Thursday, 2 March 2017

A Unique Approach to Teaching Grammar

Call me old fashioned, but I believe establishing a sound foundation in grammar in the early grades remains important and can be easily integrated into all aspects of a language arts program.

In this blog I will provide an overview of how I plan and teach my grammar program for Grades 2 and 3.

My approach involves:
  • introducing a daily activity at the beginning of the year called “Grammar  Morning Work” which involves spending fifteen minutes every day reviewing grammar rules and writing concepts;
  • using phonics and a unique symbol based teaching system; 
  • slowly introducing new grammar concepts and writing rules once students have mastered current lessons;
  • incorporating grammar skills in all aspects of my language program; and
  • actively involving students in the teaching process. 
My Approach

Grammar Morning Work

Grammar Morning Work

Within the first few days of a new school year, I introduce Grammar Morning Work which is included in my daily plan for the entire school year.  This includes teaching students the symbol system for the basic phonics and writing rules.

The next five days are spent doing what I refer to as grammar search which involves practising the symbols using a poem as detailed below. 

Once the students understand the system, a different student each week is given the job of symbol drawer and the teacher becomes an observer. 

Grammar First 

During the first class, I will start the lesson by discussing which letters of the alphabet are vowels and consonants.  As a class, we say the two sounds of vowels and then I demonstrate the symbols used to show if a vowel is a long or short sound in a word.  

Simplify with Symbols

I use a symbol based system that I have created that the students can use to identify various letter combinations such as blends, long and short vowels (mentioned above), endings and language rules of writing, etc.  For example, for the word “the”, I have a symbol (a tongue sticking out because your tongue sticks out when you say “th”) that shows the blend “th” is one blended sound and not two separate sounds. We say “th e”, not “t he”.  


I use a variety of symbols that help students recognize many other phonic blends.  I then move onto ending sounds such as “ing”.  To help the students remember this sound, I use a ringing bell symbol which would be placed above the “ing”. 


After teaching a lesson, I will display a poster of the symbols that have been covered.  I have a total of five posters that cover the full symbol system.   

Teaching Tips

I regularly use poems, which are a core requirement in our system, or short stories, to teach the various phonic sounds and symbols.  I will enlarge and laminate a poem so that students can draw symbols on it with washable markers.  I read the entire poem aloud with the students and discuss the type of poem it is and who the author is. 

I will expose two sentences on the enlarged poem or story per day.  I will ask the class what elements of grammar they see in these two sentences.   A student will say “I see a capital on the word May.” I will ask why there is a capital on the word and what symbol should I draw?  

This exercise will continue until we have marked all of the elements that have been taught to this point such as capitals, periods, endings, etc.  This activity usually takes about fifteen minutes. 

Once the students are familiar with the symbols, I assign one student per week to become the symbol drawer for the rest of the class which entails standing at the chart stand and drawing the symbols based on input from the other students.

The use of symbols is a very important part of this system since students can easily associate a descriptive visual symbol with a grammar element which aids in remembering new concepts.

Repeating this activity on a daily basis further reinforces the acquisition of grammar and writing rules.  

Start every month with a Grammar lesson

Grammar Writing
les Bundle 
At the beginning of every month, I teach a specific lesson on a different grammar topic – capitals, punctuation, nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, pronouns, endings, etc.  

I begin every grammar lesson with a read aloud grammar book. These books are available through suppliers such as Scholastics.   The book will be discussed followed by a lesson and then activities to reinforce the lesson.  

I have individual lessons for each grammar and writing rule concept as well as the complete Grammar Writing Rules Bundle for sale at my TpT store, Laurie’s Classroom. The Grammar Writing Rules Bundle contains all lesson plans, activities, assessments as well as posters for the entire school year.

Students will add a new symbol for each of these new lessons to their Grammar Morning Work activity. 

This progresses through the year as new grammar elements are added.

I will also incorporate grammar into other language lessons such as writing.  I will remind the students of the grammar lesson taught that month and make that one of the elements in my assessment of their writing.

The symbols can also be used to help students in their reading since they can apply the system to sound out new words they are not familiar with.  

The full Grammar Morning Work package is available at my TpT store, Laurie’s Classr
oom. This package includes step by step instructions on how to teach the symbol system, five posters illustrating the symbols, and two poems.   

Please visit Laurie’s Classroom, to check out all of my teaching products and free materials.  To get notices of TpT sales and new products, please follow me on TpT.

Stay tuned for my next blog.

Happy teaching.


Wednesday, 4 January 2017

My Guide to Daily 5

There are a number of ways to do Daily 5. This blog provides you with a structured approach to running your Daily 5 program.

As I mentioned in my My Guide to Guided Reading blog, I divide my class into five groups according to their guided reading level.   Each of the five groups attend a different center each day of the week.

In my approach, each center remains the same, with the same behavior expectations, throughout year.  For example, during silent reading, the tasks are either silent reading or writing a letter to the teacher about what they have read.  The only changes are the books the students are reading and the content of the letter.

This makes it easier to track student accomplishments because there are clearly defined tasks that the students must complete by the end of the center and hand in to the teacher. In this way the students remain on task to complete the expectation and your assessment can be included in the overall assessment of the reading and writing report card components.  

As well, students can concentrate on the material rather than learning new centers.

Setting Up Daily 5

I introduce the Daily 5 program at the start of the school year.  As referenced in the book, The Daily 5, by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, I start with demonstrating appropriate and inappropriate behavior when I introduce each center. 

For example, appropriate behavior for the guided reading center would be actively participating in the group discussion about the book they are reading as a group or quietly reading to the teacher. 

Inappropriate behavior would be reading when they are supposed to be discussing the book or talking to other students that are not in their group. I ask students to identify and role play inappropriate and appropriate behavior, which is not only fun for the students, but it clearly reinforces the rules. 

The following Daily 5 Posters and Stamina Charts are available free of charge at my TpT store.
Daily 5 Posters and Stamina Charts

The next step is to develop stamina by having the students practice the appropriate behavior and task for each center.  I begin by seeing if the students can complete the center's task appropriately for one minute.  If successful, I will praise them for their appropriate behavior and then increase to two minutes the next day.

This continues until the students can appropriately complete the center for ten minutes.  If a student acts inappropriately during this time, the timer stops and the students must review the appropriate behavior expectations and the timer begins again. The students will remain at the same timed session the next day until they can complete the session without any inappropriate behavior. 

Daily 5 Centers

1.  Silent Reading Center

I have a classroom library that I have color coded into reading levels. Each student is instructed to pick a silent reading book from their reading level/color.  If they are reading picture books, they need to choose two books.   Each student is given an exercise book. 


As mentioned previously, the silent reading center has two tasks, silent reading and writing a letter.  During the reading block, the students will have learned about a reading strategy.   During the writing block of my language arts program, the students will have learned the proper format for letter writing and how to write a letter for each reading strategy.  See my language block weekly planner below to see how I structure my language arts program for the week.

Language Block Weekly Planner 
At the end of every month, students must have completed and handed in at least two letters.   They get to choose the two letters I assess for letter format and the reading strategy focused on that month.

2.  Listening to Reading/RAZ Center

For my second center, I use RAZ which is a computer program purchased by our school which allows the students to listen to books at their own reading level and answer comprehension questions. 

If RAZ is not available to you, you could purchase or make CD books for your listening center.  


The RAZ program evaluates the student’s performance for you. If you are using books on CD’s you could have the students write a short summary for the story or draw a visualisation as your assessment.

3.  Grammar/Word Work Center

Grammar and Writing
Rules Bundle
During the writing block of my language arts program, I teach one grammar concept every other week and a word list the opposite week.  The students complete work sheets relating to the weekly grammar concept or word lists.  

At the end of the week once all students have been through the center, they complete a grammar test or spelling test.  These are included in the my Grammar and Writing Rules Bundle and units that are sold separately at my TpT store, Laurie's Classroom.

4. Guided Reading Center and 5. Comprehension Questions Center 

Please see my previous blog, My Guide to Guided Reading, on how I approach these two Daily 5 centers.


Students must read their assigned reading in order to answer the comprehension questions. Comprehension questions need to be completed in order to participate in the discussion of the chapter at the next guided reading session.

I hope you've found this blog informative.  My other teaching blogs, which are applicable for Grades 1 through 4, are as follows:

7 Tips for the First Day Back to School
My Guide to Guided Reading
Long Range Planning

Please visit my TpT store, Laurie's Classroom, to check out all of my teaching products and free materials.   

Stay tuned for my next blog.

Happy teaching.


Sunday, 16 October 2016

My Guide to Guided Reading

This blog focuses on guided reading which involves a teacher working with a small group of students who have similar reading abilities.

I feel this is an important subject for a blog because there are many different approaches used by teachers and questions about which approaches work.

The following details how I approach guided reading in my Grade 2 and 3 classes.

Running Record

Prior to beginning a guided reading program, I conduct a running record for each student.  This entails assessing each student’s reading level.   Our school supplies Nelson’s PM Benchmark Reading Assessment Resource which consists of short fiction and non-fiction texts along with comprehension questions which enable you to assign a reading level for each student.

Organizing Tips

Reading Level Chart

I create a chart on the inside of a file folder with columns on both sides where I record the reading level for each student.  

For example, if the lowest reader is at level 14, that would be the first column in the chart and the last column would be 30+ for a total of 18 columns.

I write each student’s name on a Post-it 1/2” flag and place the flag in the appropriate column (red flags in the chart to the right). This enables you to move students to different levels as they progress throughout the year. As well, the file folder protects the Post-its once the folder is closed and keeps the information private.  It also visually assists you in organizing the students into reading groups of four to six students. 

Now that your guided reading groups are established, it's time to choose a level appropriate book for each group that best suits the composition and interests of the students in the group. 

Please go to my TpT store for a free Reading Level Comparison that I created that relates the various guided reading levels to each other.  For example, PM Benchmark Scholastics, Fountas and Pinnell. 

Student Guided Reading Pocket Folder

I give each student their own pocket folder in which they keep their guided reading book, the comprehension questions, a pencil and a small quantity of Post-its (2”x1½”) which they use to write down unfamiliar words and then stick it on the edge of the page where the word is first located in the book. 

Cam Jansen,The Mystery of the U.F.O.
As I described in my first blog, 7 Tips for the First Day Back to School, I have the students keep the pocket folders in their literature box which is kept on a shelf in the classroom.

I also make my own pocket folder for each reading group which contains a copy of the book they are reading, recording sheets for each student where I write anecdotal notes after each session and a copy of the comprehension questions and answers.  

How Often

I meet with each group once a week for twenty minutes unless I have a group that is reading well below grade level which I meet with twice a week.  I organize my class into five groups because I run my Daily 5 centres (guided reading being one of the centres) on a Monday to Friday schedule and the students go to one centre per day. I feel this is sufficient because students are exposed to other reading activities during their individual Daily 5 language activities.  For example, the other four groups could be doing word work, independent/silent reading, completing comprehension questions and a computer reading comprehension activity called “RAZ”.    

Independent/Silent Reading Assessment Tip

As part of independent/silent reading, students are expected to write a letter to me every time they complete a chapter (or a small picture book) which describes a connection or prediction (whichever reading strategy we are focusing on that month) they’ve made to the book.  I give the students a letter template with paragraph starters for them to explain the reading strategy.  

All Daily 5 activities are displayed on a pocket chart in the class.  Each group is assigned a number which I rotate in the chart daily to show what activity they will be doing on a particular day. 
What to do during Guided Reading

At your first meeting with each group, hand out to each student their pocket folder with their name on it and ask the students to remove the guided reading book.  After reading the title and looking at the front cover, I ask them in a group discussion setting to predict what they think the story will be about and their reasoning. If the students are not supplying a reason, I make sure to model how they should make the prediction making sure to use the words “I think that” and “I think this because”.   

I then review any words from the book that I feel they would not know.   This is the time that I explain why they each have small Post-its and how they are to use them to identify words they are unfamiliar with.

Next, I explain that when they are silently reading, I will be going to each student and leaning in close so they can softly read out loud.  At this time I can assess their reading level and fluency.  After I have listened to each student, I allow the students to continue silent reading until the end of the 20 minutes.  If they haven’t completed the assigned reading (either a small book or the first chapter), they need to finish it for homework that evening.  

I use Guided Reading Assessment and Anecdotal Notes, which is for sale in my TpT store, to record each student's reading assessment.

The next day, before I begin the session with Group 2, I give Group 1 their reading comprehension questions which they complete during this 20 minute period.

In week two, when I meet with the groups for a second time, I review any words that they have noted, and discuss the reading comprehension questions with the group.  I would ask a student to read out their answer as a starting point for a discussion by asking the other students if they agreed.  Once completed, the students would begin silently reading the next chapter.  While the students are reading, I record my observations on fluency, rate of reading, ability to answer questions and which type of questions they are having difficulties answering.

While this approach may seem to focus on reading comprehension questions, the questions have been structured to include reading strategies in addition to the who, what, where, when, why and how comprehension type questions.
Reading strategies include predicting, connecting, visualizing, summarizing and inferring.

My language block is broken up into three separate time slots: Daily 5; writing; and reading.  During the reading portion, I give individual lessons on the reading strategies so that the students understand how to use them while reading.

Four Corners Reading Book Talk

In addition to the above, once a week, four students are each asked to give a verbal book report to the class on a book they select.   I refer to this as Four Corners Reading Book Talk which is available at my TpT store.  This unit includes a rubric to assess the book talk and oral reading skills. They are expected to complete their book talk outline and practice their presentation at home.    

Student Reading Assessment

Assessing student’s reading for report cards is something many teachers struggle with.   My approach is to assess a variety of different reading activities which together determine the final assessment.    

These activities include:
I have developed my own reading comprehension units to use during my guided reading program.  If you are interested in this guided reading approach, which I have found to be very successful in progressing a student's reading level, please go my TpT store, Laurie's Classroom, and check out my units.
Stay tuned for my next blog.

Happy teaching.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Long Range Planning

"If you don't know where you are going, 
you might wind up someplace else."

Yogi Berra

I have found long range planning to be an indispensable tool in meeting the demands of teaching today.   While winding up someplace else might be fun on a summer road trip, it’s not the place you want to be during the fast paced school year.

What is it?

A long range plan is a high level, comprehensive, progressive monthly based plan for each subject that will ensure that all expectations are covered by the end of the school year.   
High level refers to including the overall expectations for each subject matter and names of unit plans but not daily lessons. 

By progressive, I mean ensuring that students have the requisite knowledge to meet an expectation.  For example, number recognition has to be taught prior to teaching addition and subtraction.   It also applies to cross curricular links whereby if students need a particular skill such as jot notes for a social studies unit, you will need to plan to do the social studies unit at the same time or soon after teaching jot notes. 

Comprehensive refers to including all elements for each subject e.g. language including reading strategies, writing forms, grammar, spelling, printing/cursive writing as well as the number of weeks each unit will take.

"Plans are nothing; planning is everything."

Dwight D. Eisenhower 

In teaching, plans are important, however, we can’t lose sight of the need to be flexible and make adjustments to the plan as required.   For example, it’s easy to spend extra time on a specific subject such as when the students are having difficulties.  This is where adjustments to the plan will need to be made such as removing other aspects of your unit to keep you on schedule.   A clearly laid out plan enables you to more easily decide where the adjustments can be made and to what degree.

Why do it?

Yes, the first time you develop a long range plan requires a considerable amount of thought and work.  However, once it’s done, it can be used every year with only some fine tuning.   
  • It saves you having to regularly refer back to overall expectations over the course of the year.
  • It keeps you focused and on track to complete all subjects on time for report cards.  
  • It assists in reporting to parents who are interested in knowing what’s going to be covered over the course of the year.  Similarly, if a student is going to be absent, since you know in advance what you will be teaching at that time, you can get material ready for the student if you chose or at least better inform the parent of what will be missed.
  • If for some reason the teacher is absent for a long period time, a substitute teacher will know exactly what has been covered and what still needs to be taught. 

What’s Next?

When my long range plan is drafted, I develop my units for each subject to meet the required specific expectations.   Units consist of daily lessons and assessments.  A first year teacher or a teacher teaching a new grade for the first time would likely do this on a monthly basis since they don’t have a full inventory of units previously prepared.  

Now that you know the number of days to complete a unit, you can develop a monthly calendar for all subjects.  Once your monthly calendar is developed, you can write your detailed day plans for each week.   Here is a sample of what your monthly planner should look like.

You can get my free editable monthly calendar and day plans at my TpT store.

My TpT store has detailed long range plans for grades 2, 3 and 2/3.  Included in these plans are language, math, science, and social studies.

While you’re there please check all of my teaching products and other free materials.  

Stay tuned for my next blog.

Happy teaching.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

7 Tips for the First Day Back to School

How would you like a supply teacher telling you that they didn’t really need to be there first thing in the morning since your students knew exactly what to do? There’s no better time to start these classroom routines than the first day back to school.

Entering the classroom

I start by showing my students how I expect them to enter the classroom which is single file in the order in which they arrive outside the classroom. Relate this behavior to real world expectations such as lining up at a bus stop and ask them how they would feel if a person who arrived at the stop after them pushed to the front of the line. I practice this routine all year.

 Morning routines

Once inside the classroom make sure you provide clear instructions of what is expected.  For example, I tell the students that they are expected to place returned work into designated bins and letters to the teacher or money envelopes in a bin on the teacher’s desk.  The students must then return to their desks and write in their agenda the work of the day which has been listed on the board. 

They then get their literature box, which is a magazine file for each student, where they keep all their reading e.g. silent reading book, writing, grammar etc., from a central area, and place it on their desk.  If necessary, they exchange their silent reading book from the classroom library. 

They then go and sit at the carpet where the chart stand is located and work on the Grammar Morning Work Activity. 

I use this grammar activity to help students with punctuation, phonics, spelling rules and more.
This routine is repeated daily which keeps the students focused and permits the teacher time to do morning attendance and check agendas.   

Walking as a class

With the class, I discuss and practice walking the hallway in an appropriate way.  I ask the students what our class should look like to others as we walk down the hall.  We jointly come up with a list of behaviors such walking in a straight line, being quiet, not pushing each other etc.  This can be done in a lighthearted way by the teacher demonstrating an inappropriate behavior is an exaggerated way and then ask the students if this is the proper way. 

Washroom rules

To prevent behavior issues with more than one student leaving the classroom at the same time as well as students constantly asking to leave the class, my students are allowed two washroom breaks each day during classroom time.  I try not to allow breaks during instruction time except for an emergency. This does not include recess, lunch, and snack time.  Students do not have to ask to visit the washroom during non-instruction time.  Only one boy and one girl are allowed to go at the same time.   

Free Washroom Cards
I have a chart with a pocket for each student in the classroom with washroom cards at the top. A student will place a card in their pocket to indicate they are in the washroom.   When they return to class, they return the washroom card and put a popsicle stick in their pocket to indicate they used one of their two washroom visits.   One of the classroom jobs that are assigned to students for the end of the day is to remove the sticks from the pockets to ready the chart for the next day. 

Get your Free washroom passes at my TpT store, Laurie’s Classroom.

Fire drills

Again, I use an interactive approach to jointly develop the rules for responding to fire alarms.   This includes how to line up to leave the classroom, where to stand outside and what to do if they are in the washroom.

Asking for help

I start by asking the students how they would get my attention to ask for help. For example, a student will say they should put their hand up.  I would then raise my hand and wave it back and forth while loudly saying my name and then ask them if this is how I should do it. This approach is fun for the students and gives them a sense of being part of the rules development.

By implementing these simple techniques and reinforcing them throughout the year, you will be a supply teacher’s dream come true and you will have the time to do your morning routines.

Numbers, not names

While not an activity for the class, one administrative technique that I find really helpful on the first day is to assign each student a number based on alphabetical order.   There are numerous benefits including: 
  • collecting material from students since it allows the teacher to quickly determine if someone has not handed it in;
  • recording attendance, marks etc.
  • behavior charts in the classroom are anonymous;
  • organizing any activity that involves placing the students into groups.

As new students come into the class, rather than renumbering all students, I add letter suffixes and prefixes.  For example, if the new student should be numbered as 17 based on alphabetical order, I would number them as 16A. If the new student is now number 1, they are numbered as A1 and the former number 1 student remains as number 1.

My next blog will deal with how to develop long and short range plans to help you cover all required expectations for the year.

Want to make this year even easier?  Visit my TpT store, Laurie’s Classroom, for lesson plans, daily activities and more free teaching materials: