CAFE and DAILY 5 in the Upper Elementary Classroom, Part 1 (Plus FREEBIES!)

Over the course of my career, I’ve been pretty passionate about effective literacy instruction. Being a reader and writer can be the difference in long-term success for students, especially through their secondary education. I have always been an advocate of balanced literacy instruction, from 4 Blocks to Fountas and Pinnell to Daily 5. When I moved to the upper grades, I knew I needed to figure out a way to bring a quality framework along with me.

If you haven’t read Daily 5 and CAFE by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser (AKA The Two Sisters), start there. Daily 5 describes the framework that will structure your class to allow for focused whole-group mini-lessons, individual conferences, and small-group instruction. CAFE delves more into the strategies that good readers utilize and how to teach those to your students.

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The Daily 5/CAFE model tends to be geared towards lower elementary, though, so I’ve made some adaptations. First, in upper grades, I do Daily 3, instead of Daily 5. Each day we have two rounds of independent work time (which I use to confer with students and meet with strategy groups). During those rounds, student can choose “Read to Self,” “Work on Writing,” or “Word Work.” Students are all required to do Read to Self for one of their rounds. There is much I could share about what students do within these choices, so I will share that on a separate post.

Probably the biggest adaptation I’ve made, though, is to the actual CAFE menu. I still have plenty of readers who benefit from the strategies on the traditional CAFE menu, but I knew I also needed an added level of rigor. That is how CAFE+ was formed. I use the plus category for skills and strategies that we use to support our 5th grade work.

In the beginning of the year, we add 2 wall cards per day of skills that are review. This allows a good portion of our wall to quickly form, which we reference for strategies in focus lessons, conferring, and goal-setting. Strategies that are more complex or require more instruction are added later. I love that the CAFE board allows for my students to have a constant reference to assist them in improving their reading, and a visual with which we connect as we learn.

I have created four CAFE+ header options that include color and blackline options, and have also included the wall cards shown in this post. They each list a strategy and have a place for a student illustration. You can get them for free at my Teachers Pay Teachers store HERE. You can also download a copy of the whole CAFE+ Menu HERE.

Using Minecraft to Practice Volume

Any time I can connect learning to something my students already like, student engagement immediately goes way up. This activity lets students practice their volume skills by finding the volume of the creeper. Apparently, there are people who have actually taken the time to find the equivalent length of a Minecraft block in real life. I used this as the basis for my measurements, but adapted them slightly to make the task more doable. This link will take you to the Google Slides I created. It is VIEW ONLY, so you will need to click “FILE” and then “MAKE A COPY.” This will give you your own editable copy to adapt for use in your classroom. I’d love to see what adaptations you make!

Truth for Teachers Podcast


I’m excited to share with you a fun project that I’ve been doing. Angela Watson is a respected name among educators, and I have learned much from her. She has great strategies to help educators avoid (and bounce back from) teacher burnout, as well as great strategies for efficiency and productivity. I love listening to her podcasts as part of my own professional development. So when Angela decided to put together a teacher’s productivity roundtable discussion with as a podcast series, I was eager to participate. You can find the first podcast in the series, about streamlining assessment and grading, HERE. It features ideas from 5 teachers around the country, with ideas for both elementary and secondary. Enjoy!

Book Review: How “Math in Practice” Transformed my Teaching

Chapter 6, lesson 1. Chapter 6, lesson 2. Chapter 6, lesson 3. This is what my lesson plan book used to look like for math. Sure, I differentiated, used small group instruction, and retaught as needed, but there was very little thought put into HOW to teach the lesson. I used manipulatives as appropriate, created interactive notebooks, had math centers for reinforcements and enrichment, and utilized technology for support. However, the reality is that my primary instruction left something to be desired. Despite the fact that I was a math major my first two years of college, math quickly became my least favorite time of the day. I dreaded the monotony of standing in front of the room, modeling and guiding students through problem after problem, only to have the majority not grasp the concepts taught. I knew I had to find a better way.

Conferring with Writers

Do you feel overwhelmed when it comes to managing Writer’s Workshop? If so, you are definitely not alone. I think teaching writing is probably one of the most difficult tasks for elementary teachers (or teachers, period). It is hard to keep track of everyone’s progress and needs, and there are often large gaps in ability.

One thing that has helped me manage is having a system for keeping track of progress. I used to do this in a binder. I realized, though, that I type a lot faster than I write, so I’ve been trying to do more things digitally. I created a really simple Google Sheet that allows me to track each part of an essay. As I conference with students, I take a couple of quick notes about their progress. I mark a Y if they are ready to move on to the next part, and an N, if they are not. The great thing about this is that I have quick access to a record of where everyone is at in class. I can give feedback in small chunks, and then when I confer with them again, I can quickly glance at my notes, so that we can pick up right where we left off.

Click HERE to access a copy. It will be view only, so you will need to click “FILE” then “MAKE A COPY” to make your own editable copy. Happy conferencing!

Class Library Organization, Part 2

If you missed the basics of my library organization, you can find it HERE.

The second part of an organized library is MAINTAINING the organization. I can honestly say that I spend no time maintaining my library. I take time training my students on proper use, and I have a librarian as one of our class jobs. Other than that, the library is completely self-running.

Each of my books is stamped with my name (I got this one on Amazon: One Line Custom Rubber Stamp (Black) ) I used my Excel spreadsheet to do a mail merge in Word and create labels for each book. That way, every book has a labeled card.

To create a system for students to check out books, I glued some decorative library pockets to a large piece of poster board. I laminated the whole thing, and then used an exacto knife to cut slits in the pockets. It takes a beating, but it can last for a couple of years this way. When students want to check out a book, they simply put the card from the book in their pocket (my students each have numbers). When they check the book back in, they put it back in the pocket, and get it back to the right bin by using the sticker on the back of the book (see previous post).

Class Library Organization, Part 1

I have found that one of the most helpful tools in teaching my students to love reading is the classroom library. Over the years, I have tried so many ways of organizing it…by level, by genre, by topic, or sometimes, no organization at all. Then after all that work, no matter what I tried, it STILL ended up a mess again!

A few years ago, when I was still teaching lower grades, I found a system that finally worked. When I moved back to the upper grades, I used the same basic system. It took time to set up, but I’ve never had to reorganize it or do anything to maintain it since. And even better, my students now spend more time reading and less time searching.

STEP 1: Sort books into categories

I have a combination of categories. Popular authors or series get their own category. The rest are sorted by genre. I no longer sort books by level. Instead, I teach my students how to find appropriate level books within the categories that appeal to them (but that’s an entirely different post!).