Article #35
The Final Countdown:
Ready Or Not...Here They Come!
Cheryl M. Sigmon

The summer days seem to fly by so quickly. All of those folks who envy educators because we have three full months off for the summer just don't have a clue, do they? Well, here we are, though, getting revved up for another great year. So many teachers on the mailring and in workshops around the country have mentioned being excited about the coming year, especially those who haven't started a year with 4-Blocks before. What excitement the coming year will hold for all 4-Blocks teachers--a year of better behaved children, a year of planning together with fellow teachers, a year of streamlined organization, a year of watching kids as they grow like never before! (Let's not dwell now on the paperwork, the endless faculty meetings, the late-night grade calculations, the parents who seem never to be satisfied, the hot days of bus duty, the loud lunchrooms,...!)

As we head back into the classroom, let's take stock of the essentials that need to be in place to get 4-Blocks up and running from Day One. Of course, the blocks in the early stages won't look like they will a bit later when our "full-blown" model is running with 30+ minute blocks. There are materials, equipment, and planning that need to precede that very first day. For those of you who may have already begun your year, you might wish to look over the inventory as well. Let's go block by block. Ready?

Self-Selected Reading

Ideally What Needs to Be in Place to Get Started:

I have

  • picked out several good read-alouds that will motivate kids.
  • organized book baskets (one per table or coop group) with the appropriate mixture and number of books and printed materials.
  • planned a system of how the baskets will get to the tables quickly and how they will be returned to the shelves.
  • planned a "seat of honor" for students to use for sharing at the conclusion of the block.
  • arranged for a way to gather information during conferences. (Remember, however, that you don't have to start with conferences on Day One! Just take the first days--or weeks, in some classes--to encourage the kids as they get started and to model what you want them to do during this time.)
  • planned to model different ways that the students can read during this time, especially if they can't read the real words yet.
Substitutions for Now:

If you're still short of books--and $$--for the baskets, it's not too late. Hurry and try these ideas:

  • Travel brochures from your own area--Get them from travel agencies or from nearby hotels and motels or from your local Chamber of Commerce. Place them in a zip-loc bag and kids will love exploring the sights and attractions that are nearby. They may learn something they don't know from a visitor's perspective.
  • Pet care manuals--These are usually available at pet shops free of charge, everything from how to care for iguanas to spiders.
  • Menus--Restaurants usually have take-out menus available and kids love reading through these.
  • Dental and medical brochures--Your local doctors' and dentists' offices usually have a variety of printed materials on diseases, hygiene, etc. Because kids love "gross" stuff, even pictures of gum disease with all the gory details will appeal!
  • Comics--Cut out the comic strips from Sunday's paper to include in the SSR basket. You might want to laminate the strips before tucking them into the baskets.
  • Magazines--Sometimes stores or offices will donate their outdated issues. Just be sure that the magazine is appropriate in content for your class.
Guided Reading

Ideally What Needs to be in Place to Get Started:

I have

  • picked out some good shared reading material at an easy level, keeping in mind that not all of my students may understand some of the basic print and language concepts (tracking, directionality, and what constitutes "story," "sentence," "words," and "letters."). Big books are best for modeling these early concepts for the first few days.
  • identified skills and strategies to be taught in the context of these first few lessons.
  • decided on ways to connect kids to the texts, either establishing or building on prior knowledge.
Substitutions for Now:
  • Big books and shared materials can be homemade. Try big book innovations, charts with poems and rhymes, and various materials that can be accessed on the internet that have no copyright protection.
  • Some of your language experience, interviews of student of the day, message to students can be used as shared reading, too.
  • The Structured Language Experience 5 day plan can get emergent classes started. No purchased printed materials are necessary and a big book is the produce at the end of the week.
Word Block

Ideally What Needs to be in Place to Get Started:

I have...

  • a pocket chart for my activities.
  • decided on either Word Wall words (5 per week) or students' names to introduce day by day. (You probably won't want to start with both. Names are best in classes where kids don't know basic concepts and may not know each other.)
  • an alphabet with upper and lower case letters to begin the Word Wall.
  • a plan for activities to include in the second segment of the Words Block--Making Words, Guess the Covered Word, Reading and Writing Rhymes, Rounding Up the Rhymes, etc.
  • a plan for the patterns I want to teach kids during this block.
Substitutions for Now:

Isn't it great that nothing expensive or difficult to find is necessary here?

Writing Block

Ideally What Needs to be in Place to Get Started:

I have...

  • an overhead projector to use for my model writing, along with transparencies, pens and a screen.
  • a chart (blank in the beginning of the year!) to use to begin my Editor's Checklist.
  • identified what I will need to begin to teach in my mini-lessons.
  • planned how the students will keep up with their writing (spiral notebooks, 3-ring binders, portfolios, etc.) and how they will get these materials (you or the parents?).
Substitutions for Now:

Again, so little is necessary here that you're bound to be up and running regardless of financial restrictions. Maybe parents will help out by purchasing or donating spiral notebooks or materials to organize the writing.

For brand new 4-Blocks teachers, your greatest decision may be just how to get started. Consider these as part of your planning:

    1. Plan to include all 4 blocks as soon as possible since you will have gaps in your curriculum until all are present. Even though you might start with just a block or two, nudge yourself a bit soon to add the additional ones.
    2. Arrange the blocks in your day to suit your needs, keeping each of the blocks intact. The blocks themselves don't have to be consecutive in the schedule.
    3. Spend enough time in the beginning weeks modeling everything about the procedures that will ensure that your year will, thereafter, run smoothly.
    4. Don't feel pressured to have the blocks running for the full 30+ minutes until your children are comfortable with what is required of them.
    5. Be sure to study your curriculum and to plug it appropriately into the blocks. 4-Blocks is not WHAT you teach, it's HOW you teach. Your success this year will depend upon both of those!

4 Blocks Goodies