Kindergarten Collaborative Partners in 5 Minutes a Day



When I started teaching Kindergarten, I was in a daze of how to teach collaborative partners. When they come in through the door that first week of school (months, in reality) many students don’t know how to sit at the carpet, line up or how to go to school. On top of that, we are expected to teach so much and assessments take up the first month of school. In Washington we do WAKids assessments, which require 1-1 interviews with students. There are 36 different dimensions for 20+ students. That’s a lot of time.

I thought back to my social work roots. I needed a way to help children solve small problems on their own – both academically and socially. Our school fluctuates with free and reduced lunch, but it’s usually around 75-85%, and so I needed something that would work for the varying demographics and populations we serve. I also needed something functional, practical and something that would fit with my style of teaching.

Mustard/Ketchup Partners

When I create groupings, it is important that they are compatible. I think about their level of learning in oral literacy and their drawing skills. I partner children who are just a half-step above their partner or a half-step below. This means that they are not partnered with a high and low level student. I find that if I do this, one student dominates and the other steps back.

I look at their oral literacy and drawing skills in kindergarten, because I see it as a predictor into their ability to engage in collaborative talk, negotiate and problem solve. Thinking critically is such an important skill to learn in Kindergarten. However, to meet children where they are, it is important that they start with someone who is close to their level of learning.

Collaborative Partner Checklist & Scoring Guide

Collaborative Partner Checklist & Scoring Guide


My 4-Point checklist for Oral Literacy includes:

  • Do they use full sentences when they engage in conversation?
  • Do they place words correctly (grammar structure) when they speak?
  • Do they use pronouns properly (he, she, they, them)?
  • Are they reluctant or confident speakers?

I give students a score of 1-4 for each area and take some notes.

Oral Literacy Scoring Guide:

  • 1 – Needing intervention (low level of learning/understanding/not applying)
  • 2 – May use some features or have some understanding (applying some concepts)
  • 3 – Proficient, basic understanding and applies (adequate or meeting standard)
  • 4 – Above proficient. Consistently uses features, and uses more than expected

The idea here is that you know your population and the kids you serve. The rubric is generic, because it depends on the group of kids. But, it gives me an idea of how to group children for collaborative partners and a baseline of important skills.

Drawing Skills Checklist:

  • Do they use proper pencil grip when drawing and/or writing?
  • Do they scribble in circles or use intentional lines?
  • Do they use colors that match the object or item as described?
  • Do they draw on-topic?

Drawing Skills Scoring Guide: (Same as Oral Literacy)

  • 1 – Needing intervention (low level of learning/understanding/not applying)
  • 2 – May use some features or have some understanding (applying some concepts)
  • 3 – Proficient, basic understanding and applies (adequate or meeting standard)
  • 4 – Above proficient. Consistently uses features, and uses more than expected

Then take your notes, personality considerations and group kids based on scores. Higher scores are more proficient. Also consider if a child is high in one area and low in another. That’s where professional judgement takes place. Those collaborative partners (mustard / ketchup partners) sit next to each other and whenever they have a question, they ask their mustard/ketchup partner first and then the ask their peanut butter and jelly partners if they still have a question.

Peanut Butter / Jelly Partners

Once you have your mustard / ketchup partners set up, it’s easy to set up your peanut butter and jelly partners. Peanut butter and Jelly partners are when you take two sets of mustard and ketchup partners together to make a group of four (peanut butter group and jelly group). The mustard and ketchup partners sit next to each other at the same table, and nearby or at the same table group should be peanut butter and jelly partners.

Teaching Kids to Collaborate

When you have your partners, teach kids that their resources are there in front of them. They should use the hierarchy to answer questions. First ask their Mustard/Ketchup partners, then their PB&J partners, and then if they still have questions among the four of them, then they can ask me. That also helps me know if I need to address a teaching gap. If one student has a question vs. four students having a question.

When you find that students run into interpersonal problems, you model the words. For example, a student would say, “They took my hook!” I remind them gently that it is our classroom community’s hook. Then I say, how could we solve this problem. If they don’t know, I say, “let’s find another classroom community hook where we can hang your belongings.” Setting up the classroom as a community, as opposed to individual possessions is so important. Children need that community to understand that they are not entitled, but that we share, take turns and care about one another.

There’s much more I do to help foster independent kindergarten students. So, keep checking in with my blog posts to learn how I foster and teach independence in Kindergarten!




Teach Writing using Visual and Critical Thinking Strategies


This is my third year teaching writing using Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS). I started because my teacher neighbor at the school introduced me to the book – she is even in the book! I have to say I was first skeptical of the process, but as I have begun to delve deeper into the the philosophy, I know I cannot teach any other way than to use these strategies.

VTS focuses on using artwork in the classroom to develop critical thinking skills. There are three simple questions the teacher asks in Kindergarten (in older grades, the phrasing changes slightly).

  1. What do you see in the image? (What do you notice is happening in the image?)
  2. What do you see that makes you say that?
  3. What more can we find?





A critical part of this process is in the debrief or the discussion. During this time, the teacher paraphrases back to children what was said. For example, in Kindergarten, a student might say, “bear.” Very simple, but yet this is what is said at the beginning of the year for many of my low language or English Language Learners. I might even just have pointing. In which case, I might paraphrase back to the child: “I see a bear.” I might rephrase this in a question tone, or ask if I captured the students thinking correctly. If the student pointed and there is no indication of the location, I might just paraphrase back that the child is simply looking at the image.

It’s in the paraphrase that a lot of the learning comes into play. Not only do the questions lend themselves to critical thinking, but in the paraphrasing, I have an opportunity to link their vocabulary with content vocabulary. For example, if a child says “I see bear, woods, and pond.” –Many of my kindergartners don’t come in speaking in full sentences– I might say, “So, you’re saying I see a bear in the woods next to a pond, which is part of their habitat.” I’m not adding to what is said, I’m merely reflecting the learning back in a way that also identifies the critical thinking of that child and provides them with necessary academic language that builds their oral language skills. If the child is an English Language Learner and is one of my non-english or low-English speakers, I might say, “I see a bear in the habitat.” During this time, VTS states we are pointing to the parts of the image while children are talking about the image and while we are paraphrasing back what the child has said.




I’m not a VTS trainer, but did help develop materials for our writing lab in the district, specifically focused in Kindergarten and First Grade. Visual thinking and visual literacy is a huge focus area and buzz word I’m hearing more of in the education community. You can learn more about VTS (Visual Thinking Strategies and Visual Literacy) by reading Philip Yenawine’s book.

As a result, I started by creating anchor charts and writing papers that includes all the foundational skills I want to teach children during VTS and that aligned with the Common Core State Standards. Most teachers do VTS (the actual observation and/or writing of an image twice a month). I do VTS every single day and revisit the same image daily. The anchor charts are there to help teach writing, but they also teach critical thinking and and the strategies are used in all content areas. Even if you aren’t trained in VTS, these resources will help you develop highly critical thinkers, publishers, writers and illustrators. Each of these anchor charts focuses on the critical thinking process and specifically, what it means to publish a work.

Empowering your Superhero Students!


Find one of my best sellers, the Superhero Craft Here. 

You can also find my Superhero Class Theme here.

I really believe it is my job to inspire and empower my students to achieve and develop as learners. In response to this need, and because I love crafts, I made these super heroes. Each child can pick their hair, color, cut and paste or glue together. After their superheroes were completed, I laminated them to go in the hall with their writing. Each week, we add to their writing. I update their learning goals on their super heroes as their goals are met. This way, parents can see what their child’s goal is when they plan on stopping by or at conferences. It’s a great way for children to see each other’s goals as well. Many of the goals are similar and it’s so fascinating and exciting to watch their goals change and develop.

How to Make an Interactive Alphabet Word Wall


Setting up an effective and easy to access word wall is my top priority in Kindergarten. I never know if my kids will be able to come into Kindergarten knowing how to read, write, hold a pencil, sing the alphabet song, or recognize any of the alphabet letters or sounds. I usually have all of the above, which is definitely okay. I just know that means I need to be overly prepared for the first few months of school. Creating an interactive word wall is the way that I do this.

I have two word walls. The one above with the birch trees are for sight words we learn. The ones below on my magnetic whiteboard are my centers and is the main alphabet chart used for teaching. This is my alphabet avenue. Inside each of the plastic bags are 1/4 page of poster board with the letter glued on the front. Slipped in the front are small alphabet books.


The back of the bag contain additional materials, such as alphabet props, alphabet sound and letter cards, and a few worksheets. These bags are hung on my magnetic whiteboard with very strong magnetic hooks I found at our local teacher store. You can also find them by clicking the pictures below. They are expensive, and I spent quite a bit of change getting them, but it was so worth it. If your board isn’t magnetic, you could easily use command hooks.

 I also found the hangers on amazon or you can find them at Walmart. The hangers can only hold so much, so I plan on buying another set to hold two bags so I can take one off the wall, and the other behind it with additional resources – I love this space saving strategy, and I want to hang up more of my supplies and centers in these bags!


Here’s What you Need:

9 Black Poster Board cut into 1/4ths – There’s no waste, a fourth of a poster board fits perfectly in these bags!

Tape or Glue

2.5 Gallon Sized Bags

A-Z Letters to glue to the poster board (You can use mine Here)

Washi Tape (Optional)



Cut and glue or tape A-Z letters to the top right corner of each poster (cut into fourths). Laminate if you can. This will help increase longevity of the product.

For vowels, add washi tape or glue border around the outside of the poster before laminating. This helps children to distinguish letters that make more than one sound.

Add the poster to the bag, and hang on the wall with a hanger. Add supplies to the inside. That’s it!

You can also find my snow white / apple and enchanted alphabet headers HERE. 


De-Cluttering Confessions and Goals – Week 1

Decluttering to make room for a MORE organized life

So, confessions of a kindergarten teacher – I love to organize. I think one of the reasons teaching became my true calling was because I love to create and to organize it all! I love color-coding and personalizing belongings. What I didn’t realize is that I can’t organize clutter. Growing up on limited means – more than what we needed, but enough to hold onto what we might not have in the future – I realize I have the tendency to hold onto everything! I held onto my high school freshman homecoming dress until I moved here just a few years ago. I finally realized that I could keep the memories by taking a photograph of it and then getting rid of the dress. The picture takes up much less space, it’s digital, and I still have my memories in tact.

[Read more…]

How to Start your Book Club

Book Club Start Up

Last year, starting book clubs in kindergarten seemed impossible. We started our workshop book clubs the last 3 months of school. It just didn’t seem feasible. This year, we have been slowly progressing. I’ve changed a lot about my classroom since my first year in kindergarten. Now, my second year, I feel much more stable – although, I know and recognize kinderland is amazing and I’ll forever need to adapt, change and learn. If I forget, my kinders will let me know!

This year, we started with homework. We started with reading, increasing our stamina at home (and at school), and then I included star word rubrics as homework. You can find them here. This helped to lay the groundwork for fostering independence and learning skills. Now that children have the fundamentals of school – where to go, when to go and how to go there, we’ve started our regular stations, book clubs, and math stations.

Week 1: Teach them Guided Independence

We have 10 math stations and 10 reading stations children rotate through weekly. We spent an entire week working on just those, and making sure work was being completed. If I’ve learned anything about teaching kindergarten, it’s that they are capable of more than I thought! These children thrive on independence and choice – as long as it is guided.

Week 2: Add Responsibility

After week 1, we added our book clubs. I modified the teaching layout so that children were at stations while I was meeting with one book club per rotation. Normally, stations are after independent practice in our Journey’s ELA curriculum, but I’m scaffolding their learning and independence levels. This worked great! I met with one group for each rotation (2 groups)

I spent a lot of time redirecting, letting them know that I was still ensuring work was completed. Each child in my book club had an independent activity for the first 5-10 minutes so I could go around to stations and ensure children were working on what they were supposed to be working on – not goofing around. I also reminded children that the consequence of not finishing their work, results in loss of free time at the end of the day, and if still not finished, unfinished work was sent home as homework. Not all stations have products, but most do have some sort of result.

Week 3: Let them Thrive!

During week 3, I had children each meet in their book clubs simultaneously, instead of going to work stations. Each child had their particular goal they were working toward and individual, independent work to complete. They sat with their book club and there was enough work to complete after the whole group lesson. I touched base with 2 of my 5 groups during this time and floated to the other groups to monitor their work. At the conclusion of 20-30 minutes, we went to the carpet for closure and talked about what we learned.


Children will learn differently, and every class is different. I talk about it The Kindergarten-Way, but that’s because if you can teach this in kindergarten, you can teach it for any primary grade! Think about who works best together and also provide optimal groupings so children can be matched with someone just above or below their level as to provide independent work that isn’t too easy, and not too difficult. I also have “I’m Finished,” work waiting for them to complete if they finish early – they know that if it’s not really finished, it will need to be completed later. They learned this responsibility during stations, and believe me, they don’t want the consequence of missing freetime or having additional homework than is already provided. The bottom line is, just get started. Even if it isn’t perfect, just get started and it will most likely work its way out. I hope I’ve inspired you to start your book clubs!


Light-Up Stoplight & Strategies


Read this article to determine how to make $4 DIY stoplights with a variety of uses. Teach your kids the rules of the road or for classroom or home management!

Read this article to determine how to make $4 DIY stoplights with a variety of uses. Teach your kids the rules of the road or for classroom or home management!



Voice Level

This is the most common use of a stoplight. Children love the stoplight. I had created one out of poster board that was turned at different levels, but it didn’t seem to have the same pizazz. Nevertheless, it was an effective teaching tool for me in the classroom.

Yellow = our whisper voice

Red = no talking

Green = our  in-door voice


Teaching Spontaneous Conversation

You can also use these signals for teaching kids how to have a conversation. We live in an era where children often are told when to speak. This is done on a raising hands only basis. Even though there is a time and a place, this is not very helpful in the real world. I can’t tell you how many times a freshman in college would ask (by raising their hands) to go to the restroom. This usually ended up as an embarrassing predicament for the freshman student as the teacher would remind them that this was not necessary.

Well, this is necessary in elementary school through high school for safety reasons, we can still teach children to be more independent thinkers. One way to do this is by teaching children how to converse with others respectfully. [Read more…]

Crisis Kids – Implications for the Classroom

Great for teaching kids to calm themselves.

Belly Breathe (C) by Sesame Street

Elmo Monster - Belly Breathe in Sesame Street Song

Elmo (C) by Sesame Street

Teaching Children to Cope with Difficult Situations

Use these fantastic resources (below) to teach kids to cope with difficult situations. A crisis is any situation a person cannot handle do to a lack of coping mechanisms. This means when a child is acting like he is in the middle of a crisis, because he can’t find his pencil—he is!  Children have a difficult time regulating their emotions — and, rightly so. They have yet to learn or have the capacity to handle situations appropriately. Kiddos who have these responses are responding to their crisis – hence the name “crisis kids.” This is not intended to label a child, but meant to help us understand how this child is responding the best way they know (developmentally or emotionally) to an adverse circumstance. It is our job (as educators and/or caregivers) to help children learn how to deal with emotions positively and help build those coping mechanisms. The Crisis Kid deserves validation and empathy.

[Read more…]


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