The Simple Tip that Changed My Classroom

I have been teaching for 7 years, and I have always hated when we get out the scissors and start cutting.  It leaves a huge mess all over the table.  There are scraps everywhere, including all over the floor.  And it always seems to be an invitation for some kid to begin cutting his or her scraps into miniscule little pieces all over the place.  YIKES!

Then, last year, when I was teaching first grade, one of my students gave me the BEST idea.

Seriously, it was life changing.

She said to me, "Ms. Butler, why don't we have a trash basket?"

I said, "A what?!"

She said, "You know.  A basket to put our scraps in."

You know on TV when someone gets and epiphany and the music goes "Ahhhhhh!" and the lights get super bright?  I swear, that happened.  That day changed my life.  I immediately went to my stash of extra baskets that I pull out whenever I need one, and I placed one in the center of each table.

And guess what?

The kids each placed their paper scraps into the basket.

There were less scraps all over the table.

There were less scraps falling onto the floor.

There were less children cutting up scrap paper into a million little pieces.


This year, when I hit up the Dollar Tree, I purchased 4 small baskets that were about 4 inches deep and about half the size of a sheet of paper.  Every time we did an activity that required cutting, one of my students would go and get one of the baskets and put them on their table.  At the end of the activity, cleaning up was so easy.  One student from each table would go dump the basket in the recycling bin and put it away.

My classroom is so much neater at the end of the day, and my sanity has been saved!

If you don't have trash buckets for your table, here's my suggestion:  RUN, don't walk, to your nearest Dollar Store or discount store, and purchase them immediately!

Look at how neat the table is!  Look how all the scraps are neatly in the baskets!

And that is my helpful tip for the day, just in case you are clueless like I was!

Working with Word Families, Part 2.

I shared the weekly breakdown of how I teach Word Families in my students in a previous post, which you can find here.  I also wanted to share some other ways we practice word families as well.  

During our study of word families, we cover each vowel sound by studying a few word families in a row.  Then we spend some time comparing word families with different vowel sounds as our students become more proficient with using word families, blending and substituting sounds, etc... 

We do a lot of our word family practice in our literacy centers and during guided reading groups, but I introduce and teach the word families whole group during phonics.

Making Words with Different Word Families:
As my students became more sophisticated in substituting beginning sounds to make different words using the same onset and rime, we did some different activities that allowed them to practice substituting different ending sounds as well.  During one "short week", we took some time to review some of the word families we had already learned.  We did a making words activity in which the students had to practice substituting both beginning and ending sounds.  For example, they made the word "ham" and changed the ending sound to "hat".  Then they changed "hat" to "cat."  

They actually did pretty well with it!   I was quite proud of them! 

Word Families During Literacy Centers:

We also practice our word families during our centers.  This gives the students extra reinforcement of that sound.  We teach a sound the first week, and then the next week, there was usually some sort of word family activity in at least one of the centers. 

Spin a Word Family: 
One activity they really liked was this 'Spin a Word Family' activity.  The students had to use a spinner to spin a beginning sound, and then blend that beginning sound with the rime.  Then they had to write the word.  

Poetry Notebooks:
Each week, they also added the poem from the previous week in their Poetry notebooks during their Poetry center.  They had to cut it out, glue it in their notebook, and highlight both the word family words and their sight words in different colors. We did this together as a class the week before, and we read the poem several times, so most of the students could complete this task independently.

After gluing the poem in their notebook and highlighting their word family and sight words, they had to read the poem to a grown up.  Usually this was my fabulous assistant or our "Foster Granny."  Here, you can see my assistant helping one of my students read her poem. 

The kids loved their poetry notebooks.  They would practice reading each of the poems they put in there when they had some free time.  It was always fun to hear them try to read with expression, since we practiced that when we read all of our poems together.

Word Family Sorting: 
We also did word family sorting activities as well.  We sorted word family vs. word family.  Our first word family sorts had the same medial vowel sound, but we worked our way up to word families with different vowel sounds.  We also did some differentiation, where we had some students working on sorting with different vowel sounds, while some of them were sorting with the same vowel sound because they were still struggling.  I was able to tell who was still struggling by looking at their center work, as well as classroom observations.  

I'm pretty sure their favorite part of doing the sort is coloring the pictures afterwards!

Onset-Rime Word Building:
We also did an onset-rime word building and blending activity that the kids loved.  We used familiar word families and the students had to build words and write them.

The onsets and rimes to build different words were in this little bucket from the dollar store.  The students found an onset and a rime and put them together.  

If the onset and rime made a real word, the students had to record it on their recording sheet.

Then they practiced reading the words they wrote on their recording sheets.

Word Families in Guided Reading:
We also practiced word families in our Guided Reading groups.  One way we practiced is by doing Making Words using some of the sounds we found in the books we were reading.  I gave the students each a set of magnetic letters, and we manipulated the words together.  As we made new words, I wrote them down for us to practice reading later.

We also did Making Words using a whiteboard and marker.  Instead of manipulating the letters to make new words, we just used a whiteboard and changed the letters on the board.  Since we all know how much our kids love dry erase boards and markers, this was a huge hit!

I also have these "Build a Word" cards and "Change It!" cards that we used during our Guided Reading.  I thought I had a picture of my kids writing on them, but I guess not.  Do you know how hard it is to stop and take pictures when you're trying to teach reading?!   VERY!!!

Anyway, the Build a Word cards are very similar to Elkonin boxes and can be used that way, where the students push up the sounds into the boxes.  They can also become wipe off cards if the student is given a dry eraser.  Or the students can build the word with magnetic letters.  These are so versatile, I used them in different ways for different groups of students.

The "Change It" cards allow the students to practice substituting beginning sounds.  They start off with one word, and they have to change the beginning sound to make a different word.  These can also be used with a dry erase maker.  I like these because they can be a quick 30-second assessment activity.  Give each student a "Change It" card.and allow them to practice substituting different beginning sounds until they've learned them all.

And of course, I couldn't write a whole post about word families without a freebie!  There are 4 different sorts included in this freebie.  To download, just click on the cover.


You can find the activities mentioned in this post in my Word Family Bundle

Thanks for reading!  If you want to read how I introduce and teach word families each week, you can check out my post here.

A 'Bright Idea' for Washi Tape!

I absolutely LOVE washi tape!  I love the bright colors and patterns, and I love that it's a pretty inexpensive way to brighten up everyday objects.  However, I never know when to use washi tape, because it's really not all that useful, except for decorating stuff.  Which stinks, because I have a lot of it, in several different colors and patterns.

I also love to make anchor charts!  However, I have one problem with making anchor charts that makes me crazy!  It happens most often when I am making a graphic organizer t-chart, like a box and t chart or a story elements chart.


It makes me crazy, but I'm far too lazy to get out the yardstick and trace straight lines on my anchor charts.  But then I have anchor charts with crooked lines.

Then one day, I came up with the best idea.

Why not use washi tape to make my graphic organizer charts?

It's bright and colorful, and I have tons of it!  A little bit goes a long way too!

So I tried out my brilliant idea.  And this is what I found:

The chart looks really cute.  It is definitely brightened up by the washi tape.

My lines are pretty much straight.

And I finally found a use for that washi tape!

What do you think?  Is this something you would try?

What is your favorite way to use washi tape?

If you enjoyed this bright idea, please consider joining me on Facebook or Instagram for more great ideas.

For more bright ideas from other bloggers, please browse through the link-up below and choose a topic/grade level that interests you. Thanks for visiting! 

Working with Word Families

Being back in Kindergarten has meant a huge change in what I teach!  As a first grade teacher, I was used to teaching things like vowel patterns and digraphs and blends.  Of course, we reviewed word families as well!  But teaching Kindergarten meant going back to the basics- and at the end of Kinder, that meant teaching word families.

Why Teach Word Families?

Sorry, this is the "boring" part.  :-)

Teaching word families is a great way to get your students reading.  Word families use the natural rhyming ability of most young children to help them read simple words.  Learning how to use the spelling patterns in simple CVC word family words will help students be able to use these same patterns in more difficult words.  For example, a if a student learns words from the -at word family, they would be able to use the pattern to help them decode "category" or "acrobat".  Notice I said HELP!  We, of course, must do more than teach them word families to help them decode tricky words! 

When do I teach Word Families? 

Students who are at various stages of spelling can all benefit from instruction in word families.  Students who don't hear medial vowel sounds can benefit from instruction in word families that have the same vowel sound, such as ip, it, and in.  Students who hear some medial vowel sounds and can hear some blends/digraphs can benefit from comparing word families with different vowels.  Students who hear the medial vowel sounds would benefit from long and short vowel sounds.  I've taught word families in both Kindergarten and first grade, because first graders can often use a refresher and the opportunity to practice these patterns again, especially after a long summer off.  And obviously, most Kindergarten students haven't even been exposed to them!

I begin teaching word families when most of my students know their beginning and ending sounds but may still be struggling with medial vowel sounds.  We begin with short a word families.  Each week, we introduce a new word family.  We study each word family for an entire week, and we have a different activity we do each day to reinforce the spelling pattern and give them practice with it each day.

Here's a typical week in my Kindergarten classroom:

On Monday, I introduce the new word family in two ways.  First, I introduce the poem we read each week.  I read the poem aloud twice, and then invite the students to read the poem with me the third time.  Then, we practice making words using the vowel pattern.  I have a cookie sheet with the word family pattern already on it.

We practice reading the poem a few times.  I usually read it the first time, and then I invite the students to read it with me the second and subsequent times.  We practice reading fluently at this time as well, so we incorporate some fluency practice into our phonics!  Win win!

Then we practice making words with the magnetic letters.  The kids love this part.  After doing this for a few weeks, they really caught on to how to blend the words together to make new words.  Usually they've already read the word as soon as they see me pick up the next letter!
I use digraphs and sometimes blends as well with our making words.  This allows my students to practice those sounds as well, since we've taught them and practiced them already as part of our Phonics Dance.

On Tuesday, we do a picture sort using picture cards.  We sort whether a word ends with the given word family or doesn't.  I have a pocket chart that I use to sort them.

Then, I give them a chance to do a Making Words activity using their own letters.  We use this Making Words sheet for each of the word families.  
As I model making the word on the cookie sheet with the magnetic letters, the students follow along using their own letter cards.  When I do making words with the students, I just place the exact same letters the students have on the board.  Then I manipulate the letters to make different words using the same word family.

They like being able to manipulate the letters to make different words, and they really love trying to guess which word I'm going to give them next!

On Wednesday, we re-read the poem, and then we spend time highlighting the sight words and word family words in the poem as a class.  For the first few weeks, we also did this sheet together, just blown up as a poster.  We determined which words were real words and not real words.  I asked them if they could use the word in a sentence, and if they couldn't, then it probably wasn't a real word.  They put their thumb up for a real word, and down for a non-sense word.  (They LOVE that!  Seriously- who knew?!)

Then, once they got the hang of it, we practiced it together, and eventually I got to the point where we got to go over it before they did it on their own.  Yay independence! 

On Thursday, we did the word family book.  They really liked doing the books, and they got to keep them in their book boxes for independent reading.  Since the books were very simple, most of the kids could read them on their own.  

The books had a matching page with 4 pictures and 5 words.  I did this on purpose to make it a little bit of a challenge.  A lot of students will match a few of them, and then guess on the others.  But with an uneven number of pictures and words, they actually had to think about what the word said, because they didn't match up.  

They loved having their own books to read.  

Friday:  Assessment day!
On Friday, we used this Word Family house as a mini-assessment.  They had to use the letters at the bottom of the page to build the word family words.  I like this little assessment because it allows me to see what they can do without it really feeling like a test.  You know, since they are allowed to color the pictures after they are finished.  

I always found it really interesting to watch how they made their words.  This sweetie made all the word family endings on his page first, and then went back and did the beginning sounds.

This little cutie pie made each word in its entirety, one at a time.

Now, I know what you're thinking!  Wow, it's all sunshine and rainbows in there, and all the kids get it!  Right?  WRONG.  There were a few students that still really struggled with the patterns.  You can see me pointing to this little guy's paper to show him the picture of the word he's supposed to be building.  There were students I had to work with independently or pull in a small group to work on these particular pages because they simply couldn't do them independently.   As the weeks went on, this number became smaller and smaller.  But yes, I definitely had a few who struggled!

One thing I really liked about these activities is that, while they seem repetitive to us, they allowed my students to gain more and more independence as they worked each week on a different word family.  Their familiarity allowed the students to focus more on the words and not the activity they were doing.

I will say that those activities definitely helped my students.  At the beginning of the year, we had to give an assessment called the Phonemic Awareness Test (I think!- we just called it the PAT).  I was taking a class through a university through my school, and that was one of the requirements.  At the beginning of the year, of course, my students could not blend and segment sounds, except for a few.  At the end of the year?  NAILED IT!  It is so exciting to see that growth and to know that these activities helped them get there! 

You can find these activities in my store.  I have 16 word families included in the bundle, or you can find the activities listed individually as well.  These activities will be on sale through Wednesday for 20% off if you want to snag them now for next year!  

Also, there is a 3 page freebie in the preview!  You can download the preview for these 3 freebie pages.  


Of course, I know that those few exposures to those word family words aren't enough!  I have another post coming with some more ways we practiced word families in my classroom.  You can find it here.

Thanks for reading!