The Case of the Pilfered Hippopotamus Week One — First Grade Reading

Many of you caught this photo on Twitter and/or in the Morning Announcements on Wednesday.


Quite a few of the kids came in off the bus talking about it and wondering what it meant. When I picked them up for reading group, I let them know that my cloffice contained a crime scene. I told them that their job was to be the detectives, observe the crime scene, and record everything so that we can figure out which things might be clues.

I gave very little details about the mystery. I just told the kids that a stuffed animal had been stolen. When we meet next week, we will go into much greater depth about what exactly happened.

The kids diligently began to make maps of the crime scene.


They recorded and labeled each item, as best as they could in the tight space (it is a cloffice, after all) and within the time we had.



They worked hard and made great observations about what they saw.


I sent the packets home because most of the kids did not have time to list everything at the crime scene (and later they might not be able to interpret their own maps). I wanted them to create the lists while everything was fresh in their minds.

Starting next week, we’ll be learning all about the facts of the mystery, and then performing various tests to solve the crime.

Detective Club Logic — First Grade Reading

In first grade reading this week, we did some introductory logic grid puzzles.  These aren’t necessarily intuitive for first graders. Many of them want to jump ahead and guess the answer, when the point of the logic puzzle is to avoid doing exactly that.  We talked a lot about slowing down and going step by step.

The kids learned to fill out a logic grid puzzle, making X’s in boxes of things that clearly weren’t so and O’s in boxes for the correct answers.  We talked about how O’s always have to be surrounded by all X’s in their row and column.  For example, in the puzzle below, the O for pink shoes is surrounded by all X’s in its column, because Mrs. Green can’t wear pink shoes Wednesday or Thursday if she is wearing pink shoes on Tuesday, and in its row, because she can’t wear green or polka dot shoes on Tuesday if she is wearing pink shoes.

Green shoes Pink shoes Polka Dot shoes
Tuesday  X  O    X
Wednesday  X
Thursday  X

Homework was a packet of mystery logic puzzles.  It’s long, so please don’t save it for one night.  Some of the kids loved these are were super excited to bring them home.  Some found them more challenging.  Your child may need some reminders about slowing down, working step by step, and making sure to surround all “YES” entries (O’s) with NOs (X’s).

It’s a Mystery — First Grade Reading

I met with all of the first grade reading groups last week.  Membership in these groups is based on DRA levels from last spring.  This trimester I am seeing first graders with DRA levels of 20 and above.

We didn’t waste a moment and started right in on our first unit — mysteries.  To begin, I presented the students with a mystery:  Someone stole all of the Smarties from Mrs. Green’s Smarty Pants.  Who could it be?  Billy has a lot of candy wrappers under his chair, so Mrs. Green thinks it might be him.  But Billy was in library at the time of the crime.  It can’t be him!  Riley says she saw someone still the Smarties and it wasn’t Billy; it was Mrs. Halayko!***

***Despite eyewitness testimony, the students refused to believe that their beloved principal could have been behind the crime. They immediately labeled Riley as at best an unreliable witness and at worst an outright liar and criminal, speculating that Riley had pinned the blame on Mrs. Halayko to detract attention from Riley’s own guilt.  Even at the end, when I told the students that Mrs. Halayko had indeed stolen the Smarties (though only to borrow them for a specific purpose and with the intent to replace them immediately), they were still dubious.  Now that’s love and loyalty!

After I shared this mystery, I introduced some mystery vocabulary we will need during this unit.  Most of the words were familiar to the students.  The only one they’d never heard before was “red herring.”  A couple students insisted that a red herring is a bird.  A red herring is actually a fish that has been strongly cured or heavily smoked, turning it red.  In the context of mysteries, a red herring is a false clue, something that leads the detective to an incorrect conclusion (like the candy wrappers under Billy’s desk in our mystery).

Why is a pickled fish used to embody this concept?  According to wikipedia, “Conventional wisdom has long supposed it to be the use of a kipper (a strong-smelling smoked fish) to train hounds to follow a scent, or to divert them from the correct route when hunting; however, modern linguistic research suggests that the term was probably invented in 1807 by English polemicist William Cobbett, referring to one occasion on which he had supposedly used a kipper to divert hounds from chasing a hare, and was never an actual practice of hunters. The phrase was later borrowed to provide a formal name for the logical fallacy and literary device.”

Who knew?!  I certainly didn’t, and I’m embarrassed to say that I never thought to ask.  Just one of the reasons why working with kids is the best job there is.  I never know what I don’t know until I’m in a room with ten first graders who are full of questions.  (You realize that that last part was redundant, right?  All first graders are full of questions.  The challenge is to make sure you’re full of answers, or that you know where to help find them.)

The kids each took home a mystery vocabulary sheet, Case Report homework sheet, and a mystery book (I know they are reading books that are longer and more difficult than this, but I wanted it to be simple and straightforward for purposes of filling out the Case Report).  Books and homework are due back Wednesday, September 17th.

Curious about what’s been going on at TJ?  While assessments are completed and Tiger Pause groups are put together, Ms. Lang has been visiting classrooms at all grade levels.  I joined her when she dropped in on Mrs. Smith’s second grade class.  I loved seeing the second graders in action, and watching Mrs. Smith work her magic always leaves me proud and envious.  You can read Ms. Lang’s write-up here.

Happy New School Year!

Hello Everyone and welcome back to school!

It has been such a delight to see everyone’s smiling (and sweaty — thanks for choosing this week to rear your hot head, summer) faces this week!  I hope everyone enjoyed their summer and is excited to be back.

The first week or so is usually all about scheduling when it comes to ACE for K-2.  Students and classes have to be grouped together, lesson times have to be chosen, assessments have to be given.  It’s all a process and I appreciate your patience while we work everything out.

Remember, kindergarten, first and second graders do not have formal gifted identifications.  ACE services depend on the students’ needs and assessment information and are subject to change. Reading and Math groups shuffle a bit each trimester at Mount Daniel, for example.

In terms of criteria, Reading groups for kindergarten and first graders are based on DRA levels.  Kindergarten Math groups are based on assessments given at the beginning of October and March, and first grade Math groups are based on STAR Math scores.

Second grade services are broken out according to a student’s Level.   Levels are calculated by finding the average of each student’s three most recent STAR Math scores and STAR Reading scores.  Students with averages between 93 and 96 receive Level One services from a grade level Gifted teacher during Tiger Pause.  Students with averages of 97 and above receive Level Two Math and/or Humanities services in small group sessions with the Gifted Specialist (that’s me!).

Services for first and second graders will begin soon!  In the meantime, I have been making the rounds checking in on all of my friends as they get settled in their new classrooms.  It’s going to be a great year!