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Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Using Pictures to Teach Reading Skills Part 2

Using Pictures to Teach Reading Skills isn't a new idea over at Teaching With a Mountain View, but it sure has evolved over the years!  Before you read this post, I highly recommend reading my original post about using pictures to teach reading skills. You can find that post HERE.  If you want to dig really deep into the archives, I have posts as far back as 2012 that introduce the idea of using Pictures to Teach literal vs. inferential ideas and more! This post is a follow-up to those posts with a few updates and additions.


This all started many years ago when I taught third grade.  My students had a huge difference in ability levels.  Some were fluently reading but not comprehending at all.  Some weren't fluently reading.  Some were still learning basic phonics and phonemic awareness skills.  Others were fluent as could be and understood every word they read.  It truly ran the gamut.  

Because of that, I knew I needed a way to make reading skills accessible and engaging to all of my students, no matter what level.  During my first year teaching, my husband was out hiking with a buddy and his other friend snapped a picture of the two of them debating which way to go.  One was holding a map, the other a GPS, and they both looked LOST.  I took one look at that picture and said, "I need that! I'm bringing it to school to show my kids tomorrow."  I printed it out, and the next day, we created this anchor chart:
This inference anchor chart originally appeared on my blog HERE.
I introduced it by saying, "What can you tell me based on this picture?"  The answers started very simply but quickly evolved. This is how that first conversation went...

Student: "Oh! He is wearing a red hat!"
Me: Yes... Go on...
Student: "Yeah! The other guy is holding a map."
Me: ....
Student: "THEY MUST BE LOST." 
Me: BOOM! Yes!
Student: "OH! And since they're both wearing hats, it must be cold outside..."

And on and on and on, I heard my students using their literal observations to bust out some solid inferences.  It was one of those teaching moments that you never want to end because you can literally see the lightbulbs going off one by one. Ding. Ding. Ding. 

After that lesson, I made inference task cards that used pictures, then moved on to text.  They quickly became a student favorite in my literacy centers.  When I say they became a favorite, I mean they became a favorite of every single student.  The ones who could read, the ones who couldn't, and those in between.

From that point forward, I incorporated pictures wherever I could.  I pulled this picture from my honeymoon ATV trip when we were learning about figurative language, and boy did they come up with some creative sentences about it!  

This figurative language anchor chart originally appeared on my blog HERE.

As the years went on, I continued to find different ways to incorporate pictures into my reading instruction.  My students would cheer when they saw a blank piece of chart paper with nothing but a picture in the middle of it.  "Oh, what are we going to do with THAT picture!?" they'd eagerly ask. 

When I was moved to teaching fourth grade, I wanted a way to take what we were doing as a whole class and move it into my small groups and literacy rotations.  I also wanted to make the transition from pictures to text more seamless, and that's when I started creating Using Pictures to Teach printable resources.


As my teaching continued to evolve, I moved toward reviewing multiple reading skills with one picture.  The beauty of this technique is that they are making inferences for every single task we complete, but reviewing other key reading skills at the same time.


My students loved these just as much! They took a little bit more time to complete since we were reviewing multiple skills, but that made it perfect to work through over the course of a few days.  Sometimes, I would put one of these in a reading center and have each group complete one section and then discuss it as a whole class when we were done. 

Every time I post one of the anchor charts like the one above, I get questions about where I find my pictures, how I come up with which skills to work on, etc.  That's why I created a new set of open-ended Using Pictures to Teach Printables that look just like the anchor chart above.  They are ready to go!  You can project them and complete them whole class, you can assign the digital version in Google Classroom, you can print them and have students complete them individually or with each other.  The options are endless, but there are ten and they are all ready-to-use!

Learn more about this resource HERE!

I am not exaggerating when I say that using pictures to teach reading skills is one of the best things I have implemented in my classroom.  It not only changed the way I teach, but it changed the way my students thought about life, reading, and reading skills.

I'd love to see your anchor charts that you create with your students!  Don't forget to tag me in them @teachingwithamountainview on Instagram.

Happy Teaching! 

Monday, August 5, 2019

Weekly Letter Writing to Build Community

Years ago, I shared this idea as a free resource on TpT, but I've never gotten around to explaining my weekly letter writing procedures over here on my blog! It's definitely time.


When I was student teaching, I had truly the best cooperating teacher I could have asked for.  She was a phenomenal teacher (she's now a principal), a master at building community in her classroom, and one of the kindest people I've ever met.  I got so many wonderful ideas from her that year, and many of those ideas have become teaching traditions that still live on my classroom.

One of my favorite activities that I have implemented because of her is Weekly Letter Writing.  The premise is simple: I write a letter to my students every week, and they write back.  It's the only homework I give (click here to read more about my homework policy), but it's also one of the most important things I do in my classroom to build community.  I've implemented this every year I've been in the classroom, and many of my colleagues have started doing it, too.

Why write letters each week?

First and foremost, the purpose behind writing letters is to build relationships and connect with my students.  Every single week, I get to read a personalized note from my students, and they get to read one from me.  I get to know them better, and they get to know me better, too.

Second, it's an amazing way to have students practicing writing skills in a super fun and interesting way.  I have watched kids blossom from two sentence letters at the beginning of the year to full-page letters by the end of the year.  While they may not always be SUPER excited about the prospect of this (or any homework) at the beginning of the year, they always grow to love it.

Third, it's an important opportunity to allow students to reflect on what is going on in our world and in our classroom.  Since I write the letters each week (more about that below), I'm able to incorporate current events in the world as well as address certain things going on in our classroom.



What do I write letters about?

So many different things!

I start every letter with one or two sentences about something fun going on in my life (I usually write them on Sunday evenings or Monday morning, so I do a quick recap of my weekend.)  Then I decide on my "topic" for the week.  When I worked in an International Baccalaureate (IB) School, I would focus on one IB attitude each week or on our central idea.  If you're working on a certain social studies topic, incorporate that into your letter.  If you're reading a book, think about how they can reflect on that book in their letter.  Consider local, national, or worldwide events and discuss them.  Look at seasonal topics.  The possibilities for what to write about are truly endless.


I usually model a response to my prompt within the letter I write.  If I'm asking them to think about empathy, I'll write about a time I showed empathy (or didn't show empathy...).  I always include a prompt in my letter (and bold it so that it's clear what they need to write back about) that they should respond to, but students often add more details and tidbits about their lives.

I have to write to them every week? Doesn't that take a lot of work?

First, the letters are pretty short.  If I'm writing a new one, it usually only takes about 10 to 15 minutes to draft.

Second, I save my letters and do use similar prompts year after year.  One grade level team I worked with that decided to implement this grade-wide came up with "templates" that we all used every year (based on our current topics) and then we just added in our own little notes, current events, etc. each week.  This made sending them home every week a BREEZE!

Do I grade and respond to every letter?

Grade? No. Respond? Briefly.

I am not exaggerating when I say this is the one piece of work that I look forward to reading more than any other.  Kids tend to really get into this-- typing them out, adding borders, clip art, folding them into fun shapes, putting them into envelopes.  They take great pride in their letters, so I really enjoy reading them.

I choose maybe one a month to use the rubric (included in the free resource below) on, but I don't necessarily count it as a grade since it's homework, and I don't know what level of help they received on it.

I write short responses to letters.  Sometimes it's as simple as responding with a "WOW!!" in the margins where they've written something interesting, or a quick "Me too!" comment.  Sometimes, I write one or two sentences back (on the letter they wrote me).  My kids are always eager to read my responses when they get them back the following week.

How do I get started?

I usually start this during the very first week of school.  Some years, I have introduced it on the first day of school.  It depends what grade level you teach and how much pre-teaching of letter format you're going to have to do.  But you definitely want to start this as soon as possible.

I have created a letter writing starter kit so that you can easily get going with letters in your classroom! It includes an information sheet for students, letter topic ideas and examples, and a short rubric for grading them, if you so choose.

You can download the starter kit for free by clicking the image below.



Years ago, I wrote about this idea as a guest blogger on Laura Candler's blog.  Clear HERE to read the original blog post that includes a few different ideas!

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Best Back to School Picture Books

I absolutely love sharing great book recommendations over on my Instagram account, and one of the biggest requests I get is for picture books for back to school, especially for upper grades students!  While I tend to defer to the Ramona Recommends or Katie King from Queen of the First for amazing book recommendations, I've amassed quite a collection of first month of school read aloud books that upper elementary students love.  These back to school books have a ton of different themes, from friendship and kindness to developing a growth mindset to accepting others and inclusion.

Kids are never, ever too old to appreciate a good picture book, and amongst all of my other first week of school plans, I always find time to incorporate picture books that are full of meaning, theme, and heart.  Here is my collection of first day, week, or month of school read aloud books for bigger kids.  You can click the image of any of these back to school books to be taken to an affiliate link to purchase the book, or even better, add it to your wishlist and share it with your principal or parents!  Have fun choosing which ones you are going to incorporate!  You can't go wrong with any of these.






















...and if you still need more amazing back to school, here are a few more that I love!

What if Everybody Did that?
Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun
Iggy Peck, Architect
The Bear and the Fern
The Dot
How I spent my Summer Vacation
The Juice Box Bully
The Jelly Donut Difference 
Chocolate Milk, Por Favor

I'd love to hear your favorite back to school books! Please share them with me in the comments, and happy reading!

Are you looking for more first week of school or back to school lesson plans? Hop on over here to read more!


Saturday, July 20, 2019

My First Week of School Plans

Have you already started planning for the first week of school?  I've always spent hours upon hours upon hours perfecting my first week plans.  Then I usually get about half of what I planned done, which usually makes the second week a breeze!  Those first few days offer such a crucial time for building community among classmates, relationships with individual students, and setting the groundwork for classroom management and your routines.



I have several posts about the beginning of the year, but never before have I provided my complete plans for that important first week.  Now, here they are!  Before you take a look at my plan, it's important to understand my thinking about the first week of school...

I know my planning philosophy differs from some of the more popular philosophies and advice given in certain books, and I'm okay with that.  I tried taking that advice for a few years, and the first few days felt slow, my students weren't engaged or excited about what was happening, and I never really felt like it was setting groundwork for the rest of the year.

Instead of baby steps, we dive right in to our normal schedule. As I plan for the first few days, I keep our schedule almost exactly as it will stand for the rest of the school year.  That means we have morning work, morning meeting, reading, math, writing, and science or social studies.  I infuse discussions about expectations as we move throughout the first week, we reflect on what is going well and what we need to improve upon, and we start to learn specific routines to be successful for the rest of the year.  While we do this, though, children are engaged in exciting and academically challenging tasks.  We are getting to know each other well, as humans and as learners.  My goal is that my kids leave school excited and are eager to come back the next day and the next day.

Every single thing I do during this week is to prepare my class for the upcoming academic year.  They learn the procedures that we need to have in place to accomplish all of those rigorous academics that will be facing them. This set-up has always worked quite well for me, and I end the first week with solid relationships with most of my students.  Our classroom has a foundation of trust and expectations for the year to come.  They know what to expect from me, from our schedule, and from many of our daily routines.  Do we have moments where we have to stop, take a breath, and reflect on a little chaos? Absolutely! But we learn from those moments, and we understand why they don't work.


You don't need to squint to read these plans! I have them compiled in a big document, complete with explanations of all the activities.  A few notes as you begin looking through all of these plans...
  • Plan Big! If you get through all of these plans in the first week, YOU ARE MY HERO!  I have this set up as what would happen in an ideal world, but keep in mind that there is a lot of front loading expectations that must go into this plan before it can all be implemented.  You can't expect your students to know how to function in centers, in morning meeting, etc. so anticipate needing to take time to set up expectations as you move through the plans.  I briefly touch on expectations and procedures in the plans, but you will need to fill in a lot of blanks that fit the needs of your classroom.
  • YOU DO YOU.  I mean it.  Please don't take these plans and implement them 100% into your classroom.  You have amazing ideas that will bring your own personal touch into your first week of school.  Some of these activities won't resonate with you, or they won't help set up your classroom routines.  For example, I use Topple Blocks and Task Cards during the first week of school because we use those a lot in my classroom.  If you don't use that type of resource, replace my plans with resources you DO use.
  • Expectations are Key.  I kind of sound like a broken record here, but please make sure that as you implement these activities, you are focusing more on setting up expectations than on the activity itself.  I simply can't stress this enough.  What you do during this week (and the following weeks) will set a precedent for the rest of the year.
  • If you don't do workshops/centers/rotations...  First, I'd implore you to do a bit of research into this style of teaching and see if you can perhaps implement it at least one or two days a week.  It is so beneficial.  BUT, if you are not accustomed to running workshops or you don't anticipate running a workshop model for the rest of the year, adapt these plans to work for your schedule and routines.  You don't need to spend time setting up a workshop model if you aren't going to use it later on.  Instead, just pick and choose some of the ideas to implement whole class.
  • Where's the Tech? We use a lot of technology in my classroom, but slow and steady wins the race on this one.  I don't introduce iPads or laptops during the first week for a few reasons.  To begin, it never fails:  The first time using iPads or laptops always results in a little bit of anxiety for some kids (okay, and teachers) because it's just never a seamless process. Second, I want us working face to face and building relationships without the distraction of technology.
  • On Differentiation: This is the one week of the year that I don't do a ton of differentiation.  I want this week to be accessible and exciting for all of my students, so I choose activities that most students can participate in and feel successful.  That being said, with some adaptations, these plans would work best for grades 3-6.
  • What You Need:  I have done my best to make a list of exactly what you need to have prepped for each day.  Some of the resources include products in my store or others' stores, or may include an Amazon Affiliate link to books or supplies.  Most links are clickable to make it easy for you to find what you need!
  • Still not enough? If you find that you still need to supplement some more ideas, check out this huge post about First Week of School Activities for Big Kids!
  • What's next?  After the first week is over, we really dive into our normal routines and academics.  This is when I begin my formal math and literacy mini-lessons, start our typical workshop/center routines, and get my curriculum rolling.
  • EXPECTATIONS!  Really, though.  The number one thing you should be focusing on during this week (aside from building stellar foundational relationships with your kids) is expectations.  My favorite saying is the 3As. Again and again and again until we get it right.

The plans are FREE, plus you also receive a free Minute to Win It game, and TWO free sets of task cards that are for purchase in my store.  Sign up to receive all of this goodness HEREPlease share all of your wonderful activities on Instagram or Facebook and be sure to tag me so that I can join in on the fun!  While I do include a blank planning template in the file, if you'd like an editable one to use digitally, you may download that HERE.

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    Tuesday, July 16, 2019

    Supporting Student Learning at Home

    At the beginning, middle, and end of every single school year, I always have parents ask me for tips about how they can support their child's learning at home.  Sometimes they are looking for worksheets or workbook recommendations, but oftentimes, they are much more interested in how learning can be integrated into their daily lives.  Learning opportunities are literally EVERYWHERE, but sometimes it takes a minute to stop and realize just how many ways we can enrich students' lives academically, even outside the classroom.


    With that in mind, I've compiled a simple list of ways that parents can support their children at home.  Keep these in your figurative back pocket during discussions with parents.
    • Read aloud, read aloud, read aloud.  As children grow older, many parents stop reading to their kids and listening to their kids read.  If I had one tip for parents, it would be to read with their child every single night.  They constantly need to hear examples of fluent reading just like they need to practice their own fluency. If they are younger, I always recommend You Read to Me, I'll Read to You books.  Otherwise, any book will do.  If parents really want to work on comprehension skills with their students, I'll send them home with these free question stems as they really promote discussion (Bonus: I use these in my class ALL year).
    • Mental Math Car Ride Game Show.  Okay, that sounds more fancy than it is.  I always encourage parents to find numbers on the road and make a math game out of it.  Speed limit is 65? What's 6+5, 6-5, and 6 x 5?  Did you just pass mile marker 165?  What's 16-5?  What's 1+6+5?
    • Step competitions! Everyone in my family has a pedometer of some sort, and at the end of every day, we have a step competition.  This silly evening routine singlehandedly taught my children how to read large numbers.  We practice rounding up and rounding down, we compare numbers (I lose every single day), and you can even throw in more advanced math, like figuring out how many total steps the family took or the difference between the number of steps for certain family members.  It's such fun, and pedometers are fairly inexpensive these days!
    • Story Time. Every night, my dear husband tells my girls a story that he makes up.  I'm not nearly that creative after a long day, so when he's out of town, my girls and I tell stories together.  I start a little bit of the story, one of the kids continues it, and we "pass it around" until we have a complete, but sometimes pretty silly, story.
    • Show me the Money. I remind parents that there are so many opportunities to teach not only financial literacy but basic math skills.  You can round numbers to the nearest dollar, determine exactly how many more cents until you reach the next whole dollar, check if the cashier gave you the correct amount of money, etc. 
    • Time challenge.  Not only do I encourage parents to discuss real-world elapsed time problems with their children, I emphasize how important it is for them to hear other time vocabulary such as "half past" "quarter to" etc.  Instead of telling them it's 9:15 when they ask, I tell parents to say, "It's a quarter past the hour that comes after 8." I mean, that one is pretty complicated, but you get the gist! :)
    • Get cooking. It sounds so simple, but cooking with kids provides many opportunities for enrichment.  From reading recipes, navigating websites or search engines to find the recipes, to doubling or halving recipes, my own children have learned so much from our time cooking together.  Bonus: Be sure to let students read (and smell) all the spice labels!
    • Write me a Letter. I always have questions about spelling!  My best tip for supporting spelling at home (aside from studying spelling words) is to write letters back and forth to one another.  When mom or dad or aunt or uncle or BFF writes the letter to the child, they write 5-10 words at the bottom that the return letter MUST include, spelled correctly.  Kids love trying to figure out where to put the words in, and they get great writing and spelling practice!
    • Map It Out! Social studies skills are harder to hit in every day life (go to museums, of course!), but making maps and learning their neighborhood is so important.  I always have my students create a map of their street and surrounding areas, and it's always very eye-opening for them.
    • Pay attention to prefixes and suffixes.  We use them all day long, but sometimes it's hard to remember to point them out to kids.  Going to a POSTgame party? Talk to kids about what a PREgame party would be. 
    • Let's Talk About Our Day.  When my twins were little, I read that helping children recall small moments of their day is one of the very best ways you can improve a child's working memory.  After that, I made it a point to always talk about their day with them.  My two year old LOVES to do this every night, and I love hearing about the little tiny things she remembers about her day (Oh, those black dots on the lady bug were so cute, mama!).  My big kids still love this, too, and even say they have better dreams when they talk about all the fun we had that day.  
    Of course, that's not an all-inclusive list, but it will be a good start and get those creative juiced flowing!  I like to have something tangible to hand students as reminds, so I have also written out some specific tips parents have always found helpful.  I would highly recommend sending this FREE page of suggestions home early in the year, perhaps on Meet the Teacher night or during Back to School Open Houses!


    Just fill out the form below to grab your free page of tips and tricks! 

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      Monday, July 15, 2019

      Amazon PRIME DAY DEALS for Teachers!


      I don't know about you, but I've always been so overwhelmed by Prime Day! Where do I find the deals? How do I know what's a decent deal? Do I have to buy it right away?

      Well, this year, I'm hoping to take some of the guesswork out of it for you.  I'll be linking the best TEACHER RELATED deals here all day long.  You can also follow my Facebook feed on my PAGE or in my GROUP to get Facebook notifications when I find new deals.

      Please note: All links are affiliate links, which means I get a small commission for every purchase you make. Be sure to click the links to view the Prime Day deals, as most of the prices listed here won't reflect the sale price.

      Let's get shopping!

      Tuesday, March 12, 2019

      Brain Break Videos that your kids will LOVE!

      While GoNoodle has always been a staple in my classroom, I've found that the older the kids are, the less enthusiastic they tend to be about getting their groove on in front of the rest of the class.  I've tried to encourage them with my own excitement and dance moves, but alas, there are always a few who stare awkwardly from the back row.  I have a fair amount of brain break tricks up my sleeve (check out this post about how I use precious extra minutes in the classroom), but I wanted something else fun!

      A few years ago, I was having my students work through a fairly long Power Point.  They were working in pairs and they had an interactive study guide to accompany it, but I still felt like they needed something that would break up the monotony of it.  I decided to insert a few "surprise" videos sporadically throughout the presentation as mini brain breaks.  They LOVED IT and begged me for more!  I am finally getting around to sharing a few of those videos.  They are all short, slightly educational, and 100% kid-approved.


      I've watched every single video all the way through, but be sure to double check and make sure they are suitable for your class.  I'd also recommend using Safe Youtube to stream them and avoid ads.

      Video #1: Kid President.  He will never cease to amaze me, and students really gravitate toward his videos. 


      Video #2: Little Big Shots is a hoot to watch!  Steve Harvey can get a little bit snarky sometimes, so I don't like to choose random clips to show, but this one is great!



      Video #3: This musical video is mesmerizing, and there are so many to choose from!


      Video #4: Rube Goldberg videos are some of my kids' favorites.  This one is particularly fun because he eats dinner and dessert throughout the video!  You can also use these videos for cause and effect.


      Video #5: Two words: Optical Illusions.


      Video #6: There's just something about watching thousands of dominos falling in sync that captures students.  I also love to show them that kids can do hard and wonderful things, too!


      Video #7: Don't do this at home! My students always beg me for more of these videos.


      Video #8: If you aren't familiar with the Ron Clark Academy, check them out!  They have so many master teachers on staff and offer so many great ideas to incorporate into your classroom.  Ron Clark also has some sweet dance moves that he does with his students, which always gets my students up and dancing, too!