10 Clever Uses for Baking Trays in the Classroom

I love my classroom set of baking trays.  (I always want to call them cookie sheets, but technically cookie sheets are completely flat, and these are definitely not.)  I bought six of them from the Dollar Tree several years ago, and I keep finding new ways to utilize them. Here are my top ten:

1. Use with magnetic poetry words to build sentences. 
I have sets of magnetic words (also from the Dollar Tree) that the kiddos can use during Word Work Center's. The magnetic pieces stick to the metal tray, and with the raised edges, the kids are less likely to mix up the sets. (My self-diagnosed OCD goes into overdrive just thinking about these word sets getting scrambled. That's also why I wrote numbers on the back of each piece with a metallic Sharpie, so I would know if word pieces ended up in the wrong container. The picture above shows a child working with set #2.) 

2. Use with magnetic letters to form words and practice spelling. 
I have two tubs of giant magnetic letters, also for Word Work during Literacy Centers time.  I used to have students stand at the white board in front of the room to arrange the letters into words, but with these trays working as little miniature metal versions, I can now have a group sitting at a table for this. 

Since I keep all the letters jumbled together into one big mix, there's no worry of keeping sets separated, but if you had distinct sets of the alphabet, the trays could also serve to (at least try to) contain those sets.

3. Use with puzzles to keep sets together when students work side by side. 
I have a ton of puzzles (also purchased from the Dollar Tree!) that I pull out when I do Critical Thinking Centers. The kids love using them, and I love seeing them use problem-solving strategies to complete them. I don't love the fact that my kids loose pieces constantly. What happens is, pieces fall to the floor, and then disappear to the same place as missing socks, hair ties, and ball point pens. The darlings will also mix up and switch pieces with their neighbor's puzzle (which of course, makes me insane on the inside, but what can you do?).  Having the students keep all their pieces on their tray has helped this a lot. (Although, as evidenced in my picture, some of your littles will still want to build directly on the table instead of their tray.)

4. Use with Play Doh to practice spelling patterns. 
I occasionally bring out Play Doh for a Word Work center, and let the kids form their spelling words with it.  It gives the kids a kinesthetic connection to the week's spelling pattern, and strengthens their fine motor skills. My biggest rule about Play Doh (aside from "Don't eat it,") is they have to keep all of their Play Doh inside the tray. (I also have a rule about not mixing the colors, and a rule about staying focused on the words instead of building unicorns and motorcycles. Maybe I have too many rules. . . A thought for another time.) Before I started using the trays along with the Play Doh, you would not believe how much of the stuff ended up on the floor.  So much that I swore off Play Doh in my classroom for a long time. The trays solve most of these problems for me though, because in addition to keeping (most) of the Play Doh on the table instead of the floor, the trays also serve an added bonus of preventing colors from mixing. 

5. Use to trace letters and spelling words in shaving cream.  
Full disclosure: I have not done this in my classroom.  I consider it every year, and even suggest it as a great homework activity for parents to do with their kids (read: at home), but just can't justify the messiness/cleanup time/risk that a child would eat the shaving cream.  But I give you my blessing to try it yourself and let me know how it goes.  

6. Use with paint and marbles to create abstract art, a la Jackson Pollack. 
I don't have any pictures to post of this art project, but the link below gives you a great idea:

7. Use with water cups while painting to prevent disastrous spills. 
If you place the water cup and paints on a tray in the middle of the table, it will keep any spilled water from knocked cups inside the tray instead of on the floor/art work/kids.  Some of you might be thinking to yourselves, Just use less water in the cup, so that way there will be less water everywhere when one inevitably gets knocked over. An excellent point, but let me say this to you in response: filling the cup with a little more water makes the cup heavier (and thus less likely to tip in my experience), and allows for more paintbrush rinsing before having to dump and refill. 

8. Use during Words Their Way spelling sorts to keep words from mixing with a partner's. 
I use the "scribble-with-a-different-colored-crayon-on-the-back-of-the-words-before-cutting" trick to help students keep their words separate, but when I want them to do their Words Their Way sorts at a Center table, papers are more easily mixed up.  By giving each kid a tray to sort their words on, this is (somewhat) prevented.  (There will always be a few students who manage to lose half their words in a time span of ten minutes however, and in those cases you're just glad they managed to keep half of their words at all.)

9.  Use as a lap board for kids who don't like working at a desk. 
I have a few kids every year who don't want to sit at their desk.  I have other options for these students, such as small rugs on the floor, or standing, but occasionally they like to just sit in a chair with their work in their lap.  In these rare cases, I've given them a tray to use as a lap board.  (You can also just use a clipboard for these situations, but the tray holds their crayons/pencil as well and a clipboard does not.)

10.  Create a cutesy magnet reminder board, as seen in tons of cute Pinterest posts.  
I haven't made one, but it's on my "I would love to make this" list!

Assessing Sight Word Fluency

Your iPad is your best friend when it comes to testing for students' sight word fluency!  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  

I do my best to formally assess each student on his/her sight word recall (using the Pre-Primer and Primer Dolch word lists) once a month, beginning with the first week of school.  I assess students again on these same words around the end of September, and then a third time around Halloween.  Historically by this point, all students but one or two will be able to demonstrate mastery with 100% accuracy in this area. Because these two lists are words that should have been learned and mastered in kindergarten, many students will show me that they know all the words during my first or second assessment.  (Whew!  I love it when this happens, because this means more of my time can be spent with small groups instead of assessing one-on-one.)  As soon as a student is able to recite an entire word list with 100% accuracy, I snip the corner off that student's assessment sheet so I can easily see that they do not need to be assessed in that area again. 

Which brings me to my Fluency Assessment Binder: 

I use a set of Avery binder dividers, numbered 1-31.  These, I'm sure, were intended to be used for each day of the month, however they work perfectly in my Fluency Assessment Binder (or any other binder requiring a tab for each student).  Students are assigned a number at the beginning of the year, and I file students' reading assessment data in this binder under their numbered tab.  This allows me to re-use the same dividers year after year (those suckers were expensive), and I don't need to spend the time meticulously printing beautiful and neat labels with each student's name on each tab.  EASY PEASY, right?  

Full-disclosure: if you have a class of students that numbers more than 31, as I did last year, you will not have a tab for each student.  I think Avery makes tabs that go up to higher numbers, but a trip to Staples to investigate at the start of the year just didn't happen.  And then I decided there were just too many other things to worry about than making sure the last four students at the end of the alphabet had an individual tab in my assessment binder.  So, if you find yourself in the same position as me last year, do what I did: paper clip the groups of papers for students numbered 31 through 35, and stick them at the end of the binder with no tab at all.  Surprisingly, this hackneyed system of separating papers worked just fine.  Now this year I'm back to a class of only 26 students, and all is well again with the world.  

I copied enough sheets of the Sight Word Fluency Checklists to place one behind each student's number tab in my binder.  There are three columns, for each possible assessment date during the first trimester.  (As I mentioned before, some students will not need to be assessed more than once, if they can read all words during the first assessment.)  If, after three assessments however, a student has still not mastered his sight words, simply make a second copy of the Sight Word Fluency Checklist, and place it in your Fluency Assessment Binder in front of the first copy.  Continue to do this, assessing about once a month, until the student is able to show mastery of all required words.  

Here's where the iPad comes in!  (Side note: You can do all of this with a lap top computer, or even in front of a desktop computer.  I just like the flexibility of the iPad, which allows you to find a quiet spot anywhere.)  I believe that all iPads can now download for free the apps for Pages, Numbers, and (the app I use during Fluency Assessments) Keynote.  Keynote is just Apple's version of PowerPoint, and while it took me a minute or two to get the hang of it, it is actually pretty simple to use.  

I used the Keynote app to create a slideshow of the Dolch Sight Words Pre-Primer list (and later, additional slideshows for each subsequent Dolch List).  Simply type one word on each slide, (making sure to use the same word order that you have on your checklist).  If you are creating your own checklist, do NOT list the words in alphabetical order.  Students need to see these words in a random order, out of context, and still be able to read them correctly.  

Find a quiet place for you and your student to sit, and then set the slideshow to run, with a three-second delay between transitions to the new slide (sight word).   All you need is your iPad, (either propped up where the student can see, or in the student's lap), and a clipboard, pencil, and that student's Fluency Checklist.  Once the slide show begins to play, the student only has a few seconds to answer before the slide show moves on to the next slide/word.  Everything is automated through the iPad, and therefore everyone gets a completely fair and objective assessment.  Each student is guaranteed to receive the same amount of time per word as everyone else.  (Plus, I've found there are fewer comments from the students such as, "Slow down, you're going too fast!" or, "Go back, I missed one!")  The only thing your student needs to do is say the words aloud as he/she is able to read them, and your only job is to either place a check mark next to a word to show that it was read correctly, or leave the box blank, to indicate that no response was given.  I will write in the box whatever word (or beginning sound) the child does say, however, as these extra notes can often help me guide instruction in reading groups.  

And that's it!

Calendar Routines for the Common Core

First of all: I call the student who leads calendar each day our Meteorologist of the Day.  I like using a rich vocabulary with the kids, so instead of saying "Weather Person," we say "Meteorologist."  Yes, I know, there are plenty of components to this daily routine that have nothing to do with the weather. But that's just how we do it in Room 1.  The Meteorologist of the Day wears many hats. :)

The Meteorologist of the Day begins Calendar time by reciting in front of class: "Today is [Wednesday, November 18, 2015].  Yesterday was [Tuesday, November 17, 2015].  [Tomorrow will be Friday, November 19, 2015]."


Optional, depending on time: I will say to the student: "Tell the class about something that happened yesterday (in the past), something that is happening today (in the present), or something that will happen tomorrow (in the future), without telling the class exactly when this thing happened, and we're going to guess if it happened yesterday, is happening today, or will happen tomorrow."  {Example: "I went to the movies."} Teacher will ask the rest of the class to figure out if the event happened yesterday, is happening in the present, or will happen in the future.  Ask them, "Which words in the sentence were clues that let you know this?"  {Guide them towards the word went, which is a past tense verb.}  
  • L.1.1e: Use verbs to convey a sense of past, present, and future (e.g., Yesterday I walked home; Today I walk home; Tomorrow I will walk home). 
The Meteorologist determines which words describe the day's weather, with help from the class if needed.   Have student look for, select, and place (for example,) sunny and windy word cards on the wall to finish the sentence on the board.  Student will then recite aloud for the class, pointing to each word as he/she reads: "The weather today is [sunny and windy]." 
  • RF.1.3: Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words.
  • RF.1.3g: Recognize and read grade-appropriate irregularly spelled words
The Meteorologist of the Day will mark the weather graph with a dry-erase marker, putting a check or an X in the windy column and the sunny column.  {I am aware that by allowing students to mark the graph with more than one type of weather a day, you can no longer ask questions about the graph that revolve around the total number of days you've charted.  This is okay with me.}

The teacher will ask the Meteorologist questions about the graph, and require him/her to say the answer in a complete sentence.  I start off the year with the types of questions in the "Easier" section below, and then transition up to the "Challenge" level questions by the end of the year.

Ask the Meteorologist to explain how he/she got their answer.  Some students will tell me the number sentence they used, others will explain how they visually used the graph.  As long as it makes sense, I'm good with it.

Easier Question Examples: How many days has it been rainy this month?  What kind of weather have we had the most of this month?  What kinds of weather have we had the least?

Harder Question Examples: How many more days has it been sunny than rainy this month?  How many days fewer has it been cloudy than windy?

Challenge Question Examples: How many more days has it been sunny than windy and cold put together?  If it rains tomorrow, how many more days will it have been rainy than snowy?

  • 1.MD.4: Organize, represent, and interpret data with up to three categories; ask and answer questions about the total number of data points, how many in each category, and how many more or less are in one category than another. 

The Meteorologist reads the following card: "How many days have we been in school?" and then tell the class how many days we were in school as of yesterday.  

Add one more straw to the place value pockets:  Ensure the student places the straw in the ONES pocket, not the tens or hundreds.  Then take out all the tens and ones, and count them aloud and he/she places them back in the proper pocket.  (E.g., "Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, sixty-one, sixty-two, sixty-three.  We've been in school sixty-three days this year.")
  • 1.NBT.1: Count to 120, starting at any number less than 120.  In this range, read and write numerals and represent a number of objects with a written numeral. 
  • 1.NBT.2: Understand that the two digits of a two-digit number represent amounts of tens and ones.  Understand the following as special cases: 
    • a. 10 can be thought of as a bundle of ten ones - called a "ten."
    • b. The numbers from 11 to 19 are composed of a ten and one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, or nine ones.
    • c. The numbers 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 refer to one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, or nine tens (and zero ones).
Ask the Meteorologist questions related to the current number of days of school.  (E.g., In ten more days, how many days will we have been in school?  In thirty more days, how many days will we have been in school?  How many more days until we get to the seventieth day of school?)  

*Keep the rest of the class engaged by asking them to give the Meteorologist a silent thumbs up if they agree with his/her answer.  I also remind them that they need to pay attention, because the Meteorologist might need help, and can call on helpers from the rug who are quiet to help with the answer. 
  • 1.NBT.4: Add within 100, including adding a two-digit number and a one-digit number, and adding a two-digit number and a multiple of ten, using concrete models or drawings and strategies based on place value . . .
  • 1.NBT.5: Given a two-digit number, mentally find 10 more or less than the number, without having to count; explain the reasoning used.
Add one more coin to the money pocket chart:  Ask the student which coin he/she needs to add to the chart.  When he/she tells you a penny, ask, "And why are you choosing a penny to show one more day of school?"  The student will nearly always just say, "Because it's worth one."  If they don't tell me it's worth one cent, I reply, "One dollar?!?"  And then they laugh, and correct me, and say, "No, the penny is worth one cent!"  The Meteorologist of the Day then leads the class in counting the coins to make sure we have the same number of cents as we do in the straw pockets.  

{Note: I do have a half-dollar shown with my the other coins as an example of US currency, but when it comes to adding coins to our "Days of School" count, I ask students to use two quarters to show fifty cents instead of the half-dollar.  I explain to the class that half-dollars are rare, and the majority of grown-ups don't pay for things with half-dollars.  I would rather they internalize the fact that two quarters make fifty cents (and when we get to the seventy-fifth day of school, that three quarters make seventy-five cents).}

Ask if we can exchange any coins to have a lesser number of coins shown (keeping in mind, most days we can't!).  The kiddos love showing equivalent values of coins, and it's for this reason that kids love being Meteorologist when we get to a day of school that lands on a multiple of five.  I know the Common Core no longer requires firsties to learn about money, but I think it's important, so I still teach it anyway.  
  • 2.MD.8: Solve word problems involving dollar bills, quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies, using dollars and cents symbols appropriately.  
After determining that we are showing the correct coins in the pocket chart, the Meteorologist will write the number sentence showing the addition of each coin to get the sum of days we've been in school.  (E.g., 25 + 25 + 10 + 1 + 1 + 1 = 63).

Add one more base-ten block: The Meteorologist will then add one more base-ten block to our base-ten representation of the days we've been in school.  I used velcro tape on a small white board, and on the backs of a handful of base-ten blocks, so the students can simply stick them up on the wall for everyone to easily see.  Like with the straws, and needing to make a bundle of ten when adding the tenth one, the student will exchange the ten one-cubes for a long ten when necessary.  
  • 1.NBT.1: Count to 120, starting at any number less than 120.  In this range, read and write numerals and represent a number of objects with a written numeral. 
  • 1.NBT.2: Understand that the two digits of a two-digit number represent amounts of tens and ones.  Understand the following as special cases: 
    • a. 10 can be thought of as a bundle of ten ones - called a "ten."
    • b. The numbers from 11 to 19 are composed of a ten and one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, or nine ones.
    • c. The numbers 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 refer to one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, or nine tens (and zero ones).
Add the Numbered Lakeshore Little Person: Finally, the Meteorologist will finish our Calendar session by showing everyone the "Little Person" (as they call them) for that day's number.  I used to put them up along the metal boarder of our bulletin board, but it made it too hard to change bulletin board backings each season. (I'd have to take down every. single. one. each time I wanted to change paper or borders, and then put each. one. back. up. It would take FOREEEVVVERRR.)  So now I tape our little people along the top of my cabinets on a different wall.  I miss having them with the rest of our calendar, but I had to choose my sanity over OCD.  

I know this feels like a VERY LONG calendar routine.  (It actually used to be longer, because we used to sing songs for the days of the week and the months of the year.  I cut them, for the sake of time.)  Start to finish, however, the whole routine really only takes about fifteen minutes.  Once the kids get the hang of it, they lead the class through each part, start to finish.  All I need to do is ask the Meteorologist his/her questions about the data along the way.  We're like a well-oiled machine!

Very Silly Sentences

My kiddos are in LOVE with this new Very Silly Sentences game I just introduced to our literacy centers.  They roll the die that came with the game, which has parts of speech and numbers on the different sides.  The point of the game is to fill their game board with enough words to make a complete sentence.  The kids are literally giddy with anticipation before choosing cards, waiting to see what word they'll get to plug into their silly sentence.  

Starting next week (now that they're familiar with the game) I'm going to have the students take the sentences they build on the game board, and write them down in their writing journal.  Figuring out how to keep students accountable during literacy centers is something I've been thinking about for awhile (especially since most of my centers are independent), and I think this will be a good combination of hands-on activity/written work.

Weather Journals

The kids have been doing an awesome job in their weather journals lately.  We're focusing on indenting the first line of their paragraphs right now.
This anchor chart has helped them a lot.  They know to copy what's written in blue, and that what's written in green changes from day to day.  This has also been a great opportunity for the kids to understand the difference between increased and decreased.  I'll take any chance I can get to teach my kids great vocabulary words!

Stay Organized with Teacher Charts, Forms, and Checklists

I am continually creating (and recreating) charts, forms, and checklists to help me stay organized in the classroom.  I've revised most of them at least three or four times, working to make them as efficient as they can be in serving their purpose: to help me save time and energy so I can place more focus on getting my first graders to achieve.  

I've decided to compile many of these forms into a single TPT product so they can also be of use to YOU.  I will be adding to the pack as I reformat additional checklists for public use, as well as writing additional individualized blog posts on how these forms and checklists fit into my various classroom procedures and learning routines.  

~ Dolch Sight Word Assessment Checklists
Provided in blackline only, as you will need to copy one page for every student

~ Letter Reversal Tracking Checklist
Provided in both color and blackline
Print a single master copy each trimester/term.  Keep beside you when reading your students' writing, and make notes of which letters your little firsts are still struggling with.  Use this form to inform handwriting instruction, and to aid in assigning handwriting grades at the end of the trimester/quarter.

~ Number Reversal Tracking Checklist
Provided in both color and blackline
Print a single master copy each trimester/term.  Like with the Letter Reversals form, keep on hand while reviewing students' math work, making note of which numbers need additional practice from specific students.  Every couple weeks I go through my checklist and send home worksheets with students who need more practice printing certain numbers. This also provides me with documentation to inform parents of areas their child could use more help with at home.  

~ Words Their Way Spelling: Students' Sorts Checklist
Provided in blackline only
Forms included for Letter Name Sort, as well as Emergent, Within Word, and Derivational Endings.  Since the entire first grade class is not working from the same starting point in the Words Their Way program, I created a tracking form to help me remember which students are on what sorts.  I used to have the students listed according to their group, but as I try to transition to the Daily 5/CAFE system, my initial reading group levels are a bit in flux.  Thus, I've decided to track individual student progress in spelling rather than group progress.  Students who started ahead of Sort 1 at the beginning of the year had a line drawn through the skipped sorts to show their new starting point (based on the Words Their Way Spelling Inventory I gave at the beginning of the year).  Sometimes I simply place a check mark to show that a sort has been successfully completed, sometimes I write the date the final sorting mat was turned in.  Sometimes I give the students a grade (out of 5 points) to show that the student has not entirely grasped this spelling pattern.  Honestly, I'm a bit all over the place right now in how I utilize this form while I figure out what system and procedure will work best for me.  
{Future post coming soon on how I've been navigating the Words Their Way system, and the ways I've kept myself organized with three different groups working on separate word sort patterns.}  


~ Teacher Accounts Passwords
Provided in both color and blackline
I swear, I register for more teacher resource websites than I can even remember, and every single one of them seem to have different requirements for their password.  Sooooo, that means I have to make slight modifications to my usual password, but I can never remember which modifications had to be made to each site!  Did I need to include uppercase and lowercase letters in this password, or did they make me include a punctuation mark?  Did the password for this site have to be at least 8 characters long?  Or did they simply reject my usual password for being "too weak"?  I'm usually pulling my hair out by the third password attempt.  And then, when I realize that I might not even have the correct user name, and have to retry all the passwords I previously entered several minutes ago but thought were incorrect because the user name was incorrect . . . that's when I'm about ready to throw my laptop out the window.  
I've since started saving passwords to Apple's Key Chain for sites with non-sensitive data, but I highly recommend keeping a paper copy handy in addition to saving passwords on your computer.  Keep these pages in a safe place, for those instances when you're not at your own computer, (for example, I don't save passwords on my work computer, only on my personal computer, so if I accidentally left my laptop at home one day, I'd be out of luck), or in case your computer bites the dust, and takes your information along with it.  (I do have an iCloud account though.  Note to self: check to see if Key Chain access is preserved through iCloud if something happened to my computer and I needed to replace it.)


~ Parent Communication Log
Provided in color and blackline
Keep plenty of blank forms on hand to track and document all of your 
meetings, phone calls, and emails with parents.

~ Bathroom Log ~ 
Provided in blackline only
Print a new blank form at the beginning of each week to monitor students'  trips to the bathroom.
Use to document excessive bathroom use, or to provide documentation for a possible medical issue.


How to Keep Student Folders Neat

I noticed that even after giving my students folders for their morning work, their papers were simply destroyed at the end of the week when they turned them in. I realized that the main reason for this was that first graders don't know how to properly put papers into folders. While they attempt to cram each sheet into one of the two folder pockets, most students' papers will inevitably look like a paper factory explosion after being "put away" in their folder.

To solve this, I think I've come up with a quick and easy hack for teaching students how to make sure their papers stay neat in their folders:

Take a highlighter, or in this case below, a thick Crayola marker, and draw a line along the seam/fold line of each folder. 

Instruct students to make sure the entire length of the yellow line (or whatever color you choose) is visible before closing their folders.  This gives students a visual self-check when putting papers away.  

This hasn't immediately fixed the problem of messy papers for every one of my firsties, but it has definitely helped about half the class become better organized with their folders since I introduced this idea several weeks ago.  I had to remind students constantly at first, asking, "Can you see your folder's yellow line?" but their necessity for reminders has lessened each day. 

Try it!  It will take you less than 5 minutes to mark your students' folders, and even if it helps half your class, that's a huge battle won against the paper monster right there.