Posts from the ‘Literacy’ Category

The Evolution of the Journal

We have always used journals in our classroom.  In the first days, three years ago, I made the journals and they were mostly used for drawing, getting use to pen/pencil on paper, practicing our letters by writing our names and our favorite words – usually by labeling our drawings.

As the kids got older, they began making book long stories.  Some kids would write about their lives, some would make up stories about animals or trips.  Then we hit a time where some of the kids were choosing to draw and write about war/fighting/battles.  We decided to let it go, to let them work it out, thinking there would be an end or at least an occasional variation on the topic.  But that didn’t happen.

So we decided to begin having a list of topics that the kids come up with, minus the war/fighting/battle theme and then we started pulling from this list for the daily topic.  This is what happens now, on a daily basis.  There are minimum writing requirements (but no maximum), which varies by individual/group.

But there are also times that we make books with one story line.  Every year we enter the Reading Rainbow story writing contest, which has word/illustration requirements.  A good way to get a feeling for what it takes to submit writing for publication.  We write multiple drafts for this project, making sure we correct our inventive spelling and create a finished project for others to read.

Everyone in the classroom is still an emerging writer – everyone at a different place.  The kindergartners are really just beginning to get their footing in this new medium.  It is such a great way to learn to read, this act of putting letters down to make words that link into sentences.

We approach this in various ways.  We sometimes dictate stories, we sometimes talk them through the spelling of words and then try to get to the point where the kids can inventive spell.  Once they feel comfortable doing this, then we look at their writing, go over it, correcting any misspellings, punctuation and work on content (this being a three year process).

This is a gentle path we take.  Too much creates a sense of impossibility, frustration and sometimes stops the progression.  But too little keeps them from moving forward.  We keep close track of the kids and where they are and what they are capable of not only academically but emotionally as well.  We want it to be fun.  A place to create ideas, tell stories, learn, read, write, come together and move forward in this journey.

We have bound the first part of the years topics and they are now a part of our classroom library.  They read their own and are often read to each other just like the published books in our classroom. You can find our current writing topics outside of the classroom on the wall.

As a teacher and a writer, this is one of the most thrilling parts of my job.  I love to experience the acquisition of the written language on a daily basis.  It is amazing every single time a kids takes the next step in the reading/writing journey.  It’s magic.  It’s hard work.  It’s fun.  It’s a long, long road that we take one step at a time.

Explode the Code – Explained

Answering questions and exploring Explode the Code:

Explode the Code books come in sets:

Get Ready/Get Set/Go for The Code    Explode The Code

Get Ready, Get Set, Go for The Code
Grades K–1

Explode The Code
Grades K–4


The K group (The Earthworms) are working with Paul on a combination of group and teacher led board work with the A-C books with a few already exploring book 1. Many of the kids in Julie and Paul’s class last year had a chance to work with books A-C already, however they were done independently and not as larger lessons with the entire group. While Explode the Code can be done independently, I believe that so much more is gleaned from their content when we work together to come up with lists of words that go with the sounds as a whole language approach, read books that go with the current sound we’re working with, and spending time on phonetic awareness, which will lead to the better ability to blend sounds into words. Also, feeling confident in letter formation and fine motor skill development helps the flow when the sounds turn into words, which turn into sentences, that become stories.

The first graders (The Tigers – which also includes the 2nd Graders) started this year with book number 1 and it feels right on target for their literacy development. We also do this as group lessons, which includes focusing on word families such as (at), (an), (in) etc. They are really getting this way of looking at the English language down, which helps spelling because they can see the patterns and can guess ahead of time what the spelling is due to the word family they are working with. The second graders had not previously been exposed to book 1, so they flew through the first book and they have already moved on to book 11/2, which includes writing sentences, decoding sentences and rearranging mixed up sentences.

We also have specific Explode the Code testing materials that are in my experience quite accurate. The pages are just like the pages in their Explode the Code books so it doesn’t seem any different then just working out a page but it gives us a gage for who is ready to move to the next set of books.

Developmentally, kids typically start really unraveling the reading code mid-1st grade year. Of course there are exceptions either way and some read when they are four and others when they are eight but in the history of all my classes, that is when it really begins to unfold – even though the push and current trend is for kids to read by the end of kindergarten.

This is also not the only language arts portion of the class, which includes journaling (drawing and writing captions for those drawings or writing complete stories for the kids who are already reading) as well as students reading early reader books to the teachers (we use the BOB books) to help evaluate where everyone stands using the whole language perspective. We read aloud to the group, read the instructions in our Explode the Codes as well as in our Everyday math books. Language is all around us and we are driven to learn to decode it.

I would like the Explode the Code books to stay at school as reference materials for the kids and as a gage for Paul and I to see where everyone is and how they progress through the year(s.)

Feeling successful is a major part of learning to read. It is one of the most amazing things to watch happen. I feel like I have a good pulse of the class and of where the kids stand in regards to their reading/writing development and just when they need some extra time to explore and when they are ready to be pushed onto the next level. It’s a fine line but we aim to not only grow kids who can read but to grow kids who love to read.

We Just Can’t Stay Put

This morning I read “The Librarian From The Black Lagoon” for morning circle and we just had to make it to Story Time at the Library (this is the ultimate in emergent curriculum – we’re so lucky.) So we threw our lunches in our backpacks and took off for the library. We had an hour to make the long walk.

We stopped on someones side yard and had a snack:

We picked out and read some books:

We had a three story, three boogie, story time:

Then we headed to Castle Park for lunch but they just couldn’t stop reading their books:

Castle Park fun and sun:

A Week in the Life…

Reading and writing our own comics (especially for those who find writing and journaling grueling.)

Asher found Calvin all too familiar and laughed hysterically for the hour he spent reading all about their adventures:

If you have any (non-violent type) comics, bring them in for our comic table.

A page from Harriette’s comic book:

Lookie, lookie, peas:

Onions and nasturtium:

Dice math problems (a huge hit) :

In pairs, each partner rolls a die and then they add the amount rolled on one die with the amount rolled on the other die and then they write down the math problem they created with each roll.


Puzzle making:


“Michelle, I’m TOTALLY into sewing!” ~Asher

Sophia’s lovely 1030’s wool material bag for her mama for mother’s day:

Violet’s pillow:

Asher’s bag for his dad:

All of our beautiful sewing projects:

Cooking with Kathleen:

Cheddar Cheese Crackers (recipe below):

This past week we’ve been reading to each other at circle time as well as reading to other classes and to the seniors at Daystar:

Remaking the wheel:

The tadpoles are gigantic but too fast to photograph:





¼ cup Cornmeal

¾ cup All purpose flour

1 Tbsp Poppy seeds

¼ tsp Cayenne pepper or ground black pepper (optional)

¼ tsp Salt

¼ tsp Baking powder
½ stick Butter, cold, cut into small pieces

1 cup Sharp or extra sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated

5-6 Tbsp Cold water


  1. In medium bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, poppy seeds, salt, baking powder and cayenne (if using.)
  1. Cut in butter with a fork or pastry cutter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
  1. Add cheese and 4 Tbsp water, stir to blend with fork. Add additional water if needed to bring dough together. (Dough should be soft but not sticky.)
  1. Turn out onto floured work surface and knead gently 4-5 times to combine.
  1. Form dough into two balls. Using a floured rolling pin, roll out each ball into a 12” circle.
  1. Cut out shapes using cookie cutters or biscuit cutters. Gather scraps and reroll as necessary to use up dough.
  1. Place shapes onto parchment-lined cookie sheets. Prick each cracker a couple of times with a fork.
  1. Bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes, rotating racks halfway through, until crackes are a pale golden brown. Immediately remove crackers from pan and cool on wire racks.
  1. Once cooled, crackers can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for several days. If they get chewy, you can recrisp them in a warm oven.

Literacy! It’s literally everywhere I turn.

Isn’t this how you wish you learned to read?

Sophia brings in a book to share.

James writes STOP in poofy letters.

Today we started a Button Excursion in math and our first part was to guess what was in the bag (what it felt like/size/shape/number of{it was a surprise} button’s.) This was what we figured out:

Three of us guessed 4 (the amount of buttons in the bag.) And Harriette figured out that they were buttons but let everyone have a chance before revealing her guess. We then read Frog and Toad’s adventure “The Lost Button.” We then made the creatures and trees from the story out of paper and hung them from our necks and we are going to act out the story tomorrow. Then we are going to sort and count buttons.

If you get asked questions about the body, it’s because we had an anatomy lesson for science today:

Today we had project based Spanish and created a mural while learning what the colors are in spanish:

Sophia started violin lessons today with some of the other students:

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