Monday, June 13, 2016

Integrating Block Play into Learning


I'm an architect's daughter, and one of the very first toys we had lying around our house were blocks. Different brands and types littered our home's floors through the years--from Lincoln Logs to Lego's to cardboard boxes. Even now I still firmly believe that giving children blocks to play and create and manipulate serves as one of the best toys. 

The benefits of block play have been researched in depth on the great many skills they build in children. Here are five of those skills that as an educator I greatly appreciate:
  1. Development of  visual discrimination, the recognition of detail in visuals--particularly with descriptive and comparative language, as a pre-reading skill
  2. Development of small and gross motor skills, along with hand-eye cordination development
  3. Basic mapping skills are often learned through blocks
  4. Offers introductory math and science concepts to children such as problem solving via trial and error, pattern creating, categorizing and classifying, and identifying sets, size, shapes, and weight
  5. Ability to visualize spatially--to mentally manipulate 2D, 3D, and 4D objects--often a skill that is stronger in boys than in girls simply due to their time spent with constructive based toys (blocks)
Even more, I've always loved how blocks are one of the most open-ended toys. Regardless of the age and interest of the child, they can utilize blocks in countless ways. While I was planning curriculum with first graders in mind this past school year I wanted to find ways to incorporate blocks into some of our various learning activities. My favorite was when the student had to build a zoo using blocks and small plastic animals, followed by drawing their creation as a map, which you can check out here. What ways have you integrated blocks into your students and children's learning?

What are you able to build with your blocks? 
Castles and palaces, temples and docks. 
Rain may keep raining, and others go roam, 
But I can be happy and building at home.
~Block City, Robert Louis Stevenson~ 

*To learn more on the importance and history of block play check out The Yale-New Haven Teacher Institute

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

30 Loose Parts to Use in Story Workshop


If you're interested in incorporating story workshop into your writing lessons, you'll be needing a stock of open-ended materials, or loose parts, that students can manipulate as well as use to represent different aspects of their stories in as many different ways as possible. Here are 30 ideas of materials to get you started:
  1. Glass marbles, round and flat
  2. Playdoh
  3. Pine cones
  4. Small sticks 
  5. Bark chips
  6. Various fabric squares
  7. Fake flowers (detached from wire stems)
  8. Small plastic animals or play figures
  9. Various types of blocks
  10. Toilet paper rolls
  11. Small stones
  12. Seashells
  13. Buckeyes and acorns
  14. Buttons
  15. Beads
  16. Various types of paints
  17. Small containers
  18. Lincoln Logs
  19. Straws
  20. Sand
  21. Plastic and wooden spools
  22. Corks
  23. Fabric place mats (great for representing landscapes as a story's setting)
  24. Round clothespins
  25. Popsicle sticks
  26. Pom-poms
  27. Pipe cleaners
  28. Foam shape cutouts
  29. Leaves
  30. Wikki Stix

Monday, June 6, 2016

Story Workshop in First Grade


I was first introduced to story workshop during my student teacher by another first grade teacher--the process of giving students the space to build their stories concretely with open-ended objects and materials (loose parts) before putting pencil to paper, thus connecting art to storytelling in its many different forms. 

It wasn't until recently though, this past spring, I had the opportunity to bring story workshop to both my own classroom and while visiting another nearby school. I have to say, now having experienced the model in practice first-hand, I can honestly say that this has been the most enjoyable manner in which I've ever taught writing for a few reasons.  First, I've found this model to naturally lend itself to diffrentiating instruction. Story workshop integrates a playfulness into the learning seamlessly, thus engaging and motivating children--my students who normally have an aversion to writing became just as engaged with the learning as my students who love writing.


There are five components to the story workshop model:
  1. Preparation: The teacher provides a menu or variety of open-ended materials for students
  2. Provocation: Questions are posed to students around writing strategies and traits (often through mini-lessons, mentor texts, etc.)
  3. Invitation/Negotiation: Students explore and 'shop' (pick) for their story materials as they reflectively begin planning them. The teacher helps students find items that will be represent and tell their story well.
  4. Creation: Students play and build purposefully with their materials to create their stories while the teacher confers with them. Students then write their stories out. (Once the students have built their stories I photograph it to have them use as a reference when they then sit down to write them.)
  5. Congress: Students share their stories and gain feedback from peers and the teacher
For this particular week, my students were posed with the question "How do characters overcome (solve) problems?" We read a handful of mentor texts where the main characters had to overcome series of problems they faced. Here were the beginnings of a couple of stories the students built and wrote:

"Once upon a time there was a forest. Deep in the forest there was a river. It was a special river full of tears. All of the animals would gather around the river and also a girl. The river had rocks and trees and flowers and dirt and one bird that was a parrot. The river was full of the girls tears because she had been cursed..."


"One day in a farm in Paris there lived a farmer and his wife. They were very poor. They only owned a few home things and a horse and cow and sheep and pie and a goat and donkey. One day a wolf came..."


"Deep in the jungle there was a tree boa and a monkey. The tree boa ate the monkey. There was a sea turtle there too and he saw this along with his friend--an anteater..."

To learn more about story workshop check out these resources and articles:

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Teacher Tip: Making Interactive Anchor Charts


After about a month into my student teaching I realized that I didn't like making anchor charts. That was even more solidified shortly after I started teaching in my own room as well. And I've really hated trying to store those big easel-sized pads of paper. Here's the thing: I like making my anchor charts really neat and, yes, cute--I do teach first grade after all. But having to remake anchor chart after anchor chart gets far too time consuming. I also was noticing that my students weren't really utilizing them as a resource either.

The solution? Make anchor charts that I could reuse year after year (even if and when I switch to a different grade level) and find ways to have students interact with them as another resource in the classroom. 

I don't know why I hadn't thought of it before, but I started simplifying my anchor charts--just down to the basic skeleton of the various graphic organizers we use in the classroom--and laminate them. This way they then turned into whiteboards that I could write on, erase, and use multiple times. I also could put them up on my other boards throughout the room that are magnetic. This way the kids could use them in new ways using their magnetic letter sets they each have, or with other magnetic activities I have for various lessons. 

I'd thought I'd share a handful of some of our classroom's interactive anchor charts with you, and how I and the students use them throughout our learning.


A t-chart bucket filling and dipping chart that was used first for us to record our examples of real-life bucket filling and dipping actions. Then we used it again on the whiteboard with magnetic scenerio cards that students sorted into the appropriate side.


Making predictions (above) and forming questions (below) graphic organizers to be used with post-its or dry erase markers for multiple use.


Our K-W-L chart gets plenty of use for multiple units and lessons


And our vocabulary builder chart we used when the class was learning new, unfamiliar words