Thursday, April 17, 2014

Our latest book of the month: One Tiny Turtle!

Throughout the year, we've had several school-wide Books of the Month. Each month, every teacher receives a copy of the book and uses it to teach reading and writing lessons. This month (April), the Book of the Month is One Tiny Turtle by Nicola Davies. This book is the charming story of a Loggerhead Turtle's life and represents an incredible story of survival and instinct. It's a great book to integrate life science concepts, too. 
Whenever we have a new Book of the Month, I create a bulletin board to introduce the book to our teachers and students. This was our bulletin board this month.

To share the story of the turtle's life, I included sea turtle facts all over the board.

I was especially happy with the 3-D elements of the board, including the seaweed and the border. To make the ruffled border, I cut strips of butcher paper. I staple the end down onto the board, made a ruffle and stapled above it. Then I made another and stapled, and so on. It added some wavy-oceany-texture to the board!

Our first grade teachers were responsible for putting together a display to represent their student responses to the book, and they really rose to the occasion. It's a tall order because our display cases are large and take up an entire section of the main hallway - that's a lot of space to fill, but the teachers did an incredible job! Below are some of the adorable products they created with their kids! Each class made a special product to respond to the book!

These turtles feature life cycles on their shells!

Tissue paper turtles must have been so much fun to make!

The spirals include little cards where the students sequenced the events of the story, and below are 3-d dioramas of the sea turtle's nest.

The kids retold the maine events of the story in an accordion fold.

How cute are these 3-D shells? The teacher did a beautiful job of creating a realistic environment!

These turtles are hanging on strips of box tape back-to-back to make them look like they're swimming through the space!

That's a lot of display case!

The teachers did a beautiful job responding to our Book of the Month!
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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Summarizing Informational Texts: Using Main Ideas!

For the past few weeks, my job as a literacy coach has taken me into classrooms to support kids who are in need of some extra reading intervention. In the past, the model has been to pull these students out of the classroom, but the ore we pull kids out, the less they know what's going on, and they're often missing something important in the room. 

I have been working with kids in third, fourth, and fifth grade, and have really enjoyed it. It made me miss the classroom (for the most part!). 

After speaking with the teacher about what the students needed support in, we settled on some lessons about summarizing nonfiction. This is a difficult strategy for many students to apply. It requires them to identify the topic and then use that to determine what is important in each section of the text. Then we combine those important ideas into a complete summary. Here's what we did:

 We started out with a short text that I found at There are lots of great passages about all different topics, in fiction and expository format on Readworks. And it's free!

I used a blank thinking guide from Fisher Reyna Education to help us focus on the topic, main idea of the article, and the main ideas of each paragraph.

First we previewed the text including the title, subtitle, and any images or nonfiction features. We made a prediction based on this evidence, and we read through the article once to confirm or adjust our predictions.

After we read through once, we discussed the topic of the article and recorded it on our sheets. We then read through one paragraph at a time to identify the main idea of each paragraph. To help students do this, I ask them to notice repeated ideas and to identify what idea is supported in all the sentences of a paragraph, or what the sentences have in common.

Once we had identified each main idea, we decided to bundle them. We read through paragraphs one and two and identified the common idea in both of them. Then we left paragraph three by itself, combined four and five into one main idea, and combined six and seven into another. We wrote a few words to identify what bundles we had made.

Students had been practicing writing open-ended summaries for weeks, so I thought I'd try a scaffolded response by providing some choices. I wrote four different versions of a summary for the article. One was complete and accurately represented all of the main ideas we identified. The others were either missing an important piece and overly represented a small detail, or misrepresented some information in the article.

On each choice, the students identified which main ideas were represented and which pieces were omitted. After they evaluated each one, they chose the summary that most accurately represented the important information in the article. 

For a whole class setting, I have provided each group with a different version of a summary and had the team evaluate it. Then they had to get up and present to the rest of the class to explain whether their summary was a great choice or a less-than-great choice.

I found that providing some answer choices for the kids to evaluate helped them make the connection to test-taking without having to do passage after passage! A simple activity like this at the end of a close reading could help kids practice this skill in an easy way.

To get the Thinking Guide and any other tools for helping students be successful through an understanding of genre, check out FisherReyna Education on TPT!

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Dr. Seuss Display

So, like most of my big projects, this one was waaaaay overdue. But I wanted to share the display that I put together to celebrate Dr. Seuss and Read Across America! We had so many pictures of our kids and teachers participating in different events that I had to show it off!

I love using cute fonts to create displays -it adds so much texture!

I printed out the letters "Read Across America" in one of my favorite Kimberly Geswein fonts and cut them out. Then I taped them onto some colorful yarn and draped them across the top.

We printed out pictures of our kids celebrating Dr. Seuss and stuck them to the front of the display. We had pictures from our guest readers (read about that here). The kids LOVE to see themselves on display!

To tie up the ends, I made big yarn bows and taped them to the corners.

Inside, I put our collection of Seuss books and stuffed animals, along with the truffula trees and Seuss Arrows I made last week. You can read about how to make those here!
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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Using context clues effectively: not as easy as it sounds!

As adults, we have a fairly good vocabulary and often a pretty good intuition about what unknown words mean. We know which words are important to our understanding and which words are not so necessary. We an tell if a word has a positive or negative connotation from reading around it and gathering clues about the tone. We do lots of things naturally that help us not only figure out the meaning of unknown words, but understand how they relate to the words around them.
Kids.... not so much.
When we ask a child to use "context clues", most of the time they have no clue what we're talking about. Really take a minute and ask your students, "What are context clues?" and see what they say. It's enlightening and depressing all at the same time.
If kids are going to perform this very complex and sophisticated task of determining the meaning of unknown words, we have to help them understand a few things about how words relate to each other in a sentence, and how to use that to determine word meaning.
Introducing the Strategy
This is why I put together the Four Questions.

1. What job does the word do in the sentence?
Does it describe another word? Show you how something is done? Name an object?

2. What part of speech is the word?
If it names an object, it's a noun. If it describes a noun, it's an adjective. If it shows an action, it's a verb.

3. Which other words tell you about the word?
If the word is describing something, what do we know about that thing? If it's a verb, what is happening?
4. What word has a similar meaning to the word?
Are there words that would match the meaning of the word in that sentence, and relate to the other words in the same way?
There are a few variations of these questions, depending on what kids need. But as we worked with kids on using these four questions, we realized that something was missing - the big picture. In order to help students get a better idea of the context of the paragraph or story/article, we decided to zoom out and sketch what was happening at the time that word was introduced. We required the kids to use exact details in the paragraph.
One of my fifth grade teachers created this context clues mat to help students use the questions and a quick sketch to determine the meaning of unknown words.
The sketch really helped students determine the actual context of the word. If the word is "brush" and the context is describing a park with trees, bushes, and grass, the word "brush" is probably not going to mean "a tool with a handle and bristles". It's going to match the context, and mean "a clump of bushes."
Partner Practice & Guided Practice
To support this idea, and give kids practice with using context clues purposefully, I created some tools, such as task cards. One of my colleagues used them in her fourth grade classroom and really liked the focused, repetitious use of the strategy.

Students were placed in partners or threes to use the task cards.

After they read the paragraph on the card, they used a recording sheet with the questions on it to help them determine the meaning of the unknown word.

The hardest part was identifying the part of speech - this is unfortunately a difficult skill for our students. Relating it to the job the word does in the sentence was especially helpful.

While other students were working in teams or three, or partners, the teacher pulled over a small group of students who struggled with this skill and coached them through using the cards to practice their context clues.

Application to Test-Taking
Isn't this the hard part? We can have kids who verbalize and write about words very well, but when it is applied to a test-taking situation, they don't know how to transfer that learning. One of my fifth grade teachers made this chart with his students to reinforce the use of thinking through context clues in order to answer context clues-type test questions.
Using released tests and passages, the class identified three types of context clue-type questions. 
1. Figure out the meaning of the unknown word.
2. Match the dictionary meaning of a multiple-meaning word
3. Find a synonym or replacement word.
By isolating the questions they will see and how to use the strategy, students will be better prepared to use context clues in real reading as well as test-taking. 
If you'd like to try out the context clues task cards with your kids, just visit my TPT Store: Buzzing with Ms. B and check out the Reading Skills Pack: Context Clues.
What do you do to teach context clues?
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