Thursday, August 30, 2012

better every year.

There's no better way to put it. I'm simply falling in love with my class this year. They are joyful, enthusiastic, wide-eyed, and insanely eager to please. They are wonderful - and I am simply in love.
This feeling got me thinking about how each year is different. How every class has a "theme." Most importantly, how every class shapes who I am as a teacher... and makes me better.


Year 1 - my first class. Will always hold a special place in my heart. Walked in the first day and I immediately panicked (see My Very First Day). Taught me humility, taught me what it meant to be a role model, taught me that college really tells you *nothing* about what teaching is REALLY like. My first taste of success... my first inclination that I will love my career.
Year 2 - the class that taught me about classroom community - and classroom culture. Taught me about building rapport, trust, and respect. By the end of the year, I truly felt like we were a family. In the end, I learned that if you create a warm, empowering classroom community, everyday will be success. 
Year 3 - the class that challenged me. Everyday. Most likely due to the large size of the class, but this class had me pulling out every trick I had. And in turn, my collection of tricks grew immensely. This class taught me the importance of love - and turned me into a big softie. Being the teacher who usually stayed behind my professional wall, I found myself pushing swings, holding little ones on my lap, and getting my "hair done" when assemblies became too boring. It wasn't until 3/4 through the year that I realized just how much I had learned through this year. They may have challenged me everyday... but more importantly, they made me BETTER everyday. And I will forever be a more effective teacher because of this year.
Year 4 - I am still getting to know my students, and my class as a whole, but I can already tell some of the overarching themes for this year... easy, natural, loving, and eager. Everyday feels easy-going. And as much as I attribute it to my easy-going, darling students... I know part of it is because I am now a better teacher. 
I hope to never stop learning... to never stop reflecting. And I promise to NEVER stop loving what I do.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Student 1: "Do you live in Omaha?"
Student 2: "Yeah."
Student 1: "Whoa! So do I!"
Student 2: "Really? You live in Omaha, Nebraska?"
Student 1: "No, Omaha."
Student 2: "Yeah. Omaha. Like Omaha, Nebraska."
Student 1: "Just Omaha. Not 'braska."
Student 2: "I don't know."

Friday, August 24, 2012

*10 minute* fish tacos

I love this meal. Definitely in my "Top 10." Why? Well, let me count the ways I love this fish taco recipe:
  • It's light -- perfect for a summer dinner. 
  • It's FAST -- 10 minutes.
  • It's easy -- only a few affordable ingredients.
  • You don't feel guilty after eating it. I never knew Mexican food could taste good without cheese! 

My hubby and I love these. You will too. Make them. Now. :)
Keep reading below for the full recipe and photo tutorial.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I thought I'd heard it all...

Beginning of the year assessment is hilarious to me. I always call kindergarten "the great equalizer," because every year, I have students come in knowing ALL the letters and sounds, and students come in knowing NONE of the letters and sounds.
When I assess letter sounds, I point to a letter and ask the student to tell me what sound it makes. For a few students, this is easy - they have lots of prior knowledge. For most of the kids, they might know the letters in their name, but that's it. Several students always look at me like I'm crazy.
I thought I'd heard it all. I've had kids grunt, squeak, whisper, and make up their own letter sounds. But today.... I actually had a kid make animal sounds for each letter. Bless his heart, he actually made a different animal sound for each letter. M says "moo," S says "bawk bask," and L saids "neigh."
Classic. I'll never forget it.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

perfect taco soup

This is my favorite soup. It's perfect. It's everything a soup should be... easy, cheap to make, delicious, and can be ready in an hour on the stove - or left all day in the crock pot. I make it year-round, and I've never met anyone who doesn't love it!
I got this recipe from a dear woman, and I always think of her when I make it. I've adapted it over the years, but it's still simply wonderful.
Taco Soup

1 lb. ground beef
1/2 onion (chopped)
1 red pepper (chopped)
1 packet taco seasoning (I use 2 TB homemade taco seasoning)
1 packet dry Ranch dressing mix
1 can black beans (do not drain)
1 can pinto beans (do not drain)
2 cans fire-roasted tomatoes (do not drain)
1 can corn (do not drain)
Sour cream and shredded cheese for serving (optional)


1. Brown the beef with the onion and pepper. Drain and pour into a large soup pot OR a crock pot.

2. Add both seasonings and all of the canned vegetables. Remember, do NOT drain the cans!

3. Mix it up and let it simmer for 1 hour in a soup pot OR leave it on low in a crock pot. DONE! (gorgeous, huh?)

-- Don't worry, there will be plenty of liquid! -- ENJOY!

Friday, August 17, 2012

back to school

I love the first week of school. SERIOUSLY LOVE IT. There is something simply magical about the first day of kindergarten. The kids are wide-eyed and embarking on a wonderful journey. I feel so blessed to be with my students on their first day of school. Ever. It's powerful.
More than anything, I love watching their eyes light up with every new discovery -- Wow! She is going to read to us with funny voices! -- Wow! I get to eat lunch in this room? With the big kids? -- Everything is new and exciting the first week of kindergarten.
Yes, the initial excitement wears off... but their eagerness to learn stays. Their wide-eyed enthusiasm stays. Their natural ability to soak up everything around them stays. That is why I love kindergarten.
A few highlights from my first *very successful* week with my new bunch:
  • -- There's one every year... the one who *can't* concentrate on anything the first day of school because he didn't bring a lunch box. My little guy this year could not be consoled until he was given a lunch in the cafeteria. He was insistent -- he pulled on my shirt every 10 minutes, looked up at me with glossy eyes and said, "Mrs. Anderson, I didn't bring my lunch." Poor guy was so worried. Breaks my heart *and* makes me smile every year.
  • -- On the first day, I was teaching our "snack routine" to the kids. I'm very particular about snack -- we keep our hands in our laps, we say "please" and "thank you," and we wait until everyone is served. So much to teach! As I set two graham crackers down in front of one little girl, she looked up at me innocently and said, "Is this lunch? Because this is NOT what I brought!"
  • -- Today, I started assessing my kinders one at a time on their letter identification. It's not uncommon for a few students to know ALL of the uppercase and lowercase letters the first week... and it's not uncommon for a few students to know NONE of them. One little girl -- as eager and naive as they come -- didn't know any of the letters' "names," but she sure knew where to find them! Every time I pointed to a letter, her eyes LIT UP and she *ran* to show me where she has seen it in the classroom. I'd say: "What is this letter?" And she'd say: "Oooh! That's in my name!" and run to her name tag and point to it. When she called O a circle and a lowercase l a line, I chuckled and made a mental note to remember this moment. In just a few months, this little girl will be reading -- amazing.
A great start to a great year. I can't wait for more memories.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Initial sound punch

Same idea as the previous post (see Syllable Punch post). Copy, cut in half, and place at a workstation with hold punches.

Click the picture above or HERE to download the PDF. Enjoy!

Syllable punch

I saw this an idea for a "Syllable Punch" activity on Pinterest... and I lost the pin! Ugh! Don't you hate that? So, I was forced to make it myself. I apologize that I am not able to give credit for the idea!

This will be a great beginning of the year workstation addition. Simply copy and cut the pages in half. 

Students then say the word, clap out the syllables if needed, and punch the correct number with a hole puncher. 

Phonemic awareness + fine motor = success! :)

Click the picture above or HERE to download the PDF. There are two pages - a total of 4 punch activity sheets. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

i LOVE our classroom library!

I'm an avid picture book collector... okay, let's be honest. I'm obsessed with books. I think the most valuable way to spend time with a child is to read. I read-aloud at least 3 books a day to my class... often 5-6 a day. I *love* having the perfect book to teach a literature skill, or explain a science concept, or fit with a seasonal theme. 

Every primary teacher knows the FRUSTRATION of organizing classroom books. We want the books to be:
  • Organized
  • Accessible to the teacher
  • Accessible to students
  • Safe

It took me a couple years to get it just right, but now I LOVE our classroom library! Best of all, the kids LOVE it, too. My students know that books are highly valued in our classroom -- and they are always accessible to both myself and the students.

I started by sorting my books. I'm not gonna lie to you... this took a whole afternoon! I cleared off all my classroom tables and just started sorted. I had to adjust and re-sort many times. But, I ended up with 30-40 categories. 

The easiest ones to start with are seasonal (Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter categories) and holidays (such as Halloween and Christmas). I then moved on to favorite authors and characters. I filled in with themes (such as bears) and subjects (such as social studies). I ended up with some "general" categories, too (such as animal non-fiction, animal fiction, and family and friends).

Now... the busy part! I collected several HUNDRED address labels (I bought mine on sale at OfficeMax) -- one for each book. Using Microsoft Word and Google Images, I created 1 label sheet for each category. I printed off at least one sheet of each category (several sheets for popular categories... such as animal fiction). Each book gets a label on the BACK COVER. 

Once all the books are labeled, pick containers that fit your books and fit on your shelves. I used "shoe box" size containers -- with no lids. I found them at Wal-Mart, in 12 packs for $6.00 (only 50 cents a piece!) Figure out which categories will fit into the boxes and place a corresponding label for each category on the front of the box.

BEST PARTS of this system:
  • The kids can find AND PUT AWAY books independently! 
  • I can always find the book I'm looking for.
Good luck!

A *successful* listening station

One of my most *successful* literacy workstations is the Listening Station. It's successful for several reasons:
  1. It strengthens early literacy skills.
  2. The kids are able to use it independently!
  3. It's a year-round station that is easy to update.
  4. The kids love it.

However, it was not always successful. When I first started my listening station, the kids were frustrated with using the equipment, there were cords everywhere, the books and CDs were always getting mixed up, and worst of all -- small group instruction was constantly being interrupted.

Here are the "tips and tricks" that have helped the listening station become a fail-proof favorite in our classroom:

A great table -- with storage! I received this table through a donation, and it's been wonderful over the last 4 years. It's sturdy, adjustable, and saves TONS of space.

This table (from Lakeshore Learning) has a slot for storing books and CDs, as well as a "well" in the table for hiding cords and a junction box. The "well" also has a hole in the bottom to run a cord to an electrical outlet. It can seat up to 4 students comfortably.

Simple step-by-step guidelines. This seems so easy, but it took me a while to figure it out! Using colorful dot stickers, I "labeled" the open, play, and stop buttons. I typed up a list of the directions (with accompanying clipart) and added matching dot stickers. Slip the page into a sheet protector and hang up near the station! I've kept the same poster for 4 years and the kids have never had any trouble. I often replace the dot stickers on the CD player, however.

Matching CDs and books. I have almost 100 stories on CD -- so how do we keep them all straight? First, I copy the stories onto my iTunes and burn them onto blank CDs (one story per CD). This way, if a CD is scratched, I still have the original. 

Next, I use Google Images to find a picture of the book's front cover. Using clear packing tape, I attach the picture to the front of a slim CD case. Done!

I usually keep 3 sets of books & CDs at the station at a time -- and rotate every 1-2 weeks.

Lastly... two tips for building a CHEAP listening station library:
  1. Buy audiobook tracks for books you already own. Amazon and iTunes often have readings for 99 cents.
  2. Record yourself and other "well-known" staff members. I have several stories recorded by myself, our school principal, P.E. teacher, and librarian. The kids love it and are always thrilled to hear a familiar voice. Best of all... it's free!
Good luck!