How to easily teach First Graders how to decompose numbers

Decomposing Numbers in the 1st grade classroom

Hey, friends! I hope each of you are doing well. Life has been crazy busy between two teens and school.

Teaching students to decompose numbers in any grade level can be tricky.

I'm not sure about you, but our curriculum jams everything in at once and it used to kinda make me "lose my marbles" as well as the kids. They "the state" wants our students to decide if a number is even/odd, place value, expanded form and oh so much more. It is so many concepts at once!

I have found a way to incorporate all of those concepts (and more) into our daily routine. It really helped to give students a way to practice daily and it builds (depending on the number of days you've been in school) during the year.

Now, I start this on Day 1....yes I know sounds crazy. You are probably thinking, there is NO WAY I have time for this the first day of school. She has lost her own marbles. haha πŸ˜‰

The first few weeks I would walk through each step as a class. 

  • We look at the number and decide if it is even or odd (and why).
  •  I have students create a number bond using the number of the day as the answer. They will come up with different numbers, especially as the year progresses. As the number grows, you will be blown away at the problems they create. 
  • We complete the place value before we move to expanded notation. I am a stickler on having my students do this step before moving on to the expanded form problem. Having students complete place value first helps them have a better grasp before they try to create expanded form. 
  • They color the flats, longs, cubes
  • We discuss what number comes before, after and at day 10 we add in 10 less and 10 more. Try pulling up a 100's chart for students to visually see what it looks like. Find the number of the day and look at the numbers around it (before, after, above and under). The more resources we give our students the easier it is for them to understand concepts that can be very HARD. 
  • Give yourself GRACE. It can take time, seems overwhelming at first, but it is oh, so worth it  The progress you will see will be amazing. 

Later, I use this as part of their morning work. They come into the classroom, put away their supplies and complete the paper. We check our work together. After they get the hang of it, they can complete it in under 5 minutes and are building a strong number foundation. Extra benefit: it is print and go!

Are you excited to see what I use to save time and my sanity when teaching students to decompose numbers? You can check it out below. 

This product covers: 

  • Even/Odd
  • Number Bonds
  • Expanded Notation (Form)
  • Number before, after, 10 less, 10 more
  • Flats, longs and cubes
Here are a few testimonials on how it has helped other students across the globe. 

"This is a great resource to use starting at the beginning of the year. Judging from last year and where my students struggled most, I like how this will give them the practice they'll need to master those key concepts later on in the year (number bonds / place value/ more/less)"

"This is a great resource to continue to review concepts for my math-phobic son! Thanks!"

"I am slowly, but surely learning the ropes of first grade! This resource has been a big help!"

You can grab your own copy by clicking HERE.

I really hope this strengthens your students number sense and gives them a strong foundation to help them succeed in future important math skills.

Santa Letters Simplified

Dear Santa, "I want it ALL!" No, not really, but how often does it seem our students and own kiddos (if we are being honest) want ANYTHING and EVERYTHING for Christmas.

Every year come December, our students write a letter to Santa (religious beliefs and parents permitting). The letters are sent to our local newspaper and printed. This is a great way for our students to practice another writing skill, but let me be honest for a second... it can be STRESSFUL! It was one of those times that I absolutely DREADED teaching writing (not to mention it took FOR-EVER).

Last year, I decided I had enough of the dread. There had to be an easier way to get the letters written without the frustration. After all, writing a letter to Santa should be exciting! I came up with a simple plan that made this process easier (and less painful for all πŸ˜‰)

Below is what I do in my own classroom that made writing letters to Santa fun and stressfree.


One of the first steps is to create a "wish list" as a class using an anchor chart. Now, I'm not sure about your class but when I would have them brainstorm independently I would have several things happen. First, their lists went on, and on and on for which seemed like an eternity. Next, some didn't know what to write or would get bogged down in not knowing how to spell. Oh, and I can't forget the dreaded phrase, "I can't find my paper!!" Yep, happens at least once,  EVERY...TIME!

When the brainstorming stage is brought to the carpet it allows us to come up with great ideas together. We stretch out sounds, listen for "chunks" we know, point out how we have to capitalize names of toys and many other skills we might quickly cover as a teaching moment happens.

Graphic Organizer

After we brainstorm what we might "want" for Christmas, we move to filling in our graphic organizer. This is done the day after we brainstorm. Too many steps + too quickly = frustration for all.

I came up with the organizer after being frustrated by the process and what I read in their letters. Now, let me be very honest with you... It wasn't any one's fault but my own. I needed a clearer way for my students to SEE what I wanted them to include

My students knew the parts of a letter, but that truly wasn't enough. I needed to slow down, back up a bit and dig deeper into teaching what their letter should include. 

I knew I wanted them to begin the letter by asking Santa a question and not with the statement, "I want." Next, they needed to thank him for something they received the year before.  After they completed both of those sentences they could begin telling Santa what they wanted. I also wanted them to include something they NEEDED. It is a great time to throw in a mini-lesson differentiating needs and wants. πŸ˜‰ I will tell you that including something they need can be enlightening to circumstances they face at home and heartbreaking. 

I like to pull up the organizer on my Smart Board and read each question as a class. They fill in their answers as we go. I also stress answering the questions in a COMPLETE SENTENCE. If they will write in complete sentences on their organizer it SAVES TIME when they write their letter. 

Santa Letter Template

Once their organizers are complete we can move to the final step. Can I get a Yipee?!!

Now that the organizer is finished, they take what they have written and add it to the letter writing paper. The order of the organizer is the same order they will write their letter. This helped to save time in figuring out what order they would write their sentences. 

An extra tidbit that I almost forgot....I like to write one as a class before handing them the reigns to complete their own. This helps them to visually see what they will do. Not to mention, some want to begin a new line for every new sentence. 

Writing one together allows me to include a mini-lesson on when we write letters our sentences don't need to start on a new line every time. 

I  hope this template saves you time, energy and some of your πŸ˜‰sanity when you write Santa letters. To download your own free copy click HERE.

I would love to know what you find frustrating when teaching writing. You can add to the comments below. 


Reading Strategies- Goals 8 & 9

Happy Friday!  How are you? Is your summer break over yet? I go back to work on Monday. The summer flew by! I will be living up at the school most of the weekend to get my classroom ready.

This week we are tackling Goals 9 and 10.

Goal 9

Supporting Comprehension in Nonfiction

This particular goal is important because readers need to understand not only what the text is mostly about but they need to identify which facts correlate with the main idea. Below are a few of my favorite strategies from this goal. 

9.2 Reading with a Sense of "Wow"

"When you read with curiosity and interest, you're more likely to learn and remember the new information you encounter." (pg 251) We want readers to listen with "wonder" and to think about facts they might not have known before reading the text. 

This strategy would be great to introduce to the whole group (especially when first reading nonfiction text with first graders). It is teaching students to read informational text knowing they will learn something. It is easier to sit back and listen to a text for enjoyment but much hard to listen knowing you need to pull out important information. I have had students who tried to zone when listening to a topic that they "think" they know all the facts there is to know about the subject. 

I believe that this strategy would help students to expect to learn new information and to approach an informational text with the excitement of what they can learn. 

9.3 A Spin on KWL 

I really liked the twist on this goal from the traditional KWL chart. In this goal, students "jot" what they know for sure, what they think they know and what they wonder. I LOVE how it has students discussing what they are wondering about the given topic. 

9.5 Gather Up Facts

In this strategy, students read part of a book (or the whole book if it is short) and recall what they have read. 

How often do students read a book and then they can't recall what they read? I like how this strategy has students stop often and reflect what they are learning. They are thinking about the facts they have learned to see if they understand what they are reading. 

Goal 10 Supporting Comprehension in Nonfiction

Text features are a big part of reading, navigating, and understanding nonfiction text. I like how the author talks about how as teachers we need to do more than help students identify the text features. As we introduce the text features, we need to help students use them to get more information from the text.

10.3 Reread and SKetch with More Detail

This goal would be a fun way for students to remember the facts in a book. It teaches students to reread to add more details. 

I like how it is teaching students to sketch what they remember in chunks. They read, sketch, reread, add more details and reread again. It allows students to visually see how when we reread information we can learn something new each time.  

10.5 Get More from Pictures

When you are reading a text, how often do you "skim" the pictures? I LOVE how this is helping students to gather more information from the pictures the author is providing. 

Students look at the picture, read the text and decide, "What in the picture is the same as what's in the words? What's new?" (pg 278) Then, students say the extra facts out loud. It allows them to think about what they have learned from the picture that is not in the words. 

10.7 Bold Words Signal Importance

This strategy has students use text looking at bold words to reflect if they know what they word means. It has them checking to see if they can figure out what the word means based on how it is used in the sentence. If they can't, they flip to the glossary to learn the meaning.  This is giving them the skills they need to use different text features to help them learn the meaning of important words. 

Thanks for joining me this week! What was your favorite strategy this week? 


Reading Strategies- Goals 5 and 6

Hey, guys! Happy Friday! How was your week?

This week we are reviewing goals 5 and 6. When I read the titles of the Goals, I thought, "Oh, good! I LOVE teaching comprehension" (Not to mention I like to incorporate high-yield strategies to help my students practice comprehension. I will share some of my favorites in future blog postsπŸ˜‰).

Now, before I share some of my favorite goals from this week I want to let you in on a little secret. It is a time that I want to #getreal with ya' for a minute. In the past when I thought about teaching plot to first graders it made me feel like I was heading for a downward spiral (not knowing where I would land). There are SO many components, and it seemed #overwhelming on how can I make it understandable for my firsties. Can you relate? Maybe you have another #overwhelming feeling when teaching another strategy. If you do, and feel lead to share, feel free to do so in the comments. If there is a way I can help you overcome that feeling, I would LOVE to help!

After reading Goal 5, I do think I am better prepared to dive deeper into teaching plot. Now, I get to share with you a few of my favorite strategies from Goal 5.

Supporting Comprehension in Fiction

Understanding Plot and Setting

Why is this goal important? When students' read, they need to understand what is happening in the story.  I like how she used the term, "make a movie in their minds." (pg 130) What kid doesn't like to watch movies, cartoons and share about their favorite! For this to happen, students need to know what's going on, who is involved, and where the action is taking place.

I loved how she broke down the different parts of a plot. It made sense and helped me see that the #scaryterm #plot was just that, a term that I thought was scary, but one that I had been teaching my students (without using the term plot). Students may need help in understanding the plot and setting in a story. This has several different parts. 
  • If a student understands the problem and solution in a story, it will help them decide what is important.
  • Retelling/Summarizing. Serravallo mentioned that these terms are often confused and used interchangeably. I like how both terms were described. Think of retelling as an oral summary of a text using story elements. It should be sequential and will have more details than a summary. Summaries give important information without the use of much detail. 
  • When students visualize the setting, it allows them to see how to impacts the events and also see when the setting changes.
  • Synthesizing cause and effect helps the reader know what causes certain events and how they are connected to the story.

5.2 Title Power

This is such a simple strategy that can be used early on in a students' reading. With this strategy, you read the title and tell students to keep the title in mind as they read. The goal is for them to think about the events in the story that connects back to the title

It would be a great stepping stone to get students to begin thinking how the title relates to the problem in the story. I can see this being used during a read aloud. The teacher can write the title on chart paper and then use interactive writing time to reflect on the problem that relates to the title. 

5.4 Uh-oh... Phew

I have to say this might have been one of my favorite strategies that are suitable for first grade. The language used in the prompts is kid friendly, and catchy so I see it being one that is easy for them to remember. 

It works like this....when students' retell the story they need to think about the problem (uh-oh), how it gets worse (UH-OH!) and how it gets solved (phew). Using the story mountain with the retell allows students to retell the story while touching the parts of the mountain as they retell. 

This strategy has students thinking about the problem using fewer words than retelling the whole story. I do believe that it will take practice with first graders. Most of the time, they either want to tell every detail they can think of or it is like pulling teeth trying to get them to say much of anything. If we can work on this type of summarizing at an earlier grade level, I do believe it will help when they have to do it on standardized tests. 

5.7 Series Books Have Predictable Plots

This is a great goal to practice for students who are reading chapter books. When students find a series they like, it allows them to think about the different problems the characters might face and how they will solve the problem

One of my favorite short chapter books I read aloud to my students is Roscoe Riley Rules.  My students love all of the books in the series. If you have never read one, Roscoe is ALWAYS getting himself into a predicament. Roscoe tells his story from his "time-out" chair. So, we know it is a guarantee Roscoe will get in trouble at some point in time in the book and will end up in time-out. 

The prompts included in this goal is perfect for several different chapter books. A few books that I think would work well is Magic Tree House, Junie B. Jones, Cam Jansen, and Zoey & Sassafrass (one I hope to add to my collection this summer). 

Is there a chapter book series you thought would work with one of the goals? If so, please share. I LOVE finding new books to read. 😊

Supporting Comprehension in Fiction

Thinking About Characters

Characters develop during a story. It is also connected to plot development.  When reading, we want our students to pay attention to the details the author is sharing about the characters. This will help to discover who they are. Students' must be able to use inferencing skills to help with this discovery. 

One of my favorite parts of this goal can be found on page 164 when she broke down what a student should be able to do based on their reading level. #helptakeguessworkout of character development. I am sharing a few of the levels below but left off past level N. 

Level E-J: characters tend to be simple. At this level, students should be able to describe the character using simple language like, "he is sad," "he likes to play outside."
Level J/K: character feelings might change.  So, the character might be sad in the beginning but by the end of the story is happy because of an event that happened. 
Level N+: characters become multidimensional. This shows how a character can have more than one side, depending on the setting of the story.

6.2 What's in the Bubble?

This is such a fun goal and will be easy to adjust depending on the reading level of your group. It allows students to begin thinking what the character is thinking (even when the words on the page don't tell us).

I love how she suggests using sticky notes to flag pages to help hold their thinking. The use of speech bubbles on sticks is an easy way to have students pause and talk about what the character might be thinking. Upper levels can write in the bubbles.

This goal would be easy to incorporate independently and with a partner.

6.3 Put On the Character's Face

How much fun do you think this would be to incorporate in your classroom? I think my students would love making a face to fit an emotion for a poster.  Almost every year I have at least one student who struggles with showing (or knowing) their feelings. This activity would be a great visual connection. It would allow them to point to an emotion that matches the character AND can make the same face themselves. 

6.7 Role-Playing Character to Understand them Better

This is such a fun way for students to get to know characters in a story better. I can see it being an extension activity.  (I would probably want them to read the story for 2 days before tackling this activity independently), When students are ready, they could work in pairs during a literacy station to choose a scene and act it out. They would LOVE this. Depending on their reading level you could even have them write out a simple script of what they want to say during the scene. If you have the technology available, another student could record their scene using an iPad. My students LOVE activities where they can be creative and share with their classmates. 

Well, that is a few of my favorite strategies for this week. What was your favorite takeaway? Is there a goal that seems overwhelming? Feel free to share! I can't wait to read your thoughts for the week. 


Reading Strategies- Goals 3 and 4

Hey, guys! How was your week? I hope it has been incredible. We have had a week full of a birthday party, swimming, cooking out on the grill, card games and so much more!

This week we are diving into Goals 3 and 4. I hope you enjoyed reading the goals as much as me.

Goal 3

Supporting Print Work

When I first began reading this chapter, the first sentence really stuck out. It was one that had me reflecting (again). "In order to construct accurate meaning from a text, children need to read words correctly, integrating three sources of information: meaning, syntax, and visual." (pg 76)  WOW! That is a lot of balls for a student learning to read to juggle. Naturally, it would be difficult for them to use all 3 concepts correctly all the time when learning to read. As teachers, we have an incredible opportunity to give them the tools/strategies they need to use all three when reading. 

How do I know if this goal is right for my students?

Running records is the best tool we have as teachers to know. There is a wealth of knowledge we learn about where a student is, in the reading process when we look at their running records. What type of mistakes are they making? Do they go back and re-read when it doesn't sound like a book? Are they missing the vowel sound, changing the beginning, middle or end of a word? Do they substitute a word for one they know (but it still might make sense in the story)? I always learn so much when I evaluate what they are doing while they are reading.

What do you use for running records? Our district currently uses F&P for the beginning, middle and end of the year. The rest of the time, my running records come from books in our literacy closet or Learning A-Z readers.

Now for the good stuff! I want to share with you a few of my favorite strategies from this goal.

3.4 Does That Sound Like a Book?

This strategy is suitable for any level and any type of text. It is also a strategy that I have often used in my guided reading time ( of my favorite times of the day πŸ˜‰). 

I really like how she changed the language in this strategy. Up to this point, there were times I had said, "Does that make sense?" In doing so, I did not realize how this might affect my ELL's.  I like how she explained that the words they read have to sound like a book.  In making a simple change such as this, it could really help some of my students. 

3.14 Run Into the First Part

I like how she explains that looking at the first few letters of a word you are getting a "running" start and what kid doesn't like to get a head start! πŸ˜‰ "...when children slow down to approach an unknown word, they drop the meaning from the entire beginning of the sentence and just start puzzling over the word." (pg 93) Yes! Yes! Yes! I couldn't agree more. Something to keep in mind when using this strategy is when a word has a digraph. We want them to see the digraph as one sound. The same can be said for blends. If it is a muli-syllable word, we want to give them the tools they need to break it apart and use the strategy for each syllable.

I can't wait to try out this strategy during the school year with my students using the prompts she provided. 

3.18 Cover and Slide

I love using this strategy in my guided reading groups. I have found it really helps some of my babies not feeling overwhelmed when reading a word that "looks" like it might be difficult. Sometimes my students come to an unknown word and stop altogether. They try the "I don't know that word" even before attempting to break it apart. When I first use this strategy with my students, I show them how to cover up part of the word as they are reading and we break it apart then put it back together. After awhile, I see my students applying this strategy when they are independently reading.

Goal 4

Teaching Fluency

I love, love, love how she explained what type of fluency is acceptable at specific reading levels.  It was also exciting to see that she is not a fan of the dreaded stop watch being used to determine fluency. I always have students who get nervous when the stop watch is pulled out to "time" their reading. 

Using a blank piece of paper for a running record, we can add a slash to show how many words a student read in a phrase.

4.5 Say Good-Bye to Robot Reading

This strategy is teaching kids to read a few words at a time instead of reading word by word. One thing I like to do with this strategy is to pull up the Go Noodle song, Don't Read Like a Robot. They LOVE this song, and it would be an excellent introduction to this strategy.

4.9 Partners Help to Smooth It Out

Do you have your students read with a partner during your literacy block? My students LOVE reading with their buddy. 

I like how it is teaching students to not only listen to themselves reading but also their partner. It would help cut down on the times the partner is spending more time looking at what is happening around them instead of being a buddy when reading. Focusing on the phrase you want them to repeat to their partner will help give them the tools they need to help one another read. The active listening rate would definitely increase using this strategy.

4.15 Warm-Up Phrases

This strategy is a quick practice for students to read phrases that show up in books. This will help them practice reading phrases in books. 

One way I incorporate this in our Literacy Block is in our "Fluency" Station. This station has leveled sets of phrases for students to practice reading. They also choose what type of voice they want to read the phrases in. They take turns reading the phrases with a partner and a minute timer. The timer helps them take turns quickly without arguing. They LOVE this station and frequently hear giggles. 

Well, that is a few of my favorites from this week's goals. Do you have a goal that stuck out to you this week? Is there a strategy that you would love to try out this next school year? I would LOVE to hear your thoughts below. 

See you next week with Goals 5 and 6.