It's been a whirlwind start to the school year! On September 7th I had 23 bright and smiling first graders that entered my world. This group is going to be a good one for sure! We are a few weeks in and they are settled into our routines and showing their amazing little personalities. I'm looking forward to seeing this group grow!

Here are a few pics from this year's classroom...

Organization is my jam. I just love it. I organize... and then re-organize, and then re-organize until I get it right. Because I'm organizationally crazy, you can benefit!

As you are planning to get your classroom ready for next year, here are a few organizational hacks that I just LOVE!

I have tables in my classroom. I tried a bunch of different ways to keep the materials that my kiddos need most often organized. Leave it to Hobby Lobby and those adorable tin cups to solve my organizational woes. They fit perfectly in the heavy duty paper trays I had from Lakeshore Learning. I popped a Velcro dot on the outside, and the numbers correspond to each student's cubby number. Because they are on with Velcro, it's easy to move them when I change up table seats.

Inside each cup my firsties have their three pencils, purple correcting marker, scissors, glue stick, dry erase marker, and white board eraser.

Pencils are always a hassle. I found that taking a few extra minutes to label the pencils with cubby numbers alleviates a lot of issues! Each student has three at a time. When the pencil is dull, they put in the "Not Sharp" cup. I warn my kiddos not to put all three in at a time, because they never know when I'm going to get to sharpening pencils! I change pencils out each month, so students get a fresh set and I can replace any that they have lost.

I got this organization hack from my sister - lingerie bags! She uses them for toys at her house. I found that they are awesome for storing headphones. The cords don't tangle with the other headphone cords.  The bags are really durable, despite the fact that they are inexpensive (I got these at Wal-Mart). And, of course, I can throw the bags in the washing machine any time they need to be freshened up!

I LOVE storing my teacher read aloud books in my file cabinet. They are easy to find and they stay dust-free and flat. You can find out more about how exactly I organize within these drawers in the blog post {HERE}.

This is my Word Work area. My teammate Lindsey came up with this stellar idea... drawers for the copies for each Word Work / Work on Writing activity. I had previously been putting them in magazine buckets, which is no where near as awesome as this! On this bookshelf students can also find the other accessories they need for Word Work, including magnetic letters, headphones, and a bunch of smaller items in the purple bucket.

You can find all my Word Work Activities in my TPT Store.

I came up with this brilliant space saver a few years back - file cabinets under the computer table! My students don't use those computers, and they can still reach the iPads when they need to get to them. Storing these under the table has been a HUGE help in keeping my classroom less cluttered.

This year I decided to put a couple more file cabinets out of the way... in my closet! (I might have a slight problem with file cabinets... I have a total of SEVEN in my classroom. Yikes!) It took a bit of shelf jockeying, but it was worth it. I can hide those when I close my curtain!

Copies, copies, everywhere! Not when you use drawers! We have a copy center in our district, so I often get stacks of copies ahead of time. With these drawers, I can hide them away until I need them.

And, of course, MORE plastic drawers. Everything I have in my closets is in a plastic drawer or a plastic bin. This keeps out the dust and grime.

Of course, everything is also labeled, too. This helps me and anyone else that needs to get something from my closets. You can find my {Editable} Classroom Labels in my TPT Store.

I hope you enjoyed a few of my organization hacks. A little bit of organization goes a long way during the school year! How do you organization your classroom space?

How do you celebrate birthdays in your classroom?

Our birthdays have evolved greatly over the years.

We tried individual celebrations. This takes up a lot of time when you have 20-something first graders.  That's 20-some interruptions to the academic day throughout the year. Not to mention 20-some cupcakes or other sugary treats. It was also hard because some students have parents who can't leave their jobs midday to bring in cupcakes. So... out went the individual celebrations.

Then we tried monthly celebrations. We'd celebrate all the kids who had birthdays that month. We decorated cookies according to the month (we made spiders in October, reindeer in December, etc.). We found that to be very time consuming, difficult to come up with ideas for each month, and ridiculously expensive as we bought the materials ourselves. (I know, I know, we could have asked parents to donate, but we didn't.) So... out went the monthly celebrations.

Many classrooms have parents bring in a book and read to the class on their child's birthday. That would be great... except we have Mystery Readers (parents) that come in every other week or so to read a book to the class. So... that seemed rather repetitive.

Then we caught wind of another first grade in our district that did ONE celebration.

And we realized that birthday celebrations can be simple... and elaborate all at the same time!

Enter... the Birthday Bash! My team LOVES the Birthday Bash. We have one HUGE celebration with all of the first graders in June.  (Because, let's face it, we are looking for ways to amp up the fun in June when we are barely holding it together anyway!)

Families are invited, and we hold our celebration in the cafeteria at the end of the day.  We decorate the cafeteria and bring our own empty goodie bags. Students then go around to each bag in their class and put in an item that they brought. This is a non-food item, like you might find in a bag at a kid's birthday party (pencils, erasers, sunglasses, punch balloons, bouncy balls, etc.).

These boys are checking out their loot! Parents have impressed me with the variety of items they provide for the goodie bags. I love to see what the kids get almost as much as they do!

We enjoy cupcakes, donated by parents. We make sure to have at least three dozen per class, to accommodate any siblings that attend the bash. We also get juice boxes, napkins, and some decorations donated.

Then, of course, we all sing Happy Birthday. That's one powerful song when you have 3-4 classes and parents chiming in!

And then we play. Boy do we play! We blast music and dance and enjoy being 6 or 7.

If you are interested in hosting a Birthday Bash of your own, check out the letters that we sent home explaining what it is and how parents can help. (Feel free to copy any verbiage from the letters!)

Of course, I don't let a kid's actual birthday slip to the wayside.

On a student's actual birthday, I give them a birthday bag and a crown. We sing in Morning Meeting and they get to share what they are doing to celebrate their birthday with their family. Simple, yet it makes the child feel special on their special day.

I prep birthday bags over the summer, so throughout the year they are ready to hand out.

I buy trinkets from Oriental Trading or the party section at Target. I always include a birthday bracelet from Really Good Stuff. 
(I keep extras of those on hand for when former students drop in on their birthday!)

How do you celebrate birthdays in your classroom?

On the eve of June 1st, I want to share a few ways I survive this brutal last month of school. While I know many of you are already enjoying some well-deserved fun in the sun... some of us are still in survival mode.

Ahh June. The month in which we are on serious countdown. It's finally warm in upstate NY... maybe a little too warm. We don't have air conditioning in our schools, in case you were wondering. So the heat combined with the desires of all my firsties to be anywhere BUT my classroom, can be a recipe for disaster.

So, we plan accordingly!

Each June we send out the "June Fun Calendar." We create a fun activity for each day in June. A little carrot of something to look forward to each day. Some activities take longer than others. We attempt to create a calendar that doesn't require parents to do a ton of prep at home, but there are some activities that they need to plan ahead for.

Want to create your own June Fun Calendar? Check out my June Fun Calendar Template!

One of my favorite activities is "Who's That Baby?" This one take some preparation, but it's so worth it! My firsties LOVE seeing themselves as babies on the Smart board. We have such a great time guessing which first grader matches the picture.
Click to get your Who's That Baby Template.

Below is an example of what my kiddos see on the Smart board, shown here with my baby pic. Can you tell this one was scanned in from some serious 80's photo paper?! Notice my more up-to-date picture in the corner. I always put the kid's current picture in the corner, and then cover it with a disappearing rectangle for the "big reveal." They go nuts when the current picture is shown next to the baby picture.

Parents need to participate in this one of course, and send the baby picture in advance.  Here's an example our letter to parents (feel free to copy any verbiage!).

And if you're looking for some fantastic end of the year awards for your kiddos, look no further! I have two editable versions of class awards in my TPT Store.

The countdown is ON friends. So close to SUMMER!!!

Writing workshop. Some teachers love it, but most teachers I know struggle to feel successful in this area. 

Teaching students concrete concepts, like how to add 2+3, or that living things have similar basic needs, is tangible and quite manageable. But how do you teach a child the craft of writing?

Each author brings a unique set of experiences and interests that influence their writing. No two books are the same, just like no two authors are the same. 

Writing involves planning, organizing, knowledge of language, creativity, and so much more. So how do I teach all of that to my six year olds?! It's quite a tall order. 

So it's no surprise that year after year I seek new resources, attend workshops, and read professional development books about writing. Every year I get a little better at teaching this truly complex subject. And every year I see better growth in my young students. 

This year I've made some major changes in my workshop methods.

Behold... the writing binder!!!

It all started with this book right here. I just ate it up. So much valuable information! Jennifer Jacobson is a genius. Seriously! Check out her website:

So after reading her book I was ready to get started... almost. I dabbled with a few of her ideas last year. Then, in the spring, she came to NY for an all day workshop. I gathered my troops and off we went. (I also might just have been nerdy enough to bring my book so she could sign it!)

Hearing her speak and really getting a chance to understand more in-depth about how she runs writing workshop was AH-mazing. She shared so much more than was in her book. If she is coming to speak anywhere close to you, run, don't walk, and sign up to see her. It will be so worth your time, I promise!

Hence, FULL implementation this year. And I'm NEVER going back!

It all starts with the writing binder. Look at those glorious binders all lined up! Girls keep theirs on the top shelf, boys on the bottom. Totally alleviates the cramming of all binders on one shelf! 

Here's a peak inside the binders. There are three sections. I used page protectors and colored paper to separate the sections because dividers seemed too costly!

The blue section is for Resources.
The green section is Go (writing in progress).
The red section is Stop (completed pieces).

Here are some examples of their resources...
I include an ideas chart, an alphabet chart, some drawing charts, a heart map (this is one of my first mini-lessons), and a word wall. They use these resources ALL. THE. TIME.

Jennifer introduced me to the colored pencils for editing... green for capital letters, blue for sight words, and red for punctuation. LOVE that the kids can look for one specific convention and clearly spot and edit their errors.

I also leave out the stapler so they can help themselves. I sprung for an electric stapler to avoid the jamming and other problems that come with six year olds trying to operate a stapler!

And here is my conferencing pocket chart! I keep it right on our Focus Wall. There are three slots open for conferencing. I love that the kids can "sign up" for a conference when they feel ready to share a piece with me. Each student has an iPod card with their name on it. As soon as I call over a student, they bring me their card, and that leaves an open conference slot for someone else to sign up. So I just rotate... conference 1, conference 2, conference 3, conference 1, conference 2, etc. This gets me to keep conferencing, and make sure that I conference with every student frequently.

Finally my writing workshop truly flows. I start with my mini-lesson. I use mini-lesson ideas from Lucy Calkins, Jennifer Jacobson, and various teacher bloggers who have generously shared ideas!

Off my writers go to get their binders and get started. The binders stay neat and tidy, no matter how much my firsties write! (Folders always became a hot mess once they got full!)

I put on my Amazon prime FREE classical music and the magic happens. 

They write.

And write.

And write.

I give them a few minutes of quite writing before I start calling conferences. Jennifer suggests the silent ten (10 minutes where everyone, including the teacher, writes). Unfortunately I just don't have that much time in my writing workshop block (yet!).

I just love it. The kids love it. (Well, MOST of them love it. You can't always convince all kiddos to love writing, haha!)

What are your favorite parts of writing workshop?!

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