Friday, June 26, 2015

Get Your Writing Tips on The Writing Fix

Hello Readers (and Writers)!  I thought I'd  share one of my all time favorite websites, Writing Fix, with you.  I have been using lessons from Writing Fix for almost two years now, and if you have not explored it yet, it is time to check it out!

Writing Fix is a resource site that freely shares ideas, resources, interactive apps to be used for lessons, and teacher tested lesson plans.  It has been in existence since 1999 when the founder, Corbin Harrison, purchased the domain name and began collecting resources other teachers had designed. 

Fast forward to today, and you will find materials that will take you through each year to grade twelve.  If you have favorite literature you enjoy, you can locate writing resources to go with them using the site bibliography that is linked to the resources. It is amazing just how much is included. The preview below is just a snapshot! So many great titles!

I first learned about Writing Fix when I ran a weekly blog link up on my blog called Six Trait Sunday.  Teachers linked up their favorite books and how they used them to model writing traits.  I had just started blogging at that point, so it somewhat fizzled, but it helped me learn the depth of resources available.  If you have a certain type of writing you need to address (persuasive say), you can easily scan through to locate what you need or search the site.  I did this, and although it hopped me over to Google, it gave me a list of 195 links.  A favorite of lesson of mine features the book, My Lucky Day by Keiko Kasza.

I used this writing lesson set at Thanksgiving.  Of course, I began the writing assignment with the book of course. I didn't have a copy of the book on hand, so I used this youtube video clip which works well since you can pause and discuss writing examples, and students can better see he pictures as well.  Plus, I think my students truly enjoyed hearing this author read it.

Once you introduce the assignment with the book, Writing Fix offers the full step by step lesson plan and materials you need for each writing stage as well as anchor papers for modeling.  I love that the site gives multiple grade levels of papers too as it provides my students with a "road map" for where their writing needs to go.  I am truly impressed by the growth my students (who are struggling readers) have shown, and I can't help but believe that the repeated modeling and practice connected to strong literature helps the children better understand how to improve their writing and actually enjoy it.  For this plan, you can see a little synopsis below.

Summary of this Lesson's Mentor Text:

In the picture book, My Lucky Day by Keiko Kasza, a hungry and na├»ve fox is surprised to find his dinner knocking at his door. Could this be his lucky day? Unfortunately, an intelligent and somewhat sly pig has other ideas. Using the power of persuasion, and a keenness for trickery, the pig outwits the fox and ultimately ends up clean, fat and happy. The fox, exhausted by the persuasive suggestions of the pig, collapses and is unable to “roast” his guest. A formidable opponent, intelligence clearly wins over stupidity, or an empty stomach in this case.
After the students have analyzed the text, it's time to begin the prewriting stage.  The website includes all of the graphic organizers you need like this one.  Students can work to plan out their papers. Then, the teacher can use the anchor papers to demonstrate where the assignment is heading and what works well. Here is an example of one story.
My Lucky Day! 

by Jaynee, third grader
One day, a hungry spider was about to go get himself dinner. Then he got startled by a knock on the door.
“Hey, hey ladybug, what’s doin?”
The spider thought to himself, “A ladybug? If a ladybug lived here, I would have eaten it already. This must be my lucky day!”
The spider got up and opened the door. The cricket who had knocked tried to run away, but the spider quickly grabbed him and brought him in the house.
Next he said, “Hop in this pot so I can cook you.”
“Ok, ok, ok,” said the cricket, “but first, shouldn’t you give me dinner? I am on the skinny side.”
“You are on the skinny side,” said the spider. So the spider got busy and made cookies, brownies. But he needed a salad so he ran to the store, got a salad, ran back home and made the salad. ”Ok, now hop in this pot so I can eat you.”
“Alright, but shouldn’t you give me a bath? I’m very filthy.”
“You are pretty filthy,” said Mr. Spider. So the spider rushed upstairs, ran the bath, poured some bubbles and threw in a rubber duck. Then he ran downstairs and carried the cricket upstairs into the bath. When the cricket was clean, they went back downstairs and the spider once again said, “Hop in this pot.”
“Ok,” said the cricket, “but…”
“What, what, what?”
“Shouldn’t you massage me first? My skin is very rough.”
“You have a point,” said the spider. So he rubbed and pushed and pounded.
The cricket said, “Just a little to the left, just a little to the right.”
But the spider was no longer there. He had passed out.
The cricket ran home, saying, ”What a dinner! What a bath! What a massage! This must be my lucky day!”
I love hearing my students critique the papers, but it is interesting how spot on they can be. They are able to identify weak hooks and arguments, analyze the sample for word choice, sentence fluency,etc. They can also reread is they find they have a little writer's block.

For the revising stage, this author shared checklists for Voice and Ideas. Handy huh??  For publishing, you can even add your "star" papers to the lesson site

So...what are you waiting for??  Hop on over and see what's all included.  Be sure to check out this tab to see the featured mentor text lessons.  They are my favorite!

The Writing Fix helps students see the Reading-Writing Connection, and it makes writing just plain fun!

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Rounding Up Fun Resources for Phonemic Awareness

Yesterday, I kicked off  the first week of the Summer Blog Party Series with a post about Word Study, but I also mozied over to blog on Adventures in Literacy Land.  I used my post there to focus on phonemic awareness, the other topic for the week.  I thought I'd rustle up that post and share it here too.

Over on Lit Land, there have been a few posts focused on phonemic awareness that are rootin' and tootin and ready for you. The first was [this post] by Wendy at Read with Me ABC.  She explained what phonemic awareness was and how it differs from phonics. She explained how it's developed with children and shared a few resources that could be used. It was an excellent post.

Tara from Looney's Lit Blog wrote up a second to share how she addresses phonological awareness with her students who begin a little bit behind. You can check out her post [here] to see a few activity types in action.

Post number three came on Monday with Jennifer's Move! Groove! Read! post. If you missed it, be sure to head back and check it out. It brought back memories of childhood for me with all the little jingles she shared. Who knew that chants and jump rope jingles could lead to beginning reading skills. 

So what else can we do to make phonemic awareness learning fun? After all, it is our very youngest learners who need these lessons, so it should show them how all learning is fun. The answer...word play, music, poetry, and rhymes. Phonemic awareness includes rhyming, identifying orally beginning sounds, endings, and syllables, and blending/segmenting sounds.  Phonemic awareness activities often include pictures or other manipulatives.

Oh what fun, rhyming is, and there are many great ways to work on it. First of all, reading to your students is a great way to model rhyme and so many other skills for that matter.  Below, you'll find great books to use throughout the year.
In addition to these great books, you might also give these websites a try.

There are so many options for teaching ideas in the classroom too.  You might consider rhyming baskets with objects that rhyme (.plastic bats, cats, and mini hats say) that your students can sort. Matching pictures of rhyming words in a pocket chart or better yet, lay the pictures on the floor and have students play Twister with them (small # of students and controlled of course) or "Hop on the Word that Rhymes with ??" Children also love playing "Odd One Out" with pictures or orally.  

Young students need to recognize that sounds come together to form words, and the best way to help develop that recognition is with adding and subtracting sounds orally through word play. For blending, you might try the following.
Guess the Word
Place a poster of a playground slide in front of the students and run your finger down the slide as you stretch the sounds of words our orally. Have your students copy you, and then, have them say the word ssssstttttaaaaammmmppppp. Together:  Stamp!
Push and Say
I love push and say because the strategy can be used later with phonics when we add letters. For Push and Say, students use poker chips or counters as sounds are made to put them together and segment them. Teachers can use the idea above with the chips or have students place chips in Elkonin boxes for segmenting. With both, I emphasize what is happening in the mouth.  
Songs and Movement
Using common tunes such as Ring Around the Rosie or London Bridges makes phoneme blending light and fun. Here's an example to London Bridges...
Do you know the word I make?
Word I make?
Word I make?
Do you know the word I make?
Share it now.

Book Choices You Might Explore

For more ideas on phonemic awareness development, check out all of the great PA posts from this week's linky [here], and come back next week to hear about new books to Fire Up Your Readers!  

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Summer Blog Party Week 1: Phonics and Phonemic Awareness

Phonics, Phonemic Awareness, Phonological Awareness, Digraphs and Dipthongs...similar sounding terms, but yet they are so different, right?  Today, I hope to clarify them and share a few tips on how to best teach them.  I am posting in two places today, here and over at Adventures in Literacy Land, as part of the Summer Blog Party Literacy Linky sponsored by The Reading Crew. This post will feature phonics ideas while Lit Land will be all about phonemic awareness. If you're interested in linking up with us too, simply grab the image above, write up your blog post, and add the URL to the list below.

With teaching phonics rules, it's important to find what your students' are using, but confusing first.  Start by giving a spelling inventory such as the Developmental Spelling Analysis (DSA) from Word Journeys or the Elementary Spelling Inventory from Words Their Way.  By teaching your students spelling patterns at their instructional  level, you will find they retain the knowledge and apply it to their writing more efficiently. Plus, you'll avoid frustration and boredom. To learn more, you may wish to view this presentation from youtube.

The primary task used in Word Study is sorting, and that's the best thing about Word Study. It is active and hands-on.  Children love the sorting process because they are fully engaged and see it as a puzzle to solve. One very important reminder though is that students must be able to read the words they sort. If they are not able to read them, it is advised that the teacher remove the word from the list. A thorough explanation of the sort and rules is critical for the first day. Then, as students sort, encourage them to read the words orally before placing them.  This improves automaticity in reading in the primary grades. With upper elementary, the focus shifts to meaning, so include usage with your routine. To keep sorting fun, you can pair students, do timed sorts, writing sorts, and sorting races.

As you work with your students on Word Study, be sure to emphasize the differences in how sounds are formed with the mouth,especially with vowels which are formed in different parts of the throat and connect the sounds to key words which demonstrate the spelling patterns used. Below are phoneme cards that I use for both modeling and reference.  They're available in my store in multiple color schemes if you're interested.

Use a variety of word building activities.  Word hunts with constructed texts help students recognize patterns in other settings. Students also love hands on games such as Parking Lot. Not long ago, I blogged about simple activities you can make for word building.  You can revisit that post [here].  The picture below is linked to the long vowel set, but there several others including a freebie of Parking Lot of Overused Words.
The days of weekly spelling tests may be fading, and that is okay. With Word Study, you should do periodic screenings to check that you're on track with sorts, and a No Peek Writing Sort may be the best way to assess understanding versus the spelling test anyway.  With the No Peek Sort, you say the word and students write the word as they believe it is spelled and in the correct category. This honestly steps up the rigor of the weekly test because the students need to know not only how to spell the word, but also which pattern it fits.  

'WORD BUILDING' - Beach Ball Bash - A Fun Way to Build Words
There are quite a few word study activities available on Teachers Pay Teachers.  This is a word building game from Adrian Bruce. It demonstrates how to blend onset and rime.  This along with syllabication are two skills readers need as they tackle more complex words. Adrian Bruce has a great selection of word building games.

When working with struggling students, one technique that is highly recommended is tapping out the phonemes. With kinders, we teach them to tap their shoulder, elbow and wrist for beginning, middle, and ending sounds and slide down the arm for blending.  I quickly move from the arm to touchpoints under the word and eventually to syllables.  Here are a few actitivities at various levels.
Elkonin Boxes'SYLLABLE GAME' - What is a Syllable? -  4 in a Row SyllabFREE Interactive Phonics Segmenting Flashcards (CVC) "Myst
Need other ideas to mix things up a bit? Pinterest is such a great resource (and I can spend hours perusing pins. How about you?) Over time, I have pinned quite a bit to my Word Study board, so I thought I'd share a preview of it. You will find a mix of pin types and levels.

To organize my Word Study lessons, I color code my Word Study notebooks and put an envelop in the front to hold our weekly sorts.  Below are a few sample pictures I found on Pinterest since I am home for the summer, but they will give a few ideas. Some choose binders. Some use composition notebooks or spiral notebooks, and some use folde. It really is personal choice. These photos come from Beth Newingham (folder style), Conversations in Literacy (binder style), and (composition style).  I used spiral notebooks and put duct tape over the wire which worked quite well.

Last, but not least, remember that Word Study is NOT done for a weekly spelling grade. It is not about memorizing words for the week (that are forgotten the next). Rather, it is intended to build decoding strategies for reading and to improve writing fluency. Word Study is an important literacy component and needs to be included throughout the curriculum since the focus changes from sounds to patterns, and then to meaning.

I hope you found this post helpful. My friend, Cathy over at W.I.S.E Owl wrote up a great post not long ago about assessment.  If you'd like to learn more, click [here]. I have an assessment set in my store with multiple word lists and the forms I have used.  You can check that out [here].

Before you leave my blog, I want to share great news. We have two winners from this weekend's blog hop giveaway.  These gals get to do some TPT shopping on us.  Have fun finding great back to school items or items for your little one to use this summer.

Have a wonderful week, and come back next week to check out our next Summer Blog Party topic, Firing Up Readers with Great Books, and until then, kick back, relax, stay cool, and come back soon!
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Friday, June 19, 2015

Summer Blog Party Kick Off Hop

Credits:  KG Fonts, Alice Smith Clip Art, and Sonya Dehart frame
Well hello summer and hello readers!  We are a group of reading specialists and literacy coaches, and we have been collaborating and supporting each other for two years now. Wow! So hard to believe how time flies. We are so glad you have taken time out of your hectic schedule kicked-back day of leisure. Oh how sweet it is, right?? We teachers love our summers and after the last few weeks of testing and closing down the school year, we need a little time off to regroup. Now, if you are a sweet momma or daddy looking for how to help your child this summer, we are so glad you dropped by too. Trust me, we know you'll be busy, and we are here to help make the summer better for you and your children.

Today's hop is aimed at summer learning loss prevention. You may have heard of Summer Slide?? Well, our kids work hard all year, and then...bam! Summer hits! The kids' learning comes to a grinding halt and for many, the idea of reading books is considered something just for school. I am reading Summer Reading by Richard Allington, and the statistics on how low income students are impacted is a real call to action for parents and teachers. What can be done? Plenty according to Allington. For starters, we must keep kids reading, writing, and thinking, and that requires books in kids' hands and motivation to stick with it. Allington shares ideas such as a 1000 minute challenge, partnering with restaurants for reward meals for readers, and book drives to get books to the kids. This book will be featured on Adventures in Literacy Land in July if you'd like to read more about it.

So, what are you reading this summer? Do you have a few choices on your list? If your second or third grader is looking for a great choice, these books are kid tested and approved!  I promise. I have been watching my students this year, checked with our librarian, and I took suggestions from my bloggy friends on what their students love to form these lists. From them, I have a few I want to showcase since they have been published in the last two years and may not be as well known as Ramona and Amelia Bedelia


Below, you will find my list of recommended books and series options for second and third graders. In the stops that follow, you'll receive lists for other grade levels as well as lots of great materials for other reading needs. To download my freebie, just click the image below.

Kristin from Ms. Jordan Reads is up next to share fluency tips for your reader.  To go to her page, click her blog button below.  
MsJordanReads: Reading Writing Thinking Sharing
If you get lost, check for the next stop here. 

Have a wonderful summer, and be sure to stop by each Wednesday this summer for our Summer Blog Party that will focus on a different literacy topic each week.  To learn how that will run, click [here]. All the topics, dates, and images are available there. Those participating in the hop this weekend will also be hosting the linky periodically throughout the summer, so to make sure you don't miss it, you can follow us on Bloglovin. See you soon...
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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Are You a Super Teacher?

It is interview season, and in some of my teacher Facebook groups, interviewees have requested ideas on ways to address X issue, how to respond to Y question, and how we'd solve Z problem. It's made me pause to reflect on what makes a teacher great, and I think after 25 years in the classroom in multiple settings (classroom, technology, and reading specialist) and with the experiences I've had working with some of the greatest teachers, I can identify traits that great teachers must have. This is not to say that *I* am great (even after this many years, I still feel I have lots of areas to improve), but rather, what I have seen and admire in my colleagues. 
Great teachers are resourceful and collaborative.
When you first begin teaching, you have so much to absorb.  Learning what you have to teach is about all you can manage, so being able to work with a resourceful teammate is critical. It takes years to get your resources to the degree of quality needed to match the individual needs of the many students you teach. You will have out of the ballpark homerun lessons that you repeat, and some you will trash. Being open to help and/or willing to help others is a really great teacher quality. One of my colleagues said it best, "We need to work smarter, not harder." That comes through collaboration, exchanging the great stuff, and knowing where to find great materials too.
Great teachers listen more than they talk.
This one is so, so hard for me, but it is important to shift the workload to the students. Using thoughtful questions to get them to talk through problem solving and show their thinking really raises the rigor and helps teachers clarify misunderstandings. I am a talker, and I often fail to leave a long enough wait time. It is something I try to be aware of and restrain myself, and I think that is a good thing. Being aware of your own weaknesses leads to better teaching. For new teachers, writing out questions ahead may be helpful. Use sticky notes to mark questioning points.
Great teachers observe reading behaviors.
Whether you're teaching reading or another subject where reading is used, listen to your students read and watch for the errors they make. Use what you notice to address these deficits during your reading block. One tip for keeping notes on these observations is to carry around large address labels that you can peel/stick into a notebook later. I use these for running records and one-on-one discussions. You might also find that keeping notes with Evernote if you like an e-copy.
Great teachers know their students well and keep a sense of humor.
Flexibility is one quality that all teachers need. The best laid plans always get disrupted, so you just have to "modify and adjust". I think that was one lesson I learned early, and to this day, it is still very, very important. Sometimes, you can plan a perfect lesson, but then the principal calls a fire drill (never fails that it's right at the high point of the lesson, right??). Sometimes, students get sick. Sometimes, the hunger a child feels at the moment just can not be ignored, and sometimes, that child with disabilities who learns differently from others, needs his/her demands met in order to maintain control. Understand your students and know them as individuals. Children are not made with cookie cutters. They are unique individuals with vastly different needs, and when those basic needs aren't met, children will struggle to learn. Look through this list and think how it applies to your students. This year, I had 50% in poverty, and that mid-morning snack was really important for them. They don't have books in their home, so my lending library was used A LOT, but sometimes, the books went home and came back again unread because at home, those basic needs were all that were addressed.

Great teachers are positive communicators.
Mrs. "O", one of my colleagues, comes to mind when I think of positive communicators. She was my daughter's teacher as well as my coworker, and what I loved about her was her ability to remain positive no matter what. She was so, so kind to me as a parent, positive about my child, and as a colleague, just such a genuine nurturer of children. To this day, she asks about my daughter (who had struggles at that time), and my daughter knows that she was loved by her. Reach out to those parents who may be reluctant, and don't take it personally if they are not able to come in to meet with you. Parents want the best for their children, but not all parents work on the same time schedule or with the same skills. They, like us, do the best they can.
Great teachers keep up with new trends in education.
One great way to keep up is to read blogs, talk shop with colleagues, and research. Technology is ever changing. This morning's discussion for me was about Google Classroom. (and it is amazing!) You might also find professional book discussion groups to join or follow too.  Over at Adventures in Literacy Land, we will be hosting two discussions with Summer Reading: Closing the Rich/Poor Reading Gap by Richard Allington (Have you heard him speak?  Amazing!) and Word Callers by Kelly Cartwright. If these are of interest, you can learn more about them by clicking the images below.
Great teachers use assessments to guide their instruction.
Sure, we all need grades, but the real value in assessment is using that information for future planning. They didn't get it the first time, so now what?  You can't redo the whole unit because then you'll be off the pacing guide. How do we work in remediation?  It is all a balancing act, but with careful planning, it can be done, especially with using your support people well.  
Great teachers use a variety of teaching methods to reach all learning styles.
Learning styles are important to consider. I tend to have a bright room with lots of "stuff" on the walls. In a meeting not long ago, we discussed what is best for children with adhd.  Guess what? It is not a room with lots of "stuff" on the walls. Using a common color scheme and keeping decorations purposeful, simple, and free of distracting material may eliminate some distractability. Including movement breaks and tactile activities will also help. Keep your students' needs in mind as well as traffic flow when you design your classroom space and/or choose materials.
Great teachers use time effectively.
This has always been a source of stress for me as time can not be regained once it is gone, so it is important to stick to your schedule. Transition times are killers if they are not done effectively. Five minutes quickly becomes fifteen if you allow bathroom breaks, drink breaks, time to run back to get this book or that book, etc. Guard that instructional time like gold. Some find it helpful to use timers both for monitoring lessons, but also for increasing stamina with students. Time on task is important for the students, so keeping kids going with engaging lessons helps.  
Great teachers are not superheroes, we are human.
Remember, you are human. Be real and be yourself. Kids see right through you if you try to be something you are not. Working hard is evident and leads to great teaching, but you have to have balance too. Use this summer to rest and do the things you don't usually have time to do and that you enjoy. It will keep you positive on those long days ahead. 

Now, I am off to go do a little of what I just said in number 10.  The sun is out, and I am going to get out and enjoy it. I hope you'll come back this weekend for our Summer Blog Party Kick Off Hop. We'll have great freebies for your kiddos to use this summer (or next if you are already out of school). 

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