Friday, July 13, 2012

Critter Cafe Unit

Time for a little.....Cafe'

I have been soaking in as much summer as I possibly can but today I decided it was time for a little Cafe'!  I just wrapped up and completed a fabulous unit proudly entitled, "Ms. Marciniak's First Grade Critter Cafe'."  Now your wondering, "What is this Critter Cafe'?"
Well imagine this:  Reading Strategies + Beanie Critters + CCSS & "I can" statements + posters & strategy cards + CAFE menu = A GREAT YEAR of strategy learning in the classroom!   How's that for a super-sized equation!  My motivation for creating the Critter Cafe' is rather long-winded, so please, go grab your Starbucks and read on!

 To begin, I do feel incredibly inspired this year thanks to so many talented and creative teachers in our field and on the web!  I had no intention to “reinvent the wheel” on this project, but more of a sparking interest to put my own “pizzazz” on strategies and techniques already working well in our classrooms! I loved spotting the Beanie Baby reading strategies posted in Deanna Jump’s Kinder room, in Sarah Cooley’s first grade, over at Teacher Bits & Bobs, and Mrs. Bainbridge’s second grade room! Many teachers are using beanies to reinforce reading strategies, and after watching how effectively The FAB 4 worked in a kinder. room, I began to think these little beanies were on to something!  But how could I use them more effectively???  With so many other important curriculum materials already in place, how could I "make room" for these little fun critters?  Hmmmm.....

After stewing over what to do with the beanies, the next week I found something FABULOUS on Pinterest!   To my excitement, I pinned a super-fun and engaging book called “A Crazy Day at the Critter Cafe” by Barbara Odanaka.  

The lightbulb was flashing at this point!!!!
I fell in LOVE with the book (and all the great little critters), and had the super-cool idea of trying this book as my ANCHOR text for introducing each new strategy on the Cafe Menu.  Of course, there are other fabulous books to tie in for additional teacher read-alouds to promote each strategy, but I would like to try involving this one text to be our ANCHOR that helps “build stamina” with the text over repeated readings and discoveries of how one book has so many special capabilities! 

                     "Stamina?"  Next thought... The Literacy CAFE!

Say CHEESE!!! 

I had the delightful pleasure of meeting the two sisters, Gail Moushey and Joan Mosser, the gurus of Daily 5 and The Literacy Cafe in Ann Arbor (summer 2010).  Teachers, I feel the love and I can honestly say that I treasure and pretty much worship the Daily 5 for what it has done for my students and classroom environment!  This will be my third year of using The Daily 5 in my first grade classroom and I feel like its already come full circle and working really nicely!  The Cafe menu is always a work in progress for my little firsties…  Always feeling like it could be better..somehow.. Some of those strategies were really a far s-t-r-e-t-c-h for several of my students…..  I needed something to “bridge” and “connect” that gap!   I needed all facets of brain-based learning to happen to be able reach the broad spectrum of understanding that many kids have when using reading strategies!  I had the visuals!  (And plenty of them).  I needed some hands-on, sensory, tactile stimulation too!

And that’s when it hit me!  

Beanies + Anchor text + CAFE menu = 

                            The First Grade Critter Cafe'!

My Planning begins!

• On the first day of a new strategy, I will use the Mystery Critter Box to stimulate curiosity and interest!  Students will make predictions based on the clues left for them by our “Mystery Critter.”  (a precious inferring idea from Babbling Abby!)

• Once the new Critter has arrived, I will then explain the strategy focus that I want students to “link” with that critter.  I will use the strategy card and Beanie Critter to help reinforce this new learning.  Students will Link an animal sound or hand motion that identifies the critter to use quietly anytime they recognize that strategy being used!

• Teacher mini-lesson:  Use the Beanie Critter and CAFÉ Strategy in a teacher read aloud or in a selected piece of text like “A Crazy Day at the Critter Cafe”.

This is always a good time to emphasis the 10 steps to Teaching Independence and proper/inproper ways to handle and use the Beanie Critters.

During the next few days (or weeks), I will display that particular strategy on the projector and have students read a selected text to demonstrate HOW and WHY they are using it when they are reading.  (Quick-Check assessments).

When the powerpoint strategy card is up on the projector, I will choose a student to copy and write the “I can” strategy down on an index card that will then be added to the CAFÉ’ board.  

Students can choose, during Read to Self or Meet with Teacher, to use a  Beanie Critter to read to and practice their strategy learning.  This will be a great assessment tool!  If you don’t have enough Beanie Critters to go around, you can always pull up the strategy card pages on the iPads and pass them around to practice!

As a review, students will have the smaller Critter Strategy Cards they will use during Read to Self, Read to Someone, and Read to Teacher, to assess their understanding of each strategy learned.

Most One-on-one conferring will take place near the Critter Café’ focus wall to interact with specific strategies and Beanie Critters!

Curriculum Focus Goals:
This school year, I want to pursue student-led reciprocal teaching and in first grade, more specifically, having students demonstrating a strong understanding of reading strategies throughout their reading process with ease and fluidity.  I think the beanies will help tremendously with that!  Another goal this year is to create an interactive, sensory-based CAFE menu focus wall where students can go to grab a critter friend (snapshots below), sit and read, practice a few strategies, and have time to demonstrate (while the teacher observes) how and why using that strategy is important to their reading success! 

Meercat, the Connector

Eagle Eye

Chunky, the Sock Monkey

The Rockin' Reading Rooster

Purpose Pig
Each week during one-on-one conferring, each child will select a strategy to focus on and the corresponding Beanie Critter will be their reading assessment buddy for the week! At the end of that week (or however long it takes) each child will fill-out a Critter Cafe Strategy Grade Card.  This Grade card will allow the students ownership of their learning because they will then turn it into me at our next follow-up conference. I can also validate the data the student provided on how well they can demonstrate that new strategy-learning as they check out with me! 

2 Birds with 1 stone…We are all underway with new Common Core State Standards and my district is also encouraging Focus Walls with “I Can” statements visible to assess and validate student learning.  Merging my CAFE menu wall AND the reading target wall into one system seemed much easier to work from!  Not to mention the kiddos will love it!  I thought my little firsties would make stronger connections by incorporating the  “I can” statements into the strategy language found on The Literacy Cafe Menu by the two Sisters.  First hearing it from the Beanie Critters, and then, students take on ownership of each strategy and create their own “I can” statements.  One card is written to post on the CAFE menu and students’ make a copy of their “I can” statement in their reading notebook (or data binder).  

For many teachers, wall space is limited.  I'm finding that technology is a life-saver for those of us with limited space!  I love the anchor charts I made for each critter & strategy.  Will they all fit on my wall?  Sadly, no.  So I will take full-advantage of using the computer to help me with that problem!  I saved this unit as a PDF format to my desktop so I can pull it up on the projector and "quiz" the kids on our critters and strategies!  I will keep you posted on the many different ways we connect technology to our Critter Cafe'!

If you are eager to start your very own Critter Cafe, definitely start shopping for your Beanie Critters now!  My first 8 were given to me by my dear teaching friend Kelly A. (Thank you so much for being so generous!)  The remaining beanies were purchased from and boy do they have TONS!!!   Summer garage sales are also a great way to find your critters too!

 This blog is dedicated to keeping a journal of how the Critter Cafe' unfolds each week in my classroom.  Stay tuned!

Have a fabulous weekend! :-)

P.S.~ I HEART the Critter Cafe'  xoxo


  1. Sooo cute!! I also got to hear the Sisters -- they are a hoot! I've also read D5/CAFE and have love implementing it! I LOVE your critters! Back when I taught first, I bought every beanie baby that matched our Houghton Mifflin Alphafriend. Then, I found the Comprehension beanies and used those! We are of similar minds! :) By the way, I nominated you for an award on my blog. Stop by and check it out:

    Grade Three is the Place for Me

    1. Janis,
      Thanks again so much for the award! I LOVE IT! And I can't wait to start a new year with the Daily 5 and these adorable beanies to help launch the Literacy CAFE!
      Have a wonderful day!
      Ms. Marciniak's First Grade Critter Cafe


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