Back to School Basics: Organizing the Classroom Environment

To help with classroom organization I label students' guided reading book bags according to their shape groups (remember these groups are homogeneous). I use large ziploc bags to house their leveled readers. During writing time, I pull student groups to the teacher's table by their color groups (remember these are heterogeneous). I use color team labels to house their writing journals. Once students memorize their shape groups and color groups they can put away their journals or book bags independently.

Classroom Organization - Labeled Baskets

I choose to pull mixed ability groups as opposed to leveled groups during writing because of time management. I pull the lowest writing group to my table they will take twice as long as the highest or middle groups. If the group is mixed, however, I can help all students equally and as they finish their journal entry and head off to their writing center, I can keep the neediest students at my table and help them finish their work.

Back to School Basics: Guided Reading Rotations Schedule

During Guided Reading, I normally have two adults in the room: myself and a parent volunteer or an impact teacher hired by the district. If my guided reading time is during a part in the day where I cannot have a parent volunteer or an impact teacher  then ... I change my schedule! Having two adults in the room is imperative to the continued success of my class. This is because every day my students need to be seen by an adult. They deserve this. I would consider it a shame if they went the entire school day without some small group and one-on-one time with a teacher. Therefore, my guided reading rotations go something like this. To download click here:

Keep the following in mind when reading through my chart.

Shape groups are Homogenous - Kids are with adults when they are in their shape groups. Instruction is more rigorous because it is meant to be guided (an activity they couldn't easily do on their own). 

Color groups are Heterogenous - Kids are independent when they are in their color groups. They can work with a partner to complete puzzles, games, read together, play computer games, go to the listening center.

Each child is assigned to BOTH a color group and a shape group. (More detail)

guided reading in kindergarten

Before I start guided reading I have usually already taught a sorting unit in Math so I sit the class on the carpet and say these exact words: "Now I'm going to sort you all by shape or by color. Remember when you're sorting by color; shape doesn't matter. When you're sorting by shape; color doesn't matter. So listen for your color OR listen for your shape." (For a few weeks I have the kids wear necklaces that have their color group and shape group written for them so they can reference it).

Here is how the classroom rug seating plays into the rotation schedule I have provided above.

Monday - Rotation One

When I send the triangle team to the teacher's table for guided reading and the rectangle team to the independent table the only teams left on the carpet are they yellow team and the green team. Remember these teams are heterogeneous ability groups. They get assigned to the listening center and the computer  games.

Here is what the second rotation looks like:

Monday - Second Rotation

When I send the circle team to the teacher's table and the square team to the independent table, the only teams left on the carpet are the red team and the orange team. This allows me to send them to the listening center and the computer games now. 

Every two days every team has rotated through each center and I'm ready to prep for another set of activities and assignments. This thoughtful and well-balanced system was passed down to me by a mentor teacher my first year of teaching. I've kept it every year since ... because it works!

Back to School Basics: Guided Reading Folders : Differentiated Instruction

Organization Help: Once school routines are underway, I level my Kindergarten class into four guided reading groups: high, medium, low, and focus (RTI) groups based on their beginning literacy assessments in phonemic awareness, phonics, sight words, and writing. (More detail) In order to make differentiating instruction for each level more organized, I keep a tub behind my guided reading table with four folders squared away: one for each group.
classroom organization for guided reading
Guided Reading Organization
One folder for each leveled group
Keep activities inside each group's folder
I use shape groups because they have to learn their shape names anyway so why spend class time naming and referring to "animal groups" or other silly, cute terms? I'd rather keep things simple. I pull out each folder when I see each group during rotations. This folder system makes sub plans easy too because I simply state to pull out a lesson from each shape groups' folder. Saves me from sticking post it notes all over different piles of paper or books in the room! 
classroom organization for guided reading
Each leveled group has a folder that contains differentiated
activities for their reading level. 
In the picture shown above, the Triangle group's folder contains 3 guided reading leveled readers from Houghton Mifflin, their beige dictation book ( I let them decorate their cover with markers) where I ask them to spell CVC words, or CCVC and CVCC words to practice their segmenting skills. Also, we see a stack of phonics worksheet where they sort the sounds for "P". These activities will typically last that group two weeks because we also do hands on activities/games/sorts, etc that don't require paper/pencil. When I notice a folder getting emptier, I use my teacher prep time to makes copies, find leveled books to put in there, etc. 

These folders could also make it easy to take anecdotal notes for students. Here are the anecdotal note pages I use for my guided reading groups. 

Kindergarten guided reading
Anecdotal Notes for Guided Reading

Back to School Basics: Partner Talk for Kindergarten

The classroom rug is a learning environment within a learning environment. It is the best place for strategic partner talk in Kindergarten, First Grade, and Second Grade. The importance of the seating chart on the classroom rug plays a big role in classroom management here. Once I have students in the second and fourth row facing their partner, I pass out "Talking Sticks." They are pictured below. The idea came from a book called, "Structured Language Practice." In our district, we nicknamed all the wonderful strategies in the book as "slips." (More on that later)
Talking Sticks - Kindergarten Partner Talk
Talking Stick - Structured Language Practice
I chose to add a parrot sticker on purpose because parrots talk a lot!  A monkey stick will do the trick too! These popsicle sticks have stickers on the end and they are all the same.  The cup contains 12 sticks; one for each pair of kids. The rule is that only the child holding the talking stick may speak. The other partners must quietly listen. This ensures that children are also listening to their classmate. After a few seconds I ring the bell and that is their cue to pass the talking stick.

Yet another version of talking stick is plastic microphones from a local dollar store or the dollar bins at Target. Same rules, different realia. I like to keep things different for my kinders. To them the slightest change is like a whole new ballgame.
Talking Stick with plastic microphones
Kindergarten Partner Talk -
Plastic Microphones
Besides the trusty, "Turn to face your partner" trick, there are other ways to group children for partner talk that don't involve the carpet seating chart. Here are the contents of the other cup, my Chargers cup. (Can you tell I'm from San Diego?)
Partner Talk - Match the sticker to find your partner
Partner Talk - Select a partner by matching the sticker
It contains 24 foam popsicle sticks. Each foam popsicle stick has a sticker on the end. The matching stick is the same color and has the same sticker as well. To assign RANDOM partners, I hold the cup up above the head of each child so they can't see inside the cup and have them select a stick. After each child has pulled a stick I give the class 1 minute to find their partner and sit together. If you can get all three of the above you'll be good to go when it comes to partner talk.

Covers! Yet another way to sort Kindergarten students into pairs is with thematic hats!

Partner Talk adjustable hats for Kindergarten
Partner Talk in Kindergarten -
Thematic Hats with adjustable
elastic band and brads
Like the foam partner sticks, students get one minute to find a partner and sit down together. You guessed it the flowers must pair up with the bees. No two bees may end up together nor two flowers. These adorable adjustable hats can be made out of any theme : frog and lilly pad, owl and tree, frog and insect, baby animal to adult animal, etc. I selectively choose who is allowed to be a bee and who is allowed to be a flower based on the homogenous ability (shape) groups shown in the prior post found here. For example, Triangles (low) and Circles (focus) will be bees and Rectangles (high) and Squares (medium) will be flowers. This way, there is always a structure to the pairings. This avoids the ol' Blind Leading the Blind scenario.

partner talk in kindergarten
Partner Talk Hats -
Match Snails to the
Here is an alternate to the hats I pictured above with flowers and bees. Match snails to leaves. Print out and glue to strips for a quick, easy alternative.

Update July 9th : I just returned from my local Dollar Tree store and found these 3 gems. 
structured language practice - partner talk
Partner  Talk Cards (and Hats)

Milk and cookies ! Ketchup and mustard! Cheese and Mice! So cute. I'm definitely going to make a new set of covers out of the mice and cheese. However, I'm going to laminate and save the other two sets in their card format and pass them out by hand when I want to do partner talk activities. Hope you can make it out to Dollar Tree and snag these up too! 

Back to School Basics: Guided Reading Groups and The Classroom Rug Seating Chart

For the first month or two of Kindergarten I carry on and keep children in "color groups" which are heterogenous ability groups. After I have assessed students and given them time to become familiar with class routines and teacher expectations, I sort them into "shape groups." These groups are homogenous ability groups (phonics and phonemic awareness). I make a hooplah out of it and get the kids excited. It motivates them to learn their new shape groups. I also change the classroom rug seating chart to structure what level student is near what level student.
Partner Talk
Classroom Rug Seating Chart - Ideal for Partner Talk
Rectangle Team is the High Group
Square Team is the Middle Group
Triangles are the Low Group
Circles are the Focus Group

This seating arrangement is ideal for Partner Talk during shared reading or writing! I have students in Row 2 and Row 4 turn to the person directly behind them to answer the questions I present to the group. This works well because it has students chatting with a partner who is not too far away from their literacy ability level. I still continue to use color groups simultaneously so that arrangement looks like this:
Classroom Rug Seating Chart
Homogenous and Heterogeneous Groups
Throughout the school year I change the Classroom rug seating chart various times throughout the school year. For certain, over each of the 4 Quarter breaks my district calendar has scheduled. This ensures that students don't get stuck in their shape groups and are allowed to move up or down to receive explicit instruction at their level. Here is my student list I keep in my Teacher Binder.
Kindergarten Teacher Binder
Guided Reading List
In addition to having my master list in my teacher binder, I post CHARTS of who is in which shape group so that children can learn their shape groups easier. But, most importantly, so that a substitute teacher or student teacher can easily see who is in which group. Yut!
Shape Groups
Guided Reading Groups
Shape Groups
Heterogeneous Grouping
Shape clipart from here. Border clipart from here.