Open-Ended Questioning: Hypothetical

During the ILASCD PreK/K Conference, we discussed the use of open-ended questions in our early learning classrooms. Read the Open-Ended Questions: WHY post for the first part of our discussion. The first type of questioning we examined is analytical questioning- see the post on March 16th. The second type of questioning we dug into was reflective- see post on March 23rd.

Reminder: We want to ask students a variety of different types of questions to expand their thinking and vocabulary.

The third type of questioning we dug into was hypothetical questioning…

Example in a unit of study based on animals in the winter…

Open Ended Questions: Analytical Questioning

During the ILASCD PreK/K Conference, we discussed the use of open-ended questions in our early learning classrooms. Read the Open-Ended Questions: WHY post for the first part of our discussion. The first type of questioning we examined is analytical questioning…

Based on a unit of study of animals in the winter, hibernation, and/or using a book such as Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson or Big Smelly Bear by Britta Teckentrup as a provocation, here are some sample analytical questions…

Learning at Home: Expanding Children’s Dramatic Play with Props

In the April 1 post, we discussed all of the amazing benefits of dramatic play. Dramatic play is SO critical to young children’s growth and development that I am going to recap one of the key benefits here:

Dramatic Play

There is documented research that demonstrates the high level of cognitive, social, and emotional benefits from children’s engagement in dramatic play.

Our goal is to help our children deepen their play experiences to engage in more complex play:

  • Plans elaborate themes
  • Play more than one role in the play scenario
  • Uses props symbolically (a block becomes a telephone, a pool noodle becomes a fire hose, a tree branch cut into 1/2 inch rounds become pancakes or cookie)
  • The play scenario takes play over multiple days
  • Incorporates the vocabulary of the scenario and incorporates ideas from books that have been read to him/her

When your child begins a play scenario and plays it over a couple of days (cooking in the kitchen, baking, grocery store, restaurant, vet, doctor, firefighter, traveling to space, taking care of babies, auto shop, hairdresser, school), begin to deepen the experience for him/her with additional props to help him/her delve into more complex play. Provide suggestions as you become a partner in the play but do not take over- let your child guide and lead you through the scenario.


Deepening Children’s Play by Adding Props
ScenarioIdeas for additional props to add to expand the play
Orthopedic Doctor
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Encourage the child to take on the role of the engineer who designs the equipment for rehabilitation (crutches, walker, sling, cast) Provide the child with stuff from a recycle bin (boxes, oatmeal containers, cardboard tubes, lids) and allow him/her to design OR encourage the child to take on the role of the physical therapist or occupational therapist and add in props such as icepacks, heat pads, exercise ball, weights, step stool
Auto Shop
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Encourage the child to begin to take calls from drivers that are stranded on the road- that cannot get into the shop for repairs and add props such as a big box to make a tow truck, empty, clean gas can, play tools, appointment sheet for phone numbers, play cell phone
Home Living
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If the child likes to engage in a lot of pretend cooking expand the utensils available by adding chopsticks, tongs, materials for cake decorating, wok, pie pan: then observe and notice- what direction is the child taking the play, if he/she starts decorating cakes, then you can begin weaving in play about decorating for weddings or birthdays, taking orders and selling the cakes, etc. OR Remove all plastic play food and add vase gems, dice, plastic or foam alphabet letters, building blocks, wood cookies (tree branches cut into round disks), and have fun observing the child’s creativity as the items become all kinds of different food. (remember to add items that are appropriate for your child’s age and developmental level so that they do not become a choking hazard.) Expanding Children’s Play with Additional Props

Building Friendships through Interactive Read Aloud with Purposeful Talk

                          friendship books with compelling questions

Aristotle once stated, “who would choose to live, even if possessed with all other things, without friends.”

Many of our students struggle with the basic components of building friendships such as asking to join in play, suggesting play “Let’s…”, sharing, taking turns, changing perspectives, cooperating, and using respectful language.

We, therefore, must directly teach friendship skills through intentional, deliberate discussions and opportunities throughout the day. These opportunities can be embedded into the activities and work that is already occurring in the classroom setting.

Intentionally Choosing Literature to Discuss Friendships during Interactive Read Aloud with Purposeful Talk:

Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfisterrainbow fish

Compelling Questions to Explore:

  • Do we always need to share to have friends?
  • Why does sharing help us have friends?
  • What are ways that we can share in the classroom? How does it make our friends feel when we share? How does it feel when we don’t share? (have students show the feelings on their bodies and discuss how our bodies feel physically when we are happy and when we are upset)

Set up intentional opportunities for students to share such as limited supplies in small group activities, math and literature centers and free choice play centers.

our treeOur Tree Named Steve by Alan Zweibel

Compelling Questions to Explore:

  • What are the qualities of a good friend?
  • What qualities of a good friend do you think we should demonstrate in our classroom? How can we use those qualities?


sandwich swapThe Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania of Jordan Al Abdullah

Compelling Question to Explore:

  • Should we have just one friend or lots of friends?




Reread the book and explore one or more of these compelling questions…

  • Should we always tell the truth?
  • Should we take sides when friends are arguing or stay neutral?
  • Should we have friends that like different things than we do?

two of a kindRead Two of a Kind by Jacqui Robbins

Explore the same compelling questions as The Sandwich Swap through the experiences in this book. Compare and contrast.



note: book titles are linked to


NO Worksheets in Early Learning: Test Yourself

NO Worksheets in Early Learning


Review the past four blog posts on why we do not use worksheets in Pre-K through 3rd grade and then test yourself.

Which pictures depict activities that are developmentally appropriate?

Which pictures are worksheets that need to be banned from early learning?
Test Yourself- Is it a worksheet? Ban the worksheets from Early Learning and use Developmentally Appropriate Hands-on Learning Activities

no worksheets answers

Documentation of Objectives with Color Splash




In early grades when children are learning through play and hands-on activities, we need a method of displaying the learning that is taking place in regards to standards and objectives. Visually documenting children’s learning is a tool we use to analyze the intent of children’s work, reflect on the learning and progress to inform instruction and to engage students’ in conversations and self-reflection. If the hands-on work in which children engage becomes visible, it becomes a starting 2013-03-29 08.28.06point for conversations with children, families, colleagues, and administrators.

One way to draw attention to the learning in which we want to reflect upon is through the use of The Color Splash app. This app allows the focus to be on what the child is learning and accomplishing by coloring the parts of the photo in which you want to focus. A caption can be added to include the words of the child as he/she discusses the process of what is being learned or explored. 

This provides an insightful glance into the learning that is taking place during hands-on learning activities.

Pictures hung at the students’ eye-level spark conversations, reflections on their learning and encourage others to recreate and expand on the process.

color splash doc

color splash app

Color Splash on Google Play

Color Splash for Apple

Provocation in Block Play: SHIPS

Provocations are materials or the way we present materials to create a context where the child can explore. They are an extension or a challenge to our children’s current thinking and theories.

This past year we have been exploring different ways to add provocations within the construction center.

20180913_091728We began by observing and noticed that the students were consistently building ships. We started talking about the different types of ships and added pictures of different ships and started reading books during interactive read aloud time about ships.

SHARING: SHIP and BOAT PROVOCATIONS                             In this document, you will find pictures of different types of ships and boats, open-ended questions to pose and higher-level vocabulary to incorporate while engaging with students, and challenge cards to provoke students thinking.


20180822_083707Materials were added as students began to increase their thoughtfulness regarding ship building. For example, we included Duplo Blocks when the students drew their plans to build cargo or freight ships (note: students always made a sketch first of what they were going to build first to add in thoughtful planning. Many times when the students would add details to the construction part, they would return to their drawings to include those same details.)

and we added dowel rods, white paper and fabric, and tape when they stated they wanted to build sailboats and/or pirate ships. The problem solving that occurred to 20180822_090352figure out how to attach the sails was amazing to observe but eventually the students figured it out. Reminder: don’t be too quick to jump in to offer assistance, let the students figure it out for themselves.

Math objectives added included size proportions with the size of different ships. The students decided that they did not have enough blocks to build many of the ships to the correct size but that they could build a rowboat.

Social Studies objectives added included where ships and boats sail- the bodies of water. We discussed which ships would sail where, what would they carry, why some people have to travel by boat or ferry, etc.

Since the students continued to be interested in ships, we turned their interest into a unit long STEAM investigation in which the students first became material engineers to determine what materials were best for shipbuilding (what materials would float).

We next read the book, Circus Ship by Chris VanDusen, stopping after the ship hits a rock and starts to sink. We challenged the students to build a ship that would float and hold the 15 circus animals. The students worked on their ships each day for a week- some continuing to add to their original ship and some starting a new one. We tested the ships and the students added 15 animals. Note: We provided more than 15 animals so that the students were required to count them as they tested each of their ships.

The students continued to explore with ships throughout the year. During an investigation of Farm to Table, the students started making ships and when we inquired as to how the ships relate to the farm, they shared that sometimes food is transported on ships! So to move our food from the farm to the factory to the grocery store, the students built and then play acted with both trucks and ships!

For additional sets of provocations including pictures, challenges, material ideas, open-ended questions and vocabulary, visit

and/or sign up to receive my weekly blog through your email- more provocations will be shared on through this website.


Teaching Letters of the Alphabet: Sorting Names

Learning about letters, sounds and words are important to developing young readers and writers. Letter knowledge is necessary, but it alone is not enough to read and write. Children will be reading and writing stories long before they can identify all of the letters of the alphabet.

In the past, “letter of the week” was a common practice but teachers now realize the

no more letter of the week FREE DOWNLOAD

severe limitations of this practice. When you spend a great deal of time on “letter of the week”, many children work on letters they already know, while others see and study letters out of context. Sometimes children forget last week’s letter while working on this week’s because they are looking at one item at a time.

YES! We still include instruction in letter name and sound learning with short lessons on how to look at letters- starting with those that have the most meaning.


Picture1To a child, there is nothing more important than his or her own name. In the blog post, Teaching Letters of the Alphabet: Learning Through Children’s Names, I shared ways to teach letters with names during whole group instruction and transitions.


sorting names FREE DOWNLOADAnother way to use student’s names is during small group instruction and during center time by setting up opportunities for the students to sort names to begin to pay attention to all of the letters in names, the path of motion of letters, and the similarities and differences of letters and names. We can differentiate our instruction for students who already know the names of the letters and present children with ways to sort the names by the sounds of the letters including beginning, middle, end and vowel sounds.

Labels and Ideas for Sorting Names: FREE DOWNLOAD




Teaching Letters of the Alphabet: Using Books about Names

To a child, there is nothing more important than his or her own name.  Using names to teach letters and name recognition is a very powerful teaching tool. See blog post, Using Name to Teach the Letters and Sounds of the Alphabet. 

This post provides lots of ideas for using children’s names to teach the letters of the alphabet.

Teaching Letters with Names

chartHowever, not all letters of the alphabet will be in the children’s names. We teach all letters of the alphabet during small group and centers but we can also use books with names to include more letters in all of the graphs, charts and chants we use with the student’s names.

For example, we can read A My Name is Alice by Jane Bayer and Steven Kellogg. Allow the students to choose a couple of the names from the book that contains letters not yet on the name graph to give a name to favorite classroom stuffed animals or pets.

Here are some other great books to teach letters of the alphabet through names:

(Click on the book titles to link to Amazon.)

A My Name is Alice by Jane Bayer and Steven Kellogg

51Uo-AorKtL._SY459_BO1,204,203,200_My Name is Yoon by Helen Recovitis

Great book to help students pay attention to the formation of letters and the meanings behind names.




chrsthanChrysanthemum by Kevin Henke

Students love to chant this name and add it to the number of letters per name since it is so long!





41iOW1kx8fL._SX260_Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

Great book to discuss the importance of your own name and of origins of names.






The Chronicles of Nannie by N.C. Memeh5101mm4bU3L._SX260_

Using Name Books to Teach Letters of the Alphabet



Teaching Letters and Sounds of the Alphabet: Using Books (Part III)

A couple of teachers requested even more reviews of books that teach the letters of the alphabet.

As discussed in the blog post, Teaching Letters and Sounds of the Alphabet: Using ABC Books Part II, we need to be intentional about which books we are choosing for the specific objective we want to accomplish.

In the post linked above as well in the post, Teaching Letters of the Alphabet Using ABC Books Part I, we examined books that address the learning target of teaching letter names for both upper- and lowercase letters.

With intentional choosing of books and guidance from the teacher, we can also use ABC books effectively to help expose, practice and explore the sounds of letters and even all 40 sounds of the alphabet.

Here are some additional books not mentioned in the first blog post:

(note: the titles are linked to Amazon)

teaching letters and sound - review of books


Great book to encourage girls to broaden their ideas of what they can be when they grow up. When using for teaching the sounds of the letters, however, be careful since C is a chef. Therefore, the book cannot be used to teach the most common sounds of each letter.


Another great book for girls, especially since it has women role models that they will have heard of such as Beyonce, Coco Chanel, and Flo Jo plus others that are incredible role models for them to learn about.



Great book to learn about different parts of cars.

This book contains blends; therefore, it would be a good book to use after the students know all of the most common sounds for each letter and you want to expand their knowledge of sounds. I do wish that is was not written in all capitals since that is a poor model of writing for our students.


  • Another book about car parts that does model appropriate writing of first letter of the sentence starting with a capital and the other letters in lowercase is…
  • A is for Alternator by Alex Smith

I also really like the realistic photos of the car parts in this book.

  • A book that I like for alliterations is…
  • Pandas Love Pickles by  Liz Lynch. It is a simple pattern book that introduces children to different animals and foods. In order to match foods with animal names, not all letters are used with their most common sound; although this book sticks to the letter’s most common sounds more than many others. So again this would be a book to use after students know most of the common sounds and you want to expand their knowledge. I do love that for letter C the author uses both common sounds with “Cows try cinnamon buns.”