Reflection and Engagement

Reflection time…that’s what today offers me. The last month has been bursting with new iPad applications and my students have been loving it. I have been loving it. Our first snow day was the first week of December and I couldn’t help but feel let down. After the roads were plowed and school was back in session, I was greeting my students in the hallway at 8:15 a.m. “Mrs. Rengo,” one little boy said. “There was no school yesterday.” “I know,” I replied. “It was a snow day.” The boy went on to say, “I was so disappointed.” I could relate and that is when I knew that technology not only increases student engagement but teacher engagement as well.

What has been happening in my classroom to keep me so engaged? The answer is simple. AR (Augmented Reality). I had the privilege of attending an iDesign workshop by Naomi Harm. As usual, she delivered a rich presentation. (A link to her blog is found in my blog roll.)

As a first grade teacher, I am accustomed to teaching a skill to a group of 6 and 7 year olds and having some of them “get it” the first time and some not. (Some need even a second, third, or fourth exposure). Aurasma is the perfect remedy for this. I learned that I could transform my word wall and math vocab wall and make it interactive. My students could record videos of science experiments, word work lessons (anything really) and watch them again later.

Once you understand the process, Aurasma is simple to use. It involves capturing a short video, pairing it with a “trigger image,” and then publishing it to a channel to later view on demand. I began by making my own Aurasmas and then moved on to teaching my students how to make their own because I just couldn’t keep up with the demand. Teaching my students how to make their own was one of the best things I have ever done (instantaneous ownership).

Another favorite app of mine is Layar. Layar allows me to take posters that I create using the app Pic Collage and move beyond 2-D. I can add links to YouTube videos and pictures to reinforce a concept.

What was the first thing I made with Layar? Several years ago I made a poster to teach different letter sounds to help students understand bossy e, double vowels, etc. in reading. It was a hodgepodge of hand drawings and clip art but I was pretty proud of it. I thought “What a great way to teach sounds in reading.” That was then and this is now. Now, my students take the amped up version of my sounds poster and use Layar to view different YouTube videos that show reinforce the spelling rules though song. How engaging!

The bottom line is that I now have the tools to help my students practice important skills independently (making the best use of their time AND mine. Yeah!)

(Pictured below: A sound chart and reading strategy poster that I created using Pic Collage on the iPad. I then used Layar to add various videos to illustrate important concepts.)




Using Technology to Promote Independence During Independent Learning Centers

Click on the link below to view an Animoto Video about Aurasma.

What can you do with Aurasma?.

Want to learn more about Aurasma and Layar? Click on the following link to view a handout illustrating the implication of these apps in the primary classroom!

Teaching Time Words

Time Lesson Plan

Time…we are all bound to it. As teachers, we know every minute counts. Two minutes left in our prep? We can get a LOT done in that two minutes! Some children have an understanding of time, and some, to put it plainly, don’t. How do you teach time words? The new CCSS require students to be very clear in their writing and put to use descriptive words. With so many different time words, how do you teach them to children so that they truly understand them? “The Word Lady” has shared her lesson plan with us. No matter what she teaches, she tries to give children something to hold. Watch the video below to see how it is done!

Creating a Climate for Responsible iPad Use

I have been getting teased a lot lately. I should say a little more than usual. In all honesty, it is because I told my principal that, aside from my wedding day and the birth of my four children, the day we went 1:1 with iPads was the happiest day of my life. In my defense, it really was. It is invigorating to me to constantly learn something new. That goes with the territory when it comes to tech.

I am learning and adjusting as I go. “What have I learned?” you might ask. (Aside from the obvious, which is new apps that seem to constantly be emerging). I found that kids get really excited to have an iPad. Sometimes they are so excited that they just can’t help trying out all the apps on their device before I have the chance to teach and introduce them. I have learned that kids need to be taught how to listen and follow directions before they start doing. I have learned that kids need to understand that using an iPad is a privilege and an immensely powerful learning tool. In order for students to learn and grow, they need to be on-task and not just engaged while working.

That is what led me to create an iPad contract that I discussed with my class and then asked them to sign. In doing so, they understood that signing the contract signified a promise. Kids truly understand promises and know how it feels when someone breaks a promise to them.

The next, natural step, was to talk about what should happen if they break their promise. The following poster is what the class decided on as a list of consequences. Taking time to do this was immensely worthwhile since we use our iPads all the time. Stopping my teaching to ensure that children are using their iPad as a tool and not as a toy makes my job as a teacher very difficult. There needs to be a flow to any lesson. Asking students to take responsibility for their actions was one of the best things I could do.



Facilitating Asking Questions

All the great reading gurus talk about questioning as an important comprehension strategy that individuals use to help them understand their reading better. We teach students to generate questions before, during, and after reading. We teach students to search the texts they are reading for answers. Sometimes our answers are found in the text itself and others are found in outside sources.

Children are innately curious. My daughter is a prime example of this. She probes me with questions every opportunity she gets. Her questions are insightful at times and borderline weird at others (such as “What are toenails made of?” or “What would happen if you had no lips?”)

Our goal is for children to think deeply and to stretch themselves. We want quality questions which require higher order thinking and so we teach that not all questions are created equal. We draw an analogy between a sandwich. “Which of your questions are thick? Which ones are thin?” we say. (Thick questions require us to dig deeper. The answers are not found right there in the text. Thin ones, on the other hand, are “right there.” “How does questioning help you as a reader?” we probe.

Despite our best efforts, we sometimes have students that struggle with generating questions. They may write down a telling when they are asked to record a question that they have. What do you do then? “The Word Lady” has the answer.

It is actually simple. Take a box. Place an object inside. (Don’t let the students see what you put in.). Say to the class “I have something inside this box. Ask me a question to try to figure out what is inside.” This is where the fun begins! Your first question may be “What is it?” This is where you work your magic as a teacher. You help shape student responses and mold them in to questions. Based on student responses, you might say things such as: “Ask me a where question. Such as “Where is it found?” Ask me a how question. Like “How do you use it?” You can build a concept of categories and teach students to ask if it is an animal, a type of clothing, or a plant.

This is a fun activity that you can use while kids are lining up or during snack time. Give it a try. You will be amazed at the transformation and the types of questions your students begin to generate!


Rich Vocabularies-More Tips from “The Word Lady”


Good writers purposefully and carefully select words. They are much like artists as they use language to paint pictures in the minds of their readers. As teachers, we strive to equip our students to use rich and interesting language both in speaking and in writing. Larger vocabularies means more success in reading and a richer life in general.

I have quickly learned that the playing field is not level and I need to strategically teach vocabulary if my students are to be successful. I teach lessons on word choice and encourage children to lay to rest overused words. (You know the ones…little, big, nice…). I have a math vocab wall that I consistently add to. I have a word collector that I use to record new and interesting words that my students and I find together as we read. And now, I have learned another way from “The Word Lady.”

When my class was learning about size words, Miss Jill used storytelling to engage my class. It was unforgettable. She told the story of Jack and the Beanstalk and she weaved different words for big throughout the story. It was a natural, authentic way to drive the concept home. What first grader doesn’t enjoy a great story?

Afterwards, my students and I used the free app, “Pic Collage” to create the following poster to cement their learning.


Since then, I used the story “Thumbelina” to teach different words for small. I had a blast using the iPad app “Puppet Pals” to bring the story to life.

Thank you Miss Jill for another great lesson!

Family Words by “The Word Lady”

*Here is another post by “The Word Lady” highlighting how teachers can meaningfully teach vocabulary to students. Today’s topic is family words. Click on Jill Negrete’s lesson plan at the bottom of this post to find out more!

As teachers of beginning readers, we have our hands full at times. We are trying to open up a new world to our students (a language based, print rich world). A child’s background knowledge plays a large role in identifying words, while reading, at this early age because they rely upon what makes sense when they read words. Sometimes students make sense as they read. Sometimes they do not.

What happens if they don’t? How can I help my students be successful? A good friend, and reading recovery teacher, taught me to carefully select books as I plan my reading lessons. Students with language issues can experience a lot of frustration as they read if the language the author uses is unusual and does not make sense to them.

The Word Lady is also teaching me to deliberately teach vocabulary. When the vocabulary component of our new reading program focussed on family words, Jill Negrete ran with it. She made the abstract come to life!

Students dressed up to illustrate the concept of parents. (The father wore a hat and the mother wore a necklace.) Their children held a ball to show that they were in fact children. When the children grew up they put on a hat or a necklace to signal that they were now adults. In the end, we had a real life family tree with grandparents, aunts, uncles, parents, cousins, nieces and nephews!

Acting out a Family Tree
Lesson Plan for Family Words

Numbers Numbers are Everywhere!

*This is a third installment in a series of posts about vocabulary and language learning from Speech/Language Pathologist, Jill Negrete, from the Grantsburg School District.

Numbers are Everywhere Lesson Plan

All math teachers can relate to teaching a new concept and later finding that students didn’t really “get it.” Learning by rote memorization does not stay with a student and they soon forget what it was that you tried to teach them. Sometimes concepts are abstract from the start and students need something to connect their new learning to for it to sink in.

The Word Lady teaches number words in a dynamic way. As teachers, we may describe objects with words such as “pair,” “few,” “several,” and “many.” If we look at it from a student’s perspective, what do these words really mean anyways? It is possible that students with language difficulties are sitting through our math lessons feeling dazed and confused.

Jill Negrete has shared her lesson plan for teaching number words. It is a must read for any elementary math teacher to see how you can take real world objects and put them in the hands of children to help them truly understand numbers.

Laney Sammons talks about helping students make “math-to-self,” “math-to-math” and “math-to-world” connections in her book “Guided Math.” Speaking from experience, I have found that students do not automatically see how one math concept is similar to another. Students also tend to view these concepts in isolation and do not see how the concepts are similar to things in the world around them or in their own lives. Children first need to be taught that these connections exist, and then need guidance making connections before making them independently.

As you look at Jill’s above lesson plan, you will see that she helps kids make connections naturally. She holds up a boxed cake mix (a familiar sight to many students) and goes on to talk about how numbers are used to measure both time and temperature to cook it. Kids listening immediately make a “math-to-self” connection since many of them have cooked with a loved one at home.

After The Word Lady’s lesson on numbers, my students spent the week working on “Numbers are Everywhere” book using Book Creator on the iPad. These books are not only bursting with six year old personalities, but they are chock full of mathematical connections. The end result is a deeper mathematical understanding.

*For more information on the different types of mathematical connections, please read my previous post “Have you Chirped Today?” from December 11, 2012.


5 Minute Vocabulary Game from “The Word Lady”

We are busy teachers, right? Of course. Despite our many responsibilities, it is not impossible to build in a little vocabulary building throughout the day. Here is a great, “quick,” vocabulary game from Jill Negrete, Speech Language Therapist from the Grantsburg School District.

Five Minute Vocabulary Game – #1 (I’ll try and post one weekly –) Just remember I am not the authority – everything I know I learned from watching and modeling a teacher. So feel free to share a quick vocab game that you have used – you are the masters!

What we know! Words are thinking. There is a give and take relationship between reading comprehension and vocabulary skills. Children who are good readers are picking up new vocabulary words as they read, children learn between two thousand and three thousand words a year – that’s about 7 a day. There is a gap between the good reader with strong vocabulary and poor readers with weak vocabularies and the gap widens.

We must give vocabulary opportunities to narrow the gap. The best way to teach vocabulary – The MUSTS! 1) We continue to teach inferred meaning of words through reading. 2) We must “hook” new word to what students know. 3) We must actively and purposefully teach new words. 4) We must give students repeated exposure to new words. 5) We must get our students to be curious or excited about new words.

SURE! Piece of CAKE! Now do it in 5 minutes that you have open in your day!

Ok – This is how much time we have so we will make it “Word Time”. I am going to give you some five minute vocabulary activities that can be used during transition times as lining up, waiting for others to join a group, everyone finished early and there is a few minutes – not enough to start something new….. Or just build it into your day as “Brain Warm-Ups!”

1) The MYSTERY TIN ( Open ended – you can select the words)
Place an object, picture card or word in a can / tin. The students are going to guess what is in the tin! You can work on 1) general vocabulary or a specific skill. Always expand -thinking function, parts of whole, categories. Listen to these five clues and raise your hand if you think you know what is in the tin. ( This will give students who need more clues the opportunity 1) an animal 2) large animal 3) lives in Africa / zoo 4) vegetarian 5) eats leaves from top of trees. When you bring out the Giraffe – discuss parts – hooves, spots, similarities to other animals, etc.
giraffe picture *image credit:
Open ended can fit any unit!

The 3rd grade class is working on adverbs – Give clues in adverb language 1) flies quickly 2) pollinates carefully 3) photographs colorfully yellow – black 4) stings painfully 5) buzzes loudly
bee picture *image credit:

Will add more 5 minute Vocab as we go. MS JILL – AKA THE WORD LADY!

Vocabulary Comes Alive With “The Word Lady!”

*This post is the second installment in a series of posts dedicated to helping young learners grow and develop their vocabularies. Jill Negrete, a Speech and Language Therapist from the Grantsburg School District has offered to partner with me and show how to help my students understand language better. In return for her guidance and teaching, I am sharing information with teachers.

Our new reading program has a great vocabulary component. A few weeks ago, our first graders learned about the parts of a house while reading “Dee and Me” by Lois Bick. Students looked at the illustrations and identified the living room, the bathroom, etc. The Word Lady took the concept to a new level and made it come alive. She brought in a doll house and gave students pictures of objects found in a house. Together, the class discussed where each item would go. One student’s card was a fireplace. Miss Jill planted the vocabulary word “chimney” first and then the class discussed which room a fireplace would be found in.

That was fun and meaningful, but then Miss Jill took out a large canner. When she removed the lid, each child sat with excitement as they waited for her to unveil the mysteries inside. Some of the items included a turkey baster, a frying pan, a sauce pan, a rolling pin, and even a tea kettle. She taught kids to connect the new objects to things they already knew and when possible she used actions to cement a concept. (Ex. Sinks and tea kettles have spouts and each time Jill said “spout” to the class, she made a motion with her hand a formed a spout.)

Debbie Miller, the author of “Reading with Meaning”, talks about how our schemas grow and change. As teachers, we instruct our students to activate their schemas and think about how what they are learning reminds them of something they already know. These connections come in various forms (text-to-self, text-to-text, and even text-to-world connections.) Making helpful connections facilitates comprehension. Real reading happens when students read the words and understand their reading.

How do you help students generalize their learning to real world contexts? Have you ever thought of taking your iPad to a store and creating your own video to bring back to your students? Miss Jill did to help students add the term “appliance” to their schemas. She explained that appliances are found all around us wherever we go. She helped students understand that an appliance is a machine that you plug in and it does work for us. AS Miss Jill created her video of vacuum cleaners, she described their parts and what type of work the appliance does. She illustrated the vast number of different types of appliances through the use of video. It was amazing!

I have a better understanding now of how I can help students add new information to their schemas and how I can bring the world right inside our classroom! As a token to remember this dynamic vocabulary lesson, students created “Parts of Houses” e-books using “Book Creator” on the iPad. It is something they are sure to never forget.

Students create e-books about the different "gadgets" found inside a house.
Students create e-books about the different “gadgets” found inside a house.