Monthly Archives: January 2009

My Top 10 Teaching Resources for an Early Years Classroom-The Must ‘Haves’!


 PM Big Books

I have no desire to advertise, but sometimes it may benefit others if I do write about a particular publication that supports and scaffolds student learning. For student’s reading from RR Levels 1-6, I prefer to use PM books. Why do I like PM’s for beginning readers? PM readers introduce new vocabulary slowly, high frequency words are embedded into each text and are built upon at each level. The pictures support the text and the levels themselves are accurate. The topics are child centred.

As mentioned in previous posts, my student’s don’t start Guided Reading until they are Instructional Level 3. Children need to know about books and how they work before starting Guided Reading. For very early readers, I use Language Experience books and Shared Reading. 



Large Sentence Strip Board

Absolute Must! The sentence strip board is essential to my program. This is a critical ‘must have’ for all junior classes, not just Prep. Our Language Experience class made take home books are built from the text displayed on our sentence strip board. Once the sentence strip board is filled and a take home book is made, the sentences are pasted on to a poster and displayed for future reading. Re-reading our sentence posters regularly greatly assists reading development.    

 Mini White Boards

 Mini white boards are fantastic! My students love using them because they can be wiped clean. Children often feel more comfortable ‘having a go’ at spelling unfamiliar words when it’s not ‘pencil on paper’, I can only assume this is because it’s not permanent. They find using white board markers exciting, ‘ah…’ to be five again!  The picture displays magnetic alphabet letters. These are great for making words, ‘breaking and chunking’ (future post). I have a set of eight mini boards, which I protect with my life. Well, not quite, but I do love them!



 classroom-2009-0101The Changing Dice

How do I describe this?It’s a large cube/dice which has a plastic slip on each face. I can insert words, letters, sentences, and vocabulary for writing, such as who?, what?, why? and where? ,numbers and signs. The uses are limitless. This is a fantastic teacher’s resource and a ‘must have’!


 Magnetic Words

They come in a pack of 100 and include all basic sight words. When my students are introduced to a new word, I display it on the white board. It can be peeled off and ‘stuck’ into a written sentence on the board. The children can use them on their mini white boards as well. They can be written on with a white board marker e.g. what happens when we add a ‘magic e’ to a word? For example: Mat – mate




Small PM Readers.

We’re all subject to budget constraints, but I believe having as many Guided Reading PM sets from Level 3 to 6 is essential for developing young readers. They are great for other levels, but just like any diet, we want to have variety and there are other excellent books on the market. Read Chall – Stages of Reading Develoment (excellent overview)


I Love Dr. Suess!

 I have a collection of Dr. Seuss books that I read ‘over and over’ again. These books are popular with my Preps (and all children) and often make their way into my student’s school bags at the end of the day. In the easier books the vocabulary is phonetic, rhyme is integral and simple sight words are repeated. Dr. Seuss books are also wonderful for the older readers. Check them out, if you haven’t already!   


Teacher’s White Board

Let it roll! I love my roll around white board. It’s magnetic, can hold and display posters and can be rolled around. It’s just the right height for young children to use when they contribute and all children can see it clearly when sitting on the floor.






I have lego and a large lego board. I use lego in my Numeracy and Literacy program as well as Developmental Play, for example they might build a story set and act out a story they have read. My kit includes little people, wheels, small boards, windows etc. Buy a kit which includes the extras.


The Big Book Stand

I was very excited when I found an old rickety Big Book stand that nobody was using. With a clean and a blue Velcro board, it was ready to go! Having a Big Book stand allows me to have a Big Book area (previous post). It means that Big Books are on display and can be easily read by children. It’s about making teaching easier! Once again, it rolls, so I can move it out of the way easily if I need to.  

 Next Top 10 – Upcoming Post & Home Reading – My way!

I hope you’ve got plenty of money in the budget!

Cheers Nina



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Teachers are Hot in Australia! – Next Post: My Top 20 Resources for the Early Year’s Classroom.

Thank you for the e-mails and future post suggestions. My next post will itemise the ‘must haves’ in terms of resouces for an Early Year’s classroom. These are the resources that are I can’t teach without. So check your budgets!

Cheers Nina

P.S For anyone reading this blog from other areas of the globe. We officially started back this week after our summer holidays.

The temperature is a pleasant 44 degrees Celisius.

Thats 111.2 degrees Fahrenheit! 

Hot! Hot! Hot!


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Let Them ‘Do’: Creative Children are Vibrant Individuals

I love to see vibrant classrooms displaying children’s artwork, whatever the age. With our ‘crowded curriculum’ and the pressure to teach the 3 R’s coupled with assessment, it is this vital part of our program which is often sacrificed.

Young children, in fact, all primary students need to create. Parents need to understand that creating art and craft works is an important part of learning, not just something done in the Art Room. Many of our student’s future careers will be in the ‘creative industry’. Displaying children’s artworks is a celebration of their creativity.



Inspiration  for our mural came from photos taken on our exploration of rock pools at Moondah Beach.  As part of our Inquiry into Sustainability -Living and Non Living, we had ‘hands on’ sensory based activities in the ‘real environment’.







Murals allow children to contribute to a large piece of art work. Each student’s contribution is valued.




When planning my program e.g. a book response, I like to include  written, sensory, oral, artistic and dramatic activities. My desire is to develop the ‘whole child’ !

Cheers Nina

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Yes, I’m 5 and I can write!


On the very first day of school, I ask my Prep children to write. It’s the start of their writing journey and I want them to have a record of where their journey began. Some will get started quickly and others will sit there wondering ‘what on earth’ she is asking me to do! This is when I start talking about what writing is and why we write.



 I encourage the children to write their name, any letters they know or just put ‘something’ on their paper. After they have put ‘pencil to paper’, I ask them what their writing says. If they look at me blankly, I get them to tell me what they would like their writing to say and scribe.

 picture-0162From day one, I start talking to the children about ‘taking risks’, ‘having a go’ and that we read writing, not just books. This is a concept that we think children understand, but they don’t always. I PRAISE any effort, show my excitement and celebrate all attempts made by my students every time they write. When a student makes a ‘learning leap’ we do a ‘happy dance’. Preps love to have fun and they don’t have any ‘hang-ups’ about dancing! I want my students to develop a positive attitude to writing which hopefully will be life long.





At the end of semester 1, we have Student Led Interviews, where the children talk to their parents about their learning growth. They show pieces of writing that they have selected that display their development. I’ve found that, with preparation Prep children are very good at explaining their learning growth. To encourage this type of thinking, it’s important to develop the skills of ‘reflecting upon their learning’. We reflect each week formally and everyday orally. When a parent asks, what did you do today? I want my children to be able to answer. This is not a natural skill for most children and therefore needs to be learnt.





Please read my previous posts:

Very Young Children Can Edit: Develop criteria, hand over the responsibility and watch them grow.

Literacy – Inquiry Learning – Writing with Purpose!

The power of Interactive Writing as a model to accelerate writing development 

 Cheers Nina



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The answer to the most frequently asked question – Why blog? Authentic Learning!

Every time I talk to someone about my blog, I get the same question.  They ask me, why? It’s almost like there must be a hidden reason. They keep asking me where this will lead me, and my answer is, I don’t know. At the moment, I’m interested in the journey, not the destination.

I’m loving the challenge and I’ve been looking for one. I also know I want to keep learning and improving.

Just like children, I want my learning to be authentic. I want the purpose to be real and yes, I could read about this, but it’s the ‘doing’ that’s pushing my learning further than I could have imagined. I’m engaged in what I’m doing!

I also value my teaching and wish to share my teaching and learning strategies with others. I’m reflecting on my teaching, and I’m thinking about global linking, internationalism and how I can incorporate ICT into my program. Others are teaching me and that’s the amazing thing about Web 2.0. People are actually reading and responding to my blog! Teachers want to share!

I’ve been listening to Jenny Luca  for a year and following her journey into Web 2.0. It didn’t take long for Jenny to start speaking a language that I couldn’t understand, and talk about things I had no idea how to do. Her enthusiasm was contagious and her encouragement and support has been ‘what has got me this far’. Jenny taught herself everything, but I’ve been lucky to have a mentor.

Ten new ‘things’ I have learnt.

How to set up a blog.

How to manage a blog.

Uploading pictures.

Creating Links.

Creating tags.

Inserting a utube video into my blog.

Replying to comments.

What a meme is.

What a wiki is.

Other people who will teach me.

What I want to learn!

I want to ‘twirl on twitter’.

I want to connect with teachers around the globe.

How? I have no idea, but my problem solving strategies are different now. I now seek answers through Web 2.0 and I get them.

What I can do!

Teach others about what I have learnt and support their journey, share my classroom program, develop a professional learning plan for ICT and pursue my interest in global issues. It’s all about improving my teaching and therefore my students’ learning! 

Cheers Nina

 Enjoy the video! Lego Man Guided Reading (very clever)




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The Bigger the Book the Better!


Big Books engage young and older students alike. The reading of Big Books is included in my daily program. It’s a time to model reading aloud to children, or simply enjoy a story. It’s a time for shared reading. Reading aloud to children can be lost in the ‘crowded curriculum’, so like everything it needs to be planned.

Big Books support Inquiry and many companies are writing Big Books to support curriculum.

Reading Big Books enables the children to be involved, as many of these books encourage movement e.g. where it says ‘stamp, stamp, stamp or ‘wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, the children can do the action. Our Big Book reading can be very active! Many authors have realised this and have included action words.

The beauty of Big Books is they can be read over and over again. The text becomes quickly familiar to the children and they can read along.

Big Books encourage children to explore a text as a group. They can share ideas and learn from each other.





Using Big Books is essential when teaching the, Concepts of Print (Marie Clay)

Read about Concepts of Print at the Reading Success Network– it’s an interesting paper.

Reading Big Books is when I focus on, front and back, where to start?, reading left to right, first and last letter/word, reading from top to bottom and the difference between a word and a letter.

I also use Big Books to focus on writing skills e.g. we discover, what a sentence is? We learn about punctuation and rhyme. The opportunities to teach reading and writing skills through the reading of Big Books are endless.


Strategy: Big Books & Guided Reading

I use Big Books for all reading groups during the year. Guided Reading is introduced to my students only when they are able to read a RR Level 3 book at an instructional level. The children need a good understanding of ‘how books work’ before they can really benefit from Guided Reading. It’s hard to do Guided Reading when you can’t turn pages in order. So roll out the Big Books, they work!

Hint: If possible have a Big Book stand in a specific area of your classroom dedicated to Big Book reading. It makes it easier! I know from teaching young children that they need to move, and having different teaching areas, where the focus has changed helps them to re-engage quickly for a new teaching activity.

It may just be a different corner of your classroom. It’s the re-focusing on a new learning activity that’s important.




As my children’s reading ability grows, they love to sit in the Big Book reading seat and lead the activity. My goal with most learning situations is for the teaching activity to become student lead. I love being a participant. I had many future teachers in my class last year and it’s enjoyable and a little scary to hear them ‘speaking like me’. Posters are equally important and can be used in the same way as Big Books.  

Cheers Nina



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Upcoming posts: The Bigger the Book the Better! & Yes, I’m 5 and I can write!

New posts coming! I’ve had some requests, so please contact me if you have any questions or future topics you would like me to write about. Just email me or leave a comment. Cheers Nina


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Young children are born poets: Why poetry, rhyme and chant is essential for all children but crucial for the struggling reader!


Introducing my 5 – 6 year old (Prep) students to poetry is part of my daily program. Poetry engages young children, particularly when they can join in. Poems, rhymes, raps, finger plays and chants are important in all classrooms, but crucial to young children learning to read. Rhymes allow students to make predictions. I find that the children, who have difficulty predicting a text, have a ‘tougher’ journey learning to read. For this group of children poetry, chants and rhyme are essential. These are the children who find a Reading Recovery Level 1 book challenging. The book might read, I am in at the park, I am at the zoo, I am at the beach, and even when the language is repetitive and patterned, the structure is not remembered.

The resurrection of poetry, rhymes and chants in classrooms supports the important role they have in developing the language skills of young children. 



For example rapping is a cultural phenomenon, and involves movement, it’s clever, ‘cool’ and fun. My preps love rapping – its poetry!


Just for the record:

One of my favourite authors for young children is Dr. Seuss. I read these books to the children until they can recite the stories off by heart. The children love these books and take them home to read e.g. Green Eggs and Ham. The language is phonetic,

contains simple sight words and they can remember the rhyme. Have as many in your room as you can, and read them ‘to death’.





The displays are for the children to make reference to when writing, to celebrate their work and to provide parents with information. Writing an explanation of what has been done in ‘child speak’, and placing it with the display, ensures that when the display is looked at, the focus of the viewer is not just the beautiful pictures but the




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Very Young Children Can Edit: Develop criteria, hand over the responsibility and watch them grow.


My program from day one is Language Experience and Inquiry based and as I have stated in earlier posts I get going quickly.  The Victorian Early Years structure (future post – My Way) is introduced formally late in first semester, however, all elements of Early Years are used within a Language Experience program.

Big Books (future post) are fundamental to my everyday program. I start drawing my student’s attention to simple punctuation and through repetitive reading of our favourite Big Books, children start learning how we use punctuation quickly. We spend a lot of time discussing: What a sentence is? How it starts and how we know a sentence has stopped? We look at commas, exclamation marks and question marks from day one (Concepts of Print). Learning is my classroom is about a child’s ‘point of need’, not age or grade level. Yes, assessment drives my program but it’s about finding ‘where to go’!


 Later in the year I start intoducing children to the concept of 1st draft, edit and publishing. Published writing needs to be correct. I believe children need to know why they are expected to do something.  Displaying examples of the process including explanations is essential. The children can refer to the display and visiting teachers/parents can clearly understand what is being taught.

Editing – Formulating Criteria for Writing Genres

 Children aged 5-6 are capable of formulating criteria for writing genres. This is a strategy which is used with all class levels, including secondary students. The photo shows a writing checklist that was prepared by the children after developing writing criteria for punctuation. As a WHOLE class we deconstruct good quality pieces of writing. I use examples from the CARS & STARS books because they are carefully published and have age appropriate content.

After deconstructing a specific piece of writing e.g. a letter, the children talk about what they see is specific to a letter e.g. young children will notice that a letter starts with dear and that there is a date. This is the start of formulating and recording our criteria. The criteria are then used to make a checklist which is referred to when writing. The first checklist shown in the photo above is very simple and made by 5-6 year olds (Preps) after completing this process.

Once the checklist is developed students refer to it when editing their writing. (See photo) This strategy improves the quality of the children’s writing dramatically.





The photo below is an example of a display in my classroom. picture-018You’ll notice that a checklist is attached.  Hope you find this post useful. Cheers Nina

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Literacy – Inquiry Learning – Writing with Purpose.

  I find that to build and accelerate the writing skills of young children and actually students of all ages, opportunities need to be given for students to record purposefully. Journal writing is a favourite of teachers in the Early Years and although important, I don’t believe recounts should be used by themselves for assessing a student’s writing progress.

Children need to write in different styles naturally and with purpose. Journal writing tends to become stilted and doesn’t challenge young writers by the end of their first semester at school. I call it ‘nuts and bolts’ writing.

Inquiry Learning and Language Experience partner each other perfectly, because how can you inquire without being exposed to real experiences? How can vocabulary be built if it’s not linked to real experiences? How can we expect children to write well without building vocabulary? This is why many young children struggle to write – their oral language and experience are limited. It is also why I believe oral language development is critical to becoming literate. It starts from birth.


Language Experience: Real Learning!


“What I can think about, I can talk about.”

“What I can say, I can write.”

“What I can write, I can read.”

“I can read what I can write and what other people can write for me to read.”


Strategy: From day one of Prep I start building vocabulary. I put a word on the board e.g. start and ask the children to come up with words of similar meaning. At the beginning of the year my Preps would come up with one word, possibly two if I was lucky. By the end of the year my students were consistently making lists of ten or more words of similar meaning to my initial word. There has to be a psychological term for this which I can’t name, but it’s related to developing the thinking skills and potential of young minds. It is, however, understanding that young children 4-6 years at the beginning of Prep have brains like sponges and a natural curiosity which needs harnessing. picture-008  


I’ve added some photos of Inquiry writing samples from our Inquiry into Sustaining our environment- What is living and non-living?- Term 4.  As our school has the sea ‘on our doorstep’ it was natural to start with Moondah Beach. Ben (my students called him Ben-Ten) from the Dolphin Research Centre was heavily involved in our Inquiry. Having an expert to lead ‘hands on’ learning experiences was wonderful. picture-036


Why Borders?

The children design a border for each learning reflection as Lane Clark states that children are more inclined to remember information when they use a border. I would also state that I’m not including the best but the average standard in my class and it is the students own reflection and recording of their learning.

 I hope you enjoy this post. I’m still learning how to respond to comments. I actually replied to one person three times. That might sound interesting but it was the same reply from me three times. Ummmmm! Cheers Nina

Real Experiences: sea-visit-054sea-visit-014 


Vocabulary: Our Muralsea-visit-2-0091


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