Vocabulary Development: And the Achievement Gap

Today I took a city tour of a major US city. While all of the tourists were taking in the city sites, I couldn't help looking at the city with teacher eyes: those eyes teachers use every day as they lovingly work for the equality of instruction. I reflected on several books that I have been reading and of what I know as a teacher about the affects of systemic poverty on education. I know that I can't single handedly fix the 30 million word gap that faces our nation, but I will do everything in my power to help the students I teach have a fair and equal shot at public education.

 


One way that I continue to strive for an equitable education is through the explicit teaching of oral language. These activities are important in all grades, but to help lessen the gap for young children, it is an absolute must for teachers of preschool and kindergarten to strategically teach oral language.

One game I love to play with my students is called "What's in your bag?" To play this game, divide students in pairs (matching high vocabulary with lower vocabulary students). Give each student a baggie of "stuff." Find things that are common to home or classroom settings. The dollar stores, garage sales, amazon, etc. have great small objects that are perfect for the baggie. Ask each student, one at a time, to describe the contents of their baggie to their partner. Instruct students that if they are unsure about an object they can ask their partner, another student nearby, or the teacher to explain what the object is.

Model this "describing." Pull an object out of a baggie. "This object is a jack. (Or what small object you choose to describe). A jack is a small toy that belongs in the game Jacks! To play the game, you have 10 small jacks and a little ball. To play, you throw a ball in the air, grab and jack, and then a ball all before the ball drops!

After pairs have about 5 minutes to share and describe objects in the baggies, switch pairings if you have time.

Keep these baggies in a container within easy reach because once you try this activity you will want to do it again and again. Each time your students play, you will see greater development in vocabulary. At times, I have students with advanced vocabulary pull out a bag of their choice and demonstrate describing objects. Actually, these little bags are filled with possibilities. So, my suggestion, hit some garage sales this summer and fill about 30 baggies with 10 objects!

You will also find some more great vocabulary building games below.


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Tips to Enjoy Teaching at the End of The School Year.

So you've come to the end of the school year and you're feeling a bit frazzled? Want some tips to help you finish the year strong with energy and enthusiasm? Well, here are two methods I like to use:

 
 

I would now say, "in all seriousness" if I wasn't completely serious about the fact that red velvet cupcakes and cherry coke are a big part of my end-of-the-year routine, but here's a healthier alternative to help you through the final days of the school year.

 

Plan something you'll look forward to.

 

The end of the school year is filled with a lot of things that are not much fun. Final evaluations, testing, cleaning... So one way I keep my energy up at the end of it all is by planning something that the kids and I can get excited about. One year the teachers and I planned a grade level kickball tournament, which meant that, leading up to the tournament, we had an excuse to take the kids outside every once in a while, and get some vitamin D while we practiced kicking.

Many times I have participated in end of the year singing events. One favorite was a tribute to Disney where all of the teachers dressed up like Disney characters. In others we sang songs around the world,  twelve songs around the year, or a celebration of reader's theater. All of these programs were filled with fun and excitement. My daughter's team celebrates the year with a dance festival in May; each class learns a fun dance to perform for each other, as well as parents. And let's not forget fieldtrips!

I think the key is to plan something that you, personally, really love. Something that excites you; something you can set aside and look forward to every year. Because music energizes me, most years I plan a class musical for the end of the year. It doesn't have to be a large affair, but it's something that lends excitement to those final months for me. One of my favorite plays The Wizard of Oz is based on the book by L. Frank Baum. Did you know that there was a stage musical of the play in 1903 with songs written by Baum himself? Lyndsey found these old songs and put them together as sort of a musical "reader's theater/musical" that her class loves!

If you're interested in doing a play yourself. Here are some tips:

  • Try to find the time to read the original story first. Many children will not be as familiar with well loved stories as you might imagine.
  • Teach the songs during Shared Reading. Songs can be a great tool for teaching vocabulary, rhyming words, phonetic skills, and many other language arts opportunities!
  • Play the songs in the background of your class whenever it will not be distracting. The kids will catch on quickly!
  • Let each child choose 3 parts that they would like. They will usually pick what fits his/her comfort level, and, this way, everyone should be able to be at least their 3rd choice. You can even double cast parts, and have the students switch off for each performance.
  • Remember that for each child to benefit from the experience, they need to be involved. Try to give everyone a chance to shine.
  • Your shy children may surprise you by volunteering for a solo, give them a chance, this can be a great opportunity to build their confidence!
  • Have the kids stand in way that reflects when it is their turn to sing or speak. This will help them remember what to do.
  • Let the children know that no one watching them knows the words or the narration, so if they don’t get the words perfect no one will know as long as the meaning stays the same. This will help them relax.
  • Before doing the reader’s theater/play for parents, perform for other classes to help the kids get over any stage fright.

If you would like to try The Wizard of Oz Musical Script is your classroom, and you should, because it's awesome, you can find it at our Teacher's Pay Teacher's Store, or right here!

 
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You can also find some other great reader's theater scripts here →


Celebrate the memories


Another way to make the end of the year fun is to focus on all of the fun memories that your class has made during the year. If you've been collecting work samples in a portfolio now is the time to give them some final entries and share them with parents. If you've taken photos or video over the year, you can compile them into a class video presentation or scrapbook and then plan a day for the children to see/watch their memories together. Class graduations are another great way to celebrate the progress that the children (and you) have made!

For those of you gearing up for the end of the year, here is a collection of portfolio essentials! Use the code endyear at checkout and you will receive this product for free!

 
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And here is a must-do activity for me! 

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The End of the Year is all About Growth.

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The end of the school year is filled with documentation, testing, and data. My days are like yours, filled with assessment, celebrations, and sadly anxiety and disappointment of missing that green score. I know the data is important, but I love to cast that aside for a few days and celebrate each and every child's individual growth.

To begin this mini-unit I love to begin with one of my favorite children's songs by Hap Palmer. This sweet song is also a great way to tie celebrating growth of self to other things that might be happening in your classroom such as plants,  butterflies, farm, jungle, etc. 

I ask my students to bring in pictures of themselves as babies. The kids LOVE this. Each day we look at the pictures brought in and talk about the changes. When I first hold up the picture, we sing from the Hap Palmer song... "_______ started out as a tiny little babe.  _____ grew a little more ..." The kids are so excited to sing about each other in this way.

As the pictures come in I put the baby picture and a current picture on a some sort of bulletin display. If by chance a student can't find a baby picture (and you know that will happen), I simply have them draw one. They seem to be just as happy!

Another song I love to use is "All I'm Meant To Be." 

This beautiful song celebrates growth at one's own rate. The poster can be found in our graduation packet below.


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Kindergarten or Preschool Graduation

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I love ending the year with a celebration! A great way to celebrate in preschool or kindergarten is a formal graduation, classroom program, or celebration. I have participated in all three ending events and I have found no matter the format, songs are the essential component of the festivities. The links below contain some of my favorite end of the year must-do's and of course posters and links to our songs suggestions.


Spring Fling 2018 with ESGI & Friends​

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Find out more about how to use ESGI.

How To Make A Simple Easter Bunny Hat

How To Make A Simple Easter Bunny Hat

It is always great to have that teacher friend next door who will share great ideas. This idea comes from Lyndsey's friend Lynnell Fox. An adorable, super-simple bunny hat!

Step 1:

Starting at the corners, cut out two bunny ear shapes, stopping at about the middle of the construction paper leaving about 2 inches between the cuts. Don't cut the ears off completely, leave them attached at the end and make a slight fold line.

Painting Spring

Painting Spring

Allow students the opportunity to be budding artists by painting flowers.

Learning to draw means learning to see! Painting flowers is a fantastic way to all students opportunity to create by looking at, thinking about, and discovering that nature is made of a vast amount of shapes, colors, and textures.

I begin by showing my students examples of great artists like Georgia O'Keeffe, Pablo Picasso and Vincent Van Gough. It is very powerful to show their work of art side-by-side to the real object; in this case a flower.

Growth Mindset and Young Children

Growth Mindset and Young Children

You know what I see when I look at this photo of a classroom from the 1960s? I see a growth mindset classroom! All the tools are there: painting, sensory, blocks, puzzles, dramatic play, art, and smiling faces. As a teacher for nearly 3 decades I know that children learn best through natural curiosity, discovery, a rich environment, through trial and error, through playing and cooperating with others, through failing and succeeding, and through play.

March Thematic Fun

March Thematic Fun

Okay! I admit it, March is one of my favorite months. It is the month when the world begins to come back to life after a deep winter slumber; buds begin to appear one-by-one, and the sun begins to spread its warmth. The month is filled with so many great opportunities for thematic fun.

Here are a few of our products that will bring Spring fun and learning into your classroom.

You might want to check out our original song and free poster March Into March here. 

Fairy Tale Integrated Curriculum

Fairy Tale Integrated Curriculum

I have been working on teaching my Kindergarteners the following Standards:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.K.2
With prompting and support, retell familiar stories, including key details.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.K.3
With prompting and support, identify characters, settings, and major events in a story.

I always try to teach Curriculum Standards in ways that promote, not only the content, but important skills such as creativity, collaboration, and communication. I also want to teach my students in meaningful, integrated ways that encourage investigation. So in order to teach these standards I have set up a few stations that can teach story elements through play.

Teach, Aspire, and Empower

Teach, Aspire, and Empower

I was raised on a dairy farm where my dad was employed as the hired hand. My family didn't have a lot of extra money, and I certainly didn't have but one or two store-bought toys. There was one thing, however,  I had a lot of and that was opportunities for discovery, play and access to plenty of books through the community Bookmobile.

Make Valentine's Day Awesome with a STEM Activity

Make Valentine's Day Awesome with a STEM Activity

As someone who thrives on integrated instruction, I've never really been able to find a satisfactory way to integrate my instruction on Valentine's Day. Then I was contacted by GIANTmicrobes asking me if I would like to use some of their heart themed plushies in my instruction. Wow! What a light bulb moment! What if instead of focusing on love and candy on Valentines Day, I focused on the human heart and it's amazing functions using this cute guy?

Arctic Animals, The Olympics and a Bit of Engineering

Arctic Animals, The Olympics and a Bit of Engineering

Here are my son and I testing out the lesson. Who will win the Penguin Race? A penguin on his belly? The "skeleton racer" skateboard? Or, a penguin on a skeleton board? My son made some interesting observations while we were racing penguins. For example, he tried to reduce the incline of the ramp but immediately realized that the ramps became too weak at the midpoint and needed added support. We also tried adding tin foil to the ramps to make them look like snowy hills, but he quickly told me that we needed to take it off because "It's slowing the penguins down because it's too bumpy."  I'm so excited to take this experiment into the classroom and see what my students come up with!

We Made Crystals!

We Made Crystals!

Winter, is my favorite season inside of the classroom (But not outside for sure)! There are so many fun winter things to do that are engaging, bring cross-curricular learning opportunities, and simply put --  winter fun! Last week, as part of our Winter Thematic Learning, making crystals was a major focus.