Remembering: A Day in First Grade

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Oh my, please excuse the wine box! Lol. Just my personal choice- I don’t drink. I was packing to move to a brand-new elementary building that was being built in my district.

Before it gets too nebulous in my brain I want to remember a day in the most loved grade I have taught in my 13 year career as a teacher- first grade. I taught this grade for the last 9 years and this last year was the culmination of that wisdom. 😉 Come along as I remember a typical day in first grade!

After taking our children to school and my husband to his car pool I arrive at my building, usually with a smile on my face, holding a hot travel cup of tea and my school bag.

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An accidental pic of my favorite school outfit! My pink dress and Converse mary jane shoes. I’m rushing!

My students are in a big square hall in front of our doors called a pod. I greet them with “Good morning, good morning!” They know to wait until I turn on the lights. That means I’m open for the day. I usually opened about 15-30 minutes before school started so I could get a head start on A.R. (Accelerated Reader).

Before I turn on the lights I set my tea and crackers on my table, unpack my plan book, put my purse and lunch in the closet and write our daily journal prompt on the board.

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Mmmm.

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Then the amazingness begins! My kiddoes come rushing in ready to A.R. test and read to me. Thankfully my mom was able to volunteer a couple of days in the mornings as well so we could listen to everyone who needed to read to someone.

At 8:15, when the teachers on morning duty called for us all to stand at attention in the pods, we would go outside to salute the flags and have a moment of silent prayer. (I teach in a public school but I prefer that term privately.) Then I hugged or patted each child as they came into the room and greeted them. I just loved seeing their 24 smiling faces as we started our day!

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Oh yeah, I had to feed these guys before school started too! If I forgot they would whistle at me to remind me!

After the children entered they immediately got their journals from the bin and their books if they had not read or tested yet. Eager to earn a clipboard and preferred seating (getting to sit on the teacher chairs, bean bags, exercise ball, carpet) for good behavior they got right to work!

One of the best things I learned was that if I spoke low and softly the children would be much calmer. This isn’t easy for me to do as I can be pretty hyper, but it works really well. Also at this time I would turn the lights off and open the blinds so natural light would fill our classroom. I kept light muslin curtains at the bottom so the sun wouldn’t shine in our faces as our window faced the east. These two things along with the children knowing what to expect from a very structured day helped my students to be very happy and open to learning.

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After my boys and girls were done with their journals and reading they wold get their two worksheets for the day (I limit worksheets to 2-3.) from the horseshoe table and do all the review problems. Then they could choose to do a write-on wipe-off math activity or read books from the classroom library.

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I have a book addiction problem! Lol Seriously though most of these are library discards- perfect for a classroom!

By 9:15 we were usually done with journals and reading and everyone had been to the school library. I had also silently done housekeeping jobs like attendance and lunch count and drank my tea! Caffeine to the rescue!

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At this time I would read aloud the journal entries (they loved this for some reason!) and pick the 3 neatest, or most original, or most improved or best drawing (because I always encouraged creativity) and award them with clipboards. Then I would announce names from my good list that I had been keeping and they would get clipboards too. While my kids were getting clipboards I would then give out gummy bears to those who chose to do a write-on wipe-off and show them anything they needed to work on. Once done with all this morning work we went to the rug and had our reading lesson.

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I would start by singing to them or with them which they always really liked, then reviewing our vocabulary words. They would listen as I would separate sounds or syllables in a word or switch sounds to make new words, then I would write the sounds we heard. This skill was really important for my low readers. A lot of them had a hard time hearing all the sounds in a word and if you can’t do that you can’t spell. Putting letters and combinations of letters making one sound on the board (as we listened) trained them to put the sound with the image of the letter or combination of letters like th or sh or later igh.

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We used Scott Foresman Reading Street for years for our basal reading curriculum. I made a poster for each of our 30 stories in 5 units and put our science/social studies question at the top and vocabulary words at the bottom. On the back were the spelling words. When done, we hung the poster proudly on the cabinets to remind us of what we learned.

Their favorite part of being on the rug was our puppets!

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I taught in a private school for one year and got the best education on how to teach children in a fun, straightforward way where they will learn. In my opinion a lot of public schools get caught up in the traps of “newest and bestest” when we need what works, not fads. Puppets were so great at helping me teach my kids and my kids would pay attention if the puppet was talking! These are Button Bear and Amber Lamb from A Beka, a private school publisher.

Next, I would introduce or review a new special phonics sound formally with them. This doesn’t mean it was the first time they had ever seen it just that I was introducing it formally. (As a teacher you do a lot of round and round and review to get things to stick in your kids brains.) I would call attention to it in a word and show them how to code it. (We used Saxon phonics for coding.) Then I would say words with this special sound and write them as I  pulled them apart. I would talk very slowly so they could hear the sounds. I would erase the board then say a new word with a special sound and have them spell it. After that we would review the phonics chart we were working on and review the special sound. Sometimes I would have them read a word list with the special sounds we had learned. Sometimes we would play a game to see how many special sounds they could remember. They loved games! Their favorite games usually involve music with a record player and body movement around our classroom such as musical squares, freeze dance, or the line game (which is where they just read the sound, went to the end of the line and then walked up to me again when it’s their turn).

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Flashcards- tried and true!

Next we would go to our desks and I would turn on the smartboard and my document camera. We would work the remainder of the worksheets together talking about what answers to put in. The kids would sometimes come up and write them on the main paper under the camera.

Then I would walk around and grade their papers right then, having them correct any mistakes while still fresh  I stamped their papers with my collection of Kidstamps- stamps that are of famous childrens’ book illustrations. And I used “smelly-good” stamp pads. They were bonkers for those stamp pads!

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This collection started small and now I have a ton of stamps! I love stamps!

After this it would usually be around 10:00 and we would break for restrooms, recess, and snack. As the students were eating snack we would start on math. We would do one side of a Saxon math paper and then play a game where the kids would see how many math facts they could solve on a worksheet in 1 minute. I usually gave them all a gummy bear or two after the timer went off and then we went over the problems together so they could correct their papers. I was really big on fixing it while it was fresh in their minds.

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After this we went to the computer lab at 10:30 to practice reading and phonics with our Lexia program. Then it was time for my students favorite part of the day- CENTERS! Ahem, I mean stations. (Next year I’m sure we will have to call it something else.)

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My math stations cart. My reading stations were all over the room. 🙂
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My first horseshoe table. I was so proud of it. Small group time is a wonderful help for all the students that is fun!
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Bears and squares phonemes game. Taking something you can’t hardly hear and making it concrete really helped my kids with sounds in words.

When we returned to the room at 11:15 I would call group 1 to my table. Usually the kids loved coming to my table, but I always had a few that would rather be at a center! The others would look for their clip on the center pocket chart to know where to go. We had two center times- about 20 minutes a piece. At my table we worked on reading skills and strengthened them by playing games. At centers the other children did reading or writing activities. Their favorite center was our big tub of Playmobil animals. They had to put them in abc order on an abc strip, or write a verb the animal could do or their habitat, or sort them into their habitats, into egg-layers or who has live babies, etc. I was always surprised how much 6 and 7 year-olds thirsted for knowledge about animals!

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My students loved our classroom guinea pigs. I used them for lots of animal lessons!

Our lunch and recess started at 12:10- pretty late for littles. That’s why we had a morning snack. After that we had bathroom break and specials. This is when I had plan time and meetings and the kids went to music, P.E., etc.

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After specials it was time to cool down and rest. At 1:40 the students lay down on the rug and I read to them. This was my favorite part of the afternoon. My kids’ favorite book every year was “Trapped in Death Cave” by Bill Wallace. It’s such a great, thrilling book and the story is so exciting and could really happen. Mr. Wallace had a great gift for storytelling and writing for children.

At 2:15 we get up take a quick bathroom break and either do hands on math or Saxon phonics depending on the day. At 2:45 we pack and the kids help clean up, put up chairs, etc. As everyone is dismissed I give them a gummy bear and tell them I love them. School is out at 3:00.

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Hands-on math really cements things in first-grade brains.

The chalkboards below show some of our Saxon phonics lessons.

After duty I go home where my Mom drops off the kids. Then they play while I relax and paint or do school work in the studio. (I always bring my work home. At least that way I can still see my family. ☺️)

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At 5:00 its time to make dinner, do homework, chores, baths, reading time and bed. After the kids are in bed I usually journal and read books. Then prayers and sleep!

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On Fridays we have our special day! My students did not have to journal or do morning work. We AR tested ASAP, then I called out our spelling words as they wrote them on their little chalkboard slates for review before the test. After that we took a our weekly spelling test, cleaned up and started Fabulous Friday! This was a STEAM-based learning time where we did art, crafts, programmed Lego robots, did animal science with our Playmobil animals, learned about holidays, had class parties, etc. I also let the kids choose their own two stations that day as I saw my higher kids for small groups. They loved this day and I challenged them with the robots, and many of the projects we did. I didn’t think it would work at first, but I was so surprised! Also Fridays were such a great motivator for me to get a lot of hard work out of them all week. They loved it and so did I!

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This is me in my first grade team shirt. I love this school picture because I actually forgot it was picture day but I’m wearing something that means a lot to me.

Soon I will be documenting a day in Art Class! I am a new art teacher this year! I now teach Pre-K through 4th grade. (First grade is still in there! Lol)

With love an happy school memories to you from Kansas Street,

-Jaime

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