An Intentional Daily Schedule: Part 6 - Writer's Workshop

With the final post in my Intentional Daily Schedule series, I'll be talking about Writer's Workshop and how you can structure it to support every kind of writer in your kindergarten classroom. So far, we've discussed Play Centers, Morning Meeting, Math, Word Study, and Reader's Workshop. You can click on each of those to learn more! As we approach the end of the school year, I am able to reflect on what went well and what I'd like to tweak. In writing this series, I've been able to reflect and adjust more so than I usually would, so I hope you know that these tips or strategies have been vetted by a real teacher who uses them every day! Here's another view of my overall daily schedule so you can see where Writer's Workshop fits in:

Writer's Workshop is always one of those things that I feel like could be tweaked over and over again. Every year, students come to you with so many different kinds of writing skills. You may have someone who can whole-word write and someone who cannot yet hold a pencil correctly. Let's talk about how you can support and challenge them both after we first talk about materials.

I have access to the Lucy Calkin's Units of Study in Writing for Kindergarten. These are great for building up a love of writing and encouraging students to write about a variety of things. I also like the Units of Study for helping to set up the structure of workshop early in the year.

However, I do not feel like these units really provide enough scaffolds or supports for students who are not yet writing. Typically, my students enter kindergarten with emergent writing skills. Very few are able to actually associate letters with sounds in writing in the beginning of the year. Because of this, I structure how I teach workshop very differently. I use a few different resources for general support:

Plus a variety of things I've created on my own. I will link some rubrics and checklists at the end of this post if you are interested. My students have writing folders where they keep and organize their pieces. I use the materials provided in the Writing Through the Year units to create these folders:

Also, I structure the "what" of my students' workshop time to correlate with our topic or unit of study in reading or science. Here is the list of units that we teach in kindergarten:

Typically our topic of writing reflects which theme or unit we are studying. Also, my students usually complete one writing piece for each of the three main kinds of writing in kindergarten: Opinion, Explanatory, and Narrative.

Here are some pictures from when we studied community helpers and wrote an opinion piece about what we wanted to be when we grow up:

Now, let's talk structure of the lesson. No matter if I am using Lucy Calkins or Writing Through the Year or my own lesson plans, I will always give a short (10-12 minutes) minilesson where I do some modeling. I feel like modeling is KEY for writing development. I love giving students time to verbalize what they want to write about, so our minilesson typically includes some partner or group share time. Then, I release students to their tables. They get their folders and the writing paper from a paper organizer we use, then they start.

Sometimes, they begin with a picture (see above) then do a writing piece the next day. Other times, I provide a sentence stem that they will copy and expand upon, then draw. Some days we have structured paper with lines or boxes, but other days we use blank white paper. All of this is planned out by me ahead of time according to how I want their writing to develop.

Early in the year, we begin with pictures. Later on, we begin adding labels of initial sounds to the pictures. Next, we will introduce a short sentence with CVC words. Then, we begin to use sentence stems where students must think of one word on their own but can use a word list. Eventually, we take away the word lists and students are sound spelling. During the year, I may need to pull a group of 5-6 students who all work with me on the same sentence. At the end of the year, I only work with 1 or 2 students who still have trouble completing a sentence without support to sound out words. All other students are writing independently, sound spelling words or using the word wall.

I hope this was useful for you as you think about how you teach Writer's Workshop. Below are some narrative writing resources I've created and used. Let me know if you have any questions!

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Valentine's Day in Kindergarten

Do you celebrate Valentine's Day? I don't personally, but that's only after we were sitting outside of a restaurant in freezing cold weather waiting two hours to eat dinner one Valentine's Day night. We looked at each other and said, "You know, if we come back tomorrow the wait will be 15 minutes." So we went to the store, got a frozen pizza, and went home. Ever since then, we've decided not to dote on each other on February 14th. Any other day will do!

....BUT since I'm a teacher, I still get doted on on February 14th! Kindergartners are just the sweetest, but on Valentine's Day it's even more apparent. I'm sure we've all enjoyed a few special V-Days in the classroom complete with those heart-shaped boxes of chocolate and hand-picked flowers from the walk to school. So, I guess as long as I'm in the classroom I'll still get to enjoy those classic Valentine's treats!

So how do we actually celebrate Valentine's Day in the classroom? It's fairly simple. There is not a party, no cupcakes, and definitely no treat bags full of candy! We talk about the reason WHY people may celebrate the holiday, have a discussion about showing each other appreciation and love, and then we actually do hand out Valentine's cards. Because you can't be a kid and not hand out V-Day cards. It's a tradition I can't part with!

I like to plan my activities on Valentine's Day to still be standards-based and academic while still being fun and thematic. We read Happy Valentine's Day, Mouse! by Laura Numeroff. This is a great book for making connections and asking and answering questions about the text. 

After reading, we discuss all the ways that Mouse describes his friends. Since the pattern repeats throughout the book, you can use it to create a sentence stem for your students to respond with. "Mouse loves ____ because ____." Then, my students make their own connection to the book by thinking of someone they love and why they love them. They complete a response and are asked to give it to that person to make them feel special! Click on the picture below:

During phonics/word study time, my students work together in small groups to play A Perfect Match. This onset and rime activity allows students to practice making CVC words, checking their own work, and spelling the words.

You can click on the picture below to check out this fun game that your students will surely love to play! You can also use it as a center game as it can be done individually, in partners, or in a small group!

At the end of the day, my students all gather round on the rug with their V-Day card holders (we sometimes decorate brown paper bags, and sometimes we have students decorate bags at home) and take turns passing out their cards. When they are done, I pass out my Valentines! Although I typically don't allow unhealthy foods in class (district policy, not mine!), I look the other way on V-Day when I give these Valentines. You can get the label and instructions by clicking HERE!

Graham cracker halves, heart-shaped marshmallows, and a small Hershey's bar! That's it!
I hope you all have a wonderful, loving, sweet Valentine's Day with your little sweethearts!

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An Intentional Daily Schedule: Part 5 - Reader's Workshop

Does anyone else experience that magical transformation that their students seem to make every year during winter break? The one that shows up when they return during January and all of a sudden they can read entire books and write sentences and speak in front of their peers and explain their math problem solving? There's something magic going on during those two weeks off...sleep, maybe?

Let's jump into talking about our kindergarten day again. We have already gone through Play Centers, Morning Meeting, Math, and Word Study. You can click on those to read more! The reason I have been explaining each part of our kindergarten day is because I have set the focus of being intentional this year. I want to make sure that I am making the most out of my short day with my students. No more wasted time or rushed lessons! It has been so fun breaking down our kindergarten day for you because it has allowed me to reflect and fine tune it for my students. After 6 years of teaching kindergarten, I finally feel like I've found something that works, and works well!

Today I want to talk about something that is brand new for me this year: Reader's Workshop! I was fortunate enough to be selected last summer to attend an almost week-long institute with The Teacher's College from Columbia Reading and Writing Workshop. Even though it was just four days long, I learned SO MUCH. If you've been trained by these folks, you know what I'm talking about. SO much information. SO many tools and strategies. SO much to try!

Also SUPER overwhelming at first! I'll be honest, I was very skeptical that I could launch the workshop model right in the beginning of school. My students could barely look through a book, how could I expect them to be productive with a bag of books for 10-12 minutes at a time?? How will I teach my thematic units? What will happen to center time???

Well, after half of a school year, I think my teammate and I have figured it out. We really analyzed our daily schedule and wanted to make sure we fit in the components of Balanced Literacy:

We typically do shared and interactive writing during Morning Meeting with our morning message.
We follow the typical structure of reader's workshop in kindergarten. It took a while to work into the times that we wanted each component to last, though. In the beginning of the year for the first 6 weeks or so, our minilessons lasted about 5 minutes. Independent reading started at 3 minutes and we worked our way up. I love using these online timers to time the students as they read. Every day we'd see if we could make our goal. If we didn't (because students started playing or getting off task), I would stop the timer and write how long we lasted on the board. The next day, the kids would make it their goal to beat their previous time. Eventually we got up to 10 minutes, but it took a while (and that's ok)! Partner reading started at 2 minutes and was very basic: "Here is my favorite page. I like it because ___." Here is what the structure typically looks like:

There are days when we do not last this long! A 15 minute minilesson may be too long some days and the kids may not be able to sustain 15 minutes of independent reading. So we stop! Trying to force something that isn't working will not be productive for your instruction or your students' learning. I'll break down the different parts of our workshop:

Our minilesson for the day will depend on the unit we are working on in our Reader's Workshop books. The minilesson focuses on a skill that you want to model for the students, discuss, and then see them try during their independent reading time. Our minilessons usually follow this structure:
  • Real-life connection
  • Teaching point
  • Modeling
  • Group discussion
I usually use some sort of prop or attention grabber to really get the kids focused in on the learning. During the "Super Readers" unit, I wore a mask and cape during the minilesson because, "A regular teacher can't teach super readers, it takes a super teacher!"

Also wearing my wizard hat, something I wear when I don't want students interrupting my guided reading instruction!

Time to set a timer and get those readers off to use their newly-learned strategies! At first, I would set out book bins on the tables and let the students take books from there. Eventually, I began passing out decodable readers. Now, my students have worked their way into book bags. They have 5 books in their bags: 3 decodable readers and 2 storybooks.

My students also have some sight word mini books or foldables inside their bags for extra fluency practice. You can check out some sight word foldables HERE!

Independent reading time can be very successful IF you model, model, model the strategy you want your readers to be using! You must be very deliberate and clear in your teaching point. You can stop during independent reading time and do a group reminder, "Remember to use picture power! Ask yourself what the pictures are saying!" This can reset some off-task behavior and refocus your readers. While the kids are reading, I pull a small group for guided reading.

While there are MANY guided reading programs out there, I feel like it is up to you to find one (or a few mixed together!) that work for your teaching style and students. Guided reading could also be it's own blog post, so I won't go into too much detail. I will say that I have 6 groups with 3-4 students in each group. I keep my groups small so that I can really reach and teach. I love using Jen Jones's guided reading outline no matter what group or what books I'm working with! CLICK HERE to check out her Guided Reading PD Series that she does on Facebook. It is wonderful!

I pair my students up strategically based on their reading abilities. I want to make sure I put readers together who can benefit from each other's book choice, strategy use, and skill level. I may also pull partner groups to read with me during this time just to extend the minilesson. Here are some students doing partner reading where they are actually READING their books to each other! They love "see-saw reading" and will never let me skip partner reading time.

I always make sure I'm looking for students who are using the strategy/strategies from our minilesson during their independent and partner reading times. Those students get to come up to the front of the room with a book from their book bag. Even though this part of our workshop sometimes gets squeezed out due to time, it is something that is so important. Getting to hear their peers model a strategy is very motivating.

So far, we've been utilizing our "whole group reading" time that I've been accustomed to as our workshop time. I felt like there was no place anymore for our study of different science and social studies topics that I would always incorporate into our book choice for reading time. Now, we choose books for read aloud based on different science/social studies topics. For example, the first two weeks of January were focused on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. During the first week we read the National Geographic bio called Martin Luther King, Jr. and the second week we read Martin's Big Words. This allowed me to teach my students about Dr. King without sacrificing the minilessons in our Reader's Workshop units. This week we are reading about solids, liquids, and gases during our read aloud time.

I hope this post gave you a general overview of how Reader's Workshop can work in a kindergarten classroom! Let me know if you have any questions!

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An Intentional Daily Schedule: Part 4 - Word Study

It has been a chilly, rainy first week back after winter break in SoCal! My students and I spent the majority of the week together inside the four walls of our classroom. Good thing I love them so much! :) I'm always curious how they will return from break. Sometimes they need a little time to re-adjust to the academics, and sometimes they jump right back into the learning. This time, my students were CRAVING the learning! We did counting collections, word problems, independent and partner reading, how-to writing, and a new word study sort!

Just as a reminder, this is what our kindergarten day looks like. I've blogged in this series so far about our Play Centers, Morning Meeting, and Math times. My students were so excited to get back into our routines after break that I barely had to do any reteaching. I still did some, though, because all kids (and teachers) need a refresher! Let's focus today on our Phonics/Word Study time, which I'll refer to mostly as just Word Study.

I've decided to stop calling this time of day "Phonics" for a reason. It's what the card said on my daily schedule so that's what the students and I have always called it! I knew that I would be teaching phonics-based skills during this time, so it made sense to me. But if anyone would come into my classroom and ask a student, "What is phonics?", I really don't think they'd be able to answer that question...and students should ALWAYS be aware of what they're learning and why!

So now we refer to this time of day as Word Study, because that's what we're doing! We are studying words. Parts of words like the beginning, middle, and ending sounds, digraphs (I actually DO use that word with my students!), vowel partners, or blends. We also study word families, rhyming words, sight words, snap words, or vocabulary words. So now if anyone were to ask one of my students, "What is word study?", I hope they would be able to explain that it means we are learning about words!

Let's talk about some of the main components of word study. There are things that I almost always include during this time of our day, and there are things that I add in or change from time to time. Let's break it down:

I've written about how we use Words Their Way in our classroom in this blog post, head there to read about it in detail! A simple explanation is that my students work on a particular sort that correlates with their skill level during a 4-day rotation. That part of Word Study does not change. We are always working on a sort each week and it always takes four days to complete. What happens once their task with their sort is done is what is flexible during those four days.

All of the pictures above are from each of my four word study groups on the same day. They were all working together to complete their group sort. Afterwards, they partnered up to complete their partner sort, then finished word study time with their individual speed sorts. To read more, click HERE!

When I first adopted a workshop model classroom, I had to get rid of my quintessential "centers" time because it simply did not fit anywhere anymore! I didn't like it, but I wanted to really give workshop a shot. However, I've finally figured out a way to get centers, or what we call "word study tubs," back into our classroom!

If you've read the Words Their Way Our Way blog post, you've seen our schedule of tasks when working with a sort. I've learned that on a couple of those days, students tend to finish rather quickly with about 15-20 minutes left. This was when I wanted to try to establish some word study tubs using some of those awesome centers I had stashed away. So, on the cutting day and the gluing day, my students use the tubs (which are just four ice bucket tubs from Walmart!).

I display our word study tubs chart on the board while they are working on their sorts (I would show a picture of it, but it includes all of my students' names, sorry!). As soon as they finish cutting or gluing, they put their WTW books away and check the chart. It shows which tub each student can work in for the day. I try to keep tasks similar so I don't have to spend much time explaining them. I also keep the same tasks in rotation for two weeks since we only go to them twice a week. I typically have these four types of word study tubs:
  • Word family tub (correlating with the word families they are currently working on in WTW)
  • CVC tub
  • Sight Word tub
  • Sentence-Making tub
CVC Tub: This is a Center by the Minute resource from Babbling Abby that we love!

Sentence Making Tub: This is a very old resource I used during my first year of teaching. Such a great way to practice sight words, too!

Word Family Tub: Reviewing the word families we worked on the week before break! This is a great resource from Lavinia Pop!

Instead of doing a Sight Word Tub this week, we did another CVC/Word Family activity. This is an awesome resource from A Printable Princess!
We all have favorite center activities or TpT authors who we always go to, so include what you like to use! And make it fit what your students need to work on. 

On day 4 of our sort, the writing day, some of my students finish very early and others take the entire time to write. I have an extension activity for those early finishers called Making Sentences. Each extension correlates with a sort that we are working on and may also review past sorts. I love how my students laugh when I read the sentence all mixed up. I also tell them what the sentence should say ONCE, and then they go off and attempt to make the sentence on their own.

This is from one of my students who typically struggles to write any kind of sentence on his own. I was so proud of him!
One of the reasons that I love this extension is that it shows me not only that students can make sense of words but also understand their meaning. The illustration they draw to match the sentence shows me that they are able to use the words on their own. If you'd like to try this extension, you can grab it by clicking HERE.

On day 5, which typically falls on a Friday, we do not start a new sort in our Words Their Way book. Rather, I use this day for sight word instruction. In my six years of teaching kindergarten, I have not come across anything more ambiguous than the list of sight words we should be teaching children. So. Confusing. Our literacy coach tried to explain to us, though, that the lists are so similar that it really doesn't matter about the particular "list." What matters is that whatever words you teach, children should be able to immediately use them in context and see them in print. So, what teachers should probably do is use the sight words that are in their decodable readers they use for instruction. We use the Scholastic decodables that look like this: we have taken the sight words from these books and made our "list." There were a few surprise words that I wasn't expecting to teach my K's, or maybe not in the order that I'd taught them before, but it's basically just another iteration of the "list" we've all used in the past. So all that to say: Teach the sight words that the kids will SEE and READ on a daily basis!

I use the workshop model method of teaching sight words and I LOVE IT. They are actually called "snap words" but basically mean the same thing (words we can read in a snap!). The way I teach sight words is simple, quick, and effective. I've posted a video on Instagram of my sight word instruction, but it basically follows this model:
  • Read a sight word poem/watch a Youtube video that uses the focus sight word
  • Follow the "Learning New Snap Words" chart on our interactive whiteboard
  • Reread the poem/re-watch the Youtube video
That's it! Told you it was quick! I can typically instruct in 15 minutes but might go longer if I'm teaching more than one sight word that day. When we are finished we just jump into Reader's Workshop a little early. No harm in that! If you're curious what the "Learning New Snap Words" chart is, it's a messy chart in Smart Notebook software that I wrote/drew one day with my students that explains the order in which you learn a snap word, which is:
  1. Look
  2. Read
  3. Cheer
  4. Cover
  5. Write
I plan on making another video while I'm teaching this, so be on the lookout on my Instagram for that! It's much easier to show than to explain :) In the meantime, click HERE to watch my old video (it's my most-viewed video on my account)!

Well there you have it, a LONG (sorry!) but hopefully informative explanation of Word Study in our classroom. Do you have a Word Study/Phonics time in your room? I'd love to know! Check back soon for Part 5: Reader's Workshop!

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