Friday, April 21, 2017

Teaching Theme with Cloudette (A Mentor Text Lesson)

Theme. We know it when we see it, right? But it's one of the most challenging skills to teach kids, in my opinion. Kids tend to say, "Overcome challenges!" is the theme, no matter what the text says. Or maybe that was just my class... Either way, getting kids to dig a little deeper requires a lot of think alouds, modeling, and breaking down of the thought that goes into deducing a theme!

That's why, when the Reading Crew opened up this awesome spring mentor text link-up, I decided to use Cloudette by Tom Lichtenheld. Cloudette is the story of a teeny tiny cloud who feels like she's too small to help anyone with rain or snow. It's a feeling that kids often recognize!

Cloudette is perfect for teaching theme because the character's traits, motivations, problems, and solution is so perfectly lined up. It's a very explicit way to introduce a complicated skill!

Before Reading: Set a purpose
Before you read, set a purpose for reading with your students. Your purpose is to analyze the

character throughout the story to figure out what lesson we can learn from their actions and changes.

During Reading: Gather evidence
Use the handy-dandy graphic organizer provided in the freebie below to record your evidence from the text and your thinking about it. Model noticing how the character changes and solves her problem, especially.

After Reading: Model thinking about theme
Introduce the idea of "theme": the message or lesson you can learn from a text. It's usually some positive advice that is good to know! Themes (in children's picture books, anyway) tend to be feel-good messages that you'd want children to have as a set of beliefs. Use the evidence you gathered to model how to figure out the lesson you can learn from Cloudette's actions.

Handy Tip!
Sometimes, when students struggle to figure out the theme of a text (especially when the world is full of themes), it can help to provide them with a short list of possible themes. This is a good scaffold for starting to figure out theme and it will help students feel more successful at first!

The handout included in the freebie below helps students by providing a table of character changes and possible themes associated with those changes.

Grab the entire lesson freebie on TPT!

Enter the big giveaway! My code word is: cloud! And be sure to check out some of the other great posts & freebies for teaching with mentor texts!
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Thursday, April 6, 2017

A poetry strategy that works for upper elementary

When our standards changed and poetry was suddenly really important, a lot of us had to re-evaluate our approach. Poetry was being tested on our STAAR test in more and more complex ways, and so students were being held accountable for more than simply loving poetry.

I loved reading poetry with kids and having awesome discussions about the language, message, and the poet. But when it came down to it, without my guidance, kids just didn't know where to start when reading poetry.

They'd read the title, fumble through the stanzas, find some figurative language, and have absolutely no idea what the poem was about.

I knew this wouldn't work. How could I help kids use a consistent approach to poetry so they'd know where to start to comprehend a poem?

I spoke to several experts, and something that kept coming up was the SOAPSTONE strategy used for high school and college students. You might remember using it in school yourself. It's a handy acronym that helps students identify the essential elements of the poem.

My colleague and I decided to create something similar for our upper elementary students, and so POETS was born!

The POETS acronym stands for the following. We color-coded each part so students would have a visual connection to these elements:

Preview (black - pencil)
Occasion (green)
Emotions (red)
Theme (blue)
Speaker (yellow)

When students are faced with a poem, they use the POETS acronym to understand the poem and summarize what it's about! Here's how it works:

This step takes the longest. Students do several things to get their brain ready to think deeply about the poem.
1. Read title, notice illustrations
2. Number lines & stanzas
3. Read a stanza at a time, make a sketch of the details in that stanza
4. Find the rhyme scheme by noticing pattern of rhyming words
5. Identify the type of poem: narrative, lyrical, free verse, etc.

In this step, students identify what the topic of the poem is, or what the poem is all about. What is happening that the poet is writing about? In a narrative poem, the occasion is the story the poet is telling. In a lyrical poem, the occasion is the topic the poet is describing.

Poetry is chock-full of emotions; many of them inferential. Students hunt for evidence that can help them infer the emotions in the poem.

This is the most challenging part! In this step, students look for clues to help them conclude the theme. What is the message the poet is sharing with the reader? (In a humorous poem, there might not be a deep message! It's hard to take away a life lesson for "Be Glad Your Nose Is On Your Face".)

This is so important that I actually have students do this step right after the Preview step. In this step, students identify the point of view the poem is told from (1st person, 3rd person limited/omniscient), and they figure out who the speaker is. Whose voice is speaking in the poem?

Get em' engaged!

To help kids get used to the POETS strategy, I tried out a little engagement strategy with our most reluctant readers. Each student received a copy of the poem. They were asked to complete the "P" on their own (Preview). Then, I gave each student a different-colored post-it. I used the four colors that we used to color-code our POETS strategy: blue, green, red, and yellow. Whatever color the student received was the element of POETS that they had to hunt for.

Using their colors, they got into expert groups and marked evidence for their element. They wrote their answer statement on the post-it. Then they went back to their home groups and took turns teaching their element to their home teams.

Afterwards, I randomly called on students to come to the charted poem in the front of the room and share their evidence. They used their post-it to mark the line they found their evidence in.

To add to the challenge of the next round, I took the title off of the poem. Students used the POETS strategy to decide what the poem was all about, and then they came up with a title for the poem. They loved this lesson! They were each adamant that their own title was the best!

Over time, and after aligning this strategy 3-5, our students have started to show an improved confidence in reading poetry. They know where to start, what to look for, and how to help themselves! It's actually become one of their strengths!

In case you're looking to try out this new strategy, I have provided a day-by-day guide for introducing it to your class, complete with questioning, in my Teaching Reading by Genre product on TPT!

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