Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Reading/Writing Connection

As my students have worked on their state tests, I've found my mind wandering due to a TOTAL state of mind numbing boredom myself reflecting on what I've done (or could have done) to help better prepare my students for these dreaded tests.  Let's face it.  All the time "actively monitoring" gives you time to think about your teaching practices, right.  Just imagine administering...TEN of them!!  I believe that's about the number I will reach by the end.  In fact, I probably could have come up with a solution to world hunger and peace among men too in this amount of time, right??  Total time spent will be about 35 hours. (and we won't do the math on how much tax money that took because it does not matter. The tests are here to stay).

So, back to my point....

As I have been monitoring, it became incredibly clear to me how important it is for students to write, write, and write some more about what they read as well as on topics that interest them...including fiction, information articles, persuasive writing, and even advertisements (flyers).  You see, our students need to see how our writing matches our purposes for reading.  How we structure (and we do teach text structure as a reading skill) our writing is the same way that real live famous authors do too, so by carrying that skill through both reading and writing experiences, we solidify it for our students. One great way to begin is to model all text structures (not just nonfiction) with literature. Read all or just what you need to demonstrate, but use the best examples from your library to show structures in action.
Another observation I gathered from watching the kids is that note-taking matches a student's thinking, so showing students how to organize their thoughts when they write will provide them with models for when they read.  We need to help students see that taking notes does not mean copying a passage, but rather pulling from the passage, the big ideas and only the most important details (and that is not always limited to three...have you noticed that every graphic organizer for main idea has the main idea and *exactly* three detail boxes?). As our year progressed, I worked very hard with my students on how to annotate text, a concept they'd never heard of prior to this year. We practiced A LOT while using the think aloud strategy as we practiced.  You see, many kids fail to think as the read.  They often call the words and think after.  By performing during reading activities, you eliminate word calling. "Stop and Jot" is a phrase we sometimes use.  I also discuss the importance of explaining your thinking, so some notes may include student impressions from their reading. As students plan for writing, they can jot down their thinking using the same types of organizers as they do when they read. Again, this helps them make the connection between the two skills.
As students read and write, another important skill is to clarify their thinking with revising. I had another "knock you out of your seat" moments last year when one of my young ladies asked me what revise meant on our first paper of the year. What?? She was in fifth grade and had missed that!!(transfer student BTW) Revising is a really, really important part of the writing process, but it is important in reading too. Reading sections of text multiple times helps bring clarity and deepen thinking.  That is the whole premise with Close Reading...scratch the surface, dig a little deeper, and then respond.  With writing, we plan our papers, create a draft, revise, and revise some more. Revisiting content is so, so important for our learners as this is a life skill. Learning is not a quick and dirty task. It takes...HARD WORK, right??  (sorry...wasn't screaming there...important point!)  Hard work doesn't happen fast. It takes time and deep thinking.  Those of mine who really paused to think during testing were much more successful than those who finished fast. I am sure that you have observed the same results.  So...
As you dissect your data here at the end of school, pause to reflect on what worked. I know even in my 25th year, I have so much to learn and ways to grow. I think no matter what profession you choose, reflection is a valuable skill. It is one that young students can learn, develop, and practice just like us. We are human and therefore, imperfect. We need to own our short comings and learn how to improve our practice. Teaching our students to do the same with time, effort, motivation, and lots of brain power will take them much further in the future. many days left??  Out??  Just a few more?? or Are you showing a sad puppy face right now??  For me...five more days!! Yeehaw!!  

Til next time...

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

More Vocabulary Ideas to Whoot About

A while back, I began a series on developing vocabulary, and I thought I'd jump back into it with post number three.  I am sorry I've kept you all waiting with it (and I just know you've been chomping at the bit to get this lovely post...waiting, twiddling your thumbs and tapping your feet, right??)  Oh yeah...that little huge monster called TESTING got in the way! Why oh why can't it just go away??? (and that, my friends, will be for another post that will come soon!)

In the previous posts, I focused on Context Clues and Synonyms and Antonyms.  You can check out those posts by clicking on them above. In them, I shared a few freebies including the Degrees of Meaning Sort and the Parking Lot Game for Overused Words. These activities work very well for modeling as well as post lesson practice for centers.

Today, I'd like to share a few ideas for prefixes, suffixes, and roots. Learning prefixes and suffixes begins typically in second grade, but for many, mastery occurs closer to fourth grade. I think the reason is that struggling readers just need more repetition to fully grasp how these word part contribute to a word's overall meaning.  Below, I will share a few thoughts on how you might work in additional practice without losing time for other tasks.

Kids love games, and when they come in in the morning, aren't they normally dragging?  (or maybe it's just in my school??) Anyway, if they have a fun routine set up, they will be more motivated to get in, unpack, and get with their team for game time. Rewarding with team points or prizes may be a great incentive too. Many traditional board games can be modified to practice your skills or even used as is. Boggle and Bananagrams are two that pop in my mind.  I also recently came across Pears which is a game of homonyms. With prefixes and suffixes, you could modify the discs for Connect Four and have students try to blend prefixes, roots, and roots to form words. Another idea I thought of is Prefix/Suffix Dominoes. Here are a few freebies I found on TPT to get you started.

I have.. Who has? Prefixes (pre, re, un, im)  Prefix and Suffix (Freebie)  Prefix & Suffix Task Cards and Scoot Game Freebie

Kids love challenges, and one way to review or practice prefixes and suffixes is with Mystery Words. The teacher can gives clues for the mystery word such as:
1.  This word has a word part that means without.
2.  This word would describe a person who can be disorganized.
3. This word is an antonym for neat and cautious.
4.  This word is a synonym for someone who acts before thinking.
Another easy way to practice prefixes and suffixes is to have students name words with the prefix, XXX, as their ticket to line up.  Once the group is lined up or has exhausted the words with that prefix or suffix, the teacher can either start another list with a new prefix/suffix or quickly discuss how the words are alike in meaning (elbow partners if you are in the classroom).  Imagine the great discussion.

One last idea with transitions is Odd One Out.  This works well with categorizing, but how about prefixes...
under, undone, unpack, untie...which does not belong?  
pretest,pretend, preschool, preset...which does not belong?

Word building is lots of fun, and it's a great way to create opportunities for repeated exposure to words. After all, students need many exposures to new vocabulary (12-15 exposures) for words to become part of your working vocabulary. When students come together to build words, the discussion takes everyone to a higher level. One simple activity is to print prefix, root, and suffix cards and have students combine them in different ways to see how many words they can create.

Another fun option is to do a quick write. Quick writes are great for so many lessons such as for brainstorming lists of ideas and as a way to brainstorm story starters, so why not apply that idea to word building too.  Have students quick write all the words they can think of with XXX feature. As I mentioned earlier, kids love competition and quick writes work well for building on that enthusiasm.

Finally, it's important to prioritize the parts teachers teach.  Be sure to choose high utility word parts and roots. This list of recommended Greek and Latin roots, prefixes, and suffixes by grade level might be helpful.

Do you have special ways that you help your students with this skill?  I would love to hear all about them.  Please share in the comments.

Until next time, happy reading (and word building)!

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Thematic Thursday Heads to the Beach

Thematic Thursday is winding down this week with the last theme for the year, and I know you will be thrilled to hear what it is. After all, doesn't everyone live for vacations? My favorite vacation spot is the beach, and therefore, the last theme for Thematic Thursday is...Ocean Fun.  I would love my fellow blogging friends to link up and share any free or paid resource with an ocean twist this week. I just ask that you label it free or paid.  Thanks so much, and let's get started...

 Best Books with an Ocean Theme
Of all the books I chose to feature in today's post, there are a few that I truly just love.  The first, Hello Ocean, has to be one of the most descriptive books available. If you are teaching figurative language, put this one on the list. The illustrations are just so real looking and help young readers who haven't been to the ocean actually feel like they have been.  
Riptide by Francis Weller is another favorite of mine.  I am a dog lover, and our first dog was a Golden Retriever that looked just like Riptide. Caution though...this one has a really intense part. It is a true story, and your students will be on the edge of their seats with it. The reading level of it is mid third, and I used it in conjunction with a writing prompt focused on voice.  
Have you read the Scaredy Squirrel books? Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach is one of the cutest books. It would be a lot of fun for students to write their own Scaredy Squirrel stories or make a safety list for him.  
The final book favorite is a nonfiction book called Under the Sea. This one was a Scholastic books find, and I really enjoyed using it with my students to work on nonfiction text features and research. The reading level is about a third grade level too, and it hit many of the ocean concepts included in the fifth grade science pacing guide.  

Fun Activities to Check Out
Oh goodness, the activities are plentiful for an ocean theme. You can easily fill several weeks with writing extensions, science experiences and oodles of crafts. I found so many great activities on Pinterest, and this board will be growing, especially once this post goes live and bloggy friends link up.  If you'd like to follow my board, here's a sneak preview.
Of the pins I added, I certainly have a few favorites. I just love watercolor artwork, and the two I pinned would be easy to make. My daughter made a few like these in an art camp one summer, and I still have them framed in her bathroom.

I also loved the fish mobile, and from the picture, it doesn't look too challenging although I do not think I'd want to do this project with a full class.  It would require a lot of fish cut-outs.

Along with art projects, there are many different science experiments you might try.  The Ocean in a Bottle experiment was pinned quite a bit with different versions.

Finally, there are many writing options as well.  The one I loved most came from 2nd Grade Shenanigans. I bet her kids loved the final products, and I am sure their parents kept them as a keepsake. Too fun!

Best Websites for Ocean Exploration
Take a virtual field trip to the beach with this website. Walk through all aspects of the ocean and learn lots of science concepts too.  

Wow, this website would have been a tremendous asset a few months ago when I was working on oceanography with our fifth graders.  Students can travel to the ocean floor to discover what is there and what the environment is like.  Cool!

This last website is sponsored by PBS, so you know the footage and quality will be top notch.  The Odyssey travels to the ocean floor with an underwater camera mounted on it.  Again, students can get a true feel of what it's like on the ocean floor.  

Before I sign off, I will share the links to a few of my Ocean themed resources.  All of these resources will be 1/2 off of their regular price until Sunday, so that gives you plenty of time to stock up if you're interested. I will also share one sweet ocean themed poem that you can use with your students.  Have a wonderful Memorial holiday this weekend, and just think...only a short time til Summer!!!
Hermit Crab Guided Reading Unit  Poetry for Your Pockets Summer and Fall Edition  Riptide by Frances Weller Guided Reading and Writing Unit

Summer Writing Fun   Shiver Me Timbers! The Ocean's the Life for Me Partner Script  Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach Reading and Writing Unit

Now, don't forget to download your copy of the Ocean Fun freebie, and if you have Ocean themed resources, be sure to link up.  This week, you can link up your freebies, paid products, and blog posts. 
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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Preventing Summer Slide with Wild Readers Camp

Happy Sunday Readers!  I hope this finds you relaxing and enjoying the spring weather versus sitting with your laptop all day like most Sundays. As the year winds down, we are all test weary and stressed with all the things on our end of the year checklists.  I got mine last week, and it always seems so daunting. 

Well, as you can tell from the post header, I'm going to share an idea for reducing summer slide. Last summer, we ran our first summer reading camp, and I must say that it was a huge success.  We are coming back for camp session number two this summer. At first glance, putting it together and running it may seem like a big job, but honestly, many hands makes work light.  

Getting Started  
The first step to organizing your own Wild Readers Camp (after all, isn't that the type of reader you want?) is to select your target age group and students.  We are working with a local college to run our program which means we have a group of students working with the program as part of their practicum.  The college chose to work with rising first and second graders, and our staff works with rising third and fourth graders. We limited the total number of students to ten per grade, so the students experience lots of small group attention. On ce students are identified, letters are sent inviting them to the program which really is advertised as a fun camp opportunity.  We want the kids to want to come after all.  Here is the letter introducing the program, the registration form, and the emergency medical. I am sharing it in a template form so that you can tailor it to your own needs. Just add your dates and details, and you are good to go.  [Click Here] to download the forms.

Running the Camp
We were able to fund the camp using Title 1 funding which covered paying a few teachers, our librarian, and covering transportation costs. For our students coming to camp, transportation really is important. We also were able to provide snacks with the help of our local food bank.  The camp runs from 8:30 to 11:30 Monday through Thursday for three weeks.

The Basic Plan
To make it light and fun, we chose to pick a theme a week, and I actually had my group choose from options I gave them. They ended up picking oceans, animals, and weather last summer, but I'm not sure what we'll go with this summer.  I'm thinking insects, camping, and travel might be fun for this summer.  From there, the planning part is easy. Of course, I started with Teachers Pay Teachers, and honestly, I found all the materials for free. I added in tradebook sets we had (a mixture of fiction and nonfiction), word study games I already had, technology, and time with the librarian, and that was it. We spent our time focused on word work, fluency (poem of the day and readers theater), reading/comprehension, and writing. I made our sessions more project oriented (the kids love working on projects and in cooperative groups).  The librarian worked with the group 45 minutes to allow independent reading time, check out time, and time for Accelerated Reader (kids were able to accumulate "bonus points" toward first quarter goals).  We also used the computer lab for a 30 minute block as well which allowed me to work in a little math.  Trust me, the three hours goes quickly because we are honestly having a great time.  

The Benefits
  • Camp is fun, and the kids begin to see reading as a fun activity versus hard work when it's relaxed and comfy. 
  • Because we are able to work in such a small setting, the teachers helping with the camp get to know the students well too making an important connection. 
  • They are able to recognize student strengths and weaknesses which helps prepare for the coming year. 
  • With the library open for camp, we are also able to offer library check out and Accelerated Reader time to all other students.  The last forty five minutes of camp was offered to anyone wishing to check out, and many took advantage of the opportunity.
  • Teachers get to choose how and what they want to teach in our program, so for me, that is liberating.  The time is not focused on following a pacing guide or set standard, but is just meant to keep our students reading and engaged.
  • For parents, it keeps the kids socializing and busy with positive activities versus being home watching tv.  
The Results
Last summer, the parents were thrilled with their children's enthusiasm and growth, as were we. Teachers were able to communicate student needs for follow up time (remainder of the summer), and we all decided to host it again this summer. Students enjoyed having their work showcased at open house too. We displayed their work and pictures of the kids which made everyone feel so proud.

Interested in more information?
If you'd like more information, I blogged about each week last summer.  You can read about each week's theme below.

What do you do to help your students in the summer?  I would love it if you could share in the comments. 
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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Anchor Charts Make Sense

Several months ago, I came across the book, Chart Sense by Rozlyn Linder, and I have decided that these resource books are a must have for every teacher of reading.  They are books that you can flip through over and over again and find a new, fresh idea you can take and run with to the classroom. Dr. Roz gives lesson ideas to go with each chart, and nearly all of the charts are set up to be used over and over again to offer high student engagement, higher level thinking skills, visual modeling, written response opportunity, and frequent reference after.  

At the opening of all three books, Dr. Roz walks through the research related to anchor chart usage, and I think whether you're an anchor chart pro or an anchor chart beginner, the information is a great reminder as to why using anchor charts is a solid practice. Here is what Dr. Roz had to say.
  • Students have a shared sense of ownership over the content.
    • Kid love to see their handwriting on the charts they create.  They quickly point out to visitors which part was "theirs" and love to admire their part of the whole.
    • If a chart falls down, students quickly work to get it back up in the prominent location.
  • Charts get used.
    • Store purchased charts may look nice, but they are seldom used.  When students build them, they are much more meaningful.
  • Visuals are engaging
    • They give visual reminders of what is expected, how to get there, and how to work it all out.  
    • They alleviate the need to ask questions which is especially helpful if a child is too shy to ask.  
    • They can pique interest in a topic when used as an activator.   
There are four basic types of charts that teachers use.  They include charts for rituals, toolbox charts, classification charts, and interactive charts.  

  1. Ritual charts are those that share routines for the class.  They are typically created at the beginning of the year and remain posted throughout the year as class norms and routines.  
  2. Toolbox charts are used for skill modeling whenever challenges arise.  These charts typically include problem solving steps or the routine. (How-to) 
  3. Classification charts are typically a little more interactive and can be used with multiple articles or books for practice. Sticky notes are used to gather information for the charts. Classification charts are used for genre studies, to compare/contrast books, to collect big ideas or important concepts about a topic, to form lists, to clarify misunderstandings, or to introduce new topics (brainstorming), and they work any time of year. 
  4. Interactive charts are the last type, and guess what??  They are reusable.  These charts include a framework, but students contribute the "meat" of the content. They are made in a collaborative fashion with the students while the teacher uses the "Think Aloud" process to help students deconstruct the text.  These charts provide exemplars and work with sticky notes of various sizes. The sticky notes can be removed to allow the chart to be used with other texts in other lessons too. 
From reading Dr. Roz's books, I have decided that not all charts are equal.  Here is what I see as positive and negative.  Do you agree??

Do you find that using anchor charts is a little cumbersome?  Well, never fail, there are ways to make it easier when space is limited and when the routine just doesn't lend itself well to lots of chart paper. 
If this applies to you, then you might give these great chart usage options a try. 

Student binders can hold smaller versions that are either photographs or prints of anchor charts made with the class. Teachers who are tech savvy might print the charts made with the group for students to keep in their binder for later use and reference.  The advantage is that it take no wall space, but the negative is that in a book, students may not look back to find them.

Teachers can photograph anchor charts created by their classes, print them, and place them in plastic sheets for students to refer to later on.  This may save space and keep content organized, but access may be challenging. One positive is that the teacher can quickly grab them and copy them for students, and it would be helpful for planning.

The third option is for the digital teacher. With Smart Notebook, teachers and students can work together to draw, label, and contribute to the construction of a chart.  Teachers can print copies, and it this keeps the room clean.  These can also be retrieved quickly.

The last option is the Powerpoint Archive. Now this idea is appealing to me.  Teachers photograph the charts made and import the image into an ongoing Powerpoint file loaded to the school's Google Drive.  I love this idea as students can access charts at home or at school.  Our school is going Google, so this will is one way to create an electronic interactive notebook.  

To end this post, I thought I'd share a few of the charts I've used this year.  Some of the ideas I found on Pinterest, and some were found in my Chart Sense books.  I have added quite a few to my Anchor Charts Pinterest board, so I will share the link at the end. 
I love, love, love these books, and certainly, I would put them on your order forms for next year. You won't be disappointed. 

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Friday, May 8, 2015

Five Star Reading and Writing Websites For Every Teacher

Since it's Teacher Appreciation Week, I thought what better gift to give teachers than a list of websites that will save you time.  I love go-to places, and these five websites are fabulous and free! 

Read Works is the first one I'll share.  It has a database of reading articles that you can search by topic, by genre, by reading level, and by comprehension skill. I love that I can see the readability level so that I select material that hits my students' needs AND that it reinforces science and social studies concepts. Comprehension questions are included with each passage, so teachers have the option to use/not use them.

Reading A-Z is a subscription site (almost free), and most likely you are using it, have tried it, or at least heard of it.  I did a long post about tips you might try with it.  You can read that post [here]. Reading A-Z offers materials for all levels K-6 as well as poetry, reader's theater, close reading articles, fluency checks, word study and alphabet lessons, and lots of manipulative printables. I love the projectable version.

The Writing Fix is a free website that ties reading and writing with mentor text lessons, anchor papers, lots of printables to guide student writing, and even apps to help you as a teacher.  [This post] will help you learn a bit more about the mentor text lessons it includes. I love that there is bibliography that I can search through in a quick glance for my favorite titles.

Read, Write, Think is a fantastic place to see model lessons on a multitude of skills and for a wide range of levels.  The lesson database is deep with teacher made lessons and materials. It offers interactive activities teachers can use with their students as well as lots of printable reading projects students can print and make or make online, print, and put together.

The last website is fairly new to me, and it's all about the news! Newsela offers current event articles and questions to teachers that are geared to student interest and to student needs.  Some topics tie in well with content areas, and like Read Works, Newsela is leveled to assist the teacher in appropriate selection.

For each website mentioned, just click the image to check it out. I hope these time-saving sites will provide you with lots of great planning ideas. Have a great weekend!


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