Back to School!

I don’t think anyone has ever been as excited as I am to be back to school.  I just LOVE the start of the year.  I love seeing the kids again, I love the school supplies and the little lunchboxes all lined up in a row.  I especially love being back to teaching English and getting to put into practice all the new ideas that I’ve gathered over the course of the summer!

This summer I have discovered gold-tone spray paint.  Did you know that when you spray-paint lima beans, they look EXACTLY like little gold nuggets?  I love it!  We will be using our “nuggets” for everything from counting to Bingo this year, and I can’t wait!

I’ve also been using white spray paint on my bottle caps to give me a writeable surface.  Last year I tried painting each one with acrylic paint (talk about time-consuming!!) but the acrylic paint quickly peeled off (I just HATE spending all that time for nothing, don’t you?).  This year I just set the bottle caps out and sprayed lightly over them.  If nothing else, it was at least faster….we’ll see if it’s any more durable!

I use my bottlecaps as a hands-on way to practice forming syllables and words.

Can I just say again how excited I am to be back in school?  It’s great!


Personalized Sight Words List

Another thing I’ve been up to now that winter break has started is creating a personalized sight word list for my two classes.

As any teacher will tell you, the order of the Dolch word list, which has easy-peasy CVC words like “cut” and “got” in the 3rd grade list, and tricksy words like “please,” “pretty,” and “there” in the primer list, doesn’t always make a lot of sense.

Usually any article I find online about using sight words, especially about using them for EFL, start with some variation of the phrase “First, re-order the list in a way that makes sense for your situation.”

So I did.  It was twice as challenging because I’m not just teaching them how to recognize words they already know; I’m teaching the meaning of the words at the same time.  One of the ways to make that a little easier is to try to pick words that work well together, so that we can practice several words in the same sentence.

I’m not 100% happy with my list yet.  There are some words that I’ll definitely move around, others I’ll probably delete (I can’t teach them all, and I’ve already left off about six words because they’re just TOO HARD to explain/translate for me and my kids!).  I’ll probably move some up the list as I make up exercises and think, Hey, you know what would work really well here?  This word!!

Hopefull by next year I’ll have something I can set in stone (or at least in wet cement) and be more thorough about incorporating into my every day routine.  But for now, it’s a total learning process for both me and them, and I figure every word they know at the end of the year is one word more than they would have known otherwise!

Winter Break and a fun activity

Winter break has finally arrived here in Peru: two glorious weeks to sleep late, clean the house, and just generally catch up on life.

But of course, being on “vacation” and not actually teaching just means more time for planning and preparing all those great ideas we want to use once we get our kids back!

I found an absolutely darling idea for sticky note targets here.  Although the post refers to using them for sight words, the template is completely editable; you could use them for CVC words, CVCe words, CCVC words, CVCC words, CCVCC words…hahaha, you get the picture!

Bottle Caps

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Do you ever have one of those moments where you get a breakthrough…..and then you wonder why you hadn’t thought of that before?  I’ve been collecting bottle caps for phonics games (These sight word caterpillars from This Reading Mama are a personal favorite!), but I threw away several bottle caps (the caps from my yogurt bottles, in particular….here in Peru, you don’t  eat yogurt, you drink it!  And we drink a lot of yogurt) because they were either too dark to write on, or because they had so much writing on top that you couldn’t really see the letters once they were written.

I threw them away.

Oh, my word.

Some days you really just wonder if you actually have a brain up there, or maybe you’re just faking it?  Anyway, this morning I got the brilliant idea (it’s brilliant, really, it is) of using white acrilyc paint to – drumroll, please – paint the top of the bottle caps.  It took me all of two minutes (and that includes the time to open the paint, cover the bottle caps, and wash the brush afterwards!) so it doesn’t really matter if the paint chips a little with use; I can just do it again.  And voilà!  I can now write the letters on the white background and have them show up just  fine.

I wonder if we’ve taken out the garbage yet…..


I learned a new word today.  (See, students?  You aren’t the only ones learning!  Teacher does, too!)

The word is atelophobia, and it means an intense fear of imperfection, or not being good enough.  From what I read online, I think perhaps most teachers secretly struggle with this…but I can’t help but feel that my struggles are amplified by the fact that “I’m not a real teacher.” I struggle even though I know many “real teachers” who don’t care whether their students learn or not, who get there and get done and get out.  I struggle even though I spend hours online trying to figure out what, exactly, I’m doing, and how to do it better.  I struggle because some of my students still don’t know basic letter sounds, even though I’ve sat down with them one-on-one and tried everything I could think of to help them connect letter forms with letter sounds.  And yet, even so, deep within me, I worry constantly that it’s not good enough.  That I’m not good enough.

The importance of manageable goals

I want my students to learn English.

All of it.

Or at least enough of it to be able to read, write, converse, listen, watch movies, chat with friends, go to Disney World, read the classics, buy their favorite flavor of ice cream.

The problem, of course, is that they can’t.  They’re four and five years old; I have them for two years.  There are some things they just aren’t going to be able to do.

So I have to set goals.  What exactly can they learn in these two precious years?  How much is too much?  How much is too little?

It complicates things that every class is different.  Every child is different.  And I, as a teacher, am really bad (and really new!) at this concept of differentiated instruction.  I hope to get better at it, but for the moment, I just have to understand that what last year’s K5 class breezed through, is too much, too hard, too fast, for this year’s K5.  And, simultaneously, what this year’s K5 is doing is way to easy for this year’s K4, who are English lovers and ready for more than their older counterparts!

I’m really good at setting goals for my own life….and, apparently, really bad at setting them for my students.  Live and learn, and I’m learning as I live, but sometimes it’s so frustrating not knowing where to focus, not knowing where to pour the precious little time and energy and resources I have.  Spread it too thin (conversation, vocabulary, phonics, grammar, reading) and they learn nothing.  Concentrate it too much, do too little, and I have the horrible sneaky suspicion that I’m stealing precious time from them….they could have learned more in this year, but I wasted it.  I don’t want to waste it.

So that’s what I’m doing tonight: answering the question, what do my students have to know when they leave my class at the end of the year?

What should they know?

What could they know?

What do they have to know?  That’s what I should focus on.  That’s what I should throw time and energy into making sure even the slowest learners have the chance to learn.

What should they know?  That’s what most of the class will be able to pick up on.  That’s what I can do over and above the curriculum, over and above the basics.  That’s the fun stuff.

What could they know?  What could the faster learners, the ones with a real head for English (and, often, parents at home who know something of English), what could they learn if given the chance?  How can I include opportunities for them to learn it?  How can I stretch them and challenge them so they won’t get bored with the “musts” the slower learners are still struggling with?


Teach Kids to Learn

On Thursday and Friday we had some excellent teacher workshops after school.  Dr. Alex Granados from Southeastern Bible College was the visiting speaker.  I thoroughly enjoyed both days, but perhaps one of the things that most stood out to me was what he said about teaching kids to learn.

I’ve posted before, and I’ve written on Medium, about how homeschooling helped me to learn.  From 5th grade on, my mom basically did nothing more than oversee my education; she might assign me books to read or lessons to complete, and check my work afterwards, but she did very little in the way of explaining.  (“Look it up” was her motto….frustrating at the time, but I am who I am today because of it.)

And I’ve posted on how her attitude towards learning helped me when I suddenly found myself thrust into the world of kindergarten teaching with (almost) no idea what I was doing.

But there was one connection that I hadn’t made yet, and that was the connection that became startlingly clear on Friday as Dr. Alex spoke.  “Our task as educators,” he said, “is not to give our students information, but rather to teach them how to think for themselves.  We must teach them how to learn.” (the same phrase my mom used, the same phrase I myself had used only a few weeks before!)

And I wonder…am I teaching my students how to learn?  Part of me objects; “My world is different!” “I can’t do what my mom did!” “I learned to learn and look things up by reading; my kids don’t know how to read yet!  I have to teach them!”

All true.  I can’t do what my mom did, give my kindergarteners a book on, say, The Life of Lafayette, and tell them, “Here, read this, and when you’ve finished, write me about three pages telling me what you’ve learned about Lafayette.”

And yet, I realized on Friday that there *are*  things I can do.  I just have to find those things.  I can’t do it all (and THAT is frustrating, because I know that much of what I do in K5 falls by the wayside once the students get to first grade; there is no continuity there as there ought to be….but my responsibility is just to do the best I can in kindergarten, and hope for the best once they get to first grade).  But I have to discover (and Dr. Alex spoke of the importance of discovering, of always having a keen, curious mind) as many ways as I can to teach them to look, to find, to be curious, to satisfy their own curiosity.

My world is very different from the one I grew up in.  You simply can’t compare a lifetime of homeschooling to a single year of private school.  But there have to be little ways I can influence them, little ways I can help direct them and guide them and inspire them.  I just have to find them.

Becoming a Reality

Today, I started working on writing out my very own Sight Word curriculum and making my very own Sight Word workbook.  So far, I’ve written out the introduction, which is more than it sounds.  I’m writing as if everything I’m writing about were already a reality (“This book contains….”), but because the introduction explains the scope, sequence, and theory behind (what will be) the workbook, writing that out is proving to be the most important part.  What will it teach?  Why will it teach it?  Why in that order?  How will students get repeated exposure to each word?  Why should students get repeated exposure to each word?  How many times should a student practice the same word?

All of that – all of it! – is now out of my head and onto paper.  It’s starting to feel real!  This is awesome!

Place Markers


My kids have been struggling with following along in their readers.  With other classes, I’ve always stressed following along with their fingers until they get the hang of reading along, but this class is definitely more hyper and easily distracted.  So I decided to try making them place markers.  These are not bookmarks – they’re made of tongue depressors, they’re too thick for bookmarks – but rather for students to place under the text being read, and help them be more aware of where they are in the book.

They were super easy and really fun to make; I just painted tongue depressors white, then doodled on them with Sharpies.  I covered them with packing tape to keep them from smudging.  They’re much brighter and cheerier in real life; I couldn’t get a good picture of them, unfortunately.

The thickness of the tongue depressors makes them perfect for little hands.  And there’s just something about the combination of the hardness of the wood and the slickness of the packing tape, I can’t keep my fingers off them!  (Miss Keesa just may use one in her reading circle, too!)  Plus, the bright colors will (I hope!!) help keep the kids focused on their reading, at least for a little while!