Archive for February, 2012


Drama work stations often strike fear in the hearts of many educators. In a recent workshop with teachers I showed a video clip on how to introduce the drama station in a 1st grade classroom from Launching Literacy Stations. At this station, two children work together to read or retell a familiar book. In the video, we use the book, Hobbledy Clop by Pat Brisson. It’s a cumulative tale with lots of opportunity for children to join in with the repetitive line, hobbledy clop, as well as to participate in making sounds, such as meow and ssssss along with the animal characters in the book.

After viewing the video, teachers worked in table groups to come up with ideas for what makes a book good for retelling at a drama station. See the chart below for our ideas. We also brainstormed ideas for some other good books for retelling, such as the following:

  • The Napping House
  • Silly Sally
  • There Was an Old Lady (many versions available)
  • Great Big Enormous Turnip (choose a version with the fewest characters)
  • Mean Jean, the Recess Queen
  • Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (and other books in this series)
  • Too Much Noise
  • Click, Clack, Moo
  • Very Hungry Caterpillar
  • Little Red Hen (and other folk tales)
  • Aesop fables (for grades 2 and up)
  • nursery rhymes (for PreK and K)

A great resource for books to retell, complete with retelling pieces ready to use is www.kizclub.com. Click on the Stories and Props. Below each book pictured, click on color for a colored version of related props for that book. Click on B & W for a black and white version of the same retelling pieces. Note that some of the stories there have more pieces than you’ll want to use for retelling. Choose wisely.

For more ideas on using a Drama Station in your classroom, see the following chapters in my books: In Literacy Work Stations (for K-2), read chapter 6, Drama Work Station. In Practice with Purpose (for grades 3-6), read chapter 9, Drama Work Station.

If you try the drama station, please send us pictures of your kids at work and your favorite ideas for this station. Send them to d.diller@live.com and we’ll share them with others. Enjoy this fun station with your students!

Our chart on "What Makes a Good Book for Retelling"

Our chart on "What Makes a Good Book for Retelling"

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This mild winter is making me think of an early spring… Happy Poetry Friday!


Last Spring

By Gottfried Benn
Fill yourself up with the forsythias
and when the lilacs flower, stir them in too
with your blood and happiness and wretchedness,
the dark ground that seems to come with you.
Sluggish days. All obstacles overcome.
And if you say: ending or beginning, who knows,
then maybe—just maybe—the hours will carry you
into June, when the roses blow.

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This is maybe one of my favorite love poems. But more than love, it speaks about how freedom is found in the mind and in the heart and not in our surroundings. I hope you had a chance this week to celebrate the love in your life!

To Althea, from Prison
Richard Lovelace

When Love with unconfinèd wings
   Hovers within my Gates,
And my divine Althea brings
   To whisper at the Grates;
When I lie tangled in her hair,
   And fettered to her eye,
The Gods that wanton in the Air,
   Know no such Liberty.
When flowing Cups run swiftly round
   With no allaying Thames,
Our careless heads with Roses bound,
   Our hearts with Loyal Flames;
When thirsty grief in Wine we steep,
   When Healths and draughts go free,
Fishes that tipple in the Deep
   Know no such Liberty.
When (like committed linnets) I
   With shriller throat shall sing
The sweetness, Mercy, Majesty,
   And glories of my King;
When I shall voice aloud how good
   He is, how Great should be,
Enlargèd Winds, that curl the Flood,
   Know no such Liberty.
Stone Walls do not a Prison make,
   Nor Iron bars a Cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
   That for an Hermitage.
If I have freedom in my Love,
   And in my soul am free,
Angels alone that soar above,
   Enjoy such Liberty.

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Starting out with math work stations

In first and second grade, I recommend starting to introduce math stations in the second week of school. You’ll need the first week or so to begin to get to know your students and teach basic procedures as well as to do some review of familiar math concepts. Things children already know how to do from previous school experience will make up the base of your early math stations and provide a safe ground for students’ independent work. Don’t worry if you’re reading this later in the year. You can start math stations at any time. Of course, it’s best to start early in the year so procedures will be firmly in place and allow you to meet with small groups all year long. But if it’s December or even April and you’re reading this, you can start tomorrow.

If you teach kindergarten, you may take a slightly different approach during the first three to four weeks of school.  Instead of introducing math stations, I like to start with having children do exploration stations, in which they explore a different type of math manipulative each day. One day you might show the class connecting cubes and discuss what they may and may not do with them.

Then let all students work with a partner using connecting cubes. On another day, repeat the procedure with teddy bear counters. Have half the students work with teddy bear counters and half work with connecting cubes (unless you have enough teddy bear counters for the whole class to use), then flip-flop. Add a new material each day (buttons, pattern blocks, wooden cubes, etc.), and by the end of a week or two there will be plenty of materials for students to explore with a partner. This isn’t quite math stations, but it’s a start. Exploration stations can be used for investigation of materials for the first few weeks and will be replaced by math stations as you introduce them. You might also take this approach with first graders in the first week or two of school.

While children are working at exploration stations, carefully watch what they do with the materials. Ask your students what they notice. Within a short time, you will probably see them begin to make patterns with materials. This is a signal to move the materials into a more structured type of work, which will become their first math stations.

For example, in kindergarten you may notice kids sorting buttons into piles after just a few days. At this point, talk with them about ways to sort (by color, number of holes, size, fancy/not fancy) and add sorting cards with word and picture clues. They might use plastic desktop sorting circles to structure their sorts as this becomes math station 1.

As you introduce math stations (beginning in week two for first and second grade, and about week four or five for kindergarten), launch only one new station a day. This way you can be clear and explicit so students will remember exactly what you expect. Here’s a process you might use when introducing stations to your class:

Introducing a New Station
1. Gather all materials for the new station and place them in a labeled container. (Be sure you have taught with these materials first.)
2. Show the materials to the whole class and discuss what students can do at this station. (If you’ve taught well, students will usually give great suggestions.)
3. Make an “I Can” list together if you think children will benefit from this support to help them remember what to do with the materials to deepen their mathematical understanding.

During the first weeks of school when introducing the idea of math stations, you will be circulating, observing, and giving assistance to students while students investigate with materials at stations. (Small-group math instruction should begin
after your initial investment of time teaching routines for the first four to six weeks of school, so you know your students and they know your expectations.)

At some point in these early weeks of school, you might brainstorm with the class what math stations time should look like, sound like, and feel like. This helps both the teacher and the students clarify the expectations at stations, which increases the likelihood that they will run more effectively and not just be busywork. If you choose to brainstorm
these expectations, list students’ ideas on a chart, using language they understand. Here’s an example from a second-grade classroom:

Display the chart in a prominent place in your classroom so students can view it as a reminder of what they should do during math stations time. You might want to take digital photos of students working on tasks at stations and post these pictures around the chart as a border, adding more over time. If you teach kindergarten or first grade, you might post these photos beside the corresponding print describing what the photos show. This visual reminder can help students remember the behavior they will exhibit while they work on their own.

Another option is for the class to come up with three or four agreements or rules for stations time. Again, use photos for support. In a kindergarten class, the chart could be made when introducing exploration stations

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Young children (and older ones, too) love to build snowmen! You might use this poem to help your students learn to visualize. Read the poem together several times during the week. Have children sketch what they picture in their mind. Then make copies of the poem and place them in your poetry station. Students will enjoy rereading the poem and illustrating it to show what they visualize. They can take this poem home and read it over and over to their families to improve their oral reading fluency, too.

The Snowman

One day we built a snowman,
We built him out of snow;
You should have seen how fine he was,
All white from top to toe.

We poured some water over him,
To freeze his legs and ears;
And when we went indoors to bed,
We thought he’d last for years.

But, in the night a warmer kind
Of wind began to blow;
And Jack Frost cried and ran away,
And with him went the snow.

When we went out next morning
To bid our friend “Good Day”,
There wasn’t any snowman there…
He’d melted right away!

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I love the images in this poem. It reminds me of a drive I took from Washington, DC to the mountains of Virginia recently. Huge, thick flakes of snow were whirling around me in the gray sky. It was just beautiful!

Snow Towards Evening

by Melville Cane

Suddenly the sky turned gray,
The day,
Which had been bitter and chill,
Grew soft and still.
From some invisible blossoming tree
Millions of petals cool and white
Drifted and blew
Lifted and flew,
Fell with the falling night.

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