be working on completely different assignments. 

We all know children are more engaged with technology.  In my classroom, I try to change the activities throughout the day to keep their attention.  Technology is one way to do this.  Everyday we used Google Slides to work on math practice during math rotations.  I quickly send out the assignment via Google Classroom.  When they get to the technology rotation, they log into our Classroom and began to work on the assignment.  Believe me, I strongly feel they need paper pencil in the primary grades as well.  However, when you offer instruction in multiple ways you are sure to have student engagement.

 In our school we have something called CORE PLUS.  During this 30 minutes, we ability group the children amongst our 5 first grade teachers. We work in smaller groups on specific skills that children need extra help with.  For the children who are at benchmark, we enrich them by sending them different research projects through Google Classroom. They work independently or with a group of students to research, create their own Google Slides or complete given assignments.
Sometimes children dont get a concept right away and may need extra help.  After reviewing and re-teaching, I can simply send them the assignment again for extra practice.  

Although creating things for Google Classroom can be time consuming, once it is done I have it forever at my fingertips.  The BEST part is... it's paperless ~ no copying. Once you have the activities, you don’t have to print them, collect them, or pass them back out.  You simply send them out, and then they are turned back in digitally.   I have taught my first graders to "turn in" their assignments and NOT email or share them with me. I don't want hundreds of extra emails each day.  I simply go to my classroom to see who is done and who is still working.  I can add comments to their assignment all from my computer at home.  The BONUS~ I don’t have to take anything home with me.  If I feel an assignment needs more work, no problem.  I  taught my students how to unsubmit an assignment, read my notes, and complete it again.  Yes, in 1st grade!

 We all HATE testing but lets be honest, it isn’t going away any time soon.  In my district, K-2 teachers do as much as they can to prepare our students for testing which begins in 3rd grade.  In my school district, the state testing is all done online using Chromebooks.  So why not help them prepare by working on skills such as dragging and dropping, typing, and logging onto computers using passwords.  Of course we work on the academic piece too, but moving them forward with technology while they are young can only help. 

This year I have learned to never underestimate my first graders with technology.  I also learned to push my self to learn new things.  Yes it was uncomfortable and scary at times but I learned so much.  My students left my room with fantastic technology skills that they can continue to use in second grade. 

They love it so much, they asked me to assign them things over the summer.  To make things fair, I opened up a Google Classroom for our entire first grade.  We are taking a trip around the world to the 7 continents.  So far they have been to Australia.  Next up is Asia~ I'm still working on those resources.  It has been a fun way to connect with them over the summer too!  

I hope you take the plunge if you haven't.  If my first graders can do it, so can yours!  Also, there are so many "How To" videos, there is no excuse!  

I am just beginning my journey of creation, but there are already so many wonderful things out there for you to explore.  Teachers pay Teachers is filled with rich activities that you can use with your students. Click Here!
 If you would like to peek as some of the things I have shared with my students, click HERE.

As always, thanks for listening~ love what you do and do what you love!


Small Group Guided Reading Prepped with a Freebie

Do you struggle to plan and differentiate your SMALL GROUP GUIDED READING? This was a huge problem for me until I found a great solution. Now it is as easy as pie and my favorite thing to prep!

Small Group Guided Reading Prepped with a Freebie

Grouping my Students

Yesterday I was so excited to get something checked off of my bucket list for back to school.  I actually planned out my small group guided reading units for my incoming first graders.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Every year the kindergarten teachers give their students the DRA or Diagnostic Reading Assessment before they leave for the summer.  Using that information, I created some dynamic grouping for the Fall.  One thing I have noticed after teaching first grade for 18 years is that the students stay pretty close to that level when they come back in August.  Of course, I will retest them and change them, but that is exactly why my grouping is called "dynamic"...it will change.  

Based on the DRA, I just add the names to sticky notes.  This is a made-up page because I can't reveal who my new children will be, it is always a surprise for them in August.  I wanted you to see how easily I group them.  I am not wasting any time next year, I want to read with them in a small group as soon as I establish good routines.  

Organization of Materials

So after 18 years of teaching, I feel I have finally mastered this process.  It took me longer than I wanted but I got to my final goal.  As a teacher,  you already have to plan lessons for all of your core subject areas.  On top of that, you are then differentiating small groups of students and making more lesson plans for them.  When I get to the small group planning, I'm exhausted.  I usually have about 5 different groups with 3-5 lessons for each group each week.  That is a lot of extra planning.  So I got smart this year and did a lot of reading and researching on each reading level. I wanted to see what was expected in the reading process.  Then, I created 30 lessons for each level with little to no prep at all.  Just copying a few pages and I was ready to go.  Today I will show you what it looks like for the Level D Binder.  

Let's Peek Inside my Small Group Guided Reading Binder

Here is a picture of the binder.  Inside it is split into 4 sections.  
  1. Teacher Tools: Pre-Assessment, Post-Assessment, Teacher Data Tracking
  2.  30 Typed Lesson Plans that are ready to go.  
  3.  Student Activity Pages- black and white ready to be copied
  4.  Comprehension Activities that you can add to each lesson when needed. 

The ONLY thing not included are the books!

Lesson Plans

So here is where I begin.  I like to prep only 5 lessons at a time because children grow and change quickly.  Also, I'm kind of taking a guess in the beginning. If I'm off, 5 lessons won't be too long.

Here is a picture of 5 Level D lessons.  There is some repetition however, the main activities change amongst the days.  You can copy them and staple them for each group but I don't.  

You can see the binder on the left and the stapled packet on the right.  I put all of my lesson plans in clear sleeves and keep them right in the binder. Now they are no prep.  At the bottom, I place a sticky note in the "book & comprehension focus section" where I add what will be done if I choose to do so.  Simple and effective. 

Student Work

For the students, I prep a packet for them.  On the left, you can see a set of packets with ____'s Guided Reading Journal.  I copy five lessons and staple them.  So you could see what is inside, I laid out one packet.  The first 3 pages are vowels, strategies, chunks, digraphs, etc.  Whatever is discussed at this level.  During our lessons, we refer to these pages for singing and saying the sounds that they make.  At the bottom are the 5 activity pages.  In addition, there are three cut and glue activities.  I pre-cut them and put the lesson that they go with.  You can see my sticky note #5. 

 Yesterday, after I knew my levels, I went to school and copied my packets for 5 different groups.  It literally took my 10-15 minutes. 
In addition to the black and white posters, I also made colorful teaching posters for each level.  I laminated these and keep them in the binder to use when I meet with the children.

Choosing Books

After I copied my packets, I went to my leveled reading bin and pulled the books I wanted to use.  For each level, I choose two books to work with, one fiction and one non-fiction.  We have a leveled book collection but we also have a membership to Reading A-Z.  Sometimes, as I get to know my students, I print paper books so we can highlight, chunk and write in them.  This is especially important for my lower levels. 


Next, I printed the comprehension pages.  Here is a peek at all the strategies that are included for Level D.  I also include colorful posters to go with the strategies for teaching purposes.

 Finally, I copy the pre and post-assessment as well as the data tracking sheets.  I three-hole punch them and keep them in my box on a clipboard.  While I am working with the students or after working, I fill out the data form.  So here is a peek at what my bin looks like when I'm finished. 

Once I have filled out the entire tracking sheet, I add it to my Data Binder.  I made this fun cover which you can grab for free today and use in your own classroom!

I found these amazing number tabs at Office Max.  I use them to separate my students.  I give each first grade a number.  Once the Guided Reading Notes are complete, I put them behind their number.  I also add the pre & post assessment too.  When it comes time for progress reports or conferences, I have everything on each child separated out. 

Here is a picture of it altogether. My container, binder, posters, books, and student activity packets.

At the table, I like to keep these things handy.  I have a mini easel I bought at Meijers for my reading strategy cards, pencils, pointers, glue sticks, scissors, and some fun comprehension dice.

So that's it.  I never have to write a full lesson plan for small group guided reading again! I already did it for you.  I was able to prep all 5 boxes last night in a half hour.

Remember that freebie I promised, well here it is!  I also included these fun little Guided Reading Group Labels 1-8.  DATA BINDER COVER & LABELS.  

I have levels A-O done. CLICK HERE to check them out!

Thanks for reading, I hope you were able to grab a few housekeeping ideas for your guided reading!  
As always, love what you do and do what you love!


Sometimes I Forget ~ Never Underestimate

Sometimes I Forget ~ Never Underestimate

So early this morning I woke up at 3:00 and could not go back to sleep. I began thinking about my Charlie girl.  Of course I feel compelled to share with you what has been going on this past year with our little muffin. 
Last year was a big year of transition for us as we moved from a birth to 3 “Help Me Grow Program” into Pre-school.  Our experience with "Help me Grow" was amazing and we loved all of our intervention helpers, especially Ms. Heather. This momma was a nervous wreck making that transition.  Charlie is very shy and has only been with Ms. Chris her sitter (aka our newest family member) since she was born.  We knew she needed to be with other kids but I wasn’t sure how it would go.  Of course we had the most perfect teacher for her, Ms. Maryann.  She was my daughter Mollie’s preschool teacher.  She sings, dances, and plays, so we knew she was a perfect fit for our girl.

First day of school with Ms. Maryann
Let me tell you, it took three days and little Charlie was waving off Ms. Chris and heading into school like a rock star.  I couldn’t believe it at first. Then I reminded myself to “QUIT UNDERESTIMATING THIS CHILD”!
Her year in preschool was exceptional.  She went from saying one word labels to longer phrases.  She is more social when meeting strangers and her academic growth was AMAZING. 
BRAG ALERT: She is three and can count to 13, Identify her name, Identify most letters in her name mixed up and can identify numbers 0-10 out of order.  
Of course I’m sure most typical children can do all these things too ~ Confession: I have never been good at keeping track of milestones.  When I had the triplets, my BFF, who had the same age twins, always kept me on track. 
Although these academic things are exciting, they are truly insignificant in the whole picture.  As I tell my first graders, we are all at different levels.  The important thing to know is that we all want to reach a goal eventually.  Once that goal is accomplished you can own it.  It really doesn’t matter how long it takes you to get there.
What I do want to share is how this child teaches our family to never underestimate her!  You see, sometimes I forget she has Down Syndrome and thats ok.  It is something she has but truly does not define who she is. 
Everyday this child does something that makes Brian and I look at each other in disbelief.  It is DAILY that she reminds us how amazing she is.

(By the way, she has the BEST daddy ever!  He plays with her, reads her books, sings, and dances with her. She also loves her daddy to put her to bed.)

This past year our family had a birthday party at a skating rink. I told Brian I was going to stay home, that it would probably be boring for Charlie.  We thought it over and I decided to go.  When we got there her Grandma asked if she wanted to put skates on.  I looked at her like she was crazy.  Of course Charlie said yes.  That little stinker skated around that rink “with assistance” over 8 times.  Those skates were so heavy but she didn’t care, she was doing what her sisters and brothers were doing.  I was so MAD at myself when I got home. 

Grandma & Charlie

This summer we decided to potty train her.  The child sings the entire potty song, spells potty, wants her diaper changed immediately, so why not.  I literally thought it would be all summer long just getting into the routine.  Not this child!  By day 2 she was getting the hang of it.  Not to say we haven’t had a few accidents here or there but it was WAY easier than I had imagined it would be.
So as I laid in bed last night I was thinking of these milestones we made this year.  Most importantly, the lessons she has taught me and our family. 

Sure no one wakes up and wishes their child be born with Down Syndrome. However, I wouldn’t change her for the world.  I’m forever grateful for this “little surprise blessing” and all the things she has brought to our family. She teaches me everyday to never underestimate her! 

A BLAST from the past year...
First Hair Cut

Sesame Street Halloween

We can never get everyone looking at the camera..

Charlie's Fan Club... Mollie, Hunter, Nate, Maddie, Haley & Hannah

Christmas Morning
Silly Picture

"Beary Special" Valentine Cards

Trip to Mexico~ She wanted her face painted: MOM WAS SHOCKED

My Easter Bunny

Just because I LOVE this picture.

Charlie's two favorite people Jake & Ellie
Thanks for reading about our journey!


Spelling & Word Work

Spelling & Word Work

This year has been a year of many firsts and our spelling was one of them.  I have been teaching first grade for 16 years and have never been satisfied with our spelling programs.  This year our team put our heads together and decided what we felt was best for our students.  We  wanted 8 words each week with a phonemic pattern.  We used research based literature to decide the order in which we would introduce spelling and phonemic patterns.  Once we mapped out the patterns, we chose our 8 words for the week.  From there, I went on to create activities to go along with each set of words.  We originally started out with 30 weeks but ended up with 32 when it was all said and done. 

Here is a peek at the binders I used to store all of the activities. 
Inside of each binder, I have folders for each week.  I put my originals in the folder.  I also have a clear sleeve where I put my laminated word cards and posters to go with the units. 
If you would like to grab these binder covers for FREE CLICK HERE!

In the front of my room, I have a focus wall.  This is where I display the 8 words for the week and the poster which we chant daily to go with the phonemic pattern.

  I LOVE sorts.  I feel they really help the children look closely at the words and find the patterns inside each one. I include some cut and glue sorts and some written sorts.  

My kids love the mix-up activities and I love the I Can Spell.  The I Can Spell again focuses on the word pattern and allows the children to make more words using the same pattern.  

Of course their favorite activity each week is the word search.  Not only is it fun but they get to use highlighters!  They LOVE highlighters.

Games are so engaging and interactive.  I like to include games each week to change it up.

 At the beginning of first grade, we do these altogether to learn the procedures and complete them correctly.  As the year progresses, they are placed in the word work areas for the students to work on independently. This is how I display them in our word work area.
In my word work area, I also display the other set of cards included in the packets.  I need the words to be easily visible to the students so they can do many of the hands-on activities we have.

To check my SPELLING BUNDLE with 32 weeks of fun, click  HERE

We practice our weekly words in word work each day. We don't always do paper pencil activities so I will share a few of our favorite additional activities below.  These options are not all available at the same time, I pick a few each week.
 This easel and magnetic letters are out every week.  They are a tad noisy but the children enjoy building their words on the easel.

 We also have these boards and this amazing set of letters from Lakeshore Learning.  I love that they are sorted already and that the vowels are red.  This is something I pull out here and there.

 I'm not even sure what you call these boards but we love to write on them and erase our work.  These are also from Lakeshore.  I have these out all of the time as well.

 My students LOVE dry erase markers & boards.  They come in great colors now and it is fun for them to write the phonemic pattern in a different color to really highlight it.

I bought these stamps for something at home and only used them once.  They are perfect for Playdough letter stamping.  WAAAY better than ink!  I usually pull these out during the holidays when they have fun small Playdough colors out.

These little chalk boards are made for our handwriting program but we use them in word work too!  Colorful chalk is fun as well.

 My kiddos love smelly markers.  I won these Mr. Sketch goodies at a teacher conference and immediately knew where I was going to put them.  The only warning I have is that they are permanent and can make a mess on your table.

 I'm not even sure where these linking letters came from but they are fun to put together.  
Warning~ a tad on the noisy side.

 Sand trays were introduced to me as a great tactile, hands-on activity to build sound letter fluency.  The kids love working on these trays.

 Have you ever painted with a q-tip?  They are perfect because they are disposable and not messy at all.  I let the kids use the lids to make the words using a dotted pattern. These little bottles are perfect.  Plus, they are washable.

These chalkboards are perfect to do water painting as well.  Work on fine motor skills and practice you words at the same time. BONUS~no mess

These boards are super fun and a cheap tool to use in word work.  I bought them at Michaels many years ago.  If you put them under paper and write the words with crayons, it makes the words bumpy. Then you can use your finger to go over the word, which is now bumpy, and practice spelling it.

Another fun find I received at a teacher/blogger meet up are these Kwik Stix.  They are paint in a glue stick.  When we use these, we use larger paper because they write pretty large.  They dry fairly quickly so I can send them home that day.

 The classroom I moved into had tons of these Bingo dotters.  If you use large paper, students can dot out their words.

Wikki Stix are a fun way to build words.  I have a surplus of these in my room because my triplets used to make things with them.  As soon as they were done with them, I brought them to my classroom to use.  

 Highlighters are a big favorite in my room.  We use them daily during class with guided instruction.  When they get to use them independently during word work, it is a big bonus.  Simple but effective.

Word work is a favorite in my room, one other activity that is not pictured but I must share is shaving cream.  This is a great way to clean your tables too.  Just put a little dab out and they go to town.  
I would love to hear any ideas you may have, I'm always looking for new ones.  

Thanks for checking out our Spelling/Work Work activities.
As always..
Love what you do, and do what you love.

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