Tuesday, November 24, 2015

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.

 Like many of you, I color-code my groups (red, yellow, green and blue) and their bins and folders reflect those colors. Their seatwork folders can have the Must Do May Do lists attached or displayed somewhere in the room for them to reference.

 Every day I insert differentiated seatwork into their folders on the "Not Done" side with names on. I have found that if I write names on the top, I can better keep track of who has completed their work. It takes a few extra minutes each day, but is well worth it! When they are finished, they insert their work on the "Done" side. The next day, I staple any unfinished work to their new seatwork. If their stapled packet of unfinished work begins to grow after a few days, it is time to decide
1. Is the work too challenging? Do I need to modify for that child?
2. Is the student off task during their seatwork time?
3. Do I need to move the student closer to the guided reading table so I can better monitor their independent work?
4. Is seatwork even appropriate for this student? Perhaps this student is not an independent worker and needs to be included in two guided reading groups.
5. Is it time for a note/call home?

Games for the week are included right inside the bins unless they are too large. Then students are instructed on my expectations for the week. I try to include games that are simple and those they are familiar with so I am not constantly giving directions. I make sure all materials are included:
  • 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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  1. Hi! I love this idea and am trying I out in my classroom next week. Do you put all of their seatwork for the whole week in their seatwork folder, or do you put it in every day?

    1. Hello! I'm so glad you love this idea. We do too! I choose to take out their completed seatwork daily and add new seatwork just to stay on top of it. I also write their names on the top of their seatwork because I have found it is challenging to determine who has not completed their work if I don't. It takes a couple minutes, but well worth it.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Is the Must Do/May Do sheet for each day or each week?

    1. Hello Heather!
      The Must Do/May Do sheet is used daily and changes as needed. I keep it generic without listing specific activities. For example: 1. Partner Read 2. Vocabulary 3. Seatwork Then I list the May Dos in the same fashion with "Game" and then I just switch out the game choices once a week. That way students are familiar with the routine and there are fewer questions about what to do.

      I hope that answers your question!

  3. Hi!
    Ok, so I understand how you set up the MUST DO/MAY DO process, but how does it flow in practice? Are there timers for the students, or are they mostly at their seat the whole time (I think you said this) until they finish their MUST DO activity OR until they are called over for guided reading? Then are the students moving about to their MAY DO activities without a timer? How do you prevent students from hopping from one MAY DO activity after 5 min. to the next? I know you taught expectations about what it should look/sound like to your students, and I will too but I think I need a little more information about how a MUST DO/MAY DO work session actually flows. I hope you find my questions in this ridiculously long comment :)

    1. Hi Patrice!
      Thanks for stopping by! The way I work it is I set a timer first for partner reading (a MUST DO) and that is up to 15 minutes this time of year. But that is the only thing I set a timer for. The rest of the activities are on their own time (except for small group of course). Then after partner reading they move to their next 2 MUST DO's: Vocabulary Notebook and then Seatwork. Somewhere in that time I have probably interrupted their work to have them come to the table for small group. I don't have a lot of May Do activities--maybe 3 different choices per week-- so there is not a lot of hopping from one activity to another. If you have too many activity choices for them, I could see that happening though. I like to keep them busy with mostly their MUST DO activities for most of the time (or they are with me at small group). Keep the MUST Do activities routine so they know what to do and what the expectations are. There will be fewer questions about what to do and hopefully fewer interruptions and behavior problems. I also try to keep the Vocabulary and Seatwork at their independent level so it is challenging enough to review needed skills but not so difficult they struggle or don't understand what to do. I spend time each week differentiating seatwork for each group. Kind of a pain, but well worth the effort. If your students are getting to their May Do activities too soon, perhaps you need to add another MUST DO activity or lengthen their partner reading or independent reading or if they are ready, include a written response to reading or graphic organizer. OR if your students are working on fluency, include sand timers for them to use during their partner reading to time each other as they are reading familiar passages to keep them engaged for longer periods of time. So in other words, to keep them from hopping from one May Do to another, I try to keep them involved in their MUST DO activities for longer periods of time and only provide about 3 May Do activities.

      I hope that answered your questions! You have to play with it and make it your own. I would love for you to come back and let me know what you have found works best for your students!

      Again, thank you, Patrice for stopping by! Happy Holidays!


    2. Hi Joyce! (my mom's name!)

      Yes, your explanation answers my questions! I could visualize in my mind how this may unfold. Christmas break is upon us and I would like to try this for 2nd semester. Your point of time being lost as students transition from one station to next rotation is profound and I live it daily, so I am open to changing things up to give students more work time and also give us more guided group time. Thank you and I hope to share updates soon!
      P.S. Do you have any products outside of your school curriculum you use to differentiate for seat work?

      Thank you and Merry Christmas to you!

    3. Hi Patrice,
      I get that a lot (that's my mom's name lol). One activity that is a great seatwork activity for all levels is my 7-Up sentence writing that uses Fry sight words to write sentences with between 7-10 words. Students are encouraged to write longer, more interesting sentences while practicing their sight words. It is good for all levels. See it here: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/7-up-Sentence-Writing-Using-1st-600-Fry-Sight-Words-1979941
      Some kind of daily spelling practice is a good routine (Monday-write words 3 times each in their notebooks, Tuesday-practice 3 times on their white boards, Wednesday-rainbow write with markers, Thursday-give a test to partner)
      If you don't have a vocabulary book for your students, this is a great option and you can pre-fill the words prior to printing the books. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Vocabulary-Notebook-Grades-1-3-2617901

      Enough rambling. I could have just written another blog lol.

      Enjoy your break!


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