10 Things You Need to Run Fabulous Reading Groups

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Reading Groups! My whole day is made up of reading groups. I teach K-5 reading intervention, so my entire day, week and year is made up of small literacy groups. I love teaching reading, so for me, it is a good thing. However, I know that setting up, managing and planning for guided reading groups can be overwhelming. My friend Jenn, from Reading in Room 11, shared Ten Things that will Revolutionize your Reading Groups, and I'm here today to share 10 more things that will help you on your way to having fabulous reading groups. 

Color-Coded Group Materials
For me, this is the crux of my small group organization. I see at least 8 small groups per day, and having student supplies color coded is a must. My school uses the Fountas and Pinnell Level Literacy Intervention (LLI) system, and each kit (grade level) is color coded. So, my supplies for each grade level group matches the color of the grade level kit. This helps me as I am picking out books for each group, so I do not have to think too hard about what color LLI boxes I need to pull from. In each bin, I keep the books, and activities I need for that week. I also keep the students' color coded folders. These folders hold student progress monitoring assessments, sight word books, student reference charts (Fundations alphabet chart, RACE response and close reading mini anchor charts) and anything else my students may need to reference on a regular basis.
I took my color coding a step farther this year, by color coding our benchmark assessment materials. We copied student booklets and teacher recording sheets to follow the color coded system. This way, as we look back into student folders, we can clearly see what work has been saved from each grade. It may be a little too Type A for some, but I think anything you can do to make your job a little easier is worth doing.

Magnetic BINGO chips and wand
I use these materials every day, and I have found so many uses for them. I initially purchased them for practice isolating and segmenting sounds in words, and blending sounds together. For example, I may provide a word like 'brush' and ask my students to identify where they hear the 'sh' sound. They would then use one of their Magnetic BINGO chips to indicate initial, medial or final sound placement on Elkonin boxes. I may also provide the students with a picture of a word like 'crib' and they would push the chips into Elkonin boxes to represent the initial, medial and final sounds, before using the Magnetic BINGO wand to swipe all the chips and blend the word together.
But like I said, I use these tools all the time. I have used them to count syllables, represent points awarded in a game and to play actual BINGO. I have also recently started using them as a behavior management tool for one of my students. He has the "blurts" and I now give him three blurt chips (we started at 5), and when he blurts, I take a chip. When he has exhausted all of his chips, he misses out on earning a point on his classroom daily sheet.

Phoneme-Grapheme Flashcards and Blending Binder
Incorporating spiral review into lessons was not a strength of mine. That is...until I introduced Orton-Gillingham strategies into my small groups. A big part of Orton-Gillingham is building upon the skills the students have already learned to help them be successful with the new skills. The Phoneme-Grapheme flashcards and Blending Binder make this "building block" like instruction not only possible, but very easy. These cards help you execute visual, tactile and blending drills into your daily whole group, or small group lessons. By showing the students a card, they can orally produce the sound the letter(s) make, or you can produce a sound and have the student produce the letter(s) in tubs of rice or sand. Additionally, for blending practice you can put these cards in a three ring binder (initial sounds in the first ring, vowel sounds in the middle ring, and final sounds in the third ring) and have the students practice applying their skills to blending words and syllables.

Coffee stirrers
Yes, I said coffee stirrers! Such a simple item has become one of the top 10 things I use during my reading groups. I was teaching my student how to decode a word using syllables, and my students were understandably using a bit of trial and error to figure out where to divide their word. I was trying to have them use their finger to to cover part of the word, but that wasn't working because they still needed to see the rest of the word. I needed something skinny that would allow them to manipulate the parts of the word, and still see the part that was currently hiding under their finger. So, I quickly ran to the cafeteria and asked for some coffee stirrers. Now my students can try different syllable patterns, and practice decoding easily.

The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo
This book should be gifted to teachers the way The First Days of School (Harry Wong) currently is! The Reading Strategies Book, is a must for all elementary teachers. This professional development text helps support step-by step strategies for skilled reading. It is not only the what to teach, but the HOW TO teach it. The book is organized into chapters focusing on engagement, early reading, comprehension (fiction and non-fiction) fluency, vocabulary and writing in response to reading. The strategies are research based and reading levels suggesting the appropriateness of the strategies are listed. Serravallo provides a guide for prompting students to use the strategies, as well as a visual that could easily be recreated. I have re-created many of her visual prompts into mini anchor charts. I use the large index cards, and introduce the visual image to help my students to understand the strategy a little more. They are great to pull out for a non-verbal reminder to prompt my students to use the strategy.

Phonics Notebooks
I was looking for a hands-on way to practice phonics skills, that would compliment my Orton-Gillingham routines. I really liked the idea of an interactive notebook, but with only seeing my groups for 30 minutes each day, I knew I could not commit time to the cutting and assembly required for many of the interactive notebooks. So I made my own. These phonics notebooks provide picture cues to help students recall the sound each focus skill makes, encoding (spelling) practice, multisyllabic word decoding practice, picture sort, sentence writing and word building using a spinner game. I started using these this year in my classroom, and my students are loving them because they are predicable (each skill has the same/similar components) and they feel successful. My colleagues are loving them because there are opportunities to practice reading phonetically regular words, encoding, decoding, phonemic awareness, and writing.

Sticky Notes
I feel like sticky notes are a must for every aspect of the day. There are just so many uses. I use sticky notes to write observations regarding my students' progress, or general notes about a teaching point I want to make at a late date. I add these notes into my planbook, or the communication log I share with classroom teachers and other providers. I write on the fly questions, like "Has ______ had an OT eval? Noticing _______" and later follow up with an email to the OT and school psychologist. I also write little "love notes" to my students praising them for something great they did or as a little take away about a strategy they should keep using in the classroom.

Two of my favorite apps to use in my small reading groups are Class Dojo and Epic! Books for Kids.
Class Dojo has been a great way to promote positive reading behaviors like persistence and stamina, as well as communicate easily with families. The format of Class Dojo is really inviting, as it mimics familiar social media, and I have found that my parents are more likely to communicate through the app, than by email. My students also like receiving an occasional surprise reading challenge, that (if they choose to accept) helps them to earn a reward.
Epic! Books for Kids is a great app that can provide unlimited access to books for your readers. My students have been greatly motivated for the opportunity to read on the iPads. They enjoy the different format, and Epic! has audiobooks they really enjoy. These audiobooks are great for assessment days because it allows me to create a listening center, which needs almost no teacher support. I have also used these digital books for a guided reading lesson. Many of our students will develop into digital readers, and I thought it was a good idea to start engaging them with digital reading opportunities.
There are many other ways to incorporate technology into your small group lessons, these two apps are just the ones that have had the greatest impact.

Plastic Canvas
This is another tool I didn't know I needed, until I discovered the great effect it had for my students. You can add this plastic canvas to the introduction of sight words, and integrate a multi-sensory approach. For your tactile learners, this method could have an impact on the way they acquire their sight words. You can read more about using this tactile approach in my blog series about sight words. The best part of using this "bumpy board" as my students call it, is that your students will leave your small group with a crayon rubbing of their new sight word that they can use for later practice and review.

Encouraging your students to learn through play is one of the easiest and fun ways for them to meet your learning outcomes. I try to use games as often as possible in my small groups. Jenn has a great game called Students vs Teacher that I use all the time to warm up my students and review skills previously taught.
A big thing that I have learned about games, is to be consistent. Learning a new game takes time. Time that your students are not practicing content. So really, that means less time is being spent on meeting your objectives. To keep consistency, most often, my students play one of four games. These four games keep the novelty fresh, but also allow us to jump right into the game and have more practice. You can grab these games for FREE, and start using them right away with your students.

I hope the tips and tools I have shared will be helpful or inspiring for you. Reading groups can be difficult to establish, manage and plan for, but after some adjusting to figure out what works for you, they can become really fun to teach. If you have other things that are MUST HAVES for your small reading groups, please share them with me. I'm always looking for new and exciting things to share with my students. 

Don't forget to check out other great posts sharing more tips to improve your literacy instruction, from The Reading Crew

The Kid Approved, Most Wanted Books for Christmas

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Is it just me, or as a teacher do you feel obligated to give books as gifts, for EVERY occasion? Yes. OK, I'm glad I'm not alone. Even if you are not a teacher, books are the gift that keeps on giving. By presenting a child with a book, you are helping to share not only a story, but hopefully develop a family experience and memory.

In my family, for Christmas, we have started the tradition of giving something we want, something we need, something to wear, and something to READ. I hope this list of books will help you select a title to share with the little ones in your life. I should add that these books are not just great gifts for the kiddos in your family. They would make great additions to your classroom library. You could have a 12 days of Christmas Book Celebration by adding one new title to your classroom library each day leading up to your Holiday Break.
My students helped me pull this list of Holiday/Winter themed books together. Some of the books are their go to favorites, some were at the top of their wish list from the Scholastic Book Club flyers, and others are books that I just could not deny having a place on this list. 
I'll Love You Forever by Owen Hart
I have a very hard time passing up a book about Polar Bears (it is my school mascot). But, beyond that, this book is perfect for the child who has your heart forever and always. The Polar Bear reassures Cub that no matter what changes throughout the seasons, the love they have for each other will always stay the same. This book is currently in a Scholastic Book Club flyer. (Ages 2-5)

This is a New Release (released November 14)! If this book is anything like the first Hoot and Peep book, it will not disappoint. It is described as a story about sibling owls experiencing the first snowfall. When waiting for the snow to fall, Peep does not have patience like her older brother. However, Hoot knows that the snow is worth waiting for. This would be the perfect book to share with siblings. (Ages 3-5)

Maple and Willow's Christmas Tree by Lori Nichols
Here is another book about siblings! There is also a small collection of Maple and Willow stories, so these books may be great gifts throughout the year. In this story, Maple and Willow set out to find their first REAL Christmas Tree. They are so excited, until it is time to decorate the tree. When Maple gets close to the tree, she has an allergic reaction and the tree has to go outside. In typical sibling fashion, the girls have a falling out. But the story does have a happy ending, so don't worry. This book is currently in a Scholastic Book Club flyer. (Age 3-5)

The Mitten by Jan Brett
The book that needs no introduction! The Mitten is a classic winter tale, and loved by so many. Don't forget to share your favorite stories with the little ones in your life. My son loves this story, and it is one I shared with his pre-school class. Before reading to his class, I made felt board pieces with clipart images and transfer paper. Then I gifted his teacher the felt board pieces and a copy of the book. Boy was she thankful. This book is currently in a Scholastic Book Club flyer. (Age 3-7)

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
As a Caldecott Award winning book, it is no surprise the illustrations in this text are simply stunning. Here is another classic winter tale to share. This is the story of a father and his daughter who go "owling" and together enjoy the simple activity of a special night together. This book is currently in a Scholastic Book Club flyer. (Age 3-7)

The Christmas Wish by Lori Evert
This is the book to get for the child you are trying to restore "the magic" in. I remember being in first grade when "that kid" told me there was no Santa. I was a puddle of mess on the floor when I came home. My mom went through a very elaborate plan to get me to believe again. If only there was this book, it probably would have saved her a lot of time and scheming with my grandparents, aunts and uncles (bless my mother)! In this story, the little Nordic girl, Anja, wishes to be one of Santa's elves. You experience her journey and her encounters with Arctic animals along the way. (Age 3-7)

Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner and Mark Beuhner
These will be the "Frosty the Snowman" for the current generation of young believers. The young boy in the story wonders why his snowmen look droopy, so he imagines a night of fun and excitement for them. The rhyming story is great for the pre-school or young school aged child. The Buehner's have written more Snowmen books that will surely keep your kiddos laughing and enjoying the holiday spirit (Snowmen at Christmas, Snowmen at Play, Snowmen at Work, Snowmen All Year). This book is currently in a Scholastic Book Club flyer. (Age 4-7)

Immi's Gift by Karin Littlewood
This is a sweet story of an Inuit girl, Immi. When Immi goes ice fishing, hoping to catch even just one fish, she finds herself "catching" special treasures day after day. The Arctic animals are amazed with her finds, and come each day to share stories and befriend the young girl. But eventually, Immi's igloo starts to melt and it is time for her to move on. Before going, she drops a special treasure into her fishing hole, hoping that someone on the other end will find it. (Age 4-7)

'Twas Nochebuena by Roseanne Greenfield Thong
A classic Christmas story we are all familiar with... that shares Latino tradition. In this story your reader can follow a family through their night of celebrations. Spanish words are perfectly placed throughout this story, and it makes for a great tale you will want to read again and again. This book is currently in a Scholastic Book Club flyer. (Age 4-7)

Hanukkah Bear by Eric Kimmel
Eric Kimmel, has recreated his famous story of The Hanukkah Guest into a more kid friendly version. Bubba Brayna is known for making the best potato latkes, but she is nearly blind. So it is quite understandable when she mistakes a bear for her rabbi. She tries to take his coat, and attributes the bear's growls as a blessing over the Hanukkah candles. This is a funny story to be enjoyed by all. (Age 4-7)

The Christmas Truck by J.B. Blankenship
I was very excited to come across this book because it shares a beautiful story about what the Holidays are truly all about, selflessness and family. As a family, (Dad, Papa, and their son - yes, there are two dads) sets out to to celebrate their own family tradition, things don't go quite as planned. So, they make a new plan to help out someone they have never met, and save Christmas for them. This book is the perfect blend of a great message and a little humor.  (Age 4-8)

Mooseltoe byMargie Palatini
This is another story that is good for a laugh. Moose wants Christmas to be perfect, but in all of his preparations, he forgets to get a Christmas tree. As a result, he allows his family to decorate him by hanging decorations from his antlers and his moosetache. This book is currently in a Scholastic Book Club flyer. (Age 5-7)

Here is another Caldecott Award winning book, so you know you could buy this book based on the pictures alone. It is also another title written by Eric Kimmel, who seems to really understand the slightly twisted-traditional Hanukkah stories that are perfect for kids. However, that is not all this book has to offer. Each year, holiday-hating goblins come to ruin Hanukkah by breaking dreidels, throwing latkes, and ruining the menorah. But this year, Hershel (a traveler) comes to town and devises a plan to break the spell and save Hanukkah forever. This is a great story that parallels the ancient Hanukkah story, with a warm and humorous twist. (Age 5-8)

Sneezy the Snowman by Maureen Wright
The laughs just keep coming with these great titles. Sneezy is a snowman with a cold. He makes several attempts to warm up, but we all know what happens when snow gets warm... Thankfully he has the help of three children (and two cardinals) who rebuild him and attempt to make him comfortable. (Age 6-8)

Amazing Peace by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou first read this poem at the White House tree lighting ceremony in 2005. In this story, a family comes together with their diverse community to celebrate the promise of peace during the holidays. The illustrations in this book are just beautiful! If you are looking to add this book to your classroom library, you may find that this book is more on the religious side, which I know is OK for some, but not for all. Use your judgement about what is best for your class. (Age 6-10)

I told you I could not resist a book about Polar Bears, and my students beg for any Magic Tree House story. In this story, Jack and Annie are sent to the Arctic to solve the final riddle to become master librarians. They encounter cracking ice, a seal hunter and a polar bear, but will they solve the riddle to make it home? 
AND...if one Magic Tree House story isn't enough, the Fact Tracker companion text is a must. Many of my students love non-fiction and these fact trackers are a great way to motivate them to read. If using them in the classroom, they could serve as kid friendly research texts. (Ages 7-10)

Magic Tree House: Merlin Missions by Mary Pope Osborne
As the Magic Tree House series celebrates 25 years, they have started to reorganize the series. The "new" Merlin Mission texts are geared for more experienced readers. In this first book, Christmas in Camelot, Jack and Annie receive an invitation to spend Christmas Eve in Camelot. However, their invitation turns into an adventure to save Camelot. 
AND...there are a few other Merlin Mission titles for your older readers that would look great wrapped up with a bow this holiday season. Some of these books have a companion Fact Tracker too, so your non-fiction fanatic can enjoy learning more details about Jack and Annie's adventures. (Age 7-10)

As the children in our life get older, it can be hard to motivate them to read. Many of my boys had this book at the top of top of their wish list. So, if you have a reluctant reader, or an older elementary boy you are shopping for, this book is sure to keep the stressful holidays fun and full of laughter! This book is currently in a Scholastic Book Club flyer. (Age 7-11)

Ellray Jakes is a series about an African-American boy struggling to fit in. In this holiday book, Ellray is faced with the struggle of being proud of his community and being the center of attention. He is challenged with a few dares from his friend, but then attention is turned on him for all the wrong reasons. This book is currently in a Scholastic Book Club flyer. (Age 8-10)

Weird but True Christmas by National Geographic Kids
Here is another title for an older more reluctant reader, or for the fact finder in your life. Even Christmas has some weird but true "secrets" that could make family time around the fireplace a little more interesting. This book is on the small side,  so it could even make a great stocking stuffer. This book is currently in a Scholastic Book Club flyer. (Age 8-12)
Compiling this list, with the help of my students, has been a lot of fun! In the process, I have added many new titles to my classroom and home libraries. I have also gotten some early Christmas shopping done for my niece and some of our close friends' children. I hope they like the stories as much as I do, but more importantly, I hope they enjoy reading together. If you have more holiday titles that you love, please share them in the comments!
Before you go, here is a FREE printable holiday book wish list. You can have your students fill out the wish list while looking at the Book Club flyers. Or, your children could write in their most wished for titles while searching online or at your local book store. Either way it will help to encourage the gift of reading this holiday season.
Happy Holidays!

How You Can Motivate 21st Century Readers with Technology

Find out how using technology in the classroom to can help promote 21st Century Skills with your readers.

"You are not old until you feel old," is something I would say to my grandparents when I was a little girl. And gosh darn it, I certainly do not feel old, until my students start showing me up with their awareness and fluency of technology! The world our students are growing up in, is NOT the world we grew up in, no matter how old you are. But, it's our responsibility to equip our students with the skills that will be crucial to their success later in life. No pressure! ๐Ÿ˜…๐Ÿ˜‰
Before I share my four tips with you, I think it is important to share a little about "What are 21st Century Skills?" I feel like the phrase '21st Century Skills' is thrown around a lot, and has gotten a 'bad rep' as just a buzz word. But, I took some time in my third year of teaching (once I finally felt like I could get my head above water) to really try to better understand what everyone was talking about when they said "21st Century Skills". The website linked above was a big help, and I encourage you to check it out. In quick summary, they are the skills that will allow our students to be technologically savvy, strong communicators and superior critical thinkers.

Flip the format

Like I said, our students are growing up (and will work) in a different world than ours. They have a wealth of technology literally at their finger tips, and therefore unmatched access to information. We can help support them by introducing a variety of text formats. Playaways, Podcasts, eBooks, and even self-created audiobooks can help our students become more aware of the ever growing and changing technological world of theirs. 

Sharing our love of literacy is an imperative first step, but we have to continue exposing our students to the different technology tools that can also support them in their reading journey. Playaways, audiobooks, and text to speech tools, can help bring equity to our classrooms by allowing struggling readers to access information that would have caused them much frustration. Podcasts are a great way to expose our students to different viewpoints, and can help to develop students' critical thinking. One of my favorite lessons ever, was when I pushed into a fourth grade classroom. The students were listening to a podcast about a colonial trade (presented by tradesmen of Colonial Williamsburg), and taking notes for research. My struggling readers were never so engaged and actively participating, because all of a sudden, they were on an equal playing field.

Promote Creativity and Innovation

Following my students' extensive research of their colonial trade, it was time for them to 'show what they know'. They were given the chance to create a cartoon, with self-recorded voice overs. They included facts about their trade, and shared opinions about why their trade was important to colonial villages.

Here is a list of websites and apps that your students could use to make videos to 'show what they know'. My students used Toontastic, which is sadly no longer available. However, Animoto is another student friendly site that I have used in the past, which can accomplish the same outcome of creating animation.

You can further promote creativity and innovation by:

      Find out how using technology in the classroom to can help promote 21st Century Skills with your readers.
    1. giving up control to the students. By allowing students to spread their wings and take charge in their learning they will learn to develop their curiosity. 
    2. encouraging discussions. Students can learn best from each other, and the conversations will help them to begin developing the life long skills needed to work on a professional team. You can support your students in this process by providing sentence frames for accountable talk.
    3. providing time for reflection. When students are given time to critically reflect on the work they have done, they are able to consider things they would have done differently and open up the doors to more growth. 
    4. celebrating wins. Students deserve to know their work and effort is appreciated and recognized. Taking time to celebrate wins, even the small ones, will give your students the motivation and encouragement to keep taking creative risks. 

Collaboration is Key

A little side note: my husband works at a high level technological research university, and he often comments that his students struggle to work in teams. It has been his job, to teach leadership courses that would help these future engineers to develop stronger collaborative skills, and support them in working with a team. 

So, how can we help our students develop the skills they will need later in life? Teach them how to work collaboratively with their peers! We can incorporate daily opportunities for our students to work together. Even our youngest kiddos, can start by working together to complete a puzzle. We can progress them further by asking them to put the letters of the alphabet in order. We can ask our 2nd graders to become 'experts' on a topic, and then work with a partner to share facts that can later be used to complete an activity.  Our 4th/5th graders could complete a similar activity but on a grander scale with the whole class (World Cafe protocol). By requiring our students to rely on another, they can rise to the occasion to be a teacher, and a listener.
You can check out more collaborative protocols to use in your classroom here.

Taste of the "Real World"

I may be in the minority as I confess, I still hand write my shopping lists each week. There is just something about having a growing list on the fridge that everyone can add to (or forget to add to) each week as we run out of things. It's my system, and I like it. However, other than maybe a thank you note, when was the last time you hand wrote something of substantial meaning?

So, let's give our students more of what they will experience in the "real world" - TECHNOLOGY to help them complete a task. Most of our students are pretty savvy with playing games, drawing pictures, even my three year old can capture a pretty good picture. But these activities are not helping them to communicate with others to share their message or point of view.

You can incorporate technology and encourage teamwork with the use of a collaborative "whiteboard" like Padlet or Boardthing. With my littles, I have them work together to see how many phonics based words they can find during their independent reading. For my upper grade students, I propose a question, they can respond on the whiteboard, and their peers can read their response, before leaving feedback.

Is it just me, or does the world not function without Google Apps? I remember when my school finally converted to Google Accounts, I thought the skies opened up and rained Skittles (like only red ones too)! We can begin introducing our students to GAFE (Google Apps for Education) right away. My littles use Google Apps to complete word work activities (GOODBYE LETTER MAGNETS), my older students and I collaborate on their writing, and all of my students use graphic organizers on their devices to illustrate what they learned from a text.
Find out how using technology in the classroom to can help promote 21st Century Skills with your readers.
By introducing these different forms of technology, we can make great steps to expose our students to the types of experiences they will have in the future. 

Find out how using technology in the classroom to can help promote 21st Century Skills with your readers.

I am by no means a 21st Century classroom expert, but I am trying and learning as I go. Each year, I challenge myself to get better at promoting innovation, creativity and collaboration with my students. Please feel free to share ways you have encouraged 21st Century skills in your classroom. I would love you to share your successes with us, so we can all be motivated to try something new or different this year!

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