Little Miss Teacher Blog

By Clara Fiorentini

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Picture prompts: getting your class talking

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Making time for discrete Oral Language opportunities is essential. Depsite being what we are naturally programmed to do, sometimes planning for talk is what can get the least thought in our planning, with reading and writing taking precedence. What gets overlooked quite often is that oral language is a prerequisite skill for reading and writing!

Answering questions and sharing news during the school day is only a tiny amount of oral language. Building up on time, opportunities and routines to use and develop oral language fruitfully is is essential. The more strategies the better!

One of my favourite strategies is using 'Picture Prompts'. When I taught 6th class, one class in particular really struggled with descriptive detail, so I began collecting interesting and entertaining photos and pictures that I saw in magazines, newspapers (remember the MetroHerald?) and online. I had a folder full of them. It got to the point where the children were gradually bringing in images that they had come across themselves outside of school to add to the collection.

How can Picture Prompts be adapted for oral language activities:

Usually, I would have stored the pictures in separate envelopes. So more often than not, the children didn't know which picture they would get. I used picture prompts with 4th, 5th, 6th and Infants - just adapted in a variety of ways!

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  • 30 Second Shout Out - pupils choose an envelope and either in pairs of small groups; have to speak for 30 seconds non stop about their picture. Good fun and the time limit can be upped depending on the abilities in question.
  • Pair, Share, Review - Pupils are paired, each have a picture. The pupils take turns discussing their photo / picture. They return to the group and explain what each other talked about.
  • Before, During & After - Pupils are paired and examine the picture. They must imagine and explain what they think happened before the picture, what is happening during the picture and what happened next. Great for getting a bit of practice on sequencing language too.
  • Pupil in Role - Pupils take on the role of the character in the picture.
  • Picture of the Day - finding a small wall-space in the classroom for a picture of the day allows for natural talk and discussion around the picture between the pupils. Even a space in the corridor so attention is drawn to it whilst on the way to yard.
  • Morning Welcome - Sometimes having a few picture prompts on the table for when the children arrive to school can be a nice way to start the day with some talk & discussion and a laugh about what they've being welcomed by.
  • Nosey noticers - Challenge the pupils to use their nosiness to see what they can notice about the picture. Is there anything unusual going on? What's in the background? What's in the foreground? What's in the centre? Could this really happen in real life? A few magnifying glasses always heightened excitement for the younger children here. Depending on the age group of your class, you can allocate them a target number of things to 'notice'.
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If you would like a copy of a PDF with some useful Picture Prompts, send me an email to with 'Picture Prompts' in the subject bar and you can get started on your own collection!


Sunday, 18 August 2019

Picture Books for 3rd - 6th Class

One thing there is no shortage of is picture books. All to often unfortunately, they are simply associated with the youngest children in our school; which is such a pity because there are so many valuable learning opportunities within picture books for older children too.

Over the past few years, I have been specifically trying to source picture books to use with older children and there are so many out there - they just tend to be a bit more overlooked than others!

Here are a few worth looking out for:

After the Fall - Dan Santat

One we could all do with reading. A brilliant story to encourage even the most afraid to overcome their fears, learn to get back up and get on with it!

The Heart and the Bottle - Oliver Jeffers

The Heart and the Bottle
I'm yet to come across a text by Oliver Jeffers that I haven't loved. While this tugs at the emotions, it's a must have and the older children will love it. 

The Whales' Song - Dyan Sheldon

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I recall being given this book as a gift as book-worm 10 year old who had already devoured The Secret Garden & Little Women; I remember being a bit stumped at being presented with a picture book when I was already 'so beyond' books with pictures. How wrong I was. This one, I treasured as a 'tweenager' and used again and again on placement and in my own school in senior classes.

The Lost Thing - Shaun Tan

The Lost Thing
I came across this book for the first time whilst completing my Masters. It struck a chord then and was one I was quick to source. The illustrations and plot are both enticing and unusual but will definitely draw readers in. There are obvious questions emerging from the plot which lead to great discussion: What does it mean to see things differently? What is important to notice? How can we see things differently?

Malala's Magic Pencil - Malala Yousafzai

Malala's Magic Pencil
Malala's story is one we're all well familiar with by now (I hope!) and this picture book version deserves a place in all senior class libraries. Telling Malala's story, in her own words, this book instills the message to hold on to hope and to always try to make your voice heard even in difficult times. 

Now, on to one of my absolute favourite genres of books.....

Wordless Picture Books:

Who ever said a book needed words to be rich in learning opportunities? Wordless picture books are a priceless asset in any classroom and they really emphasise the power of illustration.  

Let's take a second to appreciate something:
No matter what age!

Ultimately, the wonderful thing about wordless picture books is that they present the reader with the opportunity to create their own story using the illustrations provided. Endless scope for discussion, writing, art......the list is endless!

Here are a few of my favourites!

A Stone for Sascha - Aaron Becker

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A wordless picture book about losing a pet. Poignant and so well written; the questions triggered from exploring the illustrations will be endless. 

The Arrival - Shaun Tan

The Arrival
Another text by Shaun Tan and one every classroom should have; especially when most classrooms in the country are now the classrooms of pupils who have made journeys and moves to differing countries. Fabulous, thought provoking illustrations with so much scope for higher-level thinking and discussion. 

Fossil - Bill Thomson

A lovely one for your collection - opportunities galore for visual literacy!

Draw the Line - Kathryn Otoshi

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When it comes to friendships and problem solving at school, the more books the better. It's always a nice way to tackle an issue without mentioning it explicitly or pointing fingers. This book deals with a broken friendship and the efforts required to repair it. All through the power of illustration.

Not only do wordless picture books trigger a whole realm of critical thinking & discussion opportunities but they are a natural little haven for fostering imagination - a skill worth enhancing regardless of the class level!

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I'll share some more favourites soon!


Friday, 16 August 2019

Preparing for Junior Infants - where to start!

This is a post I published last year which has been updated with your most recent queries!

Preparing for Teaching Junior Infants:

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Setting up your classroom:

  • Group seating  - The Infant classroom is a social place. Plan for this in your seating. You want to maximise language and peer learning opportunities so ensure every child has the opportunity to sit and belong to a group for seat-work activities. Give each group a name and use these for your classroom reward system. One thing you need to get into your head before teaching infants is that it is a busy, chatty environment and that, is a good thing!
  • Lasting displays - In the Infant Classroom you will have several wall displays which you will refer to and use EVERY day. Use your wall space wisely. My recommendations for your infant classroom long term wall space would be the following:
-A Literacy Wall - a working wall space which you can add and take from as need be. Be it nursery rhymes, letter knowledge, reading etc.

A Numeracy Wall - similar to your literacy wall but just for Maths. Ensure you have a number line for 1-10 and your colours on display for September!

-A birthday wall. This can double up for your months of the year too. 

-Rule Display - Your rules are something you're going to be referring to a lot for the first part of the year in infants, therefore a large visual is key for me! Keep them short and concise and then you can always add to them as the year goes on if need be. 

It's all about the visuals in the Infant classroom, especially when most will still be in the pre-reading stage of things or even when you have children with EAL in your classroom. I find a 'How are we working?' display a handy one to add to the list too.

I usually have a 'Golden Rule' as something we work on when various issues arise throughout the year. This one was a favourite of mine and something you should probably brace yourself for, haha!

What else can I have set up for September?

  • Writing Table - an essential in the infant classroom. I like to have nice markers, paper, stickers, scissors, glues etc here....things that they don't get to use all the time!
  • Fast finishers area - In Infants, the one thing you are GUARANTEED to hear on repeat 2.5 seconds after you assign a task will be "Teacherrrrrrrr, I'm finished!!!!!!". Your saving grace will be instilling a routine in the pupils, that there is somewhere they put their completed work independently and a space where they go if you are working with another pupil / group. A fast finisher area with some little fine motor crafts, additional skills work like cutting or sticking - something relevant but enticing for pupils! 
  • Reading Area - another essential. 

  • Mats & Floor Space - vary your seating arrangements. If someone asked me to sit in the same seat for the day, I think I would die. Think of dull inservice days or lectures where we endured being stuck in a seat glued to a presentation for the day.....zzzzzzzzzz!! Break up the day with variety in your seating. I have rolls of carpet left over from my stairs which I brought in and use for seating space in front of the IWB and for whole class Literacy work / stories. Yes there are a multitude of beautiful mats you can buy online, but really the children are meant to be looking at you not the carpet!
  • Set up for play - plan your classroom layout around your play / Aistear instruction. Think of a space suited to construction, socio-dramatic play, messy play etc,
  • Place-mats - Every pupil needs a placemat with their name. Remember not all will be able to recognise their names so having a little icon or animal they can recognise will help for the first while. I like these from Twinkl. I have been using them for years as they have sight words, alphabet, numberline, days of the week and are editable! My advice? Attach them with bluetac as no doubt you'll move pupils around a good bit for the first while as little personalities tend to only shine through as they children become more comfortable.
  • Visual Timetable -  another infant classroom essential. It's nice for them to be able to see their day laid out, it saves on a lot of the 'What are doing next? When's hometime?' questions. I found this past year that breaking their timetable up into sections of three worked even better simply by using 'Now, Next, Then'. This was part of our Daily Routine Board which we used every morning to do our days, weather, jobs, line leader, reminders for the day and birthday checks!
  • Accessible storage - I like to have the pupils getting stuck into helping out as much as possible from day one. As each group has a name e.g. tigers, I put a picture of the group on the tubs for their twistables and pencils so that helpers can give them out when needed without any fuss or debate about who gets what!

Shopping list:
  • Twistables - forget the chubby crayons! Twistables and triangular pencils are all you'll need.
  • Zippy Folders - so handy for storing all your topic resources!
  • Date stamp - makes correcting a lot quicker and handy for absences!
  • Stickers - you can never have enough! 
  • Highlighters - literally one of my most used items on my desk. 

  • Picture Books - again, you will never have enough!
  • Wipe clean table cloths - cheap & cheerful but so handy for art, playdough or any messy crafts!
  • Post Its / Sticky Labels
  • Sharpies
  • Hand Gel - it's a germy place I'm afraid!
  • Baby wipes - sticky hands, yoghurt faces, lunch spillages - baby wipes are a saviour!
**Keep your receipts! I found that more than any other class I've taught, you will spot things to support your infant teaching everywhere! Now, not everything can you claim back for, but certain things, like Twistables and art materials, you will go through a lot of and you shouldn't be out of pocket for those!**

Classroom Management:
  • Class Mascot - having a large teddy or puppet as a classroom mascot is always handy. Remember the age group. A great incentive for good listening is giving the class mascot an opportunity to join the table of the best listeners here and there throughout the day! Works a treat!
  • Timers - I would be lost without my timers. Having a variety is essential. I find 2 minute and 5 minute egg timers are great, some little ones just physically need to see the time passing and they will come in very handy in instances when turn-taking or sharing can be an issue! 
My advice:
  • No rush on phonics / letter knowledge programmes. People rush in to 'work' far too quickly. There is no need or proven benefit, in fact, the children will respond better the longer you leave it! Take September to get the children into routine, lots of pre-writing work, colouring skills, phonemic awareness, fine motor work etc.
  • Take time to get to know everyone - talk to them. Make an effort to have some little conversation with each pupil, each day. It's easy to be overlooked in a busy room!
  • Spend time on routines - again this will stand to you. Practice you rules, lining up, listening skills and be  consistent. September will be tough but it will be so worth it. 
  • Play - anyone who knows my content by now, knows my opinions on play! Play is the way!
  • Scissor skills - great for finger strength and an important skill that the pupils develop so they can work on crafts and sequencing activities independently later in the year!
  • Stories, stories, stories - seize every opportunity to read stories galore. Not only are you developing language but you're practicing listening skills and concentration.
  • Nursery Rhymes - essential! There's a rhyme for everything these days.

Parents & Guardians:

Remember, the infant parents and guardians are putting a HUGE amount of trust and faith in you to take their little child for their first year at school. It can be overwhelming for you and some infant parents can seem a little demanding at times,  but remember the pupils are so young, they're only babies and it's a traumatic time for parents too - the tears don't always come from the kids in the first week! Establish a good routine from the start, after day one, insist on the 'drop and go' routine. Perhaps another staff member could help out by being at your door for this. 

How can you keep the parents in the loop and involved?
  • Parent's Board - having a parents board outside your door with info and notices for parents to read at hometime is nice. I like to have a 'What we did today?' poster on the board at hometime. It's a nice way for the kids to recap on what they did and allows the parents to have some prompts for asking their child about their day at school!
  • Photos - take photos, display them and send them home! Keepsakes are precious! Something I did for the first time this year was a monthly photo montage of the children's play, which led to lots of lovely discussion! 

I've tried to tackle as many of your queries as possible, if you've any more, you know where to find me!


Thursday, 15 August 2019

September in the Infant classroom

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I am going to begin this post with two words that I IMPLORE you keep in your mind when you think about teaching and learning in the infant classroom - SLOW DOWN.

September is a HUGE transition for the Junior Infants. Regardless of who was in preschool or who wasn't, the pace of their little lives is taking a massive shift. They are being expected to leap into a whole new realm of unfamiliar faces, unfamiliar surroundings and unfamiliar learning experiences. Because of this, the children need time to adapt, settle in and feel comfortable long before you ever leap into the strains of formal learning. I think we often forget that these infants are only four or five years old - and that is still so young. Take a moment to put yourself in their shoes.

September should not be about letters and sounds.
September should not be about workbooks and handwriting.
September should not be about sitting in seats from 9am - 2pm.
September should not be about formality.

Instead, September should be about preparing for learning.

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September should be filled with:

  • Play - socio-dramatic, block play, malleable play, messy play, creative play; you'll learn almost everything about your class by just watching them play.

"It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.”
Leo F. Buscaglia
  • Fine motor and gross motor development - we need to move on from using these as transitions and quiet time activities but seeing them as essential skills children need to develop before they can successfully and comfortable begin formal learning; especially handwriting. Read a recent article in the Irish Times about this detailing the research of my colleague, Sinead Lambe. 
  • Learning routines - lining up, toilet routines, lunch time procedures, sitting on the floor, circle time, movement in the classroom (see my post with some routine songs & jingles)
  • Getting to know their classmates, the school surroundings & staff - teaching their classmates names, visiting the other classrooms (I used to take them to see a different classroom everyday in September from week two on!) and learning the names and recognising the faces of the staff, essential for yard time and those inevitable days that you are absent!
  • Developing listening skills (see my previous post on this!)
  • Songs & Nursery Rhymes - all day long! Again, not just as time fillers! See Nursery Rhymes for what they are - valuable listening lessons; speech practice; memory development; developing an awareness for rhymes, letter sounds and syllables.
  • Scissor skills - practice in September will save lots of your lovely cutting and sticking exercises from being chopped to smithereens during the year!
  • Turn taking
  • Oral language - chatting, talk & discussion in pairs, groups and whole class. Learning to answer questions. Learning to ask questions. Remember, young children are  still the centre of their own universe and need to learn to see and appreciate the input of others. 
  • Stories, picture books, poems - not just as a filler at lunch or hometime! Tie them into everything. There's a poem, story and picture book for every topic, every lesson, every theme. (See my post on Books for Themes!)
  • Learning to win & learning to lose - games, rewards, PE! 

We tend to rush into formal learning because you have tangible results - you have worksheets and paper trails to prove your teaching & learning. But even a quick glance at the new Primary Language Curriculum shows how all of the above can be easily incorporated into the strands and elements for literacy alone. 

So if you take away anything from this post, let it be to slow down, give the children time and focus on the key skills children need to develop before they begin formal learning. There's plenty of time.


Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Books For Themes: Infants - 2nd class

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“Research concerned with identifying the most effective ways for ensuring that children are enabled to access the curriculum indicates that cross-curricular teaching and learning is beneficial for language learners.”
 (Gibbons, 2003)

When planning in the infant class, my 'go to' starting point was keeping books and stories at the core of my themes. It contextualises learning for children, brings a story to life and ensure you get plenty of milage out of your picture books!

Why use stories or books for thematic planning?

Stories and picture books:
  • are motivating and fun
  • are essential for the development of listening and concentration skills
  • develop positive attitudes towards language learning
  • promote use of imagination
  • create a shared social experience
  • can be revisited
  • create natural opportunities for cross curricular learning & integration 

How to go about picking your theme?

C. Fiorentini - Little Miss Teacher Blog ©
Examples of picture books & stories to incorporate into terms: 



C. Fiorentini - Little Miss Teacher Blog ©


 Plenty to get started with! Regardless of the text, the most important thing to do is to get the children excited about it. Build suspense. Show how much you love the book and they'll only naturally be intrigued.


Thursday, 8 August 2019

Posts for Parents

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There are two recent posts on my website specifically for parents with young children who are starting school:

Tips for Starting School- a post with some useful pointers for helping your child get ready and smoothly transition into school in September.

Preparing for Learning - a post discussing some important skills and suggestions to help your child prepare for formal learning.


Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Working on Listening Skills

Children with listening comprehension difficulties face serious learning challenges and are much more likely to fall behind their peers as they progress through school 
(Field, 2001; Mendelsohn & Rubin, 1995; Schwarts, 1998).
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In all classrooms, time needs to be allocated to developing listening skills - particularly in the infant classroom. It's a key competence of communication and a key mode of learning yet, it can be overlooked by many as the 'concrete' results aren't always visible.

I think it is important consider the complexity of listening. It's not just a matter of who can sit and maintain attention. Good behaviour shouldn't distract from the necessity of practicing listening skills. In fact, listening comprehension is much more than simply hearing what is being said. 
The ability to detect sounds is hearing but the ability to attach meaning to them is listening. Listening is the ability to:
  • take in information
  • respond to instructions
  • share ideas, thoughts and opinions

As requested, below, I have listed a few useful strategies which I know work, for developing listening strategies in the classroom.

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1. Whole Body Listening
It's important to reinforce the idea in the children that they use their whole body to listen. Embed this into the routine before any important listening is required of the children.

2. Pair Share Review
Sometimes the children can be good at listening to you the teacher, but not so much to their peers. Pair, share, review is a lovely activity for any class group. Put the children in pairs and have them discuss a topic of your choice. The aim is that they listen carefully to their partner so they can report back to the group what they partner had to say. I used this a lot after Play Based Learning. It's nice to set a timer and set them off with a time for each to talk, to listen and then return to share with the group. 

3. Spot the Change
I always liked to use this to see who was listening. It also worked really well for comprehension, especially in a class with a lot of EAL learners. The children never thought I was testing them, they just saw it as teacher being silly or forgetful. After you have asked the children to do something: "Ok boys & girls, we are going to line up now." Say it again but change a word. "Ok boys and giraffes, we are going to line up now!"

4. Listening Buddies
You might have seen this on my Instagram feed recently. A listening buddy is like a class mascot who keeps an eye out for good listeners. The listening buddy goes to sit beside people who are doing really good listening during the school day. A great incentive for the younger classes!

5. Be a good listener too
In a busy room, we can all be guilty of finishing sentences for children or prompting them or even hurrying them along. When possible, do try to avoid interrupting children when they are talking. Model good listening skills by using positive indicators like nodding, smiling and using supportive words. Ask questions or elaborate on what they have shared to show interest.

6. Spot the Listener
Rather than calling out those who aren't listening. Commend those who are! Praise, praise, praise.
'Peter, I love how your eyes are on me, that shows me that you are ready to listen!'
'Mary is listening really well, her hands and feet are really still and her lips are zipped.'
'I love how Shaun is being a really good friend and listening to his friends telling their news.'

7. Listening Time
Making children aware of listening time is important. As always, jingles and rhymes are extremely effective for the younger children and helps instil routine.

8. Mime
Sometimes it's good to cut the sound altogether. Begin giving your instructions through mime until the children realise you need their attention. Gradually increase it to a whisper if need be. Watch the noise level diminish and you'll soon have everyone ready and looking.

9. Games

  • Play listening games like 'Simon Says' & 'Follow the Leader'.
  • Chinese Whispers
  • Musical Statues / Musical Bottoms
  • End of the Word, Begin the Next - Players say random words *but* the next word must begin with the last letter of the previous word, for example: Egg, Grape, Ear, Rod, Dragon, Nest....and so on!
  • Red Light, Green Light - A nice movement game incorporating a lot of listening! Red Light means Stop and Green Light means go. There are many ways to tweak this game to change it up. Why not use different colours for different types of movement, like yellow light for hopping, purple light for crawling or blue light for jumping. Pretend to be a different animal for different colour. Whatever way you play it, ensure you incorporate some words that rhyme with red or green to see if they catch the difference e.g. "Dead Light! Mean Light!"

10. Lights Out Listening
It's always good to work on listening without any visual distractions. Lots of listening activities where the children cover their eyes is important as it creates a heightened sense of aural awareness. Playing animal sounds, sounds of vehicles, sounds from the environment which the children must identify is really beneficial. Telling a story like that is always nice too, not only for listening & comprehension but for imagination too!

Lots to get you started!

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