First Week of School Read Alouds: Everything You Need to Know!

The first week of any school year is filled with introducing routines and procedures, fun "getting to know you" and team building activities, and the beginnings of building your classroom community. Oh, and there are A LOT of feelings! Nervousness, excitement, and happiness to name a few.

First three days of second grade lesson plansI have four trusty read alouds that I fit within my first three days of school lesson plans every single year. Read alouds are a wonderful way to channel some of those "first week" feelings! They allow for everyone to decompress a little bit, and tune back into developing attentive listening skills. Plus, they are a perfect opportunity to have your first rich classroom discussions!
Let's get into it, shall we? 

first day jitters by julie danneberg
First Day Jitters is the perfect first day of school read. If you're not familiar with this one, it's from the perspective of Sarah Jane Hartwell, who is scared and doesn't want to start over at a new school. Spoiler alert.... it ends up that Sarah Jane Hartwell isn't a student, but she's the teacher! 

The kids ALWAYS get a kick at this ending. Everyone knows that uncomfortable feeling in the pit of the stomach just before diving into a new situation, and this is the perfect opportunity to discuss how everyone gets nervous (even teachers!). We stop to make some text-to-self connections, and also to notice how the author used certain words to let the readers know how Sarah Jane was feeling.

After we read the story, we enjoy these activities from the fabulous Abby Mullins!

jitter juice activity and poem

second grade back to school activities
Jitter Juice (Hawaiian Punch + Sparkling Seltzer) usually does the trick! The kids LOVE reading this poem, which doubles as reading fluency practice and attending to punctuation for expression! Also, we get to do some math with the "Does our class like Jitter Juice?" graph! 


swimmy by leo lionni
Next up, Swimmy! Long story short, a happy school of fish lives deep down in the sea, which is full of wonder. However, the little fish are afraid to come out of hiding because of a big, scary tuna fish. Swimmy hatches a plan for all of the little fish to swim together in the shape of a big fish to overcome any danger. This is such a heartwarming story about teamwork. It's also a Caldecott medal winner for the beautiful watercolor illustrations!

We read this story during our first week of school, and talk about how Swimmy's feelings change from the beginning to the end. We also discuss what the author's message is, and how important it is to work as a team.

Finally, we each color our own little fish (perfect for guided discovery of crayons/colored pencils). I color the "Swimmy" fish! Finally, I place all of our little fish in the shape of a big fish, just like in the story. 

swimmy activity
It's a lovely reminder to display outside of our classroom.

chrysanthemum by kevin henkes
Chrysanthemum is perhaps my favorite story ever! It's the perfect introduction to Kevin Henkes, an author that we'll see a lot of during the year. Much like the other stories we read during the first day of school, a large theme throughout is the complex feelings about going back to school. Chrysanthemum loves her name, but when she starts going to school, the other kids make fun of it. The story follows Chrysanthemum in her journey to find a way to love her name again! It's a wonderful way to make text-to-self connections to times that we've felt like Chrysanthemum. 

We use Chrysanthemum to honor how everyone has their own important identity. It's a great opportunity to celebrate NAMES! The kids work together to complete this activity that involves collecting data about the names of everyone in the class, and interpreting the data.

chrysanthemum name activity

chrysanthemum by kevin henkes
You can find the name activity as part of this larger mini-unit in my TpT shop!


the kissing hand
Finally, we end the week reading The Kissing Hand! Many children experience separation anxiety and worried feelings during the first week of school. This story will acknowledge and validate those tricky situations.

In the story, Chester the raccoon also has to confront the first day of school. He needs a little reassurance, as we all do in the first week of school. Chester's mom kisses his paw, and tells him whenever he is feeling nervous, he can put his paw to his cheek (I'm not crying, you're crying). This eases Chester's back-to-school worries, and the reminder of his mom's love gives him the boost he needs to conquer the world when things feel a little bit scary.

As we read The Kissing Hand, we stop to identify how Chester is feeling, and make text-to-self connections to times that we've felt nervous or scared. We also work to use text evidence to identify the author's message at the end: With a little bit of confidence and reassurance, we can do hard things!

At the end of the day, my kiddos get a sweet treat to take home with them to celebrate their first week of school.

the kissing hand gift tag

the kissing hand gift tag
You can grab this for FREE in my TpT shop!

There you have it, friends! Whether you use these stories and activities during the first week or the first month, I hope you'll be able to find some of this useful. I'd love to see how you implement some of these ideas in your classrooms this year!

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Pre-First Day of School Ways to Welcome Your Students to the Best Year Ever!

You know what they say, August is one reeeaaalllyyy long Sunday night for teachers.

Some of you are ready to go back to school soon, while some are still finishing up summer. We don't go back to school until September. If you're anything like me, you spend the tail-end of summer thinking about all things back to school.

While I'm getting my classroom ready, practicing self control at the Target Dollar Spot, and taking a peek at first week of school lesson plans, I love to reach out to my soon-to-be students and get to know their families.

Let's jump right into it! Here is how I introduce myself to my students, and welcome them to our classroom before the year begins:

meet the teacher letter

new student gift


1. MEET THE TEACHER LETTER


Sending out a letter over the summer introducing yourselves to your students is a great way to make a positive first impression! Your students will love reading about you, and will look forward to seeing you when school starts. In my letter, I usually tell my students where I went to college, my hometown, a little bit about where I grew up, and include my favorite hobbies.

Ending your letter letting your students know you are looking forward to seeing them will make them feel welcomed, valued, and important!

If you'd like, you can attach a QR code at the bottom that links to an audio file of you reading the letter, or to a video! I like to include a link to a video of me reading the book Second Grade,Here I come! Your kiddos being able to hear and see you in addition to reading about you simply gives your letter an extra personal touch.
You can download this EDITABLE Meet the Teacher Letter in my TpT store, and choose to include a QR code or not! 

meet the teacher letter          meet the teacher letter

2. READY CONFETTI


In the envelope with the Meet the Teacher letter is a special Ready Confetti poem.

These are easy-peasy to assemble. I simply print out the poem, place a pinch or so of confetti in a small jewelry baggie, and secure it inside the poem. I usually get confetti and jewelry bags on Amazon! A bonus: the jewelry bags come in a pack of 100, so you'll have 'em for years to come.

I also make sure that the poem can't be readily opened (a hole punch and a piece of ribbon will do the trick). Students should not open the poem until the night before school!

The idea is, that your students will read the poem together with their grown up the night before the first day of school. Everyone, EVERYONE has the jitters the night before the first day of school. Your students (and you) can feel reassured that they will have a fabulous first day, and sleep tight courtesy of the magic "ready confetti."

Download yours for FREE here!


ready confetti ready confetti


3. "YOU'RE O-FISH-ALLY A..."
New Student/Meet the Teacher Day/Classroom Visit Goodies


If your school hosts a "meet the teacher" day before school begins, that would be a great time to give these "O-FISH-ALLY" (get it...?) notes out. If not, the first day of school works, too! 

All I do is print them on cardstock, and tape to a snack sized bag of fun goldfish crackers. I also put a dot of hot glue in the top corner, tie some ribbon into a bow, and stick it on. Boom, instant "welcome" gift!

This little note is kind of a catch-all! If you're not feeling using them at the beginning of the year, you can use them at any point throughout the year to celebrate different milestones. You could also use to celebrate students moving up to the next grade at the end of the year.

Regardless of how you choose to use them, you can download for FREE here!

o-fish-ally notes

I hope these pre-first day of school things help you while you're planning for the best school year ever! Feel free to check in using the comments below, or post to Instagram or Facebook. I'd love to see how you've used some of these ideas to welcome your new kiddos to your amazing classrooms!

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5 Guaranteed Ways to Ditch the Sunday Scaries with Ease

Do you ever wish there was another day in between Saturday and Sunday? Because I do.

The anticipation of Monday can creep up super quickly and take over actually enjoying the second half of the weekend. Whether it's lesson planning, laundry, or anything in between, it's easy for an entire Sunday to be taken up by anything but fun.

If this sounds even a little bit like your current Sunday routine, here is a list of 5 productive, practical things you can do on a Sunday to make the week ahead more manageable. You'll even be able to keep Sunday fun!

For me, this is essential. That being said, it also isn't effortless. Remembering to do this is a constant effort. It's like we're programed to wake up and check our phones to read text messages/emails or mindlessly scroll through Instagram. I am super guilty of this. However, while doing this, I also get smacked in the face with all of the "to-dos" for Monday and the week ahead that have been stored in the back of my mind.


To avoid becoming overwhelmed seconds after waking up, it's super important to practice giving ourselves time, space, and quiet to start the day. The subtle action of Slowing down has been makes it possible for us to be more present in the moment. So, Enjoy that delicious cup of coffee. Soak in the stillness. Taking it slow before beginning to tackle all of my tasks for the day ahead allows me to turn inward for a little bit and to prepare myself for a calm, balanced day.
My friend Erin Waters has the BEST advice when it comes to to-do lists. She recommends arranging to-do lists from the least desirable task to the most desirable. So often, we're quick to check off easy, "fun" items off of our lists, and the tasks we take forever to accomplish are the ones we just really don't want to do. For me, I know to put folding laundry ahead of going to the grocery store.

Sometimes, my to-do list is just for Sunday. Sometimes, it includes a few things I can do ahead of time for Monday. Either way, I'm totally a pencil colorful Ink Joy pen and paper person. Make it as enjoyable as possible for yourself to write a list, and satisfyingly check things off!
This sounds trivial, but I swear it makes a difference. I'm not saying to have everything planned down to accessories for the week ahead. Rather, simply go to bed on Sunday night with clothes laid out and ready to go for Monday morning. Make it an outfit that you really love! It'll be one less thing to think about after you wake up. Your Monday morning self will thank your Sunday evening self.
Listen, you guys. Meal-prepping can mean a lot of different things to me. Yes, sometimes it involves a longer chunk of time to prepare lunches: teeny tiny individual containers filled with salad, or quinoa, or grilled chicken, or what have you. Other times, it involves preparing a few mason jars of overnight oats for breakfast, or cooking something really yummy for dinner knowing that you'll have enough to enjoy over the course of the entire week. This California Turkey Chili recipe from Giada De Laurentiis is one of my FAVORITES when it comes to dinner, and it keeps really well for the entire week. If I'm feeling really ambitious, meal-prepping means breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the week are covered. It all depends on the Sunday!

The last thing anyone wants is to rush out of the house in the morning and scarf down a granola bar on the way to work, or to exhaustedly stop for takeout each day on the way home. Whether it be breakfast, lunch, dinner, or all of the above, prepping at least one meal for the week is super productive. Your tummy and your wallet will both be much happier!
I believe super strongly in treating yourself with care, and being as comfortable as possible on a Sunday evening. Develop a bedtime ritual! This can mean something as simple as getting ready for bed at least an hour before you want to fall asleep. Jump into your pajamas, wash your face, brush your teeth, and relax with a favorite calming activity. For me, it's mostly all about curling up on the couch with a cup of tea or a glass of red wine to watch Big Brother or Big Little Lies. Other times, a podcast or a bubble bath with relaxing music are in order. Ideally, sticking to a predictable, consistent bedtime routine will let your body know ahead of time that sleep is on the way.

So, how do you consciously decide to hit the hay early without laying there counting sheep or anxiously counting down the hours until you have to wake up?

The science of sound can have profound effects on our ability to relax and fall asleep. Enter, white noise! My dear friend Gina introduced me to the Sleep Fan app, and it seriously makes falling asleep SO much easier. Another app that I love is the Calm app. It includes lessons on meditation, Sleep stories, and guided breathing exercises to help you relax.



To help you get ahead with planning means for the week, download this FREE meal planning sheet!




Have a great week. I'd love to know tips and tricks you have for beating the Sunday scaries!

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Dos and Don'ts for Packing up your Classroom! Plus... a freebie!

Happy Summer!!!

Where does time go? Another school year has come and gone. You guys, I can say without a doubt that this year was the best teaching year I've ever had. It was super bittersweet to part ways with my kiddos for the summer.

Our last day of school with students was on Wednesday, June 12th. Then... dun, dun, dun... we had to spend June 13th and 14th packing up our classrooms, because they are going to be renovated over the summer. The good news is that while we had to pack EVERYTHING, we didn't have to move ANYTHING! The movers began doing all of that work for us last week. Everything will be moved upstairs to the library for the summer.

We'll be getting new carpet, freshly painted walls, new furniture, all to go along with a particular color scheme for each grade level (be still my heart). All of the carpets will be grey, with a "pop of color." All of the furniture will have different accent colors. At this time, second grade has a yellow "pop of color" in the carpet, and red accents in the furniture. I've never been a "primary colors" kind of woman, but we'll make it happen.

For those of you who have ever had to move classrooms, you know the amount of work and elbow grease that goes into it. Here are my most important classroom packing dos and don'ts:

DO color code.

In our case, each grade level was assigned a particular color of duct tape that corresponds with the to-be "pop of color" carpet color. So, second grade was yellow!

If you don't have this kind of situation, I still recommend labeling all of your boxes, furniture, etc. with some kind of label that is significant to you. Whether you have to move it back or not, everything will end up in the correct place.

DON'T keep everything.

I have to say, one of the most liberating aspects of packing up my classroom was purging sooo many unused materials. My rule of thumb: If you didn't use it all year, you don't need it. GET RID OF IT, and make some space.

DO be creative with space.

Of course, boxes are necessary. That being said, think about those large boxes, especially when most of what you have to pack away is books. A ginormous box full of books come August = heavy, and overwhelming to unpack. Luckily, our cabinet space isn't being renovated so my assistant teacher (bless her heart. You guys, she's seriously the best) and I stored and labeled our classroom library in them!

organized classroom library

DON'T just "throw it all in together."

I get it. I really do! Having packed up a couple of classrooms in my career, it's understandable to get to that point where you say, "I don't care," and throw a ton of stuff in a box. To avoid getting to this point, formulate a plan. Even if you don't stick to it verbatim, have an idea of what is going to be packed together. When you feel yourself getting to the frustration point, stop for the day. Take care of yourself!

DO label (sort of).

I'm not saying that each box needs to have every single item listed on the outside. That would be crazy! Rather, go with a theme. Pack similar resources together, and label boxes something like, "Morning meeting supplies," or "Literacy center choice board." You'll know what is included, and that's all that matters!

DON'T wait until the last minute.

This is something I wish I hadn't done. I didn't start packing anything away until the Thursday and Friday we were allotted. In my brain, I was all, "I still need all of these things until the last day of school!"Au contraire. While I ultimately got everything done, it was a lot. My advice: Involve your students in the process! It can be upsetting for students to see a classroom totally broken down. However,  it can be fun for them to start the beginning stages of packing! Kids love sorting/packing books, math manipulatives, etc.

DO accept help.

You guys, I am a Type 9 when it comes to the Enneagram. Oh my Word, that's another blog post for another time. Personality type fascination, anyone??? When it comes to tasks like this, my mindset is usually "don't offer help unless I ask for it, because I have a plan."

HOWEVER, Teachers are the most compassionate, amazing beings. Our amazing Kindergarten teacher arrived in my doorway, saying, "Ok, put me to work!" She packed up all of my math manipulatives, took down my bulletin board papers/borders, and all the while was super calming and just GOT me. While she asked what to do with certain things, she also had this amazing intuition about her. It. Takes. A. Village.

Props to all of you who had or will have to pack up classrooms at the end of the school year. All in all, another amazing year is in the books.

organized classroom library

packed up classroom

packed up classroom

empty classroom

empty classroom

packed up classroom

You can grab this FREEBIE to stick on your classroom boxes, should you be packing up or moving!
packing label

Whew. It's time to unwind, relax, and recharge. Teachers, you are amazing. Again, HAPPY SUMMER!!!

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How to Structure Your Perfect Literacy Block!

As far as I'm concerned, there is no "right" way to structure a literacy block. Literacy Centers, Guided Reading, Daily 5... there are so many resources and formats to choose from! Depending on how your schedule works, it can be super tricky to fit it all in. Sometimes, I find that it works best to take a little bit from each style and make your literacy block your own.

95% of our literacy block structure is from The Daily 5. I learned how to teach a balanced literacy block this way as a student teacher, and I immediately fell in love.

Here is what our Daily 5 Board looks like in our classroom! It's right beside the CAFE Board, which displays our reading strategies. True life, people... it's February and the bulletin board border isn't as pristinely staying in place as it was back in September.

daily five icharts

You'll notice that at the bottom right corner of the Daily 5 Board, our rotations are listed. The stations the children visit each week are: Teacher Table, Read to Self, Work on Writing, Read to Someone, Word Work, and Listen to Reading.

Now, for the tricky part. My kids have either two or three specials each day. While it makes for incredibly rich learning, it's hard to structure a consistent block of time dedicated to literacy.

Here's how we make our daily rotations work!

Rotation 1:

10:30 am - 10:40 am: Whole group mini-lesson - The mini-lesson varies! Our school uses Reading Wonders as a resource, so sometimes the mini-lesson will be a comprehension skill/strategy from Wonders. Other times, it will be based on a specific unit (right now, we're in the middle of biographies), or an interactive read aloud involving turn & talks and think alouds. In the beginning of the week, we'll usually cover a phonics skill.

10:40 - 11:00/11:15: Read to Self and Reading Group - I am lucky enough to have an assistant teacher with me all morning. She is THE BEST. In the morning, she will take a reading group while I hold individual conferences with the other students as they Read to Self. While conferencing with the children during Read to Self, I take anecdotal notes on these conferencing sheets. Usually, I'll conference with 3 or 4 children per day.

The work that the children do in reading group varies. Sometimes they'll read a story and answer comprehension questions from the Wonders workbook, or anthology. I'm not a huge fan of strictly teaching whole group from comprehensive literacy programs, and in a small group setting, it's more meaningful. It's also a way to make sure that everyone covers important comprehension skills that week while catering to that group's individual learning styles!

miss clark's spoonful reading wonders grade 2 vocabulary minibook
If they're not working out of the workbook, they may be working on the week's phonics or vocabulary skill.

Part of what I like about Wonders is the scope and sequence of vocabulary strategies. The kids enjoy making these mini-books in reading group! You can find them in my TpT shop here!










At 11:00 (or 11:15, depending on the day), the kids are off to specials. Then, we have lunch from 12:30 - 1:00, and afternoon recess from 1:00 - 1:30. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, the kids have another special from 1:30 - 2:00. Mondays and Wednesdays, we're back in the classroom at 1:30. Whether it is 1:30 or 2:00, this is when we resume the literacy block!

Rotation 2:

1:30 pm - 1:40 pm/2:00 pm - 2:10 pm: Whole group mini-lesson - Again, the mini-lesson will vary! In the afternoon, I usually like to keep things reading comprehension strategy focused and pair the mini-lesson with an interactive read aloud.

1:40 pm - 2:20 pm/2:10 pm - 2:30 pm: CHOICE! While I am meeting with one group at the Teacher Table, the other students choose to visit either Read to Someone, Work on Writing, Word Work, or Listen to Reading. Of course, all of these stations were slooooooowly introduced, modeled, and practiced in the beginning of the year before everything was up and running independently.

I keep track of who goes where with this tracking sheet! The students are allowed to visit the same station more than once during the week, as long as it's not two days in a row.

daily five tracking sheet

The students also keep track of their own progress. This darling freebie was from Martha over at Primary Paradise on TpT! On the first day of the week, the kids each get a blank rainbow tracking sheet. Each time they visit a station, they color in the corresponding place on the rainbow!

I've found that this tool inspired students to branch out and do less repeating of stations. They're SUPER motivated to fill in all five colors.

daily five check in sheet

Throughout the week, the kids keep all of their work from Daily 5 in a folder. At the end of the week, I'll collect the work from each student's Daily 5 folder, and staple it all together with the tracking sheet on the front. I usually won't meet with a reading group for Rotation 2 on Friday afternoons. Everyone has a choice of their Daily 5 station.

This is when I'll collect each student's work from the week and put it together. As students are working in their choice station, I'll call them over to go over their work from the week. We celebrate new stations that were visited, progress on a certain skill, and correct work when needed. After this brief conference, they color in the last place on the rainbow, the teacher check. Everything gets sent home at the end of the week. It's nice for parents to see exactly what their kiddos have done throughout the week during Daily 5!

Well, that's what a week of Daily 5 in our classroom looks like (in a nutshell).

For my fellow Daily 5 friends, I uploaded my Daily 5 Tracking Sheet to TpT, for FREE! You can download it here or by clicking the picture below.

miss clark's spoonful free daily five tracking sheet

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