Sunday, June 23, 2013

Just Teach It (Whole Group Style)

Have I mentioned how much I adore summer? J I’m kidding! I know I’ve mentioned it only a gazillion times already, but holy guacamole I love, love, love all of the fun it brings. The only thing better than hanging out by the pool with fabulous friends is going to a summer wedding with your fabulous friends (after hanging out at the pool). Throw in a little road trip and you have how I spent yesterday in a neat little party sized nut shell. Yesterday was a day of celebration for the first grade team- - one of our own became a Mrs.! A sea of alligators, spiders and cockroaches couldn’t stop me from taking part in the festivities (and I’m deathly afraid of all 3).

A little bit of sun and a whole lot of fun is good for the soul…bad for your energy & motivation the next day, but hey! You only live once! Now that I’m in my comfy clothes, the hubby is watching golf, and my super sweet fur babies are curled up at my feet reality is hitting that I have a pretty daunting to do list approaching for the week (first and foremost: major grocery shopping…barf)! Before I start orchestrating that fabulous outing I figured I would link up with Leigh at the Applicious Teacher for the third week of the Apple a Day blogging linky. This week’s focus: Whole Group Instruction.

Whole Group Instruction can be pretty darn challenging- -trying to keep the attention of 18 little ones takes a lot of magic and sparkles that’s for sure- -and sometimes a bribe here and there. Magic && sparkles meaning teacher tricks to keep everyone focused, on task, and actively engaged- -I’m certainly no Harry Potter. . .sorry to disappoint. Of course without a magic wand of my own there will undoubtedly be a kid or two that is taking a short vacation into LaLa Land or one that is chewing on their shoe lace (apparently they taste delicious…double barf), but for the  most part whole group instruction is a piece of cake! I say that because to me it’s kind of like baking a cake…you have to have the right ingredients, there are steps to follow, and you have to spend the right amount of time. If you bake the cake for too long you’ll burn it to a crisp and if you don’t bake it long enough you’ll have a cake with a soupy center. So without further rambling, here is my recipe for Whole Group Instruction!


Step 1: Location is Everything

You wouldn’t bake a cake in the microwave (even though Pinterest has those cakes in a mug thingies…I remain a skeptic) and you definitely wouldn’t bake one in the bathroom. Location is everything with W.G.I. It needs to take place in an organized space where you can maximize your “baking” time. I’ve found that with first graders it’s too much for them to be spread out around the room at their various tables while I’m trying to teach the entire group. For that reason I’m a huge fan of carpet time. They’re all right in front of me and I can reach out and tap them if they need extra reminders to stay with me. My polka dotted rug is our gathering place and it’s at the front and center of my classroom (right by my Smartboard). I’ve gone through plenty of rugs in the 7 years that I’ve been in the classroom (our custodians run over the edges of them thus making them into a curled up magic carpet ride that the safety inspectors don’t think too highly of). I’ve finally found one that they haven’t been able to destroy- -it’s not as fluffy as it was 3 years ago, but for the most part it’s winning the battle between the vacuum cleaner. If someone just absolutely can’t sit still or manage to focus (we all know this happens) I’ll ask them to sit at their seats, but for the most part they’re on the carpet…right in front of me…in the middle of the action && I like it like that.


Step 2: Preheat

You pre-heat an oven for one purpose- -to get it to the right temperature to bake your cake. “Pre-Heating” your students is when you’re prepping them to be ready to learn. This involves the laying of ground rules (and the constant reminders of said rules). I don’t have assigned seats on the rug in first grade. I did in Pre-K because well you can imagine the melt downs that happened when Julian sat on Parker’s red dot and it was his red dot- -no other red dot would do. By the time our babies make it to the first grade classroom they’re a little more mature- -some days more than others, but overall it’s not as crucial to sit on the same red dot every.single.time. Just because I haven’t assigned seats in the past doesn’t mean that I won’t have to in the future. Every class is different and you have to do what works best with that class. I DO expectations about where you can sit and who you can sit by. It’s a simple rule: don’t sit next to someone that you can’t learn next to. If you want to sit next to your BFFL cool beans, but if you’re playing and not listening I get to make the decision of where you sit. My boys were awful about it this year. They weren’t allowed to sit next to each other under any circumstances because it always ended badly- -think rock, paper, scissors in the middle of a read aloud. All it took was one look and they would scatter faster than cockroaches when a light is turned on. They just couldn’t handle themselves- -they knew it, I knew it, we all knew it. My other expectations are equally simple: sit criss cross applesauce with your hands in your lap, eyes watching, ears listening, brain thinking, and voice turned off.   


Step 3: Time It Right

Timing is everything when you’re baking a cake && it’s equally important in the teaching world. There’s so much to cram into any given day so time really is a virtue. It can definitely slip away from you easier than a popsicle melts in the hot July sun. It’s good to hold yourself accountable for staying within a given time frame, but it’s also fabulous to make your students aware of your time frames too because lord knows they can take all day doing the smallest of the tasks (because cutting paper into millions of tiny pieces is far more important than anything else in the world…well except for eating pizza).

My W.G.I. almost always requires the kids to either write an answer on a dry erase board, find a page in their reading book, cut something out to use for the lesson, turn and talk to their neighbor, etc, etc, etc. Sometimes I use my simple little teacher timer (I really need this super cute flamingo timer), but other times I like to spice it up a bit with visual timers. Online-Stopwatch is a website that has some really cool visual timers. True they’re not the fanciest of all graphics, but my kids loved them to the moon and back (especially the firework one). I use them a lot during small group instruction when they’re rotating through centers independently, but they’re good to keep track of W.G.I. tasks too.


Step 4: Ingredients

Nothing can ruin making a cake faster than not having an ingredient. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to get an ingredient, it’s not there, and I have to make a mad rush trip to the grocery store. Frustrating doesn’t even begin to describe it. Making sure you have everything ready to go for your lesson is a must do. Keeping it all organized- -well that can get a little cray cray. Before I leave school for the day I get all of my read alouds and materials that I’ll need for the next day placed into the basket by my Adirondack chair. My kids know not to go into it (doesn’t mean that they don’t look in it), but they don’t touch anything in it. It’s nothing fancy just a cute woven basket with handles that sits next to my chair on the floor for easy grab and go of the things I need for the lesson. The rest of the week’s stuff is stored on a shelf by my desk.

This area is getting a serious upgrade this summer- -either my dad or my husband WILL be making me something like this. That’s pure cuteness with a colorful cork board hanging above it. I’m in love already!


Step 5: Share the Sweetness

Hopefully you share your cakes after you bake them- -I love sweets more than anything, but even I always share. The same goes for your classroom- -give everyone a chance to enjoy the sweet lesson that you’ve cooked up for them. In my room it always seems to be the same friends who want to share with me. They’re my eager beavers and I love them, but I also want my quiet loves to participate too. It’s easy to call on the one kid who’s waving their hand wildly in the air like they just don’t care, but it’s really important to me to have everyone participating. To help me keep track of who I’ve already called on I use the popsicle stick method. Every friend has a popsicle stick with their name written on it. All of the sticks go into a cup and I pull a stick each time I need help answering a question or figuring something out. After their stick has been pulled, it goes to the side until everyone has had a chance. It really works out great with games on the Smartboard when everyone is dying to get a chance to play because after all, all is fair when popsicle sticks are used…and life doesn’t always have to be unfair. Of course my plain little cup that I’ve been using for forever is due for a face lift too && you would be nuttier than a jar of crunchy peanut butter to think that I didn’t have something in mind already. My love of chevron is only rivaled by my love for mason jars. There’s just something about those things that have attached themselves to my heart. Here’s my “PIN-spiration”- -I’m thinking a chevron bow is definitely making its way on to my new and improved stick jar! I’ll post pictures later this week when I get it fancied up!  
Until next time friends!


  1. Teaching is just like baking! Great analogy and great post. Thanks for linking up, Amy! I love the online timers... I just can't seem to get them up fast enough! LOL! :)

    The Applicious Teacher

  2. Thanks! My computer is known for being difficult and causing problems when I need something quick so I definitely know the feeling! :)