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Thoughts on Thursday

First Grade Homework Packets and OZ Binder

Hi again!! I know that here in Louisiana, we are all getting ready for a new school year starting soon!! For some, like Ascension Parish, Livingston Parish, and Catholic Schools, it's already begun. We at Mayfair are busy preparing all those little behind the scenes things that need to be done in order to start off on the right foot.



I thought I would take this time to talk about my OZ binders and Homework Packets. I know that homework is a hotly debated topic among some schools and parents. Here's some information about it:

Research shows that First Graders should be reading 10 to 20 minutes PER NIGHT in order to increase fluency and comprehension. Not be read to, but they actually have to read. 
And btw, the amount of time it takes to "do" homework will vary with the age and developmental stage and abilities of the students, so anticipating how long an assignment might take is not easy, especially given all the other things students tend to do while completing their homework, such as TV breaks and 
other distractions. So while it may take Johnny, an ace at math, 10 minutes to do two math pages, Sally may need 20 minutes because she's a slow reader. That's not a bad thing. That shows Johnny could use a little more challenging higher order thinking work. While Sally may need to focus on reading and comprehending more, so she may need to read longer at night. 

What's the ultimate goal here? Finish homework in 20 minutes because they are 6 years old and that's what the handy note on the back of the report card says? Or is it to nurture a successful student? 

 Some schools have a specific time chart per grade or the whole 5 minutes times your age thing. This is irrelevant in today's world with today's students. Look at your child, determine his or her abilities level and then tackle homework. 

Education is not one size fits all; neither is homework. 

Which of course brings us to the Homework Packet, or as I like to call it The Greatest Invention Since the Coffee Maker, or Coffee itself. 


I have been using packets for five years and they are awesome!!!! As a parent myself I know that things come up during the week. Families have church, kids have dance or soccer or karate or baseball games four times a week til 9 pm or football practice or swimming or you name it. There's emergencies, there's last minute family get togethers, there's traffic jams, there's a PTA meeting, or church dinner, or school play, the list goes on and on. Some weeks are fuller than others. So this packet really does help out drastically as I have been told multiple times by multiple parents. 

We begin with a cute cover. Ok so it doesn't have to be cute or even have a cover. It's up to you!
We glue it onto a 9 x 12 envelope, then run it through the laminator for durability. You have to carefully slit the opening on the back after laminating. I've also just opted for taping the bottom and sides with packing tape before instead of laminating, but the laminating machine we have is pretty awesome. 

Our first page is the reading log. Students are asked to read 10-20 minutes per night and record what they read. It doesn't have to be a whole book. It doesn't even have to be a book - have children read a recipe while you're cooking dinner, the billboards outside on the drive home, turn the TV on mute and have them read the captions, the newspaper, magazines, etc. The point is to get them to read, expose them to real life print. 
We also keep the week number and spelling words on the page. 
Now, since we differentiate not every student has the same words each week. Some students are working at a higher level than others so there is reason to challenge them. 

We also include a reading comprehension page. This page is taken from the best book ever. 
Click on the picture to go to Scholastic Teacher Express to purchase. 

They also make one for grades 2-3 and grades 3-6. 

This book has been wonderful for homework packets. There are 30 stories, some fiction, some nonfiction, with activities on the back. Sometimes the activities are just comprehension questions and sometimes they are some other type of reading response. But they are always open ended response. Never multiple choice. The story is on the front and the response is on the back. There is a little note to parents and simple instructions.  

We copy one passage per week and put that in the packet. 
It's great for kids in first grade because they can read and reread the passages every night. 
GREAT practice with sight words and fluency. 
And it counts towards nightly reading!! 
We also differentiate this as well. Some students can read this page without blinking perfectly, with proper inflection, speed, and comprehension. So we skip ahead a few passages and give those kids a higher selection. 

BUT REMEMBER that real reading isn't just saying words on a page but saying the words properly and comprehending what is said, both silently and out loud. 

No cookie cutting here!

This year we are trying something different with our homework packet: Since we give the same spelling homework each week for nine weeks we decided to make a copy, laminate it, and put it in the binder (more on that below). 
This is put behind the behavior chart in the binder. 
This way we save on paper and copies :)
You can grab your own FREE copy of the Tic Tac Toe sheets {HERE}.

We include three sheets of loose leaf in the packet so students can complete their spelling activities. 

We round out the packet with some math work. 
This year it is taken from our Singapore math workbooks. We try to align the worksheets with what we are teaching in class, and since I was the only one writing the Year at a Glance and the Year in Detail for first grade for the entire EBR Parish, I aligned the lessons with what we are teaching based on the Lab school outline we did way back in June. 

We start them off slow with the first packet, but then the activities become higher order thinking. 
We may occasionally create our own homework to include in the packet or assign fluency practice, etc. 

And that's pretty much it. Sometimes we may add some science or social studies homework or slip in a unit review. But it's perfect for first grade! Parents love it and it gives just enough practice and review for a week. 

We give out the Homework packet on Fridays, and they are due back the following Friday. A child may turn in their packet earlier if they so choose. 

The binder is something I started 6 years ago in my second grade classroom. Thank goodness for MOOSE binders. I found this website through some of my classmates at LSUA. That website has everything you would possibly need. I've changed my binder somewhat over the past half decade, but I think it works out just fine for my purposes. Some people use folders. That's what is so great about our jobs. We can make ideas work for us and our kids!!

The MOOSE website also has tons of acronyms to fit your theme. At my old school, our mascot was the panther, so I had a PANTHER binder for my kids. PANTHER = Practice And Nurturing Teaches Honesty, Excellence & Respect

Last year I had a PIRATE binder and this year, we have an OZ binder. OZ means Organized with ZEAL!
I use a 1/2 inch binder with a clearview front pocket that I found at Costco. Love Costco!! They were 6 for $7 bucks. Can't beat that.
I of course made my cover page using Microsoft Publisher to match our theme. And our lovely secretary made me wonderful color copies on our copy machine!! 

When you open the binder you see inside the front cover: 

This is the LEFT side of the binder, so things are LEFT at home. We use a sharpie and write on it, though I have used labels and cut out right and left hands in the past. 

The first item in the binder is a zipper pouch.
I used to use Ziploc bags with the zipper lock and tape duct tape on the bottom then punch holes, but they didn't last long. So I found these at Walmart for $0.97 each. SCORE!!!

This pouch is used so that parents can send notes, lunch money, fundraiser money, etc. and it won't fall out of the binder pockets and get lost in the book sack. Parents love this!

Behind the pouch is where we keep the behavior form. Our school uses the following chart for behavior: 
This page will only be marked if the child doesn't follow the rules and they don't have the chance to erase that X. In the classroom, we use the clip chart behavior system.  We also include a calendar that the children are responsible for filling in, so parents can see how children rank on a daily scale according to the clip chart. 
We copy this onto card stock for durability. There's a spot for students and parents to set a goal and work towards that goal. 
After this is the Spelling Tic Tac Toe sheet for homework. 

Next we have two page protectors. In the first we put our Weekly Assignment Sheet and monthly calendar back to back. 
Click {HERE} to read about my Weekly Assignment Sheets. 


The assignment sheet is removed weekly and the calendar is changed monthly. 

In the second page protector, we put the schedule and a proper handwriting sheet.

 The schedule is so parents can know when subjects are taught and plan doctor's appointments, early checkouts, etc. 
The handwriting page is to help practice proper letter formation at home. 

The back pocket (right) comes RIGHT back to school. 
This is where we put any unfinished assignments that need to be completed and the Homework packet. 

They bring this binder home from school and back every day. Throughout the year we keep poems behind the page protectors. That gives the students something else to read at home if they choose and something to read in school if they so choose. 

Well I hope this gives you an idea of how homework packets can be used. How about you? What do you use in your classroom? What does you child's teacher use? What works for you? 

Thanks for reading!!

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