Thursday, August 8, 2013

First Grade Help

I got a confirmation today that I am going to be keeping the first grade position as I requested. I knew that she wouldn't say no because this way she can wash her hands of the whole situation and not have to worry about placing me again.

I would be a liar if I said I wasn't nervous and scared. I am. I don't know what to do with little first graders. I have been scouring TpT for some good first day of first grade activities (thank you Lord for all of the fabulous people out there who create and share their goodness!). 

One thing that I've been struggling with (well, there are a LOT of things, but this one sticks out the most)....I spent the summer reading Word Nerds and really thinking about how to incorporate these ideas into my classroom. 
I even created a Modified Frayer page to use with my big kids for vocabulary study.
Now since I'm going to be teaching the unknown, in a grade I haven't worked with in 9 years, I feel lost and confused. I really, really want to incorporate this word study. I think it is important, even for little guys to know and understand words, their meanings and maybe even their synonyms and antonyms. Of course I do not expect first graders to walk in knowing all of this stuff or being able to complete a form like that. 
Problem is, I shared this dilemma in another community of teachers and got COMPLETELY contradicting answers. One teacher (who works with kindergarten/1st graders) said the form was fine as is. The second said keep the format but put one word per page and add primary lines. A third said there was no way 1st graders could do anything like this form until May, even with the modifications. 

I took the second person's advice and modified the form as so:

I also sent this to two very good teacher friends of mine who have taught 1st grade for years. One, who teaches in my district said that she would absolutely use this form with the first graders in our district from the end of September after routines/procedures were put into place. My thinking was to model this on chart paper and have my students copy it onto their paper. (The paper is a whole 8x11 sheet of paper.) If necessary I could put my chart into the writing center so the kids could finish it if they didn't while we were working on it together. The friend from my district said this was totally possible with the kids we serve.

The other friend, not from my area (she lives in Washington), said no way, this form was way too hard and kids wouldn't be able to do it until the END of first grade.

So I'm as confused as when I started. In everything I've read recently about the Common Core (I've been reading The Pathways to the Common Core--an excellent book, btw) says that we HAVE to push even our kinders toward rigor with reading and writing. Maybe I'm nuts, but that's what I think this practice with the vocabulary form would do. I wouldn't plan to start it on the first day, or even the first week, of school but this is something I really want to try to incorporate because I think it is valuable.

So weigh in first grade teachers. Am I in over my head and crazy or is this something that *is* doable with the small guys?
The Caffeinated Teacher


  1. I've taught both kindergarten and 2nd grade, but never 1st. Based on my experience, it seems too difficult for 1st-graders at the beginning of the year. Perhaps you could introduce one piece at a time? They could work on just the picture piece for a month or so, and then you could add the definition, etc. Maybe you could have a goal of using the entire page halfway through the year.

  2. HA! I've been reading your blog since WAY back, and now you're finally in first - YAY!

    I have taught first grade for almost 10 years. YES, you should expect the kids to develop the skills to be able to complete this form. Independently in September? No. Later in the year, yes. BUT it will take a lot of modeling, shared writing, and practice first... every day for weeks. That's pretty much true of EVERYTHING in first grade, BTW! ;)

    I love this form and would also love to USE it if you're sharing.

    What I would do FIRST is do it whole group on chart paper.... many, many times. Don't have them copy, don't give them their own form. Do one word at a time (no more than one word every other day or so), sitting at the rug, talking through and "thinking aloud" each step. Model, model, model! Then gradually release the responsibility and have them "direct" you more as you complete the form. TEHN share the pen. THEN, weeks later, when they really "get it," work together on them doing their own forms. You might do that as part of guided reading/writing, and could probably start a bit earlier with some of your stronger literacy groups.

    Eventually, they WILL be able to rise to the expectation. But it will require a lot of structure, modeling, and scaffolding (and time) to reach that point.

    I really am excited that you'll be in first grade, and will always be happy to offer the first grade perspective!

    1. I love your enthusiasm :) I may have actually GROANED when she told me first grade. Alas, over the past day or so, I have come to realize this isn't a terrible thing. It will be a learning experience because I know I have to model EVERYTHING about two million times and they are going to need a lot of support. BUT I'm getting excited about the possibilities.

      I like your suggestions. I would love for them to have a vocabulary journal to keep these forms in from the get-go but I know they are small and that isn't going to be very easy. Perhaps what I will do is use your suggestion and keep the words up around the room on the charts (as long as I can before I run out of room!) and then maybe after Thanksgiving try the form with them. I know soooo much will depend upon where the students are at the start of the year.

      I'll definitely share this form with you. Email me (sunnie1978 at gmail dot com) and I will send it to you :)

    2. Take a photo of the chart paper, print it, put it in a sheet protector, and keep them in a binder. This is a great way to preserve anchor charts for the WHOLE YEAR. With these vocabulary words, you will have a "class vocabulary notebook" for the words you did together.

      I will email you!

    3. Wow I am an idiot because I didn't even THINK of that lol That is a fan-freaking-tastic idea! You are my new first grade BFF! :)

  3. I know you're used to bigger kiddos, but first grade is so much fun! I agree vocabulary is important, but you could modify this (I know you've already modified, but take it one step further) and just start with something like example and non-example with room to draw pictures. They will get it in time and I know you always bring out the best in your kids by having high expectations.

  4. I just finished teaching kinder's last year and I am teaching third grade this year. I think that if you model a lot there is no problem. I would have them keep a journal with the words. This would serve two purposes as a model and a reference. I would first work together I do for a few weeks, we do (share the pen) with gradual removal of scaffolding, you do as a group and then independently...The kids can handle it! The purpose of CCSS is to pump up the rigor. Your students are lucky to have you as a teacher :)

    1. I totally agree with you!! I've been reading so much about Common Core and in the past couple of days have shifted my focus to reviewing the K-1 standards. And I can see why K-1 teachers freak out about the standards BUT as someone who has taught 4th, 5th and 6th graders who can barely write...I am ALL ABOUT pushing the rigor at the K-1 level so they ARE ready when they get up to the big grades.

      I also really want to do this as a reference as you mentioned. What a great thing to be able to send home in June with my little friends, showing all of the words they learned, practiced and mastered this year.

      Thanks for your comments :)

  5. I completely agree that vocabulary is important, but what is your final goal? Is it that students understand new words or that they can complete this worksheet? This type of work would not be something I would ask my students to do because it would take a long, long time and I would have a tough time justifying it when it is SO hard to fit everything else in. Focus instead on Comprehension. Sharon Taberski has written Comprehension From the Ground Up and I can't recommend it enough. I had the good fortune to spend 2days with her earlier in July and she really helped clarify the WHY and the HOW around this topic.

    1. Comprehension is important and has its place BUT vocabulary is so, so important too. Especially in the area where I teach. Our kiddos are so low in academic language that even my 4th and 5th graders collectively had "vocabulary" as their lowest strand all year last year :(

      My purpose and goal with this strategy is twofold: one for them to learn, use and understand new words as well as the words that mean the same or are the opposite; two for them to have a reference book of words to use during writing with the academic vocabulary words that we are learning and are expected to teach anyway.