Sunday, October 11, 2015

Responding to Reading: Writing about characters* Freebie!

For students to really understand fiction, they need to have a strong understanding of the characters. The characters' traits drive the conflicts and themes of the story! In our shared reading of Frindle, my students and I spent a lot of time writing about characters. 

We started with a simple purpose for marking with post-its: Find evidence about Nick Allen's character. You can use his words, actions, or things other characters say about him. As we read, we marked placed we noticed his character becoming clear with post-its and wrote a short reaction on each post-it. 

After we read, I had students gather their post-its and stick them into their reader's notebook under, "Evidence about Nick Allen."

Then we brainstormed words that could describe his personality.

I wanted students to make some sort of decision about Nick's character, so I asked them a question with controversy: "Is Nick Allen a troublemaker?" Depending on my students' perspective, they would have different ideas about this. 
To help my students understand different types and roles of characters, I introduced the vocabulary: Protagonist and Antagonist. I wanted my students to notice character interactions and think about how the characters were working against each other because of their personalities. 
I chose a good chapter to introduce this concept - the chapter where we meet Mrs. Granger, who is Nick's very strict fifth grade teacher. As we read, we gathered evidence about Mrs. Granger and then wrote a prediction about how these characters would interact. 

Here is one of my students' brief responses to this chapter. On the bottom of the page, you can see that we connected this shared reading lesson to independent reading. The students had the same purpose for reading as we introduced during our whole-group reading lesson: Gather evidence about your character to describe him or her. Predict future events based on what you know about the characters. This student wrote about Diary of a Wimpy Kid, his independent reading selection.

And this student wrote about her character, Stuart Little. 

Scaffolding students' reading responses by setting up a purpose for reading with a graphic organizer and then providing sentence starters is a great way to grow your readers and writers. 
This simple organizer requires students to identify the evidence in the text that helps them understand the characters' relationship. Then they use the starters to write a short response.
A strong connection between your whole-group lessons and students' independent reading can help students be purposeful and thoughtful during their independent reading time, building strategies to support their reading comprehension.
And for more ideas, check out "Responding to Reading," a freebie on TPT!

Or my new Scaffolded Reading Responses for Fiction!

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Friday, October 2, 2015

4 Steps to Teaching Transitional Phrases with Pumpkin Jack

Don't you just love it when you read a student's narrative and they use awesome transitional words like "First," "Then," and "Finally?" They add a touch of class and voice to their writing, and really help you experience their unique perspective. 
LOL! No, they don't. Students who use these tired transitional phrases tend to write in a simplistic manner. Authentic transition use can take a moderate piece of writing and turn it into a very strong one. 

This blog hop is pretty exciting. As you click through each post, collect the "mystery word." You can record them on this sheet. Then, enter the rafflecopter to win every book! You'll also collect a great freebie to use with a mentor text for teaching a reading or writing skill or strategy!

Teaching Authentic Transitions

To introduce authentic transitions using a text model (the best way to introduce writing strategies - notice them in a mentor text!), I chose Pumpkin Jack. It's seasonal, easy to follow, and includes a ton of different transitions for different purposes. They're each used in a natural manner that doesn't cause the story to halt every time a transition is used. 
To use a mentor text as a model, this is the procedure I follow:

The Lesson

These four steps help students see the craft being used well by a mentor author. 

Step 1: Notice It! Read aloud a great mentor book that demonstrates the craft you want to try with students. Pumpkin Jack does a great job of using transitional phrases naturally. As you read, mark the phrases with post-its, thinking about how they convey the passing of time. 

Step 2: Name it! Name the strategy and introduce it explicitly. When you name it, make sure to discuss with students how the craft adds something purposeful to the author's writing. 
In Pumpkin Jack, you can discuss the following points:
  • Transitional phrases are used to show the passing of time.
  • They all sound different.
  • Some show a short time has passed; some show a long time has passed.
  • They are written in different places in a sentence and in a paragraph.
This would also be a good time to chart the transitional phrases by purpose, like in the anchor chart below. 

Step 3: Teacher tries it! When you model, think aloud a step at a time about how to use the craft deliberately and purposefully in your writing. Why is that craft a good idea? What is using it going to convey to your reader? How will you use it effectively? You might also revise an older piece using that craft, rather than writing a new piece. 

Step 4: Students try it! Have students try to use the craft in their writing. It might be easier to have them revise a piece of writing in a piece they've already written to use the craft.
For transitional phrases, have students read their pieces to find where time has passed. Add in a transitional phrase that moves the piece from one time to the next. Refer back to your anchor chart of the transitions from Pumpkin Jack.

For a fun activity to do to help you "Notice It, Name It, and Try It," check out my new freebie on TPT for Teaching Transitions with Pumpkin Jack! It includes lesson ideas and tools for teaching students to use transitional phrases appropriately in their narratives. There's even a story for you to model revising with transitional phrases!

Tools to try it out!

Grab it free on TPT!

Did you catch my mystery word?  If not, it is Jack. Now it's time to hop to the next stop. Remember to record all of the mystery words so you can enter the big giveaway! Download the recording form here, if you don't already have it!

Happy Teaching! 

The next stop is...

Selma Dawani: Teaching and Learning Resources
or go to the start of the hop to collect 
all the mystery words or enter the Rafflecopter!

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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Responding to Reading: Writing Letters about Books* Freebie!

Book Letters are incredible. They are one of the best things I did in the classroom. Lovers of books love to talk about books. We love to share books we love with other book lovers, too. Book letters, which students wrote to me in their reader's notebooks, are a great way to get interactive with your readers and really figure out what's going on in their heads!

To model book letters (because we know you must model every single behavior and strategy you expect in your classroom!) I started by responding in letter form to a book we'd read together. This is a book letter I wrote to my class about The Bee Tree, back in 2008. Wow, right? It's amazing what you'll find once you start going through your files!

I shared a copy of the letter with each student and they stuck it into their reader's notebooks as a sample. They loved getting a letter from their teacher, even though they all got the same one!

After reading another book aloud, I modeled writing book letters in front of the students. You really have to slow down your thinking to do a good think aloud; examine your thoughts and explain how you know what to do, and where your ideas are coming from.

Creating a list of sentence starters is helpful, too. You can check out the anchor chart I used to do this here, on a previous post about monitoring your comprehension.

This is a cherished letter from one of my lovely students, who was reading Because of Winn-Dixie.

I tried to respond to the letters as often as possible. I'm not going to lie; it can be a challenge. But if it's important to you, you'll find the time!
And for more ideas, check out "Responding to Reading," a freebie on TPT!

Or my new Scaffolded Reading Responses for Fiction!

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Responding to Reading: Monitoring Comprehension* Freebie!

I honestly don't know how to teach reading without a notebook. When we write about our reading, we process, we explain, we explore, and we think new things about the text we read. We can generate ideas for our own writing, and think of things we hadn't thought until they came pouring out of our pencils.

Share this with your students: share the value that writing about something brings; that you can think with a pencil better than with just your brain.

To support my readers in responding to literature, I had them make a reader's notebook on the first day of school. I believe that, if it's important, do it right away! So I did.

They decorated the covers with things that they enjoyed reading about.

Early in the year, I wanted to work with my students on monitoring their comprehension. In the upper grades, we often work with a whole crop of students who can decode like nobody's business. And then you say, "Tell me about what you read," and they give you blank stares. I've actually had a third grader glance at the pictures (after reading the whole story) and make a up a story just using the pictures.

Oh. My. Lord. That isn't reading. That's decoding. Decoding is not reading; they are not interchangeable.

So it was very clear to me that we had to start noticing our reading thoughts, and fast. I always start by reading a shocking book.

Yes, a very shocking book. One book I use to introduce this idea is It Doesn't Have to Be This Way: A Barrio Story.

It's a story about a boy who lives in the barrio, gets roped into being in a gang, and then almost loses his good friend to a gunshot.

Yes, shocking. Why? Why do I read this with my fourth graders? There are several reasons.

1. Some of them live in this world. It is the real world for a lot of our kids. We have to connect with their experiences.
2. It's an important lesson about making choices within limited options; the reality they live in daily.
3. They will definitely think something while they listen to this book.

I read a little piece, and then I stop and think aloud. I think about personal reactions, mostly: feelings. I am surprised that..., I think he is going to..., I wish he would...,

And then I read some more, and then I stop and think aloud some more. I make predictions, and inferences about the character. And then I explain that I'm going to start writing some of these things down. I read, and then I stop and write. I have my students do the same; I read and then I stop and they write. This is a sample of an entry I wrote several years ago.

When I get to the really shocking part: the scene in which the girl gets shot and you don't know if she'll survive, I pause. I ask students to write about that part, without knowing what the ending will bring. And they always have something to say.

The reactions students record don't have to be complex, or structured. I just want them to realize that, as they read, they think! 

After we do this together a few times, I move it to students' independent reading responses. They read and respond to their independent reading book. I read their responses, just to make sure there is thinking going on while they are reading. It's a simple way to get kids responding to their reading. 

Later, we move on to more structured responses. We start to code our thoughts based on the strategy they represent. We create sentence frames for each strategy to "help us think when we're stuck." Seriously, sometimes just saying the words, "I wonder..." or "I visualize..." helps you come up with a response!

As students get better at noticing their reading thoughts and writing about them, I model a more structured reading response. The first paragraph includes a brief summary of the reading. The second paragraph is about 3-4 sentences responding to the reading. At first, I'm just looking for authentic thoughts. Over time, I ask students to choose a focus to respond about; something their entire response will be about. This helps them dig deeper and not think so superficially about their reading. 

And for more ideas, check out "Responding to Reading," a freebie on TPT!

Or my new Scaffolded Reading Responses for Fiction!

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Saturday, September 12, 2015

Nine tips for being married to a teacher

My husband is pretty good at being married to a teacher. Not perfect, but pretty close. I've been watching him lately, and I realized that, most of the time, he knows exactly what he's doing. He isn't just naturally this good - he's manipulating me, because he has figured out how to be married to a teacher. For those of you still figuring this business out, this is what he does.

1. Listen with a filter
I don't mean to talk to you like you're a child. When you finish a great project, I can't help but say, "Great job! I'm so proud of you, honey!" I'm not intending to be condescending; it just happens. Just turn on your filter and hear... whatever it is that normal people say; I don't really know what that is. But hear that.

2. Yes, we're bossy.

The picture above was taken at my wedding. I was telling my brother, "Go get your own salsa!" (Seriously, I remember the conversation.) That is my "you better do it" face, and I couldn't even turn it off at my wedding. Do you see his face? It cracks me up every time I see it.

It's tough being in charge all the time. We're used to directing traffic, being a coach, saying things like, "If you bite your eraser again, I'm going to have to call mom," and "No, we don't get stuck under our desks in the third grade." It's hard to turn that off.

3. Expect to talk shop
Aside from my family, shop is basically all I know to talk. Every conversation is about school, in one way or another. We might fool you at first. It might sound like we're talking about Law and Order, or the Olympics. The conversation might start out like, "What do you want to do on Labor Day weekend?" but it will end up about school. Everything is about school. Just expect it.

4. Deal with it
We work for free. It's not going to stop. We will pay for things you would never pay for in the office. The stuff you take for granted - the stuff you use to do your job - is the stuff we buy. On any given grocery list are three items for my classroom or my kids. That's just how it is. Don't question it. We will destroy you with stories of children who don't have.

5. Know when to avoid us
For me, I need to be avoided right after school (I've spent all day giving out my brains; I feel pretty stupid by 4:00), and the end of the year. The end of the year is so stressful: packing, cleaning, documenting, signing out. And then, glorious summer! So bide your time and avoid any meaningful conversations between the hours of 3:30 - 5:00 (when we can open the wine bottle) and definitely head for cover in May.

6. You always agree.
We go on rants. They may be about instructional methods, training, pay, the conditions of the school (air conditioning, or lack thereof), or new mandates. They might be about the state we work for (doesn't really matter which one) or the tests we have to spend (waste) our time on. No matter what it is, just nod and say, "That's ridiculous."

7. Just say yes.

Like that time I decided to make patterned clothespins for the whole faculty.
We get excited. We think of really interesting lessons, like that time I told you all about my plans for my latest social studies unit. We were going to make salt dough maps. SALT DOUGH! Who wouldn't be excited? Just say, "That sounds awesome. Your kids are lucky to have you." Don't get it mixed up with the situation above. The difference between a rant and a plan is that during a plan, we're smiling. During a rant, we're pacing back and forth, gesticulating wildly, and uncorking the wine bottle.

8. Accept the tears
I cry all the time. I cry during commercials, songs on the radio, and comedies. That Hallmark sign language commercial a few years ago? Forget it. Every time, horrible racking sobs. So just accept it. Understand that, no, I can't walk through the September 11 Memorial because I just can't handle it. I can't handle the uplifting movie with the migrant kids who run track, and I can't handle that commercial where the dog finds his way home. It's all too much.

9. Feed our souls
Our souls consume wine and chocolate. And that's about it.

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Sunday, September 6, 2015

Making Inferences about Character Traits

Not too long ago, I sat through a workshop that was meant to teach teachers something brand-new. I was in the room with teachers who had never used the instructional strategy before. As the day progressed, we read about the strategy, discussed the strategy, and brainstormed ideas for the strategy. But by the end of the day, several teachers left saying, "I still don't know how to actually do it. What am I supposed to do? What does it look like?"

How often do our kids feel that way during a lesson? Sometimes we're a little too broad, and our most struggling kids get lost. To really support our struggling students, I worked with a group of special education students who were getting ready for their big test. We focused on a few important reading skills. In fiction, we really spent a lot of time on making inferences.

We wanted to really focus on a few things to make inferences as concrete as possible (which isn't very).

We focused on looking for three kinds of evidence: what the character says, what the character does, and what other character say about them. I started out building the anchor chart above with the kids. We hunted through a sample paragraph, searching for the three types of clues. We marked it with yellow and then annotated on the margin to state what that piece of evidence told us about the character. The phrase "We can tell" is helpful to get kids thinking about what they logically know.

Then, we did a little team practice. Each team of three received a set of character trait cards. On each card was a little paragraph describing a character. The kids hunted through the cards, marking evidence about the characters' traits with a highlighter. Then they used a list of character traits to decide on an appropriate trait for that character.

The next step is to take it to real reading. As students read their independent reading books, have them choose a character and locate some text evidence. Then they can record it on the graphic organizer below, using the evidence to make inferences about that character.

You can grab this freebie here, at Google Drive!

And you can get the Character Trait Cards in 41 Character Analysis Charts, Activities & Tools on TPT.
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