Winter Math Freebies!

“Teachers get 12 whole days off at Christmas.”

Yeah right! I, myself, have been trying to get ahead and prepared for the return to the long month of January, we have report cards due, parent-teacher meetings, PLC meetings… the list goes on and on.

So these days off are a balance between getting all ready, and enjoying time with my own two boys. As a mom of a three year old and (almost) 7 year old, I am very very busy with them as well. This Christmas, they got the newest Disney Infinity 2.0, so the few moments they spend enjoying this new game are my moments to get things in order.

I know I am not alone! If you are reading this on winter break, that means that you too are probably looking for some ideas for activities to do when you return to school.

So… here you have some!

My students LOVE the color by number, sum, and difference. I created these FREEBIEs so you can enjoy them with your class too!

Color By Number! Check out my blog! Color By Difference! Check out my blog! Color By Math Fact ! Check out my blog! Color By Number! Check out my blog!

I have lots of other winter and snowman activities in my store as well. Go check them out, and then you can relax and enjoy the rest of your break too!


8 Ideas for Winter Sight Word Fun!


As I am planning for all the fun winter activities ahead, I am reminded of those sight words. Kids seem to get tired of them so quickly, probably because we spend so much time on them. One thing that seems to get kids reengaged with sight words is offering them in a different theme (yes, we all know the snowman picture or picture of a Christmas tree does peak the interest).

K-1 Dolch Sight Word Cards & Activities.

Dolch Sight Word Cards K-1!


I recently created a set of winter themed Pre Primer, Primer, and Grade 1 “flash cards” and am brainstorming some of the ways I am going to use them in my classroom. Here are 8 ways I might use them!


1. Flash cards on a ring- good old strategy- nothing new. I print them on cardstock, attach them to a ring and give the “focus” ones to students who need practice. What I also like to do is give them a sticker on the back of the card for each day they read it correctly. I buy those shiny star stickers that are cheap and easy to use. Once they have read the word enough times to have one of each color star (there are 5 colors), I add a new word. Again, introducing the winter theme ones seems to re-excite them about this process!

2.Word Wall- If you choose to use a “sight word” word wall, this would be a great place to use these words.

3.Sight Word Match!- When I made these cards I used 6 different designs with an even number of pages, meaning you can print (preferably on cardstock and laminate) the set right for your students, and play a memory game. Read the sight words, and if the pictures match, you keep the pair! This is great for a center game!K-1 Dolch Sight Word Cards & Activities.

4.Sight Word Walk- Print (preferably on cardstock) laminate, and hang around the room. Students walk around with their paper and a clipboard and write all the words they can find/read

.K-1 Dolch Sight Word Cards & Activities.

5.Sight Word Scavenger Hunt- Print and hang the cards around the room (just like for sight word walk). Give students a particular job when recording words. For example: find words that have an a in them. This activity also helps students look through words, and gives them lots of exposure to sight word reading. You can also change the “finding” job to get students completing this activity again and again! These are some of my favorite center or even morning work tasks.

K-1 Dolch Sight Word Cards & Activities.

6.Sight Word Race- Give each student a different card, or have students choose a card. They then read their “just right” books and tally each time they see the word. This center gets them really noticing these sight words in text and is useful for students to do again and again. As a class, you can even graph or keep track of how many times each word was found over time.

.K-1 Dolch Sight Word Cards & Activities.

7.Type it!- Provide the stack of sight word cards, have students choose a card, and type the word on the card. This can be done with an old keyboard not attached to a computer, or if computers are available you can open a basic word processor.


8.Read it Make it!- This is one of my students’ favorites! Read the word, then make the word either with pipe cleaners, wiki sticks, or playdough. Super fun, creative, and gets them noticing the letters in each of the sight words.


Check out the sight word cards I created and get the game directions/ recording sheets for activities here!

    K-1 Dolch Sight Word Cards & Activities.

First Grade and the Daily 5- Launching Read to Self

So I have been mentioning that I love using small group, guided approach to teaching. You are probably wondering how in the world I keep my other students learning in a meaningful way while I am working with these groups.

This is my first year teaching first grade. Certainly with changes in the standards, all grade levels are adjusting their teaching content slightly in order to meet the standards.

To begin, this year my team decided to read and implement components of The Daily 5.  I have to admit, when I first read the book The Daily 5 by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser I had my doubts, but

I know how important of a year first grade is , especially in regard to reading development. So I am that kind of crazy teacher who sees a new idea and says “Let’s do it!”  I was quickly excited about implementing some of the components of the Daily 5 in order to help my students become more engaged learners.

Instead of “stations” or typical centers, I began the year by launching “Read to Self”,  “Word Work”, “Work on Writing”, “Listen to Reading”, and then “Read to Someone” ( I introduced them in that order

The Launch

On the very first day of school, yes the very FIRST day, I launched Read to Self in my classroom.

I began by teaching that there are  three ways to read a book: Read the pictures, read the words, and retell the story. I realized very quickly that the students didn’t understand the retelling part, so I covered that part of my chart up, and we just practiced the first two ways. I knew by looking at their DRA scores from the previous year, that most of my students would be picture reading this time. I modeled what each type of reading looks like, then called upon a few students to try it. I put one book about apples (our beginning of the year theme) and then one “easy reader” book in each of their book boxes.

Then I set an initial stamina goal: 1 minute. That’s all… 1 minute.

I assigned students spots in the classroom that are appropriate, and then set the timer.

The students did a pretty good job during this first try. We came back together and reviewed. At this time I created my ichart- The three expectations during this time for them were “Read the whole time, stay in your spot, use quiet voices”.  I chose these three guidelines because I noticed that they could really fit any of the components of the Daily 5, and would be easy to model for the students. Again we practiced what this would look like. I did some silly modeling inappropriate ways to do Read to Self. They especially enjoyed when I crawled on the floor with a book on my head.

We practiced one more time- for one minute again and then we came back to reflect again.

Day 2, we read for 2 minutes.

Now during this initial launch there was not time for me to see any groups, but my main goal was to be busy, and set the expectation that I was not there to monitor the students, they were expected to do what they were supposed to be doing. They were not allowed to “show” me anything or “tell me” anything during this time. (later on I introduced using sticky notes to save “I want to show you” or “This is important” spots).

We continued to increase stamina 1 minute per day until about  6 minutes (interestingly enough- most of their ages. Isn’t there research somewhere about that?). I set the timer on the Smartboard, and stopped it as soon as someone was not engaged. We never pointed fingers, or talked about who was off task, we just stopped.

We were stuck at 6 minutes for about a week. We talked a lot about what I call “building reading muscles”. I explained that this happens when you keep reading even when your brain tells you that you are tired of reading.

Slowly but surely we made it over the 6 minute hump. As soon as they got to about 7 minutes I started calling some of my most needy readers over for a little boost in letter ID practice.

I also began reading groups while they were working on some independent tasks (some of it was sort of like busy work, but it is necessary in the beginning to establish routines.) After students finished a guided reading book in group, they put it right into their book box. Slowly but surely the scales tipped from mostly picture reading, to mostly word reading.

By the end of November, they were reading 25 minutes independently. That means they are all reading in their spots, reading the whole time, and reading quietly.  Now I am able to rotate which reading group I take during this time.

The very best thing about Read to Self in a first grade classroom is that IT’S WORKING! The students are practicing reading so much that it is making the biggest difference. It’s evidenced by one of my students saying “Look at me closely Mrs.Ballestrini, can you see it?”… “Can you see how big my reading muscles are.” And I can see it. :-)


Baby It’s Cold Outside! Favorite Winter Books & Snowman Fun!

BRR winter is arriving and with the cold weather is tons of classroom winter fun! Silver glitter, student cut snowflakes hanging from the walls… I love this time of year with my students.

Christmas and Holiday time has passed and we are now on our school vacation. Time for me to relax, enjoy my own children, and plan lots of fun things to do for when we get back to school in January!

I can’t think of anything more fun in winter than all of the fun Snowmen books I love to share with my students. Carolyn Buehner has given us the gifts of Snowmen at Night, Snowmen at Work, Snowmen All Year, and even Snowmen at Christmas. One thing my students have enjoyed in the past is writing a “Snowman Job Application” for a job related to what they read about in the book. It really is like their own snowman creation comes to life!

Here are some of my favorite snowman & winter stories!

Favorite Snowman Books!

To celebrate one of my favorite times, I have created and posted my brand new Snowmen Math and Literacy Pack. I really enjoy using a small group approach almost throughout the entire school day, so you’ll find small group, partner activities, and some word work games and mats.

Word family mats for word word center.

My first graders are HUGE fans of the word work mats. Mostly, they love the fact that I let them choose what to use to create the “onset” or first letter on the word family mat. In the bin, I usually include the word family mats, small containers of playdough, wiki sticks, pipe cleaners, and even dry erase markers. This is one of the activities that students are often waiting for. It’s great for decoding, encoding (writing/spelling), and even fine motor skills.

Happy Winter!

Check out my Snowmen pack here!


Snowman & Winter Fun! 3 in a row game! This and 24 other activities for Math and Literacy in the bundle! Check out my blog!

The Phonics Dance – Magic!

When I was moved to teach first grade, I knew the most difficult part of teaching young readers was going to be teaching them to decode. I had taught first graders before, and the phonics instruction was boring and I often saw very little application to my students’ reading and decoding.

I went to a graduate studies workshop where a presenter shared about The Phonics Dance, created by Ginny Dowd. I was hooked immediately- and now, so are my students!

Are you ready for some phonics magic?


What is The Phonics Dance?

The phonics dance is a series of chants, visuals, motions, and stories used to teach students letter sounds. I use the “Hunks and Chunks” portion of the phonics dance in my first grade classroom. This portion concentrates on teaching students common vowel digraphs, diphthongs, and even some blends.

To really get an idea of what the phonics dance is… click here to see Ginny Dowd’s class in action.  I was immediately excited after seeing and hearing about the phonics dance, and knew that at very least, this would be an academic movement break.

Learning the Phonics Dance

On the very first day of school, we practiced the letter sounds using the picture, word, sound cards that my students used in Kindergarten. By the fourth day of school, I introduced the “ch” brothers, th,ch, sh.  I added 1-3 chunks per week every week. Each time, introducing a story and then the chant that the students would practiced.  Every single morning, sometimes twice a morning, we practice the chunk “dance” or series of chunks.

What I noticed after just the first week was that already in our morning message my students’ hands would shoot up and they would be eager to share “I see a chunk!” We quickly began to put a rectangle around the chunks we knew and circles around the words we knew. I was definitely optimistic at this time since no prompting had happened, my students were spotting these chunks on their own.

After the three “h” digraphs, I went right to the “ing” ending since it appears so frequently in their reading and writing. Learning this chunk also makes so many words manageable (not only sing, sting, ring, but also reading, jumping, seeing, going).

I decided in my classroom on the order to introduce the chunks based on student needs and reading material. (for example: the “or” chunk was taught when we were reading about a scarecrow and the words “worn” and “torn” appeared). I also marked down basic notes during reading group about some of the chunks that were giving the children the most trouble when they were decoding.


Although I was excited about teaching phonics using the phonics dance, I also never could have imagined how it has helped my students to decode. Using “chunks” is the one strategy that they always employ independently. Those long words don’t seem so long to segment and blend when you’ve got a chunk in there -think about the word Halloween (H-all-ow-ee-n), the words are just so much more manageable once the students have internalized these chunks. Vowel sounds are also something that first graders in the past have really struggled with. Often times, short vowels are expected to be “mastered” before long vowels can be taught. The problem is, that fairly early in reading, long vowel digraphs appear in reading. The phonics dance has given my students a way to access these long vowel digraphs in a fun way that really sticks with them.

What about the struggling readers who don’t know all their letter sounds? What about the kids who struggle to segment and blend? Well this strategy has been a gift to them as well! Think about the word “going” instead of “g-o-i-n-g” there are only 2 parts “go-ing”).

Can you imagine first graders (in the fall) beginning to use long vowel spelling patterns in their writing? The most wonderful question one of my firsties asked me last week was “Does feed have “ee” or “ea” in it).  Last year I taught third grade and those students were not as aware of vowel digraphs.

Yes! Magic!

I am telling you, I feel like I’ve really found a piece of magic!rents love it (yes they are reciting the chunks at the dinner table), the students love it (“When can we learn a new chunk?”). and I love it (They can READ and WRITE!).

Mrs.Wishy Washy and the Meanies

It has been a very busy week and a half in my classroom. We have been reading many of the wonderful stories by Joy Cowley about Mrs.Wishy Washy and the Meanies.

The most exciting thing for my students has been that they are able to read enough now to navigate the text on their own, or read along with me during the read aloud.

From the moment they saw the cover of Mrs.Wishy Washy, the students seemed to make a connection- there was really instant excitement.

I started by reading Mrs.Wishy Washy and asking students to create a basic “beginning, middle, end” retelling book. (Freebie Here)

Mrs.Wishy Washy Activities!


Then we went on to read about the Meanies. The students created their own meanies and did some descriptive writing about them.
Next on the agenda was “Shopping with the Meanies” and “The Meanies Came to School”. At this time, the kids were in LOVE with these little critters. They were excited to write their own stories about the trouble the meanies could cause in all different places! One student chose to write about the meanies going to the north pole. another wrote about the meanies at a local ice cream shop. The students were so excited, and not one of them looked up and told me that they didn’t know what to write.

Splishy Sploshy for my students was the ultimate merge of these two beloved stories. They were so excited to see how Mrs.Wishy Washy would handle those meanies, and were even more excited when they came to school the next day and saw their meanies hanging up to dry on the clothesline on our bulletin board.

Mrs.Wishy Washy and the Meanies!

This has been a wonderful opportunity to merge reading and writing , character traits, and fun!

One of my students summed it up as she walked out of the room today. “Bye Mrs.B… Have a Wishy Washy day.”

Peer Cooperative Problem Solving


Click below for materials to launch Super Problem Solvers in your classroom!

Super Problem Solvers! Cooperative Peer Problem Solving! have spent huge parts of my academic day solving the case of the missing brown crayon, the girl who accidentally stepped on another students toe, or a child who cut in line.  I began to realize that these students were depending solely on me to solve any problem they came across, no matter how small. I decided that it was time to think outside the box, to empower my students to become problem solvers. I figured if I could teach them how to read, solve multistep math problems, work collaboratively in pairs… that I could certainly teach them to solve problems with their peers. This sort of independence helps me to get through the day, but also empowers students to develop social skills and relationships they can manage. For the most part, they shouldn’t need an adult to solve the kinds of problems that first graders are having.

My solution… I developed a peer problem solving “system” in my classroom called “Super Problem Solvers”. I used a similar instructional approach to the one that I would with any lesson I teach, modeling with explicit instruction, guided practice, independent practice.  I made sure to explain the difference between situations that are appropriate for teacher help, as well as “first grade problems”.  We also role played problem solving, and brainstorm appropriate responses.

I then set up a  “Super Problem Solving Area” in my classroom.  I use a big poster sized cutout of a gumball machine and the cheap circle labeling stickers in my room. Above the gumball poster are “Say” and “Do” directions to support my students in problem solving.  The students go to this area to solve their problem with a peer. When they have solved the problem, they stick a “gumball” sticker on the chart.

Were there many more “first grade problems” the first couple of days? Yes!

Did some students, who had rarely had any issues in the past, suddenly have several “problems” in one day? Yes!

To me this was all evidence that the students were getting used to the problem solving process we were using in our classroom.

For the first few days my students would often still come to me. Before they began “tattling” I asked “Is this a first grade problem?” The students usually answered “Yes” and met a friend in the problem solving area.

We have been using this system for about two months now, and I have noticed that there are less and less “problems” to begin with. My students have gotten so good at problem solving, that sometimes they solve problems seamlessly.

Super Problem Solvers! Cooperative peer problem solving.

Problem solving display.

 Super Problem Solvers! Cooperative Peer Problem Solving!

More Math Monday!

Happy More Math Monday!
In my classroom, I use a guided math approach during math time, so I use math games and centers daily. I have recently created some fun games and activities that my students have enjoyed again and again.

One of my (and their) favorite things to do is “Write the Room” type activities. I print out cards, hang them up around the room, and it’s like a math scavenger hunt around the classroom.  I have used them with all 16 of my first graders working at once, and I have also used it as a center. Another neat thing about these cards is that I leave them up for a few days, so even when the children are not at the center, they are seeing and solving math facts throughout the day.

Another one of our favorite activities is “Color by Math Fact”. These types of activities require students to practice some basic “drill” practice, but in a fun engaging way. Color by fact also gives students a strategy to start self monitoring their own work. If the color doesn’t make sense, or the sum/difference is not listed, the students know to go back and check their work.

Here’s a my holiday activity pack, which includes write the room activities, color by number, partner games, and Christmas word problem solvers.

Christmas Math Activities! Math Activities! Math Activities!


In my classroom now, we are also working to develop fluency through learning about fact families. My students have enjoyed these cute gingerbread fact family packs so much! I laminated the pages and have students use white board markers. For some of my struggling students I put sticky notes with the “fact family” numbers in the roof and they moved the stickies around in order to create number sentences in the fact families.

Gingerbread Fact Families Fact Families

I also want to add that last year I taught third grade, and a huge focus of my teaching was to teach repeated addition and multiplication. I developed this 12 days of Christmas lesson set for students, which they absolutely loved! I couldn’t believe their excitement for a challenging math task on the day before Christmas break!

12 Days of Christmas Math Days of Christmas Math

It’s Holiday time!

Christmastime is my FAVORITE time of year. It is also one of the most challenging times of year for teachers. The children are abuzz with excitement and anticipation of all of the holiday celebrations and festivities.

One problem I have been running into is a lack of interesting resources for my beginning readers (who still need patterned text, but have flown through the limited titles available to me).
As a result I created a few Christmas Mini books. My students have just loved them. They love that they can highlight the focus sight words, and many of them enjoy coloring the pictures when they share the books with family members at home. I also included a couple of follow up activities for each book.

Check them out here!

Christmas Mini books


During writing time, I am using some fun and engaging journal writing prompts. The kids LOVE to alternate through narrative, expository , and opinion writing.  The thing I have enjoyed about these prompts is that there are two different versions, both with the same topics. The second version (included in the pack) gives a little more support to my struggling learners but they are still writing about what their peers are.

Check this pack out here!

Christmas Journal Journal Sample Journal Sample


I also have my students working on independent writing projects. Many of them have enjoyed the Holiday season stationary to write on. There are different line sizes, different designs… it really just gives the children choices and adds a bit of fun to writing.

Holiday Writing Paper Writing Paper Gingerbread Man!



Stay tuned! Holiday Math coming soon!!!


Launching My First Grade Guided Reading Groups

Launching guided reading groups in my first grade classroom has been quite an adventure this year.

I know, I know… guided reading is often said to be in stark contradiction to the Common Core, but the truth is that for early readers there is a definite need to have the students reading books with lots of words they can read, and some words they can’t. It is in this small group, at the student level, where you can really provide them coaching and strategies to meet the challenges of the text.

Forming Guided Reading Groups

I formed guided reading groups for my students based primarily on reading level (we use the DRA2 in my school).  I had several students (2 groups worth) who were reading at approximately the same level, so I split this group based on other needs. For example, three of the students at that level were having difficulty blending words, so I grouped them together. I ended up with 6 reading groups, with 1-4 students in each group.

Now, onto the fun stuff! We began reading … a lot!

The feeling I get from the research I have done, and my own experience, is that the more they read, the better they get! A wise teacher friend of mine once said “If you want to teach them to swim, you don’t stand by the edge of the pool and talk about it.. you get them in the water. They need to be reading to learn to read.” That comment has really influenced my approach to teaching reading. My previous approach was to generally introduce 2 books a week. I would do a picture walk and first read on day one, second read and oral retell/comprehension day 2, and written comprehension day 3. I worried that this approach did not have my students reading enough, so I abandoned this approach for another: Read a lot of books! I now (in most cases) introduce a new book each day, and my students:

  •  love reading group
  • are excited to see what new book they will be reading
  • are becoming more accurate, fluent, and thoughtful readers
  • are expecting to read lots of books, and are building reading stamina


In order to manage progress monitoring and increasing the time spent reading, I created a student “star” chair (by taping a star picture to the back of a regular old chair). The students rotate through this chair, and each day, I listen to the student in the star chair read, and make notes about his/her progress.

I choose to set my reading group instruction up in order to include most (if not all) of the components of balanced literacy each day: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency & comprehension.

Guided Reading Group Lesson Schedule

3 minutes fluency- Students choose and read a familiar text, select a favorite or important part to read, or even reread a poem I have introduced to the class.

3 minutes- Phonics/Phonemic awareness warm up.  Writing on white boards, building words with letter tiles etc. (I try to link this to the new text students will be reading).

1 minute new book introduction- This is QUICK! I read the title, tell the students the character names, and for some of my struggling readers, do a quick “word walk” (“Can you find the word “said” on this page) to get them ready to read. I then give the students a one line “hook” to get them interested (“I wonder if they will ever find spot”).

5 minutes reading- All students are whisper reading to themselves during this time. This is when I take a quick running record of the student in the star chair.  It is a little noisy, but it is more distracting to me than it is to my students.  While the students are reading, I place a reading comprehension discussion card in the center of the table. When the students are done reading the book, they look to the card, and find a page that helps them to answer the question. They practice rereading the page they chose until all readers are done reading.

3 minutes comprehension discussion- Students read the page they chose and their ideas reasoning in regards to the question/ prompt.

Students then bring this book home to practice reading each day.

Using Questioning Strategies to Promote Independence and Discussion

Since the students have practice the question prompts, I am beginning to support the star student to become a “discussion director” by helping them to choose the question card/ prompt for the group. This is really just the beginning of developing the student independence and discourse in reading group, but I am excited about their engagement and love of reading, as well as reading progress so far.  As for the written comprehension piece, I am really working to build oral comprehension and decoding strategies at this point in the year. When they are ready, I will introduce more of a formal written comprehension piece, but it will likely be completed independently.

What are the other kids doing during all this time? Stay tuned, I’ll post about that soon!

Guided Reading Discussion & Response

Check out my TeachersPayTeacher store if you’re interested in downloading any of my guided reading materials.