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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Foster Reading Fluency with Songs and Poems

As a classroom teacher, finding creative, new ways to foster reading fluency was always on my mind. Being in the primary classroom meant that so much of our day was centered around reading, so I was dedicated to finding new strategies to help my students succeed. Over the years, I came across one technique that was very effective and highly engaging to students! Ready to hear more? Let's chat about using songs and poems to foster reading fluency in your room! 

Use poems and songs to help your students develop important reading fluency skills in fun ways you can use all year long.

The Connection Between Reading and Rhythm

Before we dive into the strategies, let's talk about the backstory of this discovery. As a classroom teacher, it occurred to me that my students had no trouble remembering song lyrics.  They could quickly pick up new songs and chants and they could sing them over and over again. But yet, they struggled to remember sight words in reading. 

After some thought I developed a hypothesis. . . and it had to do with the connection to the natural rhythms found in songs, chants, and poems.

With fun poems, songs, and activities, along with the I Can Read Fluency Notebook your students will get meaningful reading fluency practice each and every day.If in fact, the use of rhythm helped students remember, then why couldn't we use that to help improve their reading skills? So, I gave it a try.  I started with a few of the songs and chants that we were already doing in our classroom.  Instead of focusing on them solely orally, I typed up the words and sent my students off with a challenge.  

In some cases, I asked students to find and circle specific sight words as they were reading. In other cases, I gave them a challenge based on a phonics skill we were learning.  And what happened next, was nothing short of amazing! 

Using the rhythm of the song, chant, or poem, students started interacting with the written word.  Instead of being intimidated by this page of words, they were excited because it connected to something they already knew.  They were able to use this knowledge to help them interact with the written words in a whole new way.

Use this I Can Read Notebook for each of your students on a daily bases to keep track of all your morning work activities that help build reading fluency.
That was it!  My trial run was so successful that I jumped right in and set up an I Can Read Notebook for each student. 

I decided that with the prior knowledge of the song, chant, or poem, students could work independently on these activities, so I chose to use them as our daily morning work. 

Any guesses on how well this strategy worked? Well, since I'm telling you about them now you can probably guess that it went really well.  I saw improvements in my students' mastery of sight words and phonics skills.  I also noticed that their reading fluency was improving.  

That was all I needed to make I Can Read Notebooks a staple in my classroom year after year. I've even had former students visit me to tell me they still had their "I Can Read Notebook" and remembered this activity vividly. 

Are you ready to hear all about the reading fluency notebooks and how they worked in our classroom? Let's dive in! 

Using "I Can Read" Fluency Notebooks  

After my little experiment, I was ready for students to interact with written words using songs, chants, or poems on a daily basis. I decided that the students would come in every morning and grab a "morning work" page for the day to add to the notebook. 

This I Can Read Fluency notebook includes poems, finger plays, chants, songs, and more.
Each day, their paper consisted of a poem, fingerplay, chant, or song we had previously learned. This is an important key to success. Remember, knowing the tune or rhyme helps kiddos draw from memory and triggers them to recall the words as they see them while reading.  

Since we had multiple songs, chants, poems, or fingerplays we were doing at any given time, it was not a problem to give them a new page each day.  

To start, I would have students read the page independently. Next, they would read again and complete the challenge of the day.  Some days this was to look for a specific sight word or two and circle them. On other days, they would look for words based on a phonics skill we were learning or a spelling pattern.  The idea was to get students working with the words on the page, looking at them, and reading them while connecting the written words with the tune or rhythm. 

They would finish their independent work by drawing a picture to illustrate what they had read.  This was a great way to do a quick check for reading comprehension too.

Working as a Group to Build Reading Fluency

After students worked independently and completed their morning task on their page, we always finished with a group reading of our page. 

Work on poems and song as a group to help build fluency with all of your students.
After our group reading, the students added their pages to their notebooks.  I used a 2-inch or 3-ring binder because it was easy to add pages all year long. You could also have students glue them into a composition book or spiral notebook.  Whatever you choose, just choose something that has enough pages to last the year. 

Teacher tip: Make sure to teach your littles how to open and close the rings if you use a 3-ring binder. Initially, this can be tricky (and painful) if done incorrectly! Plus, your future self will be thanking you for not being the only one in the class with this skill.

Finding Songs, Chants, Poems, and Rhymes to Boost Reading Fluency

It might sound difficult to find a new song, chant, poem, or rhyme for every day of the school year.  I promise - it really isn't.  Start the year off with songs and chants that your students likely already know. Those will be the first pages you want to use.  Then, as you teach new ones in class, you start to weave those into your I Can Notebooks.

Still not convinced? What if I told you there was no hard and fast rule that you had to do a new song every day.  You could use each page for 2 days instead of one.  On the first day, students will read, find target sight words, and draw their pictures.  On the second day, they can focus on a specific phonics skill and finish their picture.

The real goal is to tap into the power of the rhythm and to help your students connect that with written words.

Once you get started it won't take long to start building your collections of favorite songs, chants, and poems.  But. . . I'm also here to help you out. I wrote a post years ago about some of my favorite "sing-along" books that are an excellent source for your daily pages. Some of these books might be hard to find, but if you keep an eye out, you'll likely find similar ones! 

Use books like these which include songs and poems to build reading fluency in your students.
  1. Today is Monday by Eric Carle 
  2. You Are My Sunshine by Steve Metzger
  3. Howdi Do by Woody Guthrie 
  4. There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly by Pam Adams
  5. Ten in the Bed by Jane Cabrera
  6. Little Rabbit Foo Foo by Michael Rosen
  7. Twenty-Four Robbers by Audrey Wood
  8. Way Down South by Rozanne Lanczak Williams 
  9. Down by the Bay by Raffi 
  10. Oh A-Hunting We Will Go by John Langstaff 
  11. Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear by Michael Hague 
  12. Alligator in the Elevator by Rick Charette 
These are just some ideas to help you get started.  You can use these or any others that have.  Your school or local library is sure to have lots of options available.  Garage sales and thrift stores are great places to look too. And. . . a quick YouTube search will yield hundreds if not thousands of options. 

In my room, I kept these books in a bin in our library. The bin was labeled "songbooks" to help my students see that these books contained the chants we learned in class. Students LOVED picking them up and finding a familiar song or chant on the pages to read. 

Ready to Get Started?

I've put together everything you need to get started connecting written words and music or rhythm in your classroom. Inside the "I Can Read" Fluency Notebooks is a small collection of poems and songs to help you start this reading activity in your classroom. The pages included in this resource have songs like "Who Stole the Cookie from the Cookie Jar" and a fun variation on classic songs like B-I-N-G-O. 

The resource includes cover page options for student and teacher notebooks. Use the included pages to begin and then add your own poems, songs, and chants as the year goes on. Just be sure to teach the song, poem, chant, or fingerplay before distributing your pages. This is crucial to success with this strategy! 

If you want to take a closer look at the resource, be sure to pop on over to my TpT Shop to check it out. I hope you and your students have as much fun targeting reading through song as we did!

Use this I Can Read Notebook resource for each of your students on a daily bases to keep track of all your morning work activities that help build reading fluency.

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This post contains information about my favorite technique to foster reading fluency in the classroom. Be sure to pin it on Pinterest to keep track of these ideas!

Use these exciting activities and engaging poems and stories to foster a love of reading in your students and build reading fluency all year long. Grab the I Can Read Notebook for reading fluency practice all year long. #tarynsuniquelearning #readingfluency #increasingreadingfluencywithsongsandpoems

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

5 Ways to Boost Staff Morale this Fall!

If you work as a school administrator, a parent volunteer, or a member of a school sunshine committee, you probably already know just how important staff morale is. Keeping staff morale high is crucial to creating a warm and welcoming school environment. Teachers and other school staff members work hard! Let's help them feel appreciated and boost staff morale this fall with some fun and fresh ideas!

Use these tips and tricks to boost staff morale in your school this fall.

Fall is a Great Time for a Staff Morale Boost 

Fall is a fun time in any school environment. Depending on when your school started for the year, the fall months of September, October, and November mean that students and staff have settled into a new routine. 

Use the fall season to boost staff morale to help your teachers get all the warm and fuzzies this autumn.
Once the hectic air of back-to-school season has left the building, fall feels like a warm and cozy hug for most of us! 

As a long-time chairperson of my school's sunshine committee, fall was one of my favorite months to embrace special activities and events to boost staff morale. 

There are so many great themes to play on in the fall, plus it's a good idea to build those staff relationships before the holiday season rolls around! Today I'm sharing some ideas that are great for any time of year, but they're especially suited to fall! 

So if you're looking for new ways to recognize staff in your school, here are 5 fun ideas to inspire you. 

1. Apple Buffet 

Nothing screams fall like all things apple in the Midwest! When I came up with the idea for an apple buffet, I was inspired by the local apple orchard just up the street from where I lived. If you've ever visited an apple orchard, you know there's a certain kind of "fall magic" that you can just feel in the air. The humble apple is a most prized fruit and is used to make all kinds of wonderful fall treats. 

An apple buffet full of sweet treats is a great way to boost staff morale with a fun fall twist.
Make the most of apple season in your area with an apple buffet for staff members! I did this by purchasing a variety of apples, and putting them out with all kinds of toppings. 

Some fun toppings include caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, crushed cookies, chopped nuts, and coconut. On the day of, simply set up a buffet table with paper plates, napkins, apple slicers, apples, and toppings. As staff pass the table, they can choose an apple, slice it, and dress it up! 

This resource includes announcement signs, decorative posters, sign-up sheets, ingredient labels, and reminder tags to make setup and planning a breeze. You can also decide if you'd like to run this as a potluck-style event or provide all of the ingredients yourself. Either way, this is a fun idea to celebrate autumn, and boost staff morale! 

2. Jeans Day Certificates 

As a teacher who worked in a school with a strict dress code, nothing was better than having a "Jeans Day"! 

Boost staff morale this fall with awesome and super appreciated jeans day certificates.
And once fall rolls around, it's even better to be able to wear your coziest pair of jeans to school! 

Since I loved wearing jeans so much, and I knew my colleagues did too, using certificates for "Choose Your Own Jeans Day" was a total no-brainer. 

When I ran the sunshine committee, we used these certificates as a prize for staff meetings, to celebrate holidays, and more. 

School administrators loved handing these out when they observed great lessons being taught during observations as well! 

Everyone loved getting the option to wear jeans on any day of their choice, and it's a great inexpensive option to add to your list of ways to thank staff for their hard work. 

3. Soup Potluck 

Does your school have potlucks from time to time? We had them often, and while they were usually holiday-themed, my favorite was our annual Soup Potluck in the fall. Everyone loved not having to bring their lunch to school that day! Plus, what is more cozy and comforting than soup? 

Boost staff morale with a tasty soup potluck your teachers and staff members will love.
To host a soup potluck, I put out sign-up sheets well in advance to make sure we had a nice variety available. On the day of, I set up enough tables to hold everything and provided power strips for everyone to plug in their slow cookers. In the morning, staff would come in and set up their pot along with little tags that said what kind they brought. 

When lunchtime rolled around, everyone was so excited to taste test different soups and enjoy them with bread or crackers. I love the sense of community that comes with potlucks! It's always fun to host this on a Friday, or the day after a big local football game was held. 

This resource helps make planning and executing a soup potluck fun and simple. Included, are announcements, sign-up sheets, a timeline for a successful soup day, reminders, room d├ęcor, and more!

4. Staff Appreciation Post-It Notes 

Over the years, I have discovered that one of the BEST ways to boost staff morale is through small tokens of appreciation. 

Use staff appreciation notes like these to boost staff morale this fall and show your teachers, support staff, and aides how much you appreciate all their hard work.
That's why I love these Post-it notes so much! They're simple and easy to use, and always leave a big impact. 

This resource comes with 18 different messages that will brighten any staff member's day. 

Simply choose your template, affix your post-its to it, and load them into the printer. 

Add a personal touch after printing and you're good to go! Then, pop these on your colleagues' desks, on a car window, on a wall, or in another spot you know they'll find it. 

These are a fun and easy way to show that you're thinking of them and that their hard work is appreciated! 

These are also nice to hand out (unfilled) to staff members so that they can recognize each other throughout the year. 

5. October Staff Boo

This last idea is perfect for the month of October, and SO much fun! This activity begins slowly and picks up speed as other staff members get involved. Start it at the beginning of the month for the most fun! 

Get everyone involved in a boosting staff morale with this fun Boo activity to keep spirits high all fall.
To implement it, you will begin the chain by making 2 copies of the BOO sign included in this resource. 

You'll choose colleagues to BOO and pick up a special treat for them at a drive-through, or grocery store. 

Finally, you'll leave the signs and treats at their desk and place another sign on the door. 

When the staff member finds their sign and treat, they continue the chain by doing the same. The pace picks up as more and more staff are BOOed throughout the building! 

This is always a staff favorite and such a wonderful way to boost staff morale. This resource comes in handy when used alongside the Staff Favorites Book as well. That way everyone will have plenty of treat ideas to get for their colleagues!

Have Fun Boosting Staff Morale this Fall 

Which of these staff morale-boosting activities was your favorite? It's hard to choose, and the good news is that you don't have to! In fact, I have found that including lots of activities like these throughout the year is the best way to help ensure that staff know they're appreciated and keep morale high. Plus, activities like these make any school more fun to work at, which was always reason enough for me!

Have fun planning your own staff morale events and activities this fall! If you'd like to take a closer look at these resources, along with lots of others, you can check them out in my TPT shop!

Looking for ways to boost staff morale this fall? These awesome ideas will help you show your teachers and staff how much you appreciate all their hard work this fall season. From tasty treats, to sweet notes, to jeans day certificates, your staff will love all of these fun ideas. #tarynsuniquelearning #staffappreciation #fallstaffappreciation #booststaffmorale #waystobooststaffmorale