Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Guided Reading Series: Centers and Organization Part 2

 Today I am going to share with you a very simple organization tip for your centers.

Since I prefer to have students come back together in between each center, I need my centers to be easy to get in and out.  If you missed last week's post about how I schedule this, be sure to check it out!


I keep each center in a basket or a large plastic envelope.  This way one student from each group can go to the bookcase, pick it up, and take it to their designated "spot" in the room.  Students can work on the center and then return everything to the basket or envelope.  Once done, the student returns it the shelf in it's proper spot. 

You can see my shelf doesn't always look neat, but believe it or not it stays pretty organized! 
  • The kids have everything that they need for each center in the basket. 
  • I don't have to keep centers all around the room...they all stay in one place.
  • My carpet/center spaces can be used for other activities throughout the day since they stay clear of reading center materials!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Guided Reading Series: Centers and Organization, part 1

One of the most common questions that I get about guided reading groups, is how do you manage the other kids while you are working with a group?

Then, I say "centers" and they say "Well, duh! But how???"

I must say that I used to DESPISE center time. And it was for all of the same reasons as you.  It was so much to manage. So much to organize. What about the kids that are not independent learners yet?  How do you get them to actually DO the centers and not just goof around the entire time?  What about accountability? 

We'll today I have some answers for you! 

Now, this is not a fool proof answer.  You are still going to have those "moments."  Those moments when you want to pull your hair out and just give up because nothing is going well.  You will still have that kid...you know the one.  The one that refuses to do anything you say merely because he can.  That kid that looks directly at you while simultaneously dumping out all of your so neatly organized center tubs.  Yes, it is inevitable.  It will happen.  But my goal today is to merely give you some ideas for making these moments fewer and further between.

The first step to centers is organizing a schedule.  This is a two part step: rotation schedule and group schedule.  

For rotation schedules, I used to have students rotate with the kids in their reading group.  So what happened? My highest kids were bored, finished early, and then began loud conversations.  My lowest kids had no idea how to complete the task and ended up playing in the materials or having wrestling matches on the floor.  This was not working.

This year, I went with heterogeneous groups.  I have my students sitting in groups throughout the day anyway, so when arranging desks I take into consideration the levels of my students as well as how they get along.  This becomes their center group. They work with this group during each center and then I pull students to my table from there.  So each group, or "table" as I call them, may have one member coming to my table for instruction at any given time.

You can see in this picture my table groupings. This is an older picture.  There are now signs above each group saying what table number they are.  They work with these groups for center time and then I pull the kids that I need for my small group!

How does this help? Now I have a mix of levels that can help one another with the task.  My higher students can explain how to do the center or remind students of what to do, if necessary.  They work so much better together this way. It is by far one of the BEST things I have ever done with my groups!

Here is a snapshot of my center rotation schedule:

You can see that the numbers represent my tables (Table 1, Table 2, etc).  In the afternoons, several students are pulled for reading remediation. Therefore, I do not have as many students in my class for that third small group time. This means that I only do one center during that time, since there is a much smaller group.

The second part is setting up your actual schedule for center time.  For this, I used to have students go from one center to the next center to the next.  You know what happened? About halfway through the second set of centers, my kids lost focus.  They were no longer interested.  They were tired.  They stopped working and started playing.  

So how to fix it? This year I began breaking up my whole group reading lesson into chunks.  We are required to do Superkids at my school (this is our basal reading program). So rather than doing an hour of Superkids and then an hour of centers/groups, I started alternating.  I now do about 30 minutes of Superkids, followed by a center/group.  Then I do 20-30 more minutes of Superkids followed by another center/group.  Then we have our lunch break and come back for my last center/group time.  If I didn't already have that lunch break built in, I would put a group before Superkids instead (group, Superkids, group, Superkids, group). 

How does this help?  It gives students a break.  Students cannot focus on instruction for an hour at a time.  They need breaks in between so they don't lose that focus.  This helps because after one center, I can pull them back together with me to do an activity before sending them out to centers again.  This also means that I can go over the rules/expectations again before each center if necessary.  It helps students to refocus each time!

Here is my weekly schedule so that you can see how many groups I have and how many times I meet with each group.  Each group has a different color for its name and I spend Monday afternoons progress monitoring and assessing.

Doing these two things will make a huge difference in your guided reading time.  If you don't take anything else way from this guided reading series, it should be that!

Other organizational tips have to do with the center materials themselves.  Those will come in next week's post for part 2!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Guided Reading Series: My Toolkit, What's inside?

So what should be included in your toolkit?  Let's take a closer look!

These are a number one necessity to have handy.  I have enough for each of my students to have one as well as myself.  We use these to practice writing letters, words, sentences, dictation, encoding for sounds, vocabulary, sight words, character traits, etc.  You name it!

 I have both dry erase boards and dry erase sentence strips (that I picked up from the Dollar Tree!)

My students love to use all different kinds of pointers for tracking their reading.  These are one of their favorites and they are merely drink stirrers, but we call them "swivel sticks" because they are so "swively" and fun! 

You can also get finger lights at the Dollar Tree:

Or witch's fingers are a fun thing to have around too:

On a side note, I generally only allow students to use pointers when they are in the early stages of reading.  Once they become more transitional/fluent readers, they should no longer need pointers to help them track.  Then we switch to index cards to build fluency.  More on that later....

Ready to go for guided writing!  For emergent readers, practice letter formation and student names.  For early readers, practice encoding for sounds, CVC words, sight words, dictation, and open ended sentences.  For transition and fluency readers, begin composing sentences on their own.  It can be a story or a reflection of their reading.  Have them write the problem and solution.  Or the beginning, middle, and end.

These are a ton of fun.  I use these for students to hunt for words within their books.  They can hunt for a particular sight word, a word with a phonetic sound you are working on, a vocabulary word, etc.  You can pick up the cut outs for free in my store! 

Great for writing out vocabulary and sight words that need to be learned for the story that is read.  Also for helping students to build fluency!

I use these in so many ways and my kids LOVE when I put a highlighter in their hands!  For my lower kids, it is a great way to do a sight word hunt or a hunt for a phonetic sound.  For my higher kids, we will use these to hunt for evidence of a comprehension question. We also use them to highlight punctuation when working on fluency.

Some of my best interventions for low readers involve building words with letter tiles, letter cards, and letter cubes.   These are great for decoding words, encoding words, building sight words, and word ladders.

I created these as a tool for teaching students to chunk sounds.  It is a great decoding tool and a quick skill to do during each guided reading lesson.

I use stamps and stickers mostly for concept of word review.  We use them as stepping stones under each word as we read.  It gives students a  place to put their finger while tracking. 

I keep several sets of sight word cards handy for quick review games!


I love giving students picture cards for practicing different skills.  We use these for phoneme segmentation, encoding for sounds, guided writing, etc.

I like to incorporate some Words Their Way into my guided reading lessons, as often times, the spelling skills that we are required to do with our reading program is not on the level that my students need.  I have learned that the easiest way to do this is to have several sets of sorts ready to go.  I copy them, cut them, and paper clip them so that we don't waste any time getting materials prepared during our lesson.  Then I gather them up to save for future use with another group!  It takes time to put them all together and prepare, but save SO much time in the end!

Plus, I don't just limit myself to Words Their Way sorts.  We also do concept sorts, picture sorts, grammar sorts, rhyming matching cards, etc.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Guided Reading Series: Putting together your toolkit

Every guided reading teacher needs to have a guided reading toolkit.  This is a basket, bin, drawer, or some other cutie patootie storage device in which you keep all things guided reading.

In my room, I have two sets of drawers.  I bought one bin that had 2 little drawers and 2 big ones.  And I bought one bin that had 3 big drawers.  Then I took them apart and rearranged them.  Now they look like this:


In the two small drawers, I keep my guided reading necessities.  These include dry erase boards, markers, and erasers, index cards, pointers, sharpies, highlighters, crayons, stamps, stickers, word finders, picture and word sorts, and more!

 There are two big drawers under each of the smaller drawers.  Each of my bigger drawers is for a group that I meet with.  (My two highest groups share a drawer since I have 5 total groups.  They tend to need the fewest materials.)


You can see that my bins now fit nicely under my guided reading table and I always have everything I need right at hand.