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African Jungle Animals

The theme for last week and this week has been "African Jungle Animals." We are looking at the continent of Africa and the habitats that make this very diverse land their home. We are mostly studying the rainforest and savannah, but have also discussed the river and desert areas. Presently the children are making a booklet about Africa, but we have not finished it yet. Yesterday and today, they created a mural depicting animal life in the African rainforest and savannah. Tomorrow, they will write about their favorite African animal. This will be the end of our African unit - hopefully!
The children had to make a plan with their group. (Each group consisted of 8-9 kids.)  Second, they sketched their plan. Third, they painted their sketch.

After the mural dried, the groups got together again and made another plan as to what animals they would be placing in their habitat. They had to create animals that lived in the rainforest which are different from the animals that live in the savannah. It was so much fun listening to them discuss which animals they could put on the mural and which animals belonged on the other mural.

The kids also made smaller, individual murals; again, their choice was either the rainforest or the savannah. The pictures are so cute! I'll post some of their stories later!

Wow! IPads in my classroom!

We had an in-service yesterday on how to use iPads in the classroom. Our school was able to purchase enough iPads for an entire class to use - wow! So today I thought I would give them a try. I used them in our small reading groups. I only checked out 2 tablets and had the kids pair up. They played a free app game called "Rocket Speller." This game has 4 levels and you can choose if you want to use capital or lower case letters. In Level 1, the kids are given the spelling of a word and they move the letters on the pad to match the ones given. My kids did not get to Level 4, but at this level, the kids are asked to spell words with no clues given. What a wonderful way to differentiate learning! What I noticed today was that it didn't matter if the kids were struggling readers or top readers, they all had a ball and didn't realize that what they were doing was learning to spell words! I also really liked pairing my kiddos up because it promoted cooperation and sharing because if they didn't share, they would not be allowed to use the iPad. They were awesome with sharing! I am so excited about this new learning tool! My plan right now is to use iPads once a week in reading groups. Then this summer, I am going to spend some time searching for apps and how  other teachers are using them in their classrooms! I have so many plans for this summer - whew!!!

Cloud Fun!

I have the wonderful opportunity to have students from the University of Illinois placed in my classroom. They are usually juniors doing their practicum and I love having them! This semester I have TWO Elementary Education majors with me. They are required to spend 30 hours in my classroom and teach 2 lessons. Katherine taught a really cute writing lesson on "Where the Wild Things Are". She used Deanna Jump's lesson and it worked in perfectly with our African Jungle Animal unit. I will edit this post tomorrow and add pictures of the kid's work.

Mallory did a science lesson on clouds. We found this activity on Pinterest and if you get a chance to try it, you should! If this is your idea, please let me know and I will credit you! It takes little preparation, but the kids are fascinated with what happens!

  First read Tomie dePaola's "The Cloud Book." Then give children this sheet (or click on the picture below) and cotton balls. They stretch the cotton balls to look like each type of cloud. The Nimbus cloud (thunder cloud) could be drawn with crayon or marker OR the cotton ball could be colored with black marker. We copied the worksheet onto blue paper.

Give each child a clear plastic cup filled with water. Squirt shaving cream on the top of the water. Dilute some blue food coloring in water and put into cups. We had 2 children share a cup of diluted blue water. Each child has their own cup of shaving cream and water, though,  and an eye dropper. Discuss how clouds hold in water until they get so heavy, the water has to fall.

The children put drops of water onto the shaving cream and watch and watch until finally it begins to rain!  How cool is that!

Butterfly Writing and Flower Gardens

This morning when I arrived at school, I looked at our pretty butterfly projects in the hall and they made me smile! So I thought I would share this project with you!
The first thing the children did was follow step-by-step illustrations for creating a flower garden. I put this in a literacy center because I am a firm believer that this type of activity reinforces sequencing! They were given 2 small paper butterfly outlines that they decorated in a mosaic form using tiny paper squares. When their picture was complete, they wrote about their butterfly garden. I love this time of year when everything that we have been doing comes together! Their stories are so fun to read and I am so proud of them!
Here is a link to a freebie in my TPT store that my students used to make their flowers. And here is the link to the Butterfly writing papers!

Butterflies and Caterpillar Fun!

This week we had fun with butterflies and caterpillars. There are so many wonderful units written about butterflies, but I wanted to do something a bit different with my kinders this week. We discussed scientists and how they use their observation skills to learn about the world around them. We talked about how scientists use special instruments like magnifying glasses to make little things look big. We observed that butterfly wings are made of tiny parts called scales. We used the big word metamorphosis and compared the changes that occur in a butterfly to the changes that occur in a frog. I told the children that when we are observing the world around us, we will often use a field guide. A field guide helps us to identify objects that we see in our world.
I projected pictures of butterflies and their caterpillars upon my Promethean board and we observed their shapes and colors. They then sketched their pictures in their field guide booklet. We used watercolors to create a butterfly using symmetry. (They make a pretty bulletin board, don't you think?) We aren't completely finished with our field guide. I think that I will put it in a literacy center rotation this week!

These pictures show examples of the activity the children did to show how butterfly wings are made of scales.

My daughter, the Art major, helped me draw the pictures that we used for observation of our caterpillars and butterflies. Here is an example of one of them!

We also discussed how caterpillars protect themselves and how butterflies use their wings. We labeled the parts of a butterfly and did a butterfly life cycle activity using pasta - I'm sure many of you have done this!

If you are interested in this unit, you can get it from my TPT store! In the next day or so, I have a couple of butterfly freebies to post, but it is getting late now and I need to get some sleep!


It's Raining CVC and CVCe Words!

We can associate the long and short sounds with common spellings for the five major vowels. This is a Common Goal for Kindergarten. I am taking this to mean that our students need to know that sometimes vowels make a short sound in words and other times vowels make a long sound. I am assuming that common spellings would be CVC and CVCe words. I have been approaching this goal with Word Sort activities. The kids did great on sorting the words this week! READING the CVCe words was a little more challenging! I was very pleased with their reading of CVC words, though! Of course, we have been working on decoding CVC words since January and we only started CVCe words recently. Another fun project we did with this Word sort was create a paper umbrella and glue the words onto the bottom of the umbrella using paper raindrops. It took most of the week to do this project. One day they painted one side of the umbrella and the next day they painted the other side. Then they cut out raindrops using dark blue and light blue construction paper. I let them choose which color they wanted to use for the CVC words and which color they wanted to use for the CVCe words. They glued their words onto the raindrops and made sure that they had them sorted correctly. The CVC raindrops were glued on one side of the umbrella and the CVCe raindrops were glued on the other side. One of my kinder partners, Lea, said that another way to do this would be to make trees instead of umbrellas; so there is another idea! If you would like a copy of this activity, click on the product cover. It's a freebie!
Have a wonderful weekend! We are hoping for rain here in Central Illinois! :)

Simple steps for writing with my kiddos

I received an email from Chris asking me for information as to how we run our Writer's workshop in our kindergarten. So I thought I would write a little about how we structure our program. Please know, though, that I do not profess to be an expert in writing and do not have all the answers as to how to get kids to write!
The foundation for our Writer's Workshop is the Lucy Calkin's Unit of Study for Primary Classrooms. We start our writing early in the school year with a simple This is me activity. The children draw a picture of themselves and label their picture with their name. This becomes our writing baseline. We also use the Handwriting Without Tears curriculum and will do the Mat Man activity and song after we have gotten our baseline drawing and writing example. Our second lesson is modeled/shared writing. I will draw a picture on my Promethean screen and then ask the children what things they see in my picture. As they say them, I write the words next to the picture. Of course, this is simple labeling which is a natural way to begin the writing process. After I have shared my writing, I give the children blank paper and ask them to draw and label a picture. If they protest and say that they cannot write words, I tell them to just write the beginning sound or any letter that they can hear in the word. Here is an example of what I might draw and label for our first session. Another activity that I do with early writing is the use of the word the or my before the pictures that they draw. Here is an example of the paper that the children use at the beginning stages of sentence writing. The children use these 2 styles of writing for several weeks or until they feel confident enough to begin writing sentences. Lucky Calkins has some wonderful scenarios for teaching children how to add details to their pictures and sentences.

When the children are ready for the next step, we use paper with lines and a larger picture box. It is also during these sessions that I show my students how to observe the shapes in pictures and the world around them and use these shapes to draw pictures. We also practice listening to sounds in words and recording the sounds upon our paper. As the year progresses, the children become more and more competent with their writing and advance to 3 lined paper.

We write everyday in some way. We have formal mini-lessons at least 3 times a week. This is when we meet together on the rug and receive instruction or a shared writing lesson. When we are not meeting formally, the children are either writing in a literacy center or simply writing with no formal lesson during Writer's Workshop time.

An important component of our Writer's Workshop program is shared writing among each other. My students love to share their writing and I try to make sure that they get the opportunity to share in some way at least once a week. We share in 2 ways. One way is teacher's choice. This is when I choose 5 or 6 children to sit on the author's chair and read their favorite story to the whole class. The other way is when the children get together with their writing partner and read their stories to each other. Both are fun and exciting and my students never seem to tire of sharing! When a child is on the author's chair, I try to point out one positive thing about their story such as "I really like how Sally uses spaces between her words. It makes it so much easier for us to read!" or "I like how Lincoln made his picture match his words! That's what authors do, you know. They make sure that their picture matches the words that they are writing." This week the children will begin their publishing journey. They will be brainstorming a story that sounds fun to write and then outlining it into a beginning, middle, and ending format. They will then use this format to write a story becoming both the author and illustrator of their publication. As we progress through this project, I will post some pictures of their work!

So, that is our writing program in a nutshell. Again, please know that I am no expert on the writing process! Just as every teacher searches for ways to motivate and teach her/his students in fun and exciting ways, I continue to search for more and better ways as well! I am sure that many of you who are reading this post are more of a writing expert than me! But it is fun to share and collaborate and I hope that is what I have done! If you would be interested in the paper that I use for Writer's workshop, click here. It is nothing fancy - just something that I put together to suit my needs. Lucy Calkins has a CD included in the program with wonderful writing paper as well. Otherwise any paper that you have will work! The most important thing you can do is to just get your kiddos writing, writing, writing and to not be afraid to make a mistake! Mistakes are how we learn and if we don't try, we can't accomplish anything! I'm sure this is a lesson that many of you tell your students everyday!

As a side note, we are doing a mini butterfly and caterpillar unit this week! I will be sharing some of our fun activities this week and hope that you may find some that you will be able to use as we glide into spring here in North America!


Sweet Reading and listening

My students love Writer's Workshop! I really am not sure why; maybe it is because it is a quiet time in our classroom; maybe it is because they realize just how fun it is to put letters on paper that actually mean something. Whatever it is, I have no problem getting them to take out their Writer's Workshop binders and start to write. I took some sweet pictures today during Writer's Workshop. They were working in partners and sharing their stories. Honestly, they did not want to stop sharing with each other! It was 5 minutes to lunch and I told them to put away their binders because we had to get ready for lunch and they did not want to stop! It was incredibly cute to listen to them reading to each other. If someone couldn't read the words that they had written, their partner worked to help them read their own story! We talk about being the "ears" and the "mouth" when reading to each other and it was heartwarming to see the "ears" trying to listen to the story from the "mouth." I am very proud of them and think they are proud of themselves, too!