Five for Friday: Birthday Bliss and Books!

Hello and Happy Friday!

I'm thrilled to join Doodle Bugs Teaching for another wonderful week of Five for Friday! Be sure to hop back over and check out the other posts!

First up this week, I should mention that it's my birthday!

This photo is from a birthday long ago; this year, I'm officially turning 29 for the third time, and I couldn't be happier. I'm so blessed to have a loving husband and family, a job that I adore, my health, a wonderful home, and I am incredibly grateful.

Next, I have a problem. A book problem.

I may have ordered several of the books recommended for teaching the 6 Traits of Writing by Vicki Spandel in Creating Young Writers, along with some new back-to-school read-alouds! Any favorites in there? Share in the comments!

I'm particularly excited for Lulu and the Brontosaurus as a read-aloud chapter book--I've heard great things! There may or may not be a few more on the way...don't tell Mr. Cronin.

I am super proud to have posted my replacement for Morning Work and Work on Writing in Daily 5 on Teachers Pay Teachers this week!

It's 20% off today, so you'll pay a whopping $2.40 for over a month of writing journal prompts! There's also a growing bundle that is pretty deeply discounted, which will include each month of the school year. Read more about changes to my schedule this year and how I plan to use this HERE.

My classroom is officially unpacked and ready for any and all decor additions/changes I want to make!

There used to be a desk over there!

This is my little check-in area--I plan to make a checklist on that whiteboard in vinyl, put our Paw Count (school-wide PBIS tool) on the little chalkboard, and all incoming notes, etc. go in those bins...all from Target, obvi. :)

We report officially on August 29, and kiddos show up the 31st. I plan to move around my word walls (getting rid of my teacher desk has freed up a lot of space, so I was able to move my standing desk!), add some vinyl to the walls and whatnot (if I can figure out my Cameo...), and finish my decor with picture #5...

I made my first official purchase from School Girl Style, which is somewhat unbelievable! I ordered just pom poms and lanterns to start, but I have a feeling this will become an addiction.

Any decor changes to your classroom this year?! Leave them in the comments!

Have a wonderful weekend!
- Lisa


Daily Schedule and Making Time for Writing Journals

Hello Friends! 

Summer is definitely winding down—ahhh! And that has left me doing some serious thinking about how I plan to change, adapt, and/or adjust things in my room this year in terms of our schedule. Our school's master schedule was released a couple of weeks ago, and the biggest change for the second grade is that we no longer have the first special and first lunch, which means MORE LEARNING IN THE MORNING! Can I get a w00t w00t?!

Another change for the whole building will be 11 more minutes at the end of the school day. Last year, we also had our students arrive by walking straight to the classrooms (instead of lining up outside), which is wonderful in that line duty was terrible, but creates an arrival scenario with students filtering in gradually.

Now that you've got a little background, here's what I came up with:

Fabulous fonts from Cara Carroll at The First Grade Parade!

Some things about this schedule are totally a departure from past practice for me, so let me fill you in on what those are.

Morning Work

I have always, always, always done morning work. It's just one of those assumed best practices; I've seen teachers blog about it, post products for it on Teachers Pay Teachers, and watched it happen in all the classrooms I've ever been in. But I found myself wondering, "Why do I do this?" more and more, and had that asked of me at I Teach Second! this summer. I don't have a real answer; I suppose it eases kids into the day. But is that what's best? I grumped and whined last year about having the first special and lunch and very little morning learning time, but somehow it didn't occur to me to scrap morning work.

Now, I mentioned above that my students filter in from 8:20–8:30. When I revisited the idea of morning work this summer, I wasn't sure what I wanted students to do who arrive right at 8:20, nor did I want to have some kids start something but others not have time to finish it. I HATE half-finished work, and I don't want to waste paper on worksheets where I don't have to! I'm going to tell you what my solution for this time was, but want to share a couple of other dilemmas first.

Morning Meeting

I've also always done a Morning Meeting, and my students love it. When contemplating how to make the most of my time, though, I wanted to find a way to keep Morning Meeting, trim it down, and put it in a place OTHER than precious morning learning time. I decided I wanted to scrap these parts of Morning Meeting:
  • Calendar (students have had this in K and first grade)
  • Weather (they know it!)
  • Schedule (they know where it's posted and how to read the words or pictures)
On the other hand, I loved these parts:
  • Greeting (practicing eye contact and handshakes makes me happy!)
  • Morning Message (shared reading *swoon* and authentic content!)
  • Activity (being silly together builds community)
  • Sharing (practicing presenter voices and speaking in complete sentences!)
  • Good News/Bad News (students have the chance to share about their world in that moment) 
  • Self-Reflection (my class was SO reflective last year, and they were honest and accurate)
So, I decided to turn Morning Meeting into Class Meeting, and put it right after lunch. Here's why:
  1. I always like to have a transition time after lunch/recess. Especially when school first starts, the weather is hot and the kids need some time to cool off and catch their breath. Sometimes, they also need a few minutes to move past whatever recess drama might have happened...
  2. This is the WORST time for learning. The way the brain works, the time right after lunch is a slump time. Peak time is obviously in the morning, with another lower peak later in the afternoon.
  3. I've used this time for Ketchup & Pickle in the past, but haven't loved how the time gets used later in the year. Kids tend not to use this time for what it's intended: to take a few minutes to themselves to catch up on any work, rest their brains, and decompress. Instead it becomes social time (despite my best efforts to nip that in the bud!). Why not make it an acceptable social time instead?
I'm not sure exactly how this will turn out; I'll likely do some teaching around greeting each other at the beginning of the year, and coach students that they will all greet me and each student they encounter as they enter the room in the morning. I may also project a Morning Message while students are coming in that they can read as they take their seats, and that we'll discuss/read together before starting the day. That would leave Sharing, Good News/Bad News, Activity, and Self Reflection for the afternoon meeting. I may test the waters to see if we can fit all of that in within 10 minutes for the first couple of weeks of the year; if not, I will alternate days with Good News/Bad News and Activities. That worked really well last year, and kept activities feeling fresh all year long!

 Writer's Workshop

There are a million things I could share about my scheduling choices, but this will be the last one for now. I have had a tenuous relationship with Writer's Workshop throughout my teaching career; this is ironic because writing is without a doubt my favorite subject. I've never fallen in love with any way that I've structured my writing time, and there are a couple of reasons:
  1. My Writer's Workshop has always been too short, but I've struggled to find time to make it longer due to a packed schedule that devoted too much time elsewhere.
  2. Daily 5 is awesome, but I've had a hard time melding Work on Writing and Writer's Workshop and making the two work together seamlessly.
  3. I have always felt that students should have more choice in what they write about, but haven't found a way to offer that freedom while still sticking to my district's writing curriculum map.
So, I give you my solutions to all of these problems, plus my morning work dilemma: Clearing the extras out of my schedule and Writing Journals! 

First, clearing out my schedule. You can probably see that it looks pretty streamlined; I set out to not waste a second. I moved Morning Meeting to after lunch and eliminated Ketchup & Pickle, eliminated Morning Work and replaced it with journaling time, and made snack a working snack as we transition to Science/Social Studies. I also backed Science/Social Studies up to Literacy on purpose; since I hope to integrate these this year, I am thinking that this transition should be both smooth and quick. Finally, we lucked out with a later lunch and special this year, which sets aside a nice time for Math, and a huge chunk of time for Writer's Workshop. Yay!

Second, Writing Journals!
These are solving multiple problems for me. First off, I plan to have students pull out their journals first thing in the morning for whatever time they have between arrival and the start of instruction. I figure this will be between 10–15 minutes total; however, I did want them to be able to devote more time to their entries. That's where I answered my Daily 5 problem. Now, during Work on Writing, students will pull out their journals again and pick up where they left off, rather than trying to continue working on something from Writer's Workshop. Finally, students will have:
  • choice (there are 7 entry options for each week),
  • guidance (reference guides for each writing style are coded on each prompt and the guides themselves are glued into the front and back of the journal to offer reminders about what each style should incorporate and eliminate questions or "I'm done!" conversations...), and
  • low paper consumption + accessibility (no copying monthly journals or students needing to get out of their seats to reference writing prompts or task cards!).
With the Reference Guides for each style on the inside of the covers, students will always have accessible reminders about what the expectations are for that style of writing and/or what they can add.

Each page has 7 options for the week, giving students choice, plus a range of styles that they can choose from!

One thing I wanted to ensure was that the prompts offered some guidance, but were still open-ended. A system I landed on for this was to offer 4 prompts each week (the top 4) that varied according to the season/month, and covered the 4 major genres (yes, I consider creative writing a major genre!). Then, the last 3 prompts rotate among 18 that appear each month, so students could see some of those several times across the course of the year. They are not themed in any way, but do rotate among all 5 genres (adding in poetry), and are VERY open-ended, in a true journaling style.

The back-to-school and growing bundle of writing journals are both on sale in my store through tomorrow! You can snatch up the back-to-school one for just $2.40 (normally $3.00), and the growing bundle for $12.00 (the price for this one will go up as months are added, but after the sale it will be $15.00).

I hope this resource is helpful in your classroom—please share how you would use it in the comments!

Happy Journaling!


Five For Friday: Five Changes to My Classroom This Year!

Hello, Friends!

All week I've been meaning to do a post about 5 changes I'm planning to make in my classroom this year...but, alas life has gotten in the way! I'm helping to write and pilot a new science curriculum to match the NGSS for our district, so I've been at school doing that a bunch, and I've been working on finishing a class that I'm taking through Learner's Edge about the 6 + 1 Traits writing model. So, since photos of me working on my computer are NOT exciting, I'll take you through 5 changes I plan to make to my teaching practice this fall. Here we go--two freebies ahead!

I'm actually using a Word Collector this year: Let's start with a little resource I put together this week. When I read the Daily 5 text for the first time a couple of years ago, I set up a giant sticky note as a word collector in my classroom. We referred to it consistently for about 3 weeks, and then...I'm not sure we ever added to it again. But I LOVED the idea, and have had it in the back of my brain these past few years to find a way to bring it back in a way that was practical. Then, when reading Vicki Spandel's text, Creating Young Writers, for this course, I got the kick in the pants that I needed to find a way to put this practice back into action. Spandel suggested having a word collector where you add interesting words as you find them while reading the multitude of rich children's books we read each year. Makes perfect sense. This is then a great word choice resource for students to refer back to in their own writing--of course! However, in my class, I have a range of writers, and I wanted to make something more personal.

So, I created this simple system:

Page 1 gets stapled to the "front" of the file folder...

...and pages 2 and 3 get stapled inside!
First off, I wanted to make sure that there was actually room for kids to write words, because, Lord knows, they don't always write small! Second, I wanted the size of the boxes to match how many words kids might add to the box. And finally, I wanted a simple format in which they could add to it, reference it, and put it away easily. I imagine that I will have a large version of this in our room, and will add to it as we encounter words that we love in the books we read throughout the day. During writing time, I'll make sure to begin at least a couple times a week with students adding any words to their word collectors from our class chart that they would like to add to their writing. Easy peasy!

Last but not least, where will it live? In their writing folders! I want them to refer to this during writing time, so I will be having students keep it in the "Ideas" pocket (which will be on the left side) of their writing folders. For that reason, I turned the file folder so that it would fit nicely in that pocket, but you could turn the folder any way you want, or even use construction paper instead. :) If you'd like this simple but hopefully practical tool, you can get it HERE.

This isn't one of our writing folders, but at least you can see how it fits!

I'm getting rid of my teacher desk: You heard me. Getting. Rid. Of. It. I don't know about yours, but mine is an oversized shelf that collects dust and junk. I don't sit at it. It's ugly. I can't push it up against a why do I have it?

Check out the upper right corner (don't mind the STEM challenge boats and smoothie toppings..)--it's a cluttered mess!
Left corner this time--the closet door behind it is what prevents me from being able to push it against the wall.
So, I emptied it this week, moved all of my office supplies into my nifty new toolbox (see last week's post), placed any filing supplies in a filing cabinet I acquired, and tossed quite a bit of junk (e.g., ancient Advil and chocolate stashes), and voila! No need for a teacher desk. Will post pictures of the happy void once I have them, but the hall outside my room got waxed on Tuesday, so I don't have pictures yet.

I plan to start our day with a song: In case you weren't aware, Hope King of Elementary Shenanigans is amazing. I saw her at the I Teach Second! conference, and was SO inspired by her energy and enthusiasm.

One thing that she does in her room is start the day with a song. Now, I've always started my day with some soothing classical music that plays while my students do their morning work with half the lights in our classroom off. Hope? High-energy students bouncing in, and drumbeats pounding out the rhythm to their class song as everyone sings along to start their day.

This year, I'm determined to give that a try (minus the drums, I'm guessing), even though it makes me uncomfortable. As teachers, if we aren't feeling uncomfortable at least once a day, we're probably not doing our jobs right. :) So, I've composed a song to the tune of Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop the Feeling!," and I've got the lyrics for you right HERE! Enjoy!

I want to commend my colleagues!: Another inspiration that came out of the I Teach Second! conference was from Adam Dovico's session called Rolling Out the Red Carpet. He talked about many amazing ideas to make your school community that much more wonderful, but one thing he mentioned really struck me because of its simplicity. At faculty meetings, pass along some kind of object--a crown, a stuffed animal, a cape--and commend one of your colleagues. Pass on the good juju! The next meeting, that person will pass the object on, and commend someone else! So....

...I found this adorable guy on Etsy and snatched him up! I plan to pass him along at our first faculty meeting, and I hope he's a little morale booster for our fabulous faculty. Taking name suggestions in the comments!

No more morning work!: I don't have a picture to accompany this one, sadly, but I wanted to share it anyway. I plan to get rid of morning work this year, which is something that had been popping around in my brain for a while. For me, I couldn't really answer the question, "Why do I do this?," and knowing the answer to that is important to me. Every second in my classroom counts, and this felt like wasted time to me.

Now, my student begin entering the classroom at 8:20, but some may not arrive until 8:30, so I can't just roll right into instruction. However, I've decided to do literacy instruction first this year, so I plan to have those first 10-15 minutes be a daily journaling time. I promise to share more about this as I create the product that I plan to use for it, but the objective is to include more free writing/prompt-based writing in my day, without taking any Writer's Workshop time to do it. Will update you when I have more to share! Has anyone else gotten rid of morning work?

Happy Teaching!
- Lisa



Five for Friday: August Who? and Teacher Toolbox Woo!

Hello, Friends!

I'm back for my second Five for Friday post, and I must say I'm loving blogging. As someone who's always enjoyed writing, it's incredibly soothing to put your words on paper/the internet, but it's also very exciting to share ideas in a way that has been so helpful to me in the past. I would venture that I've learned just as many best practices from reading blogs as I have in internships or in grad school, and that's really saying something! There are so many amazing teachers out there, and I just hope to add resources to the pool of already existing incredible ideas. That said...

I've seen them, I've coveted them...and now I have one! I finally made my own teacher toolbox, and I couldn't be more excited. In conjunction with having a teacher toolbox, I've decided to get rid of my desk, which I'll share more about as it happens. However, I'm currently just thrilled that I will no longer have a scary mess inside my desk drawers. Neatly labeled, easy to access, and best of all, colorful and cute! I used wood grain papers from the fantastic Krista Wallden, along with a cute frame of hers; the font is a Cara Carroll font that I just purchased during the TPT sale, and I couldn't be more thrilled. You can find this freebie HERE, and you can find the toolbox itself HERE at Home Depot. The drawers open differently than some of the other teacher toolboxes I've seen, but I actually like it a lot; the drawers are roomy and also slide in and out pretty easily. I was thrilled to find one that was already black, though I did need to color in the little Husky logo in the corner; I may use my Cameo to put my name in that spot later...once I learn how to use it! :)

I don't do selfies, but I had to take one on my first day wearing this shirt! I saw teachers with it on at the SDE Vegas conferences and loved it...but by the time I got to the booth selling them, there were none in my size! Luckily, on the last day of the conference, I was walking through and checking one last time, and the nice man at the booth offered to MAKE me one in a shirt my size! Now, it's not the pretty teal color that some of the others were, but I do love gray, and it's so soft. Most of all, I love the message: Today I choose joy. Because we do. 


Remember the time I went to Target and all I got for school were these pencils? Because I do. Granted, I went to Michaels and Home Depot and bought ONLY school-related items, but just 1 at Target? That NEVER happens.

Alex and Ani. *swoon* I've been building my collection for years, and have a special place in my heart for them because of our shared Rhode Island roots! I received a bracelet and a gift card from a parent, and turned both into this beauty, which I LOVE. The gold, the seahorse, the colors...sigh.

I feel very lucky to have rung in August with TWO rounds of golf thus far! I played with my mom, aunt, and uncle in Jamestown, RI yesterday, and enjoyed a round with Mr. Cronin this morning up in Holden, ME! That said, he's currently waiting for me lakeside to go for a kayak/swim, and patience isn't his strong suit when the weather's nice at the lake. :)

Have a wonderful weekend, all!

- Lisa


Small Group Instruction Series: Daily 5

Hello Friends!

Today I wanted to pick up where I left off with small-group instruction in my classroom. It's a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and it's a song I'm singing in my district right now. Kiddos learn best in small groups, teachers teach best in small groups, and independence and engagement abound when kids are learning in small it's a win-win-win! Today I want to share how we run Daily 5 in my room.

The Basics

For those of you who are not familiar with Daily 5, it's a system in which students learn to work independently and productively at rigorous literacy tasks. You need to read the book, for sure--there's so much valuable information in there! But, this post will give a very basic overview.

Depending on the classroom:
  • Students have a certain amount of choice in the tasks they engage in. Choice is important because it breeds engagement!
  • Rotations last a certain amount of time (about 15 minutes for me); after each, students clean up and move to the next choice.
  • Structure includes mini-lessons and rotations.

While students are working INDEPENDENTLY on their literacy tasks, teachers are running reading groups. This past year, I had 5-7 groups at any given time, which were created by reading level or a targeted skill. We usually had 2 groups running simultaneously; we saw our neediest groups daily, and others 2-4 times per week based on need (I say we because my coteacher was generally in my room during this time and ran reading groups simultaneously).

Everyone handles this part of Daily 5 a little differently, but personally I like to know that students are getting to their literacy tasks a certain number of times per week while still offering some choice. For example, Read to Self is super important to me, so in their independent work time, my students will always have the highest number of Read to Self slots to fill. Their weekly schedules look like this:

A bit about this schedule. First, the little deer clipart signals that this is a schedule for members of my Deer reading group. Their Teacher Time sessions have already been added onto the schedule for them. From there, I've dictated at the top of the schedule how many of each task they now need to fill in on the schedule. At the bottom of each day, there's a spot for students to reflect on and rate their performance that day (how hard they worked, how focused they were). Depending on which group students are in, the number of times they need to complete a task will vary based on the number of Teacher Times that group has.

The Tasks

Read to Self

  • Students read “Good Fit” books from their book bins independently (Good Fit means that the books are at that student's reading level; there is an entire lesson at the beginning of the year to teach students what that means)
  • There are 3 ways to read a book: read the pictures, read the words, retell the story (again, this is taught and modeled at the beginning of the year)
  • Sit in a good spot for them (bean bag, table spot, on rug, teacher chair, cushion, etc.)
This is from the beginning of the year when we were first learning Read to Self. Students are reading on the rug, in their chairs, on a cushion, and in a teacher chair.

Work on Writing

  • Students write independently 
  • May work on something from Writer’s Workshop, journal writing, etc.—you pick! I will either make this solely a journal writing time this year, or remove it from Daily 5 time in favor of a longer writing block.
  • Sit in a good spot for them (rainbow table, privacy desk, on rug with lap desk, etc.) 
  • Need to know where resources are (more paper, spelling resources, prompts, etc.)
These friends are working in writing journals from Sunny Days in Second Grade at one of our rainbow tables.

Read to Someone

  • Students take turns reading with a partner and checking for understanding; I plan to make a new resource that builds on the "check for understanding" concept and broadens students' conversations about what they're reading. I promise to share it soon!
    Sit EEKK (elbow to elbow, knee to knee), read from same or different books 
  • Sit in a good spot for them (usually rug or cozy stools) 
  • Find partners by raising a hand and asking the FIRST person they meet

 Work Work

  • Students practice spelling words (I have a weekly word list based on the phonics skills we're tackling that week); can be independent or partnered 
  • Tasks are basic but fun: magnetic letters, Wikki Stix, Scrabble tile spelling, Write It! 
  • Sit in a good spot for them (rug or table) 
  • Can be tracked with a bingo board or checklist

These students are doing Sign Language Spelling from 3rd Grade Thoughts.

Listen to Reading

  • Students listen to recorded stories on iPad and follow along with the text 
  • Can be independent or multi-person (headphone splitter or rockstar) 
  • Scholastic is a great way to build your collection! I order the monthly listening library sets when they're available and built my collection over time. You can also record yourself reading books you already have!
  • Can be eliminated/replaced in upper grades

Next Steps

It takes time for students to learn how to do each of these tasks independently and responsibly, so a good chunk of time is spent at the beginning of the year teaching that. Once you're ready to put it all together, your literacy block could look like any of the scenarios below, or something else you create entirely!

My schedule this year will likely look Schedule 2, but I've used a version similar to each of these in the past!

Making Reading Groups

Fall/Mid-Year: Use your DRA data, or whichever reading assessment your district uses! I find that groups tend to be level-based earlier in the year, and skill-based later in the year. I try to switch them up frequently; this could mean every 2-5 weeks, depending.

Other Times: I use post-its from 3rd Grade Thoughts to record reading conferences with students or running records and keep them in a file folder in that child's reading group basket. That way I can easily add a post-it or two to student folders any time I'm running a reading group. These are a great formative assessment that can be used to regroup students by reading level or skill.

The pink thing is half a sheet of cardstock that also lives in each reading group's basket; it helps me and my coteacher track what we did with each reading group and any notes we want to track.
Remember: Fair doesn’t mean equal! I don’t meet with each group the same amount because their needs are not the same. Some groups have Teacher Time twice, Read to Self, Work on Writing, and Read to Someone 3 times, and Listen to Reading and Word Work twice. Others have Teacher Time 5 times and all literacy tasks twice. It totally depends on the kids!


This format gives you so many opportunities to differentiate! Beyond reading groups, students can have personalized word lists, book bins filled with good-fit books, and the freedom to work at their own pace.

Additionally, if you have extra teachers in your room, they can be put to great use here! Special Education teachers, Title I teachers or paraprofessionals can run additional reading groups, phonics intervention, shadow a student, or float to help where needed. 
Book Bins are one of the most important ways to differentiate in Daily 5. I assign books in Teacher Time and offer additional good-fit books from the book room then. However, students choosing their own books is also crucial! I used morning work and Ketchup & Pickle as times when students could change out books in the classroom library.


Listen to Reading and/or Read to Self are opportunities to integrate technology into Daily 5 time. I have monthly Listen to Reading lists on my computer; it only takes a few minutes to update each iPad and change out the books. Another way to do Listen to Reading (or Read to Self) would be to use RazKids or another reading app.

Classroom Management

This all sounds great in theory, but how and why do kids stay on task in this format?

That’s where clear, taught, and enforced expectations come into play. First up, voice level. Students need to understand the voice levels permitted in the classroom from the get-go, and when creating your charts, you’ll need to teach those expectations.

I recommend reading Boushey and Moser’s book, because they do a beautiful job of teaching the gradual release of responsibility.

For each task, they recommend:
  • Making an I-chart
  • Modeling positive/negative/positive
  • Building stamina (starting at 1 minute!)
It takes patience and time to set up this structure, but it is worth it. I usually take the entire month of September to build up to actually trying Daily 5 for the first time. Don’t rush it! Using this process makes expectations known, clear, and ingrained, and I find that I have very few behavior problems, especially because students are engaged!

We add gestures to go along with each item on our charts! This helps to memorize them and give silent reminders to students when they get off task.

I hope this has given you a little clarity on how I run Daily 5 and reading group instruction in my classroom! Please feel free to leave questions in the comments, or share your own experiences!

Happy Teaching!
- Lisa


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