Thursday, September 23, 2021

Personal Dictionary Booklet

My students love using their personal dictionaries!  I print one copy for each student, and they keep them in their writing folders.  As we progress through the year, we add words that are important to each student.  I structure several writing lessons around the first few pages in the book: (My places, Family and Friends, and My Expert List).  When students consistently misspell words, or if they ask me to spell something for them, we add it to their booklet instead of me simply telling them.  It encourages independence and confidence!  

I have included 3 versions of the printable dictionary in the file.  I personally use the Booklet Version Double Sided.  That is the one pictured above.  If you are having difficulties printing the Personal Dictionary booklet, please make sure your printer settings match this: 

If you don't have double-sided printing capabilities, you can use the Full Letter size version and place it into a pronged folder, or print the single-sided version which takes more paper and you will need to cut and staple.  

Monday, July 26, 2021

Decodable Books: Boring or Empowering?

Decodable books are a tool that every primary teacher should have access to in order to help their students practice the phonics skills that they are being taught.  But, won't students hate them?  Won't they be so dull?  Before I actually started using decodable books in my classroom, I thought that my students' reading engagement would plummet. I thought that they would prefer the predictable books that I had provided in the past. 

I was totally wrong. 

The students actually felt empowered and displayed improved confidence!  

In the past I used predictable readers that had pages that went like this:

And then I started using decodable books, where the sentence structure was not patterned, and the words could not be guessed by the picture.  The phonics skills contained in the books were those that had been taught, and the high-frequency words were limited.

When I started using decodable books that matched my scope and sequence, I found that students:
1) kept eyes on text (not just the pictures)
2) didn't look to me or to the ceiling for the word to magically appear
3) practiced their decoding skills in a meaningful way
4) transferred skills to spelling more quickly
5) sequentially built skills without feeling overwhelmed
6) felt successful as readers!

I got great feedback from parents and students.  One parent told me that she almost cried tears of joy when her child brought home a decodable book and read the entire thing to her.  She said, "This is the first time I've seen him actually reading the words!"

I know for me, I'm a believer in the use of decodable texts.  Students don't find it boring to read books that they can actually read!

At the beginning of my journey of learning more about the Science of Reading, I had very few decodable books available to me.  My school had a robust library of predictable books, as did my own classroom.  But, when I tried to order decodable books I ran into shipping issues (many weren't available to ship to Canada) and the prices were out of my comfort zone.  

I took the courses I had taken as well as the research that I had done on phonics and accessible texts and began writing my own books for my students.  Now I have them available at an affordable price for other teachers and homeschool parents as well.  You can check them out here!

The above photo is of Bundle 2.  I have 4 separate bundles, as well as a Mega Bundle that contains all 80 printable readers. I am updating my books in 2022 with custom illustrations that are in color and black and white!

Students who are learning how to read benefit from reading decodable texts. The purpose of decodable texts is to present students with texts they can decode because they are presented only with the letter-sound combinations that they have been explicitly taught. This allows students to focus on the words on the page instead of relying on picture clues or guessing in order to read the text.

By slowly scaffolding your students’ exposure to the new letter combinations and new high-frequency words, students will truly be able to decode the majority of each book.

The scope and sequence I use is generally based on Wiley Blevins' scope and sequence: 
m, a, s, p, t
n, c, b, i, f
o, h, d, r
g, e, l, k, ck
u, w, j, x, v
qu, y, z
open syllables
long vowel patterns
r-controlled vowels
advanced vowel patterns

Thanks for reading!  What are your thoughts?  Do you find success with decodable books as well?

Monday, November 23, 2020

Decodable Readers to Support the Science of Reading

 As a primary teacher, I feel that one of my most important tasks is to teach students to be effective readers who also enjoy spending time reading.  Over my years of teaching, I have witnessed many children who seem to be able to learn how to read incidentally, but in my experience, I tend to usually have around 20% of my class who struggle to read in a significant way. In the swing towards "balanced literacy" I believe that many students have been left behind by a lack of systematic instruction.

My goal is to teach my whole class systematically, as that won't hurt those students who seem to learn "no matter what" and it will likely help my struggling students much more than any haphazard approach could do.  

I aim to provide systematic literacy instruction which allows for a deep understanding of the structure of language, while also fostering the joy of reading through quality interactive read-alouds and student-centered literacy activities. Students who CAN read will likely enjoy reading more, so it makes sense to give students all of the skills they need in order to become readers.

One of the changes that I have already made in my classroom is that I no longer prompt my students to guess a word based on the first letter, skip a word, or simply look at the picture in order to "discover" an unknown word. 

In the past, I used beanie baby reading posters, some of which encouraged habits that poor readers use as compensation strategies. They were Eagle Eye, Lips the Fish, Skippy Frog, and so on.  The first article that I read that alerted me to the fact that these are misguided prompts, was the Emily Hanford article entitled "At a Loss for Words: How a flawed idea is teaching millions of kids to be poor readers"

Now my focus is on keeping students' eyes on the print and empowering them with the phonics knowledge they need in order to decode unknown words. 

Decodable Books  

A fantastic way to ensure that students are practicing the phonics skills that they are taught is to follow up phonics lessons with decodable text.  This can be done via decodable sentences or decodable books.  

I have created some decodable texts that follow the phonics sequence that I use in my class, which basically follows Wiley Blevin's order of introducing letters in Kindergarten as described in his book "A Fresh Look at Phonics, Grades K-2: Common Causes of Failure and 7 Ingredients for Success." 

I created these books by very carefully choosing words that using a systematically increasing bank of consonants and short vowels.  For example, in the first book, only the letters m, a, s, p, & t are used.  Each subsequent book either uses a review of previously introduced letters or adds 1 or 2 new letters.  (5/20 books introduce 2 new letters, the rest only introduce 1 new letter).  This allows the students to solidify their learning and build confidence as they progress.

Set 1: Book 4: Tam Can Pass

Set 4: Book 17: Jack and Jill

These books are created in black and white for easy copying.  You can use them as books to use with the whole class, in small groups, or to reinforce learning as home reading books. Students can color the books if you choose, or they can be re-used year after year.  


I very carefully selected high-frequency words that would allow the stories to have enjoyable plots, while not overwhelming the reader with words that they could not decode.  

You can see the overall scope of the books by viewing the Bundle preview here. 

I have truly been overwhelmed by the joy that some of my students have had when they have been presented with decodable books that THEY CAN READ!  They are building confidence to know that they possess the skills to decode the words themselves.  They aren't looking to me, to the pictures (or to the ceiling!) to try to figure out the words.  I truly feel that I have reached a turning point in my teaching career!  

Since this image was first uploaded I have created different heart word cards. They can be found here. 

If you are new to the Science of Reading, I encourage you to read Wiley Blevins and Emily Hanford to start! 

Comment below...where are you on your journey as a reading teacher?  What questions do you have? 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Teaching at the Same School that your Children Attend

I feel very fortunate that I've had the opportunity to teach at the same school that my children attend.  I know that it might be a difficult decision for some people when they think about the option, but for me, it has been absolutely wonderful being with my children.  I haven't taught either of my own children because I am at a large enough school that it wasn't necessary.  While there are some drawbacks to being a teacher in the same school, they are very few in my opinion.  The hardest things is probably the fact that my parenting role extends basically to the time the bell goes, which doesn't allow for the "down time" that I might get otherwise.  

Photo used with permission by Depositphotos

The best things about teaching at the same school are:
1) being able to see them often (out on the playground, field trips, assemblies, etc.)
2) only needing to understand the schedule, rules, special events of one school
3) having an inside view on how things at the school function
4) not needing before and after school care (usually!)

After school sometimes it can be difficult to balance being "mom" while still needing to complete my planning and administrative tasks.  Here are some things that I do to help balance it all.

Used with permission by Depositphotos

Unit planning

It is vital to have my long-range plans done ahead of time, so that I don't have to do as much "big picture" planning with my children in the room.  If possible, work together with a colleague so that your planning isn't as onerous. 

Day plan throughout the day

Whenever possible, I try to find pockets of time during the day to get my activities set up for the next day.  I do love socializing with my teacher friends during break times, but I will often spend part of my break doing things that are harder to do after school.  I find that taking 15 minutes of my lunch break each day to accomplish tasks uninterrupted makes a huge difference. 

Plan independent activities for my children 

The activities that my children have needed in order to stay occupied has changed as they have grown.  When my oldest was in kindergarten, she would sometimes be so worn out that she would rest or she would just want to paint or color.  However, I actually found that having just one child with my after school was quite difficult.  Total disclosure, after a few months of having my kindergartener with me after school I arrange for after school care for her two days per week.  This allowed me to stay later on those two days and I would try to get as much done as possible.  Then, the other three days of the week I was able to leave sooner after school.  When she was in first grade it wasn't necessary anymore, because she was able to accomplish more things independently.  

Some activities that my two children have enjoyed having access to:

-classroom toys
-classroom books
-stuffed animals (they make great students for little "teachers")
-art supplies (I had their own there)

Used with permission by Depositphotos

Use technology is needed

When my children were in first and third grade, I started letting them use technology after school.  They didn't really have access to it at home, so it was a great novelty.  They were so excited to use tech, that they often didn't want to leave when it was time to go home.  At that point it became quite easy for me to accomplish my tasks.  

Some technology that my two children have enjoyed having access to:

-movies (Netflix to the rescue!)
-computers for games and drawing programs

Use resources that make your daily planning easier to manage

I have enjoyed having certain resources printed and ready to go to make my daily planning not as overwhelming.  By having them prepped ahead of time, I don't have to make quite so many trips to the photocopier!  If you are interested in any of these, you can simply click on the picture to take a closer look!

These First Week of School Activities are so easy to prepare ahead of time.  

Having this Morning Work (or Daily Practice work)  ready to go means that you can just follow the same format each day without extra prep! 

This bundle of number practice from 0-20 is differentiated and is a great routine for number sense! 

I love having these printable brochures all ready to go for the year.  The great thing is that the lists are student-generated, so they are automatically differentiated!  

Are you considering teaching at the same school as your child(ren)?

As difficult as it is on occasion, I wouldn't give up the chance to teach at my children's school!  It has been absolutely wonderful being part of their school lives in this way.  When they transition to middle school I won't follow them ;) but I will always treasure this time that I've had!

Do you want a free printable for back to school?  Click here to sign up! 

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Back to School During Covid-19

Are you starting to plan for going back to school during Covid-19?  If you're anything like me, you're trying to relax and enjoy your much-deserved summer holiday, but thoughts of going back to school  keep creeping up on you. This year poses a whole new assortment of feelings as we plan for a Covid-19 back to school start-up.  I hope that I can help share some ideas to help you as you plan for what the first week of school will be like this year.

Like many of you, I  started suddenly teaching virtually in the spring of 2020.  It was a huge learning curve.  On June 1,2020 I started teaching in a hybrid capacity.  Half of my class remained at home doing online learning supported by me (and their parents!) and the other half came to school in person on a schedule.  What that amounted to was me teaching some students online,  teaching some of my students in person 40% of the time, and some of my students in person 80% of the time (some students came two days, and some came four days).  I won't lie, it was a bit overwhelming.  However, as a result of this experience, I feel like I have some tips to share.

I am planning to write a number of blog posts with tips for back to school during Covid-19, so feel free to come back or subscribe to read more over the coming weeks.

In today's post I would like to share 3 aspects of planning for back to school teaching during Covid-19 while keeping our safety (returning staff and students*) at the center.


If you are returning to a hybrid model, you will need to be planning face-to-face instruction as well as distance learning using technology or packets.  This of course poses a workload issue, so from the start, try to streamline your plan.  

Determine which platforms or websites your school district or school has chosen to utilize.  This will eliminate a lot of headaches when it comes to coordinating your technology lessons.  For example, if your school uses Microsoft, you won't want to waste time looking at Google Classroom ideas. If your school will require you to use a certain platform such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, you might want to spend a bit of time familiarizing yourself with it when you have a chance.  Other websites that were offering free trials during Covid-19 in the spring might not be doing so anymore, so you might need to prepare yourself for limited options going forward.

I'm not saying that you should spend your whole summer researching websites.  You're on holidays after all!  However, if you are moving to a new district, or if your site has changed platforms, it might be worth checking them out.  If you are going to be teaching in a hybrid system, you will want to make sure that you can "double dip" as much as possible. If you have created a lesson in Google slides, you might want to use portions of it in class and re-purpose parts of the lesson for at-home learning.  As much as possible, plan to be streamlined. For example, if you have access to Epic, you might choose a book from Epic to plan a series of writing lessons.  Then you can present the lessons in person to some students, and assign the same book at home to those who are doing distance learning.  Another idea is to use a pair of books from Book Flix to plan a science lesson that you present in person, but also send home blackline masters to accompany the books.

If you are going to be teaching in-class or in a hybrid (both at-home and in-class) model, you will need to plan some non-technology teaching formats as well.  Instead of small group lessons, group-work, and sharing manipulatives, you will need to figure out ways to teach while adjusting some of your go-to routines.

For the month of June, the in-class student work I used was largely based around packets, whiteboards, outdoor learning, and whole class interaction.  It would be helpful for you to spend a bit of time thinking about the different types of physically distanced activities you feel comfortable facilitating and thinking of some systems for how to deliver them.

 My system was that I placed any paper items into students' book boxes ahead of time (or placed them on their empty desks before school).  That way they could retrieve them without me (or a student) needing to hand them out. They also each had a whiteboard for whole class interactive activities, and a clipboard so that we could do some of our learning outdoors. Consider how you can re-purpose some of your partner and group activities to work in a new more distanced set-up.


When I first started in-class teaching during Covid-19, I felt like I was a bit lost-at-sea.  So much of my teaching revolved around group-work, small group instruction, and using shared materials and manipulatives.  With some tweaks to my systems and routines, I was still able to provide solid and meaningful instruction. If you are not used to using many worksheets, you might want to give yourself permission to print a few in advance of school starting, because there tends to be a bit more down-time during the extra hand-washing routines that are now required.

Here is a basic list of  resources and supplies you might find useful in the first week of school and beyond:

Individual Paper and Pencil Activities:

-coloring pages 
-printing practice

Labeled Ziploc Baggies of Math Manipulatives:

-20 double sided counters
-2 dice
-deck of cards
-laminated ten frames
-laminated 100 chart or 120 chart

Fast Finisher Center Activities:

-miniature bin of Lego 
-individual cans of playdough
-ziploc bag of pattern blocks

My advice is to look around at what you already have.  Is there an item you have a large quantity of?  Could you divide it among your students so that they each have their own supply?  

Depending on the safety protocols of your district, you might be able to create baggies for half of your class and rotate them weekly after they have sat untouched for the weekend, but research on this is changing, so please refer to the guidelines that pertain to your area.


Having a set of clipboards that are labeled with student names, and kept in student desks or book boxes is so convenient!  Clipboards are perfect for taking outside during good weather.  Remember that you can take almost any paper and pencil activity outside as long as the students don't need to reference anything from in the classroom.  For example, students might enjoy completing their writing, math practice, drawing, science observations, and even reading practice outside! My advice is to always make sure that students bring along two pencils as well as an eraser.

Whiteboard, marker, and eraser:

-student mini whiteboards are the best single investment I have made in my classrooms over the years.  
-use them for all subject areas for instant student engagement
-play games (Boggle, Race the Teacher, Phonics games, etc.)

Technology if available:

 If you like, you also might want to investigate some flexible technology activities such as Boom Cards.  Boom has a plethora of activities that can be assigned from a variety of learning platforms.  There are many free activities.  If you have a free account you can share a Fast Play Pin with your students, and if you have a paid account you can even check your student's progress. Boom cards can be used in-class by any number of students, as well as at home. You can see the self-checking learning activities I have created by clicking here.

Individual Paint Sets:

If at all possible, you might consider increasing your art instruction.  My students had done a fair bit of drawing during their time at home, because I provided art as a component of my at-home learning plan.  What they were eager to do during in-school instruction however was the art that went beyond paper and pencil.  They wanted painting and paper crafts.  I highly encourage you to provide watercolor paint sets (one per child) as this allows for painting without too much mess, and no sharing is necessary.  If you have individual paint palettes or plastic lids or plastic picnic plates, you can also pre-load them with tempera.  You can check out my Pinterest board for some art ideas if you need somewhere to start!  


It probably comes as no surprise to you that our students have been through an emotional roller-coaster over the past number of months.  My own children have had ups and downs about missing friends and yearning for the routines of school, while also enjoying staying home in their pajamas!

What I found during my time of being a hybrid-teacher was that above all else, my students longed for me to listen.  They wanted to share their stories with a new audience after being with siblings and parents for so long.

 Beyond that, they wanted me to provide time for the simple things.  They wanted to talk with their classmates, create art, listen to stories, use math tools they had used in the past, and play, play, play!

My advice going forward is to allow for talk.  Encourage conversation.  Build time into your day for sharing, interacting, listening.  Make space for joy in learning, even though your methods will likely change from the past.  What can you let go of from your day?  Find the time for what your students desperately want and need after a season of distance from school.

Above and beyond, my students needed me to be a nurturing listener.  The learning came, but it had to be built upon that foundation.


Once you are informed about your school's Covid Safety protocols, spend some time determining how you will make them work practically in your classroom.

 For example, if students are expected to maintain distance between themselves at all times...

How will you set up the classroom desks/tables?   Is there extra furniture in the room that can either be removed or placed in a corner?  Are you able to put markings down on the floor to show where to line up to wash hands?  How will students move around the classroom while keeping you and their classmates safe?

I can speak from experience that removing furniture will be highly beneficial to the functioning of your space.  I used to have desk groupings, tables, and flexible seating.  All of those had to change.  My room was simplified.  I had 10 groups of 2 desks all facing the front.  Even though there were 20 desks, each pair of desks was only occupied by one student at a time.  The desks were labeled and the students kept most of their belongings in their desks for easy access.

I also highly recommend using green painter's tape on the floor to mark spaces for the students to line up for washing hands. It's affordable to purchase, it's easy to apply, and if it gets grungy you can easily replace it.

You can also use the tape to mark off space that you would like to maintain as "adult-only" space.  That might be around your desk area and/or the space near the whiteboard.  It's imperative that you know that you will have your own protected area for physically distancing.  You can then use that space when students need to move around the room so that you aren't in their way.

The key to keeping as safe as possible is spending the time teaching students the routines for keeping distance and for washing their hands.  Students need to know where to go once their hands are clean.  For example, if they need to wash their hands before eating their lunch, it doesn't make sense for them to need to touch items in between washing and touching their food.  If they need to wash hands before going outside at recess, make sure the door is open so they don't each need to touch the door knob, etc.  It might seem overwhelming at first, but just take it slow and the students will learn and thrive.  I could not believe how great my students were at washing their hands many times each day without complaining.

How do I teach safely during Covid? 

Present a variety of  activities that allow student engagement while students are distanced from each other and from the teacher. 

What resources enable more safe learning during Covid?

Provide packets, individually labeled clipboards, whiteboards, supplies, bins, and manipulative baggies that allow students to access their own materials over and over again without additional cleaning.

Who do our students need us to be during face-to-face instruction during Covid?

We need to be nurturing listeners and creative teachers in order to support the learning of students who may have varying degrees of emotional baggage resulting from their individual experiences during Covid-19 and quarantining. 

*  Please note, I completely understand that returning to school bears inherent risk.  My tips are only relevant for staff who are able to choose to return to work and who are not immuno-compromised or otherwise in danger.  I am not a health professional.  This post is intended to support return to school where the teacher is willing to return.

Pin Me!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Guided Math Made Simple

For years I struggled to find a Guided Math system that was simple, easy to implement, and most of all, easy to sustain.  I attempted a number of variations of math center rotations and always found that they were overwhelming to maintain and that they took far too much behavior support from me as the teacher. Some of the challenges were: keeping the timing of each activity the same, keeping track of which students had done which activities, the activities requiring adult help, and differentiating the activities the students were doing was difficult. I also spent far too much time prepping different activities each week in an attempt to maintain novelty. Because of that, I wasn't able to invest the time into developing and carrying out effective small group lessons, and the entire purpose of the guided math format fell apart.

Picture from Deposit Photos - Used with Permission
The result of that was that I ended up back in whole group format, and just had the students who were struggling with the day's work meet with me at the guided math table.  It wasn't working for me, and it most certainly wasn't meeting the students' needs.  

Does this sound at all familiar to you?  Have you experienced the same frustration with overly complicated math rotations and other guided math variations?  I knew there had to be a better way, and I have found the way that is simple, easy to set up, and so easy to sustain!  I hope it works for you too, and I hope that you are able to implement this simple system.  The great news is that you can start right away, likely with resources you already have in your classroom.  Then, you can build up your games and activities as you go.  There is no need to spend hours upon hours of time prepping mountains of supplies before you feel like you can get started!

Picture from Deposit Photos - Used with Permission

What is it?

The system that is working for me is a Must Do/May Do system.  Here's the quick run down on how it works.  After, I'll get into more details for how each of the components works. In my class of 22 students, students are divided into 6 groups.  They are assigned to one or more groups.  Some will be in only one group, some will be in two groups, some will be in three groups depending on the specific skill(s) they are working on/struggling with. The students who are not with me are working on a "must do" or "may do" activity.

I meet with 2 groups each day, on a 3 day rotation.  I do it this way so that I know that I don't have to do guided math every day in a week and I will still be able to adequately meet with the students as often as necessary.  I can do other activities/lessons on the other days.

I put the "must do/may do" headers up on my board and add the different "Must Do and May Do" activity squares as needed.  I have put magnetic strips behind the laminated activity squares so that they can be changed out easily.  I keep the ones I'm not using clamped together with a heavy duty magnet.

I have also learned to keep some laminated blank squares ready so that I can just write on them if I have a new activity to share and I don't have time to prepare a "pretty" card.

The "May Do" activities cards can stay up as long as you want them to.  I find that it's best to just change out one or two of them, and not completely scrap a set in order to have new ones up there. This way the students can build stamina with familiar games and they also will have confidence to play them so that they don't need to interrupt you. You can also choose how many cards you want to have up in each section depending on what your supplies and the needs of your students.

The students who are not meeting with me on a certain day need to accomplish a "Must Do" activity and they can also do "May Do" activities.  This solves the problem of regimenting center rotations, keeping track of which students have been at which activity, and ensuring that each activity will fill the exact same time span.  It also gives the students choice, and we have learned that choice leads to more buy-in and less off-task behavior.  If you are interested in using the forms that I use, you can get them here.

How do you group the students?

I group my students as a result of my observations and a monthly "Skill Check" (test) I give my students. You should use your own formative assessment and observations.  If your school or district has standardized testing you could use that if it meets your needs.

For my purposes, I create a test each month that addresses a variety of different math strands or learning targets, so I can easily see which students need more instruction in certain areas.  I have been creating these monthly skill checks for around 4 years.  I never reuse the exact same skill check page more than once.  I always update and ensure that I am checking the exact skills that I have been teaching.

 After I mark the tests, I categorize students into the different strands.  Sometimes I need to be strategic and combine certain learning targets into one "group" to make the group sizes work.  I don't sell these skill checks because I believe each teacher should create their own assessments based on what they've been teaching. I simply save each month's skill check and then the following year I open up the file, make adjustments as necessary, and print.

Do you only you meet with each student once per week?

No!  This is the beauty of the system!  If you have a student who needs help in most areas, they will likely meet with me 3/3 days or 3/4 days. I don't schedule the same student twice in one day.  This ensures that each day that we have guided math, they get to choose a "May Do." Here's an example of a class with 26 students and a 4 day schedule. 

You can see here in this example that the teacher would meet with Aaron, Beaux, and Carmyn 3/4 days. They meet with Deiondre, Evan, Fiona, Owen, Peter, and Quinn 2/4 days.  They meet with the rest of the class 1/4 days.  This is a class of 26 students.

For my class, I generally have 20-22 students, so I can do a 3 day schedule:

You can see in the previous example that I am able to meet with Aaron, Beaux, and Carmyn 3/3 days.  I can meet with Deiondre, Evan, Faith, Mikey, and Nadia 2/3 days.  I meet with the rest of the class 1/3 days.

While the Group Numbers stay the same in the chart, the names in each spot, as well as the learning focus changes as the needs of the students changes.  In general, my Groups 4 and 6 often have the students who are meeting or exceeding the learning targets.  I meet with them to extend their learning. You'll also notice from the charts that it is common to have 2 (or more) groups working on the same learning target.  You can divide your students between them based on behavior or learning style, or even friendships if that is helpful.  The groups are flexible and change at least once per month depending on student needs.

How do you organize your groups?

I tend to build my groups down the columns with increasing difficulty.  So, I put my students who need the most help in the first column so that I can ensure that I take care of their most basic learning needs first.  There is no sense in putting a child into a 2 digit subtraction group if they don't yet understand counting, for example.  It is important to follow a logical progression of numeracy skills.  I also ensure that each student only meets with me once per day, so that they always have the chance to do a "may do" activity.

What happens at the Guided Math table?

For planning purposes I use the following planning charts in a binder.  Each group has their own divider and section with blank copies of these forms.  I fill them in as I go.  They are typed here, but I just hand-write them in the binder for ease of use.

As for activities at the table, I try to incorporate as many hands-on activities with manipulatives as possible. I sometimes prepare a packet of worksheet activities that I know will help the students, but that they wouldn't be able to complete independently. As you can see, my plans aren't fancy.  They are basic and meet the kids right where they are at.  I blurred out the names and dates on the following picture. This picture is of an older version of my planning sheets, but a similar one is available.

 I have learned that it works well to plan one or two lessons at a time because I want to respond to the needs of the children, not simply follow a prescribed plan. However, if you have a specific text book or other resource you use or must follow, you can simply do that here (maybe repeating lessons if necessary).  I include a notes section so that I can keep track of the student progress or make note of what worked and what didn't.  It honestly gets messy, but it's so useful!

The guided math table is a great chance to introduce learning games as well.  You can teach each group a game and they can practice it in front of you, receiving support as they go.  

All about the "Must Do" activities

The world is your oyster when it comes to choosing the "must do" activities!  If you have a workbook or fact practice you might choose to assign that.  I sometimes assign skip counting practice or number printing or number sense practice.  It really depends on what you are working on as a whole class, or as groups.  You can put together packets if that's your style.  You can leave it more open-ended.  You can even have a "must-do" that is a game that you want to make sure every student plays a few times for practice or review, such a addition war, or something like that.  What is crucial is that each student knows how to play or complete the must-do independently or with a partner.  You don't want to assign something new or complicated, because then the students will probably need to interrupt you during your small group instruction.  You can also choose if you want there to be only one "must do" or a choice of "must do" activities.  It's so flexible!

Also important to note is that a student meeting with me at the Guided Math table is doing their "must do."  They don't have to do a "must do" during the other round.

All about the "May Do" activities

The "May Do" activities can be anything and everything you want your students to practice.  I believe that it makes the most sense to have "may do" activities that match your general learning targets, but they should be review, fun, and hopefully activities that you can keep out for longer than a week. The "May Do" activities might be for one person, partners, or even small groups! With some training, your students should be able to navigate through the "May Do" activities independently.

The key to making the "may do/must do" routine easy to implement is that you aren't constantly having to teach new games and activities.  You want them to be able to remain in circulation for a while before putting them away.  Also, it's a great plan to pull previous activities back after a while.  This should be easy, not arduous. I try to have a variety of types of activities available (here you can see a Bump game, a card game with handwritten directions (gasp!) and some counting pages that the students simply write numbers from 0-100 on the first page, 101-200 on the second page, and so on.

  If you already have a bank of games and activities to pull from, you're all set.  If you need some no prep/low prep activities, I highly recommend card games like memory (odd/even memory, sums of 10 memory), war (we play addition and subtraction number battle), and Mindreader (facts).
Picture from Deposit Photos - Used with Permission

You can also do dice games that the students can play over and over, like Bump. I highly recommend teaching your students games that have one set of rules, but then you can change out the theme so that you don't have to teach rules of new games constantly.  These Bump games use the same rules all year long, but have 20 different themes to keep things interesting and fresh. 

For another example, you could teach your students how to do non-standard measurement once, and then rotate out what to measure and how to measure it.  You could also put together printed centers like these non-standard measurement activities for the year.  Once they know how to do the first set, they will know how to do all of the subsequent ones.

Why does it work?

I feel like this "Must Do/May Do" system works for me because even though it is structured, it is easy-going and flexible at the same time!  I don't have to rotate students though learning activities.  The activities that the students are doing when they aren't with me are meaningful, and the students are motivated to do the "may do" activities.  There are two rounds each day, and the students know that they will get to do a "may do" each day.  If the students meet with me, that counts as their "must do" so they aren't penalized for needing to meet with the teacher more often.

Being able to meet with my at-risk students for 15-20 minutes multiple times per week in a small group format is so valuable!  I'm able to meet them right where they are at, without slowing down the instruction for the entire class.  It's also so rewarding to see the light bulbs go off for the students right in front of my eyes as a result of the repeated practice.

Additionally, this gives me the chance to meet with my students who are understanding or even exceeding the grade level expectations.  I can provide them with enrichment and deepen their understanding.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q- Do the students have to do the "Must Do" during the first round?

A- You can decide on the rule for this.  I have decided that the students may choose which of the two rounds they would like to accomplish their must-do activity (this is most helpful because I don't have enough copies of every single game that the students want to play, such as "Shut the Box."  Because I have some activities that are high interest and I don't have enough copies/resources for everyone to use it at once, it spreads out the usage so that the hot commodity games aren't sitting empty during the first round.  If you have enough of each "may do" activity, you can require the "must-do" activity be completed before the "may-do".  Do you see how flexible it really is?  It's so empowering!

Q- Do the students who meet with you have to complete the "Must Do" before they get choice?

A- No!  I put the names of my group on the "Must Do" side of the board to show and reinforce the idea that being at the teacher table is their "Must Do" for the day.  If they are with me first round, they get a "May Do" second round.  If they are going to be with me for the second round, they get "May Do" for the first round.

Q- How do you store your activities?

A- I store the activities in bins on shelves.  I separate the ones that are open from the ones that are closed.  I have way more activities than bins, so I basically empty the bin out when I'm finished using one, and put the new game in that bin. I used to try to label each bin with a different type of activity, but I find that just simply labeling them "math activity" works just great!

Q- How long is each round?

A- As long as you need them to be!  In general, my rounds last around 15 minutes.  If a student completes their must do in less time than the round, they simply move on to a "may do."  There's no down time.  Also, if you had time and your students could handle it, you could alter this plan and have three rounds!  In that case, every student would likely need to do a Must Do, even those who met with you at the table.

Q- Why do you only meet with two groups each time?

A- I only meet with two groups each time because that is what fits my schedule.  I have specials that "interfere" with my math block three times per week, so I use those shortened blocks for my Guided Math days.  I have time for a number talk or mini lesson, and then we move into the Guided Math portion.  If your schedule allows for it, you could of course do three or even four rounds per day, and then you could meet with your students more often!

Download the forms (suitable for handwriting or editing in PowerPoint) here