2016 - Susan Jones Teaching

Books to Teach Nonfiction Text Features

I love teaching nonfiction to my students. My students LOVE to learn all about animals, space, nature, etc. It is real and attainable to them and they just seem to seek that knowledge on their own. 

I like to let my students know that with nonfiction they know what they're in for. If they want to learn about a topic, they can go and grab a nonfiction book, pick it up, and learn! With fiction we often don't know where the story is headed with its twists and turns along the way. Nonfiction gives us that knowledge right at our fingertips!

I wanted to share some of my favorite books for modeling nonfiction text features and how I use them. I generally teach nonfiction text features to my first graders in the month of January.

Butterflies and Moths by Nic Bishop:
I use this book to teach all about the use of photographs in nonfiction texts. This book has big, beautiful photos which really help show the similarities and difference between butterflies and moths. My students get really excited to see these creepy crawly bugs up close and personal. I also like to emphasize how the photograph can give us information that may not be in the text (just like the illustration often does the same in a fiction book).

Ladybugs by Gail Gibbons:
I love Gail Gibbons for nonfiction - her units are jam packed with information and nonfiction text features to explore with your students. This book, in particular, I like to use to highlight labels and captions in nonfiction texts. As we walk through the book, I point out different places Gail Gibbons used text other than in the main area.

Martin Luther King Jr. (National Geographic for Kids):
I use this book about MLK Jr. to show students a biography. As we read this biography, I teach all about the table of contents and the headings. I find this book provides great discussion around why the authors might choose the headings of different sections of the text. I like to have my students brainstorm different headings for those sections after we have read them.

Frogs by Gail Gibbons:
Another classic by Gail Gibbons! After highlighting the nonfiction text features above, I like to review them by using this book and also introduce, the diagram. There is a big, clear diagram in this text that I use to model this feature. My students and I like to discuss the importance of a diagram and why some information is better shared through a diagram than just a paragraph of writing. I generally like to use this book as my example when I am teaching my students how to write nonfiction books as well.

Sharks! by Sally Morgan:
I use this photograph-filled nonfiction text to highlight bold print words, a glossary, and an index. I like to model exactly how to use an index and we make note that many of our words in bold can also appear in the glossary for further explanation. I also point out the way a glossary and an index are organized and how that may help the reader.

Pierre the Penguin by Jean Marzollo:
This text is a favorite of mine and I use it to explain that there are different types of nonfiction texts. This story has almost none of the typical nonfiction text features I just mentioned in the above books, so it's a great twist and makes students really think about the definition of nonfiction and if this story fits the bill. Pierre the Penguin is a true story with a main character who has a problem and solution! It is great to compare and contrast this text with other fiction stories you have read.

You can find all of the above books here:

I have also made read aloud lessons and response sheets for ALL the above books and more that you can find by clicking the image below if you are interested:

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Read Alouds for Problem and Solution, Cause and Effect

Later in the fall and heading towards winter, we begin to really focus on problem and solution and cause and effect in our stories. My first grade students by this point have been introduced to these ideas, but now they will dive in and not only identify each of these in a story, but also take note on how important they can be to the plot.

I wanted to share some of my favorite read alouds for both skills. First up, problem and solution!

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson:
This book has a very clear problem, but the solution is the fun one here! With a twist at the end, your students will be interested to see what happens in this story to fix the problem. This book is also a wonderful character education read aloud to help students who may be having trouble with friends (or "enemies").

Crazy Hair Day by Barney Saltzberg:
In this story, Stanley accidentally celebrates crazy hair day one day early and arrives to school feeling quite embarrassed. There are many ways this problem could be solved, but his classmates choose a heartwarming way to make Stanley feel included!

A Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams:
In this story a family spends a long time saving up money for a new chair. The problem presented here requires a long, dedicated solution, with many lessons to be taught to your young students along the way.

You can grab each of these books here:

Next, I teach about cause and effect using the following books:

The Rain Came Down by David Shannon:
This text highlights cause and effect very clearly. Each character does something that causes another character to react. On each page your students will be able to readily identify a cause and effect going on in the text.

Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish:
Good ole Amelia Bedelia always has my kids laughing as she constantly mistakes the meanings of words without using context clues. We always have a lively debate at the end of the story about whether or not Amelia Bedelia should've lost her job.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst:
In this classic, we talk about how the way Alexander is feeling and acting effects what happens in the story. We love to discuss ways we could've changed his day to help Alexander have a better, happier day and how those causes and effects might occur in the context of the story.

You can grab those three books here:

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

I have also made read aloud lessons and response sheets for ALL the above books and more that you can find by clicking the image below if you are interested:

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Using Games to Reach Your Students!

Playing math games in my first grade classroom is one of my favorite ways to reach my struggling learners.

Each year a new batch of students arrives and you can see pretty quickly which students excel with little help, which students are chugging right along at grade level, and which need a little more time, a little more guidance to figure it all out.

A few years ago I had a student who really struggled in math. He would get anxious and angry when our math block would come around. Bathroom breaks were frequent during that particular hour and it wasn't uncommon for him to act out. It made me SO sad. I wanted to connect with him and let him know it's okay for things to be hard and that we are in this together.

We play a lot of math games in my first grade classroom. It works for me and my students tend to enjoy them. I like the social skills that interweave with the academic ones while we play games. My kids learn how to win gracefully and not pout when they lose. They learn to take turns and they learn that sometimes it all comes down to the luck of the dice! All the while, they are practicing academic skills. Win-win right?!

Well, my little buddy did NOT like playing games with his peers. He feared getting things wrong and letting his classmates see him struggle, so I thought this game time would be the perfect opportunity for me to get to know him.

I made it a mission of mine to play a math game with him EVERY.SINGLE.DAY.  He was my special partner and while we played our games we talked. We talked a lot. I got to know all about what he liked to do after school, what his big sisters did to bug him, and what he wanted to be when he grew up (a police officer). While we had these conversation, we reviewed our math skills. He became more confident, more comfortable with his learning. For months, him and I would play a game each day. The games would get harder and I sure wouldn't let him win, but he worked through it and we talked through it.

Now, of course, I had 23 other students I needed to attend to and help, so these games were quick, they were fun, they were different! Every few days I tried to find a new twist on a game to keep my students engaged.

As the year went on and my buddy gained more confidence, he started playing games with his peers. I could see him using the skills (both social and academic) I taught him when he would win or lose a game with a classmate. He started reaching grade level standards in math and even left me that year excelling in addition and number sense!

Since sending that student off to the next grade, I have LOVED creating games for my students to play. Every time I make a math game, I make it with that student in mind. "Would this game grab his attention? Would it help him learn to subtract from 20? Does it have a twist? Would this game bore him?" These are the questions that I ask myself in hopes that I could reach another student who may be struggling as well!

Taking that little time each day to connect with a student is what makes teaching so worth it. I found that the relationships I built with my students always made me a better teacher and a better overall person.

If you want to use some games in your classroom, I recently compiled 48 different print and play math games that cover the following topics:
Number Sense
Place Value
Telling Time

Click the image below to see the all the math games:
The games are all in black and white and only require dice, cubes, paperclips, crayons, and pencils! I wanted them to be easy for teachers to use and easy for students to learn to play. Many of the games provide differentiation as well.

If you think you can help a struggling student with one of these games, click the image below and download the preview to download a FREE number sense game:

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Want to try 3 FREE games for your classroom? Just sign up for my newsletter and they will be delivered right to your inbox! Click the image below:


2D and 3D Shape Activities!

2D and 3D shape lessons that relate to the Common Core Standards can be hard to find! I made some that were always a hit in my first grade classroom to share with you!

My first grade students LOVE pattern blocks. They find them mesmerizing and I find that they calm even the rowdiest classroom at times! Teaching geometry is one of my favorite units in the classroom because the kids find it to be so much fun! 

I thought I would share a few of my favorite 2D and 3D shape activities with you today:

 Block animals:
This is an extension activity we do towards the end of our learning about 2D shapes. Students get to use their creativity to create their very own animal out of pattern blocks and write a little story about their animal as well as tally up how many of each type of pattern block they used.

  Composing Shape Object Cards:
My students use THIS free composing shape activity all the time and the activity shown above is an extension of that. It lets them put together any shapes they please to create the objects on the cards instead of having to be in the constraints of the first activity. I honestly love to use both because they both allow students to practice their spatial reasoning and shape skills.

 Defining vs. Nondefining:
One of the first grade standards is to have students identify the difference between defining attributes and nondefining attributes. Students use these sorting cards for 2D and 3D shapes to practice.

2D Make-a-Shape:
This activity has students using yarn, straws, geoboards, or whatever other material you want to have students compose 2D shapes. There are 2 differentiated spinners. The one above shows the shape so it is easy to copy it, while the other spinner has attributes listed and the student has to make a shape that matches those attributes. 

 Shape Cards:
These cards are perfect for kicking off a lesson and having students identify which 2D or 3D shape is shown with the real life object. These create discussions about what shapes we see in the real world. I also like to use these cards to play memory or go fish where students try to match the same shapes.

 Where Are They?
Understanding that shapes of all types are in our real world every day is an important thing for my first graders to learn and understand. These little charts help students identify different places they can see these shapes in the real world. 

 Guess My Shape!
This is my favorite 3D shape activity each year! After we learn the attributes of 3D shapes, I hide a different shape in each bag and students must go around silently and feel the shape without looking. They must feel around and decide what 3D figure is inside the bag. They record their guesses and then we all check and confirm at the end!

You can find all these resources and activities in my shape unit [HERE] and if you are looking for a YEAR'S WORTH of math workshop units, activities, centers, games, and detailed lessons you can find that below:

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Read Aloud Books for Making Connections

I thought I would share a few of my favorite books for teaching text-to-self connections, text-to-text connections and text-to-world connections:

When students are able to make connections with a book they find more meaning to the story. They are able to better connect with the characters and the plot and really understand what is happening. While we must reel our young learners in (sometimes they get off track while making connections) I still believe this concept is very important for our students to learn and feel comfortable with.

No, David! By David Shannon
This book is an obvious favorite for young students and they can ALL relate! As I read this story I make sure to check in with my students and their connections and ask them how their connections help them understand the story better. This book also has some great stopping points for inferring!

The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant
Most students can relate to a time in their life where they had a LOT of family members over their house and how it felt. As with any text-to-self connections I try to make them meaningful and bring students back to the text by asking them how their connections helped them better understate what was happening in the story.

Oliver Button is a Sissy by Tomie dePaola and Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
Both of these books have main characters that must overcome some sort of adversity and students can often relate to the struggles each character faces in these stories. We talk a bit about how Oliver Button changes through the story and after reading Amazing Grace we compare the two main characters' journeys. I love to use them when making text-to-text connections!

The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry:
I focus a lot on author's purpose when we read this book. I want my students to try and figure out WHY Lynne Cherry wrote this book and what it could be telling us about our world that we live in. My young, first graders always amaze me with their insightful thoughts on protecting the forests and the trees.

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss:
Another great read for text-to-world connections. My students are able to think of the relationship between our world and how we treat it just like in the story.

You can grab the above books here:
I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

I have also made read aloud lessons and response sheets for ALL the above books and more that you can find by clicking the image below if you are interested:

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Place Value Activities!

As I have been adding lessons to my Math Workshop Curriculum, I wanted to share some of my favorite Place Value Activities for first grade! 

In first grade, I like to teach everything HANDS ON. I want my students to build the numbers, feel the numbers, see the numbers. I find that a tricky concept like place value is just so abstract. I like for my students to be able to really get a feel for it through some basic place value games.

Here are a few of my favorite:

Scoop and Group:
This simple idea has students practicing putting items into groups of tens and ones. Students simply scoop a bunch of items and then group them into tens. When they can no longer make a group of 10, the rest go into the leftovers square. Students will then count up how many items they have altogether. 

We play this game A LOT in my class because I can always switch out the manipulatives (beans, counting bears, marbles, etc) and I find fun, new scoops and cups to use to help us play!

Race to 50:
This game has been around forever, but it's really such a perfect, HANDS ON, way for students to continue adding numbers and get an understanding for when a bunch of single units can become a ten. Students simply take turns rolling a die and collecting that many cubes. Once they get to 10 they build a stack of ten before they continue adding. You can play this with base 10 cubes as well and as students get to 10, they trade their 10 units for a 10 rod. I like to play with the above mat so I can quickly walk around and ask students how many they each have and check it.

We also play race to 100 and 120!

What's My Value Memory:
While my students could identify the tens and ones place, they sometimes had a difficult time identifying the VALUE of the number in each place. They would often see the 4 in 47 as just a 4 and not 40. After a lesson on this exact skill, we play a little memory with these cards. Students have to identify and match the value of the underline digit on each card. After we work on 2 digit numbers, we also start 3 digit numbers! If students are still struggling, have them build each number while they play this game!

You can find all these place value activities and see more by clicking below:

You cam also find this unit AND math lessons and activities for the WHOLE YEAR by looking at my first grade math curriculum:

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Math Workshop in the Primary Grades!

Successfully implementing math workshop in first grade took a long time for me to feel comfortable with and I finally felt like I had a system of math games, activities, and a layout that worked in my classroom!

That being said, I wanted to take some time today to share what my math block looks like!

I use the workshop model in reading, writing, and math and it is a model that I truly love. It fosters independence and allows me plenty of time to get to my guided groups without all the hustle and bustle (and confusion) of rotating centers.

The overall outline of my math workshop looks like this:
          • [5 minutes] Warm Up
          • [10 minutes] Whole Group Lesson (explicit teaching)
          • [5-10 minutes] Guided Practice
          • [20-30 minutes] Math Tubs
          • [2-3 minutes] Closure

Any model you choose to do in your classroom requires practice and stamina and believe me, I've tried quite a few, but workshop is most certainly my favorite. It works for me and my first grade students! I thought I would share a bit about each section of math workshop and what it looks like in my room:
This is generally short and is a FUN way for us to get our brains ready for math! This can be a great time to review a skill we've already learned, get some practice on what we are learning now, or challenge ourselves with some critical thinking practice! I wrote a whole post about my favorite math warm ups [here], but I will highlight a few of my favorites.

Students stand in a circle and practice counting. Each game has a rule for buzz. For instance, the buzz may be multiples of 5. So each student goes around saying a number, but if their turn is a multiple of 5 they must say BUZZ instead! If they do this correctly, the person after them must sit down. If a student messes up or doesn't know the next number, they sit down. The last person standing wins!
{1, 2, 3, 4, BUZZ, 6, 7, 8, 9, BUZZ}

You can do this while skip counting as well!

Make 11:
This is a simple partner game where students face one another with their hands behind their back. On the count of 3, they throw out any combination of their fingers and together, with their partner, they try to make 11. They do this over and over for 5 minutes seeing how many times they can do it.

Fix it Cards:
Generally once a skill has been taught already, I will use a fix-it card as a warm up for review! 

Here is what they look like:
These are great to throw under the projector and have students EXPLAIN their thinking and not only identify what is wrong, but also how they could fix it. Listening to their explanations really lets me see what they have learned and if they need to review certain skills.

You can find fix it cards for every math subject here in these: higher order thinking tasks!

After our quick warm up, I begin our whole group lesson.

This is where I explicitly teach and model the skill we will be learning!
As the teacher, I am the driving force of this portion. This is where I will be as clear as I can when teaching the skill at hand.

I will:
- Stand (or sit) where every student can see me
- Model with concrete examples
- Think aloud throughout my process
- Explain common misconceptions
- Model the activity we will be completing during guided practice

During this portion of the lesson, my students are given the opportunity to practice what they have just learned. During this time, I generally have students pair up or work in groups to practice what has just been taught/shown in my modeled lesson. As the teacher, it is my main job to go group to group to help guide my students. 

This is where I take many observational notes on which students may need re-teaching (or extension) of this skill during small groups. My students also know I am available to help answer any questions about the activity and clear up any confusion!
I will often pose guiding questions to my students and try to listen in on their math conversations!

[activity above from my Number Sense Unit]

During this portion of the lesson, students are working with a partner or by themselves on games and/or activities that they already know how to play and have been taught before. This gives me the time to focus on my small groups.
This portion can be the trickiest in terms of student management, but if you set your clear expectations and stick with it, your students will often surprise you and you'll get a good chunk of time to focus on small groups!

This is how I run math tubs:
My math tubs are numbered 1-8 and then I have 4 colored buckets underneath.
There are often 2 activities inside each numbered tub correlating to the same skill. Each tub has all the materials needed to play the game or complete the activity.
The colored bins underneath each have 1 activity in them with the materials needed.

I often pair up my students during this time based on ability level and they keep those partners for a couple weeks or until they need to be switched!

I will simply tell them:
"Student A and Student B, you can work from bin 5 today and then choose purple or pink"

That will look like this:
Let's pretend bin 5 has addition activities within 20 because that's what student A and student B need some practice with! So inside the bin it will have:
 A hands on, addition activity [free, here]

and a print and play board game practicing addition within 12. [math game, HERE]

My students will work on both those activities together until they are completed. If they would like to, they can play both or one of the games again! It's up to them. However, once those are completed, they can choose to go onto the purple or pink bucket which has a third activity (not necessarily addition related and usually a review OR extension activity). 

For example:
after practicing addition, students could choose this missing addend game from the pink/purple bucket. [game found in my print and play math games]

It isn't that often that my students make it to a third activity during their time, but it does allow them the opportunity to play a new game if our math tubs time is not over.

This system allows me to know exactly what skills my students are working on that day/week and let's this time be geared towards their needs.


My students know those are their only options during that time UNLESS I have stated otherwise!

I will often use our technology during this time as well and will allow students to play school approved math games online or on the iPad when specified.

Also, each month students receive a mini-book of story problems and instead of choosing a colored bucket, I will ask that students go back to their seats and complete some pages from their booklet:
[story problems, found HERE]

While my students are having ALL that fun. I am pulling small groups to either re-teach the lesson from the day, review a lesson taught previously, or challenge and offer extensions of the skills we have learned! The materials I use to complete all those are often the same as in our math tubs with some minor differentiation and ME, of course, to explicitly guide and teach. If I am offering extension, I love to have my students work on higher order thinking questions.

[higher order math tasks HERE]

After we clean up, but before we move onto the next subject, I like to provide some closure to our lesson. 

- I may pose a question to the class that I already asked during our main lesson and have students share their answer with a partner while I walk around and listen. 

- I may have a student share a lightbulb moment I witnessed during the math block and we will all cheer for him/her!

- I may ask one student in each group to "be the teacher"  and explain to their peers what the lesson was today.

Whatever it is, it's generally quick and to the point!

Here is an example of what a number sense lesson looks like in my room:

So there you have it, that's how I run math workshop in my first grade classroom! Do you use math workshop in your class? What does it look like for you? Any tips or tricks you can share to help it run smoothly? Share them with me in the comments!

Looking for lessons and materials to run math workshop in your room?! I have ALL the warm ups, detailed lessons, hands on activities, centers, games shown above, and MORE ready for you in one, easy bundled unit! This first grade math workshop curriculum will last you the ENTIRE year!

You can check them it out by clicking the image below:

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