From the Mouths of Babes

Life is pretty fast-paced in first grade. Funny or touching things happen and we usually just keep on moving, but these two gems needed to be written down today. Enjoy!


Number 1: Today, my first graders were gathered in a room to get their vision checked, which is a yearly occurrence at our school. The vision lady was calling kids up to her fancy machine one by one, saying their full first names from the list the office gave her. She, of course, did not know that in class we call Isabella, Ella…Alexander, Alex…and Alexsandra, Allie. After the third time, one of my boys, not realizing the woman was just saying their full names, piped up, “Maybe YOU need glasses!” I think the vision lady pretended not to hear him. I just laughed on the inside.


Number 2: Our Bible story today was about Jacob tricking Isaac into giving him the blessing instead of Esau. At the end of the story, I told the kids that God had a plan for Jacob and that God used Jacob even though he lied and tricked his father. I said I was thankful for this story because I know that God can use me, too, in spite of my sin.  It was near the end of the day and no one really seemed to be listening anymore–or so I thought. When the helper of the day came up to pray for us before going home, he prayed this prayer:

“Dear God, thank you that we could go to school today and learn about you. Thank you that even though we mess up sometimes, you have a plan for us. Amen.”

I love my job. 🙂

Authors = Rock Stars

I had a moment last Friday afternoon when I knew I should have been listening to what Lisa McMann, New York Times Bestselling Author, was saying, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the 4th and 5th graders who were hanging on her every word.

I watched their faces and wondered, “How many of these students are being inspired to become authors? How many reluctant readers are thinking they need to read one of Lisa’s amazing books?” I have to admit that I was also distracted by my colleagues who appeared to be just as excited as the kids were!

Look at those faces…also note the teacher faces!

The excitement level had been building in our school since the beginning of the year! Suddenly, Lisa’s books were everywhere. Students were itching to get their hands on a copy of The Unwanteds. Avid readers of The Unwanteds series were a little upset that they had to wait a little longer than the rest of the world to read Book 4 (Island of Legends) since they were waiting to buy a signed copy. I had students ask me, “How many more days until Lisa McMann comes? When is it Friday?!” Even my reluctant readers were getting pumped up about meeting Lisa.


Lisa told the students that when she was a kid, she thought all authors were dead. The students thought that was funny, but it made me think about the wonderful shift that has occurred in interactions between authors and readers due to author visits and social media. My students commonly say, “I have a question, does this author Tweet?” I think many of my students are more shocked when I tell them an author is no longer living, and I think that is because we are able to interact with so many authors through technology. Authors are joining the rank of rock stars, and that makes me so happy!

Our 4th and 5th graders will not soon forget this visit. They were still buzzing about it on Monday when they all had to come and tell me that they had gone to see Lisa at Barnes and Noble and that they now had their own KITTEN! (“And guess what…she even gave me a couple extras to give my friends!”)


Kitten says, “Thank you, Lisa McMann, for connecting with our students and speaking to their young reading and writing hearts! Thank you to all authors everywhere who are tweeting, instagraming, facebooking, and visiting students around the world because you never know what future authors, illustrators, editors, and readers you may be inspiring!”

A Little Bit of Love

Recess duty. Probably one of my least favorite things about being a teacher. Sure, it’s not so bad right now, but when it gets cold, windy, rainy, and then snowy, I have to turn into an Eskimo:



Anyway, I digress. Sometimes good things can happen at recess. 🙂 I had recess duty on Tuesday and I witnessed some beautiful acts of love from some of our littlest people.

About three minutes into recess, two second grade girls, both my former students, came up to me very concerned about a little kindergartener who did not have a friend to play with. The girls tried to help him find a friend from his class, but the little guy kept shouting and running away from them (this may have contributed to the whole difficultyfindingafriend thing). They asked me if I could help. I approached the young man (let’s call him James for the sake of making this a little less confusing) and watched for a bit, making a plan while he stood forlornly by the zip line. Out of nowhere, another kindergarten boy came up and asked if James would tie his shoes for him. I almost fell over when James forgot his loneliness and immediately bent down and TIED THE KID’S SHOES! Friends, I have first graders that don’t know how to tie their shoes yet. I was floored! Even more surprising was the fact that after the shoe-tying was over, they both went off to play together happily. Win-win!

Also during this same recess, one of my first graders fell on the playground and scraped up her leg and knee. She was quite beside herself for a while, so we sat on a bench on the playground for a bit. A gaggle of girls from my class came over to see if everything was okay and one of them, after seeing it wasn’t a life or death situation, expertly distracted the injured girl and asked her to play with her and the rest of the girls. A tear-stained, but smiling face followed them across the playground.

I am so thankful for these little acts of love that happen every day. I think sometimes we take them for granted and forget what a beautiful thing it is when little people step outside of themselves for a moment to help someone else. Keep an eye out for the small acts of love little (and big) people do for one another in your world this week.

How’s It Going?

Teachers and parents alike have been asking me this question since I removed most of the desks from my classroom and replaced them with alternative forms of seating.

People. This has been the best experience of my teaching career. We have the space to spread out. There are places to work by yourself or with a partner. Kids are not fighting over who gets to sit on the couch because there are many cozy spots to work. There is a quiet buzzing of kids working and learning together.

So far I have been assigning a different “around-the-room” spot each day so the kids get familiar with the possible work spaces and have the opportunity to try many of them out. I think we are almost to the point where I will start letting them choose where to go to work. I set up very clear expectations from day one and we have been practicing the routines and procedures each day. The kids are handling this new situation beautifully and we have had an amazing start to the year.

Here are some pictures of the kids in action:

Playing a math game.

Playing a math game.


Playing a math game.

Playing a math game.


Creating people cutouts to look like us.

Creating people cutouts to look like us.


Kicking back to do some cutting.

Kicking back to do some cutting.


Coloring on the couch.

Coloring on the couch.

The scoop chairs have been a big hit.

The scoop chairs have been a big hit.


Working hard with room to spread out.

Working hard with room to spread out.


Practicing our stamina for reading to ourselves.

Practicing our stamina for reading to ourselves.


One of my favorite things to come out of this new set-up is our lunchtime gatherings. The “furniture movers” move the small tables to the side and we set out name tags and plastic trays on the floor in a large rectangle. The name tags get shuffled each day, so we sit by different people each day. Even Mrs. Kiepert has a name tag. We talk to each other while we get settled on the floor. Once all the chocolate milk containers, yogurts, bananas, and fruit cups are opened, I read from a chapter book while the kids eat. When we’re done eating, we put the garbage can in the middle of the floor and the kids clean off their trays with an anti-bacterial wipe and start on their math problem of the day. I thought our floor was going to be a huge mess, but it has actually been cleaner than in past years. We’ve talked a lot about how we have to work on the floor, so we want to keep it as clean as possible. It’s been a beautiful thing.




If you are a parent of one of my students this year, please stop by sometime to check out our learning. We would love to have you!


Tired voice?

5th grade is off to a great start! I have another amazing class and I am already excited for all the new things I will be able to do with this “family.”   I did something today that I have tried before but never had success with…until today!

Let me tell you the story.

We are working our way though all the different genres in Language Arts right now by reading a picture book and then taking notes on what characteristics each genre has.

My voice is always a mess during these first few weeks of school and today my voice had finally had enough! It was worn out and tired. I casually said to my class, “I’m sorry that my voice is so bad right now!” One of my students quickly said, “I’ll teach!”

I dropped my pen onto the sheet we were writing on and said, “It’s all yours!” My notes were all on the table, so I knew he would have something to look at. I didn’t expect this to go well, so I stood off to the side of the room in order to quickly regain control of the room.

To my shock and delight, this student said, “Ok…who can tell me what kind of characters we would find in Historical Fiction books?”


I suddenly realized this was going to go well, so I went to sit down at his desk in order to write down the notes for him and play the role of a student. The rest of the class didn’t quite know how to handle it or how long I was going to let this happen, but they also embraced the moment and even referred to him as Mr. _________.

This student proceeded to walk and talk the class through character, plot, and setting for historical fiction books. If students didn’t quite give the right answer to his question he would say things like, “That’s good, but not quite what we are looking for” or “What else could you tell me?”

It was amazing! Never before have I been so thankful for my tired, beginning of the school year voice. I know I will have more students who will want to do this and what a fabulous way to empower them and make them really own their learning as individuals and as a community! Today’s student set the bar so high that others will to rise to the challenge. I have a feeling that this is going to become quite common and popular in my room this year, and what a blessing to be able to witness it all unfold in front of me.

Have I mentioned lately that I love my job?

Picture Book 10 for 10 – Best Read Alouds

This is my second year participating in the August Picture Book 10 for 10 Event hosted by Cathy Mere of Reflect & Refine: Building a Learning Community and Mandy Robek of Enjoy and Embrace Learning. I look forward to seeing everyone’s lists!

After much thought, I have come up with a list of the top 10 (possibly 11…whoops!) books that I either love reading aloud to my first graders or can’t wait to read aloud this year. Some are old and some are new, but they all have a certain something that catches the attention of wiggly 6-year-olds. And that is a beautiful thing. Here we go…

PS…our blog is doing weird things and no matter what I try, I can’t get the spacing right. Apologies!


1. The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School by Laurie Halse Anderson

The title alone makes this a must read. Zoe is a girl with a LOT of hair. And it can do tricks! It was so helpful in kindergarten, but now her first grade teacher is fed up with her unruly locks. But Zoe finds a way to help her teacher see that her hair doesn’t have to be a nuisance.

2. The Surprise by Sylvia van Ommen
This is a wordless picture book that follows a sheep as she makes her wool into something for a friend. You don’t know until the last page what she’s making or who it’s for. This book is great for making inferences.
3. A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead
This is one of my all-time favorite books. Zoo worker, Amos, visits the animals at the zoo each day. He knows just what each one needs. When he is sick one day, the animals make their way to his house to help him feel better. This is a quiet story of kindness and compassion.
4. Who Wants a Cheap Rhinoceros? by Shel Silverstein
This book is hilarious. Go read it. Right now.
5. Ira Sleeps Over by Bernard Waber
I read this book every year. The dialogue is so fun to read out loud and the kids always jump in fright when it’s time for the ghost story part.
6. Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag
Friends. This book is old.  Like 1928 old. And I think I might just love it because I really identify with the man in the story who keeps finding cats he wants to take home. I don’t actually have a cat right now, but every time I see one I want to take it home. Anyway…the first graders always join in with the repeating line, “Cats here, cats there, cats and kittens everywhere. Hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats.”  Good times.
7. Who Is Melvin Bubble? by Nick Bruel
In this hilarious book, everyone who knows Melvin Bubble has something to say about him. Even Santa.
8. Pickle-Chiffon Pie by Jolly Roger Bradfield
Three interesting princes must find “the most wonderful thing” in the forest and present it to the King in order to win the hand of the beautiful Princess. Kindness wins in this funny little story.
9. Betty Bunny Didn’t Do It by Michael B. Kaplan
If you haven’t discovered the Betty Bunny books yet, please go and buy all four of them. They are all excellent. In this one, Betty Bunny breaks a lamp, lies about it, and then blames the Tooth Fairy. The fun thing about the Betty Bunny books is that we’re never quite sure if Betty has learned her lesson in the end.
10. Pardon Me! by Daniel Miyares
When I got this book, I read it three times in a row. It’s that good. A little bird who is on his last nerve just wants to sit quietly on his perch, but he keeps getting interrupted. And that’s all I’m going to tell you. Get this book.
11. Poor Doreen: A Fishy Tale by Sally Lloyd-Jones
I just got this book and have to add it to my list. The more I read this book, the funnier it gets. Doreen is a fish and she is completely clueless about the terrible things that are happening to her on her journey to visit her “second cousin twice removed who’s just had 157 babies.” I love how the narrator talks to Doreen throughout the whole story. I can’t wait to read this one aloud.
So there you go!  I hope you found some new books to check out and read aloud in your own classrooms!

Can Kids Learn Without Desks?

Where do you do your best work? Where do you read? Write? Balance your checkbook? Pay your bills? Converse with friends? Check your email? I’m guessing we would all have different answers for those questions. One of my favorite places in my house is my big, comfy green chair. It has huge arms for holding my books, papers, notebooks, teacher manuals…whatever I am working on. And it’s just so cozy! I’m sitting in it as I type this!


My favorite green chair surrounded by our new bookcases, which we’ve dreamed about for 5 years.


I asked my husband where he does his best work. His response? An L-shaped work station. Totally not cozy. He works at his desk all day and then at night, he’ll sit at the kitchen table while he works on things. We are completely different in our preferences, but somehow we both get our work done.

You know what’s crazy (or maybe not really that crazy)?  Kids often differ in where they do their best learning.  For some, sitting in a desk can be torture. Others love it. I feel quite strongly that we need to offer some choice about where kids can work around the room. I’ve been offering seating choice for a number of years in my classroom, as have many other teachers.  As a whole, I think we teachers try to give as many options as we can. We put in couches and comfy chairs and spread out some pillows if we have room. The problem is that, when the classroom is filled with twenty-some bulky desks with chairs attached, it doesn’t leave a lot of space to offer lots of options for the kids. This year I am excited to say that I have said goodbye (with permission, of course) to all but four of my student desks and have brought in some alternative forms of seating for the students.

Please join me on a little tour…

Teaching has certainly changed over the years. Although we still gather as a whole group for read-alouds and mini-lessons, a lot of our day is spent working in small groups or as individuals on authentic tasks such as reading, writing, and math games. This allows me to meet with kids at their level and differentiate the learning that’s taking place.

We have two main areas to gather as a large group. The first is the green carpet area. This is where we will read books together, share Bible stories, have devotions each morning, and spend time sharing our lives together.


The second is the whiteboard area. We will gather here in the mornings to greet each other, sing a song or two together, take a look at the calendar and the schedule for the day, and work through some morning routines.



Students will be able to keep their supplies in small plastic tubs on this shelving unit. They will be able to carry their tub to wherever they are working in the room. Their folders and workbooks will be kept in baskets and handed out when needed.




When students are working individually or in small groups, they will be able to choose from a variety of work spaces. They can sit or kneel on a cushion by a small table, stand by the counter, grab a clipboard and sit in a bean bag or scoop chair, curl up in a corner with a pillow, or simply lay down on the floor and prop themselves up with their forearms. For those who like to work at a desk or larger table, there are spots open for them as well.


These are some of the small tables available for work stations. The boxes contain pillows for comfy seating. The bean bags will have to be taken elsewhere in the room–it would be hard to sit on them otherwise. 🙂



This table gets used for a lot of things. It might be for a group of kids playing a math or word work game together. I might meet with a small group here or it might be used for a couple of kids who need some space away from the others in order to get their work done.



A lot of kids really like standing by the counter as they work. They are most likely the same kids who eat dinner standing up. The counter will be less cluttered by the time school starts.


The furniture is light and easy to move around the room when necessary. When the large group spots are not being used, the students will be able to move the tables and other furniture quite easily into that space to fit their needs. They’ll be able to find a spot where they can do their best learning and stay engaged in their work. We will also be able to quickly and easily move or stack things off to the side if we happen to need a “stage” or if the other first graders are coming to join us for a special event. There is a lot of flexibility with this new design.

I have had a lot of different reactions from people when I tell them I’m piloting this idea in my classroom. Some are really excited about it and some just think I’m crazy.  Why, even Mr. Jack, our custodian, is a little skeptical about how this is all going to work. 🙂

I will tell you that first graders need to feel a sense of safety and community in order to learn. Many also like to have order and predictability (this is most evident when a guest teacher visits for the day…”Mrs. Kiepert doesn’t do it that way.”). I also know that I, personally, am not a fan of chaos and crazy. I’ve thought this through extensively and I think we will begin with quite a bit of teacher-directed order as we get to know each other and our surroundings and then we can begin to explore different ways to use the furniture in the classroom.

So. Will this year be perfect? Nope. I’m sure there will be things that come up that I haven’t thought about yet and it will throw me off from time to time. But I am excited to see how the kids work and learn in our space this year. It’s going to be a great adventure!


If you’d like to read about a school that is doing something very similar, check out this post about classroom design:


P.S. You may be wondering about lunch. We eat in our classrooms, so that is something that I’ve pondered for many weeks. Months, even. It was my biggest hurdle with the redesign. But I have a plan. And someday there may be a blog post about how my plan was a glorious success!


What Does the Cross Mean to You?

Have you thought about the cross lately?

The fifth graders led our all school chapel today and helped us to focus on the cross. There were many elements to the chapel, but I was moved to tears a couple of times as fifth graders shared what they had written about the cross and about Jesus’ sacrifice for them.

When we got back to our classroom after chapel, we spent some time writing, drawing, and reflecting about what we had heard. It was uncharacteristically quiet (we are a pretty chatty bunch) as the kids worked. I wanted to share some of their responses with you.


“The cross means his suffering for us and forgiving our sins–like, 1,000 sins–and that is a lot of sinning for us, but Jesus forgave us and that is a lot of forgiving.”

“The cross means to me that Jesus died on the cross for us. Thank you  Jesus, that you died on the cross.”

“The cross reminds me of how much Jesus loves us and that Jesus died for us.”

“Jesus died on the cross for us because he loves us. He got whipped for our sins.”

“Jesus loves us super much. He died for us. He saved us.”

“The cross means to me that he forgave us and died on the cross for us.”

“The cross is to remember Jesus because Jesus died on it. That is why we celebrate Easter time.”

“The cross means he took all our sins away so we can forgive others. The world needs God and Jesus.”

“The cross means death. Jesus died on the cross so we did not need to die. I can’t wait to go to heaven.”


What does the cross mean to you?


Book Brackets…Sweet 16

It has been way too long since I’ve posted something…sorry!

I just had to share what is currently happening in 5th grade…


 Every 5th grader wrote down their top 5 books they have read this year. We compiled all the books and came up with our Sweet 16!

 We seeded the books according to votes and have given the students about 3 weeks to read as many of the 16 as possible. We will be voting for the Elite 8 this coming Thursday. Students may only vote for books they have read. There has been some wonderful debate about which books are going to make it to the next round.  I, personally, think this list is fantastic!  I love walking past the brackets and hearing students passionately talk about what books they hope make it to the next round!   Here is a the breakdown of our brackets.

1. The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy

16.  Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck by Jeff Kinney

9.  How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor

8. The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen



2. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

15. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

10. Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier

7. A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park



3. The Unwanteds: Island of Fire by Lisa McMann

14. The Templeton Twins Have and Idea by Ellis Weiner

11. Storybound by Marissa Burt

6. One for the Murphys by Linda Mullaly Hunt



4. Fake Mustache by Tom Angleberger

13. Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

12. Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

5. Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick







I will keep you posted as to what books make the Elite 8!  Bring on March Madness for Books!!!

Pick-A-Stick Read Alouds

I’m starting something new this year! This pretty much happens every year. I get this great idea and it works so well with the perfect class that lives in my head in the summer. Three days into the school year, I realize that my grand idea is absolutely dreadful not going to work in real life.

I think this one’s going to be a keeper, though. I call it a pick-a-stick read aloud. Most days after snack recess, the kids and I gather on the carpet and I choose a stick from this cup:

Inside the cups are sticks that have a variety of genres or categories of books written on them:

For each category, I have mounds of picture books that will be read as the year goes on. The only category that is not really self-explanatory is the “serious thinking” one.  These are picture books that require the use of multiple comprehension strategies (making connections, inferences, or predictions, checking for understanding, asking questions, etc.) to understand what is happening in the story.

Last Tuesday, we picked our first stick — biography. I was pretty excited because I have been building my collection of picture book biographies and I’ve been looking forward to sharing them this year. Since it was so early in the year, I chose a simple one: Me…Jane by Patrick McDonell. This is a story about Jane Goodall, a scientist who studied chimpanzees in Africa. The book talks mostly of her childhood and her longing to live among the chimps in Tanzania. Towards the end, in one page turn, childhood Jane is now an adult whose dream came true. The kids loved the book and could easily relate to Jane’s love of exploring the outdoors, but they were wondering how it all happened. “She just woke up one day and was in Africa?” one of my cherubs wondered.

“Well, not really,” I said. “I have another book about Jane Goodall that tells that part of the story. Would you like me to read it to you?”

Twenty-two voices rang out…”YES!!”

I smiled to myself as I pulled out The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter and hoped that they would be able to make it through. I briefly thought about saving it for another time.

If you haven’t spent a lot of time with a large group of first graders, let me just tell you that at the beginning of the year, their attention spans are non-existent still developing.

I could not believe how attentive they were for the reading of this book! They noticed some of the things that were the same in both books and they loved how Jane started to make friends with the chimpanzees. They couldn’t believe all the notes she took about her interactions with the chimps and they were so upset when the forests were being cut down and the habitats destroyed.

I’m so glad I read these two books back to back. Shortly after the reading, we shopped for books to keep in our book boxes. Those two biographies were snapped up immediately, along with several books about chimps.

I think the best thing about all of this is that it happened on day 4 of school. Day 4, people! This is quality stuff for day 4…and I can’t wait for the rest of the year!

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