Category Archives: Beginning of the Year

What We Did During Week One – Yay for Alliteration!

Rules, procedures, and relationship building are definitely my top priority during the first week of school. Getting those down during the first 5 days will spare me from headaches during the other 175. That said, I really can’t stand  seeing those faces in my room and not teaching my content, so I tried to cover some basics this week.

Parts of Speech

This year, I’ve taken on an idea from a stellar colleague Jeanette, my 7th grade counterpart. My students put together grammar and vocabulary books that we’ll use the entire year. I’m so excited about them. They are basically Duo-Tang folders where we will keep our notes about grammar topics like parts of speech, sentence types, phrases, and clauses. We will also keep all of our notes about vocabulary words in the folder, filing the words by part of speech. We’ll have blank pages for notes on roots, affixes, and context clues.

As we learn new vocabulary words, we will list them along with their part of speech in the table of contents.

After this, students put one sheet of blank loose leaf paper for notes on roots and affixes followed by tables to list the meanings of the roots and affixes we encounter throughout the year.

After the tables, students put a few sheets of loose leaf paper in for notes on context clues. We will learn about those starting Monday.

Then, students cut and hole punched different colored construction paper to correspond with the multi-sensory grammar color coding our school uses. We inserted some pages of my modified Frayer models for vocabulary instruction.  Then when we have writing lessons, and I tell the students to use more adverbs, for example, they’ll flip to the purple section of their book and have some great tier 2 level adverbs to choose from! Again, this is not my idea, but I think it’s a great one, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it works.

As an aside, I was COMPLETELY freaking out about getting my students to organize so many papers, not to mention CUT WITH SCISSORS and HOLE PUNCH on the second day of school, but I was worried for nothing. Each team member had a different job in helping each other put these together. They did great! They even organized and put away the extra supplies without being asked, and one student on her own initiative made an extra book for a teammate who was absent.

After putting together our grammar books, I gave each team of students an index card with one part of speech and examples. For instance, a card that said adjective and then listed 3 different adjectives. Each group prepared a poster to teach their part of speech to the class. As groups presented, students took notes in their new grammar books!


Then, we hung the posters on the grammar wall.

This is not really the purpose of the wall, but the kids have been using the posters during our daily grammar/writing warm ups, so I’ll leave them up for a little while.


Question Answer Relationship

Along with grammar, we worked on QAR, a reading strategy we’ll use all year long. The type of thinking required in this strategy is different from what most students are used to, so this is some pretty heavy stuff for the first week, but with lots of encouragement, scaffolding, and practice, students can do it. We started by taking notes which included sorting questions of each type of QAR and glueing them into our journals right with our notes.

Then, I asked students to take out a functional text I wrote detailing my classroom procedures. We’d used it earlier in the week for a part of speech scavenger hunt. But now, the students used it to practice QAR. Students had to classify the questions by QAR and then underline the parts of the passage that help them with the answer. We used colored pencils to color code our answers and underlines.

(Haven’t you ever tried to copy something only to have half of your pages come out on colored paper someone forgot? Oh well! I kind of like the blue paper. It’s pretty.)

Reading Enrichment

In addition to my language arts block, I teach a one hour reading enrichment class for a very small group of students. The goal is to fill the gaps in their reading skills and exit them from the class as quickly as possible. This week, I gathered a lot of data. Students filled out interest forms, so I would know what they like to read and what their struggles are. I used the San Diego Quick Reading Assessment to get an idea of their levels, and I administered a paper and pencil multiple choice reading pretest. The results of the pretests fascinated me.

My completely unscientific data analysis chart for the pretest revealed that my students are pretty great with narrative text (#12 – 20), but they need some work with expository. How very ELAS! But so much for the novel studies I’ve found to be so successful with these groups. My mother is coming to the rescue and mailing me some National Geographic materials.

We also learned about word parts and played a fun game I found at one of my favorite websites that I usually called That Florida Site.

One week down! I’m glad it was a great one.



Filed under Beginning of the Year

Bonding with Students

Perhaps it has to do with the demographics of my school or the age group I teach, but I’ve found that an essential component of managing my classroom and, more importantly, in motivating students to work as hard as I expect them to work is cultivating personal relationships with them. I am constantly looking for opportunities to show my students that they matter and that they are capable, but bonding isn’t always so serious. This first week of school, we bonded over . . .

OMG! Can you believe K. Stew?!?! Who would ever do that to R. Pattz?
My magnetic polish robot nails. They look pretty stellar, if I do say so myself.
And . . .
The Preposition Dance! Actually, I’ve just been talking this up to my students and holding off on the big reveal, but my homeroom is so into it. We want to learn it before the back to school dance Thursday.


Filed under Beginning of the Year, Classroom Management

My Sixth First Day — Part Two

The second day of school is so much better than the first! And the third better than the second! I really don’t have as much fun teaching rules and procedures as I do teaching my content, but does it ever pay off! My students seem eager to please, and I’ve been eager to praise them as they’ve quickly picked up about a dozen procedures we are already putting to regular use.

And now as promised, here are the activities I used for my reading enrichment class on the first day of school. As I said Monday, my goals for the first few days of school are always:
1. Building community
2. Teaching students what I expect from them
3. Teaching students what they can expect from me

As with the activities in my language arts classes, I believe each of the activities below helped me make tremendous strides with all three goals. I began by teaching and practicing my procedure for entering class and warm up work just like I did with language arts, and I moved on again to a class builder.

Class Builder – Find Someone Who

This is an old favorite! Students receive a table filled with possible descriptions of each other such as “favorite color is yellow”, “was born in another country”, etc. They then move around the room, question their classmates, and write the names of students who fit descriptions. I have my students write their classmates’ names instead of asking them to sign the paper. I want to stress how important it is to learn each other’s names! I like using this class builder because later in the year, I use the same activity with vocabulary words. Students love it, and it’s a great review of the words we’ve studied all year. When used with vocabulary, along with a classmates’ name, students must write an explanation of the vocabulary words after hearing their classmates define them.

Policies Carousel

My job in this class, per my 8th grade team, was to teach my students about 8th grade policies for school attendance (including tardies and truancy), detentions, and the point cards we use to help keep students accountable for their behaviors.

I photocopied the information I had about each of these categories and posted the copies on the wall around my room along with some construction paper. Remember this?

I divided the students into 3 groups (small class!) and assigned them each a poster. They went to their poster, read about their policy and noted key facts. During this time, I played music and circulated the room to help them. When a song ended, they had to rotate to the next poster and repeat the activity. I use the carousel structure for vocabulary as well. We brainstorm examples and non-examples of various words. We find figurative language and sound devices in poems. It’s so fun! Kids are up, moving, talking about language, and even having fun. They might deny the having fun part, but their smiles and laughter give them away. Even in classes with close to 40 students, I’ve had great success with this strategy!

When my students finished rotating, each group brought the papers back to the class and read the summary notes. Then, they practiced precision partnering to complete some sentence starters I’d prepared to ensure they would walk away with the necessary information.

We ended the day with a quick reflection for closure. One more first day is history!


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Filed under Beginning of the Year

My Sixth First Day – Part One: Or, My Sales Pitch for Kagan

There’s nothing like a steamy 118 degree day to kick off a new school year! Personally, I’m not a big fan of the first week of school. I love teaching my content, but teaching procedures? BORING! Still, I spend my first 2 days with all my classes pursuing a few basic goals:

1. Building community

I teach cooperatively on a daily basis, so this is a big one. I find it to be so important that my students know each other and me, that I know them, and that they experience what it feels like and looks like to be part of a productive team.

2. Teaching students what I expect from them 

This involves instruction on the school rule, school and grade level policies, and classroom procedures. The content is pretty dry, but it’s not too difficult to make it fun. Still, it’s of utmost importance that my classroom run like a well-oiled machine, and now is the time to apply the oil. Actually, I don’t really know anything about machines or how they use oil, but that simile just seemed to extend itself outside of my control. Words can do that, you know. Oh, and in case you were wondering I do not WANT to know anything about machines or any type of oil aside from the kind my manicurist applies to my cuticles.

3. Teaching my students what they can expect from me

I do my best to make it very clear that in my room, we will get down to business. We will focus on learning without wasting time. We will have partner discussions and cooperative learning activities many times a day. Participation is non-negotiable. Further, I make it clear that I will respect them and care for them, but they won’t be coddled or given endless “one more chance”s (or really any “one more chance”s, in most cases).

I really do think those 3 things are absolute essentials for any first week of school, but a great first few days containing those can have many different looks. I have two different preps, so I’ll share my agenda for my language arts classes today and my reading enrichment class later this week. FYI, my language arts classes are two hour blocks.

Procedures for Entering the Class
I introduced myself, helped students find their assigned seats and taught my beginning of class procedure first thing. Then we all played pretend as I so enjoy and headed back to the hallway. We re-entered the classroom applying our new understanding of these procedures. Students sat in their assigned seats, passed out journals, put their belongings away, and copied their objectives. We got this done in 4 1/2 minutes today … not bad for day 1!

Class Builder: Find the Fiction
Next, my students participated in class builder activities. These served all three purposes for the day. Of course, they helped to build community, but they also trained students on the procedures for different student engagement strategies I use, showing them how I expect them to behave and how they can expect me to conduct the class.

In language arts, I chose the Kagan structure Find the Fiction for today. First, I review the terms fact and fiction with the students. Then, I instruct them to write three statements about themselves: two that are factual and one that is fictional. I model this by sharing my three statements, but I don’t tell them which is fictional. I give students 3 minutes to silently write their statements, instructing them to draw pictures to go with them if they finish early. This prepares students for my Quick Write procedure which I’ll hit harder tomorrow. Next, I use the Kagan Round Robin strategy, which is so different from the round robin activities I did when I was a student. Seated in their groups of four, teammate 1 shares his/her statements and then 2, 3, and 4 all guess which statement is fictional before teammate 1 reveals the answer. This is repeated around the group. Then, we mix it up with the class. I teach the Kagan Stand Up, Hand Up, Pair Up procedure to get students standing, moving, and talking to someone outside of their teams. They share with one classmate and then return to their seats. Finally, I reveal my fiction and use popsicle sticks with student names (another common strategy I want my students used to) to ask a few students to share something interesting they learned about a classmate with the whole group. This is also a time for teaching my expectations for behavior when students are addressing the class: listen with respect and listen to learn. We spent a few minutes talking about what this looks like and doesn’t look like, and I gave them lots of specific positive feedback when they listened well.

Procedures Lesson
My grade level team divides up the logistical information students need to know and each teach a different topic on the first day. Some teach dress code, attendance policies, school behavior policies (though we all flesh that out on the second day), detentions, etc. My job was to teach our common 8th grade procedures.

I gave my students one minute to line up from tallest to shortest. Then, we numbered off and made 7 different groups. I assigned each group to a table and gave each student a handout with 8th grade procedures. I also assigned each group a different category of procedures. I instructed them to prepare a presentation to teach the class their procedure. I gave each group member a role to perform in their preparation and in the presentation itself. Then, I modeled this with the first set of procedures. Next, the groups had 15 minutes to prepare their presentations with summaries/paraphrases of the procedures, drawings, role-plays, and questions to ask the class. This helped me set up expectations for cooperative learning. Everyone has a role. Everyone must pull his/her weight. And everyone must be actively working for the entire time. Finally, we practiced listening with respect and listening to learn again during the student presentations.

It’s so easy to teach to the bell and forget how important closure is! But I told my students that their brains need to do something with their learning in order to help them file it away so they can remember it later, but also so that their brains are clear and ready for their next class. Today, we did a simple reflection. I asked students to respond to four questions in their journals. They shared out with their teams, picked up, and it was time to go!

Oh, and I threw a brain break into each of my classes as well! This helped with all three of my goals for this week, but it also got my students up and moving again so their blood was flowing through their brains instead of pooling in their feet. Thanks to our wonderful Coach G. for preparing a great flip book with lots of ideas for brain breaks!

Wow, that was a lot more typing than I expected. I guess we did a lot today, which is great! No wonder I’m so sleepy. Overall, I enjoyed my students, and I think I got pretty far with my 3 goals for the week.

If you are a teacher, I’d love to hear about your first day plans this year!

– Kristin


Filed under Beginning of the Year