Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Writing Workshop: Writing Partner Conference Form

Hey y'all! Many of the schools and teachers I work with are safe- but trapped in their homes. This will give you something to read! Prayers to everyone in the Houston area and all those affected by Hurricane Harvey!


If you are anything like me, when trapped inside, you might find yourself snuggled up on the couch listening to the sound of the rain and browsing the world wide web for lesson plan ideas.

Look no further!  You’ve come to the right place.

Today I want to talk about how I incorporate partners in my Writing Workshop classroom.

Have you ever used writing partners?

There are so many different ways to incorporate writing partners into your routines and procedures.  And now is a great time to set up those expectations.

I always start by assigning writing partners and teaching them to turn and talk to that partner during the Mini-Lesson portion of the workshop time.

I teach my students when it is appropriate to talk with your writing partner.  We model, model, model talking with our writing partners.  

Once students are comfortable during the workshop with partners, I introduce the writing conferring tables.   Around the classroom, I have paired desks or tables (usually two) that are set aside for partner conferences.  During writing time, these spots are ‘off limits’ unless you need to confer with your partner.

My students learn that good writing doesn’t happen in isolation, but rather in collaboration with others.  

I teach my students how to respectfully ask their partner if they will conference with them (and what to do if their partner says no...sometimes you just need to keep your own pencil moving because you have that writer’s flow!)

If both partners agree they are at a stopping point and would like to conference, they bring their writing and a pencil to the conference table.  

I have copies of this conference checklist to help guide my young writers through the conference.  

Here’s how it looks:

One writer decides to share first (or sometimes only one writer needs to conference and the other student is only the listener).

The writer reads the piece of writing.  

The listener then gives the writer a compliment.  Students are encouraged to use the sentence stems to guide them.

Next, the listener gives a comment or suggestion.

The writer then asks the listener for help.  

The conference ends when the students sign the form and return back to their own writing.

I’ve provided the conference form as a freebie HERE!

Snag it while you can and comment below with your plans for incorporating writing partners.


Friday, August 18, 2017

Friday Freebie: Substitute Response Form

Happy Friday and congrats on making it through a week of in-service PD or possibly your first few days of the 2017-2018 school year!

I wanted to pop in and give you a few tips on staying afloat at the beginning of the year.

One of the first things I always create at the start of every year is my Substitute Binder/Basket.

As teachers, we usually have a rock solid immune system and yet once things start to pile on, we get stressed, overwhelmed, and inevitably SICK!  The last thing we need to worry about as teachers is writing sub plans while we are lying next to the toilet, you know what I mean?

It never fails that some sort of ‘bug’ will hit you at the worst possible time!  And we want to be prepared in case that happens (because it WILL!)

Here’s what you need to do:

Once you know this year’s schedule, write up a day’s worth of generic lesson plans.  Plug in review lessons (think TEKS from the previous grade level) that any sub can deliver at the drop of a hat.

Spend a few minutes prepping any materials for that day's lessons (I always keep all of the materials and lesson plans in a 3 ring binder with clear sheet protectors. I include everything the sub might need right there in that binder or a basket.)

Here’s a list of things I always include in the sub binder:
-class lists
-daily schedule
-seating chart
-lesson plans for the sick day
-materials/copies for the sick day
-extra read aloud books
-how we get home chart
-school map
-other helpful things to know page

Chances are, you already have most of these things and just need to print an extra copy for the sub. Print a second copy and throw it into a binder!  You will thank yourself later.  I promise!

Since you are just getting back into the swing of things this school year, I’ve provided a freebie Substitute Reflection Form.  Chances are when you need to call in sick, you will get a last minute substitute who is not as familiar with your students as you would like.  It is always helpful to have them reflect on their day so that you know what happened, what went well, and if any problems occurred.   

It’s very helpful to have this to read when you return to work in good health. My students also loved hearing what the sub had to say!  Because-of course- my kiddos always got GLOWING REVIEWS!

Happy teaching and here’s to great HEALTH this school year! Click HERE to get your FREE copy!


Sunday, August 13, 2017


Twas the night before school starts and all through the halls,
the teachers were scurrying to attach things to walls.

August is here and with that school is starting!  

Many of you readers are hustling and bustling to work your magic to prepare your classrooms for your new batch of students.

This busy season can be stressful for teachers, students, and parents alike.  

Stocking the fridge with lunches, making that fifteenth trip to Walmart today because you forgot to buy tape for that bulletin board, and staring at the jammed copier wondering how in the world you will tell the secretary you broke it…. AGAIN…..stress-FULL!

As you prepare for the school year, let’s keep what truly matters in mind:

You are here to TEACH your students.  

Your room doesn’t have to look like a Lakeshore catalogue, or better yet a pinned Pinterest picture.  

Let’s not compare ourselves to others-, but rather be okay with the fact that we are doing what’s best for OUR students.

I asked my consultant, Noelle, to snap a few photos around her school so that we can talk about STUDENT centered classrooms vs. Pinterest inspired classrooms.  (By the way, Noelle’s first day with students was August TENTH, y’all!)

Let’s take a peek inside her school, shall we?


Notice this teacher’s bulletin boards?  They are empty.  That’s right.  It’s meet the teacher night and there is nothing on them but the content subject.  Why? you might ask. Because her students have yet to learn in her classroom!  We want our walls to anchor student learning and remind them of the things we have taught them.  


In my classroom, I always like to put a sign up that says “Coming soon” and “help wanted” on all the bulletin boards as to say “We will get to this ASAP!”

Now, some teachers theme their classrooms each year and spend hundreds of dollars on decorations.  That’s really incredible but not NECESSARY!  You can put your own personal flare in your classroom and inspire your students without draining your bank account.  Take a look at these two classrooms with growth mindset language already plastered to the walls!


When you are setting up your classrooms-spending time stapling bulletin border- I would encourage you to think about the necessities for learning!  

At the foundation of a Balanced Literacy classroom, you need a carpet to gather students together, a place to display an anchor chart, desks (either in pairs or table groups for collaborating), space around the room for independent work, a classroom library, and a space/table for teaching a small group of students.  


Typically, in our classroom libraries we have baskets of books labeled by genres (THINK: Just like at Barnes and Noble) for students to browse.  


In my classroom, I always like to have my students sort and organize my books on the first day of school, making this a student-centered classroom library.  During meet the teacher night, I always put ‘caution’ tape around my library and the sign “library under construction- help needed!” This sends the message that my new students’ opinions matter.


On the second day of school in this third grade classroom, the teacher introduced the parts and pieces of writing workshop.  The mini lesson was spent teaching students what to expect each day during the workshop and expectations were set for third grade writers.  Then writing workshop was launched and students went off to their desks to build their stamina!  I love this visual for students (and teachers/admin as well!) to see the majority of their time will be spent putting words down on paper!  

You’ll notice this teacher doesn’t have a fancy Lakeshore learning easel in her classroom.  Instead, she was creative and used pins tacks to hold up her anchor chart pad.  

You guys, it does not need to be fancy!  It just needs to BE in order for your to TEACH!

As you are preparing for your students, ask yourself “Will this add to the quality of teaching and learning?” if so GO FOR IT.  But if the answer is ‘no, this is just a cute idea I saw online’ then please please please do not waste your time.  

Your students deserve a learning space that is tailored to them.  Can it look cute? Sure.  But it doesn’t have to at the expense of draining all of your precious time and energy (and money!) before school starts.

And let’s be honest, as soon as the students step into your classroom with school supplies, all that cuteness will fly out the window.  

Get in the trenches this year without feeling burnt out before it even starts.  

Spend time making your classroom student centered, where every inch of the room reflect their learning! Wait for the kids to get there before you have everything on the walls!

I wish you a fabulous 2017-2018 school year! YOU'VE GOT THIS!



Friday, August 4, 2017

Launching Your Writer's Workshop FREEBIE

Back to school is just around the corner!  Have you thought about how you will launch your Writer's Workshop time?  How will you introduce the workshop to your students? Remember in May when your students and Writer's Workshop were a well-oiled machine?  Remember how you got to that sweet place of rainbows and unicorns?  By training your troops!  

Repeat:  Now is the time to plan how you will train your troops and build a classroom of writers.

For this blogpost (the second one this week, y’all!) I am referring to an oldie but a goodie.

And for this month only- I am providing this fabulous Writing Workshop resource for FREE! Snag your copy at the end of this post!

Want to know more about it... keep reading.... want to get it immediately... scroll down!

I'm here to tell you all about how I plan on launching my Writer's Workshop this year.

First Day of School
I give my students a blank piece of copy paper (I purposefully give them paper without lines in order to see who draws a picture and who gets right down to writing. Later, the paper will scaffold the writing!)  

I then explain to students that I will set a timer and they are to write for ten WHOLE minutes. (gasp!)

I do not give them a prompt or any ideas.  I simply ask them to write.  

I explain to them that I will be walking around the room taking notes and should not be disturbed.  

The guidelines for this activity are: 
-No talking
-No walking
-If you run out of room on your paper, raise your hand for a new piece
-You may not ask the teacher for help.  Just do your best!

While the students are writing their little hearts out or staring at the ceilingpicking their nose raising their hands to ask you what to write about or how to spell a word, drawing a picture, I have my clipboard in my hand and am walking around the room writing furiously.

This is my chance to take notes about what kind of writers I have this year!

I have my class list next to my notes page to easily help me remember which student goes with which number on my clipboard.  

This saves me time and energy when I am taking notes!  

I might write things like this:
1. hasn't written anything down after 8 minutes
2. drawing very detailed picture
3. uses complex sentences
4. tying his shoes for most of the time
5. needed 2nd piece of paper
6. struggled to get started 
7. drew lines for himself on paper

Basically, I am writing down anything and everything that will help me get to know my students as writers and help me further plan my writing mini-lessons.

As the weeks pass and we build our stamina in writing, I continue to use this clipboard to take notes.  

I also use another document to help me plan my lessons in the future. After our writing time, I will quickly jot down things I noticed students do or not do on the "Yesterday while you were writing I noticed" section.  

Okay.  That was just day one.  Are you still with me?  

Day 2: All About Me Bag Introduction
I read aloud Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge and share my Me Bag.  Be sure to read more about that here

Day 3: Who is a writer?  and What do writer's do?

During this lesson we talk (and make an anchor chart) about all the people who need to write (mom and dad, teachers, doctors, my older sister, and even 2nd graders!) and what writer's do (WRITE! draw pictures to help them write, brainstorm, read lots of books, jot down ideas, etc.)

After the mini lesson I will have a few students share their All About Me bag with the class. 

Day 4: What do writer's write? and Why do writer's write?
During this lesson we talk (and make an anchor chart) about all the things writers write (lists, notes, thank you cards, stories, emails, directions, etc.) and I read Read Anything Good Lately?  We also brainstorm all the reasons why writers write!  

Again, students will share their bags with the class.

Day 5 (is a BIG ONE!) First Day of Writer's Workshop:

This is where I launch my Writer's Workshop!  

With my coffee mug in hand, I pull out the folders, fresh pencils, crisp paper, and my fancy No Walk! No Talk! anchor chart. 

I explain to students that the time has finally come for us to have our first Writer's Workshop (insert blank stares here cheers and applause here!)

The class will brainstorm the behaviors and expectations as I make the anchor chart.  

I make sure the chart includes things like: 

-Get started quickly
-Stay in one spot
-Silent voice
-Do what writer's do: WRITE!

Then, I send students off to start writing. 

I follow the Daily Five routine of building stamina.  

If I noticed a student not following the directions above, I ring my bell for cleanup and everyone meets back on the carpet.  

We discuss as a class why we came back (by this point, my class has already mastered this routine through read to self!)  

We read over the anchor chart again, possibly adding new ideas that might help the class build stamina.  
 And I send them off again to write.

We continue this routine each day until the class can successfully write for 20 minutes.  

I call this time "No Walk! No Talk!"

To read more about No Walk! No Talk! click here.

WHEW!  That concludes my first week of Writer's Workshop!  After day five, you might need to celebrate with one of those cold adult beverages or a box of brownie mix....if you know what I mean!

What's next? Have no fear! That first day of Writer's Workshop will give you PLENTY of ideas for what to teach them next! It's so awesome- albeit also scary! You may find that you need a mini-lesson like Writer's GumLet the students writing guide you to the next (and the next and the next) mini-lesson! 

Now I will kick up my feet and enjoy the weekend!  

Want some of the forms I talked about? Need to see more details about No Walk/No Talk or Writing Rules? Want a form to keep track of your writing conferences? 

Click on the link to get YOUR VERY OWN Launching Writer's Workshop pack!

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Get Your Finger OUT of THEIR Book!

Guided Reading… I’m not pretending that I’m talking about a NEW thing with y’all right now… I do however hope to help you think about your teaching at the table in a NEW way! 

So I want you to picture a Guided Reading lesson with some of your students.  They are reading the text, you are listening in to readers individually and as one of them reads for you, they come to a word they don’t know, and you can almost hear the brakes squeak as they come to a STOP! Or picture a student breezes right past the words they just read incorrectly. Can you see it? You know it happens. 

Now…I want you to consider this question:  Typically, what is your next move?

Be honest. For that kiddo who didn’t know the word and stopped… might you be covering up a part of the word so they can work on decoding?  Is your finger starting to slide above it while you start to make the sounds (AKA sounding it out)?  What about the student who read a word incorrectly? Are you probably pointing to the word and drawing the reader’s attention to it?

Repeat after me folks… GET YOUR FINGER OUT OF THEIR BOOK!

A major tenant of teaching at the Guided Reading table is supporting students in reaching independence! In other words, how will they read when they are alone after this lesson? What strategies will they have when they are not at the Guided Reading table with me? 

So, how will they notice their own errors if you are always pointing to them? How will they learn to cover words and decode with that strategy if you are always the one doing it? How will they start to do this independently if they are so accustomed to you doing it instead?

 Maybe you are like a teacher I worked with recently who said, when CAN I touch their books?  Keep focused on the word THEIR- they have to hold their book, and point to words, and do the work of figuring out words because it is THEIR reading! 

So if we keep our finger out of their book… we have to change the way we support students.  Let’s look at some alternatives to pointing to the word. 

Photo Credit https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/4-tips-guided-reading-success/

In the example of a student who doesn’t notice that an error was made in reading… instead of our finger pointing to the word that wasn’t read correctly, what if we said,

Something wasn’t quite right there? Can you find it?
You made a mistake. Can you find it?
See if you can find what’s wrong?

In the bigger picture, does this help students become more independent in the reading they will do both with you at the table and after the lesson is over? Are we better supporting their own ability to monitor their own accuracy of reading? Yeppers!

Now, what about the student that just stops and doesn't know how to decode a word? Instead of touching their book and doing the work for them, could you say…

Point to the word you’re trying to read.
What could you try?
Do you know a part of that word? What is it?
Cover up the part you know. Look at the part you don’t know.
Try it.

You may not notice the big difference here, and I admit it is slight, but it is a small thing that will make a BIG difference!  GET YOUR FINGER OUT OF THEIR BOOK!

Want more prompts to help students do the work and be independent at the table? 
You can download a copy HERE.

Want more tools to help you teach at the Guided Reading table?  Look around in the category for Guided Reading and see other helpful posts!