Article #40
More Voices from the Classroom
Cheryl M. Sigmon

As continuation of an earlier article, this week we have ideas and comments from teachers on getting the year started. I assume there are still a number of you in the early stages of implementation. Let's see what these teachers have to say...

# 1

Kelly Sparks from Grand Junction, CO, shares with us a great idea for adding inexpensive materials to your book baskets. She says,

"I add books periodically to the baskets--books I've read or think someone might find interesting and challenging or easy enough for them. I'm also going to color and laminate some nursery rhymes to keep in there for those who are beginning readers."


Second grade teacher, Kim Snyder from Indiana, shares her organizational techniques for Self-Selected Reading Block, including a neat little twist that you might want to try to spice up your reading time. Be sure to read her last tip about modeling---soooo important!! Kim writes,

"I have 6 milk crate type containers that will be filled with 25-30 books. I will be getting these books from our school library and they are checked out under my name. Last year the kids had to stay at their seats, but they could read on the floor by their desk if they wanted. I started slowly with having them read for 10 minutes. I increased it by 5 minutes when I saw the kids could handle more OR when a child said they needed more time to finish reading the book. After the second or third week of SSR, I introduced a small basket of books to each table. This basket had magazines, books I've read during the intro to SSR (storytime), etc....basically they were all MY books. The children knew what books weren't mine because the library books had the library bar codes on the cover or spine of the book. There was little confusion about whose books were whose.

I plan on doing the same thing, but rotate the book baskets every week. So my books I begin with will last 1 1/2 months. In November or December I introduce something new for the class. Each day children at one table get to choose to stay at their table to read the book basket books or I have "centers" they can go to during SSR. They really look forward to the day that they can do centers. My centers were magazines, poetry books, big books, joke and riddle books, listening center, and magazines last year. I keep track on the infamous pocket chart of what centers the children have been to. Only one child is allowed at each center. I like the idea of nursery rhymes. I will need to add those to my centers.

Just an idea about how to rotate the baskets. Last year it was difficult keeping track of which basket goes to which table. I did have the baskets numbered, but the basket number was not the same as the table number each week. It got to be confusing to keep track. Something very easy I learned from a workshop Cheryl gave this summer was to still number you baskets 1 -5 etc. BUT put the number on with those removable rings. What this means is, you start your SSR with the baskets labeled 1-5. The next week you take the label 1 ring off of the basket and put it on basket 2 (basket 2 turns to 3, 3 turns to 4 and so on). In this way, basket 1 is always at table 1; basket 2 is always at table 2... This was something new for simple and I hadn't thought of it.

Remember to go slowly and model what you want during this block. I know I rushed last year because I was excited and then I needed to back up and teach things. I'm going to go slowly and MODEL, MODEL, MODEL! What I found rewarding last year was seeing my little second graders not wanting to stop reading. They would gravitate toward the books that I had blessed and put into my little baskets."


Vicki, a first grade teacher, shares her plan for getting the year started with many activities that she has already included:

"I have the book Month By Month for First Grade and the Getting to Know you activities are wonderful!!! We do the whole thing and the kids love it. It's teaching phonics while having fun!!! The Tongue twisters are wonderful. I follow the Aug/Sept. month guidelines and then after the first few weeks, I'll start to add the other 3 blocks!

My first grade team and I have just finished our first 2 weeks of school using four blocks! It has been an exciting time. We are scared and thrilled about it at the same time. We did the names activities with 2 kids a day. The class made a book for each child and we went to that Literacy internet site, where you type in the name and get a poem with the child's name. The special child got to illustrate the poem for the first page of the book. They were so excited to make these books every day! We used nursery rhymes as a part of guided reading. We had them match the words to sentence strips and even hold the words and get themselves into sentence order! Boy, was that fun! NOW... we start with our first story on Monday."


Susan Nixon from Phoenix, AZ, sounds like the voice of experience as she moves into her second year of gradual implementation. It's good to hear from a veteran teacher who has been so re-energized by the model. Susan shares her plan for implementation...

"I plan to introduce one block to model at a time until all the second graders in my class have mastered the technique. I will begin with the students' names for the word wall and continue on with 5 words each week using the rhymes, covered word, etc. Then I will probably try 'how to become a good buddy' doing some interactive writing. SSR should follow nicely. Next onto Guided Reading! After reading all the problems, I will start very sloooowly. Writing will come last. I am teaching 30 years and am very excited to get back and continue doing what I love most of all...teaching.

My advice is to plunge right in: set up your schedule with all four blocks and take a leap! I just started (I'm two days into the first grade year) and we have 'done' all 4 blocks each day. Wow! Kids are involved and excited. I'm happy and exhausted. It's gonna be a GREAT year!!!

I didn't start all four blocks at the beginning of the year last year, but tried to implement it fully after spending a day with Cheryl Sigmon in February. So this is the first year I've tried starting with all four. Here are some things that I was forced to remember:

1) The students don't come in knowing the schedule or how to do things. Therefore, it takes a *lot* of time to get through each block, training them as you go. (Did I say a *lot* of time?)

2) You can't do everything you planned for the first half hour blocks! Our Making Words lesson took 45 minutes, was *very* successful, and I cut it in half. Some students think they already know everything and were resistant to moving letters around.

I also learned:

3) 4-blocks has helped me find learning glitches quickly! Students who write from the bottom to the top, students who have upside down letters, or don't see the difference between scr and src, etc.

and I was reminded:

4) You have to teach the system of each block again and again. Then don't forget to go over it again. =)

So, in the first week (sandwiched in with classroom management, all the letters that have to be explained, then signed by parents and students and brought back - like discipline for the office, weapons policy, IUP, discipline letters for the special areas of art, music and PE, nurse's forms, ad infinitum) we have done 2 guided reading blocks, 2 writing blocks, 2 working with words blocks and 2 self-selected reading blocks. No four of them on the same day! But we're getting closer. =) We will have them all on the same day soon!"


Tammy, a second grade teacher from MS, dove in head first this year. Getting enough books has been a problem, but she's finding solutions.

"I came across 4 blocks in the middle of a year so it was easier to begin one block at a time. I started with the Working With Words block. I already had a Word Wall I just wasn't "doing" the word wall; it was just there. I then moved to Self Selected Reading, then Guided Reading (4block way) and played around with Writer's Workshop.

"This year however, I started off with all four blocks and was amazed at how the kids just fell right into it. I am the only 4 blocker at my school so they had no previous experience with this method. They love it. We are still working on the SSR time (more my fault than theirs) because I have only 150 books in my room. I am having to beg, borrow, steal, check out, (still ordering from book clubs) I feel that once I get the procedures down they will sit still longer. If I go over in one block or we have an unannounced assembly, etc. they let me know we skipped a block, especially Writer's Workshop or SSR. These are their two favorites.

I am still learning, but love it and have one possible convert from Grade 1. She borrowed my Teacher's Guide to 4 Blocks and has the 1st grade Word Wall. It's exciting to share this with other teachers!"


I hope that you have enjoyed what these teachers have shared with us this week. Isn't it good to know we're all in this together? Many of us suffer the same fears and anxieties, even though we're filled with enthusiasm and optimism.

4 Blocks Goodies