Organizing Literacy Center Materials

Yesterday I wrote about how I set up my Literacy Centers.  My school has been using Journeys for a few years now, and I'm more familiar with common core this year than I was at the beginning of last year, so I felt ready to really delve in.  You can see how I set up my rotation topics and schedule here.
Today I thought I'd share how I organize my materials.  Let's face it; the best instructional activities will not engage students if the organization behind them doesn't work!  And if it's too complicated for us to manage, we're not going to want to use it either.  There was some trial and error when it came to different locations in the room and moving desks, which the kids HATED.  Who knew how nervous they would get about other people sitting at their desk!  

So I scrapped that first idea and instead created a file folder system.  It worked for my math games, so I shouldn't be surprised that it turned out to be the best solution for my literacy activities.  They know where to access the folders, how to distribute materials, and they can stay at their own desk.  There is only one activity in the course of the week that requires a single group to move to a separate spot in the room, and fortunately I have the space to accommodate that.

I keep the bin with 3 file folders right in the middle of my leveled readers.  My rotations are right above this set of bins as well, so everything is within reach.  Other than "read with the teacher," each of the other stations has its own file folder of activities.

Inside each file folder I can "preload" the activities for the week.  The Mentor Sentences page has 3 different activities in one, so it keeps them occupied in the "Editing" station for 3 days, and I load the spelling in on the final day. 

The Vocabulary pages look different enough from one day to the next, so the kids don't mix up which one to do first, second and so on.  I clip the "not yet" pages to the folder as a gentle reminder, and their current pages are loose in the folder for them to take. 

And finally, the Independent Reading Response folder has 3 separate envelopes.  These are clearly labeled for each Close Read slip they need to do, in order.  The kids know they need to tape the first into their notebook and complete it before they take the second.  This is the most time consuming center, so often they come back to it when they finish a different literacy center early.
Considering that this is my first year running Literacy Stations since moving to fourth grade (and since Common Core began) I think they are going pretty well!  I plan to offer my Close Reads in my TPT store this summer, so if you are thinking about trying stations next year, stay tuned!

I've started to post my Mentor Sentences products in my TPT store.  There are a few freebies in the section I've linked to if you want to give them a try! Or if you want the whole set, check out my 4th grade bundle!

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Setting Up my Literacy Stations

This year I have started using Literacy Stations.  I used a variation of this system about a decade ago when I taught third grade using Trophies, then stopped when I moved to a new district that was using Reader's Workshop with one on one conferences.  Well, we've since switched to Journeys and the time felt right to reboot the stations system.  Obviously with common core and a different grade level those old stations would not work for my class, so here is the latest version!

Each day my reading groups work on the following stations:

1.  Read with the Teacher, which is basically my leveled reading groups.  

2.  Vocabulary:  Journeys does an AWESOME job with vocabulary.  I have the kids complete a preview page the first day, with a short text (from the TM on the back to give them practice using context clues).  The next day I use the vocabulary cards that come with the program for students to discuss.  Finally, I give them questions from the teacher's manual to complete (5 questions per day).  I blogged about these vocabulary questions here, and you can download my free template for Journey's vocabulary questions from that post.   

3.  Editing:  I have started using Mentor Sentences this year to help kids examine and learn good grammar habits in writing.  Some day I will make this available in my TPT store, but it's just not ready yet! I also include a spelling game once every 5 days.

4.  Independent Reading Responses:  We have started using Close Reads for reading responses because I felt that the worksheets with Journeys were just not cutting the muster.  I wanted to hone in more on common core skills and creating my own questions were the best way to do so.
Once I decided on the tasks involved, I needed a way to quickly change out the groups several times each day.  Last year I'd hung up file folders with reading materials inside for each group.  There were clips so the kids could be moved each week if needed.  After a lot of sketching of wheels and hanging groups off of station titles, I decided to keep the folders and move the center titles instead.  

And in order to move them quickly, without misplacing any titles (I'm kind of bad at that sort of rotation system) I put them all on sentence strips!  That's right, instead of moving around 4 different station tags, I just take the first strip down, and station number 2 is right there.  At the end of the day I just put strips 3, 2, and 1 back up and the system is ready for the next day. 

As you can see, each "rotation" period is color coded.  The kids in the reading group with the blue folder know that their first rotation every day is editing, followed by reading with me, then their written response, and finally vocabulary. 

It was NOT EASY setting up this system.  Some things can't be done out of order, such as reading with the teacher and the written response.  I really had to flesh out my 5 day schedule to be sure the kids could all work with automaticity when they got to their groups or else I would not be able to focus on my small group.  The key is to NOT schedule any groups on day 1.  My focus lesson for reading comprehension is a little longer, the kids get time to read their books before we meet, and I introduce the editing skill for the week. 

For my first year running these new Literacy Stations, it's going pretty well.  I'll feel even better next year when my Close Read questions and Mentor Sentences are completed.  If you're thinking of trying out Literacy Stations next year, you can download my Literacy Stations one week planning page here for free.  Then, check out my next blog post tomorrow and I'll show you how I organize the materials I use in the stations.
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Cyber Monday TPT Sale

It's hard to believe December is almost here!  I was surprised to learn how many schools have Thanksgiving week off.  We had a field trip (in the snow, on a boat) yesterday, I'll still be picking up a few items for Thanksgiving after school today, and the day after Thanksgiving I'll be starting report cards.  It's a crazy-busy end to November, but my goal is to have them finished by Sunday night, because for me that's when the real fun begins:  Cyber Monday!  Forget about getting up early for Black Friday and braving the cold.  Not to mention the overseas postage to my husband's family over in England.  Shopping online is my kind of shopping. 

If you love online sales too, then you are in luck because Teachers Pay Teachers is once again having their Cyber Monday (plus Tuesday) sale!  You can save up to 28% off of your purchases by entering promo code CYBER at checkout.  My whole store will be a full 28% off as long as you remember the promo code! 

Some popular products this month have been my Long Division Games Bundle:

If you teach fourth grade, you'll most likely be teaching fractions pretty soon:


 Poetry Month is in April:

And finally, if you're looking for my best deal, you can save 28% on my largest bundle:  
Normally priced $25, it will cost just $18.75 for two days only! 

So start filling your wishlist, and come back Monday and Tuesday to save a bundle on some fun, engaging resources for your class. 

On the other hand, if you are pinching pennies this season and you would like a freebie instead of shopping the sales in my store, here's a seasonal one for your class.  It's designed to help target assistance for your lower income students if you have funds from the PTO to provide them with a little something for the holiday.  I'm lucky enough to work in a school where we give to the families in need every year, and this Holiday Aid for Low Income Students page will help you get started with that.

Happy bargain hunting!
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Making Long Division Interactive (and Dare I Say Fun!)

It's that time again.  One of my students several years ago called it "The Nightmare of Fourth Grade."  Fourth grade teachers know what math concept I'm talking about:  Long Division.

Nowadays there are different ways to approach teaching long division.  I've tried the partial quotient method and I find that it's great for some learners.  However I like to take a different approach.  Math in Focus puts a lot of emphasis on place value at the start of the year.  It's also very important in Chapter 2 when we estimate and in the first part of Chapter 3 when we multiply 2 digits by 2 digits.   

So in my mind the best way to tackle long division is to use what the kids have been learning about place value.  And the best way to do that is with play money.

To start out, we break out the place value mats and write a dividend at the top.  Then I teach them that another way to think of the divisor is "the number of wallets" they are splitting the money into. 
 In the first example, I make sure that the numbers divide evenly which is a huge confidence booster for kids who have heard "horror stories" about long division form their older siblings.  They get a preview of a column of numbers underneath the numbers in the standard algorithm and shut down.  

We don't get into ANY of that on day one.  We stick with the manipulatives and it's as easy as dealing cards.

Split the hundreds, split the tens, and split the ones.  Count the total in a single wallet and you have your quotient.
As an aside, I COULD use place value chips that come with Math in Focus, or I could use the base ten blocks.  But I like using money better because I feel like it's a "real world" manipulative that kids can relate to better.  Plus there's just something about the feeling of counting dollar bills that motivates a lot more people than plastic blocks!  I also wanted to share this activity idea with you because most of us already have play money in our classrooms.  But just in case you don't, you can get some play money here (affiliate link).

I actually had a couple students call me out because this system seemed so simple.  One noticed how engineered the numbers were, which I coped to.  I told them, "This week you can see 862 can be divided by 2 easily because 8, 6 and 2 are all divisible by 2.  Tomorrow you'll have a number like 762 which is not as easy, but you'll be used to dividing the money so regrouping will just be one extra step.  However one student had an even more exciting doubt for me:

"What about remainders?"

Ooooh, that created a buzz.  Surely numbers with remainders in the quotient are REALLY HARD! 

But I was ready for them.  "I can show you how to do that right now; it's not a big deal."  And all I did was increase the ones place by 1 to create a new number, 863.  I went through the process again, only this time I wrote "r 1" at the end.   

"Ohhhhhhhh!" remainders are easy.  I changed a few of my original problems to have a remainder of 1 or 2 so the kids could practice the challenge they made for themselves, and they took it in stride with no issues.

Next time I'll show you how we regroup with the money in order to tackle those problems like 762 divided by 2.  If you can't wait, you can preview my long division task cards bundle product.  It has 3 different levels of difficulty so you can differentiate to different learners in your class. 
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"All New" Giveaway and a Sale

One of my blogging buddies, Meg from The Teacher Studio (formerly Fourth Grade Studio)  is celebrating a milestone: her blog is 1 year old.  It's hard to believe that she's only been at this for a year because I've learned SO much from her posts over the past year.  To commemorate her one year blogiversary her blog has a fresh new look which I'm a big fan of.  And even more exciting; this week she is holding a HUGE giveaway every day this week!   

Each of the 5 winners this week will each win over $100 worth of TPT products of their choice from the selected sellers who are participating!  Head over there now for a chance to win.  Then go back tomorrow for another giveaway, and again on Friday for yet another giveaway.  There is a different group of stores participating each day! 

To honor her "All New" blog theme, not only can you win $10 worth of products from my store (in addition to a handful of other bloggers' stores for a combined value of around $100) if you enter today's contest, I'm also putting my "All New" product on sale for 50% this week only. 

 I recently finished Math in Focus Chapter 2 with my fourth graders, and I always like to have some math review games at my disposal to help the kids retain their skills all year.  My

Prime or Composite Board Game and Least Common Multiple Dice Game have really helped since I created them last year, and this year I rounded out the set with my "All New" Greatest Common Factor Game. 

So if you're looking for some fun review, check it out while it's still on sale! 
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