Have you ever wondered how to run a split grade, combination class and what the schedule might look like? Have you been assigned to teach one next year? In this post, I am going to explain how I ran my first and second grade combination class this year, and give you my daily schedule as well. This may also be helpful to anyone that has a wide range of ability levels in their room, because running a combination class is DIFFERENTIATION in ACTION, on an ongoing, daily basis! Is it a lot of work? Absolutely! But it can be done. And I have to say that I have absolutely LOVED mastering the challenge of it- most of the time, anyway!
The question most often asked of me (usually by parent volunteers!) is this: “HOW do you teach TWO GRADE LEVELS AT ONCE?????” My standard response is a joking, “Very carefully!” with a smile on my face. The next question parents ask is, “How did YOU get assigned this class?” My next standard answer is, “Because I’m the WINNER!!!!” with a wink. If they keep pressing me for a better answer, I tell them the truth: I was told that they needed an experienced teacher for this particular assignment. I got chosen, and I am actually enjoying it!
At the beginning of the year, I had the very same questions myself! So I sat down with the teacher who taught this combo class the previous year to discuss them. After that, I had to experiment with several different schedules and models of delivering instruction before I found one that I was the most comfortable with. The schedule below is the one that I am currently using because it works well with this particular group of children. It’s possible that a different group of children might respond differently to this schedule, and I would need to change things around. I believe that the key to teaching any class well is flexibility, plus the ability (and willingness!) to change what you are doing if it is clearly not working well. Am I right?
What is my class like?
If you have been following my blog for a while, then you’ve probably already read about my class this year. But if not, here it is! The class I got was hand picked to include high first graders and above-average second graders who were independent workers, (although I wound up with two lower first graders that do need help completing their work.) Looking back, I think I might have preferred to have all above-average first graders who were independent workers, just like my second graders! A few of my first graders are independent workers, but simply do not enjoy written work (even though they totally have the ability to do it alone,) and that can be a problem. They need to be encouraged, motivated, and sometimes pushed a bit to make sure they complete their work. My firsties are a very active, boy-heavy group, and smart as whips!
As for my second graders, at least five of the ten are now high achievers after the second trimester, so that is great news! They are a chatty, sociable group, and are generally very sweet and easy to work with. The class was supposed to have no major discipline problems, and that turned out to be sort of/kind of true, depending on when you catch us! And all of this has shaped how I run my class- of course! You have to make it work, right?
First/Second Grade Combination Class Schedule
Here’s a little background information first on how my school does reading rotations: the school I am at this year has all teachers at each grade level trading children for reading groups. The children are grouped by achievement and then sent to specific teachers within their grade level for reading instruction that is right at their reading level. There is also an intervention teacher with a couple of instructional aides that take the neediest children in very small groups for direct instruction. The end result is that the kids in the combination class are absorbed into the other classes’ reading groups so that the kids in the combo class can get some time alone with the teacher, one grade level at a time. Therefore, when my first graders are at reading, I do math with my second graders alone in my room. Later, when my second graders go to reading, I do math and phonics with my first graders alone in my room! It works great!
7:55 – 8:10 School Begins. Attendance, Calendar, Phonics Word Family Practice, and Reading Fluency Practice
School begins at 8:00, but the bell to go to class rings at 7:55. The kids enter and sort their names for bringing or buying their lunches. I quickly update the calendar, and then we read our phonics word family words of the day together. I do put up a separate word family for both first grade and second grade, but ask all of the children to read both lists with me. This is because I think it is a good review for the second graders, and also challenges the first graders!
Then we choose our helpers, line leaders, and bearded dragon feeders for the day. (See my most recent blog post on having a bearded dragon class pet for more info on how I manage that, because all of those things are privileges and the kids get their names chosen as a reward for good behavior.)
After we do that, I send them to their seats where they find their reading fluency passages already on their desks.
To make the transition go more quickly, I give them to the count of five to get to their seats! (To see more tips on making transition times more efficiently, see my blog post here.) I set a timer for one minute while they read.
After one minute, they flip the paper over and read the Word Reading Phonics Fluency Chart on the back. It has words that follow a certain phonics spelling pattern on it, and often times there are words mixed in that we have introduced previously. Both the passage and the words are also on their homework! I first got the word reading charts from Stefani Bruski on TPT, and then started modifying them to meet my needs a bit better.
They get one minute to read the chart of words on the back. By 8:10 the first graders are supposed to be on their way to their reading group, so I have to move quickly! Although I’m often late sending them, I think I’m getting better and better! I enter attendance on my computer while they are reading their fluency charts. Then the children put their charts into a basket and the first graders are on their way!
8:10- 9:00 Second Grade Math
Just as soon as my first graders are on their way to their reading groups with the other teachers, I get a chance to have 45 minutes alone with my second graders to do math! This is a wonderful time to connect with just those ten children. I give a “whole group” lesson to the ten second graders, and then release them to their seats to complete the math page for the day. Sometimes we do it together as I model it under the document camera, and other days I am able to just give instructions and let them go.
There are usually three or four of them that need a little bit more help on the math page, and so I move to my kidney shaped table (or even the floor!) and the children that would like a little bit more help with it join me there to complete the paper. As they finish each problem, they double check their answers to see if they got it right. I think that this instant feedback has been extremely helpful to their success! And I have really loved bonding with these sweet kids in a very small group each day as we work on their math!
The kids that finish rather quickly bring their papers to me to verify that they are correct. (Anyone that gets everything right on the first try gets a reward chip! See my post on our bearded dragon class pet for more info on those reward chips!) Once I have checked that all is well with their math paper, they may get an iPad and work on Reflex Math, which is a math fluency app (and website!) that I got a grant for this year. What a GODSEND it has been to me! I don’t know what I would have done without it! It truly has been a wonderful tool!
9:00-10:10 First Grade Math & Phonics
A minute or two before nine AM I walk them to their reading groups and pick up my first graders. I have learned to bribe them with a reward chip (see that post on the bearded dragon for more info on those chips!) to be waiting on their designated spots when I arrive. They should have finished taking a potty break and be standing on the painted line up spots when I get there. If someone is still in the bathroom when I get there, that person does not get a chip.
I have to be very consistent with this rule, or they wind up playing in the bathroom, unfortunately! I had a lot of problems with them chasing all over the place, screaming in the bathroom, playing tag, etc., before I started this. On the way back, I try to play follow the leader, hopscotch, do jumping jacks, or jog, or ANYTHING I can think of to help burn up energy for my first graders so that they will be ready to sit again once they get back inside my room.
Once we get back inside my room, it’s usually about 9:10, I’m sorry to say. But if we don’t stop for a movement break, we don’t get much done because they have HAD it. My first graders are heavy on the boy-side, and are very active! I learned my lesson as I tried to make them come right in, sit down, and begin math. It wasn’t working, and something had to give!
Once they are inside and settled, we usually do some HeidiSongs sight words songs to practice their spelling words for the week and review sight words. I have used the songs this year mainly to teach SPELLING, which is different than what I used it for in Kindergarten, where I used it mainly to teach sight word recognition and writing. It REALLY has made a difference in the spelling ability of my needier kiddos! I make sure that I play the word songs that are on our spelling list for the week.
After that, I give a short math lesson to the “whole group” of all ten first graders. (Remember, the second graders are out of the room at their reading group.) If I have a volunteer, then I split the ten first graders between myself and the volunteer, and we each take five kids at a table to do the math worksheet of the day together. If there are manipulatives to work with, we do them in this small group. But if there is no volunteer, I work with all ten kids myself.
When math is finished, the first graders do a phonics worksheet on whatever word family we are working on that week. (I’ve been using worksheets from my Sounds Fun series (pictured below) to supplement the district curriculum.) For example, this week we are working on words that end in -aw, and last week we worked on -ou. The week before, we worked on -ow. We focus on the word family in phonics that I have also put on our spelling list, and that correlation is entirely intentional!
The sight words that we are working on also appear on the spelling list for the week, and that helps them learn them! However, the majority of my first graders are so HIGH that I haven’t needed to work on sight word recognition much! Just singing the HeidiSongs Sing and Spell the Sight Words Songs and sending the ESGI flashcards home that they needed to work on was really enough for most of the kids (thank goodness!)
10:10 Second Graders Return, Prepare for Recess
At around 10:10, my second graders start to come back inside and generally make any lesson pretty much “OVER!” So we clean up and send everyone out to recess, except the dragon feeders, who stay inside to give the bearded dragon some meal worms and lettuce.
10:35-11:30 Language Arts Activities for Both Grades
My general routine after recess is to give a language arts lesson to the whole class, assuming it is a second grade standard that is close to the abilities of my first graders. I usually teach to the second grade standards at that time, and let the first graders listen in. After that lesson, I generally put my first graders on the iPads to work on math fluency with Reflex or their spelling or vocabulary words with SpellingCity.com, which is also an app. (I purchased a premium membership on SpellingCity so that I could give them assignments and have an account for each child.)
While the first graders are on the iPads, the second graders do the follow up worksheet or paper work that goes with the lesson. Sometimes, the paperwork is something that the first graders can do with modification. If so, I let them do it. This is a management/instructional puzzle that I have to figure out on a daily basis. If I have a volunteer, I give one grade level to him or her, and keep the other grade level for myself.
There are also days when I save the phonics page for the first graders to do during this time. When they are finished, they can read a book or color. They also always need time to read and take Accelerated Reader (AR) tests. I could also have them write in journals, but I have learned that this group of first graders seem to just HATE to write! I would probably have to really “sit on them” to make them finish much, so it would probably not be a good independent activity for them. Therefore, in order to save myself some frustration, I just save their writing assignments for a time when I can give them my full attention.
Once I am finished working with the second graders, I put them on the iPads to continue working on Reflex Math and/or Spelling City and then work with the first graders. We often work on white boards as I dictate sounds, chunks, sounds, and sentences for them to write. Other times, we work on math by building numbers with base ten blocks or in other ways. I just use this time to tie up any loose ends. If my lesson runs long with one grade or the other, then I work with the remaining grade level after lunch while the other one works on the iPads. So I figure out a way to keep it all equal!
12:10-12:30 Story Time (Social Studies and Science Topics Included)
I love reading aloud to children, and I really enjoy this time with them! I usually read stories related to our social studies and science units. I also read to them from different genres and also to launch writing assignments. I do consider this to also count for part of our social studies and science time.
12:30-1:30 Whole Group Writing (Mondays and Wednesdays)
The Common Core writing standards for first and second overlap quite a bit, so I am usually able to combine their writing instruction into one whole group lesson. During this time, I do modeled writing under the document camera, and have the children write along with me. But sometimes, I have them watch and write on their own when I’m finished. Other times, I give an assignment and have the kids rotate through groups again to get small group help from me on it. And if I happen to have a volunteer, I will split up the class so that the volunteer is watching one grade and I’m watching another. Sometimes, I have children that need extra help (or simply struggle to stay focused until finished) come and sit with me a table in order to complete their work.
No matter what, I nearly always go over the kids’ writing with them the next day in small groups. That way, we can edit and discuss their writing in a more relaxed setting than with a large number of kids waiting to ask me a question! So we usually write in the afternoons on Mondays and Wednesdays, and do other things on the other days. (See below.)
12:30-1:30 Other Subjects: Computer Lab, Science, Art, etc.
(Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays)
Tuesday is our school wide Compact Day, so we actually go home at 12:55. I usually do shorter art or social studies lessons at that time.
We are lucky enough to go to the computer lab on Thursday afternoons. And on Fridays we do STEM science activities or experiments with our book buddies!
A photo posted by Heidi Butkus (@heidisongs) on
My kids really enjoy going outside at the end of the day for a good run or a fun game! We have P.E. three to four times a week. Most of the time, I take them out myself, but they also get some time with the school P.E. teacher, which is nice! On Mondays, we have to stop our writing at 1:00 to let them out for P.E. with the school P.E. teacher, and then start back up again when they come back. It all works out okay, as long as we hit our required 200 minutes of P.E. minutes every ten days!
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