Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Help! My student doesn't speak English!

When I worked as an ESL teacher prior to becoming a kindergarten teacher, I probably heard "But he/she doesn't speak English!  What should I do??!!" every time a newcomer was added to my caseload.  If you are a classroom teacher, and not used to have English language learners, especially newcomers, having this student show up can be overwhelming and scary. 

And it is hard!  But by asking this question, you want to do your very best to help this new student- and that's awesome.  First, take a deep breath and realize it is going to take time.  Your new student is not going to learn English over night, most likely not even by the time she leaves your class this year.  That's not a negative reflection on your teaching, just a fact that can sometimes help take the pressure off of you!  With that being said, there are some things you (immediately) can do to ease the stress of this transition for your new learner.

1. Make sure she has some type of visual schedule of the day, either on her desk or in your classroom so she knows how the day will go.  If it is late in the school year and your routines and transitions have gotten a little "sloppy" or faster paced, go back to the beginning-of-year-pace and explicitly reteach some routines.  No worries- at this point in the year your other students probably need the reteaching and practice too!
2. Partner him up with one of your other ELL’s- someone patient who will be able to take a little time from their own work to help and doesn’t mind doing so.  If you don't have another ELL, see if there is someone in the building who could be a peer tutor, or just pair him with a really patient student.  (**Note: I usually find that this works wonderfully for the first few months.  Then, sometimes they tend to get too comfortable/chatty with each other.  When that happens, move their seats!  Your helper did his/her job and now it's time for the newcomer to spread his wings and fly a little on his own!)

3. Modify your assignments as much as you can. Translating and using a bilingual dictionary can be an easy way to communicate, and it can seem like you're helping the student, but in the long run this will slow down her language growth. The Google translate app is good at times but be careful- long translations come out very jumbled. I tended to only use translation for essential information (bathroom, classroom/field trip expectations, directions, etc.) and not every day for content. This can be hard but the goal is to keep the content the same but lower the English language requirement. For example, can she label something rather than writing a paragraph? Think in term of one word responses right now and as many yes/no, visual, pointing, responses, sequencing picture cards to retell a story, etc. as she can give. There is so much more to be said on this, but for now use lots of pictures and gestures in your lessons. Give her credit in your gradebook (if you are at all able) for what she IS able to do.  Let your ESL teacher know you want some help in modifications- they should be willing to help with this too!  They are not content experts however- they are language experts.  YOU are the content expert.

4. Get a blank journal. While the rest of the class is working on an independent activity that he may not be able to do yet, ask her a simple question in the journal. (Start with, ”what is your name?” for example) Have her respond, then write back asking another question, generating conversation. Draw pictures if you need to! This can be a great way to connect with the student, gets her used to seeing written English patterns, and helps you learn more about her home life and background.

5. I love using the language experience approach to help with reading. Have her tell a simple story about an experience she had (maybe just a few words or sentences to start!) type it out, and have her reread it to you, illustrate it, highlight vocabulary words and keep them in a box for her to practice, etc. After a few days, blank out some words and see if she can fill them in. She will relate better to this ”reading passage” because it is from her own experience.

These tips are by no means everything that could possibly be done, but are just a few of my "tried and true" and "what can I do tomorrow" favorite ideas!  Are they useful to you?  Would you like to discuss more ELL topics?  Let me know!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Five for Friday- April Showers and Recycling

Linking up with Doodle Bugs Teaching today to share five things from our first full week in April!

To spruce up our writing center this week, which was sort of getting under-used, I added an idea I've seen from others- sticker stories!  It has been a big hit.  I went through our sticker box and pulled out some sheets I thought they would like.  Dinosaurs and Sponge Bob have been big favorites so far.  The sheet on top is my example.  I told them they could pick five stickers out of the basket and then write a few sentences about their stickers.

Two students decided to work together on this story- "One day Sponge Bob was walking Jerry..." etc.  and asked for extra time to finish.  They went on to tell a whole story with a beginning, middle, and end!

I've been wanting to get a new color printer for home and saw Simply Kinder's printer recommendation.  When I looked up the printer on Amazon it was only $68.  It arrived two days later and I signed up for the HP instant ink program.  So excited to have a color printing option now! 

In science this week, we talked about natural resources and ways to reuse, reduce and recycle.  We made a list of ways we use "trash" in our classroom. 

We then ended the week by using our paper scraps to make picture collages.  I loved seeing their their creativity! 

It's been a cold, dreary week but we have our own little spring oasis inside at the science center!  The kids love coming in and checking the progress of our plants every day.  (They especially love getting to spray the plants with water!) 

My new favorite afternoon snack- it's like pretzels and Nutella all in one!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Behavior Plans: What Works?

Oftentimes over the past few months, my second year in kindergarten, I have thought back on last year and the lessons in classroom management that I learned.

Last year I had some students who had LOTS of trouble sitting still.  (I called them "The Three Musketeers")  Among other pastimes, including wandering around to centers during instruction, they enjoyed running.  Everywhere.  Since I did not have an aide, I quickly grew frustrated having to get up from teaching and follow them around the room constantly asking them to come work, listen, stay on the carpet, line up with the rest of the class, etc.  The time I was taking to redirect them was not fair to my other students.  I realized that my normal classroom behavior plan was not going to work as well for these students, and that it was time for a tier 2 plan. 

I searched for a while for a good, editable, age appropriate behavior plan and was about ready to give up and create my own.  I FINALLY found a great one here on TpT:  Editable Behavior Plan  Easy to use, edit for our daily schedule, and age-appropriate.  Perfect.  My three enjoyed seeing how many green smileys they could earn, and even started to compete amongst themselves. 

Along with this, a brilliant teacher next door to me suggested focusing on getting them to make more positive choices.  She very kindly made me three "superhero" charts.  Every time a student makes a positive choice (in this case, we are focused on staying in an appropriate spot), they get to move their superheros up the chart.  Since I had *just* started the behavior plans, I linked it to the superheros.  Every time they earned a green smiley, they got to move their superhero up the chart (which was simply a laminated sentence strip with Velcro dots.)  Unfortunately,  I left them at my old school.  You can sort of see them at the bottom of my Dr. Seuss bulletin board here:

When they successfully moved their superhero up the chart, they got to take a break in the "busy spot."  This was a spot in the back of the classroom that had play doh, trucks, and books that they liked (one of my students was obsessed with panda bears!).  This helped so much, and I was so proud of the way the rest of my class handled the changes.  I explained the first day of implementing all this that some students need help following directions, and that we were going to try and help them do that.  No one complained about not getting to use "the spot," and they were very generous with their praises when someone choose to come sit with the rest of the class for instruction.  In the meantime, I ramped up the positive incentives for the rest of the class.  We used punch cards, table gems, and a clip chart.  My mom also offered to donate some hot chocolate, so we earned the letters in "hot chocolate" to work our way to a class hot chocolate party.  (Thanks to A Teachable Teacher for this great idea and free printable!) We earned our hot chocolate party on the 100th day of school.  That may have been slightly rigged by the teacher.  ;)

I also like the idea of "break cards."  I can't remember where I saw this, but one blogger suggested giving the student a predetermined number of "I need a break" cards, as a pass to get up and take a break from instruction.  I didn't try this yet, but it sounds easy to keep track of.

Anyway, ever since my classroom management "boot camp" of last year, as I like to call it, I've been interested in researching different ways to manage behavior.  To me it almost seems like a puzzle to figure out.  Behavior is purposeful, and what works for one kid won't work for another.  For example, once again this year, I am using my behavior chart with another student, and his needs are even different than my three students last year.  Fidget toys are working with him, which didn't work last year.  Positive reinforcement actually doesn't seem to have as much affect on him as it did last year.

Kindergartners are 5 and 6.  I get that.  They can't sit still.  I don't expect any of my students to sit for longer than fifteen to twenty minutes by mid-year, and even during that time we are getting up doing hand motions, singing, talking to partners, chanting, coming up to work on the board, etc.  I strive to incorporate developmentally-appropriate movement activities into my lessons every day.  But we also need to be willing to work with those who need an alternative arrangement.  Some teachers complain about behavior interventions taking up too much time and attention, but I'd rather try to actively problem solve, than spend my day frustrated and simply repeating a student's name over and over.  And, I think most students feel safer and calmer knowing a system is in place, rather than knowing their teacher is frustrated. 

I've had many conversations with staff and fellow teachers about the best ways to implement a tier 2 type of behavior management.  If students need to leave the rest of the group for a time-out, do they choose when they are ready to rejoin the class?  Or does the teacher?  Is it appropriate to give more incentives for seemingly expected behavior?  Should there be a balance of negative and positive consequences?  What are some of the best practices to keep in mind, especially for little ones?  I'd love to hear your thoughts on more intensive behavior management and continue the conversation!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Spring break recap and so happy for April!

Thought it was about time for a little update...this teacher was really happy to turn the calendar page last week and focus on a new month!  March started out with a severe stomach flu bug for me (I seriously cannot remember the last time I was that sick- I even missed my favorite day of the year...Dr. Seuss day!!  Two sick days off is a first ever in my six year teaching history) and the month ended with a bad sinus infection.  I'm pretty sure my little kinder kiddos have learned the art of sharing.  :) I guess since it is only my second year in kindergarten it is going to take some time to build up my immunity.  

The Wednesday night before Easter I was out driving around and happened to look up in the sky and see a bright beautiful full moon- and it explained a lot!

Enough said.  

But spring break was wonderful- I spent lots of time catching up with family and just relaxing.  The Tuesday after Easter my mom and I took my younger siblings on a field trip to Washington D.C.  It was a beautiful day but pretty crowded in the museums.  We walked over five miles and packed as much as we could into the day!

Back to the classroom last week...I decided our dramatic play and science centers needed a little revamping so we turned our dramatic play center into a flower shop!  I have a few more additions for this week but my kids loved the new additions on Friday! 

(If you want the recording sheet I used, I bought the flower shop dramatic play package HERE.  I have this seller's doctor set too and I love the picture cues that makes it easy for my non-readers and ELL's to use too!)

And the new additions to our science center- I have more plans but for now the kids are just sorting seeds and observing the seeds we planted on Friday.  We did sunflowers and radishes in upcycled milk gallon jugs (hello Earth Day connection!).  I opened the seed packets and glued one of each to the envelope so they can see which seeds go to which plants as they are sorting.

My little sister pulled the "Brown E's" (brownies) trick on me late April Fools night.  I really really wanted those brownies too! 

Ran an 8:39 minute mile in my 5K this weekend!  I'm pretty sure that's my fastest mile far, that is.  ;) 

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Valentine Math Fact Sensory Center

Need a last minute Valentine activity for the week?

I have a few kids that need to practice their fine motor skills this year, so lately I've been really interested in trying to incorporate more sensory activities into our day.  This sensory center cost me $4 to make and 30 minutes to put together!  I found all of the supplies at Dollar Tree. 

You need: 
1 egg carton
1 bag of Valentine table scatter
1 bag of Valentine Pompoms
1 bag of red basket filler ( a little goes a lonngg way!) 
1 bag of 100 foam hearts (mine were stickers. I separated the small and large ones, saved them for another craft, and just used the medium sized hearts. I stuck two together so the kids wouldn't peel the backs apart, but if you just had regular foam hearts it would save some time!)  

Mix the table scatter, Pompoms, and basket filler together. I mixed mine in a gallon bag so I could just pour it into a bin when I got to school. 

It ended up making a nice mix of soft, slippery, and scratchy textures.

Cut the top off the egg carton and number the cups 1-12 (or any other sums you need your kiddos to practice) 

Write facts on the plain foam hearts. Again, you can differentiate for the needs of your students! We are working on understanding the difference between plus and minus signs, as well as fluency in facts under 10, so that's what I focused on. You could also do all teen numbers, draw shapes and sort by the number of sides, or simply do a sort and count by color or size of the hearts. It really just depends. 

Mix the facts into your "base." 

Students pull out the hearts and put them in the cup that equals the fact.  I plan to have mine use tweezers to sort through the bin and find the fact hearts.

And that's it!  How else could you differentiate this idea in your class? 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Five for Friday: SDE Conference!

This week I got to attend the Maryland SDE conference for kindergarten teachers!  This is the smaller version of the one that is held in Las Vegas every summer.  I came away so energized to implement some new ideas in my kindergarten classroom during the second half of the year! 

We arrived and checked into the hotel, where the conference was held AND it was connected to the mall!!!  Living in a rural area, it was such a novelty to get up in the morning and walk to Starbucks at 7am!  (Oh, and did you know that people actually walk malls in the early morning for exercise??  Like, they intentionally go there to walk early in the morning?  Maybe I'm the only one just discovering this...but...apparently it's an actual thing?!)

Attended a critical thinking workshop and made these little catapults!  It's amazing what you can do with Popsicle sticks, rubber bands, and a Play Doh lid!

Kathy Griffin was one of the keynote speakers and I have so many good ideas to engage my class.  If I could only remember what half the notes I scribbled and pictures I took actually meant...

On Wednesday I went back to my classroom and had parent teacher conference day.  It was nice to be able to have some time in between conferences to work on planning and creating upcoming lessons based on some of the strategies I learned.

One of the most game-changing workshops I attended was Angie Bonthuis' workshop on "Diving Deeper into Centers."  Wow...I don't have a single picture because I was so busy writing down "aha's" and "must do's."  I have been dying to reorganize my centers all year- they were driving me crazy, but since I am in a new school and new classroom I figured the reorganization would have to be a summer project.  Her methods make so much sense to me and I am thrilled I finally found a way to set up my centers to include both play and content learning that is going to be easy to keep up with.  And, my team is getting validated this year.  One of the components is choice centers.  I doubled the choices my students had for both math and literacy centers yesterday and they did great! 

I also attended one of Angie Bonthuis' math workshops.  We tried one of her problem of the day strategies on the board yesterday.  I called up three students to work out the problem, gave them each a different colored marker, and sat back and watched their thought process.  It was so cool to have them "be the teachers" and watch as my other students encouraged and gave them ideas.  This is the FIRST TIME my students have seen a problem like this, and they rocked it!!  We will definitely be doing these every day, following the types of word problems in progression that Angie shared in her talk.  Her website is and she has everything that she showed us on her website for FREE!

On a totally different note, it has been so rainy and snowy that the ducks are swimming at the gas stations!  We pulled up to get gas and I thought this was so funny that I had to take a picture!

Chinese fortune cookie for the win...

Finally, in science and math we have been working with bowling pins to observe motion.  For math in small groups, we took turns bowling while other students kept track of the score on 10-frames.  This was great to practice addition, discuss ways to make 10 and answer "how many more?"  They loved it and begged to play again the next day.  I found a table-top bowling set that I put in our newly redesigned science-center so the kids can continue exploring it! 

Have a great week!  Enjoy the rest of the Five for Friday posts over at Doodle Bugs Teaching!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Five for Friday- Winter Activities!

It seems like it's been forever since I've done a Five for Friday post!  Here's what we've been up to in kindergarten world during the month of January!

Snowflake shapes!  My students designed a six-sided snowflake and discussed the shapes they used to make their snowflake.  Their creativity was amazing!  If you'd like a copy of the little recording boxes I used in the lower right hand corner, click on the email button ( ) and I'd be happy to send you a copy!

It snowed in our classroom this week!  We were studying winter and here in Maryland it hasn't snowed a bit, so we brought the snow to our room!  

Here were my directions:

All set up ready to go:  (The ocean breeze flavor made our room smell so fresh!)

I poured ingredients into plastic containers while the students watched, and then I sent them to their tables to mix.  We mixed in three sets of plastic containers with lids so I could keep the "snow" fresh for the next few days:

After everyone had enough mixing time, we gathered back on the rug and filled in some words to describe our snow: (Sometime about the baking soda and conditioner mix actually does make the snow "cold!")

And here is the snow on day three.  I put one of the containers in the science center and added a handful of different sized and colors of gems.  Their job at this center was to find, sort and count the gems.  They could sort by size, shape or color.  They loved it!

I'm thinking we'll have some real snow soon.  But this held us over for a little while!

In math we focused on 3D shapes recently, so we built 3D structures in one of our math centers.  Again, my students amazed me with the structures they could create after just a day or two of exploring the marshmallows and toothpicks!  It's my goal to try to get more hands on activities into my lessons.  They are five and six years old; they NEED hands on learning.  And, it is just plain fun to teach this way.  When I'm excited about teaching, I know the kids get excited about learning!

Totally addicted to the iteachtvnetwork these days, people.  If you haven't checked it out on Periscope, Twitter, or the website, DO IT!  It's like Oprah for teachers.  A recent scope by Amy Harris on how to stop students who blurt caught my attention.  I love this "stop and think" reminder sign that you can hold up to show students it is thinking time.  Then, when you want them to answer, you give another signal like a green "go."  Such a great visual to help emphasize the importance of wait time.  And wait time is so essential for our English language learners!  Even after four years of teaching ESOL, I still need to remind myself to slow down and give them time to think!

Random, but this tea diffuser was my sister's Christmas gift to me.  His name is Fred and it makes me laugh every time I use it!