Montessori Crosswords

Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.-Henry Ford

Learning to read begins with learning to talk.  Children listen to their parents and mimic sounds.  They eventually begin to associate these sounds with words that represent things and actions. From there, vocabulary increases as parents read stories, sing songs and rhymes. As children learn the alphabet and letter sounds, they soon learn that words are made of combinations of several letter sounds merged together.

While easy to write about, it’s not so easy to accomplish.  It is also a complex task to meet each child where he/she is and personalize their learning.  We immerse our students in a language-rich environment all throughout the day.  Part of that immersion involves using iPads.  One of the apps we like to use for associating letters and sounds is Montessori Crosswords.  Montessori Crosswords helps kids develop their reading, writing, and spelling skills by building words from a set of 320 word-image-audio-phonics combinations using a phonics-enabled movable alphabet.  Montessori Crosswords allows you to select words according to their difficulty or sound categories:
➜ Level 1 displays a three-letter word with no difficulty for beginning readers (CVC words)
➜ Levels 2 and 3 offer more complex words that contains more complex phonics (as long vowels sounds or blends), and also offer the option to automatically create multi-word crosswords in tens of thousands of different combinations
➜ Alternately, you can choose from 44 sound categories (i.e. choose words that contain a specific sound.  This app costs $2.99 and is worth it!

As my students work on their emerging literacy skills through a variety of ways, I love that I have a tool that gives my students the ability to personalize their learning.  We have to be willing to look at our students as individuals and give them what they need as they need it.  Learning is not one size fits all.  Just because our lesson plans say we are teaching a certain skill this week doesn’t mean all of our students will master it in that time frame.  iPads give students the ability to practice just what they need.

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Action Words Anchor Chart

Action expresses priorities. -Mahatma Gandhi

Action is something that is never lacking in a kindergarten classroom.  Something or someone is always in motion. In other action news, my students are very interested in action figures.  There was a fairly intense discussion going on at one point about who was more powerful-Spiderman or the Dark Knight. Of course, everyone had an opinion and several offered other action figures that were more awesome than the original 2 being discussed.  How does this impromptu conversation fit into the Common Core Standards?

By taking action, we can turn a random classroom discussion into a learning opportunity.  One of the kindergarten Common Core Standards is that students will participate in collaborative conversations about kindergarten topics with peers and adults. We turned their interest in that topic into an anchor chart.  Afterwards, they used their Whiteboard App to illustrate an action they could perform.  This activity involved using our sight words to construct a basic sentence and an illustration.

The following day I was reading an Eric Carle book, “Rooster’s Off to See the World” as a part of our Eric Carle author study.  As I was reading, without prompting, the children began calling out action words they heard in the story. Our discussion from the day before had carried over into a new activity.  Higher order thinking skills?  You bet.

By being alert to everyday situations, we can take action and turn them into meaningful learning activities.

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More on Anchor Charts

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. -Benjamin Franklin

One of the first things we do in kindergarten (besides learning where the bathroom is) is to create an anchor chart together.  Anchor charts are charts that are created with the students to help them “anchor” their learning.  We make one for every letter of the alphabet, we make one with our classmates names, we make one for how to listen, we make one for colors, one for numbers, and any other skill I would like them to use on a regular basis.  We use them daily in our Reading and Writing Workshop activities.

My students love them and refer to them all throughout the day. They are engaged in the process of creating them so they take ownership in them.  After a while, they know more of what is on the charts than I do.  Space is a concern…and do I really need to leave a chart on Halloween words up all school year? Those questions are answered with the iPads.  I find that I leave the alphabet charts up all year; however, seasonal charts, or special charts made for a specific activity do not have to stay up and take up valuable wall space.  By photographing all of the anchor charts and syncing them out to the children’s iPads, they have the charts with them all year long regardless of whether they are on the wall or not.

A recent writing activity included writing about our families.  After making the Family Words chart, they were able to refer to it all week as we discussed our families.  We also wrote about foods we liked.  By having the anchor chart, students were able to write about these foods.  In a week or so, I can add these to their iPads and they will have access to these words even if I take these charts down.

Another advantage of having these charts on the iPads is that students don’t have to walk across the room to see them if they are writing something and need a word.  The charts are also available if students are reading on their iPads and would like to read the charts.  It is like Read the Room, only it is done in their seats.

If you aren’t using anchor charts, I highly recommend them.  They are quick and easy but they pack a powerful punch.  Parents can even make them at home and post on the refrigerator or in the child’s room.

By involving the child in the learning, they create connections that are critical for mastery of skills.

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Using Anchor Charts with iPads

I like to read and write about trucks and cars. I would do it all day long.-Kade age 6

How many students would like to read and write all day long?  I love how when I say it’s time for Reading or Writing Workshop, my kids give a fist pump and say, “YES!”  I’m pretty sure I was never that excited in school.

When children are engaged, and feel confident in their abilities as readers and writers, they are excited about learning.  We use the Reading and Writing Workshop model to teach literacy.  My room is filled with various anchor charts that I create along with the students.  At the beginning of the year, we make an anchor chart for each letter of the alphabet.  The children give me words that begin with the given letter and I model writing it on the chart  and draw a small picture beside it.  We then hang the chart on the wall.  When all of the alphabet charts are made, we go to word families and commonly used words, family words, color words, number words, etc.  We make charts about how to be good listeners when we are launching the workshop model in the fall.  We make charts on why writers write.  We make charts for non-fiction writing ideas, and for what we do when we are in the reading center.  These charts are available for the children to refer to all year long.  Because they helped in the creation of them, they are quick to use them and they serve as a visual reference.

The only problem is that I am out of wall space and even after stringing clothesline across my room, I still do not have enough space.  I wanted my students to still have access to certain charts but I needed to make room for more! I started taking pictures of some of the charts and I synced them out to each student iPad.  The charts are now in each student’s camera roll.  The ones we use all the time are on the wall and they are able to still see other charts when they need to. We made this Ideas chart because earlier in the year, some students were having trouble thinking of things to write about. This is one of the charts on their iPads.

The other plus for having them on the iPad camera roll is students have the ability to look at them right where they are.  If a child is sitting across the room from one particular anchor chart, they don’t have to get up to go across the room to look at it.  Since my students can only remember one letter at a time when copying something, they might make 6 trips across the room to see a particular word.

Anchor charts are wonderful reference tools that help “anchor” new and ongoing learning to previously introduced concepts. My students know exactly what is on each and every chart and they use them all throughout each day.  Long after I’ve forgotten what is on the chart, they still refer to it with each other. At the end of the year, I take them down and give one to each child to keep.  They love it!

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Y-E-L-L Everybody Spell!

“It’s a poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word.-Andrew Jackson

Um, did I mention these children are 5 years old?  Clearly our little ones are heavily influenced by our text-rich world.

In kindergarten, we place emphasis on invented spelling. Invented spelling is the practice of young children using their best judgement when writing words.  This opens the children to using more of a variety of words than if they only write the words they know how to spell correctly.  Students write what they hear.  When students use invented spelling, they seem to develop word recognition and phonics skills sooner.  The more they write, the more confidence they have in their writing.  The process of getting it out of their head and onto the paper is the key rather than have them get bogged down in spelling words correctly.  My students are easily able to write several sentences on a given topic on their own.  We have environmental print in the room on the anchor charts, plus they use invented spelling.

Using the iPads, I am able to give the students opportunities to practice spelling high frequency words and word family words.  We use the app Spelling 1-2.  This allows students to work on their own list of words.  In the beginning of the year, I put their words in the app, but later they can put their own words in themselves.  They practice all week on their given list of words on the app and they are assessed weekly.  This ability to differentiate instruction allows my higher students to move on to more difficult words and my struggling students to practice what they need.  At one point this year, I had 4 different lists going on the iPads.  Now I’m down to 2.  With a class of 26 students, I am able to meet the needs of each of my students where they are. We  use a few other spelling apps for fun.  Two of the apps we like are Montessori Crosswords and Word Wizard.

As we allow students to express themselves in a safe, encouragement environment, we see the possibilities and their creativity flourish.

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Anchor Charts: Why We Use Them!

Sorry, this isn’t a blog post about boating in the beautiful Charleston area. The anchors I’m referring to are anchor charts. 

Anchor charts are valuable visual support tools to assist students in learning new concepts.  Teachers and students may refer to them all throughout the year.  When we are working on new content in our Reading and Writing Workshop mini lessons, anchor charts are co-created with teacher and students to help “cement” the learning.  They help to make abstract ideas more visible for students.

So where do the iPads come in? The anchor charts are only the start. Due to space restraints on the chart paper, I’m unable to add all of the connections that the students share with the class.  Students then use their iPads to jot down their own ideas.  We use the Notes app to make a list of things that go along with our anchor chart.  Students may then use that list as they are writing to activate their schema.  Students also use the Pages app to write more complete thoughts and incorporate images. By using the iPads, students are able to quickly record connections as they make them, then refer to them as they need them in their writing.

Emergent readers and writers struggle at times with ideas.  The anchor charts and the students’ abilities to extend them with the iPads are a perfect pairing for successful learning!