June 30, 2014

Reader Spotlight: Meredith

Hi everyone! It's Meredith from Creativity to the Core. I'm so excited to be guest blogging today for the wonderful Kristin. Oh how I wish I lived in North Carolina! The change of seasons is good for the soul! But, I'm stuck in South Florida...but that's another blog post.

Let's talk about Close Reading.

What you will need:

Close reading passages

Questions/graphic organizers


Highlighters/colored pencils

Read alouds on the same topic (optional, but recommended)

 (Please keep in mind that I am by no means an expert in this area. I have just invested some time in researching and implementing what I have learned from other teachers.) Here is a little peek into how it works for my classroom.
Close reading passage about one rainforest layer.
This is part of my Rainforest Close Reading Passages. I give this to students on Monday in small group. I quickly introduce the topic and allow them time to read it independently. While reading, they know to circle any difficult or unknown words. After a few minutes, we take turns to share our unknown words, brainstorm definitions, and discuss the true meaning of each.

Vocabulary Builder handout
Students will begin this on Monday after we discuss the unknown words in the text. This handout helps them to dig deeper into the meanings of each word and to find evidence in the text for each definition.
Students ask each other text-dependent questions about the rainforest layers.
These questions are general and can be used for any passages.
(Get those speaking and listening standards in!!!)
Read, Think, & Respond handout
On Tuesday, students reread the text quietly when they first get to small group. Then we answer these questions and discuss. Sometimes, I have students ask each other questions about the text using question stems (see picture above). When answering questions, students know to go back to the story, find their evidence, highlight it, and put the question number next to it in a circle. My high group usually does this independently while I facilitate. However, I normally answer these together with my two other groups.

Pickin' Apart the Paragraphs handout
On Wednesday, students reread again and then we finish any questions that we didn't get to the day before. Then we look at each paragraph alone and find the main idea of EACH paragraph. Of course, students have to show evidence of their main idea.

Informational writing handout
On Thursday, students will be completing work and then moving to write. They will use evidence from the story to support their main idea. Finally, they draw a picture of the layer based on details from the story.

Here is an example of our final day of the week working with a meerkat passage.
Students have done a packet of vocabulary and questions.
Finally, they write about what they have learned.

"You cannot give any background knowledge to students before reading."
  • Think about this for a second. Do you think this is beneficial to students? I have asked my professors about this recently and they said that the myth comes from the beginnings of Common Core. Researchers have found that teachers were providing SO much background knowledge that students didn't even have to read the story to understand! This is why Common Core is known for wanting students to tackle a text without any other information. I get this. However, it does NOT mean that you can't give a sentence or two preview before reading in order to introduce the topic. I work in a Title 1 school where students are not always exposed to certain topics. While working on a close read about rainforest layers, I had to explain where rainforests were and that they were broken into layers. Short and sweet. Sometimes kids just need us to give them a teensy bit of information so that they can connect with the text.

"Students must use difficult texts."
  • Common Core does ask teachers to provide complex texts to students but it also calls for a variety of texts at different levels. While teaching first grade, I have used close reading passages that were at grade level, but also those above grade level. I do not have to provide challenging passages in order for students to work through the close reading steps. Close reading is just a way to help students work through a text and identify important information.

"Close reading is overwhelming because of all the different notations."
  • You are the teacher. You choose which notations you will use. With my first graders, we kept it simple. We numbered each paragraph, circled unknown words, and used highlighters or colored pencils to highlight our evidence in the story. Do not be overwhelmed by the many options you see on Pinterest or Google. Choose what works for your kids and make it your own.

I love close reading because it allows my students to interact with a text multiple times. Not only does this improve their fluency, but it also works to improve comprehension. You would not imagine how many parents learned about the rainforest this year! :) My students read about the emergent layer so much that they knew all about it! I also use the passages as homework. Students complete a different task each night using the same passage. 

Delving into a text, truly understanding it, and enjoying it in the process is what this is all about. Good bye busy work comprehension sheets. Hello Close Reading!

Because I teach high achieving first grade, my products are usually geared to 2nd-4th grade. Check out my store for more close reading packs! For great primary (K-2) close reading ideas and products check out Creekside Teacher Tales or A Year of Many Firsts.

Do you use close reading passages in your classroom? 
How do you go about introducing and teaching the passages?

Until next time...Happy Teaching!

June 29, 2014

Reader Spotlight: Don't Smile 'til Christmas

Hey y’all!  It's Kelly Anne here.  I am so excited to be guest blogging today while Kristin is out on vacation!  (Lucky lady!)   


I’m here to talk about the beginning of the school year.  I vividly remember my first year teaching.  I was so excited.  I remembered student teaching and how much fun I had with “my” students and of course all the great things we did together.  But I didn’t realize how many expectations needed to be set to reach that ability to joke around and have fun.  And I had no idea that fun things (like using pillows during reader’s workshop) should be earned and not a privilege given all willy-nilly.  And who knew that book club shouldn’t start during the second week? I was too anxious, too ready, to have a classroom off-and-running like I had during student teaching.  

Unfortunately, it all caught up to me and about eight weeks in, I knew I had to take a step back and make some adjustments.  Throughout that year, I could see that my lack of structure and focus at the beginning of the year really caught up to me.  After Christmas, I felt like we could finally make some big changes and refocus.  It helped, but not entirely.  That first year, I’m embarrassed to admit, we never got where I wanted us to be.  Ever since then, I’ve really taken to heart two things 1)  Spend the first SIX weeks getting to know your learners and 2)  Don’t smile ‘til Christmas.  Okay, that 2nd one isn’t really what I mean, but I’ll explain in a hot sec.

1)  Take six weeks. Seriously.  I really recommend not starting book clubs until after spending more than what you consider enough time getting to know your learners.  Spend hours focused on community building activities.  Practice and practice and practice routines that you want set in stone. Discuss how each of these go. Make changes, earn privileges together as a class, reward, praise, and share your feelings.  Get to know you learners.  That first year, I wanted to get into the learning part of the school year but missed out on really knowing my students.  By spending more time getting to know who is in my classroom community, I am more able to support my students and be a far better teacher.

2)  We’ve heard it.  Don’t smile ‘til Christmas.  But I don’t really mean that.  What I mean is:  stick to your guns until Christmas.  Practice routines and keep those expectations high-high-high!  After Christmas, once students see that you’re seriousyou can relax a bit, because when you need to tighten the reigns, students will know you mean business.  By reinforcing the routines for the first half of the year, students understand what you expect.  Slack before then and, in my experience, they take full advantage of it… and after Christmas, it takes a lot more work to keep those expectations high and routines in place.  Aren’t those kiddos smart?

So I’ve given you a few things to mull over as you head into the new school year, but wondering what type of community building activities you can play?  Not sure how to set those high expectations?  Visit my Starting off the Year Pinterest boards here for some great activities you can try with your new learners!


Be sure to stop by my blog, Appleslices, for more information!

June 28, 2014

Reader Spotlight: Lana

Hey! My name is Lana and I blog over at For the Love of Teaching. I am so excited to blog today here at My Carolina Classroom! Thank you, Kristin, for letting me!!

I have been a teacher for six years now, five of those being in fourth grade and one of those being in fifth grade. This coming year I will be teaching 5th grade Reading/Writing/Language Arts. I recently moved from South Carolina to Georgia so I will be at a new school!

Today I want to share you with something I've used all six years of teaching and something I feel very passionate about! My partner teacher is the one who introduced it to me and I really grew to love it! They are called Family Message Journals, or FMJ's for short.

A Family Message Journals is a notebook that students use weekly to write a letter to a parent/guardian. For homework, the parent/guardian writes a letter in response back to the student.

We always had a notebook that we dedicated as our FMJ at the beginning of school - a composition book works great. Last year the composition books we ordered didn't come in so we put paper in a folder - which I did not like. I definitely recommend an actual notebook. 

Each Wednesday, students wrote in their FMJ to a family member, preferably a parent/guardian, about a topic that we were studying. We did this during our Writer's Workshop time. They write a minimum of a paragraph about the given topic. Occasionally, I'd give them choices, but it's usually pre-selected.  For example, one week the topic was Reconstruction because that's what we'd been studying about. After the students finish their writing, I checked their FMJ's for accuracy and completion and place a sticker on the page, which is my sign that I've checked it. For homework, their parent/guardian writes them a note back.  I keep FMJ's until Wednesday when we write in them and once they turn them in, I keep them until the next Wednesday. *You can pick any day to do the FMJ. We just chose to do it mid-week. As you know, all students will not finish their FMJ's at the same time, so I always had a list of things for students to do when they finished.
I've had some parents love it and some hate it. I've even
had some NOT to write back and for those few cases, I let the student write to
someone in our school (me, assistant principal, guidance counselor, etc) and
they write back instead of the parent. I've only had that happen twice in six
years. Overall, most families really enjoy the FMJ's and think of it as a special thing between their child and them! As a parent, I would love it!
Here are some of the main reasons I like it as a teacher:

  • It's a great way to see how well students
    understand the given topic. I allowed students to refer back to their notebooks if they got stuck, but they had to write it in their own words.
  • It supports parental/family involvement. I've
    found that many parents want to know more/do more and this is a great way to do that.
  • It's a wonderful keepsake for parents to have
    a journal of the memories of their child in that grade. 
  • WRITING! Kids practice summarizing, explaining, and
    writing in a letter format weekly.
  • I can jot down notes in it as needed. I send
    home a weekly newsletter with information, but if something comes up, I can make
    a note in the FMJ.
  • Parents see the progression of their child's
    writing skills throughout the year.  Of course, the teacher does too!
  • You can write about anything! I always tied it into something  we were studying, but always incorporated all subjects throughout the year. We wrote about Social Studies topics, Science topics, summarized novels and short stories we were reading in class, and even talked about Math problems. Once we had students explain how they would solve a certain problem and the parents wrote back how they would've solved it. The sky is the limit when it comes to what to write about! Sometimes I'd have a certain topic and sometimes I'd give them 2-3 choices. It's totally up to you!
  • It can work in multiple grade levels! At my previous school, students in grades 3-5 wrote in FMJ's weekly.

Now, let's look at a few Family Message Journals. These photos were taken from my 5th grade classroom and the topic was Reconstruction. You can click on them to read them more easily.

I would love to answer any questions you may have about Family Message Journals! You can find me at my blog: For the Love of Teaching or you can comment here and I'll reply to you here!

Thank you again, Kristin, for letting me guest blog! 


June 27, 2014

Five for Fri-daze

I am guest blogging for Kelly over at First Grade Fairytales today. Go check it out! 
(Spoiler Alert:: It's about empowerment and includes a Whitney Houston quote.)

*     *     *

I am so enjoying this summer daze that I seem to be stuck in. Every morning I wake up (naturally), try to figure out what day it is, and soak in the glory that is SUMMER.

Summer is SO much better as a teacher. It's better than I could have ever imagined!

Congratulations Cassandra from Mrs. 3rd Grade for reaching huge milestones on both Instagram and TPT! Click on the Milestone Giveaway image to be taken to her page. She's got some great things to give away. Good luck!!

I'm fixin' to leave town for a while. I'm going to Atlanta for a few days, then to Nashville, then to the Blue Ridge Mountains. While I'm gone, I have a few lovely blogger friends that have some things to teach you! Check back daily for some insight from some fabulous guest bloggers. 

I keep trying to register for the GRE and this keeps happening...

I mean, it's a sign, right?

If I can't register online by next Friday, I'll call. I promise. Maybe.

My summer Pinterest to-do list:

I just love all of your fabulous ideas! 
I am so thankful for the online teacher community.

I'm all signed up for my very first (but not last) SLANT box experience! I have enjoyed getting to know my SLANT matches (Cassie at Mrs. Thomas's Class and Nicole at Learning Lab) so far and cannot wait to create a SUNSHINE box for Cassie!

The SLANT Box Exchange

Have you participated in SLANT before? I'm so excited.


June 24, 2014

Third Grade Love - Sign Language

I'm blogging over at Third Grade Love today! Darleen, who is THE sweetest, gave me my first guest blogging opportunity. (Thanks!)

I shared about a topic that I am SO excited about: how I use sign language in the classroom. 

Go check it out, and leave a comment here or there to let me know what you think! I'm excited to read your responses.

June 20, 2014

Summer To-Do List

I'm linking up with the fabulous Jameson of Lessons With Coffee to share my summer to-do lists.

(I love her blog's name. My roommate got me hooked on coffee this year, and I seriously can't remember how I functioned without it.)

  1. Clean out last year's data folders and prepare them for next year.
  2. Map and plan word study lessons for the grade level.
  3. Decorate my mini corkboards.
  4. Laminate and cut many task cards.
  5. Level some new books.
  6. Attend a few PD courses.
  7. Keep up with blogging.
  8. Create some new TPT products. 
  1. Complete my just-for-fun wedding planning class.
  2. Reach 100 workouts (7 to go!), order some new Nikes, then start working towards my next 100! In other words, stay on track with my exercising. 
  3. Study for and take the GRE. (Tips?)
  4. Physically and financially survive a few weddings. 
  5. Become too emotionally invested in The Bachelorette, PLL, OITNB, and maybe some other shows. (No shame.)
  6. Make a point to reach out to long-distance friends while I have the extra time. 
  7. Drive all over the Southeastern US to visit family and friends. 
  8. Make my first trip to Nashville!! Suggestions?
What's on your summer to-do list? Make sure you link up with Jameson to share!

Five for Friday, Summer Edition

This is the first official Friday of my SUMMER! Of course I am linking up with Doodle Bugs for one of my favorite linky parties!


I just spent the morning with a cup of coffee (or two) blog-hopping with some Georgia girls for their Peachy Blog Hop. I loved it! I snagged lots of great freebies and got a little homesick in the meantime. 


UPDATE: The books have been moved inside.

Only because I got my car detailed.

Maybe I will have opened the books by next Friday. Until then, I gave them a comfy little corner of my room that they can live in peacefully without disturbing me. 


So far, I have spent my summer being super-productive. I've learned so much during hours of research on an interesting new topic:

It's been extremely educational.


I'm only 7 workouts away from ordering my custom Nikes! 



I am LOVING the teacher community I have found on Instagram. Everyone is so inspiring, creative, and supportive! You can follow me on Instagram @mycarolinaclass. See ya there!

Have a great weekend SUMMER!

June 19, 2014

My First Pinspired Thursday

This linky party is sooo perfect me because I am a Pinterest addict! So many aspects of my classroom have been "PIN-spired."

I have a love-hate relationship with Pinterest. I love that I have so many great ideas at my fingertips; I hate that I seem to be losing my creativity because of it. 

However, here are just a few - of many - pins I have been inspired by. 











PINspired? You can follow me on Pinterest HERE.

I look forward to being pinspired by your pins! xoxo