Article #12
Getting Started On A Budget
Cheryl M. Sigmon

One really great selling point about the 4-Blocks Model is the fact that it is not a commercial program. Little beyond the materials needed for any good language arts program is necessary for implementation. Unfortunately, many of our schools don't have the basics that every good language arts program should have. This column is devoted to those of you getting the model started with little or no financial support.

Scavenging is not the way I propose that you get started. Certainly if you have a generous budget at your school, get out the catalogs immediately and get your order together. However, if you are like many of us who started out alone at our schools or started without any additional money to supplement our program, perhaps the ideas below will encourage you to give it a try in spite of the lack of funding.

In the Guided Reading Block, all students need copies of the same text--grade level texts for three days and below grade level for two days. How do you go about amassing an adequate collection of materials for this block?

  • Having an adopted basal reader is a tremendous help. In some school systems, unfortunately, these basals were tossed during the basal bashing movement of the past decade; however, today's basals are far superior to the basals of even 5 - 10 years ago. Basals now are more like anthologies of good literature. So, if you are able to revive the use of these texts, the multiple copies of same texts will benefit your class for the grade-level reading days.
  • The texts for other content areas such as science, social studies, and health, are a huge contribution to multiple copies of printed materials. These content books are excellent resources, as students need to learn to apply comprehension skills and strategies to expository texts.
  • At the lower grades for the easier day reading, big books and multiple copies of little books by the same title are ideal for this purpose. With some big books that are predictable and repetitive, a teacher can create innovations to extend the use. Following the patterns of the published books, the teacher can lead a shared writing activity, taking the same pattern and creating a similar story. An example would be using the pattern of "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see? I see a ..." and switching it to "Principal, principal, what do you see? I see a student looking at me." Once the pattern book is completed, the teacher copies this new composition so that each child in the class has a copy which can be used just as a purchased book would be in the Guided Reading Block.
  • Some teachers have found below-grade basals that can be used for the easier day reading.
  • If the class subscribes to a weekly or monthly magazine, which furnishes copies for all class members, this printed material can be used for the guided reading lesson. Magazine journalism is another genre which needs to be included in this block.
Most teachers find that the Self-Selected Reading Block poses a problem in gathering a variety of books. This is quite often the most expensive block to implement. Again, though, this is not an expense germane to 4-Blocks; any good language arts program must have classroom libraries.

For this block, the book baskets at each table should have approximately 25 books of varying readability levels, genres, topics, and authors. Because each classroom is likely to have 4-5 book crates rotating, that means that 100-125 books will be needed in the room at one time. The book baskets, of course, can rotate weekly table to table which means that, assuming all crates have different printed materials in them, the rotational system will allow all children to be exposed to the full collect in about a month's time. As more chapter books are added, children will be less inclined to want the crates to rotate which may also extend the use of the collection. But, still, if a teacher must have 100-125 books per month that adds up to 900-1125 books needed for one classroom for nine months of instructional time. Here are a few ideas for getting the quality and quantity of books necessary:

  • Teachers at a grade level can plan their schedules so that they are staggering the time for SSR Block. Book baskets can be carried from one room to the next either by means of a cart or by the students of the day (the Monday kids, Tuesday kids, etc.) as soon as the block ends in one class and just in time for another teacher's SSR Block to start.
  • Depending upon the circumstances of the parents in the class, sometimes parents are willing to donate books since they know it goes for a good cause. Send a letter making them aware of the book shortage. You might want to include titles you would love to see added to the collection to ensure that the criteria for the kinds of books you need will be met by the donations.
  • You might suggest to parents that a lasting gift of a book inscribed with a student's name would be a wonderful gift to the class in honor of their child's birthday or some special occasion.
  • Garage sales can sometimes be great places to find additions to the class library. Do keep in mind, though, that students usually choose books that are attractive and appealing. Even though it's true that "you can't judge a book by its cover," books with missing covers and torn pages don't market themselves well.
  • Tell the officers of the PTA about your needs. Give them a list of books and prices and see if they will meet your needs.
  • If your school has a business partner, give them a list of book titles and prices and let them know what you need. Quite often these business partners just don't have a clue how to be helpful, and they would really be grateful to be given something specific.
For the Writing Block, both equipment and materials are desired.
  • Teachers usually find it most effective to sit down to an overhead projector to model their daily writing, simulating the position in which the students will write. The overhead projector also allows the teacher to face the students so that she monitors their responses and engages them more easily. Of course, charts or blackboards can be used, but are not nearly as effective.
  • The teacher should model writing at the overhead projector using whatever lined paper the students are using--first grade handwriting or regular paper. The transparencies can be purchased with the lines or can easily be made. The first-grade paper can be made by copying the spacing, colors, and lines on the computer and printing on a color printer with red and blue. Regular lined paper can easily be made by copying straight onto a transparency on a copy machine.
  • Students will need individual writing notebooks or folders. Since these are relatively inexpensive, many parents don't mind furnishing these.
  • Bookmaking materials don't necessarily need to be fancy or expensive. Cardstock makes a nice bookcover, but student-decorated paper can serve the purpose. Books can be bound by fairly inexpensive machines that insert spiral bindings; however, staplers will do the job as well.
  • The publishing center should hold a variety of materials to inspire creativity--stationery, postcards, colored paper, shaped papers, pens, pencils, crayons, markers, and ink stamps. Most of these materials are inexpensive. If a list were given to parents, businesses, or PTA, surely they would make generous donations to fill this area.
Word Block is a relatively inexpensive block to sustain. Most materials are regular office supplies--note cards (need tons!), clasp envelopes, chart paper, markers, file folders.
  • An overhead projector is a real asset here just as in the Writing Block.
  • A pocket chart is necessary. Pocket chart can be made with poster board but really aren't as durable. This is well worth the small investment.
  • Printing is a necessary expense, especially for alphabet cards for the students to manipulate during Making Words. Some teachers try to cut corners by using the homework sheets copied on regular paper. Kids either have to print the letters on the front and back, or if the teacher has printed the letters before copying, they must at least print the upper case letters on the back. Cutting out and handling the flimsy letters and missing the good printed letter models just doesn't compensate for the trouble of these poor substitutes. Just have the letters printed on cardstock, and they'll be good for 1-2 years.
  • Sentence strips are used often in the Words Block as well as in the Guided Reading Block at the lower grades. Tag board and poster board can be used as substitutes but are a good deal more trouble to cut and size.
And, while we're talking about cutting corners for the classroom--one of our favorite affordable places to find neat items to enhance the 4-Blocks classroom is the "dollar" store. Here are some of the items that we've found there:
microphone A vibrating microphone that's wonderful to use during sharing time in Writing Block and Self-Selected Reading Block. Brings out even the shyest of kids.
pointers Some of the neatest pointers ever for tracking print--insects on rods, long pencils with neat shapes on the eraser end, glittery wands and batons, and others.
cutting boards All styles are there, but I love the clear plastic ones. Overlap notes cards with just about 1/4 inch of the bottom edge showing. Write kids names on that bottom edge--colors can tell which are the kids of the day--and put them in alphabetical order for easier access. It's a great anecdotal management system--with a handle!
crates All kinds of baskets and crates to be used for the book baskets for SSR.
writing materials All kinds of composition books, containers for the publishing center, crayons, markers, stationery.
visors Inexpensive sun visors make fabulous Editor's hats. Just write "Editor" across the visor with paint and the kids will feel like real professionals when they come to the publishing center.
critters A wonderful addition to themes and centers on insects and bugs are the bug houses; butterfly nets; rubber snakes, ants, and bugs of all types.

Although these ideas will get you underway with the model, you should begin to lobby for money now. All good language arts classrooms should have ample books and supplies. Be brave. Go and tell your administrator what you need and why it is critical to the success of your program. Quite often we wait to be asked and the question never comes. Most administrators, even if they really must say "no" due to budget constraints, will appreciate the fact that the teacher has taken the initiative to put a program together and to find the resources. Of course, when your test scores improve--as they will--and when it is so apparent that your students are better readers and writers, your administrators may begin to find the money!

You're to be commended for your efforts to implement a model that you believe will help children---all children.

4 Blocks Goodies