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Preparing Students for Standardized Testing All Year

Standardized testing is underway or beginning for many schools. Teachers, students, and administration are feeling immense pressure to prepare their students. When I was in the classroom, the pressure affected all of us year-round. The focus was on data and preparing students for testing from the first to the last day of school. I ended up asking to move to second grade due to the testing pressure in fourth and fifth grade.

I was shocked when I moved to second grade to see that the pressure, while not as extreme, was still there! Throughout my years in second grade I worked to prepare students to become better readers, which in turn will make them better test-takers, so hopefully, some of the pressure was minimized when they entered third grade. I realized the importance of three things:

1. Teaching students to use text evidence to support their answers.
2. Using high-interest texts.
3. Scaffolding instruction appropriately, but using complex text for readers of all levels.

1. Teaching students to use text evidence to support their answers.
Almost every teacher, no matter what elementary grade they teach, can attest to how hard it is to get their students to use text evidence to support their answer choices. This is not a skill that should be taught only in upper elementary when preparing for standardized tests.
This is something that you should start as young as preschool! When reading to young children for enjoyment, you should discuss stop to discuss what is happening. Ask young children why they think what they think by pointing to the pictures. I do this with my two-year-old by asking questions like, “How does the little girl in the story feel?” If she tells me she is sad, I ask her to point to the picture that shows me she is sad.

In first grade, students should be able to circle or underline places in the picture and/or text to support their answers to literal questions. By second grade, students can be trained to find not only explicit answers in the text, but evidence that supports implicit conclusions they draw. If this is done consistently throughout first and second grade, it should be automatic for upper elementary students.
Not to say, students won’t try to take the “lazy” way out and not go back into the text. As a teacher, it is important to constantly expect your students to support their answers and never take anything less. I always refused to accept a paper from a student that did not have their answer underlined. It soon became a habit for students to prove their answers. Of course, this also takes constant modeling on the teacher’s part.

You’re probably thinking, “How boring! I want reading to be fun for my students.” While teaching and expecting students to use text evidence can be daunting, it can certainly be made fun. I recommend, when using a printable passage, you let students use color. My students always had a pencil box of rainbow colored pencils, and they would underline their answers in corresponding colors. You’d be amazed how much more engaged students become when you add coloring. This also makes it super easy for you to check that they are using text evidence! During independent reading, I would ask my students to use sticky notes to jot down their thinking. They would then place their sticky notes in their journal and have them ready to discuss with me during conferences. I did not expect or require them to do this all the time though. That will take the joy out of reading. The ultimate goal, after all, is for students to be able to internalize their thinking. When we read a book, we don’t write down every question or thought we have. It just comes naturally to us.

Once this process becomes a habit for your class, you will see it really doesn’t take the “fun” out of reading. Students start to enjoy their reading more because they are analyzing text and thinking more deeply.

2. Using high-interest texts.
Of course, we want our students to love reading, so we need to use high-interest texts! Use books and articles on topics that will interest your students. Find nonfiction books on topics your kids are interested in. In my comprehension units, I try to include high interest scientific and historical topics kids will want to know more about. When selecting fiction, I often choose books and passages about kids that kids can relate to.

3. Scaffolding instruction appropriately but using complex text for readers of all levels.
Differentiation is super important. We all know that. We need kids to regularly have access to text on their reading level that they can enjoy and comprehend without getting frustrated. However, there is a time and place to have students practice reading and responding to grade level text even if it is too difficult for them. If we use appropriate modeling and plenty of guided practice, many of our kids below level can analyze grade-level texts. After all, they will be encountering these texts on standardized testing.

We don’t want them to feel overwhelmed and insecure when testing cones. I have found that by teaching even our low readers a set of clear steps to tackle grade-level text, they can often be successful. It was for this purpose that I created my standards base comprehension packets in the first place. High-interest passages also motivate our below level students.

With that being said, it is important to offer more guidance through reteaching and small groups before we set them off to work on above-level text independently. It is also important to note, if you have students who are significantly below level and have no chance of being successful with a higher-level text, you don’t want to set them up for complete failure. I always taught the inclusion class, with about one-third of my students being exceptional. Usually, I was able to get most of these students to have some success with grade-level text. I might modify some of the short response questions, or just focus on their successes with the questions they could do. However, my last year in the classroom I had three children who were barely reading on a Fountas and Pinnell level A. These children were not able to tackle grade-level text with any success, so I did give them alternate passages they could be successful with.

If you’re looking for resources to help make using text evidence a habit, try my reading comprehension packets for fiction or nonfiction. I have packets for most standards for first, second, third, fourth, and fifth grade. They can be found in my TpT store here.

5 Ways to Teach Your Preschooler About Colors

My daughter Madeline is now two. She loves going to preschool and learning. I am creating activities to do with Madeline to reinforce what she is learning in school. Currently, Madeline is learning all about colors. This has been a bit of a difficult concept for her, but I’ve created some activities to help her.

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. If you order from one of my links, Amazon gives me a small percentage of the sale at no extra expense to you. This helps me maintain my blog. 

Five Ways to Teach Your Preschooler About Colors

1. Reading: First and foremost, to help Madeline learn about colors, we are reading lots and lots of books that incorporate colors. Here are our favorites:

    With eye-catching illustrations, Madeline loves this simple story of how a chameleon learns to accept his ability to change colors.
    This is a cute story that reinforces colors.
    Madeline loves pressing the animal sound buttons as we read this story!
    Madeline loves this story since it is so repetitive. She loves reading it with me and reading it to herself.
    This book has fun finger print textures. We love to look for the hidden objects in the pictures.
    This is a sweet story about a bunny who asks his friends help to figure out what makes a rainbow. Madeline loves how ribbon colors are added to the rainbow as you turn the page. This has been a favorite since she was a baby!

    2. Sorting Activities: I’ve created some simple and fun color sorting activities. Madeline loves these! Her favorite is the Animal Color Sort. She loves to stick and pull apart the Velcro.

    3. Coloring: I created this simple and fun coloring book. Preschoolers can easily learn to read this book themselves too!

    4. Science: Madeline loved this Rainbow Drops experiment. She Especially enjoyed making the drops with the colors and the medicine dropper and trying to mix the colors.

    5. Crafts: This is one of the crafts we made. While I needed to do all of the cutting, Madeline helped me paste the rainbow strips on the cloud and say the color names of each rainbow strip.

    For these activities and more, click here to purchase my Colors for Preschoolers product:

    Teaching Tolerance and Cultrual Diversity Through Literature

                   Teaching tolerance and cultural diversity to our students is so important in our world today. With the conflict in the Middle East, there has been a lot of discrimination and judgement towards Muslim people. This is a difficult topic to discuss with elementary age students. Despite it being difficult to discuss, I believe it is very important we find ways to teach students about different cultures. One of my favorite ways to teach about acceptance of different cultures is through books. Books help students get to know and connect with characters. This helps them realize the similarities we all have despite our differences.

    (This post contains Affiliate links.)

    The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania is an excellent book about two best friends getting into a fight because they think each other’s sandwiches look different and gross. The girls learn you shouldn’t judge things before you try them.

    The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi is the story of a little girl moving from Korea to America. American students have trouble prononcing Unhei's name. She considers changing it becasue she thinks it will be hard to make friends if she is different.

    The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco is based on Patricia’s experience as a young girl when she was put in a special education classroom.

    The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis is a chapter book appropriate for upper elementary and middle school about an eleven-year-old girl living in Afghanistan during the Taliban rule.

    You can purchase my unit to go along with the Sandwich Swap here:

    Place Value

    The Common Core Place Value standards are so important when teaching first and second graders. Understanding the meaning of ones, tens, and hundreds sets the foundation for counting, adding, and subtracting. When I teach place value, I emphasize the use of manipulatives with my students. I especially have success using place value blocks. I like place value blocks because students can see that a ten is composed of ten ones and a hundred is composed of one hundred ones.Place value blocks are also easy to manipulate.

    My students love Mr. R's Place Value Song! You can watch it here or on You Tube.
    He also has a TpT Store!
     Mr. R's Place Value Song

    In the beginning of the year, I like to reinforce place value with my students by doing a Number of the Day for morning work. The routine and repetition of Number of the Day really helps students gain number sense. You can use a printed sheet for number of the day, but if your copies are limited, this Rainbow Number of the Day worked great for my class.

                     Sample Number of the Day Poster- Just Laminate and hang on the board.

    I just created this poster and had students fill in each section with the corresponding color in their Number of the Day Journal. In the beginning of the year, we went over the Number of the Day as a class. As students mastered this concept, I took a few minutes to check student journals and pull small groups as needed.
    Example of student journal using Rainbow Number of the Day Poster

    My students also loved making a Place Value Book. 

    The book, along with other worksheets, a scoot game, and a quiz can be found in my first and second grade place value packet on TpT. 


    Teaching Arrays in Second Grade

    Partitioning Rectangles (2.G.A.2) and Arrays (2.OA.C.4)

    These standards go together perfectly because they both involve arrays. 2.G.A.2 asks students to partition rectangles into rows and columns to make arrays. Standard 2.OA.C.4 asks students to use addition to find the total number of objects in an array. 

    This is my favorite 2nd grade math unit because arrays work perfectly with using food! These lessons are very engaging and memorable for students. Here are some ideas I have used in the classroom:


    After students have some familiarity with these standards, I bring in a tray of brownies. I ask students to help me figure out how I should cut the brownies into rows and columns so we have enough brownies for everyone in the class. I give students time to make a plan in groups. After students come up with a solution, they share with the group. When we find a plan that will work, we cut the brownies and enjoy!

    Chocolate Bar Math

    This is always my second grader's favorite lesson. In this lesson, I bring in a chocolate bar (divided into rectangles) for each of my groups. Students complete an activity with their team using the chocolate bar. Of course, the best part is when students get to partition the chocolate bar and eat it in the end. This lesson can be found, along with other practice sheets for these standards, here:

    Open House

    Back to school means getting ready for open house. Here are some forms you can use to stay organized. Click on the pictures to grab them for free!


    I hate to lecture parents on open house night. Often parents get bored and it makes me nervous! When I was in the classroom, I liked to create a short PowerPoint presentation with key things parents want to know. I created this template to make creating your own presentation easy. Grab it here for free:

    In my school students were always invited to join their parents at open house. When I was in the classroom, I liked to include the children in the night. Students always are so excited to show their parents the classroom, so I created these scavenger hunts. This activity has always been a big hit! It also gives parents the chance to see what goes on in our classroom. Snag them for free here:

    I hope your open house night goes smoothly! 

    How I teach the Common Core Reading Informational Text Standards

    How do I teach the Common Core reading informational text standards?

    I have found that it is most effective to introduce and teach each standard in isolation. Many students benefit from being taught each standard explicitly. They succeed when they are given steps to follow and know what to expect. Once students have mastered standards, I integrate the standard into other activities.

    Here is a sample schedule of how I teach each standard. (Of course the time spent for each lesson depends on the complexity of the standard and the students prior exposure to the standard.)

    Day 1: Model (Approx. 15 min.)

    1. Introduce the standard. Show students a poster of the steps you take to help you attack the standard in a reading passage. (I create the poster before and may leave some blanks for students to fill in.) Give students a "mini" anchor chart for their journal. Keep the student's engagement by having blanks for them to fill in as you go over it.

    2. Model how to read a passage and answer questions based on the standard. You can put a passage on a projector or on a piece of chart paper. I usually just print the passage very big and paste it on a poster. It is helpful to have the poster for reteaching. Students also constantly refer back to the poster. Be sure when you model how to answer the questions, you are going through the steps. Model exactly what you think.  (NOTE: If you are using my Non Fiction Common Core Reading Comp. packets, you can pick one passage for the model. Model answering 2-3 questions. Save the rest of the questions for the We-Do Together portion of the lesson. )

    *Remember- Modeling is not time for students to participate orally in the lesson. You should not be asking for any student input during the lesson. 

    3. Closing: Before sending kids off for independent reading, centers, and small groups, I close the lesson by reviewing what we learned. On the first day, I may close the lesson by asking random students to repeat the steps back to me. (I also let them use their journal to refer to the steps. It will take a lot of practice throughout the week for students to internalize the steps.)

    Day 2: Guided Practice- We Do Together

    1. Have students bring their journals to the gathering place and open them to the Anchor chart from the day before. Display your anchor chart. Call on students to review the steps they need to follow to master the standard.

    2. Display a passage on a projector or poster (you can use the same one from the day before if you have more questions that go with it.) Reread the passage. Tell students that today, you would like their help. Work as a class to go through the steps to answer the remaining questions. Make note of students who are quickly grasping the process and of students who need more support.

    (To make this poster, I just went to print, then under size I clicked poster, then I changed the size to 250%). 

    *If a lot of students are struggling, work with a lower level passage. Sometimes you may even need to go back to modeling and thinking aloud. I taught in an inclusion class with students who were two or more grade levels behind. Often times, I would continue to work with and support these students through the "we do with a partner" day. It is also very important to differentiate passages. I am currently working on adding first grade leveled passages to my store. 

    3. Closing: On day two, I challenge students to practice the new standard in their independent reading. After small groups and centers, I ask for one to two student volunteers to share how they used the new standard. They must have something written in their journal or on a sticky note.

    Day 3: Guided practice- We Do With a Partner

    1. Review the steps students need to follow to master the standard.

    2. Students who are ready will work with a partner on a new passage. Students who are not ready will work on a new passage with the teacher.

    3. Closing: On day three, I ask students to practice the new standard in their independent reading. After small groups and centers, I ask for one to two volunteers to share how they used the new standard. They must have something written in their journal or on a sticky note.

    Day 4: Independent Practice

    1. Review the steps students need to follow to master the standard.

    2. Students who are ready will work on a passage and question set independently.

    3. Some students will work with a partner.

    4. Some students will continue to work in guided practice with the teacher.

    5. Closing: On day four, I expect students to practice the new standard in their independent reading. After small groups and centers, I choose two random students to share how they used the new standard. Everyone must have something written in their journal or on a sticky note.

    *While it sounds chaotic to have students working on all different things, if you follow this routine every week, students will get the hang of it quickly. It is also important to have set rituals and routines in place. 

    Day 5: Independent Practice (Everyone)

    1. Review the steps students need to follow to master the standard.

    2. Around day five, I have the entire class practicing on a passage independently. I differentiate passages. Students who started independent practice on day four get a more challenging passage (if they were successful). Students who were still struggling the day before get a passage on their independent reading level.

    *I walk around the room and ensure I check on each child multiple times. If possible, I try to check off their work as I roam. This instant feedback is very helpful to students. It also helps you catch any misconceptions immediately and gives you time to confer with them quickly. 

    3. Closing: On day five, I expect students to practice the new standard in their independent reading. After small groups and centers, I choose two random students to share how they used the new standard. Everyone must have something written in their journal or on a sticky note.

    Day 6: Independent Practice Continued

    1. Review the steps students need to follow to master the standard.

    2. Students finish and correct their independent work from the day before.

    * It is very important to review student work as soon as possible. Give students feedback immediately and guide them towards making corrections. 

    2. I may pull my lowest group if they need more support. I may also rotate groups of students with similar mistakes on passages or similar reading levels.

    3. Closing: From here on out, I expect students to practice the new standard in their independent reading. After small groups and centers, I choose two random students to share how they used the new standard.

    4. Exit Ticket: All students must give me a sticky note or their journal to show me how they practiced the standard in their independent reading. Give feedback to students as needed.

    *Sometimes I continue Independent practice for 4 days. If I have students struggling, this gives me more time to meet with small groups. It also gives my higher students more time to practice the standard with higher level text. 

    Day 7: Assessment (If ready)

    1. If most students mastered their independent work, I assess the following day. If there are still a lot of students struggling, I continue to reteach and provide support until they are independent.

    Day 8- Review Assessment

    1. Grade the assessment, but do not write the correct answers. Review the assessment as a class, or in small groups. I typically like to review assessments in small groups because students tend to pay better attention and grasp and correct their mistakes. I try to rotate through small groups quickly. I group students who got the same questions wrong.

    If you'd like to purchase my 2nd & 3rd Grade Common Core Non Fiction Bundle, click here.

    If you'd like to purchase my 1st Grade Common Core Non Fiction Bundle, click here

    If you'd like to purchase individual Common Core units, click here.

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