Wednesday, December 30, 2015

FAVORITE LESSON OF 2015: Super Secret Silent Letter Spies & FREEBIE

As 2015 rapidly comes to a close, I've been in a big reflecting/goal setting mood. And let's be honest, since I've been on break I've actually had the time (and brain capacity) to take a few moments to truly reflect on this past year. While personally this year has been one of the most challenging of my life, in terms of teaching it has been truly FABULOUS. I am completely head-over-heals in love with teaching and that has really made this year so incredibly wonderful!!

As I was considering what went well, what my teaching goals were for 2016, I was thinking about what my favorite lesson was from this year. There was no doubt that my best lesson for 2015 was our super secret silent letter spy experience! This was a phonics lesson that taught the initial silent letters wr, kn, and gn. Generally this is not an easy concept for my fab firsties because, seriously, why does knob have a silent "k" and nab does not, or gnat have a silent "g" and not doesn't? It's one of those things that requires straight up memorization, so I knew that I wanted to have my kids experience silent letters in a way that would be fun, memorable, and engaging so that they would be willing to put the effort and energy into learning the content. Thus, the super secret silent letter spy lesson was born.

My lesson ideas come when I least expect them -- while driving, in the shower, brushing my teeth, etc. (I've actually realized recently that it's often when my brain has time to slow down and just think...which sadly doesn't happen all that much...) Anyway,  one morning as I was brushing my teeth, it hit me...I could teach silent letters by doing a super secret silent letter activity! I had purchased several UV pens years ago because I knew that one day I'd find some lesson to use them for and now was the time! (Teacher confession time: the number of things that I buy with no particular plan in mind for, but know will come in handy someday for some lesson that I haven't yet thought of yet is embarrassingly out of control. #teacherproblems) I could write the silent letters in invisible ink from the pen and then shine a blacklight to help my scholars understand that while the letter is there, it's so silent and sneaky it's like you can't even see it.  This reminded me of Hope King's Spy Headquarters lesson and Chris Pombonyo's 5 Senses lessons. Channeling my inner Hope and Chris (aka, my teacher role models), I took some of their tips and ideas (like how to setup the room and the awesome finger scanning app), and this lesson began to snowball into my favorite lesson of 2015!!!


For this experience, my firsties were super secret special agent spies who had to search for the hidden secret letters. I believe that lessons should be experiences for students; these experiences should be so exciting, engaging, and memorable, they can't help but learn the content. By peaking their curiosity, engaging as many of their scenes as possible, helping them get into character with costumes, hats, props, etc. all work together to really help sell this experience and learning.


I wanted my students to truly feel like spies who were working on various missions, so my classroom setup was crucial for this! Using white string and blacklights, I was able to create a laser effect to add to the secret agent spy theme. The students LOVED ducking and climbing under and over the "lasers" though the day!! Below was our classroom setup.


So, this was such an awesome part of the experience. Before my firsties even entered the room, they were already completely hooked and intrigued. As my students lined up outside the door in the morning, I told them that there was some incredible things going on in our room that day and only super secret spies who were recruited for the mission would be allowed into the room. To see who was allowed in, each student had to scan their finger upon entry. As they placed their finger on my phone, the following messages appeared...

Then, they were either granted access or denied access to come into the room. There is a hidden button you press on the app if you want someone to be granted access. Of course, all of my kids were granted access to come in, but anyone else who tried to enter the room was denied (there is a loud alarm-like/siren sound if this happens -- it's great!!!!). My kids LOVED it when the 2nd graders, high schoolers, and even our principal was not allowed to come in. Seriously, keeping the principal out was the best thing ever to them. It definitely made them feel super special and really helped make the experience that much more awesome!

I learned about this app from Chris. It's a free app called "Phone Security" The colors, sounds, etc. are fabulous and really made the experience so awesome from the moment the kids walked in the door.


Now that the classroom was mission ready and the secret agents were granted access to the room, it was time to hit the content. While the costumes and craziness of this lesson were so fun, the point is definitely the content, which in this case was silent letters. (As teachers we always want to check to make sure that extras we're doing add to the content, not detract.) Here was an anchor chart poem that I wrote to help introduce silent letters to the students. 

I told my firsties that some letters sneak to the front of words silently. While they make no sounds, they are still there. The task of the secret agent spies was to find those super silent letters in words. They would complete 5 missions through the course of the lesson. While we took photos with the lights on, the students actually completed all their missions in the dark with the "Mission Impossible" theme song playing in the background.


Mission one was was an interactive journal sorting activity. Students were given two pockets to sort words with and without initial silent letters.

They worked in the dark and then highlighted the silent letters in those words that had them. Just to note, highlighter shines extra bright in blacklight, so this made highlighting so fun for the kids!!!


For their second mission, students had to sort pictures into their different silent letter sounds in their interactive notebook! This mission was a step further than the first mission as now students couldn't just look at a word to identify whether or not it had a silent letter; this time they needed to know how to spell the word to identify the initial silent letter.


At station #3 for their third mission, students needed to write and draw different silent letters under the correct silent letter flap in their interactive notebooks! This was great because it allowed students the freedom to write as many silent letter words as they could think of. Some students referred back to previous missions for words and their spellings, while others were able to think of and spell words on their own.


This was definitely our favorite mission (as well as being the idea that initiated this whole lesson)!! While the other missions were completely independently, this mission the students did in small groups with me. When they arrived at this station, there were 12 words on the table.

Some words were ones with silent letters while others were not. If the word had an initial silent letter, I had written that letter down in invisible ink so that the students couldn't see it. However, when we shinned the light onto the word, if there was a silent letter it would be revealed. The spies thought this was just about the best thing in the world!!!!!!

As we went through each word, the spies recorded the words on their mission paper. If the word began with a silent letter, they would highlight it on their mission form.


After completing their missions, all the agents had to debrief with an exit ticket to test their comprehension and application of silent letters!

The secret agent spies all did an awesome job! Mission accomplished! They continued to wear their silent letter crowns and badges through the week because they were so excited about them!!!


You can download a FREEBIE of Mission #1 on my TPT store HERE or purchase the whole pack (anchor chart, all 5 missions, student shirt tags, and crowns) at my TPT store HERE (on sale through NEW YEAR'S)!!!!!

I absolutely loved this lesson for so many reasons! It was fun, exciting, the students really got into and enjoyed it, and they learned the content. Seeing my students so happy while learning makes my teacher heart absolutely melt. Especially with content that is normally very challenging for my kids, to have them laughing and eager to learn was completely awesome!!

As a side note, another thing that made this lesson special for me was that my mom helped me set it up! She happened to be coming out to my school for another event the night before the lesson, and so I roped her into helping me go buy the materials and setup all the strings. I NEVER could have done it without her help! Having a second person to help with attaching the string to the ceiling and furniture made such a huge difference. Seriously, if it were not for her I would probably still be setting this up. My mom is my number one cheerleader and supporter, so being able to have here there with me as I setup and be so involved made this lesson even more special to me. Thanks, Mom!! I love you!!

2015 for me ws filled with so many fun and exciting lessons, but this one definitely takes the cake. It was an absolutely fabulous year and I am EXTREMELY EXCITED for 2016! I cannot wait for some of the things we have planned for this year in first grade! I already know, 2016 is going to be the best year yet!!!

If you'd like to join in the fun of sharing your favorite lesson of 2015, use the photo below and add a picture of your favorite lesson!! Be sure to use #favoritelessonof2015 on social media!! Can't wait to celebrate all the awesome teachers, their hard work, and fav lessons from this year!!!


Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Return of Mayhem: Moose on the Loose Week 2

We were off to week two with Mayhem the Moose!!! Our wacky woodland friend was up to his mischief and mayhem while on the loose in our classroom. If you missed last week's craziness, check it out HERE.

True to form, Mayhem was here to help us countdown to winter break with some treats, surprises, fun, and a little mayhem!


Mayhem helped us to learn alliteration with his "Moose Muffin Monday." He brought us some delicious blueberry muffins he had made for us and then created his "Leaning Tower of Treats." Thankfully (and quite surprisingly), his treat tower didn't topple through the day!!

We introduced alliteration on Monday by talking about "Moose Muffin Monday." My sweet scholars and I brainstormed some of the other "m" things that Mayhem could have brought us. I was so impressed with some of the fun things they came up with -- a few of my favorites were motorcycles, movies, microwaves (plural -- because who wouldn't want more than one microwave), mittens, mice, mail, maps, marbles, the Mayflower, and much more!

As the firsties worked hard, they were able to go over and pick up and enjoy a muffin! They told me Mayhem made the best blueberry muffins they had ever tasted! I even had a few kids ask me for the recipe!


Following our alliteration theme from Monday, Mayhem celebrated "Treat Tuesday" with us by bringing in Moose Snow...more commonly known as popcorn! He also brought a friend with him -- Olaf!!!

Just like the previous week, I used Mayhem as a major behavior motivator. As students worked hard academically, made positive behavioral choices, were good friends, etc. they were able to go to Mayhem and Olaf and collect pieces of snow throughout the day!

By the end of the day, the firsties had each collected a whole cup worth of moose snow. They got to decorate a white cup to look like Olaf and then enjoy their hard-earned treats!

They were SNOW HAPPY with their final Olaf cups and popcorn! Such a fun (and cheap) way to encourage positive behavior and countdown to the final days until break!


Day 8 was our second to last day of school for 2015! Since we would be on a field trip for the final day, we had to have our end of the year party on Day 8! Mayhem brought us all the treats and accessories for a New Year's Party!

We were ready to party like it is 2016!

As this day also corresponded to the final day of our semester, we looked at our data binders for the past quarter, did some self-reflection, and then wrote our goals for 2016! After working, it was time to PARTY!

Mayhem brought party hats and tiaras, necklaces, our holiday photo frame, and yummy treats and drinks!

We spent the last few minutes of the day celebrating all that we learned this past year, our progress and successes, and then got to eat our treats! I'm SUPER proud of each of these spectacular scholars! I can't wait to see what 2016 holds for each o them!


Y'all, Mayhem the Moose was loose at KNOTT'S BERRY FARM!!!!!!!

Every teacher know that the last week before winter break is a little wacky (understatement of the year?!?!). To combat the crazy, the past few years we've planned our field trip to Knott's Berry Farm on the last day before break. One of our social studies standards is to study the past and present, how life has changed, specifically in the area of transportation. Knott's has a 1st grade field trip designed to hit this particular standard. After studying the history of transportation in school, the students get to ride 9 different kinds of transportation! It is an AWESOME field trip that makes the learning really come alive for the kids! They love it!

To get us ready for the trip, when the kids arrived Mayhem had my teacher backpack all packed (seriously, y'all -- I LOVE this bag!! It says "1st Grade Teacher" and it's all glittery!! Does it get any better than that?!?! I think not!) and our field trip name tags!

Here were just some of the rides we studied and then went on:

The Red Baron Airplanes were a hit! Mayhem loved soaring through the air as well!

Next we went on the Hot Air Balloons! Mayhem was a little scared, but we held him close!

Our next stop was on the steam engine! All aboard!

Y'all, we went on an authentic STAGECOACH!!! These girls and I were super excited to be sitting in the front on top of the stagecoach where we had a great view of the horses who pulled us! It was a little bumpy and Mayhem almost fell off...but thankfully our cowboy driver caught him...

Our final ride for our crazy day was Snoopy's crazy bus!

We finished off the day at Snoopy's General Store for a little shopping!

Our trip was a fabulous way to end our days with Mayhem the Moose on the loose! The kids and I loved looking forward to his treats, surprises, and trouble each day! It was an extra bonus that I was able to use him and his treats as behavior motivators during the week!

Here was a copy of our Countdown Calendar where we recorded what happened each afternoon! This was my first year doing this with my class, and I can't wait to do it again next year!! Such a fun memory!!! I hope that you all had a fabulous last week of school before break!!!


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Mayhem the Moose on the Loose 2015: Week 1

"What's the Moose on the Loose?" was a common question teachers and students asked of me this week. In my small school, word of the crazy antics going on in my classroom spread quickly. Rumors of a wacky woodland creature wreaking havoc in the first grade made its way from parents to the principal. This past week our class (and school community) was introduced to Mayhem the Moose.

Mayhem is a cute and cuddly moose who is helping our class countdown the final days to winter break. Each day he brings a special surprise or treat for the firsties. However well-intentioned Mayhem is, with him tends to come a little chaos. But not to worry, his chaos provided a fabulous behavioral incentive for my firsties at this crazy time of year!! Here's a peek into our first week with Mayhem!


When the firsties came in on Monday morning, they were greeted by mayhem caused by Mayhem! A letter to the class introduced them to our new friend, and let them know to expect some fun treats along the way. We also read Moose on the Loose by Kathy-jo Wargin. It's an adorable story about what you would do if there was a moose on the loose in your house, in your yard, in your room, etc. It definitely got my kids thinking about what to do with a moose that causes trouble! Get a copy from Amazon here.

That first day Mayhem brought each student their own "Moose on the Loose Diary." He left their diaries a little bonkers, but the firsties enjoyed getting their special diaries anyway. Each diary contains a "Countdown Calendar" and a place for them to house all of their daily papers that Mayhem leave for them each morning.


Our second day of Moose on the Loose happened to be the same day as an Author's Tea event at our school. To celebrate all our first graders as authors and encourage their continued writing, Mayhem generously brought us special pencils and pens. However, in his efforts to setup the treats he, naturally, left a bit of a disaster. When the fifties entered that morning, there were pens and pencils scattered all over the Writing Center table, chairs, and floor. I showed the class all the cool things that Mayhem had brought, but told them that they wouldn't be able to claim their treats until all of the fun pens and pencils were all cleaned up. Each time students made a smart choice, were following directions, were on-task, being a kind friend, etc. they were allowed to go over to Mayhem's mess and put away one pen or pencil. Once everything was cleaned they earned their treats! I, of course, milked this all day so that their behavior was exceptional all day long! It was such a fun, easy, and effective way to encourage positive behavior!!

The page that Mayhem put in their diary for day 2 was all about being an awesome author who edits their writing. The note Mayhem had left the students had a handful of mistakes. Our scholars had to edit and revise the sentences for Mayhem!


Day three happened to be our science benchmark day. While my kids and I love science, a long benchmark that tests all we've learned this past quarter is no one's favorite. But, Mayhem was here to rescue the day! When the firsties came in, Mayhem had a special message for them -- no shoes science!!! Mayhem was so excited about his treat, he decorated our whiteboard with shoe pictures...all over the board. Just like the messy pencils, each time my scholars made a smart choice, they were able to erase one shoe. Once there were no more shoes on the board, they got to take their shoes off! If there is one thing I've learned about first graders, it is that they will do just about ANYTHING to be able to not wear their shoes in the classroom. I really don't know what it is about being able to slide around the classroom in their socks, but it is such a big deal to them!! The kids worked  faithfully all day to erase Mayhem's mess to earn a day of no shoes!! Such a big hit!

That day when the kids came in, Mayhem had added a journal page about "pairs" in math. This is a concept we'd already covered, but was a great way to review a math concept we've been practicing!

Below are some firsties practicing some math problems sans shoes!! They had each also earned the option to take off a sock...


While day three was science benchmark day, day four was writing benchmark day (and for that matter, day five was math benchmark day...) #allthetests #endofthequarterproblems. This quarter our focus was descriptive writing. To help with our five sense descriptive stories, Mayhem brought us a special (and super sticky) treat...CANDY CANES!!! We had Starburst and original flavored candy canes. True to form, Mayhem may have left a bit of a candy cane disaster. However, not to worry, the firsties worked hard to earn candy canes through the day by their behavior!!

The diary page for that day asked the kids to fill out a five senses chart to predict all about the candy canes. That afternoon when it was benchmark time, they got to enjoy the fruits of their labor by enjoying several types of candy canes as they wrote their descriptive writing stories using their five senses. It was a sense-sationally sweet and super sticky time!


Friday rounded out the end of week one with Mayhem. When the students entered the class, Mayhem was sitting in a bowl of marshmallows...yes, sitting in the marshmallows. He had built a tower of cups, had a spoon and whisk, and had spilled marshmallows all over the table. On their diary page Mayhem left them, the students had to use the clues to predict what we would be making. I was so impressed with all the creative things the kids thought we would be making! Through the day, good behavior afforded the firsties the opportunity to go pick up marshmallows and save them for their treat later.

That afternoon it was revealed that we would be making Moose Soup. We mixed hot water, marshmallows, and peppermint candy canes together to make Moose Soup...also known as hot chocolate. (As a side note, two seniors came in to help me make this! They were such a lifesaver! Honestly, I don't know what I would have done without them!!!)

We had a marvelous first week with Mayhem! Though with him came a little craziness and chaos, the kids loved working to clean his mess and earn their treats! At the end of each day we would fill out our "Countdown Calendar" to record the treat of the day and color another day done! I'd give them a few minutes to predict what the following day would bring! I am SO happy with the way the firsties have responded to Mayhem, how excited they are to come in and see the mayhem he's caused that day, and also how hard they're working!

Stay tuned for this final week with Mayhem! It will be crazy fun!!! (NOTE: Link to week 2 is HERE!)