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New School Year, New Standards

August 7, 2017

Tennessee Academic Standards

I know that Tenspire’s followers are from all over the globe, but I wanted to take the chance to highlight something awesome in the world of academics happening in our home state of Tennessee. We have new K-12 teaching standards in English Language Arts, y’all! We have new standards in mathematics, too, but you know I am your literacy gal so I am just going to stick to what I know best. Getting to this point of the adoption process was no easy task. We are proud of what our stakeholders have put into place for our students! Teachers, community members, leaders in education- everyone had a chance to chime in to help create what is uniquely Tennessee’s own set of standards. Our state is calling these changes revisions to the previously adopted standards. Therefore, there is no reason to worry that everything we liked about the old standards were thrown away. The revised ELA standards have some subtle but important aspects that I am excited to highlight with you now.

Vertical Progression

In viewing the layout of the revised standards, you will most likely first realize changes have been made. The standards pages list the cornerstone standard (formerly known as anchor standard) at the top of the page and show how that standard is achieved as it moves from the top tasks in 12th grade all the way down to the foundational skills in Kindergarten. This layout was intentional to help educators see exactly where their grade level standards fall in the big picture of preparing students. Additionally, this layout helps one see where students might have gaps in their learning from previous grade levels.

Embedded Language Skills

Integration is a common goal for many educators. Research tells us that students learn best in context, not in isolated pockets. It is too difficult to piece together the numerous components of literacy without the chance to apply what you are learning in a cohesive manner. It is also difficult to teach each aspect of the reading process without combining elements- there are simply not enough hours in a day! Do not have a meltdown when you cannot locate the language skills for grades K-5 because now you know that these standards are embedded in the foundational standards as they should be.

Greater Emphasis on Writing in Early Grades

Guess what? There is a greater importance placed on foundational writing skills in the early grades. This is a concept that we can all rejoice about since we know writing can be the glue that binds all those tricky early literacy skills together. The sooner we get our students writing, the better. Maybe we have all known this for some time now, but at least our standards now help support this wonderful revelation.

Besides the main categories mentioned above, there were some other changes, too. There is new nomenclature (a.k.a. coding- see the graphic below) and the reading standards have a side by side layout so one can compare the literary/informational text components easier. There is a great reference in the speaking and listening standards to other literacy standards to guide you in integrated instruction. A new appendix with supporting documents was a must. You simply have to check out the revised standards yourself to see all the nuanced but necessary changes in clarity and continuity that were made to your grade level’s standards. I hope you enjoy your new school year- here’s to the best class ever to go with the best teaching standards we have ever had in Tennessee!

P.S. Also check out this Chalkbeat article about the standards!




Assessments and Data Creativity Reading Writing

Reading Comprehension Craftivities

July 21, 2017

How many times have you found a great seasonal craftivity, but don’t have the book to go with it? Or it’s adorable and fitting for the time of year but its not covering a skill you’re currently working on? I hope that with my new Fiction Reading Comprehension Craftivities, this will no longer be an issue for you!

What’s Included?

In each seasonal pack, you will find 8 craftivities. Each craftivity covers its own reading comprehension skill. For example, in my Summer themed pack you’ll find a basket labeled “Character Traits” and lemons on which students list character traits of someone in the story they read.

The 8 reading comprehension skills included are:

– story elements

– retelling

– sensory details

– inferencing

– character traits

– summary

– author’s purpose

– theme

How Are They Used?

My favorite thing about these seasonal craftivities is that you can truly use them however you want! All you need to do is grab your favorite picture book that teaches your current skill, and choose the craftivity that fits! In order to avoid having a craftivity with the correct skill in the wrong season, each seasonal pack includes the same 8 skills.

In addition to their versatility throughout the seasons, these cuties are also perfect for differentiating within the classroom without changing up the activities! Each craftivity includes versions with writing lines and versions with blank spaces. Not only does this make the packs usable across multiple grades, it also allows teachers to choose whether students illustrate or write their answers based on their individual levels. Regardless of which version you choose for your students, they will all be able to participate in the same activity without feeling left out!

Whether you want to put together an adorable bulletin board, assess your students in a more creative way, or just review these important skills, my Fiction Reading Comprehension Craftivities are perfect for your classroom!

Click on the image below to check out my year-long bundle at a discounted price!

Assessments and Data Integration Language Reading Writing

Goodbye is Only the Beginning

July 19, 2017

The Final Step in the Text Set Process

If you have been following Tenspire’s Text Set building tips since the beginning, you may be a little sad to learn that we have finally come to the end of our journey. This post marks the last step in building your own text set that will inspire your students to build vocabulary and knowledge about their world. But, good news awaits you after all! Goodbye is only the beginning. Let me explain.

You have labored over meticulously putting together a set of books, short passages, poems, digital media, and/or songs, etc. You know the anchor text you will use, the vocabulary you will explicitly teach, and the follow up assessment activities you will have students complete. The text set process, however, is an on-going one. Nothing is set in stone. You will always be refining what your text set looks like during classroom implementation. Here are some ideas to help tweak your text set to perfection.

  • Have a colleague at your school check it out. Let them give you some ideas. These folks are easily accessible and familiar with your school’s population of students.
  • Have a colleague from another school critique your text set. Perhaps they can offer insight that is beyond your school colleague’s expertise.
  • Post your text set online. Internet folks are always willing to weigh in. Just remember some comments may be more helpful than others, so try not to take negative comments personally.
  • Lastly, the best thing you can do is implement the text set with your students. This will give you the best gauge of if it is right for your crew or what modifications can be made here and there to make it even better next time.

Building text sets is an organic process. Just take it one step at a time and enjoy the journey!

Thematic Text Set Guide


Language Organization Phonics Reading Writing

Divide and Conquer

July 5, 2017

Taking Control of your Reading Instructional Materials

The dictionary defines divide and conquer as: the policy of maintaining control over one’s subordinates or subjects by encouraging dissent between them. This is not exactly what you need to do with all that reading STUFF you have accumulated in your classroom, but dividing it out is a good start. The beginning of the school year is an excellent time to get everything you will use to teach literacy organized and easily accessible.

If your materials are not well organized, let’s face it, you will not use them. Many times a new school year comes with new materials. We all know by now that no new textbook adoption comes with as many components to sort through as a brand new reading series. Pop open those new boxes (or old ones that you have hidden on a classroom shelf somewhere). Be honest with yourself about the materials you think you will use initially. Save the rest for later. Some items you overlook at first glance may come in handy in the future. Some items you may be able to recycle later, but save them for now! You can cull unused items after a year or when your district lets you know you can toss (maybe donate) materials you cannot use. I recently made some money taking old materials to a used bookstore. Then I spent double that amount of money on new materials at the same store. We are teachers. That is how we do it!

You may organize your reading materials by skills, units, what weeks you will teach them, etc. Literacy materials do get a huge chunk of space in my filing cabinet. I resist the urge to organize immediately. I have found that it is better to see how I actually use items and give some thought about how to best access them. Sure, your vocabulary cards look great in ABC order, but you will use them easier divided up in folders with weekly materials. You can organize everything at once or make week by week folders as the year progresses.

Finally, check your basal series teacher manual. What items are needed for implementation of whole and small group instruction? Have those items handy! No basal is perfect, either. Take some time to see where there may be gaps that your students need filled. Then use materials you already have or create new. There are so many supplemental resources online these days that you may not have to search as hard as you think. I now find myself needing less and less filing cabinet space and more and more hard drive space!

The D&C method worked for rulers and it works for teachers. Divide up what you will use and conquer the reading series materials before they conquer you!

Reading Writing

Tying It Together

June 15, 2017

Organizing and Adding an Essential Question and Tasks to Text Sets

Once you have selected the texts you will use to build your text set, you will need to organize your books. How and when will you use the books you have selected? Will they be read aloud texts or will the students read some of the books themselves? How many times will you read or reread each book. Will you only pick out certain sections of the text to share? Some of this will be adapted based on your students’ needs and comprehension during the process, but you still need to have a good idea about how you plan to scaffold knowledge building during your lessons.

After you have worked to put your books together and organize how you will best utilize them during lessons, consider how you will tie in the selected texts/media with the enduring theme you picked out earlier during your text set creation.

I enjoyed reading MILNE Library’s tips for this process using Cappiello and Dawes’ book titled Teaching with Text Sets. They consider the following when creating and responding to texts – how will students work with the texts and what will they do with the texts? (Cappiello, 2013). Think back to when you were beginning to assemble your text set. As a reminder, here are a few essential questions to ask yourself and/or issues to consider when putting together a text set:

  • Think about the standards. What are students expected to know and be able to do? This can dictate the topics/themes chosen.
  • What do you (the teacher) want students to know (beyond the standards)?
  • What topics/themes/content will engage and excite students (Cappiello, 2013)?

The essential question and summative task you create will support the overall understanding of your text set, but you cannot get there all at once. Each text you read should have a small, daily instructional task. Ideas here could include a conversation about one text, drawing about what was read, or reviewing a quick graphic organizer page with peers. After several daily instructional tasks, comparing the information from more than one text in a culminating task should occur. Perhaps a small project or a more in depth discussion could accompany a group of the texts- think about comparing and contrasting literature, characters, facts, or themes here. Allow students to be creative in applying their newly acquired knowledge and vocabulary. Lastly, when addressing an essential question we move towards overall comprehension and understanding of the entire unit you assembled for you students’ learning. A comprehensive writing prompt or presentation would be appropriate here. I’ve seen teacher teams use RubiStar to create a free rubric to help evaluate students’ complete learning during their summative task.

Please remember to check out sample text sets on a variety of websites to get a better idea about how the creators put together tasks for students along the way and then tied them all together. Try the Achieve the Core website for starters. The questioning and task part of the text set creation process can take extra time and consideration, so be patient with yourself or your team. Good luck!

Creativity Organization Writing

End-of-the-Year Memory Books

June 3, 2017

The end of the school year may bring a lot of chaos, but it also brings such a sweet time of reflection. One of my favorite things to do at the end of the year was have my kiddos complete a memory book. I wanted to know how they felt about all the things we did through the year so that I could reflect on myself as a teacher and the curriculum I had chosen for them. I had a hard time finding exactly what I wanted, so of course I created one of my own!

What’s Included?

This set includes 13 pages – 12 of which I put together in the memory book and 1 letter to the class coming up next year.

Memories included:

1) Cover page

2) This year in Math…

3) This year in Social Studies…

4) This year in Music…

5) In the cafeteria…

6) At recess…

7) My favorite field trip…

8) This year in Art…

9) This year in P.E….

10) This year in Reading…

11) This year in Science…

12) My teacher…

 How Do I Use This?

All of the pages in this set are on their own slide. This way, you can choose which pages you want to print and how you want to print them. To save paper (and make the memory book small and adorable!) I print mine with 2 slides per page and front and back. If you want to print yours to look like mine in the picture, be sure to print front-and-back with the option of flipping along the short side. Simply layer your pages, staple together, and you have the cutest little booklet! I love printing this way because it turns 12 pieces of paper into just 3! Your copier and “print allowance” will certainly be grateful!

I hope your kiddos enjoy reviewing the school year and give you lots of insights on how to make your next school year even better than this year!

Happy Summer, y’all!


Writing Papers and Prompts

May 17, 2017

As I’ve mentioned in one of my previous posts, one of the most difficult stations for me to manage in the classroom was my writing station. I wanted to give my kiddos enough freedom in their writing so that they could use some creativity, but I also needed them to have some structure to help them stay on task. After all, giving first graders a notebook and 15-20 minutes of time to write on their own can be daunting! In addition to my monthly sentence puzzles, I created these monthly writing papers and prompts!


What’s Included?

If you can’t already tell, I’m all about changing out my stations seasonally and having activities that get kiddos in the spirit of that season! Aside from changing classroom decorations regularly (no, thank you!), this was the easiest way for me to keep things relevant. In my papers and prompts set, you’ll find 6 full-page writing sheets (in color and black/white) and 6 half-page writing sheets with a large space for illustrating (in color and black/white). This gives you the ability to differentiate your activities within groups. Simply give each student the page that best suits them without having to split the students up according to their writing level. Students can work on the same prompts as each other, but only write as much as they are able.


Also included are 12 writing prompts that are perfect for that month. In this summer set, students will write about all things summer – from what their dream summer vacation is, to what they might experience using their 5 senses in the summer. Students of all writing levels will have a chance to write and/or illustrate in the same station without you scrambling to differentiate their activities. This pack also makes planning easier for you by providing 12 different prompts for students to work through all month, making it a perfect station staple!


To check out this station as well as the year-long bundle, hop on over to my TPT store! If you have any questions about this station or others, or if you’d like to share how you love to use them, please e-mail me! I’d love to chat with you!

Integration Reading Writing

The Plot Thickens

May 15, 2017

Selecting Companion Texts for a Text Set

You cannot have a text set to build your students’ knowledge about the world unless you have multiple books and media resources. The next step in creating a text set is the one that most excites me! On previous posts we have covered defining a text set, how to select an anchor text, using the standards to guide your planning, and selecting a theme or topic. Now we are ready to pick out companion books, poems, music, and other media resources.

With your anchor text and theme already in place, the heavy lifting of building out your text set has already been completed. Now you need to consider what additional texts will build upon your topic and foster complete understanding for your students. You will be able to compare and contrast texts in the unit and have students conduct some great writing analysis if they have powerful supporting texts. Be creative and think about incorporating a few video clips, songs, or various genres of shorter text into your set. Typically, these supporting choices will not be texts that you are conducting multiple close reads with like you may be doing with your anchor text.

Some of these supporting texts may be ones students will read independently. Visualize sprinkling in books or passages that build upon the theme or topic. Sometimes you will be conducting an author study, but for the basis of most text sets I would be sure to use a variety of authors. Aim for gathering about 10 additional resources for your knowledge building unit. This number can fluctuate or decrease depending on the length of time you have allocated. Always preview your media and actually read the texts! Never judge a book by its cover.

Online Resources

Remember if you don’t want to do all that thinking and planning of books for a text set on your own, there are online resources readily available to get you started. I recommend at least looking at some of the sites to get ideas about how others have compiled their media to give you some starting guidance. You can find these sources on Tenspire’s first post about text set building. Remember, if you use some additional books/resources this year that you ended up not being a fan of or you find some great texts before you implement the unit again- you can always adapt and change your picks. It’s your unit, after all. Have fun building out your text set!

Language New Teacher Phonics Reading Writing

Who Me? Yes, You!

April 18, 2017

Time To Start Planning

Spring is officially in the air, and teachers, it is time to start planning. Time to start planning for your summer PD. You didn’t think I was going to say it is time to start planning for your summer break, did you? All of us at Tenspire know teachers don’t really get a break. Sure we rest up, clean out, and gather new tools for the new school year, but we don’t exactly get all that time away from thinking about school. We do, however, get some nice options for attending professional development that we may be personally interested in outside of what our own school districts offer. I encourage you to step out and explore what the teaching world outside your own classroom walls has to offer!

Attending Your First Literacy Conference

If you have ever wanted to attend an international educator’s conference, I recommend you start with ILA’s annual conference in July. ILA stands for the International Literacy Association. Its name recently changed from IRA with the ‘R’ standing for reading. The association’s leaders thought that the word ‘literacy’ better embodied all that they covered in their research, presentations, and advocacy. This year the conference is in Orlando, FL. This is a perfect location for a teacher’s summer get away!

All About the International Literacy Association

Last year was my first time attending ILA’s conference. I went solo and had a blast! There is a “first-timers” meet-up so newbies can get all the good to know info about the conference. There is an app so you can schedule which sessions you want to attend. I was basically running for three days straight between sessions in order to get a glimpse at many popular authors and researchers: Hattie, Shannahan, Fisher and Frey, Rasinski, Caulkins, Fountas and Pinnell, Allington, Bear, Duke, Diller, Ganske, Harvey, Hiebert, Polacco, and Schickedanz (just to name a FEW of my personal favorites). I met new favorite authors and researchers, too. The conference is a wonderful place to network! The names on your textbooks are no longer just names. You can actually meet with and exchange contact info with your favorite “big” names in the field of literacy! Teacher nerd geeking out! You will, too!

One of the best features of the conference that I was not anticipating was the exhibit hall. SO. MANY. FREEBIES. So many. Yes, the teachers were going nuts! You know we all love us some freebies. All I can say is that I suggest bringing an extra bag or suitcase if you are going to take full advantage of the giveaways. Another bag would be needed if you wanted to make any purchases (Note: Bring P.O. if able!). Sometimes prices on materials are at a conference discount and no shipping costs, so, bring those extra bags, literacy ladies and gents!

I think you will find the costs of the conference very affordable as conferences go, and you may even be able to ask your principal or district to cover the costs of attending. Regardless of who is footing the bill for your learning adventure, be sure to get pre-approval for PD hours. In our district, we just fill out a form for our principal and district curriculum leader to sign. Make sure to print out a certificate listing the sessions you attended to officially count your PD hours earned and turn it in to your district following the conference. Remember, not all sessions offer in-service credit.

Big News: If you are a preservice educator, you can go to ILA for FREE. That’s right. No charge. Wow! I only wish I would have known this before I graduated with my teaching degree. If it’s free then I don’t think you really have any excuse NOT to attend! Tell all your preservice teacher friends and make a fun field trip out of it!

That’s about all I can tell you in regards to attending an international conference in a blog post. You will have to see it to believe it. I am presenting a poster session with a group this year, so I’ll see you there! ILA. July. Orlando. Be there and be sure to stop by and say hello!


Seasonal Sentence Puzzles

March 1, 2017

When planning for ELA stations, I always had a hard time figuring out a meaningful way to get in writing practice. Some of my kiddos loved having a writing journal that they got to use in our “Free Write” station. Considering this was during independent station time and I was busy working with my Small Group kiddos, it was always a station that had the fewest on-task students. Therefore, I wanted to add something with more direction and focus. So, I created these Monthly Sentence Puzzles!

Puzzles for Stations

Each month includes 10 sentence puzzles with seasonal images. The students’ job is to put the puzzles together either using the pictures or the words at the bottom, according to what level they may be on. The sentences describe each picture using at least one seasonal vocabulary word.


Once students have finished putting their puzzles together, they record their sentences next to the correct number. This is a great way to not only see if they put the puzzles together correctly but also to assess for correct capitalization and punctuation.

Puzzle Practice Pages

The puzzle practice pages are perfect for continuing practice, or as an assessment without even doing the station puzzles. Each puzzle from the set has its own practice page. Students color the pictures, then cut the words out at the bottom of the page and glue them in the correct order. Finally, each practice page has one seasonal vocabulary word for students to use in their own sentence. The goal is for students to understand what this vocabulary word means based on the picture and the sentence describing it.

Giving students an opportunity for fun, “free writing” can be so helpful and I would encourage you to continue to do that! However, if you’re looking for a way to combine vocabulary, sentence structure, and seasonal variety, these sentence puzzles are just what you need!