Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dear Santa,

Happy December! (Well, almost!)

One of my favorite December activities is to have my students write letters to Santa. But not just any letter will do, they must write friendly letters. The students may give Santa compliments and they may ask questions, but they may not ask for anything. We write the letters and then send them. The friendly letter strategy must work because my students ALWAYS get return letters. Santa is so very busy in December that he assigns his elves to respond. So each of my students receives a letter from a different elf. Typically these letters arrive just before our winter break and just as I finish reading Polar Express. The amazing thing is that when the envelope arrives it is ICE COLD - really!!!! Hmmm... since it is coming from the North Pole, that makes sense, right? When we open the envelope, we find a letter for each child AND ...drumroll please ... A BELL!!!! Just like in the Polar Express!!!! Don't you just love Santa?!?!

Okay, for those of you who don't believe Santa is real (I hope that is NONE of you!!!) ... here is what you can do:
Find an upper grade teacher willing to have her class respond to your letters. Her students will have great fun choosing elf names and thinking of funny answers to the younger children's questions! Once the "elves" write the letters, place the letters and the bells all in a big envelope and put the envelope in the freezer overnight. The next day ask someone you trust to give the envelope to the secretary at the appointed time. Then the very excited secretary calls the room to tell you that a VERY cold package has arrived for your class! Be prepared for screams!!

Love to you all,

Camille Johnson

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Trading Day

I love, love, love trying new things and for November my kinder team is trying out "Trading Day". I am especially excited because the firsties in my K/1 combo have never done this before so it will be new, new, new for all of my students! (I really try to not repeat things that my kinders may have done last year - not completely humanly possible, but I try!)

I have to credit a WONDERFUL kindergarten teacher named Kim for many most ALL of the ideas I am about to share. KIM, YOU ARE AMAZING!

So what is Trading Day?
Trading Day is based on the bartering system that the Native Americans used. Students bring in items to trade with one another. The items they bring in must be natural items and not manmade. Examples include: acorns, rocks, raisins. Students have to barter with one another over their trades. (Example: How many rocks does a child trade for one acorn?) We sent home a letter explaining Trading Day to parents. Here is the letter.

The students are going to be making several projects next week to prepare for Trading Day. Since this is my first time to do these things, I don't have photos yet. The activities include:

Choosing a Native American name
Wonderful Kim gave us a list of Native American names. One of my teammates had students pick a name from a bag. Smart!
But being me, I had to make it more complex. I wanted to reinforce the parts of speech with my firsties so we brainstormed a list of animals (nouns) and then a list of adjectives to describe the animals. Sounds great, right? Hmmm... in doing this we got away from true Native American names. Hopping Kangaroo? Jumping Jaguar? Whoops! I did explain that those animals were not native to the United States, but by then my students had their hearts set on certain names so I let them keep those names.

Trading Mats
We will make these from 12X18 pieces of light brown paper. Students will draw Native American symbols on these and then fringe two of the edges. On Friday the students will place all of the items they want to trade on these mats.

Many,many ways to go with these! My class is going to use a Sharpie to make Native American designs on a brown foam circle. (I have precut the circles, punched two holes in each and strung a piece of yarn through the two holes.) A teammate bought some stick-on jewels from Lakeshore, so I am going to have the students make a pattern around the perimeter of the circle using the jewels. (Another way to sneak in academic vocabulary: perimeter.)

I cut these out of sentence strips. Then I wrote the chosen Native American names on each strip. Next week the students will use construction paper squares to create patterns. (My plan is to give them 2"X2" squares of many colors. Students may use the squares or create circles or triangles from them.) Then, of course, I will staple the ends together and -voila- a headband! I am thinking of giving the students one feather at each station on Friday, but somehow that doesn't feel authentic. (I really want to be respectful of the Native American cultures and sometimes I cross the line in order to be "cute", but I am really trying not to!)

Kim (have I already told you she is BRILLIANT?!?) showed me a much easier way to make vests. (Years I made them out of grocery sacks and that was a lot of work.) Instead they will be made out of brown packing paper. Just fold a large piece in half and cut out a hole for the head. Then the students will make designs on the paper. (Sure wish I had a photo!!! They will come, I promise!)

Whew! Lots to do next week! My students are sooo excited and I am sooo, sooo, sooo excited!
Love to all, Camille

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Pinterest Discovery!

Like all of you I love Pinterest and I just discovered something NEW and EXCITING at Pinterest! The wonderful Charity has created Pinterest boards for each grade level. That's right ... Charity has a board just for kinder and a board just for first grade and so on.

Here are the links:
Kindergarten Pinterest Board
First Grade Pinterest Board

Since I only (ONLY?!?) teach kinder and first those are the only two boards that I care about! Sorry! But if you teach a different grade level, there is help for you.

In addition to the Pinterest boards, Charity also created blog rolls for each grade level. (Does this woman sleep?) These operate out of a site called Teaching Blog Central. If you are interested in other Pinterest sites or blog roll sites, Teaching Blog Central contains ALL of the links.

But for my special kinder and first grade friends, here are the links:
Kindergarten Club
First Grade Faculty

So now the question is: Will we ever sleep?


Friday, November 11, 2011

Let the Children Speak

Hi all! I am now in the midst of parent conferences and thought I would share a technique I use. Although I conference with parents only, I want each child's voice to be heard at their conference. So I send home a list of five questions that parents are to ask their children ahead of time. For example: What is your favorite part of first grade? I also include three questions for the parents to think about ahead of time.

I begin each conference by going over the form with the parents. The comments from the students serves as a reminder that they are the focus of the conference. The comments from the parents give me a heads up as to any special direction the conference should take.

Here is the form I use. It is simple, but powerful.
First Grade Questionnaire

I hope this is helpful!