Tuesday, December 30, 2014

"We don't EAT our friends!"..... A First Grade Adventure with Sparkle the Elf

The SECRET STORIES Guided Reader, Like a Snowball... 

The following scenario is one that could only happen in an early grade classroom, so I know all of you reading this will relate! It's perhaps the most perfect example of "out-of-the-box" learning and authentic writing I've ever come across, so I just had to share it! 

The following account of events was sent by Mrs. Mac and her fabulous first graders just prior to the holiday break, and it's HYSTERICAL! You might even want to share it with your own students once you return from break, as this is something to which they could most definitely relate, and are sure to enjoy as well! 

PS  Remember to grab the above-pictured free reader FAST, as I will be rotating multiple items through the Free Download Window over the remainder of the Holiday Break, as well as a NEW special surprise featuring some of my favorite Melonheadz graphics before it's over!  

You will receive an email alert of each posting if you are already subscribed! I will also be rotating postings of each Free Window on my RED DIAMOND Pinterest Boards so if you are following them, you're sure not to miss anything! 

Greetings and Happy Holidays from Mrs. Mac and her Munchkins! 

Our adventure began with our sweet, beautiful, and loving class Elf, Sparkle. Sparkle is a foreign exchange elf from the North Pole, sent to us by Santa, himself!

As you can see, Sparkle really gets into all of our lessons, especially story time!
The kids love her and she's became part of our class family.

As it happened, we were right in the heart of our Gingerbread unit when Sparkle started having flash backs from last year's Gingerbread Fiasco!

It's difficult to talk about, but Sparkle had gotten tied-up by some pesky gingerbread men.

She was so traumatized by these cookies that she no longer enjoys listening to their stories, so she made a sign boycotting Gingerbread Week, and even went to the extreme of hiding all of our Gingerbread books!

The kids were worried about her, and they assured her that they would do everything they could to protect her this year, but just as Sparkle began to feel safe and sound…tragedy struck!

Despite our class efforts, the Gingerbread Kids ran away again, and Sparkle, being the kind friend that she is, tried to stop them, only to find herself tied-up AGAIN!

Sparkle's Predicament!
Once the kids calmed down, they were able to read the note that Sparkle left for us... 

......all by themselves!

It was a very exciting moment when we realized that our ability to read could actually save elves' lives... and you'll be happy to know that our Gingerbread friends were found, and Sparkle was safely cut free.  
Extricating Sparkle 

Now, I had to tell you this story to set the stage for the REAL story....

So sit back, relax, and prepare to laugh as you step foot into our crazy little classroom again for a first hand account of this magical and adorable holiday adventure, brought to you by.....

So the real story begins one brisk morning when I discovered a referral on the floor of my classroom. It was accompanied by Sparkle's "No Gingerbread" sign, some cookie crumbs, and an empty bag of gingerbread cookies.

As I leaned in to read the referral, I discovered that it was from our principal, Mr. Mauger.  He had apparently walked in on a horrific sight…. Sparkle EATING her gingerbread friends!!!!

Now, we are a very close school family at Cottonwood Elementary and we don't require a ton of rules to remind us to do what's right. In fact, we live by the magnificent 7 Guidelines and the Rachel's Challenge program, and neither, in any way, shape, or form, allow for eating our friends! 

The unfortunate situation left Mr. Mauger little choice but to take Sparkle down to his office for an 'in-house suspension' until further notice.
The Sparkle crime scene and resulting referral
"Sparkle needs to solve problems without hurting or devouring others..."
Now Sparkle's referral may seem unfair in the real world, (as after all, gingerbread cookies are for eating!) but if you are open to the world of: magical elves living in your classroom for the month of December, cookies running away from your students, and Polar Express trains pulling up to your classroom door to drop off bells, cookies and hot chocolate.... then we must uphold the unwritten rule that we even if cookie friends get us mad and tie us up, we should not retaliate by eating them…right?…right!

Mr. Mauger, our principal, breaking the news about Sparkle

"I'm going to have to call Santa about Sparkle's behavior"
The looks on their faces were priceless!
Because our principal is a very reasonable man, he told the kids that he would consider allowing Sparkle to come back if they could put "in writing" why Sparkle did what she did. 

Once he received something in writing and had a chance to speak with Santa about the situation, he would make a final decision.

For the kids, this was, without question, their most important assignment ever!

They would need to use all of the writing skills they'd acquired to persuade our principal to free Sparkle! If they failed, Sparkle would spend the only holiday they would have with him in Mr. Mauger's office!  

The kiddos were confidant, however, as they knew that their writing skills had developed greatly in the past few months, and so, without wasting a moment, they began the task of putting into writing all of the reasons why Sparkle should be freed.

The letters they wrote are absolutely ADORABLE! They were written from the heart.... and with the Secret Stories, they did so with ease! No "sticking-to-sight-words" for these guys! 

They were on a mission to save Sparkle and did not did not shy away from big scary words! Instead, they tackled them head-on using the Secrets to sound them out and say exactly what was in their heads that they wanted Mr. Mauger to know!  

"Sparkle can fix it, just like the Grinch"
"Sparkle was just mad because the gingerbread men 'raped' her up with some string..."
"What if you were Sparkle and got tied-up? Wouldn't you eat them too?"
After the kids finished up their letters, I sent them directly to the office for Mr. Mauger to read. The kids eagerly awaited their appointment with Mr. Mauger at 11:00 that afternoon.

When our appointment time finally came and we entered the outer office, we could hear Mr. Mauger talking to Sparkle, which we captured on the following clip....

Oh the look on their faces!

So we all settled (i.e. squished) into Mr. Mauger's office and prepared for our meeting. Now as probably know, Santa is crazy-busy and nearly impossible to get hold of this time of year, however, as you may not know, school principals have a "special line" that they can use for emergencies... and this definitely qualified!

So Mr. Mauger was able to reach Mrs. Claus, who apparently was handling all of the "behavior business" that particular day. Mr Mauger had apparently been so impressed with our letters that he'd decided to read them to Mrs. Claus!

You can see bits of our principal's conversation with Mrs. Claus regarding Sparkle's inappropriate behavior, below.

Tensions run high as the conversation continues....

You could have heard a pin drop during the phone conversation with Mrs. Claus. 

The kids await Mr. Mauger's decision, as Sparkle's fate hangs in the balance
Finally, after a long conversation with Mrs. Claus, and careful review of the kids' heart-felt documentation regarding the reasons for Sparkle's poor choices,  Sparkle was given another chance and was able to come back to our classroom for the remainder of December!

The kids were so proud of themselves, and so happy they could help a friend. Through their writing, they were able to give Sparkle the Elf a voice and save her holiday!

I hope you enjoyed hearing about our unusual holiday writing adventure, as it's part of my attempt to incorporate Common Core-rich lessons, while still including a little holiday-magic!

With a supportive principal, amazing kiddos, and the Secret Stories under our belts, anything is possible!

No challenge is too great for these kids! They are so confident in their ever-increasing abilities as readers and writers! And just in case you missed this clip from a previous post, my little one Lana sums it up nicely... (and this is a must-watch, as it's the cutest clip of all!)

Add caption

Now if this doesn't take the cake for the sneakiest persuasive writing lesson EVERI don't know what would! What a fun and engaging way to motivate young writers... using 'real-world' (well, kind of ;) experiences that are personally meaningful to learners!

This is the perfect recipe for both developing and reinforcing these beginning skills sound skills for reading and writing! Thank you Mrs. Mac & Munchkins for sharing your fantastic adventure with us!

And now for some fun Wintertime Freebies....

These adorable Melonheadz bookmarks are the perfect Winter-Reward for Guided Groups!
These are included in the reader, or can be download directly by clicking on the graphic, above.
Get the latest SECRET STORIES Guided Reader, Like a Snowball FREE and be sure to grab it fast before its rotated out and replaced with something new! This reader is perfect for the winter season and may be used in classrooms with and without the Secret Stories. Here are some  sneak-peeks at what's inside...

Just remember to grab it before it's gone, and to see all previous Free Window postings, visit the the Secret Stories Face Book Page where you can get the latest Secret Stories info, updates, upcoming conferences, and oodles of other fun stuff for teaching the Secrets! 

Wishing Everyone a Happy & Healthy New Year!
PS  Be sure to download the Secret Stories® Mini-Anchors and Gum Ball Grouping Packs by clicking on the text links below, FREE!!   
Download Gum Ball Grouping Pack FREE!!

free secret stories phonics secrets
CLICK HERE to download Secret Stories® Min-Anchor Pack FREE!


Visit Katie Garner- Educational Author/ Speaker's profile on Pinterest.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Kinder-Writing with Phonics "Secrets!"

"I sneakily took this pic at the end of snack the other day.... 
These 6 kids were engrossed in telling the Secrets (and trying to figure out the ones we haven't learned yet!) The little guy in the stripes has become our unofficial "Word Jail Warden!"  He can spot an 'Outlaw Word' a mile away! We will start 'paroling' some of them soon!"
Kjersti Johnson- Kindergarten Teacher

I received this adorable picture and description from Kjersti Johnson, a Kindergarten Teacher, along with the following email...
"I teach 2 sessions of half day Kindergarten, with my morning class tied to our Intensive Support Class (4-8 fully inclusive kiddos) and my afternoon class with half ELL (plus a few in the am too)

I knew the Secret Stories was a keeper last year when one of my Intensive Needs kiddos, who was really struggling with speech and connecting letters and sounds, pointed to his name and said, "Those letters are bad. They always stick out their tongues!" and then proceeded to make their sound! Or, when my little guy who moved in mid-year, knowing zero letters or sounds, was able to read though all the letters mixed up, singing "____ says ______, ___-___-___!" after just a couple weeks of doing "The Better Alphabet Song!"

With regard to the frustration over the controversy over what our youngest learners can and can't do, I've always had high expectations for my kinders, and they've always risen to them, and often soared far beyond! 

It has been a fight to pull Kindergarten into this century. I boxed up our basal 6 years ago, when I started using Daily 5/Café to teach literacy. My kids took off (amazing when you put the right book in their hands!) The Secret Stories have really allowed me to take my kids to the next level. 

I love when we sit down to read something and I ask what strategies we should use, as they always yell out, "Look for Secrets!" They amaze me everyday with the new words they can read and write! Oh, and I love how they are starting to revise their own writing! I put a binder clip on their writing notebooks so they can't fill it all in one sitting. When they want their clip moved, they have to look back and make revisions to show that they're ready. They will tell me, "When I wrote this, I didn't know the Secret about this word, but now I do!"
Just as with Mrs. Mac in First, I'd asked Kjersti if she would be willing to share more about how she uses the Secret Stories in her Kindergarten classroom, and she agreed!  And so, I'm excited to share with you the following post (which I hope will be the first of many) from Mrs. Kjersti Johnson and her Class of Kinders, featuring some of their awesome kindergarten writing.....
Mrs. Johnson's Class of Kinders...
by Kjersti Johnson
I have always believed that there is a strong tie between reading and writing. It is one of the reasons that we spend so much time doing both in my Kindergarten class. Usually, students are free to choose their writing topic, but once in a while I give them a prompt. 

This past month, we began a Gingerbread unit. In it, we have a class Gingerbread Man that decides to travel the world. While he is on his trip, he sends us many different versions of Gingerbread stories to read. At the end of the unit, he returns to our class and asks the kids to write about their favorite story. 

In past years, my kindergartners would have to rely on "kid-spelling" or I would have to take a lot of dictation, but not this year! 

Thanks to the Secret Stories, my kids were able to write like the big kids! The only help I gave was a word bank of words they might need, but I didn't spell them..... they did! 

They helped me spell words like: gingerbread, favorite, girl, cowboy, and because, and the rest of the words they spelled themselves! They were even able to write about why they liked the story! I was so proud of my kinders (not to mention blow away!) that I wanted to share a couple samples, as well as some Secrets used to spell some of the words they wrote!
The "eu/ew Secret" in crew 
(also used were: Sneaky Y, Babysitter Vowels, Mommy e, or, oo, th, er/ir/ur, au/aw, & ou/ow)

The er/ir/ur Secret in girl and her
(also used were: Sneaky Y, Babysitter Vowels, Mommy e, or, oo, th, ea, au/aw, sh, & ed

Watch a video of the er/ir/ur Secret!
The au/aw Secret in because
(also used were: Mommy ether/ir/urea, Babysitter Vowels, ey/ay, & sh

Watch a video of the au/aw Secret!
We also wrote about How I Ate My Gingerbread Man (after eating them of course!) Once again, I was blown away by how they used the Secret Stories they knew to figure spellings for words they wanted to use in their writing... not just "word wall" and "word family" words, but ANY words! I loved watching them stop and look at (or even walk over to) our Secret Wall!

The next paper was written by one of my ELL students. When assessed in September, he knew seven letter names and zero sounds. 

Thanks to Secret Stories Better Alphabet Song, he was able to identify all of the upper and lower case letters, as well as their sounds by October!

He now also knows all of the Secrets and is using them to read and write! (On a side note, I had done as Katie suggested, which was to begin telling the Secrets from Day 1, so as to be acquired simultaneously with the individual letters and sounds). 

This is what he wrote..... independently! 
Yes, I was in tears when he showed me!

Spotting the SECRET STORIES in Kindergarten Writing!
I also love how the next little guy (whose writing is shown below) added a "crunch, crunch, crunch" at the end! If you look carefully, you can see where he had erased and added more sounds after re-reading it, and then realizing it didn't make sense. He also went back and changed "hed" to "head" because he said it "didn't look right."
I am just so proud of my kindergartners! And with just half of the school year under their belt so far, I can't wait to see where they are by the end of the year! 

We are so thankful to Katie Garner for sharing the Secrets with us!
Kjersti Johnson/ Kindergarten Teacher
(and for "secret" tips on using it, click here and here!)
A special THANK YOU to Kjersti and her amazing kindergartners for sharing their successes! I look forward to hearing more from them, and would love to hear from others willing to share here, as well!

And as promised to all who are following my SECRET Blog and RED DIAMOND Pinterest Boards, I'll be rotating some of the most popular Secret Stories Guided Readers through the "Free Download Window" throughout the remainder of this Holiday Break!  

Also, keep an eye out for another NEW "surprise-freebie" with adorable Melonheadz graphics that I'm so excited to post.... I know you will LOVE it! It too, will be announced and posted here in the coming days before the end of break!  

As these Free Window Downloads will be coming and going very quickly over the next few days, be sure to act fast when you receive the announcement email (if subscribed to my blog) or their postings on one of the RED DIAMOND Pinterest Boards and/ or Secret Stories FaceBook Page, so as not to miss any!

You are also welcome to Teachers Pay Teachers Page for monthly notifications of these Free Download Windows throughout the year.
Click here to download the complete Secret Stories Guided Reader My Class FREE!

And speaking of Kindergarten.... I will be sharing a featured session at the upcoming California Kindergarten Conference in Santa Clara on January 17th and would love to hear from (email me) and meet up (for a cosmo!) with any PreK, K & 1st teachers who might be planning to attend!

Warm Regards, 
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Visit Katie Garner- Educational Author/ Speaker's profile on Pinterest. Visit Katie Garner Author/Speaker's profile on Pinterest.