Jasper Roberts Consulting - Widget

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ask Mrs. Lee: Answers to Questions You've Been Asking

I have been a busy little girl this week trying to do some tpt catching up and getting out some things you guys have been asking for.  If you like, you can check out these new items in my store: Alphabet Super Sorting PackThe Great Letter RaceMiss Nelson Activity, & Peacemaker Activity.

I promised a while back (before pregnancy) I would do a question and answer post so finally I'm getting around to doing it.  I hope I've remembered your questions, BUT if you have any other I'm happy to answer them.  Here we go:

How do you run centers in your classroom?   How do you set up your centers? How long are they there? What kind of rotation are you on?  How often do you change them and how do you get your kids to be so independent at this time of the year to be able to go to a center and actually do work?  Why do you have so many baskets?  Okay, so I have 5 center groups.  I label them by red, blue, yellow, green, and orange.  This is the color of baskets I use.  I have 3 sets of 5 color baskets because I do morning centers, literacy centers, and math centers.  My baskets contain things from my tpt units.  Morning baskets have math and literacy items in them, and math has math and literacy has strictly literacy.  My students do 1 center each day.  We do not rotate baskets, tables, nothing.  They get 1 basket, complete the work inside, then have time to do choices from the chart.  I usually have 3-4 choices beside each color group on the chart.  Their choices consist of computers, promethean board, writing center, reading loft, plus all of my lakeshore and homemade games.  How are my kids so independent during centers?  If you own any of my tpt units you see that most all the games are played the same way.  I LOVE this b/c the kiddos know exactly how to play each game for the most part.  Skills change, but basic playing of games do not.  I have new ones every now and then.  This is a HUGE help.

Do you play the games in small groups with your kids before you put them in a center? No, I don't play these at my table; However, before I ever begin small group instruction, the first few weeks of school I am sitting at tables with the students modeling center games, how to roll, spin, and pass manipulatives to their friends.  This is when I teach them how we color code our work.  Because I do my centers consistently the same the entire year, they quickly learn our centers and how they work.  This really gets them to be independent.  

How do you manage centers...keep students on task, not getting too loud, finishing work, not getting bored and interrupting small groups?  The first few weeks of school I really set the tone for appropriate center behavior and do LOTS of modeling on our routine.  I don't start small groups until I feel assurance that they can handle centers on their own.  Is center time perfect?  NO!  But, they know what they are supposed to be doing, where to put their work, and so forth.  I assign group leaders (wise old owls) that help keep loud talking to a minimum, keep games going, and are there to help answer questions other student may have.  They wear a necklace so students know who to ask for help before they can come ask me.  I choose students who can handle this responsibility and changes when others are ready.  I have colored baskets (from Lakeshore) where they turn in something each week.  Other work goes in their mailbox.  I have a colored circle close to my table where they stand holding their "finished" work BEFORE they can do choices.  They MUST show me their work before they turn it in, put it in their mailbox, or do any choices.  This works very well for me.  I just glance and give them a thumbs up if it's okay to turn it in or a thumbs down if it needs more work.  A thumbs down may be for better coloring, name not being on their paper, or  just not completing it.  

Can you give an example of a guided reading lesson/how you rotate through your guided reading groups (i.e. are the groups referred to by name/color/etc.)  Here's the basic flow of how my guided readings groups go:  5 mins. review all of alphabet using flashcards (letter names and sounds-depending on each group and the time of year and what each group needs), 5 mins handwriting-finger tracing cards, white boards, sheet-we do letters here and eventually words, 5 mins of word work like blending letters to read words, manipulating letter tiles to build words, or at the beginning of year just working on naming letters with tiles and other things.  5-10 minutes of reading in the reader...I use all types of reading strategies here.

How do you organize your center materials (like the ones you sell on tpt)?  I don't have a genius way of storing my materials.  I use manilla file folders with the jumbo rubber bands around them to keep them closed.  I store game pieces in ziploc bags and then my recording sheets are in there too.  I store materials by unit, NOT by skill.  For my bigger units, (farm, zoo, ocean) I store them in tubs under my cabinet.

Can you send me your center chart pictures?  My center chart choice pictures come from Lakeshore Catalogs.  I just cut out the games I have and mount them on a construction paper square then laminate.  I also take pictures of some of our games with my camera, print them and mount them the same way.  Every thing that is a choice, I have a picture of.  I rotate out the choices every few weeks or when we begin working on a new skill.  That way they are practicing skills that have been taught during their choice time.  

I know you put your tpt things in your Morning Centers; What do you put in your literacy and math centers?  I use my tpt units for all of my centers, not just my morning centers.  

How do you explain each center for the week?  To explain centers, I just gather them at the carpet and I just go through each basket explaining the game pieces and what they have to do on their paper.  I do it in detail usually doing an example from the basket.  I don’t go into detail the next day, I may just go around to each table and say things like, “beginning sounds, or tallying, or blends”.  Usually at least 2 or more people understand each center and can help the others get started.  I don’t waste a lot of time re-explaining  b/c I have to get started straight away on my small groups.   Because our centers are played the same way each week or at least every other week, they pretty well know what to do when I start explaining.  Sometimes they'll even say, "Oh this was like the game last week!"  

Do your kids rotate through the rest of the things posted on your center board or they can choose based on their color group?  They choose based on color groups, but since we rotate our colors (baskets) each day they have different choices each day.  By the end of Friday they’ve had the opportunity to do ALL the choices on the chart.  I do it by color groups so there aren't 10 students trying to work on the same thing.  Also, this keeps them from fussing over the Interactive Board, computers, the reading loft and that sort of thing.  They know they have their own day for each of those things.

I know that you have 5 color groups - do they do their work always at their own colored table?   Yes, they never move tables just the baskets rotate.  It’s just what works best for me.  I like them to be responsible for the materials at their table such as their crayons, markers, pencils, etc.  I feel as if they rotate they make break crayons and then in the afternoon when it’s time to do an activity someone will be upset b/c a different student broke the crayons or lost something.  And, its just too much trouble to ask them to transfer materials from table to table.

I noticed the "star" on your lit. center board.  What is it for?  I put a star beside each basket that I want them to turn in their work for.  For example, for literacy baskets I may want them to turn in a game where they are working on blends.  I would put a star beside the color of basket that had that game.  In math I may want them to turn in an addition game so I can check it.  It would have a star beside it.  Sometimes there are 2 things they turn in for each set of centers and sometimes only 1.  This way I am checking some of their work for accuracy, but I can't do it all.  

How do you teach letter formation?  Do you ever do Journal writing/letter printing/etc.?  Just wondering if you do it whole group.   I don't have a set aside time for handwriting.  Our school doesn't use a program, but we have a way that we all teach it.  I model writing each letter as I introduce it, we rainbow write it during whole group, we sky write it with our finger, and we practice it during small groups using Finger Tracing Cards, white boards, and sometimes a worksheet.  Sometimes I use handwriting in a center just to see what they'll do when they are by their self.  I do make them correct work.  Also, during any other time we are writing for theme or whenever, if I notice a student forming a letter incorrectly I make them erase it right them and redo it with me watching and helping.  

What are your year-long themes (*I am dying to know so that I can plan ahead for next year and see what you will be creating next).  That being said, how long are your themes (one week, one month, etc.)  Perhaps you can make available your year-long plans for us to view?  I only do my themes 1 week.  Every now and then I'll spend 2 weeks on a larger unit such as farm, zoo, or ocean.  Just depends on my mood.  Here is a list of my themes in order for the most part:

Rules with David, Kissing Hand
Colors/Shapes with Brown Bear
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
All About Me
Teddy Bears
Native Americans/Pilgrims
My Five Senses/Gingerbread Man
Animals in Winter
The Mitten
100th Day
Fairy Tales
Community Helpers
Dr. Seuss
*Sometimes I'll do 2 units within a week like put 100th day with another unit.  I just work it out on my calendar to fit them all in.  

Where do you teach new concepts/skills...tables, rug?  Mostly at the rug during whole group time.  But, there are times we do things at our tables too!  I use games, manipulatives, cards, my ELMO, and promethean board.

Does your "Build a Rainbow" management system really work all year?  YES, it really does. The key, (I've found out) is to be very consistent with it.  I've done it different years, and if you aren't consistent it doesn't work as well.  I find myself giving rainbow pieces for several different things depending on what I'm asking students to do at the moment, OR what I've already asked them to do.  When I say something like, "I'm looking to see who I can give a rainbow piece", they immediately get quiet and do what they are supposed to.  :)  

How did you do your colorful filing cabinet?  First, clean the front of your filing cabinet and take off the handles.  Just unscrew them with your hand and lay the pieces aside.  Take a piece of 12x12 scrapbook paper and trim it to fit your file cabinet.  Paint Mod Podge on the drawer...do it quickly because it dries fast.  Don't be too perfect with it, just slap it on.  Then press the paper to it smoothing out the wrinkles.  Last, paint on a coat (or 2) of Mod Podge on top of the paper.  Make sure the cover all the edges really well.  Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy!

What items do you put on your large alphabet letters?  I've used different items before, but here are some basic items you can find easily.  Go here to see a list of items.

What's your schedule?  Read about it here.

Do you have an aide that helps you during centers or make your games for you?  In my dreams!!  We do not have classroom aides.  I'm in there alone and I make all of my games/centers myself.  I do it during planning, after school, or at home.  But, once they are made, I have them forever!  (unless a kid chews them or tears them)  


  1. This post is so amazing I am going to print it. Thank you so much-those are pretty much the same questions I have been wondering for about a year now. You amaze me! Gotta go read it again LOL

  2. Thanks so much for your plan and great explanations. I look forward to your new creations! I am currently working on your Brown Bear and Chicka Chicka units to start next year! Thanks for sharing and all your hard work.

  3. Awesome...many of my questions were definitely answered here. Thanks for posting the list of your themes in order, I am working on hammering that out as we speak.

    Love your new products on TPT also...glad to see you back in the internet world :)


  4. Wow! Thanks for sharing all of those answers! Hope you are relaxing and having a great summer!
    :) Megan

  5. I love all of your great ideas & organization!
    Jen's Kinder Kids

  6. Great post - thanks! Would you be able to post a sample of your day/week plan (the one you write up and keep in your Teacher Binder)? I am required to keep these in a binder on my desk for each week. Since I use many of your activities, I would greatly appreciate to see how you set yours up and plan ahead. Thanks!!!

  7. Thank you for sharing!! This was a wonderful post!

    Heather (heathernnance@yahoo.com)

  8. Thanks for your wonderful and motivating ideas!!
    What an inspiration!!!

  9. Thanks so much for answering all of our questions! I too would like to see a sample of your weekly lesson plans.

  10. You have answered so many questions that I hate to ask another one! I would like to use Donor's Choice this year and see that you have used it in the past. How did you let your parents know about your post? By word or parent letter...? Thanks

    1. I usually just mention donors choose at orientation then when I post a new project I put it in our newsletter. I explain it and why I do it at orientation though. :) Good question!

  11. Okay, so I have been reading your blog for a while--some might consider it stalking. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE all of your ideas. I am going into my 2nd year of kindergarten and even thouhg this post helped out a lot, I still have so many questions! I would love to pick your brain a little bit and hopefully find some answers to the questions bogging my brain down. Would you be willing to try and answer them? Thanks!

  12. Thanks Julie! I sent you an email with some questions. Did you get it?

    1. Yes, I got it. Give me a day or two and I'll get to answering it...thanks! :)

  13. I have been following your blog for some time. I love your blog and your fantastic ideas. I have given you a 'Blog Award'. Pop over to my blog and check it out.
    Classroom Fun

  14. I love all of your wonderful ideas and your awesome items you create and sell on TPT! I was wondering about the morning centers. How do you use them? Are they for keeping the kids busy while you complete morning teacher responsibilities like attendance and lunch count? Just wondering I have always wanted to try the kiddos coming in the door and get busy with something like that. Thanks for sharing your thoughts/ideas!

  15. Julie,

    Thank you so much for sharing all of your wonderful tips! I find my biggest issue is organization of all of my materials. I am heading to the lakeshore site to see what I can find to help. I had one additional question regarding morning centers. Do you choose games/centers that the kids have already done previously to review skills or do you put games/activities to match the current letter or theme?

    Thanks again for sharing :)


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