Friday, July 21, 2023

Using Crowns and Headbands In My Classroom

I'm a crown and headband kind of girl!  Always have been! When I was little, it wasn't really dress-up without a tiara or two on my head! My love of headbands and crowns has extended to the classroom. I use them monthly and invite other optional opportunities for kids to make and bring home.

Why Use Crowns and Headbands In Your Classroom?

  • a quick, easy, yet meaningful "hat" that highlights a specific day or holiday to celebrate
  • an activity that promotes classroom community and school spirit
  • perfect for a quick Do-Now as kids arrive in the morning
  • reinforce curriculum
  • helps kids practice fine motor skills with coloring and cutting
  • sparks conversations in class and at home which strengthens the home-school connection

How To Make Crowns and Headbands

  • print out the crown you want 
  • use crayons or markers to color in the crown
  • cut out
  • glue onto a sentence strip and size to head
  • staple it

I use 2-3 crowns a month BUT I often out out the ones I didn't use during centers that kids can make and take home if they want. For example, we celebrated coding in September in school and I did a lesson on it but I didn't offer a crown to make. Some kids picked it during centers and brought it home to make while a few decided to make it in school.  

I've packed lots of crowns into each monthly packet. The best part? Many of them can be used ANY time of the year! Gotta love that!

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Scholastic News: A Must Have!

Do you subscribe to Scholastic News? I'm lucky that our school pays for the subscription for all of our First Grade classes. If I didn't have it and it wasn't in the budget, I would see if your PTO could purchase a subscription or earmark a fundraiser for it.  It's that good!

What is Scholastic News?

  • It's a weekly "magazine" that features timely non-fiction topics that support your curriculum. It's always engaging and I love the way it builds and reinforces nonfiction reading skills. Here are Grades 1-5 recent topics.

  • You get 4 issues delivered in a bundle each month. Some months are combined which makes sense. That's 32 issues a year. I think it's a really good deal BUT it still costs around $5-6 per student. So it's not like a teacher could purchase a class subscription on their own.
Here are the themes listed for next year.

While I've always loved the content, it wasn't until two years ago that I fully took advantage of everything it has to offer which includes the digital content.

What's included in Scholastic News:


  • A magazine for every student (4 sides total. Just the right size for First Graders.)
  • Lesson Plans/Ideas to implement/discuss
  • Printable activity sheets which I never used until a few years ago.  


  • The news accessible on any device
  • Nonfiction videos that are always spot-on
  • Read-Aloud Audio Option which I use
  • Interactive activity Sheets
  • Games
  • Back Issues which I do access. Sometimes videos are the same but often can get short videos that are so well made on a specific topic.

This is what the online version looks like:

For a long time, I simply read the magazine to the kids and discussed it. But a few years ago, after a lot of nudging from my colleague, I discovered the online version and WOW! A great news "magazine" was made even better. (Thanks, Jane!)

How I Use With My First Graders:

Fridays: I share the online version with the kids. This usually takes 30 minutes by the time I introduce the vocabulary, listen to it online (as it highlights each word) watch the video, do the "dance break" offered, and the learning game that is part of it.  No matter the topic, we always learn SO MANY interesting facts! 

Here is my favorite one from this year:

An example of the vocabulary. You click it and it defines the word then asks class to say the word together.

I will definitely do this one again next year.  Truly inspiring!

After We Read On Fridays:

  • On Monday or Tuesday, I pass out the extension pages that I make into a booklet  Then I allow the students to work together OR work independently on completing the pages. While most want to work with a partner, I usually have 3-5 that prefer to work alone.

The kids are so engaged and take this seriously. It's a great way to reinforce so many skills as they work.

Here is a free online sample that you can see for yourself.  

And in case you are wondering, I don't know anyone there and don't benefit in any way at all if you sign up.  I just wanted to share a product I truly love!


  • The only thing I'd change that I find really annoying is that you have to print our each PDF worksheet separately.  Why not just have them all together? It would save time. The way it is, I have to open up onw page, print. Then go to next, etc. 
  • It seems like my district renews late each year. We usually don't get the print versions of first set until late September. Since you need a code to log on, it's annoying. We are at the mercy of our secretaries. just know that if they received your P.O., they will give you the code even if they haven't sent out the printed copies yet. Just call and ask. 
  • I know Second and Third grade teachers who are equally happy and my sister teaches Middle School and uses that version which she loves. I believe it's called SCOPE.
Enjoy! Let me know if you use Scholastic News in your class and what you think?

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Writing Prompts

If you know me or have read my blog for a bit, you know how much I love to teach writing. I suppose it's not a surprise since I'm also a children's author.  My love for writing must be contagious because as much as I love teaching writing, my Fabo Firsties always seem so focused during writing time and love to blow me away with their writing.

How lucky am I? I teach the interactive lesson, put on some writing workshop music and we get down to business right away. We write so much in my class that I'm forever sharpening pencils!

Dull Pencils need sharpening for Writing Workshop

But I can't take all the credit for their enthusiasm! It all starts in Kindergarten and our K teachers rock! They work their magic and by the time they enter my room, it's honestly a rare occasion that I hear, "I don't know what to write about." Many of us use some variation of this quote which connects the dots for our young writers and readers.

Writing Quote for Kids

We use Lucy Calkins for writing and the kids must generate their own topics all the time. As much as I love that, I also wanted them to be able to respond to a given prompt. Since they use all of the Lucy Calkins strategies during their responses, I feel like it's a win-win situation!

I decided to make my own prompts so I could make sure I had monthly topics that meshed well with our curriculum. BUT, I still wanted to give the students some choice. SOOOOO....Pick-a-Prompts were born!

Pick-a-Prompt September

Writing Workshop Prompts

What are Pick-a-Prompts?

  • Writing activities that give your students a choice in what they want to write about. There are 3 prompts on each page and everyone gets to choose the one that interests them the most. They will highlight their chosen prompt and respond. 
  • Varied writing opportunities since kids can often pick between stating an opinion, making lists, writing letters, songs, poems, write a How-To, etc. 
  • Themes related to the month so the writing naturally supports curriculum topics.

How Do I Use Them In My Class?

  • In the beginning of the year, I don't run these two-sided. Once I sense kids need more writing space, I'll print two-sided with the back being the fully lined page that’s included in this packet. I always have extra lined-only pages run off for my voracious writers! I get quite a few two-three page responses in the later part of the year.

  • As always, I model, model, and model again several of these before giving them out. We do as a class all throughout September and October. It makes such a huge difference in the quality they produce! The kids know that I won’t accept one word or sentence answers! The more I model and have kids share responses, the better the results are from the whole class.
  • I always have some printed ready to go during this time in case a child wants to do one. Usually I have 6-8 kids that opt-in by October.
  • If you walk into my room, you'll see several of these hanging up around the room. I also use these worksheets as homework once a week starting in January and the kids partner share responses during morning meeting the next day. Sharing responses allows the children to get to know their classmates a bit better and helps foster a stronger classroom community.
  • I also use them for Do-Nows, Free Choice (I can even put same ones out because kids still have two unused options to pick from) and slip them into Fast Finishers folders. They've really come in handy during writing workshop too. I have a rule that during writing, we write. That's it. Finished a story? Write a new one! But I've realized that sometimes kids want to continue writing but starting another How-To or All About with ten minutes left of the period may not be ideal or could feel overwhelming. So, these fit the bill!

What's Included in Each Packet?

  • 8 pages of prompts with 3 prompts per page. Students highlight their chosen prompt or simply put an ‘X’ on it and respond to that prompt.
  • Two full lined pages to run on the back of the prompt for those students who need more space to write their response.
  • All prompts are available with primary and secondary handwriting lines which make these appropriate for Grades 1-4.
  • Writing topics for September include: Fall Fun, School Rocks, All About Me, Labor Day, School Rules, Grandparents' Day, Friends, and What If...?

Real Pick-a-Prompt Responses

Janaury Writing Prompts

Writing Prompts for Kids

January Writing Prompts

NOTE: These were from January packet. I'm in the process of tweaking all months a bit: fonts, clip art, and some of the prompts. The changes can be seen in the September and October covers above,

Here is one from one of my Book-It Packets. Each Book-It gives a little support to the books teachers love and use all of the time. They feature the same 3 activities in each one: Pick-a-Prompt, Make-a-Word, and Retellings. Want 3 free Book-Its that you'll love? They are an hour of meaningful work and you'll feel good about leaving them with a substitute. 

President Pennybaker Writing Prompts

Are you ready to give Pick-a-Prompts a try with this FREE packet? I sure hope so. I promise you that you're going to love them and reach for them time and time again! Let me know what you think!

Happy writing!

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Making Class Books

My most favorite time of the day (after Morning Meeting!) is when I sing our writing workshop song as the kids gather on the carpet with their writing folders. They are so excited and eager to participate in the lesson and get started. While teaching writing is one of my favorite subjects to teach, I also think it's the hardest subject area to teach. (Feel free to grab the song. It was given to me with no name to give credit to. I just added border/pics.)

If your class is like mine, you have some struggling FRUSTRATED writers.  Only minutes before, they looked as if they were ready to write a novel. But their confidence falters. Even drawing a picture and labeling it seems quite challenging to them.

That's exactly why I like to make CLASS BOOKS! Immediate success for ALL writers! 

Because each page has the same starter sentence or prompt, all students can read the phrase independently within minutes which is a great ego boost for the kids.  (Example: The Chicka Chicka Boom Boom Book for September has Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (Name) is in our room. That's it! A very easy one for all to read. Every child can read the book on the first try! 

Why Make Class Books?

  • They allow students to see the writing-reading connection and empower them to think of themselves as authors and illustrators.
  • They are repetitive in nature so kids can often read the entire book after the writer has shared his/her page.
  • The books help strengthen your classroom community. You learn so much about each other when you read the books.
  • It's a "quick win" for the entire class. From start to finish, the whole book can be made/shared in about 30 minutes. The students see their writing published in a book and there is something very  satisfying and powerful about that!

My Method for Making Class Books

  • We talk about the theme. This can be in the days leading up to our writing or minutes before. Depends on the topic.
  • I pick a name out of my cup to see who gets to color in the cover. (We do so many books that each child will get to color 1-2 covers. NOTE: You can use the COLOR cover that comes with the packet but I have the kids color them. Up to you.

The Apple of Our Eyes Class Books

Classroom Books

  • Kids pick the paper they want to use. You can see how it's differentiated. Choice is important.
  • They complete their page.

Apple of My Eye Class Book

  • We gather back on the carpet. We take turns reading and sharing responses. I collect each one immediately after a child has shared. Within a few minutes, I have all in my hands.
  • We then vote on WHO we want to dedicate our book to. Sometimes I give them 3 people in our school to pick from. Other times, I take nominations.  The principal always seems to be the first book we dedicate to.
  • I fill out the DEDICATION page.
  • I print our a recent class picture and glue it on the last page. The person coloring the cover also gets to add design elements to this page.

  • After the cover is done, I staple the book together and put it in a bin for the kids to read and enjoy! It's exciting when they see me put THEIR book in the same space as their favorite authors and illustrators.  "It's because you ARE authors and illustrators!"
First Grade Classroom Library by Bloomabilities

  • At the end of the year, I put them all into a bag and kids reach in to pick one and take it home. A great memory book for them!  They love to look back and see how much their writing and drawing has improved. 


  • Next year, I'm going to make sure I add a page to each book too! Why should they have all the fun?
  • The books make a cute interactive bulletin board. Kids can grab one to read at any time!
  • I have a sign-out sheet for library books in my class. It's simple but effective. 
  • The kids are so proud of their book! It's too good not to share so from time to time, I make sure the kids pick a friend or teacher they want to share it with.
  • Kids often record each other reading the books and they share with parents on Seesaw.
  • The most exciting aspect for me is that by the end of September, we have completed 3-4 books and that means that EVERYONE in my class can read all the words in those books. That's thrilling for my struggling learners.

If you are interested in the September packet, I lowered it to only $2 for the next couple of weeks. That's only 40 cents per book! If you end of making any of the books, please let me know!

If you end of making any of the books, please let me know!

Happy writing!

Monday, July 10, 2023

Shape Talks

Ever since I started to incorporate NUMBER TALKS into my daily classroom routines, I've been thrilled to see the kids deepen their number sense, awaken their mental math tool bag, share their reasoning and strategies, justify their answers, and learn new ideas/strategies from their peers. My students have become better mathematicians because of Number Talks.

So I got to thinking...what about taking these same objectives and applying them to SHAPES? Well I did and Shape Talks was born!

Shape Talks

The nudge for "shape talks" came last year when our new math program (Investigations) featured Quick Images, with shapes. See below. There is a clock you click on. Once you do, an image shows up for 5 seconds then disappears. Kids draw them. You can show it again for those that need it. 

They would feature three-four slides in one or two lessons in each unit. Honestly, the program only skimmed the surface and didn't ask the kids to do any deep thinking. What a wasted opportunity! So I quickly decided to dig deeper into the exploration of shapes and their properties like I did regularly with Number Talks.

Since the book had so few opportunities for the kids to engage in this, I made my own slides and came up with my own twist. After using them I can honestly say my kids can compose and decompose shapes and their understanding of shapes and the relationships between them and their properties was solidified. Way better than previous years. The best part for me? The inclusion of Shape Talks was a natural one since we use pretty much the same format as we do when engaged in Number Talks. 

What are the Benefits of Shape Talks?

  • The discussions are short and easy to incorporate into an already packed schedule. Can be anywhere from 5-15 minutes but most days they fall into a 5-8 minute time frame. 
  • They encourage students to think about the various attributes of shapes in relation to other shapes. Composing and decomposing shapes needs lots of opportunities for them to "see" the possibilities.
  • Offer opportunities for students to strengthen their understanding of shapes through mental math.
  • Kids can share their thinking aloud and can not only verbalize their answers but defend and justify them if questioned.
  • They see, firsthand, how others are making connections and can test-drive their peers ideas.
  • Without even knowing it, they are suddenly working on the seeds of area, perimeter and volume and it's also a stepping stone to part-whole relationships and even fractions.

How Do I Use These Shape Talk Slides?


Pages 6-126 feature each shape (circle, square, rectangle, triangle, rhombus, trapezoid, semi-circle, oval, pentagon, hexagon and octagon) in isolation first. I introduce one shape at a time. This is an example of the intro slide for a square.

I simply ask: "What do you notice about this square?"

The answers always surprise me! Here are some I got:
  • "Square begins with an "s" like Sandy."
  • "Since there is a q there has to be a u next to it."
  • "It has 4 sides."
  • "It has 4 corners and four sides."
  • "The sides are all the same size."
  • "It's not a cube. A cube is 3D. This is a 2D shape."
  • "The lines are straight."
  • "There aren't any curved lines."
  • "It kind of looks like a rectangle but there aren't any short sides." 
  • "There are four vertices."
  • "If you put another square on top of that one, it will become a rectangle."
Can you imagine all the great discussions their observations generated? They steer the boat but I get to elabortae and use their words as small teaching points. A lot of my decisions are based what I think the audience in front of me at the moment needs.  FOr example: When the one student saud, "If you put another square ontop ofthat one, it will become a rectangle." I immediately did just that so my visual learners could understand it. "There are 4 vertices." was quickly met with me marking off each one quickly. It's a great way to reinforce AND introcuce new concepts.

Then I project 3-5 slides to practice subitizing and engage them in Number/Shape Talks. 

I simply project for 5 seconds while asking, "How many squares are there?"

After the shape disappears, I record the answers given on the board: 10, 11, 13, etc. Then I put the slide up again for a few seconds longer and ask, "Does anyone want to change their answer?"  Some do.
Then the all important question: "How did you count the squares?

For the slide above, I had the following answers:
  • "It's 10 because this is like a 5 and a 5 on dice. And there are two of them so 5 + 5 is ten."
  • "I counted by 2s: (Then they proceeded to show me the top 2 in each cluster then the bottoms clusters of 2 and then, finally, the middle two. (It sounded like this as they pointed: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10.)"
  • "I counted by 4s and then added on two in the middle: 4, 8, 9, 10."
  • "I counted the diagonals first: 3, 6, and then added on 7, 8, 9, 10."
Since not all kids are sharing out, I then give them 30 seconds to share with a partner before we move on. There are 11 Subitizing slides for each shape.
Here is another example for the square. I do all 11 slides of the new shape over the course of a week. Then it's time to move on to a different shape.

Draw and Label Shape Talks

(Pages 127-213) I've also included slides that have two shapes that kids can draw and label before we talk about what we know. (NOTE: I wouldn't present this slide UNLESS I've already covered circles and pentagons.) You can do this is tandem with the subitizing slides OR complete all of the subitizing slides and move on to these.  That is what I do.
After presenting this, I simply say, "Draw and label the shapes that you see."  Here are two results.

This student did a nice job drawing and this labeling was perfect for her. I like the way she ticked off the sides to count. I noticed how her had to concentrate on drawing the pentagon and it took her a few minutes.

This child, as you can see, is more advanced. She finished in half the time as the above student. One quick glance and I know she can draw the shapes and labels with pretty accurate spelling. Love the carot used and the numbers to count the sides. The "V" is guessed it! VERTICES! 

Two drawing that tell me a lot about the student before they even open their mouths to engage in Shape Talks!

I ask: "Is there anything you want to tell me about these shapes?" and I get such varied answers during the Shape Talk. I do remember one of the students saying the pentagon was the same shape as home base in their baseball game and another said, "My uncle works at the Pentagon in Washington and I bet the building is shaped just like that."  WHOA! Real-life! 

Advanced Draw and Label Shape Talks

(Slides 214-338)  I've also included Draw and Label slides with more then two shapes. Some are quite challenging and I use them in small group instruction. Here are a few examples:

Although harder, I often try subitizing with these: can they draw them after seeing them for only 5 seconds? It gets easier in time! Other times, I leave the shapes on the screen for them to draw, label, and then we discuss what they notice.  Again- it comes from the students!

Create a Shape Picture

(Slides 239-350) Kids love to get their creative juices flowing and Create a Shape Picture is the perfect opportunity for them to show how shapes work together to form new shapes and pictures. Kids love these! I use these as Do-Nows in the morning, for a Morning Meeting Activity or print out and have them complete for homework.

Shape Talks by Bloomabilities

Here are two results:

The above pictures were done as a Math Do-Now. If I had offered this as a Morning Do-Now, I would have had them color it in and most students would have added more details.  I love both these pictures and can see how hard they worked. 

NOTE: I do allow them to use lines in addition to their shapes.

I admit to being totally in love with Number Talks and Shape Talks! The benefits are immediate and it's the one area in math that ALL of my students feel immediate success. 

Have you done Number Talks? DO you love them as much as I do? How about Shape Talks? Let me know!