Teachers, This Could Be YOUR Year

This could be your year. The one you’ve been waiting for.

It could be the first year you have your own classroom. You’ve studied, observed, interviewed, waited, despaired with disappointment, interviewed some more, waited some more, worked another job that you didn’t plan for, interviewed some more, and now…this is YOUR year. You have been given the keys to your very own classroom. And it’s full of…stuff, and anticipation, and a little fear–okay a lot of fear, and things to do. And it’s overwhelming and wonderful at the same time. There will be many times this year that the misgivings, the stress, the paperwork, the management hiccups, and yes–maybe even your coworkers–it will all threaten to overcome the wonderful feeling of having your own classroom, of finally achieving your dream. When those times come, take a step back, get a deep breath (and maybe a candy bar…and a Coke), and remind yourself of your dream. This is what you’ve waited for! Find a mentor who will build you up and who will praise the teaching profession instead of tearing it down. Surround yourself with those teachers who will help you and remind you of why you are here. This is YOUR year!

It could be your year for retirement. You’ve gone back and forth, wondering if the time was quite right, and now you know without a doubt. This is YOUR year for retirement, and your reward is waiting for you. One of my dearest friends is retiring this year. I know without a doubt that she will use every minute of the day to continue teaching and making an impact on the lives of her students. While she is looking forward to resting with her family, she is not “done”. She still plans and anticipates and designs wonderful opportunities for the students who are blessed enough to have her. If you are planning on retiring, this will be a year of “lasts” for you. Your last time to greet new students and parents, your last time to do conferences, report cards, observations, and more. This can also be a year of “lasting”, too. Your year to leave lasting impressions, words of wisdom, and influence. Yes, even if you are retiring, this is YOUR year. Enjoy it!

Teachers, this could be the year that you go from being an average, good teacher to being a GREAT teacher– a leader in your grade level and in your school. This could be the year that others begin to migrate towards YOU, because they know that no question is too silly or lame for you to answer. This could be the year that parents begin to notice your kindness and caring for their children, because you put forth a little more effort and seem to go the extra mile for “your” kids. This could be the year that you step up and lead a collaboration, or a professional development, and others realize that you are serious about your profession. There will be days that your innovation and inspiration are threatened by the programs, the mandates, and the paperwork. But hold fast, and do whatever you can to keep yourself off of the road to complacency and complaining. Instead, focus on your kids. Know your students, study them, and plan according to their needs. Then…work your plan! 🙂 Make this YOUR year to rise to the top. You’ve got this!

And friend, this could be your year to have “The Class”. You know, the year where you go home at night and cry? And eat all the foods? And gain all the pounds? And break out in all the zits from stress? Yeah…it could be coming for you. This could be the year when all the stuff that has worked before Just. Doesn’t. Work. Anymore. At. All. I’ve been there. More than once. I’ve second-guessed myself at every turn. I’ve dreaded the field trips and Christmas parties and even just the regular days because of “The Class”. Yes, I have. There will be days that you will go and cry in the bathroom while your friend taps on the door and offers you tissues. And M&Ms. There will be days that you have really hard discussions with parents about behavior and emotions. There will be days that you beg your principal to “just come and see” what it’s like in your room, and then the principal finally comes and the kids are perfect. But y’all– there will be days when  you look back and realize the impact you have had on “The Class” and some of those stinkers will look you in the eyes and tell you they love you and you will realize that this very hard year made you SUCH a better teacher. Yeah, this could be YOUR year. I’ll get the chocolate for you and push it through the crack in the door for you, okay?

Maybe you are feeling the burn-out that attacks so many educators, even now right before the start of school. Maybe you’re thinking I’m none of these things. I’m not new. I’m not retiring. I’m not great. And I’d sure better not get “that” class again. I’m due a nice, quiet, mundane year, right? It’s not going to be my year for anything.

Well, I can tell you right now that you will have reasons for this to be your year. On the first day of school, there will be 18-35 reasons staring back at you, waiting to see how you will impact their very lives.

This could be your year to be the person that teaches the first grade boy that he CAN read and learn.

This could be your year to be the light at the end of the tunnel that keeps the middle school girl from taking her own life.

This could be your year to be the roadmap that shows the high school boy a way out of the destructive cycle he is stuck in.

This could be your year to give her the first compliment she’s ever gotten.

This could be your year to give him the first pair of new shoes he’s ever received.

Teachers, this is your year. You don’t see how? The circumstances don’t seem to add up? Then, MAKE it your year. You have the power to change your outlook and your outcomes. You have the power to change lives!

This is it. This is YOUR year. Let’s do this.

Posted in Teaching, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

What Does Math Look Like in a Kindergarten Classroom?

Ask ten teachers, you’ll get ten different answers. No teacher is the same, so no teacher’s routine will look the same. Anytime I do a math workshop or professional development session on math, the question that I get asked the most is “What does a math lesson look like in your room?”

The first thing that comes to my mind is routine. Math instruction in my room is a routine that we follow daily. Parts of the routine look different from day to day, depending on the standard I am teaching. And, yes, I follow the Common Core Curriculum when teaching students about math concepts in my classroom. I’ve heard lots of views on  Common Core, and I urge you to look up the actual standards and decide for yourself what to believe about them before forming a firm opinion. Common Core Standards are not a program; they are a set of high-quality standards that each child should master before moving on to the next grade level. How a teacher chooses to teach the standards is not necessarily a representation of the standards themselves. Lots of factors come into play when I am deciding how to best present the standards I want my students to master…time allotment, student behaviors, the program I may or may not be using to guide my instruction, and the current data of student progress are major factors that decide how I present math standards and instruction in my daily routine. So even though my content may vary, my routine stays mostly the same. This helps with behavior-both the students’ and mine! 🙂

The second thing that comes to mind is action. Math instruction in my room doesn’t look like stillness and quietness. It involves lots of talking and doing. This is why math stations are an important part of my routine.

The third thing that comes to mind is intervention. I meet daily in small groups with each child in my room. I love small groups because I can work with a student on his or her level more intensively than I could in a whole group setting.

So, here it is! This is what a typical day of math instruction looks like in Mrs. Givens’s room (and add in a few nutty comments and occasional fire drills, tornado scares, and restroom emergencies…hey, it’s kindergarten!).

  1. Read math literature. I use books that deal with whatever standard I’m teaching. I may read a book several times that week to point out the skill we are studying.
  2. Count to 100. We count by ones, tens, fives, and twos depending on how much time we have that day. We may count backwards from a certain number. We may start at a random number and count on from that number. At beginning of year I count to 25 or 50 depending on the level of the class and move up as they are ready.
  3. Count around the circle to find out how many kids are here today. We then fix our “attendance towers” to show how many students are here and how many are absent. We talk about which tower is longer, shorter, has more, fewer, etc.
  4. Weekly Data. Each week, we work with a question on the board to display and interpret data. We have a different task for the data each day.
    1. Make it Monday- we  make the data. I have the question ready and students write their name under the proper response as they come in and unpack. During our math routine time, we count how many names are in each category and record a numeral in each category.
    2. Tally it Tuesday- we add tally marks on the data.
    3. Write it Wednesday- we write sentences to tell about the data.
    4. Thursday Change-up– we show the data in a different way; a Venn Diagram, bar graph, etc.
    5. Figure it Friday– we make an addition sentence out of the data. At the end of the year we do a subtraction sentence, too, if it’s appropriate.
  5. Counting Basket. Our “helping hand” for the day brings us the class counting basket and shows how he/she counted the items in the basket. The kids have already  looked in the basket, then counted out the same number of items in their own personal basket. We talk together about how to record in our journal what is in our counting basket. At the beginning of the year, a child may only draw how many items are in the basket. We move on to using numerals, number words, tally marks, and ten frames to show a certain number of things. At the midpoint of the year, we begin to form addition and subtraction sentences to show the number of items in our basket.
    Math stations involve a large variety of hands-on manipulatives.

    Math stations involve a large variety of hands-on manipulatives.

  6. New Concept Discussion and then Small Group Instruction/Stations. Sometimes I discuss the new concept whole group and sometimes small group. In years that I have lots of children with exceptionalities, I usually like to do small group lessons more than whole group depending on the needs of my students. Stations can be done in so many ways in kindergarten! My teaching friends do all sorts of different stations set-ups. I am doing partner stations this year, where students work with one partner and two  partner sets come to me for small group instruction.
    A student has constructed this addition sentence to explain her arrangement of tiles.

    A student has constructed this addition sentence to explain her arrangement of tiles during partner stations.

  7.  Concept Discussion after stations if needed. Depends on how stations went, I like to come back to whole group for a discussion of concepts learned at stations. This discussion is usually student-led, unless Mrs. Givens needs to “talk shop” about a certain behavior or trend that needs to stop! 🙂


At the Teacher Station

During Math stations, I make myself a station to do intervention and/or enrichment. Each month, I print off a monthly math journal from KetchensKindergarten.com. We usually start off small groups with a page or two from the journal. The journals cover common core standards and are very open-ended for discussions.

After journals, we play a game that goes with the new concept we are working on. Since I have same-ability groups, I can make the game math the abilities of the kids in my group for intervention or enrichment.

Sometimes we may end the small group by doing a quick paper for my records or for sending home to parents.

I understand that I am one kindergarten teacher of many. My routine does not have to be your routine. This is what works for me at this time, this is what makes me feel like an accomplished teacher, and this is what grows my students.

What kind of things are in your math instruction routines? Let me hear from you!

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If You Give A Teacher A Class List

If you give a teacher her class list, she’s going to want some mailing addresses to go with it. So she’ll dig through mounds of registration forms to find “her kids” and write each address. Seeing all those addresses will remind her that she needs envelopes. She’ll go to the store to get some. At the store, she’ll see the discounts on sunscreen and flip flops and she’ll realize summer is ending. She’ll get sad. So she’ll go over to the shoes to cheer herself up. The cute, strappy heels will give her hope, but then she’ll think about standing in them all day at school. She’ll choose Dr. Scholl’s  instead. On her way to pay for the envelopes and shoes, she’ll pass the Back-to-School quagmire. She’ll get sucked in by the fifty-cent Post-It notes. The Post-It notes will remind her that she wanted to buy 40 of the seventeen-cent notebooks. Just in case. When she’s loading the notebooks into her buggy, she sees the pencils, crayons, pouches, pens, highlighters, and sharpies. She can’t help herself, and in they go. The last thing to go in the buggy is a book of stickers, which makes her think of stamps. When she thinks of stamps, she’ll remember those envelopes and the mailing addresses she needs for “her kids”. And chances are, if you give her mailing addresses, she’ll want a class list to go with it!
If you’re a teacher, you’ve probably read them, but even if you’re not, you’d like these books! 😊

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The Crayon Bucket

In my classroom, we have this bucket. We call it the crayon bucket. Its job is to hold two kinds of crayons: the broken ones and the forgotten ones.

When I started teaching it didn’t take me long to figure out that crayons are hard for five-year-olds to keep up with. Like… I found it out within thirty minutes!!! 🙂

We started out that first day and everyone had a brand new pack of shiny, beautiful, pointy crayons (by the way, I quickly learned that you don’t give a class full of kindergarteners an entire pack of crayons on day one…teaching 101). Now I do a crayon a day.  As we learn each color, if we treat our first crayon nicely, we get to keep it and eventually get more, but anyway, that’s another story!

So, after thirty minutes on that first day of school, I had a floor full of random crayons. And that bothered me! All during the school year, I would find crayons in the floor and I would hold them up and no one would claim them, even when they looked through their pouches. Even the kid with only two crayons in his pouch would be like, “No man, that’s not mine…” Hence, he always only had two crayons in his pouch. 🙂

So I started setting the lost crayons on my desk. But soon there were too many for my desk. And during my first year of teaching I had so many overwhelming roles to learn that even though I was bothered by these forgotten crayons, I didn’t have the time or energy to think of a solution for them. So I got a cup, and they quickly filled up the cup. So I got a basket, and they began to fill up the basket.

And then another thing started to happen all those years ago that really bothered me… when we went to do a special art activity, I’d say something like, “Get out your red…” and immediately several people would chorus “I don’t have a red!”–especially two crayon guy…he never had anything!

So one day the light clicked on for me. The crayon basket, of course! It had all the reds we needed! I started a new procedure that has been tried and true since that first year I started teaching. We have the lost crayon basket for when someone is missing a color. The rule is if we are missing a color, we don’t yell out. We just go to the crayon basket and pick out what we need, and the best part of all is… we get to keep it! And do you know that the child who was so forgetful with her crayons earlier takes that “new” red one from the basket, uses it carefully, and then gently puts it in her pouch and is sure to zip up her pouch this time so that she doesn’t lose it?

The rule at the crayon basket is that we can only stay there for five seconds, because we are guaranteed to find the needed color in five seconds. You know why? Because after ten years, this is my lost crayon basket bucket. It’s full of every color we would ever need!

I'm sure you think I shot the CapriSun beside the bucket for your viewing pleasure! Actually, that's just to let you know how big the bucket is. :)

I’m sure you think I shot the CapriSun beside the bucket for your viewing pleasure! Actually, that’s just to let you know how big the bucket is. 🙂

A lot of crayons get forgotten. Until they are needed. And if a child has forgotten a blue crayon, when the teacher says to get a blue, the crayon becomes very important to the child, and it’s no longer forgotten. Especially when the child knows they get to keep the blue. It’s a treasure to them now, and they are glad to keep it.

The great things about the crayons in my class’s crayon  bucket is that they don’t stay forgotten. They sit in the bucket, ready for the time when someone needs their exact use. And then it’s their time to shine! They become very important to the ones who need them.

There’s another kind of crayon in the bucket…and that’s the broken crayon. Now, broken crayons are the most special ones of all! They may not be as pretty as the new ones; they may be missing their paper, their shine, their points, but they have a very special job.

You see, we have a lot of students coming to public school these days with certain learning, physical, and emotional needs. For a number of health, environmental, or unknown reasons, they don’t have the fine motor abilities to color and cut and write like a “typical” kindergartener. Some of them have never even held a crayon, so it’s hard for them to learn how to fill a picture with color. I remember the first time I had a student with a physical need that required more practice than what I was providing in the general setting…the wonderful occupational therapist for the county came in and looked over his workspace to help me and give me pointers on supporting him with writing, coloring, and other fine motor skills. And guess what she did first?

She took his brand new crayons and BROKE them. And I was horrified! One by one, as she was just talking to me and breaking away, I could only look on in horror! Finally, I found some words in my head and yelled “What are you doing?!?” And our awesome therapist said words that have stuck with me…she kept on breaking and she said, “Broken crayons make weak hands strong.”

Broken crayons make weak hands strong.

Kids who can’t hold a pencil can grip a broken crayon. They have to bear down and hold it tightly with correct finger positioning when their crayon is broken.
And I have also learned that kids who need emotional and behavioral support love to use broken crayons. They can bear down and push and scribble and make really strong marks with broken crayons without fear of getting in trouble for tearing up something new.

I know that  some people reading this today feel like an old broken or forgotten crayon. You may be broken down by physical health problems or relationship issues. Or you may be chipped away by little things of life every day…a cruel word chips here, a busy schedule nicks there, until one day you look in the mirror and you are only half of the person that you thought you were.

I have great news for you, friends.

You are needed. God has an area of your life designed just for you. There is a need around you, and you are the perfect person to fill that void. There may be “weak hands” in your circle, or even outside of your comfort zone, and your brokenness might be exactly what those hands need to hold on tightly to in order to become strong. And if you feel forgotten? I can tell you with certainty that He did not forget you. You are never out of His sight, and He has something great in store for you! Here is what He says to His people in Isaiah 49:15-16 (NIV):

I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.

You are not forgotten. You may feel that way, and feeling that way is hard–sometimes awful!–but our human feelings are very fickle things. They change with our circumstances like a tree sways in the wind. God’s word never changes, though, and He says that we are not forgotten.

You know those crayons in the lost and found bucket? They’re really not forgotten, either. They are just waiting for their time to be used. Are you ready to be used?


Sharing with friends at sweettothesoul.com, purposefulfaith.com, Tell His Story, and holleygerth.com.

tell his story     coffee for your heart rara soul friends

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Teaching Kindergarten…Keep The Home Living Station!

I remember my first day of kindergarten. I was sort of indifferent about school…I didn’t know what I was getting into, so I just followed my mom into the building. However, once I realized she was leaving me there, I quickly decided I didn’t want to stay. There were some tears and anxiety…and then I saw the “play kitchen”. Seeing this familiar fixture brought me so much comfort, and even excitement, and then I was okay. Really, I was good to go. And the rest, as they say, is history. I’ve been going to public school ever since!:)

kitchen one

When I was a five year old kindergarten student, K-5 was actually all about learning to come to school. We learned social skills like how to share, how to help others, how to be a friend. We learned the importance of keeping up with our belongings, taking care of school property, and working with our emotions. We learned how to get along. We learned how to be a student.

Now kindergarten is still a very important avenue for learning social skills, but we are also learning to read (pretty fluently), write stories–both realistic and fiction– and to add and subtract by the end of the year. I don’t know about  other kindergarten teachers, but I have found myself in a place before where I have forsaken the importance of teaching social skills in order to teach more reading, write more words, and add more numbers. I’ve spent more time blending and segmenting phonemes than I have teaching my kids what to do if they have to share a toy.

And I wonder why they bicker. I wonder why they tattle. I wonder why they have one crayon left in their pouch after just a week of school (Teacher, I don’t have a red…or a blue…or an orange…).

I know I’m not the only one wondering. In talking with teachers in many districts, I’ve discovered that there is some concern with the social skills of our older students in schools today. Bullying is becoming a presence that needs to be dealt with. Not only the bully-er, but the bully-ee (Did I just make up some words?). Older students don’t know how to treat each other anymore. They haven’t had lots of practice with sharing, speaking, listening, and working with one another in a non-academic setting. Some students are “being mean” to get attention, relationships (what they think is a relationship), and acceptance. Other students don’t know how to react to someone treating them in an unwanted way, and they are dealing with anxiety that comes from not knowing how to deal with different people.  I think one way to help this situation is to give students more time to have social interaction when they are young. Before they become self-conscious and create different stations and groups among themselves.

I was on a vertical Language Arts team for my school for two years and we worked very hard to align our curriculum with the new College and Career Ready Standards for English Language Arts. One of the main topics we discussed and worked on was vocabulary. We looked at the research about the importance of teaching our children Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary words. Tier 2 words are high-frequency vocabulary words that may or may not have multiple meanings, like savor or ability. Tier 3 words are lower-frequency words that are specific to a certain context (the words  you used to write down and define in biology class). As the discussion went on, I agreed that instruction on these words was so important. It’s needed. But I had a growing sense of urgency about another type of words that I realized many kindergarteners were lacking, Tier 1 words. I, along with other teachers in my school and other schools, was focusing on teaching these wonderful Tier 2 and 3 words when I had kids that didn’t know what friend, baby, and sorry meant. I had kids that didn’t understand the meaning of beside, below, above, and in front of.

So I really started thinking about my teaching of social skills and what I call “social words”(this is just a Paige Givens term, not fancy or official by any means). How could I teach my kids these words and skills in a natural, authentic way?

The answer was right in front of me, in a sunny corner of my room, begging not to be thrown out, as so many kindergarten teachers are being pressured to do. It was my kitchen!

You may call it the Home Living Station, or the Dramatic Play Area, or  Houseware Center. You may call it “Who has time for that?!? I got rid of that years ago! Too busy.”

But I am here to advocate for the Home Living Station! There is a place for it in your curriculum! Your kids need time to play and talk with each other. They need space to make believe and work together to make their imaginations come to life. They need opportunities to practice sharing and “working it out” when there are not enough supplies to go around. They need opportunities to disagree.

A few years ago, I brought my Home Living Station up to speed with vigor and excitement. I decided to use it as a teaching tool during my Literacy Work Stations (YES, during Literacy Stations!), and started off the year with a few kitchen utensils, plastic foods, and baby dolls. I have found that if I use fewer props at the beginning, it’s easier to teach how to clean up and it leaves room for more language exchanges. I also use lots of modeling at the beginning of the year for  having nice hands, words, and feet at the Home Living Station. I have found that the Home Living Station is one of the greatest opportunities for the speech pathologist to work with students who are acquiring language skills. It’s a natural, authentic environment for students who need extra support in developing oral language skills.

I focused on three Kindergarten College and Career Ready Standards when designing my new Home Living Station a few years back. These are the ones I’ve been using:

 Describe familiar people, places, things, and events and, with prompting and support, provide additional detail. (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.4)
 Add drawings or other visual displays to descriptions as desired to provide additional detail. (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.5)
 Speak audibly and express thoughts, feelings, and ideas clearly. (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.6)

I divide up my Home Living Themes by the month most years. Here are my plans for Home Living each month of the school year. My wonderful kindergarten teacher partners at my school collaborate constantly to improve our stations. They’ve graciously included pictures of their Home Living Stations.


“My Home”- we are just learning to come to school, so this month is all about learning how to use the materials at home living. We do lots of modeling and practicing. The Home Living Station is usually everyone’s favorite station to choose (both boys and girls).

“School”- I bring in a “big kid” desk and set out books, pointers, pictures, and different items for the students to teach with. They love to decide who is the teacher and who are students. I hear my own words coming out of their mouths when they are playing school. 🙂


“Grocery Store”I have parents send in empty cereal boxes, snack food boxes, cleaned out milk cartons, etc. We label each item clearly and students work at the grocery store to make a grocery list by copying the labels onto their list paper. They use pretend buggies and cash registers to act out buying their grocery list.

“Apple Orchard”- My teacher friends Lori and Connie created an apple orchard in their classrooms this year with some plastic apples, pie tins, felt, and baskets. The kids LOVED it!

ao                              ao2


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Teaching Kindergarten: Let Them Talk

When I first started teaching, I was afraid to let my kids talk too much. Or too loud. Or too long. Or too “funny.” I was afraid that other teachers would think I didn’t have control over my classroom if they walked by and heard a lot of noise in the room. I guess I was afraid that I would lose control if my kids were too loud.

Once I gained my footing and my confidence in the classroom enough to look past the basic safety, academic, and management components of my day, I began to question the need for silence during many parts of the day.

Now I have to point out that I do understand the need for quiet and voice control in many situations at school. We need to be quiet in the hallways because we could disturb other classes if we are noisy on our way to lunch. We need to be quiet in special places like the library and computer lab because other people use these areas to study and they need quiet in order to concentrate.

But I had to ask myself, Why are we being silent during our morning work? Why are we being silent when we put our papers in our mailbox? There were times during the day when I realized I was demanding silence, even quietness, when it wasn’t exactly necessary for learning. In fact, the silence and quietness was possibly hindering their learning in some ways.


A few years ago, I was part of a team that studied the new English Language Arts College and Career Ready Standards for my school system. We discussed in detail the need for more rigorous vocabulary instruction, which I totally agree with. Our school uses a robust vocabulary program in which we teach wonderful words like confidence, ability, talent, wilting, and so many more. The students love learning and using these new words. But kindergarten teachers see so many students who don’t even know simple words. Words like friend, baby, help, above, below. How can we get these sweet kindergarten children to build a mental word bank with robust, meaningful words when they don’t even know how to express themselves in the simplest ways?

We let them talk. We let them talk a lot. Yes, it’s loud sometimes. Yes, the noise is busy. But in my experience the noise is helping them to become cool little citizens–and isn’t that our goal as teachers?

So I sat down in the quietness of my silent, coloring five-year-olds and asked myself this question: When can I let them talk more?

The first place that came to mind was “Morning Work.” How many of you get to work and walk down the hallway with a finger over your mouth, eyes darting side to side as you walk to your office? On Mondays, do you put your things away silently, without talking to your friends about your weekend? The things you did, the food you ate, and the places you went?

We don’t do that! Teachers don’t do that. We are very sociable. When I get to school each morning, I greet people with a “Good morning!” or “hey!”. I have to give a full, detailed description of my weekend activities to my friends. And I listen to them recount their weekend. We take turns speaking and listening without realizing it. Why wasn’t I teaching my kids to do that? Sure, I was reading stories to them and pausing every few pages to say something like “Turn to your partner and tell them why you think this is happening. What do you think will happen next?” But seriously? Do we do that? In movies? Does someone pause the movie every few minutes to say “Let’s stop and talk about what’s happening so far. All of the mustards find a ketchup and partner up. Discuss and then we’ll start back, okay? Now you be mustard, and you be ketchup…”

So I decided to start with real conversations in the mornings. I changed my morning routine from “Morning Work” to “Morning Activities.” I divided my students up into twos or threes and each morning after unpacking and greeting one another with “good mornings” and “heys”, they go to the board and find their morning activity, which could be playdoh, partner computers, reading and puppets, drawing, or–my favorite–home living.

The top of my Morning Activity Chart. Students unpack and check the chart to find their activity. I place the student's picture beside the morning activity picture. Each afternoon, one student goes and rotates the activity pictures in a special order for the next day.

The top of my Morning Activity Chart. Students unpack and check the chart to find their activity. I place the student’s picture beside the morning activity picture. Each afternoon, one student goes and rotates the activity pictures in a special order for the next day.

Morning activity suggestions: partner computers, partner reading, playdoh

Morning activity suggestions: partner computers, partner reading, playdoh

Home Living, game pads, phonics games

Home Living, game pads, phonics games

And, yes, they talk. They talk a lot. I listen to them and my heart feels content knowing that they are learning how socialize like a true community–and the bell hasn’t even rung yet. I do tell them to talk quietly, and we practice for a few days at the beginning of the year talking between a whisper and a yell. I have found that in the mornings, my students are very quiet. They talk about practice the night before, their bus friends from the morning, and what they had for breakfast (The home living conversations are the best- Girl: You be my son and sit here and rock this baby while I make supper. Boy: No, I’m a business man. I’ve got to go write some stuff at my office desk.).

Another time during my day that I found I could add some talking time  was when someone came to my door to speak to me, or we had about two minutes before we needed to line up and be somewhere, or something was wrong with my projector/screen/radio/anything-and-everything and I needed two or three minutes to fix it. I used to play quiet mouse during this time, or say “Everyone on silent while I fix this.” But I have found that if I simply say, “Turn just your head and whisper in your friend’s ear for two minutes while I talk to this important visitor,” my kids actually turn and whisper to each other. I don’t have to police them and fuss at them for not being silent, and they get extra oral language practice.

A third time that I let me students talk is during creative writing time. Now I do understand that some teachers may disagree with me on this point and I’m totally okay with agreeing to disagree here. Teachers have different personalities and teach in different ways. Here is why I started letting my kids talk during writing workshop…I have found that the majority of my five and six year old children have had success with verbalizing their thoughts aloud before and during writing. If you come into my room during writing workshop, you may hear some of the following “noise”:

 ” Can you tell what this says?”

“Guess what I’m writing? My friend went to the beach with me last week. Look at us swimming here.”

“How do you spell polar? /p/…/o/…/l/…/r/”

“You should label your mom in that picture. I like it.”

And that’s what the kids are saying, not the teacher!

I could go into how we converse in morning work stations and in math…oh, math, my love!…but that in itself is another blog post for another day!

The point of letting my students talk  is not to make school a more “fun” place, but it does make school more fun. The point is not to have to fuss less at my kids, although I direct them to lower their voices much, much less. The point–the reason–is to develop oral language and social skills, and that’s what my students are doing by using their words.

Let them talk! Preschool, early elementary teachers, parents of young and old: what other times can you think of to let them talk more? Share with us!



* I realize that there are times in our day and life when we are required to be silent. As the school year goes on, we “practice” being silent for things like tests, speeches, and even fire/tornado/lockdown drills. I have not found that the practice of letting them talk more has hurt their ability to be silent when I want them to. In fact, their ability to be silent and listen when Mrs. Givens has an important announcement seems to be enhanced. I wouldn’t be sharing this with you if I didn’t think it worked!;)


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In the Classroom: The Power of Routine

It was inevitable. My voice was leaving me slowly but surely. The crud that had been going around my classroom had made its way to me, and my voice was sounding more and more hoarse as a result. I knew it was heading towards a whisper.

My kindergarten kids went to PE and when they came back, I remarked, mostly to myself, that my voice was “going away”.

All chatter and activity ceased and they stared at me.

“But what will we do if your voice goes away?” a sweet boy wailed.

“Well,” I whispered matter-of-factly, “We will do what we always do.”

What we always do. The routine.

When our day is going so totally wonderfully, we follow the routine.

When our day is a hot mess, we follow the routine the best we can.

When someone checks in late, we welcome him or her and continue with our routine.

When there is a fire drill or tornado drill, we stop the routine to practice, and then we come back in. And we follow the routine.

When someone gets sick, we fix them up, take a sanitizing break, and then continue with our routine.

When I have a substitute, we follow the routine.

When I don’t feel like it, I follow the routine anyway, and then I ALWAYS feel better.

See the pattern here?

Routine is so important in the classroom. Knowing that expectations and procedures are going to be mostly the same gives children a sense of structure and security like nothing else.

At the beginning of the year, most of my kids ask me over and over throughout the day, “When is lunch? When is snack? When do we go outside? When can I go home?”

They want to know the routine. They want the assurance of what’s to come.

One year I posted a picture schedule for a particular student who needed a visual of our daily routine. I didn’t realize at the time how much the picture schedule would impact my entire classroom management system, which would, in turn, impact my teaching. Gone were the “When do we…?” questions. Gone were the “Is it Library Day? Do we go to Computer Lab today?” questions.  Instead, I referred to the pictures of our daily routine, and I implemented it. Every day.

I simply took pictures or printed clipart to represent our activities for the day, put the pictures in order of our routine, and stuck a magnet dot beside the pictures. Our Helping Hand gets to move the dot as we complete each activity for the day. If we are doing something special, like Library, I post a star at the time of the special activity.

I know this probably sounds like a no-brainer to most seasoned teachers, and there is no magic trick to making your daily routine. It’s as simple as it sounds. You do what you say you are going to do in order pretty much at the same time daily. And then,  the magic happens when you stick to your routine.

I am realistic. I realize that things come up to disrupt the routine. I realize that some days your students will be reading like rock stars, and you are not going to stop them just because the clock says it’s time for math.  I realize that sometimes Children’s Theatre is going to come busting up into your school and totally mess up your routine (but you can get back on it the next day!). I know that one day it will be snowing outside, and you will stop and take your kids outside to play and “catch” snowflakes with black construction paper (for all your Northerners, snow in Alabama is certainly a reason to stop everything!). But for the most part, I have learned that in order to have better management, teaching, and more learning, it is imperative that I stick to my routine.

I mean, my students don’t even tell time yet. But they can tell you exactly what we do and the order in which we do it.

Remember that day my voice went away? The rest of the day went relatively smoothly, with my gesturing to the daily picture schedule and the students simply doing the routine.

Sometimes I see that things are not working so well in the order that I have them, and I change the routine. Although a rare occurrence, once I change our picture schedule and give several reminders, class time begins to flow in a smooth stream once again.

The key to making a successful routine is finding out what works best for you as a teacher and for your classroom atmosphere from year to year. Since I teach Kindergarten and First Grade, I usually try to set up my schedule as a pattern of sorts.

We sit and listen, then we get up and “do”. We sit and listen, then we get up and do.

I’ve had several wonderful teacher friends ask about my daily routine, so I will share my current year’s (Kindergarten) daily schedule with you! J

Welcome Routine- I make it a point to be at my door each morning to greet my kiddos with a hug or a high-five, and then they come in, unpack,  do their counting baskets (a blog on counting baskets to come soon!), and do their Morning Activity.

Morning Meeting– We meet together and go over our Calendar, the Daily News, and any special notes to our daily routine and picture schedule. So this the “sit and listen” part of my pattern. J

Literacy Stations- Now it’s time for us to “get up and do”! After quick reminders of what the day’s tasks are at our Literacy Stations, we disperse and get busy reading, writing, using technology, and working with the teacher.



This student’s card tells him the order of his Literacy Work Stations.

Reading Vocabulary and Comprehension– We have a shared reading activity where specific comprehension strategies and vocabulary words are taught, used, and solidified.
Phonics and Sight Word Practice– At this time, we take part in some type of “Reading Strategy” practice. Sometimes this looks like a worksheet (that we do whole group) that gives us a chance to use our phonics and sight word strategies, sometimes it looks like partners going over sight words and decodable words/books together.

Recess- Every day. Rain or shine. Indoor or outdoor. We have recess. It’s a non-negotiable 15 minutes where we get the “ants out of our pants”, learn to make-believe (recess outside is on our front lawn instead of the playground- students are encouraged to use their imaginations with games and dramatic play, and get some exercise. Great ideas for indoor recess can be found on youtube!

Handwriting– This quick five to ten minutes includes instruction on correct letter formation and directed drawing.

Writing Workshop– My favorite, favorite, favorite! Kindergarten students are not too young to write! The works of genius that come out of this time never cease to amaze me. In Kindergarten, students work mostly on narrative stories, opinion pieces, and informational articles. I could go on and on about this wonderful part of our routine, or you can just read more here! J

morning station blog pictures 009

Music and Singing- At this time, students sing seasonal songs together while one or a few go to wash hands, use the restroom, and get their lunchboxes ready for lunch. This time of day runs so smoothly after a month or two, but takes lots of direction at the beginning of the year in Kindergarten.


PE– of course, this portion of the routine depends on the master schedule.

Story Time- During this portion of the day, I usually read a chapter book to my students. We have fallen in love with characters like Junie B. Jones, Wilbur and Fern, and the Boxcar children during this lovely time of just reading for the pure enjoyment of books.

Counting Strategies – We begin our math class daily with counting aloud. Depending on where we are in the year, and where we are as a class, we count to 50, or to 75, or to 100 by ones. We count by fives and tens. I pick a number and we start there and count forwards and backwards to another number. We look for patterns on the 100 chart as well.
Daily Data- Each week, we work on student data that starts with a Question of the Week. On Monday, we answer the question and construct the data by putting our names on Venn Diagrams or T Charts or graphs of some sort. On Tuesday, we tally the data. On Wednesday, we write about the data. On Thursday, we show the data in a new way. On Friday, we make addition and subtraction equations out of the data information.

Counting Basket- Our helping hand, who was chosen during the Morning Meeting time, gets his or her counting basket and shows us how to count correctly. This is a great, quick assessment for me to see what counting strategies are being used by students in my class (more on Counting Baskets in a soon-to-come blog post!).

Math Journal-Once we’ve established the number of items in our Counting Basket, we use that number to work in our Math Journals. At the beginning of the year, we show different numbers in a variety of ways (numeral, number word, tallies, drawings, symbols). We learn to break teen numbers into tens and ones and we learn how to construct ten frames. We make patterns and shapes and equations. My students amaze me during our Number Talk/Math Journal time! More about Math Talks here.

Math Stations- After a quick discussion of our daily tasks, we break apart and work on math manipulatives, writing about math, technology and math, and small groups with the teacher. More about math here.

Science/Social Studies- During this portion of our routine, we do Science experiments, read informational texts, and make thematic arts and crafts.

Snack- Yummy! Everyone loves snack time! Mine is about as short and sweet as it gets! J

Rest- Today’s rest time in Kindergarten doesn’t look like nap times of old. We are doing well if we get about 25 minutes of rest time in a day! I still have several sweeties that love to sleep, and they look forward to their power nap. The rest of my Kindergarten friends listen to alphabet music or watch reading and math power points during rest time. What do I do? Well, I run around like a crazy woman getting mailboxes ready for pack up, cleaning out lunchboxes that were leaked into, answering emails, and getting materials ready for tomorrow’s routine.

Pack Up/Afternoon Meeting– during this time, we reflect on the great points of our day. We talk about some parts that we hope will go more smoothly tomorrow. We also talk about any special things that will be part of our routines tomorrow.

It’s a fast-paced, move-and-groove, keep-on-going day, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s our routine. It’s what we do, and how we succeed.

Sometimes I get asked, How do you know when you need to change your routine?

I am not a fan of change, as you can see by this entire post! J But sometimes, I see when things aren’t working so smoothly, and I know it’s time for a change. If I have a certain time of day where behaviors that are undesirable seem to be on the rise, I look closely at the routine and think about what should change. And I tweak and tweak and tweak until the behaviors work themselves out.

I also change my routine after Christmas in Kindergarten in order to add more handwriting and phonics/sight word work.

When you are having a bad day in the classroom, get back on your routine!

When you want to go outside and play all day because it’s 75 degrees, stick to the routine instead, and you’ll be glad you did!

When your voice starts to go away, stick to the routine and let the routine do the talking for you!

By the way, I did end up taking the next day off when I lost my voice in order to go to the doctor. The substitute teacher made a point to write to me and tell me that my students basically “ran themselves” that day, going by the picture schedule, although they were concerned that I had lost my voice.

The next day, when I returned, all of my kids were excited to learn where I went to “find my voice” again. J They were eager to tell me about their day with a different teacher. We took a moment to talk about our special day apart…

And then we went back to our routine.


*Teachers! Share with us. What routines work best for you?


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