Monday, April 2, 2018

How I Made Flexible Seating Work in Kindergarten

I've wanted flexible seating since it started "trending" a few years ago. Teaching kindergarten, I was so intrigued by the notion of replacing the typical tables, chairs, and rug layout of my classroom into something more developmentally appropriate. I held off for a while, watching how wobble cushions, rocker chairs, kick bands, and yoga balls were working (and not working) for other teachers. After one particularly hard kindergarten class, I thought there was no way it was going to work for me. But with a sweet class and renewed energy, this year I dove in.

Here's how I've made flexible seating not just a hashtag, but a true part of our classroom identify and environment.

Well I'm no guru, and there are people who've literally written books on this subject, but in a gist: Flexible seating means that you've allowed your students to sit, learn, and be in a space that feels comfortable and helps them focus while also giving their bodies the ability to move and adjust as needed. At least that's my working definition.

I've been following other educators who were sort of the pioneers of the flexible seating movement and trying to learn from their successes and, well, failures. I took note of what types of seating teachers of young children (PreK-1st) were primarily using and what they were saying just wasn't working for those kids. I had a lot of notes.

There are so many ways to "do" flexible seating, but if you break it down to the actual seating, here's what I've seen:
  • Yoga balls
  • Wobble/balance cushions
  • Rocker chairs
  • Step stools
  • Soft chairs
  • Pillows
  • Floor cushions
  • Foam/plush mats
  • Kick bands for chairs
  • Cafe-style tables and chairs
  • Counters with stools
  • Coffee tables
  • Tables with legs removed
  • No tables!
...and I could go on. It got a little overwhelming thinking about how much I'd have to change in my room to become a #flexibleseating classroom. Thankfully, I continued to wait and watch, observing my students, and trying to figure out what would logically work for us.

If you teach kindergarten you know how much their little bodies NEED to move. Expecting a 5 or 6 year old to sit "criss-cross applesauce" for your entire 15 (hopefully not longer) minute lesson doesn't really work for all kids, nor does it have to. I knew that whatever I did, I needed to encourage my students to get comfortable in their bodies while also respecting personal space of their peers. 

So here's what I went with! I still have all 6 student tables plus my U-shaped teacher table and an art table. The biggest difference was the removal of 20 of my 30 chairs and taking out our big meeting area rug. Once those things were gone, it felt like our room doubled in size! 

Here's what I added and changed:
I already had 2 stools from IKEA as well as pillows and cushions that my students read on. Those are now just more options for when students are moving around the room. More about that in a bit.

This really was the biggest challenge of it all. I wanted my students to be able to choose what type of seating worked best for their bodies each day (that's the main point) but I didn't want them to choose the same type of seating every day just because it's fun (hello, yoga balls). The first week was a hot mess, honestly. I tried each day to assign flexible seating to each student, but that didn't work because I had them already assigned to tables. Yoga balls didn't fit at the short tables and wobble cushions were too short for the regular tables. Students would be sad when I'd assign them something they didn't really want. It didn't go well.

After reaching out to the amazing Instagram community of flexible seating gurus, I got some great suggestions for week 2. So that next Monday, I rolled out the strategy I've been using ever since. It's not perfect, and it's not true flexible seating in that my students are still assigned to sit somewhere (sort of), but it's worked pretty well for us.

We rotate tables weekly. The type of flexible seating at that table remains with that table. If you sit at the ladybug table, that's where the wobble cushions are. The bumblebee table has the garden kneelers, the caterpillars have the yoga balls, etc. When it's class meeting time, number talk, mini lesson, or read aloud time, students grab the flexible seating at their table and bring it down to our meeting area.

But here's how we've made it more flexible...

My students don't sit at their tables during the day except for writer's workshop time. We go to rotations (read more here and here), so they sit where ever they want in our room for their rotation work time. That means that they can use whatever flexible seating is available. Yay! Here are some examples of work time during rotations where the kids just picked what felt the best:

Sometimes you don't even need the entire mat!

The kneeler table is tall enough to be a standing table, too!

Look at the collaboration happening around this table!

It's working well for him, but for other students, the yoga balls are still too hard to balance on. The kids' legs were just too small to help them out!
And the craziest part?? Many of my students prefer not to use any flexible seating at all during meeting times! I'll see them come down and just sit on the floor, and when I ask them if they want their yoga ball/plush mat they say, "No thanks!" I was actually shocked by that. Now, there are some students who take that yoga ball with them all over the classroom. And bless their hearts, they need that big, bouncy movement, so I'm all for it.

Since we removed our big rainbow rug, we've had to reinforce our understanding of personal space. But, no more "criss-cross applesauce." If you need to stretch out your legs, go for it. If you need to lay on your tummy for a few minutes, I like doing that, too! I'm fine with it. My students understand that they have to respect other people's bodies and space, so they make sure their feet and fingers are away from other people. It hasn't caused a single issue yet.

Overall, I've been pretty happy about our transition to a flexible seating learning environment. It's given my students more freedom and ownership in our classroom, and I feel like I've given them a more developmentally-appropriate space to learn. With the transition to both flexible seating and rotations, this year has probably been my favorite of my entire career. I feel like my students are truly getting what they need for their academic growth, their physical awareness, their brain development, and their social skills. I couldn't be happier with these transitions and can't wait to start them first thing next school year with a new group!
Happy as a clam, using that yoga ball in whichever way felt best!
Now, a few insights. Remember the garden kneelers I said I wouldn't recommend? Yes, well, we all know that kindergartners are very tactile and love to touch and manipulate things. What this teacher didn't think about was giving my little ones something made out of pliable foam and expecting them not to try to manipulate it. The edges around all 4 kneelers have been picked off, chunks of green are now a permanent fixture on our floor, pencils have made their gouge-marks all over one of them, and, believe it or not, another kneeler has been beautifully decorated all around the sides by a little love's teeth marks.

Also, the yoga mats are working great, just be sure not to get ones that have any printed design on them. The design is beginning to flake off, and I'm sure it has everything to do with the yoga mats being cheap and not my kids' fingers chipping away at yet another seating item.

And finally, the plush memory foam mats (which are bath mats) are super comfy, but one has already busted a seam. I can probably break out my little sewing kit to remedy it, but curious hands will probably bust my seam, too.

So there you have it, a success story (with a couple of little tweaks) of flexible seating in kindergarten. If you've been on the fence about trying it, I highly suggest submitting a Donors Choose project for your materials. That's what I did and through generous donations of about $475, I was able to make these changes. If you're doing it out-of-pocket, though, you can get creative with your materials and do a little at a time.
All these pillows in my reading area used to be my throw pillows in my apartment that I just got tired of! Reuse and recycle things from home!
If you try it or already do it, let me know! I'd love to hear if you have any crazy bite-mark stories, too!

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Friday, March 30, 2018

From Worksheets to Games: How to Make Center Time More Meaningful

I can still remember my first year of teaching, getting so excited to do "centers" in my classroom. I was really into reading blogs and it seemed like centers were all the rage. So I turned my cubby cabinet into my centers shelf and started copying. I had 8 centers that would last us 2 weeks, so in each bin I made enough copies of the "activities" for my entire class, and I did this every other week for the entire school year.

I think I killed so many trees with all the copies I made that I had an effect on oxygen levels. I'd find cute worksheets, called them activities, copied them, and shoved them into bins. None of the activities were differentiated (I barely even knew what that word meant early in my teaching career), hardly any of them had a hands-on component (unless they were cutting and gluing!), almost all the activities were chosen just because they fit with the current theme in Treasures or Envision Math...

You know how hindsight is 20/20? So turns out, I didn't know what "centers" really meant or how to do them. I've learned so much since then, even forgoing centers for a while until I really started to understand how to implement them in a more meaningful, intentional way. Now, I'd love to share what I've learned and what I think are best practices for doing centers or stations in your classroom in both math and literacy/ELA.

My first tip is to find your purpose for doing centers or stations in your classroom. Unlike me, who did them because the bloggers at the time were doing it (let's be honest, my first year of teaching was basically me doing what other people did or told me to do!), I suggest defining why you want to have centers. Don't feel like you have to just because other kindergarten teachers do it! How will the stations benefit your students? Why should they be going to centers? What purpose will they serve? Seems basic but trust me, you'll want to do this purpose-making to help yourself in choosing activities later on!

Here's my purpose: Centers will serve as a way for my students to work together and collaborate on hands-on, fun games and activities that review old skills, build up current skills, and extend any skills to deeper levels if needed. The games and activities will be differentiated for students based on their needs and skills, and students will work at similar skill levels in order to support one another. 

My next tip is to decide what you'll be putting into the centers or stations. For old me, this just meant printing and copying cute activities from Teachers Pay Teachers or my old favorite free worksheet website. Hey, it has pumpkin clip art on it, so it totally goes with the unit! Print and go! No.

Remember when I said classroom environment is one "hill I'd die on"? A passionate belief that I will always argue for? Well, death by worksheet is another. Stop overwhelming young students with papers. You know they won't finish them all (hello, unfinished work folders that during my first year of teaching would get so pack-crammed that I'd just throw the papers away every other week when I'd change out the centers....). You know those behavior issues that prevent you from pulling small groups? Chances are they're coming from worksheet boredom or activities that are way too easy or not engaging. You know your mad dash to the copy machine on Monday mornings which makes your morning feel rushed and hectic? It can all go away if you stop copying worksheets!

Now, you'll see paper in my centers. BUT for every paper activity (there's usually only one) there are at least 3 hands-on activities. In my literacy/word study centers, I have matching games, CVC building, magnet letters, whiteboard practice, and dice games. Click on the pictures below for some of my all-time favorites. 
from Lakeshore Learning

from Lakeshore Learning

from Lakeshore Learning
When there is a paper activity in my centers, I make sure the students do at least one other activity, post about it on Seesaw (read more here), then may do the paper. Here's a list of my favorite paper-based activities because they are both engaging and meaningful:
You can read more about my math centers (or rotations in general) in this blog post.

Another tip is figuring out how you'll store and manage your centers. Now that you (hopefully) have lots of fun games or activities, I recommend keeping them in baskets. I use ones from Dollar Tree and have one basket per group. My students are grouped by skills/ability levels, and I have four groups, so there are four baskets for our literacy centers. This is when it comes in handy to have multiple activities in each basket at a time: you'll have about 5-7 kids working on activities from the same basket at a time (hello, collaboration!), so make sure you have enough activities in there!

These are the baskets I use from Dollar Tree
I keep activities in baskets for 2-3 weeks at a time. You'll start to get a feel for how long the activities hold their interest. If the noise level or off-task behaviors increase during center time, you'll know it's time to change. Remember, your students are a reflection of the learning space. If they're loud or off-task, you should take it as a sign to change or modify the task! My students go to centers every other day. You can see how I manage my centers and rotations in this blog post.

Finally, make sure student groups make sense for your students. I highly encourage collaboration during center time, so much so that my students know they aren't allowed to play a game alone! If they are alone, they have to seek out someone in their group to work or play with them. When I'm creating groups, I start with any initial data I have. Our beginning of year screener helps with that, and I usually start by grouping kids based on their letter ID and letter sounds scores. This helps with how I can start pulling activities and games. As the year progresses, I start using formative assessments from my PA mini lessons set 1 and set 2, observational data, other screeners, and general clues for if students should move groups.

Make sure your groups are flexible! Using centers should make teachers much more reflective and formative in their assessing of students. I am constantly watching my students to decide if they need to move in and out of groups. I don't have a fancy system for this. If I'm working with kids on a particular skill in small group and they're practicing that skill in their center, but I'm seeing a student struggle with it, I'll move her down to another group. No biggie. I just go to her nametag, erase her group letter or number, then write the new one. My students are used to moving groups that it doesn't surprise them when Susie joins their group or when Tim leaves their group. And they DON'T know what each group means. My math groups are 1, 2, 3, and 4 while my word study groups are W, X, Y, and Z and my reading groups are colors. They have no clue what those numbers, letters, or colors mean, only my aides and I do!

I hope those tips help you become more intentional with your use of centers in your classroom. It honestly will change every year as you will need to adjust to fit your current group of students, but as long as your have your purpose, you'll find ways to make it work!

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Sunday, March 18, 2018

4 Easy Strategies for Teaching Writing in Kindergarten

Teaching writing has been one of the most challenging things about teaching kindergarten. Not only do students come in with a variety of skills, including the inability the hold a pencil for some students, but they also need support in so many different ways. Our students have an entire step of writing development that other grade levels don't typically see: pre-writing. We have to navigate our way through the development of pre-writing and early writing skills and make sure we nurture that growth for all students.

It's hard.

I've been talking to lots of you who feel the same as I do, so I wanted to compile some of my favorite strategies for taking all of my writers to the next level in their writing. These strategies include some old favorites as well as some things that I've just pulled out of the air that ended up working well! I hope these strategies help you feel more confident in your ability to support your writers, too!

Let's start by looking at the what of teaching writing. If we just go by the standards, they don't help us a lot. The Common Core Standards list 3 main writing focus areas for kindergarten:
  • W.K.1 - Using a combo of writing, dictating, and drawing to compose opinion pieces in which they tell a reader the topic or name of a book they are writing about and state an opinion or preference about the topic or book.
  • W.K.2 - Using a combo of writing, dictating, and drawing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic.
  • W.K.3 - Using a combo of writing, dictating, and drawing to narrate a single event or several loosely-linked events, tell about the events in the order they occurred, and provide a reaction to what happened.
As you can see, the standards support the use of drawing, writing, and dictating in composing pieces. They also provide kindergartners with exposure to various types of writing. However, not much is said for working on writing complete sentences, using sight words to build those sentences, and supporting the development of those sentences. Not much direction or structure is given for teachers to get their students to writing those opinion, explanatory, and narrative pieces.

While I want my students to be able to write across genres and content areas, I first must make sure they understand what writing is. I explain that in math, word study, reading, writer's workshop, or science time, writing is how we can share our ideas when we aren't able to tell with our words. I always model this idea using pictures FIRST before adding a single letter to the page.

Display these posters to help encourage your students as they begin to write. Giving them topics to choose from eases their worry of what to write about! Included in my Sentence Stems for Writing resource!
I always begin a writing session with a mini lesson. While I do use the Lucy Calkin's Writer's Workshop Units of Study, I feel compelled to add a little more structure after we finish the first month or so. At first, we write to build stamina. Then, we write to build excitement. Next, we start writing to build structure and actually begin to tell stories with words. You can click HERE to read an older post about my writer's workshop part of my day.

I think October is a great time in kindergarten to START having students add words to each page of their writing. Up until then, I ask them to write a "story" (always a story, never a one-page writing prompt) using pictures. I give them the option to add letters to their pages in the form of labeling the first sound (which comes with the ever-popular "Label Your Teacher" with post-its mini lesson) and even encourage them to sound out any words that they think would help tell the story using "stretchy snake" (stretching out the word and writing all the sounds they hear, also taught during a mini lesson).

This is end of year kindergarten writing. Using a complete sentence, correct spelling of sight words, and a very detailed picture! This is what we're working towards.
The main reason why I have students write stories instead of one-page writing prompts during our writer's workshop time is so they can continue working on a piece multiple days in a row. I want my students to get used to revisiting work, revising, adding more, and making sure their story has a sequence. Eventually, they'll start working with a writing partner. This will be effective if they actually have a larger piece of writing to look at that has a sequence. Published stories don't usually come on one page, so I'm asking my budding authors to write a multi-page story!

One of my favorite things to do to end a writing session is a share out. I think share outs in all content areas are extremely powerful for showcasing students' strategies, building their confidence, giving them a chance to question one another, and to reinforce your mini lesson.

My goal for writing by the time my students leave kindergarten is that they are able to use a combination of words and pictures to tell complete thoughts and convey a complete message. However, I'm very aware that even well into kindergarten (as we are currently in the middle of March), some students still are not ready to independently add words to convey complete thoughts. I have some strategies for that.

Sentence stems are your best friend for so many reasons. I use them in every single content area, but especially in math (Number Talk Sentence Stems) and in writing. I want to make sure my students start developing the concept of a sentence rather than labeling individual words. Sentence stems are the best tool for this that I've come across. I don't always model writing during my mini lesson, but when I do, this is when I'll use a particular sentence stem myself. When I'm not writing, though, I simply write the sentence stem I want them to use on our boards.

I've created a resource that has some great sentence stems for each kindergarten writing topic: opinion, informative, explanatory, and narrative. Included are both color as well as black and white posters you can hang in your room to support your students. Also included, possible topics for each of the writing standards! If you have any students who struggle with coming up with ideas and getting started, this resource is for you. Click below!

This strategy is harder to implement, especially if you're alone without an aide or volunteer, but it's so meaningful. Students who are not yet writing words still need to hear and see their story come alive through writing. Having students dictate their writing to you while they watch you write it directly on their page is one of my favorite strategies. When I'm transcribing, I tell my other students I'm off-limits for help so that I can focus on the students who need my support.

Here's a tip: If you're walking around transcribing, wear a hat! It tells the rest of your class you're off limits. I own a large wizard hat from Amazon that it easily seen from around the room. When students see me with the hat, they don't come talk to me! You can also have the students who need to dictate meet you in a special spot in the classroom (at your teacher table, in the reading area, etc.). When you're in that special meeting spot, other students will learn not to disturb you.

Establishing writing partners is beneficial for many reasons. It allows students to collaborate and discuss their writing. It gives each student a voice. It takes pressure off of having to read in front of the class or to the teacher each day (if you do share-outs at the end of your writing time, which you should!). And it gives you the ability to let the students take charge while you turn your voice off.

Writing partners work best when they are students who have different but similar writing abilities. For example, if a student is not yet writing words, they would work well with a partner who is using sentence stems to begin adding words. Students who are successfully using sentence stems would work well with partners who no longer need stems to support their writing. This method works well because the ability levels are similar enough that one partner does not feel self-conscious about their skills while the other partner does not need to provide a ton of assistance and can still get something from the partnership.

Here's a tip: Be flexible! Allow your writing partners to move seats or meet on the floor, writing with clipboards. Have your partners in close proximity to each other, and set up the routine of moving near your partner at the very beginning of your work time. You can use a song for the transition, and by the time the song goes off, your partners are next to each other ready to write!

You know those students that, no matter what strategy you try, they just WON'T write? Even if you know they can, they have the skills, they're so bright with so many ideas, but they just won't do it! I've been there. And while I can say that the happy ending of that story was that my writer eventually wrote many great books with plenty of words, it was a long process to get him there.

You'll know a reluctant writer when you realize that for the 10 minutes you've been transcribing and meeting with partners, this writer has done nothing beyond write his or her name and look out the window. Maybe they have scribbled a little bit of a picture, but likely their page is still empty. Sometimes they may lay their heads down, sometimes they may start conversations with their writing partners about Minecraft. Whatever they may do, writing is not happening and there is no growth.

I encourage these writers to JUST DRAW. They're allowed to start with drawing things they like. It can be totally off-topic and have nothing to do with the mini lesson. In the same way we want to build a love for reading by letting students be surrounded with fun and interesting picture books, we should allow students to grow their love for writing by writing (drawing) about anything they like! This usually starts with a conversation with me about their interests. I ask them about favorite movies, games, sports, foods, you name it. I even make a list of all the favorites that he or she tells me. This is a great reference for me to continue to support the writer, but it's also great for the writer to see that there are plenty of things to write about!

Use the topics posters to help push them in a direction! You need to support their thought process, but sometimes they might just need a list to choose from.

Don't push coloring. I've learned that many of my reluctant writers are not ready to add colors. To grow their confidence, we call their drawings "sketches." They love to feel like they are doing something special that no one else is doing. I love to show their sketches a couple of times a week at our end-of-writing share outs. Eventually, you can ask them to add a few colors, but in the beginning just request a picture.

Eventually, you will want to see words on a page. Start with that original strategy of sentence stems and go from there. Like I said, it may not be on topic or match your mini lesson, but that's okay for a little while. Once your writer is using stems, then give them a partner. You may want to coach the partners first, reminding them that their partner will use less words or words that may not be spelled very clearly. Coach them that that is okay! Remember, progress with a reluctant writer (or reader for that matter) will look different from the rest of your eager writers. Celebrate the small victories and build, build, build their confidence.

I hope that these strategies and tips help you feel a little less stressed about teaching writing in kindergarten. It's one of the most complex things we do as K teachers, but these strategies have helped me manage it much better. I'm still continuing to grow as a writing teacher, so if you have any strategies that you love, head over to Facebook and leave them on this thread!

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Saturday, February 10, 2018

Number Talks and Warm Ups: Meaningful Math Routines

If you told me you wanted to come in and watch me teach, I'd probably invite you in during our number talk. Not because I feel like I'm some rockstar math teacher, but because you'll be floored at the level of math thinking you'll hear my students doing. Since creating a daily math routine this year, I've seen my students do and understand things that I didn't think kindergartners could do. So, I want to share what I've learned!

What's the difference between a "number talk" and a "warm up"?
Ok so right off the bat, let's define what number talks and warm ups are and can look like. For some, they are one in the same. For others, they mean different things. But for both, students are both thinking AND talking about the math. The thing that underlies them both is the amount of mathematical argumentation you'll hear your students do, and it's amazing.

Number talks in my classroom occur when my class is all looking at the same number, addition or subtraction problem, number bond, number comparison, counting sequence, number chart, or equation. We talk about what we notice, and then I pose a question. After some think time, my students have a structured response in the form of a sentence stem that they share with a partner. Then I choose 3-5 students to come up front and share out what they talked about.

Warm ups in my classroom also occur when my whole class is looking at the same thing, but what we are looking at generally doesn't involve numbers. Rather, we are looking at pictures, talking about shapes, positions, sizes, measuring objects, or comparing by attribute. The structure is the same in that we take time looking/talking about what we see, think about it, share with a partner, and then a few come up and share with the group.

When do these math routines happen?
I like to begin my math block with a routine. Right after we finish calendar time, we take about 15 minutes for our number talk or warm up. Afterwards, we go to math rotations, and you can read more about those HERE.

One crucial component of these math routines is that you limit it to 15 minutes MAX. You want this to feel like a mini lesson, a warm up, a quick way to check in with skills. You'll be doing the majority of your teaching of your math goal during your small group rotation.

Another thing, make sure you do these EVERY DAY! These math routines should be a non-negotiable for your instructional time with students. Even on those crazy schedule days, make sure you don't skip your math warm up or number talk! Trust me, it will pay off.

How do students share out?
I always have sentence stems displayed for my students to refer to and use. I make sure that I am explicit in my modeling of these sentence stems. Sometimes I let them choose whichever stem they want, but other times I use a clip or pin next to the specific stem I want them to use. I like to remind students to use their sentence stems with sharing with their partner. Since this is a CRUCIAL part to the success of these math routines, I've put all of the stems I use into one resource. Click on the picture below to get your ready-to-print sentence stems for every single routine I'll be sharing.

There are 9 posters, one for each kind of math routine!

 There are so many ways teachers can structure a number talk. I'll break down my favorite activities and the ones I find most meaningful and impactful.

Counting Sequences and Number Charts
Whether it is early September or late March, make sure you are continuing to talk about counting. Don't assume your students have mastered the skill of counting or a counting sequence. Challenge them and push them with a counting number talk.

Display a number line. Draw it yourself or have it pre-made. Leave some numbers off, and challenge your students to find the missing numbers. DON'T let them give you the number without also giving you their reasoning for choosing that number! This is the heart of a number talk, explaining their thinking.

Do the same with a number chart. Color/cover some numbers, and have your students figure out the missing numbers and prove how they know. Talk about patterns on the chart (how each row has the same beginning number or each column has the same ending number). Talk about skip counting and how students can use that to find numbers.

These number talks don't need to be fancy or complex! Basic, fast, and meaningful, that's all you want.
These students looked at a flash card of 5 and shared the strategies they used to count the pictures.
Addition or Subtraction Problems
These number talks are always fun because students solve them so many ways! Write an addition/subtraction problem on the board, but don't solve it. Students can solve and compare their answers with their partner. Easy.

One way to make this number talk more challenging is to leave out a variable. For example, 2+__=5. This kind of number talk pushes students to solving with proof. This is also challenging because they won't have paper, pencils, or manipulatives to use!

You can vary your vocabulary depending on where your students are in developing this skill. Early on, you may want to start with "2 and 1 is __" then eventually move on to "2 + 1 is ___." In that same vain, for subtraction, you could start with "4 take away 2 is ___." then move on to "4 - 2 is ___." You can eventually write the problems with the equal sign when your students are ready.

I used two flash cards, one with a digit and one with a picture, to push my students' ability to join even when the numbers are in different formats.
Number Bonds (Composing/Decomposing)
Want to really hear your students' math thinking? Ask them to show you how to break a number apart! I like starting these types of number talks by writing the number on the board, then drawing that many circles. Ask students how many ways you can color the circles to break apart the number (8 is 4 and 4, 5 and 3, etc.). Eventually we move on to using number bonds just so students can become familiar with the tool, but the premise remains.

Remember, students won't have any manipulatives in front of them, so this number talk takes a lot of thinking! The proof component can come when you select a few students to come up and share with the group. Allow them to draw on the board or use manipulatives to prove their thinking.

Comparing Numbers
This one can be tailored to fit your students' needs in lots of ways. I typically use flash cards that have pictures on one side and the number on the other side. I found a set from the Target dollar spot about 5 years ago that I still love! I will start with pictures, then move to numbers later on. I put two cards next to each other, then I'll point to a card and they call out "More!" or "Less!" We do it as a fast, group call-out warm up for a while, but then I'll eventually show them two cards and have them share with their partner instead of calling out.
This student was explaining how he compared the numbers in the ten frames. You can be creative and use pictures (like this) or flash cards with digits.
When letting students share with the group, allow them to draw or touch the pictures so they can prove their thinking.

Equal Equations (True/False)
These number talks are fun because you typically get lots of disagreement! We play true/false often because of how much my students argue. Math argumentation is good! I draw an equal sign in the middle of the board. If I want to focus on addition, I'll write addition equations on each side of the equal sign. I'll do about 3 or 4 sets during the 15 minutes. For the first set, I typically keep them equal (2+2 = 3+1). The students will think about if this is true or false, then give me a thumbs up when they're ready to share. They share with their partner first, using a sentence stem, and then I choose someone to come share in front of the class.

Then I erase and either do another true set or a false set. If I did a false set (2+3 = 3+3), the students would share with their partners, and then the student who was chosen to come up front to share would have to PROVE why the equations are not equal.

An extension would be asking students to find ways to make false equations true. For example, a student could explain that 2+3=3+3 is not true because if you add the numbers, 5 is on one side and 6 is on the other. A way to make it equal would be to add one more to the 5 to make it 6. It's amazing to listen to all the ways that students can make equations true.

You may notice more "arguing" because of the ways that students solve problems or understand addition or subtraction. The power is in the share outs! Make sure you choose many different students to come up and share, especially students whose ideas may be wrong or arguable.

This was when we first started doing this kind of number talk. She was pointing to the digits and proving it was equal because the digits were the same on each side!

We do warm ups when I want to focus on skills other than number sense or operations. Even if shapes or measurement aren't your focus areas of the moment, don't forget that skills need to spiral and loop in kindergarten!

Which One Doesn't Belong? (WODB)
If you want to use numbers for this warm up, you can, but I love doing this with pictures of food, road signs, weird shapes, cards, all kinds of other stuff! The premise of WODB is having students look at 4 objects and decide which one doesn't belong. That's it. The best part of this activity is that there really is no wrong answer! The other best part is that WODB allows students to explain their thinking in many different ways, and those students who are typically quiet or unsure can have a space to speak up!

Want some excellent FREE resources for WODB? Go to this website: - it's where I get all of the pictures that I use.

Don't be afraid to choose WODB pictures that seem hard! My students did an awesome job explaining their thinking with this one!
Describe, Draw, Describe (DDD)
This is the only warm up we do that involves students needing something in their hand. A DDD involves students looking at a picture, typically displayed via projector or document camera. The idea behind DDD is that students will describe the picture by being prompted by you first ("What do you see?"). You can have a few students come up one at a time to point out the things they see. You keep your part to a minimum, only prompting students to tell about what they see. Many students will naturally talk about the individual parts of the picture, shapes they see, amounts of things, or other details. After a couple of minutes, students will use a pencil and paper and draw the picture. You will only prompt by saying, "Draw what you see."

I typically set a timer for 5 minutes. In that time, rotate around and notice how students are drawing. How's their perspective? Are they able to make a visual match to the picture? Can they position the things in the picture in the same way? If students get finished drawing, prompt them to label the picture or write a sentence about what they see.

To find pictures, I just search for blackline masters or coloring pages via Google. I only choose pictures that have some sort of visual depth like motion (like how the rocket below is diagonal because it is moving), differences in perspective (foreground/background objects of different sizes), many kinds of shapes, or objects that are have a position component (things are beside, on top of, behind...).

This one was fun because it accompanied our viewing of the SpaceX rocket launch!


Make sure that you don't skip this part. Giving students think time and partner talk time is important, but the share outs at the end are so meaningful. They allow for students to prove their thinking to more than one person, they allow the other students to see different perspectives and ways of solving, and they allow you to hear how your students are thinking about numbers. One of my math mentors once said, "If you're not doing the share out, you shouldn't even do the warm up at all." That's why sentence stems are HUGE in developing academic language and math argumentation. If you let students share out without sentence stems, they aren't as likely to develop the right kind of vocabulary.

Be Intentional with Partnering (Especially Early in the Year)

If you have a rug with designated spots for students to sit, this makes this part easier. Put certain students next to each other for your warm up time. I typically try to partner students who are working at different levels, but not too different that one partner won't be able to understand their partner's thinking. You can also think about language development and have students paired in a way that one partner's use of language and sentence stems can support the other partner. Now that it's February and we have a flexible seating classroom, my students just partner with someone sitting near them, but I'm comfortable with this since these math warm ups have been part of our math routine since August.

Turn Off Your Voice!

One of the hardest things for me to do when I first started doing these math routines every day was to just stop talking. Being a kindergarten teacher, I'm so accustomed to wanting to scaffold and steer and support my students' thinking. But one of the most important parts of facilitating these math routines is to be as quiet as you can, only asking clarifying questions or re-stating what your students share. I set up the routine, ask my focus question, then I stay fairly quiet. I walk around and listen to partner talk, and then when students are up front sharing, I just ask for clarification or to re-state. At the end, I'll come back and wrap up the routine as a whole, "Today we did a DDD so that we can notice the shapes and positions of objects." And that's about it! Assessment tip: Have the notes app on your phone (or an actual notepad) for taking notes of what students share. This is AWESOME when I need to check it with standards and have real-time anecdotal records of my students' thinking.

Create a Safe Environment for Sharing

It makes me cringe to hear stories from other teachers where they've done activities similar to these math routines where students get up front to share, and then another student blurts out something negative or derogatory from the audience. There's no faster way to completely shut down a student's thinking and make them feel like they're bad at something. And no matter how much damage control you do as the teacher, the words have already been said. So make sure your classroom is a space where students know that each individual has something special to share, that all ideas are welcome, and that even if we disagree or think someone is wrong, we can let them know in ways that help them rather than hurt.

I can't wait for you to use these math routines. They have given all of my students a voice and a chance to feel like a mathematician. We have to start young to turn off those negative feelings about math, and these math routines allow for ALL students to share and talk about math in an open, supportive environment. My students literally cheer for these math routines when we start them. So try them for yourself!

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