Sharing Early Literacy Learning Journeys

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Talking Teaching

“Where have the holidays gone?”

“And where do I start?”

Although not full-time teaching any more, it’s still exciting for me to hear friends, parents and colleagues ‘talking teaching’ – to hear of their hopes, plans, ideas and concerns for beginning another school year.

In response to requests and encouragement from Early Years teachers, I will re-publish over the next 14 days, my Seven Part ‘Starting School Series’ of blogs for ‘old’ and new teachers of Prep, Year 1 and Year 2, in particular for Early Years teachers in Australia, who are busy preparing for their new school year.

I have revised and enhanced the series; clarifying, simplifying and reorganising each of the seven parts. A scanned photo from my Doctoral Thesis of the physical layout of a previous classroom, has been inserted in Part 1 of the series. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, all the photos have been edited and enlarged for easier viewing.

Here’s what you’ll find in the new Seven Part ‘Starting School Series’…

Part 1: Organising the physical environment

Part 2: Sorting materials and starting the calendar wall

Part 3: Gathering hands-on materials and books

Part 4: Finishing touches – in preparation for the first day

Part 5: Reading and writing on the first day: morning session

Part 6: Reading and writing on the first day: afternoon sessions

Part 7: How many ways did I read today? A child’s perspective

Copyright © More than Reading 2014

The sea is galloping…

I feel like Christopher at the beach today,
in A.A.Milne’s ‘Sand-between-the-toes’…


with the shouting sea…

and the galloping sea…

with sand in the hair…

and sand between the toes…

and nobody else is out!

It is a super dooper poem to read with children
and with thanks to All Poetry, here it is:


I went down to the shouting sea,
Taking Christopher down with me,
For Nurse had given us sixpence each-
And down we went to the beach.

We had sand in the eyes and the ears and the nose,
And sand in the hair, and sand-between-the-toes.
Whenever a good nor’wester blows,
Christopher is certain of

The sea was galloping grey and white;
Christopher clutched his sixpence tight;
We clambered over the humping sand-
And Christopher held my hand.

We had sand in the eyes and the ears and the nose,
And sand in the hair, and sand-between-the-toes.
Whenever a good nor’wester blows,
Christopher is certain of

There was a roaring in the sky;
The sea-gulls cried as they blew by;
We tried to talk, but had to shout-
Nobody else was out.

When we got home, we had sand in the hair,
In the eyes and the ears and everywhere;
Whenever a good nor’wester blows,
Christopher is found with

© A.A. Milne.  All rights reserved

Weekly Photo Challenge: The sign says it all…

In different locations, the sign says it all…

Tower 1
Three girls suggested this sign and
wrote their names beneath the precise instruction

Picture and text sign
Are the pictures enough or are the words necessary?

Trawling for ‘t’ words?


Two tall tulips


Two turtles talking, on a tyre

Weekly Photo Challenge: Future Tense

Into the future
with digital literacy…

Young child before school in Hong Kong embracing technology. Will he take the family business to the future PM edit

A young child before school in Hong Kong embraces technology.
Will he take his family’s noodle shop into the future?

Words to inspire your early reader/writer…

Inspirational words to share with your early reader/writer extracted from Mary O’Neill’s poem: The Wonderful Words, mentioned in my previous blog, Snow Pellets and Raindrops…


Starting School Series, Part 1: Organising the physical environment

Excited and a wee bit apprehensive. A new school year. A new bunch of kids.  An adventure. Take the short-cut between the demountables. Wonder. ‘What state will my room be in?’ Things are always moved for holiday cleaning! I’ve set aside four days to organise my room and prepare materials for the arrival of the children. Time to think, plan, experiment and create.

Four days to go: physical environment

Today, organise the physical environment. Significantly, it’s the physical arrangement of a classroom that reveals what a teacher believes about how children learn.

Bring my thoughts back to the task at hand.  Walk up one flight of stairs to the door. Put my bags down, insert the key and open the door. It’s quiet and dark.

Turn the lights on and look around the room. Can’t miss the big pile. Movable objects – tables, chairs, small shelves, cushions – off to one side. Folding doors separating the two classrooms are open. Fishnet that stretches across the concertina doors is intact. Wonderful! Most of the room is clear – a clean slate on which to design our learning environment. Perfect! Can’t wait to start moving things. But first…

Where to start?

1. List the class ‘areas’:

mat area for the whole class
reading, library, bookshelves
calendar wall
word wall(s)
computers and printer
art /wet area

construction materials
home corner/drama
morning message board
class display areas
children’s storage (backpack/hats/lunches)

2. List the stationary items – things that can’t be moved:

whiteboard (at large mat area)
IWB /data projector
shelves/hooks (for children’s backpacks/hats)
refrigerator (for children’s lunches)

electrical outlets
computer connectors (computer area)
sink/counter/wet area (art area)
display boards on walls
built in cupboards
bi-fold doors (word wall)

Stationary items determine some class areas

Mat area and whiteboard
My all important, whole class, mat area is at the whiteboard for shared writing, explicit teaching and teachable moments. In this classroom, the screen for a ceiling-mounted data projector is also near the whiteboard. Presto! Mat area.

The mat area is vital for whole class sessions – BIG enough for children to gather together comfortably. BIG enough for children to sit, stand and stretch. BIG enough for class story time, small group ‘co-operative show and tell’ and a large class circle for reporting/sharing times. For ease of class sharing, these items are adjacent to the mat:

  • calendar wall (for morning maths sessions)
  • big book stand (for shared reading)
  • pocket chart (for interactive reading)
  • audio and CD player (for music and interactive story books)
  • laptop (to use through the data projector onto the screen)

Children’s backpacks/hats/lunches 
That’s easy. An area near the classroom entrance holds two long shelves for backpacks/hats and the refrigerator is against the nearby out-of-the-way wall

Computers and printers are near electrical outlets and internet connectors. Some older classrooms never seem to have enough power outlets – for laptop, data projector, fish tank, CD player, electric pencil sharpener, battery recharger…  power boards may solve outlet problems but be aware of safety issues: no loose cords across the floor for children to trip on.

Another easy one. My art area is a wet area with vinyl floor, sink and counter. I add a collage trolley, a painting easel and tables for playdough/clay and collage.

Display areas
Two wires are strung across the room. Wonderful! Use them for displaying children’s work – paintings, drawings and writing. In addition, display boards hang on several walls.

Word wall
The fishnet word wall stretches in front of the folding doors and makes use of what is sometimes a ‘difficult’ area to use.

Other class areas: the sketch is in my head!

Things are going well. Several areas are sorted out around stationary items – things that cannot change.
Now, dig into the big pile of small furniture for the remaining class areas. Be creative!

Lifting, dragging, pushingbit by bit the pile shrinks. Out comes:
a metal, triangular bookshelf  (library/reading area)
large floor cushions (library/reading area)

the big book stand (shared reading, near mat area)
pocket chart (board, near mat area)

the morning message board (reading, door entrance)
the block shelf (block area)
maths material and shelf
buckets and boxes of mobilo, lego, duplo, etc.

children’s tables and chairs and
a pink,  plastic, play stove (home/drama area)

I used to sketch my room and roughly label the class or activity areas. But I’ve done this often enough. Today, the sketch is in my head!

Reflection: bigger area or smaller area?
‘Can the block area be improved?’ Last year it never seemed big enough. Can’t find anywhere else to put the out-of-the-way defined space (block roads and buildings are often left up over days and nights so the area cannot be in a class walkway). Make the block area bigger. Make the maths area smaller. That’s OK. Children don’t ‘work’ in the maths area – they take materials from the shelves and work at their tables.

Roughing-in class or activity areas
Blocks done. Maths shelves done. Home corner done. Bookshelves and large cushions done.  Mobilo, lego, constructions and puzzles – not done.
But now, place tables and chairs where children will ‘work’, putting tables together to make hexagonal tables or clusters of tables. Children facing each other at the tables encourages interactions, discussions, cooperation and sharing – my firm beliefs about how children learn!

Finding a home for the last table
Finally… the pile has vanished! The last table finds a home in the science /discovery area. Improve the tatty table with a cream, cotton cloth. That’s better!

Stand back and survey
I’m happy. Some areas are established around the stationary items. Other areas subsequently fall into place: reading/bookshelves/cushions; maths/hands on materials; science/discovery table; blocks; construction/mobilo/lego; home corner/drama.

Stop by the office. Pick up class list. How many students? 25 – a full class. Check for familiar names – younger brothers or sisters of children in previous classes. Scan the birthdates. Later, use the class list to make name charts, name cards and class book pages for the first day. But for now, put the list away. It’s time to go home.

Coming Next:
Starting School Series:
Sorting materials and making a calendar wall.

Co-operative Show and Tell comes to Bushland Primary School

Guess what happens during Co-operative Show and Tell in Ms Squilley Squirrel’s Year One classroom at Bushland Primary School today.

Charlie Chipmunk brings a freshly-chewed apple core that he finds in the grass at the base of a red maple tree. Ms Squilley Squirrel doesn’t see anything interesting in a chewed up, old apple core. But it’s the most exciting thing that’s happened to Charlie Chipmunk this morning and he can’t wait to talk about it – and that’s all that matters.

Charlie Chipmunk and Doris Dove choose to share with each other. Often her students choose friends. Ms Squilley Squirrel doesn’t know why Charlie and Doris choose each other, they just go together. And that’s okay. Doris doesn’t bring anything – and that’s okay too – Doris talks about how she likes to sit on a telephone wire at sunrise and coo peacefully.

Black-eyed Susan and Black-eyed Sarah sway closer together, petal-to-petal, ready to talk and make black-eye contact. First thing this morning, Susan excitedly tells Ms Squilley Squirrel about a black and yellow bumble bee that visits her yesterday. And now, Susan can’t wait to tell Sarah about it .

Hetty House Finch and Chucky Chickadee get ready to turn to each other. Hetty is bursting to tweet about her close encounter with a red-tailed hawk and Chucky is excited about how he flew away fast and escaped the wrath of a Red-breasted Nuthatch at the bird feeder this morning.

Lucy, Larry and Lola Leaf make a group of three for their co-operative show and tell because, coincidentally, they all want to talk about their exciting falls to the ground.

Canada Geese waddle together and make a group of four. Glenda Goose asks Gloria Goose which way her family will fly as winter approaches. Gloria replies they’ll fly straight south. Gregory Goose chimes in that his family is going to Georgia then Gladys Goose adds that she is heading to Mexico with her cousins.

Woolly Bear, who rarely talks in front of the others, is happy to talk when the animals are in small groups. He talks to his friend Golden Woolly Bear about his favourite food, sedum leaves and to his surprise, he learns that Golden Woolly Bear loves sedum leaves too!

Some students finish co-operative show and tell. Charlie Chipmunk can’t wait to draw and write about the apple core he had shown Doris. He races to the flower pot and digs up his journal. Soon, everyone is drawing and writing in their journals. Ms Squilley Squirrel calls it Journal time.

But that’s another story…

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