Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Super New Blog and Educents Bundle!

I am so excited to finally make our big announcement! Doo-doo-doo-doooo!

Primary Powers blog for primary grades is up and running! This collaborative blog consists of over 20 bloggers who will post about great tips and tools to use in the primary grades! I am so honored and excited to be a part of it.

Is this not the cutest little mini me you've ever seen?!

This month, we'll start our posting. Each post will include a superhero freebie! So check back at Primary Powers for the next month's freebies and super tips!

And the news gets even better because we are celebrating the launch of Primary Powers with an exclusive deal with Educents!

21 instant downloads, over 1,000 pages of materials that are ready to use, and variety of topics to pull your through months of teaching!  $100.75 retail value available for a limited time for $29.99 which is 70% off!  Extreme value alert!

Concepts covered are:  addition, subtraction, graphing, time, money, reading, fluency, spelling, writing, close reading, grammar, story element in fiction and nonfiction, and much, much more!  

Products are thematically correct for the upcoming seasons!  
- spiders and camping for October
- turkeys, Thanksgiving, scarecrows for November
- winter, penguins, the holidays, and New Years for December

Other great items include:
- a calendar that could be used as a parent gift
- a data folder to track student growth
- literacy and math centers
- printables
- units of study

Check out the previews below... 

My item for the bundle is my Government Pack. It's my most popular product, full of organizers and activities to teach about US government!

More great products included in the bundle...

Happy Teaching!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Sequencing and Summarizing in a Folktale

Gosh, I miss having a class of my own. As a literacy coach, the teachers are my students...and the students are our students, but they're not MY students. I have to share them with their teachers. It's hard, sometimes.... and then sometimes, when I see a teacher filling out an office referral, or submitting grades, or doing anything else I don't like to do, I don't miss it so much. But most of the time, I do.

Anyway, this past week, I've been a modeling fool. My modeling career is really taking off in fourth grade, where I'm modeling reading and writing lessons for a teacher who just had to close her kindergarten section and move to fourth grade three weeks after school started.

Don't ask.

She's been great, and I've been loving modeling in her room! This week, we worked on sequencing and summarizing the plot's events in a folktale. Some folktales are great sources for this kind of plot teaching because there's a clear lesson supported by the problem and the solution. To teach this, we chose The Little Ant, by Joe Hayes. He's kind of a local favorite.

We read The Little Ant to students and gave them little cards with the main events of the story.

After the reading, during which students each had a copy, the students used the text evidence to sequence the events in the story. We had them identify the important elements: the main character, her motivation, the problem, solution, outcome, and lesson.

After students sequenced the events, we checked them together using the text evidence from the story. 

Then, we gave each pair of students a fiction story map. They decided on the elements and glued them on.

 From there, we gave each team a blank sentence strip and told them the element they were responsible for. Students in the group wrote a sentence describing their element from the story. They created them in complete sentences. We put them together on our five summary elements of fiction pocket chart to create a super summary of the story.

This scaffolding has really supported students in summarizing and thinking about the important elements in most fiction stories. By generalizing the learning, I'm hoping we've helped them make connections to their own reading!

To help kids practice the work we've done during Reader's Workshop to students' independent reading, I created this Fiction Lapbook. It includes folded flap books for students to use when reading their own stories or novels. The skills included are the five fiction summary elements, different types of questions, character analysis, character relationships, cause-effect relationships, and comparing characters! I'm so excited to use it with our kids!

You can get it at TPT!
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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Summarizing in Fiction

Does summarizing make you want to pull your hair out? How many times have you shouted to kids, "JUST THE IMPORTANT PARTS!" while sobbing over a stack of copied 'responses' taken verbatim from the text? 

Well, yeah, summarizing is hard. But if we can give kids tools and a focus, we can help them be far more successful when it comes to fiction summarizing. 

Summarizing requires kids to understand the text structure, determine what's important, and write it in a logical way. Yikes; we're asking a lot from some of our struggling readers. Without the proper scaffolding, they're really going to be playing a guessing game. 

Over the last couple years, I've put together a strategy that has been very supportive of our kids, able and struggling readers alike. This is it:
Ok, so maybe it doesn't look like much. But trust me, I no longer tear out my hair for lack of decent summaries! 
It all starts with identifying the important events in the plot. You can read about what we did to scaffold students' understanding of the plot's main events here, in my post about The Sweetest Fig. 

From there, we identified these four out of the five elements of the plot:

Main Character
Outcome/Lesson Learned

All of these elements are written on colored index cards on a pocket chart. We consistently use the same colors so students will be able to use this system independently. This chart will stay up for as long as we learn about fiction, in order to help students recall the important elements to summarize.

Each team received one sentence strip to create a complete sentence to represent their assigned element. These are the sentences they came up with to summarize the plot's main events from The Sweetest Fig.

In case you can't read it, it says, "Mr. Bibot is disrespectful to Marcel the dog. Mr. Bibot wants money. Bibot received special figs, (we verbally added the following) that he wanted to use to be the richest man in the world. But then, Marcel ate the last fig! Marcel's dream came true instead of Bibot's. Lesson Learned: Treat other people the way you want to be treated.

It's far from beautiful, but it includes the important elements, in a logical order! Now it's easy to do some basic revising and include some transition words to write a great summary!

But here's the tricky part. We teach kids to create a summary based on something they've read. This is an essential and invaluable skill. But then, when we test them, we do it differently. They have to find the best summary out of four versions. 

This is very different from what we've asked them to do, and it can be hard for students who are struggling or not as sophisticated in their thinking to make the connection. So this is how I bridge it:

Do you see on the right side of the picture where there are four different paragraphs, all colored up? Those are four different summary versions for The Sweetest Fig. I wrote them myself :) One of them is the BEST, that is, it is the most complete and most accurate, compared to the other summaries - the other three are lacking something, so are NOT the best. 

To have students evaluate these summaries, I asked each student in each group to decide which element they were going to hunt for and grab that colored marker. Some had more than one element. They read through the summary as a group and marked their evidence for each element in the summary. If their element was missing from the summary, they made a little note on the bottom of the page. After they marked up each of the four summaries, they decided which was the BEST summary. Students were very successful with this scaffolding!
This 5 element strategy lines up very well with the Somebody Wanted But So Then strategy; they both represent similar elements!

Fisher-Reyna on TPT have some handy free tools to help you teach these elements of fiction as well.

And one of the folded flapbooks in my brand-new fiction lapbook is all about the elements of fiction! It's only $2.00 at TPT!

Check them out!
Happy Teaching!
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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sequencing the plot's events with The Sweetest Fig

So I'm sitting here in my house, drinking White Zinfandel (what else) and watching SVU. It's like a blast from the past. Because this is what I love to do when I blog. Except today, I am not completely doing what I love to do. Because there is a mosquito in this house. I HATE MOSQUITOES. They eat me up. I just got up from the computer to spray myself with Off! And I'm INSIDE my house! Arrgh!


The last two weeks have been a little hectic. One of our kindergarten sections was too small and had to close, and one our fourth grade sections were too large and we had to open a new one. That means - have you guessed it yet? - that our kindergarten teacher had to move to fourth grade. Three weeks after school started. WHAT?! I know. In her shoes, I would've cried. Daily. Like, every day all the time. She's been a trooper and so lovely to work with!

Anyway, to help her with the transition, and the kids too, I spent reading and writing in her classroom for about two weeks. And I LOVED it! Oh, I can't tell you how much I miss having a class of my own. 

So I had a blast. We were working on the idea of plot, which I connect very tightly to fiction structure. Fiction structure, as you've probably heard, can be very clearly represented with Freytag's Pyramid, which looks like this, basically:

The pyramid includes a few basic pieces.
Exposition: we are introduced to the main character, their trait, their motivation, and the setting.
At the end of the exposition, we find the problem. This is often the opposite of what the character wants. 

Then there's rising action. During this time, the problem grows or the character tries to solve it.
At the point of the climax, the problem has reached a peak point. Either it will be solved (often by a decision the character makes), or it will be impossible to solve by the character. Either way, there is a resolution to the problem.

Then there's falling action - we often find evidence for the character's change here. They usually learn some sort of lesson from the way the problem was resolved, and the outcome of the resolution can also be found here, at the end of the story.

To help students understand what to focus on, that is, what is important for summarizing the plot's events, we focus on five main elements:

Main Character
Outcome & Lesson Learned

We color code it, just like above. And we chant it, and we sing it, and we dance it, and we gesture it, and we write it over and over to make sure they know what to look for in fiction! I connect these elements to Freytag's Pyramid like this:

The story that we used last week to discuss the plot's main events was The Sweetest fig by Chris Van Allsburg. I personally love Chris Van Allsburg and most of his books. They are so very teachable! 

And, best of all, it's available in English and Spanish!

Anyway, I started by making copies of the pictures from the story - not all the pictures; just some important ones I thought were necessary to retell the plot's main events. I showed students the cover of the book, and then I had students in groups sequence the events in the order they predicted they might happen in the book.

And then we read. Students re-sequenced the events based on the story. To help them connect to the pyramid, I took a set of the pictures that were sequenced and we discussed each one. I asked, "What purpose did this event serve in the story?" or "Why did the writer include this event in the story?" "Where does it belong on our fiction story map?" and we placed them on the map.

 By the end of day one, students had identified which events represented the main events of the story's plot: who the main character was, what his traits were and what he wanted (motivation). They identified the problem and noticed how it grew. They explained the solution to the problem, and realized that it wasn't pleasing to the main character! Then they described the outcome. 

Come back again in a few days to read about what we did to help students take these events and summarize their reading!

Happy Teaching!
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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Bright Idea: Creative Writing Response for Any Book

It's another Bright Ideas Link-Up! I'm so excited to participate in one of the best link-ups I've seen. Teachers share great ideas from their classrooms, and not a product in sight. Just lots of super ideas for the classroom! 

My post today is a simple strategy to help students respond to any text, whether it's a poem, a story, or even informational text. We used it last year to respond to this book: A Perfect Season for Dreaming by Ben Saenz. 

The beauty of this strategy is how accessible it makes writing to kids with limited vocabularies. Here are the steps:

1. Set your purpose for reading: to notice and record interesting words. As you read the book aloud to the students, record the interesting words they enjoy on index cards. Each group of students can create their own set of index cards, if you'd like, or you can make a class set. 

2. Sort the words. To help students understand their new words and their usage, sort them into different groups. We sorted into different parts of speech: verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs.

And then we sorted into different tone words: positive and negative. 

4. Use the words to create a poem. Students can use the words on the cards to create lines in their poem. They can also add words to help their poems make sense.

This was the poem that we made out of these cards:

Summer arrives, bursting into flame.
Colors escaping from every bloom.

The cloudless sky
is shot with yellow sun.

How easy is that?! And yet, the kids really took off and shared some beautiful writing! One of our third grade teachers had students use the words to write about a special relationship they shared with someone else, because the book, A Perfect Season for Dreaming, describes the relationship between the grandfather and the granddaughter. Through using these words, students were able to describe their relationships beautifully and with complex language. 

I hope you try it! If you do, I'd love to see pictures!
If you enjoyed this post, follow me on Facebook, Instagram, or TPT!
For more bright ideas from more than 100 different bloggers, please browse through the link-up below and choose a grade or topic that interests you! Thanks for visiting the Bright Ideas Link-Up!
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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Schoolwide Writing Contest: The Best Part of Me

Last year, we hosted our first school-wide writing contest. The prompt was something my principal found that could be accommodated to suit writers of all levels: The Best Part of Me. 
This prompt is general, yet personal. Students can share as much of their souls as they choose, so it made a beautiful end-of-year writing piece, but I could see it serving well at the beginning of the year, too, to help you "get to know" your kids, and to help them see each other as real people. And because you would model, model, model, they would get to know you, too!
I recommend reading at least two books to help activate language and ideas. A couple of the books I pulled out and put into a basket for our teachers were:
And this one, although I haven't read it, looks like it would serve really well!

As you read and activate language and ideas, chart them out! These are a couple sample charts.
This is a sample I provided my teachers with: During a class conversation, chart out the different body parts and the reason that part is the best part of you! 

One of my teachers built this chart with her kids to help them think of options. 

And if you're ever stuck for inspiration, PIN! These are some of the great pins that helped our teachers think about helping students write in response to this prompt:

Each teacher selected one piece to represent their class. I am not sure how they did this. I only had to choose between five or six for each grade level and it was excrutiating. How they chose between twenty or so kids is pretty impressive.

I mean, I know they used a rubric. I just think it's hard.

From there, we chose a grade level winner. This posed another challenge. I am working on it, but I am not yet a fluent Spanish speaker or reader, as many (over half) of our students are. Kids in grades K-4 wrote their pieces in Spanish if they were in a bilingual classroom setting. I had to call in for (bilingual) reinforcements to help me judge the pieces to make sure everybody had a fair shot!

Each grade level winner received a "First Place Winner" certificate and each class winner received a "Distinguished Writer Award". 

This piece, albeit short and simple, was especially moving. The student who wrote this piece is not used to winning much of anything, really, and his smile stretched from ear to ear when he went up to receive his certificate. 

Here's an adorable display that one of our teachers created out of their students' work!

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