Tuesday, November 24, 2015

MUST Do MAY Do: An Alternative to Rotating Reading Centers


Must Do May Do An Alternative to Rotating Reading Centers


Guided reading groups are hard enough to manage without the constant activity that is created by students moving to and from reading centers.  During team meetings, our 1st grade team regularly discussed alternatives to reading centers, looking for less disruptive alternatives for independent student work time.  

What we disliked the most was the loss of instruction time when students were stopping what they were doing, watching the "wheel" turn to the next activity and then cleaning up one area to rotate to the next.  Sometimes it would take 3-5 minutes to move to the next center or to get to the guided reading table. Students not only took too much time to clean up, but also had questions or problems about what center to go to next.  These transitions rarely went smoothly. They also complained that they weren't finished at their center and needed more time.  There was so much unfinished work to keep track of. 

 As teachers, we knew there had to be a BETTER, MORE EFFICIENT way to get students to work independently so we could teach our guided reading groups with very little instructional time lost. 

What to do... 

After LOTS of discussions, trial and error, we thought we would try a list approach.  
A MUST Do, MAY Do Approach.

With this approach, students stay at their tables (I seat them with their reading groups) for most of the time except for partner reading when they sit on the floor or carpet side-by side to read. When called to the guided reading table, all they do is stop working and get to the table.  No commotion, no wheel turning, no stopping everyone from what they were doing, etc.  
In other words, a lot more time for instruction!

They have a list of what they MUST Do and when they are finished with that, what they MAY Do.

HERE is a free PowerPoint copy of our MUST Do MAY Do list that you can download.   The list can be edited to fit your students' needs in each group. It looks like this:


And you can fill in your own lists to suit each group's needs like this:
(Notice the list is non-specific for what vocabulary words or what anthology story to read. This is so I don't have to make a new list each day or week! The vocabulary words are either posted on the board or the next page in their vocabulary notebook. And they know which story to read.)
Easy Peasy!


I differentiate the lists for each reading group depending on their reading goals and color code the lists by printing the each list on a different color. For example, if my struggling readers are working on sight words, I make sure "Flashcards" and "Drills" are on the MUST Do list, not MAY Do so they are getting the practice they need. In other words, I determine what each group's goals are first, and then I create the lists and fill their bins with the needed materials.

Speaking of bins...

I purchased these bins to organize books for partner reading so they would stand vertically and titles could be more easily seen.
I purchased them on Really Good Stuff HERE.


I found this to be the best way to organize the bins.  All bins and their parts, including the MUST Do, MAY DO lists, are color-coded to match the tables where they sit and/or the reading groups they are in.  

Really Good Stuff no longer sells the bottom bins that I have shown here, but I found some other primary colored deeper bins that would work HERE.





In order to target your reading instruction and include materials that meet your students' needs, you need to do regular testing and group accordingly.
Check out my updated blog post on 

  • I select seatwork that is differentiated to meet their reading goals. I use the activity sheets that come with our Houghton Mifflin Journeys series, but you can use any seatwork that supplements what your students are working on. For example, if your students are working on long vowels, my Long Vowel FLIP Books would be a perfect supplement! Or get the BUNDLE of Long and Short Vowel FLIP Books and save $$! There are also many Short Vowel FLIP Books to choose from as well!
7-Up Sentence Writing using sight words is another product that works great as seatwork.
  • Their vocabulary notebooks stay in their bins all year. In my opinion, Vocabulary Notebooks should be used daily for students to record vocabulary words, define, use in a sentence and draw a picture. 

  • I include games/activities (most have this listed as a MAY Do) that will support their reading goals as well (sight word games, fluency games, etc.  Whatever their reading needs are at the time).  Here are some sight word games to check out:
  • I change out books as needed, but research shows that repeated reading of familiar text can support fluency building.  I make sure the books are at their independent reading level so they can easily read them with a partner with success.  I also include books that they have read successfully at the guided reading table.
  • I include sight word drills, fluency phrases, sounds drills etc. that will support their reading needs.  See below for an example of a Houghton Mifflin Sight Word Roll and Read Game
See my TpT store for lots of center activities like the one below.




Partner reading is a practiced skill.  We regularly review expectations for partner reading.  How they sit, who reads when, how to point, etc.  I include 2 copies of each title per partnership if possible, but sometimes they share. :)  Expectations for both of these scenarios is important as well.


So far, our MUST Do, MAY Do system is working!  As with any program, teaching students your expectations for each activity is a must.  

Our students enjoy mostly uninterrupted, quiet work time (unless they are called to the guided reading table) and much more instruction time at the guided reading table!  

More time in text.  Isn't that what they need?



Let me know your thoughts!

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48 comments:

  1. This looks so awesome! I love the fact that it solves the problem of differentiation, slow/fast workers, and interruptions all at once. How long do you give them for this period of time? And what's your process for calling groups for guided reading?

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    1. I call up my first group and during that group time (15 minutes) the rest of the students are partner reading. When I call up my second group, everyone starts their 2nd Must Do at their seats typically. To call the next group, I just say "Yellow Group!" and they pretty much have anticipated they were next because the order of the groups stays the same for consistency. Very little time is wasted during this transition. I get through 4 groups in 1 hour. I hope this answers your questions. Thanks so much for visiting my blog! I'm sorry it took so long to reply! Yikes!

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    2. Thank You Joyce for you explaination. :-)

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  2. I love how simple your system is. I also hate wasted instruction time and noise that goes along with rotations. Do they have to complete all the must dos each day? How do you get slow workers to independently move to the next task on their list? Do you have any preferred tasks that students fight over completing first? During my rotations I have some students complete reading lessons on the computer, but we only have 4 computers. Currently they go to the computer station when their name lands on that rotation using our rotation wheel. Do you have a suggestion how you would add in computers so everyone gets their turn without drama. (Many of my students would spend too much time on the computers if left on their owm.) Thanks!

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    1. Great questions! Yes they must complete all of the Must Dos daily. I make sure I don't give more than they can handle. Since they are certainly capable of completing the differentiated work I give them, there are consequences for not completing, depending on why it's not completed. If they are not using time well, staying in 5 minutes during recess to complete the work usually puts an end to that problem. Some of the seatwork in their seatwork folders gets put in the "Not Done" side if they don't complete it that day. If by the 2nd day they still have work unfinished, they either complete it during recess or I staple it with a note and send home for homework. If a student is habitual with not getting work done, I assess why this is happening. Perhaps the student needs a peer to guide them. Maybe the work I am providing is not at their independent level.

      Since we don't have computers for independent work time yet (maybe this next year), we haven't had that issue of fighting over the preferred station. I would certainly have some kind of timer next to the computer and a sign in sheet so students have some accountability for taking turns. Can they work with a partner on the computer and take turns? A headphone splitter might help with sharing. Maybe on Mondays, group one gets the computers for the day, Tuesdays, group two, etc. On those days perhaps their Must Do list is lessened?

      Thank you so much for your questions! You are getting me to really think about some changes I may have to make when we get computers!

      Have a wonderful summer, and thanks for being patient with my responses.
      Joyce

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  3. I love how simple your system is. I also hate wasted instruction time and noise that goes along with rotations. Do they have to complete all the must dos each day? How do you get slow workers to independently move to the next task on their list? Do you have any preferred tasks that students fight over completing first? During my rotations I have some students complete reading lessons on the computer, but we only have 4 computers. Currently they go to the computer station when their name lands on that rotation using our rotation wheel. Do you have a suggestion how you would add in computers so everyone gets their turn without drama. (Many of my students would spend too much time on the computers if left on their owm.) Thanks!

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  4. How frequently do you switch out the activities? I leave the books for about 2-3 weeks (I work with students with reading disabilities) but I've struggled so hard keeping up with center activities. I love the idea of meeting the needs of each group!

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    1. Hi Machelle,
      I rarely switch out all the books all at one time. I rotate books by adding new books each week and taking out the oldest ones. Since our books have lesson numbers on the backs, this is how I keep track. If they don't have numbers, I have to use my memory, which is not always the best! :) Basically, books are in the bins for 2-3 weeks before they get taken out, but new books are always added each week. I hope that makes sense. Yes, it's hard to keep up with center activities. I like to keep it simple so I change out the games/activities weekly. I check the seatwork daily and add new seatwork.
      Thanks so much for stopping by!
      Joyce

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  5. How frequently do you switch out the activities? I leave the books for about 2-3 weeks (I work with students with reading disabilities) but I've struggled so hard keeping up with center activities. I love the idea of meeting the needs of each group!

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  6. I use a similar system but I don't like the way my color coding looks. Where did you purchase those bins?

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    1. Hello, K'Neesha!
      I believe I purchased them on Really Good Stuff. Thanks so much for stopping by!
      Joyce

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    2. If you are a Scholastic user, you can also buy the bins with your points!

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    3. If you are a Scholastic user, you can also buy the bins with your points!

      Delete
  7. I use a similar system but I don't like the way my color coding looks. Where did you purchase those bins?

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  8. This seems like a great idea! I love this! I just don't understand one thing--Do I need new must do/may do sheets for each group each day? I would think yes, since I don't want them doing the same thing every day of the week. Maybe I am not understanding part of it. Please clarify.

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    1. Hello Michele!
      I keep the Must Do/May Do Sheets the same for the quarter. I simply list Must Do's as: partner reading, vocabulary work, seatwork, sight word practice (for example--changes each quarter as students needs change) and then the May Do's: game(s), independent reading, partner reading-- and then I make sure that what work and games I want them to complete/play are included in their bins. I switch out materials once a week in the bins.
      I want to make it:
      1. routine for them so there are fewer questions
      2. as simple as possible for the students to follow
      3. as simple as possible for me to explain and maintain each week
      I hope this answers your question!
      Joyce

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  9. Love this idea! How do you address the students who can not read the must do/may do signs in order to complete their work?

    Emily

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    1. Wonderful question, Emily! When I am first introducing the Must Do/May Do system, I project the sign(s) with the document camera daily for a week or so and read it to them and discuss my expectations. The routine(s) stay the same for about a quarter, so students quickly remember the order of activities. The materials in the basket are what changes weekly, so I spend a brief time explaining anything new in the basket and make sure they are clear on what to do, what partner reading should look like, how to play a certain game, etc. There is also a lot of modeling on my part or I have students model what completing an activity should look like. I also model or clearly explain what cleaning up should look like. I try not to throw anything complicated at them. I keep the games simple but engaging. The partner reading, vocabulary notebooks and seatwork remain the same so they quickly know what to do and when to do it. The seatwork changes daily, however, so I make sure it is something they can easily do on their own or with minimal help from a friend. If they still need help with what to do, there should be a "helper" assigned either at their table or at another table who they can go to and ask.
      I hope this helps! Thank you so much for visiting!
      Joyce

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  10. What are some examples of the seatwork you give students?

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    1. Hi Kaitlynn,
      I mostly use the activity pages that go with our Houghton Mifflin Journeys series. The intensive readers typically have sight word seatwork, the benchmark readers usually have a mix of vocabulary, sight word and comprehension seatwork activities. The above benchmark readers never have sight word activities. They are more capable of completing vocabulary and comprehension seatwork activities that require written responses. Do you have activity/seatwork sheets that come with your program?
      I hope this answers your question.
      Thanks for visiting!
      Joyce

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    2. No, we use Lucy Caukins and specific program for word study either. I think this is why I'm uncertain on the materials to use

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  11. Love the idea. Where did you find the larger bins for the bottom basket?

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    1. Hello Claire!
      I believe I purchased them through Really Good Stuff, but that was 3-4 years ago. I'm sure they have something that will work if they don't have the exact bins.
      Thanks for visiting, and have a spectacular school year!
      Joyce

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  12. This is awsome I will be teaching 1st grade this year after teaching 5th grade dor 6 years. I will definitely use these ideas.

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  13. This is awsome I will be teaching 1st grade this year after teaching 5th grade dor 6 years. I will definitely use these ideas.

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    1. Hi Debrice!
      I moved from 5th grade to 1st grade 15 years ago and LOVE it! I was so nervous that first year in 1st grade and after the first week, those little people won my heart. You will love it too! Let me know how it goes!!
      Have a wonderful school year.
      ~Joyce

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  14. When beginning at the start of the year would you start with a very small list and add more as you introduce? I am also going to have my students transitioning to computers during this time, so should I have less items on the must do list?

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    1. Hi Julie,
      Yes,start with a very simple, small list and model, model, model. Play it by ear with the computer transitions and modify as you need to see how much time they need. Hope this helps! Have a great school year, and let me know how it goes!
      ~Joyce

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    2. Ok, another question, at my school we also do guided math. How would you make this work for math as well?

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    3. Hi Julie,
      I think you could certainly do this for guided math! We don't have as much time for guided math since our math block isn't as long as our literacy block is. Most of our Math time is spent whole group. So if I were to do this for guided math, I would have to really shorten the math activities. I might even just write the Must Do's and May Do's on the board for the day. I would spend more time with my lowest math small group students anyway, so the others would be pretty independent. So I guess it depends on how much time you have for guided math. I think it would work well! Find simple math activities, just like you would for reading. Keep it simple and routine so there are few questions and they can be more independent.

      I hope this answers your questions!
      ~Joyce

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  15. Love this idea! I have a few questions.
    When it comes to the seat work, are they turning it in everyday, or do you have them keep it and turn in at the end of the week? Does each student have their own seat work folder, or do you just have enough copies in the folder for each person in the group? Thanks!

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    1. Also, when it comes to the may do activities, do you keep those in their specific bins, or do you just have a designated area in the room where you keep a variety of "may do" activities?

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    2. Great questions, Courtney! The seatwork is in a seatwork folder for each group (table). I put their names on the tops of their papers daily. When they finish, they place it in the folder on the side that says "Done" and any unfinished work stays on the side that says "Not Done." I have found that if I don't put names on the tops, I am always trying to figure out who finished and who didn't. If students get more than 2 papers not finished, I staple them together and have a talk with the student. Most of the time I send home with a note on top, "Please complete at home. Matthew didn't complete during center time," or something like that. I check the group folders daily.

      I like to keep everything students Must or May Do in their bins. Otherwise there is confusion as to where to find materials. If it is something that won't fit in the bin, or several groups are sharing the same activity, then you may want to have it available somewhere else in the room.

      I hope it works for you as well as it works for us. Remember... Keep it simple. We all tend to complicate things and that's when the craziness starts, LOL.

      Have a great school year, Courtney!

      ~Joyce

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  16. What size are your bottom buckets?

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  17. What size are your bottom buckets?

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    1. Hi Julie!
      Shoot. I'm not at school yet, so I can't measure them. They are larger than a dish washing tub and shallow. As you can see from the picture, they are large enough to hold all materials plus the magazine/book holders. I believe they are about 15 inches long.
      Thanks for visiting, and have a great school year!
      ~Joyce

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  18. Hi, I love this whole approach and I can't wait to try this out! I do have one question. I noticed that you have the items bulleted. Does that mean the students complete the must do items in any order, or do you have them start at the top and go down?
    Thanks so much for sharing this, I can't wait to implement this this year!
    Sarah

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  19. Hi Sarah!
    Having the list bulleted gives you the freedom to change things around if necessary, but we normally have kids do them in the order given. Except for the May Do's. We allow them to pick and choose from those. You could number them or use check boxes and give each student their own laminated copy and have them check off as they complete each one in the order you decide. I have found that if I give them more structure and tell them to complete in order, they are more successful. They can anticipate what is next and there are fewer questions and less confusion.
    Have a wonderful school year!
    ~Joyce

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  20. Hi, I think this is a great idea to differentiate and I can't wait to try it out this year. My question was where students sit to complete the paperwork part of the must do's? Do they sit together as a group or grab their materials and work in their own desk. My desks are in groups of 4 but my workshop groups are with 6 kids. Thanks! Kristin

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    1. Hi Kristin!
      Students complete their Must Do May Do lists at their own pace, so placing their materials at their tables/groups of desks works best for me. I also seat them with their groups at the same tables so their materials are all together. Since you have 4 to a group of desks, you could place the materials where most of the students (using those materials) sit or where they can access it most easily. I like to keep them at whatever desk/table they sit at for the whole center time. That way they are not wondering where to go. Less confusion. Fewer questions. Keep it simple. What I try to remember is what is going to make the system run most smoothly. So when they are finished with one activity, they can access the list and materials easily and smoothly transition to the next step, sitting at the seat you have assigned. For example, one student may easily complete the vocabulary book step, return it to the basket and then reach inside the seatwork folder to get their seatwork. They return to their seats and work. All while others are at different stages on the list. That way they are not all reaching into the basket at the same time for the same materials. Believe me, I've started it one way and tweeked it several times throughout the year, depending on the needs of the students. I would love to hear from you how it goes this year and give feedback!

      I hope this helps...
      Have a wonderful year!
      ~Joyce

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    2. It does. Thanks for your quick reply. Hope you have a great year!

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  21. Do you keep the same activity in for practicing sight words and/or vocab words all week? I'm worried about my kiddos getting bored practicing the same way all week. Any suggestions or what do you do? I just bought this packet and I'm excited to try something different!

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    1. Hi Carrie!
      They do 1 or 2 vocabulary words in their Vocab Notebooks each day. That never changes. They don't get bored with that. They get better at it and their sentences improve as long as I'm checking it daily and give them feedback and kudos. (Thanks for the purchase, by the way:)

      I have found that keeping the same May Do sight word activities/games for the week is fine. And you don't have to spend time every day explaining the activities if you keep it the same for a week. I have found that some students never even get to the May Do activities since they are called up to their group for 15 minutes of the whole period.

      I hope this helps. Keep it simple so you are not spending valuable instruction time explaining new centers too often.

      Have a wonderful year!
      ~Joyce

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    2. Thank you for the fast response!

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  22. Hi,

    For the seat work folders how many activities do you put in there a week?

    -Jennie

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    1. Hi Jennie! Thanks for stopping by!
      I put one activity sheet per child in the seat work folders each day. I differentiate for each group. The red basket (my intensive students) usually has seat work with phonics and/or sight word activities for the week. The yellow basket (my strategic students) has seat work with phonics activities for the week.The green and blue baskets (benchmark or above) are working on comprehension skills for the week. So they get one activity sheet per day. I write "Done" and "Not Done" on the pockets of the seat work folders and each day I take out the completed work and insert new work for the next day.

      Hope that helps!
      ~Joyce

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  23. Also, where do you keep the drills and flash cards for them to work on?

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    1. Jennie,
      The drills and flash cards are also kept in the basket for each group so they have everything they need for their Must Do May Do activities. Once in awhile I will have a pocket chart activity as a May Do activity and I will just tell them about it at the beginning of the week and make sure they know my expectations.

      ~Joyce

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