Project-Based Learning for Homeschools and Remote Learning

“One of the major advantages of project work is that it makes school more like real life. It’s an in-depth investigation of a real-world topic worthy of children’s attention and effort.”-Education researcher Sylvia Chard

I couldn’t agree more with the quote above, but I’d like to add that in Project-Based Learning (PBL), students have a chance to integrate all of the skills they learn in different content areas…reading, writing, math, science, technology, critical thinking, creativity, and communication. The projects I’m sharing with you in this post would be perfect for implementing in either a homeschool setting a remote/digital learning platform.

1. TpT Buyers Passion Projects UnitPassion Projects: Hands down, this is one of THE BEST projects that I have done with students!  I first implemented it while working as a Gifted and Talented Facilitator at an elementary school. In one of the GT resources left for me in the cabinet, I found a page in a book that gave some ideas for doing something called “Passion Projects”. Immediately my interest was piqued and I began making plans to start this with all of my GT groups! Since a child, I have always been consumed with many passions…reading, history, learning, favorite TV shows/movies/music, family history, traveling, and photography. It dawned on me that I didn’t know what passions my students had and I set about finding out. I then put this project together as I went along. I have the entire unit, step by step, in a  Teachers Pay Teachers product (ON SALE FOR THE IMMEDIATE FUTURE). Below is an outline of how I facilitated the project:

  • I first facilitated discussions on what “passion” actually meant and what THEY were passionate about. I then had students survey other teachers, staff members and students as to what they were passionate about.
  • Next, I helped them to narrow down their huge topics, (such as Basketball or Minecraft) into something more manageable by having them create an essential question…something they want to explore within that huge topic. Thus the project became an Inquiry Project.
    • Examples of Essential Questions (from my former students!)
      • How and when were dogs domesticated?
      • How can I create a remote-controlled model airplane that will actually fly?
      • How do I become a master Lego builder?
      • How do you use Redstone in Minecraft?
      • What are the different steps it takes to write and publish a book?
      • How is math used in video games?
      • What are the origins of hockey?
  • I had students seek out an expert on their topic so they could interview them…whether it was a friend of their parents, a book author (one author actually did a phone call with my student!), or someone we found online and contacted. With my help, we were able to find experts for every student!
  • Next came the research…students used their experts’ information, the internet, books, magazines, and online articles. I had them use a graphic organizer (copy in the product) to organize their research. I had to remind them to make sure the information they were collecting directly related to that Essential Question.
  • Once their research was done, they were given a choice of how they wanted to display their project…display board, Google Slideshow, video, self-made book, demonstrations, experiments, etc. I then set up a day where students were able to present their project to parents, school staff and other students. Even if your child is at home while schools are closed, it’s important they present, even if it’s via Facetime or Google Hangout to family, relatives, friends, classmates, their teacher, etc. 
  • Check out. few sample projects below!

My Passion Project Unit has ALL the templates and directions for this project. You can also check my previous blog on Passion Projects!

D924823A-11D4-4257-BDD9-1A2682751549Informational Text Project:
My 3rd-grade student and I read this Reading a-z leveled book together and she really connected with it because her family travels quite a bit. We began researching the beaches she read about and finding photos. She put all of her learnings from the book, new learning from her internet research, and photos into a Google Drive presentation. Not long after, her family traveled to Hawaii and she got to visit a black sand beach and brought back a bottle of black sand! She was so excited to show it to me!

91QNxtwd+wL Choose Your Own Adventure

Choose Your Own Adventure Project: Remember these books? They were SO popular back when I was teaching in the 90s! Now your kids can create their own with a Google Slides template! To begin the project, I had my student go through a sample CYA slideshow to get a feel for how this genre works. I then had my student come up with a story idea, plan out settings, characters, plot, and the resolution. For several of the plot points, I had him come up with four different choices that the reader could take. Next came the photos for the presentation. I had him use either Pixabay or Unsplash to find photos, as these are all open source and copyright free.  With his story plan, choices and photos ready, he was ready to start on the slideshow template…and he REALLY enjoyed it! The hardest part was keeping all the slides straight so that when the reader clicks their choice, they are taken to the correct slide. Check out his finished version here and be careful making your choices!

Copy of 25 Poppasome Tokens of AppreciationNational Monument Project: This project was created after my first EVER visit to Washington D.C. last spring. Being a teacher and a history fan, I was thrilled beyond belief to see our nation’s iconic buildings and monuments. Being the teacher I am, I started wondering how many kids know WHAT our National Monuments are and WHO they honor, so I created a Google Slideshow using my photos from my visit, and showed my students the monuments and had them try to identify them. Sadly, not many were able to identify them, no matter what grade they were in! So the slideshow turned into another Teachers Pay Teachers product…including the initial slideshow and a project involving reading, writing, research, technology, and creativity on famous Americans who also need to have a National Monument.

  • We explored ideas for famous Americans who should have a monument using the internet, articles and background knowledge. Once the student settled on a person, I gathered books, online articles, and videos together to help the student research. I had each create a thesis to help narrow down the research, just like the Essential Question in the Passion Project. Here are a few of their thesis statements:
    • Neil Armstong should have a monument because he was the first man to step on the moon and more.
    • Many famous Americans have national memorials, but one that is missing is Katherine Johnson, who inspired many girls and women throughout the world TO NEVER GIVE UP ON THEIR DREAMS! Here are the reasons that Katherine Johnson needs a national monument.
    • There are many monuments honoring famous Americans. There is one missing, female codebreakers from WWII. They broke drug and spy rings and helped the US military win WWII. Their work was the foundation for cybersecurity. Not many people know about their work. Women codebreakers definitely need a monument. 
  • After using all forms of media for research, the students created a Google slideshow. I then helped them write narration. We downloaded the slideshow into Keynote (PowerPoint will work too!), had them add narration and export into a video.
  • I then had the student create a model of the research and let them choose the medium they wanted to use. One student chose to do a 3D virtual model using a website called 3D Slash, and two others chose to use modeling clay and paint. They first designed their monument on paper, then launched into their creations. You can see their final products
  • Finally, we downloaded the slideshow into Keynote (PowerPoint will work too!), had them add narration and export into a video.
  • Check out their finished versions with the links below and the slideshow of their project work.

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I am so proud of these students and I know this would be perfect for your students while they are undertaking homeschooling or remote learning at home.  The initial slideshow and all instructions and templates can be found in my Teachers Pay Teachers product, which just like the Passion Project, is ON SALE to help parents and teachers during this unprecedented time. Please let me know of any questions you have and how I can help in the comments below!

 

 

Reading Resources for Homeschool and Remote Learning

“The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other. Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives.” – Robert John Meehan.

Right now, many parents are having to become their child’s teacher and it’s so important that teachers and parents support each other during the coronavirus and school closures! I’ve seen that all the teacher-bloggers are writing about how parents can support their child’s learning at home, and how teachers can set up remote learning opportunities for their child. I thought I would weigh in on some of my favorite resources for teaching reading that can easily be used at home.

Newsela: Grades 3-12:  I have used this website full or informational articles for years, even though in the last year they made much of the content only accessible via a paid subscription. But upon visiting their website today, I saw this amazing announcement!

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The articles are either taken from newspapers around the world and adapted for various reading levels, or are written specifically for students. In addition to news articles, they have biographies, primary sources, famous speeches, and pro/con pieces. Each article comes with a writing prompt and a quiz. The quizzes can be very challenging, and I spend time teaching my students how to use close reading for the questions and strategies for choosing the correct answer.  I have used this Newsela reading log for my students to keep track of their articles and scores. I have also used a Google spreadsheet with bar graphs for a more visual representation of the students’ progress; feel free to copy the sample and use it for your child or students! FYI…parents can sign up for a parent account!


Readworks (1st – 12th): Both parents and teachers can sign up for free accounts on this outstanding website for reading passages. You can find fiction stories, narrative poems, biographies, and informational articles on anything. Each passage comes with a question set, vocabulary activities and a writing prompt that always requires the student to provide text evidence in their response. I used these free resources from Jennifer Findley’s website to help students with finding evidence.  Readworks is also offering tips on remote learning, as well as a webinar on “Effective Remote Learning”; click HERE for more information.


Learning A-Z/Reading A-Z (K-8): Learning A-Z is offering FREE digital resources to teachers for the rest of the school year…learn more HERE! I love this website so much that when I started my tutoring business, I bought a yearly subscription for $109.95 – one of the best buys ever! This website has leveled books, both fiction and non-fiction, as well as phonics, sight word, and reading comprehension passages and activities.  I could not begin to dream of teaching reading without this website! Important tip: In order to save paper and printing costs, I download the books or passages on my Macbook, put them in my iCloud folder and then open up the folder on my iPad for students to read. They can also highlight the text on the iPad!

And….if this website wasn’t already incredible, they recently added graphic books! This has been a HUGE hit with my tutoring students!


Common Lit (Grade 3-12) is yet another excellent website for students to practice reading skills and strategies, and both teachers and parents can sign up for accounts. You can students into your roster, then assign reading passages (they have both fiction and informational text, as well as excerpts from novels) that come with an assessment and writing and discussion prompts. My favorite feature is being able to turn on the “guided reading mode” which allows the student to read part of the article, then answer a comprehension question before more text appears. This helps the student to read for meaning and think about the text while reading. For my tutoring students who are struggling readers, this is a huge help! Here’s their information on how they can help teachers with remote learning. (Note: While they have some passages for younger students, it’s mostly geared for grades 5 and up.)

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Just a few more online reading resources…

Tween Tribune from the Smithsonian – reading passages for K-12
Colorado Kids and the Mini Page
Kids’ Magazines (see photos below)

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Tell me in the comments about other reading resources for learning at home and watch for more posts soon on resources for teaching writing and math virtually or at home! Remember, we’re all in this together!

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CCIRA 2020 Recap: Ideas Galore for Teachers!

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing you can do is keep your mind young.  Mark Twain

I have been attending the wonderful CCIRA (Colorado Association of the International Literacy Association) conference for over 20 years, and have presented there many times, including two different presentations this year, one on using Lego projects to foster reading and writing skills, the other on teaching literacy through genre studies (More on these presentations in future blogs!). I chose these session topics since the theme of the conference was “Innovation: Imagining the future of literacy.” While working in schools, I used shared my notes and learnings with the teachers at my school, but since I’m retired, I’m going to share all that I learned about teaching reading and writing with all of you!  I hope that you are able to grab a few good ideas from the sessions I attended.

At her session on teaching writing skills first to students so they can learn to read as a writer, Colleen Cruz, one of the authors of the Units of Study series, shared several ideas that resounded with me:

  • We need to let kids talk about books that they “love to hate”. Of course, as teachers, we always need to foster a love (or at least a strong liking) for reading, but it’s unrealistic to expect that all students will love all the books they read. We teachers all have books we LOVE to hate! Mine are a few gems from Honors English in high school: The Odyssey by Homer and The Prince by Machiavelli. There are several books I’ve abandoned as adults, but I can’t say I hated them like I hated those two. What about you? What books do you love to hate?  Share in the comments below!
  • Cruz made a great point about the difference between editing and revising, saying that anyone can edit writing, even someone else’s writing. But not just anyone can revise someone’s writing…the author should be the only one to. This gave me a pause, as while working with students on many a writing piece, I feel that the younger students need to have someone explicitly model how to revise as that is a very high-level thinking skill. They can quickly understand the concept of fixing mistakes, but too often they feel that once that is done, they are done with the piece. I’ve had to approach this skill very tactfully, by giving them suggestions and ideas on improving their writing such as, “Do you think it would make more sense…” or “Do you think this sounds better…” or “Would your character really say or do this?” But I fully agree that once students are older and understand the concept of revising, they should be in charge of the revision.
  • Critical literacy was a theme at not only Cruz’s presentation, but at a session on Media Literacy, presented by Tracie King, a media specialist from my former district, Douglas County Schools in Colorado. Both Cruz and King shared videos from the Fortnite game. We had discussions about not only the violence in the videos but the lack of emotion from the characters when they end up to be the last man standing…having killed all the others and blown up many buildings. Cruz made the point that video games have become the new “backyard”; many parents just open the back door and let them go play, without thinking of the consequences of what they might be playing at. She also had kids watch a video clip from Thor and count how many times violent acts appear in the video. King uses these questions adapted from the Center for Media Literacy:Screen Shot 2020-02-08 at 1.28.12 PM
  • I once again attended an excellent presentation on exploring narrative possibilities by a former Douglas County district colleague, Jennifer Gottshalk, a writing specialist.  She offered so many fun ideas for kids in narrative writing:
    • She presented several old, run-of-the-mill prompts to use on National Tell a Lie Day, April 4th (I had no idea this holiday existed). She had us take one of these “tired” prompts and craft a believable lie around it. I wrote one about a trip to Australia (never been there) and the horrific journey there, with canceled flights, terrible hotels, etc. IMG_5967
    • Another great option for writing prompts…a kid-friendly version of the Cards Against Humanity, called Not Parent Approved.  This game (which I am planning to get for the whole family, grandkids included) has some hysterical prompts on cards that your students would love writing about!Screen Shot 2020-02-09 at 10.08.12 AM
    • Another fabulous idea…you can type in your search bar the words: Visual Writing Prompt and find some amazing ideas to use with your students! You can filter the results to match your grade level or types of prompts (note: check it out first on your own before you project to students; internet searches can yield some “interesting” things!)Screen Shot 2020-02-09 at 10.04.05 AM
      • Jennifer offered another source for photos, but without captions, for writing prompts, Unsplash. My tip for the same kind of photos is Pixabay.
    • A few other ideas for writing prompts from Jennifer:
      • What is the “cheese touch” on your school’s playground? (And check out the hilarious clip from The Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie!)
      • How about this for a prompt…memoirs from a Disney Princess (or any other franchise character kids like!). Jennifer first showed us this video clip from Wreck-it Ralph which features pretty much every Disney princess ever…this will help kids to choose one. Here’s my “memoir” from Cinderella: “Everyone remembers me as sweet, good, kind, cheerful, blah blah blah. But that’s not really me…that’s what you saw in the movie. I am a fully rounded person with good AND bad traits! For example, when riding the royal carriage, I silently swear at other carriage drivers. I also send anonymous hate Tweets to my stepmother and stepsisters (they deserve it!). And, when eating at the royal banquets, I’m supposed to eat like a bird, so I grab some extra rolls and put them in my royal handbag to enjoy later…”
    • By the way, Jennifer is a published author of some young adult books! Check out her website!Screen Shot 2020-02-09 at 10.32.33 AM
  • Todd Mitchell, another Colorado children’s book author, shared with us some ideas for quick writing games, mostly around poetry. One is a “Lost and Found” poem; he had us make a list of things we have lost, then things we have found. He said these items you love and find should not be objects; he pushed us (as we should do with students), to go deeper than that. Here is my attempt as the poem:
    • I lost…my ability to go down the stairs without holding on to a rail.
    • I lost my little daughters who are now grown up into young women.
    • I lost my “school family” when I retired.
    • I found my purpose when I became a teacher
    • I found sleep when I retired from teaching
    • I found a new family when I married my husband.
  • After we wrote these poems in our session, he asked someone to share, then he had another person volunteer to be the “official listener”; they were the person who would listen carefully, then volunteer their feedback. Todd only allows positive feedback from the official listener. I think this is such a great idea; this ensures that someone is going to offer the brave soul who shares their poem some feedback!

That wraps up my feedback for CCIRA! I hope that you are able to try a few of these ideas in your classroom; if you do, please post in the comments!  Stay tuned for my blog posts on using Legos for reading and writing activities and teaching literacy through Genre Studies (Part 2). Here are a few sneak peek photos!

From Thanksgiving to New Year’s: Holiday Activities for the Classroom!

Blog Happy Holidays

The holidays are coming up before you know it, it’s time to get some activities ready for this busy holiday season! I remember that December was one of the hardest months for me to teach as I was not only trying to keep excited kids engaged and learning, but I also had all of the family Christmas shopping and preparation going on. So I hope that these ideas will make your holiday season a little easier!

Holiday Roll a Math-Word-Problem Story

My tutoring students and I have had so much fun with this for the past few years, and I wish I had created this during my school teaching days! Many of the students I work with do fine with math computation, but when it comes to integrating reading into math, they have difficulty. So in addition to having students use close reading to SOLVE math word problems, having them WRITE their own word problems opens up a whole new way of thinking. Not only do they need to come up up with a challenging word problem, but they also need to craft a real-world situation around that problem. Here’s a great blog post from Primarily Speaking on having younger students write their own word problems. Here’s another resource from ThoughtCo. for you on how to lead students through writing word problems.

Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 8.09.19 PMIn my product, Teachers Pay Teachers Year-Round Roll-a-Math-Problem Story, I have sheets for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s (as well as all of the rest of the holidays The product will open in Google Drive so you can make your own copy, and on many of the sheets are links for students to find out more about customs, traditions, and people of holidays. I am also currently working on a Hanukkah one and will update the product in TpT soon. Check the slideshow below to see some past ones written by my tutoring students for both Halloween and Thanksgiving.

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Do you want a FREEBIE of this fun, easy activity? Keep reading!

Fantasy Holiday Shopping!

Oh my gosh, my students had SO much fun with this during the last holiday season! This is such a perfect way to get students to practice their math computation skills in an authentic way. I saved all my Christmas catalogs that came in the mail and brought them to the tutoring session, along with the handout I needed for the math work: addition, subtraction, multiplication or division. Students then went on a “shopping spree” using the catalogs, recording their items and the cost and then doing the appropriate computation. I had a few students make a presentation of their “shopping” and had them include WHO the gift was for, and why they were getting that particular gift for them…so there’s a literacy integration as well!

CLICK HERE TO GRAB YOUR COPY OF FANTASY HOLIDAY GIFT SHOPPING!

Fantasy Holiday Gift Shopping (1)   A8F2BD1F-42DF-431D-9BFE-88C40EED1D2B

Using the same “Fantasy Shopping” idea, I had my high school student use her list of vocabulary words taken from texts we had read and then use those words in explanations of what luxury item gifts she could buy if she had the money.  I gave her a list of websites with outrageous, incredibly expensive gifts. This was great practice in using words in context, as well as utilizing descriptive words.

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Another holiday vocabulary activity I did with a middle school student was to have her choose words from her personal word wall on Padlet (these were words from texts we had read that she was unfamiliar with), and use a FREE account on Smilebox to create greeting cards with these words. Again, a great way to practice writing skills and using vocabulary in context. In her cards below, can you tell which ones her vocabulary words? 🙂

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I hope you and your friends and family have a wonderful holiday season!

Here’s your freebie…click HERE to receive your Freebie of the Christmas Roll-a-Word Problem story! Click HERE to purchase the entire year-round set of the roll-a-word problems!

Copy of Math Roll-a-Word Problem

 

Is Your Classroom Literacy Rich? Part 3: Classroom Libraries

I believe that a classroom library is the heartbeat of a teacher’s environment. It is the window into an educator’s own personality, and it reflects the importance of literacy in the classroom. I believe that every teacher — no matter what subject he or she teaches — should have one.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron on Edutopia

Growing up, my favorite place in the world was a library, and it still is! As an adult, I have continued to frequent public libraries, first with my daughters while they were growing up and now on my own.  I love that the majority of tutoring I do takes place in public libraries! I remember clearly being in the library of Hartman Elementary School in Omaha Nebraska, around 1968 and discovering Little House on the Prairie, the book that for me, changed my life.  I had been a voracious reader before that, but this was a book I connected to in a powerful way.

Teachers need to ensure that our students have opportunities to connect with books, right in their classrooms. Classroom libraries are one of the most important elements of a Literacy-Rich Environment.  In my previous post on this topic, I provided an overview of all the important literacy elements for a classroom. Now it’s time to delve more into how to make your classroom library the best it can be!

All students must be able to access, use, and evaluate information in order to meet the needs and challenges of the twenty-first century. – NCTE Statement, May 2017

Note the use of the words “all students”. Classroom libraries are most often associated with primary classrooms, but they need to be in intermediate, middle and high school classrooms. One of my former school colleagues, who now teaches middle school writing, sent me photos of her classroom library in response to a request for photos. She said that her students always ask why she has a classroom library if she teaches writing! I applaud her for having the library, pictured below, because as Stephen King says, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

Middle School Classroom Library
Carol’s Middle School Writing Classroom Library

But classroom libraries are not just for reading and writing teachers in middle and high school! Content area teachers should not only have books on and about their content in their classrooms but all kinds of reading material…fiction, informational books, resource, magazines, etc. There will always be those early finishers…of assignments or tests. Why not have reading material handy? Perhaps one of those students in your math class might come across one of your favorite books and ask to borrow it? Every teacher can make a difference in the reading life of a student! Check out the classroom libraries in these classrooms: (l–r, top to bottom – science, art, art again and music). By the way, I put out several requests to teachers for photos of classroom libraries in math, science, social studies, industrial arts, etc. and received NO response.  Do you know of any teachers who have one? Let me know!

Now, down to the nuts and bolts of putting together a classroom library. In a presentation at CCIRA many years ago, Linda Cornwell, formerly of Scholastic books, stated that students in classrooms with well-designed and well-stocked library collections:

  • exhibit more positive attitudes toward reading
  • read more widely for a variety of purposes
  • demonstrate higher levels of reading achievement

In addition, she suggested the classroom library should:

  • look inviting to all students
  • be organized for easy access and materials
  • include a comfortable area for reading
  • offer an array of materials from many genres

Some things to consider when organizing your library:

    • How will you store your books to make sure they can be easily accessible to students?
      • My personal preference is colorful, plastic tubs, or even just clear ones. But years ago, while in observing in a classroom, I found this unique storage system…one of those rotating racks they have in stores for browsing!
    • Do you have guidelines for the use of the library?
      • I’m sure you don’t want students getting up in the middle of an important lesson to browse for books, so you need to let them know then the library is “open” and when it is “closed”. You could create some signs for your library letting them know when it’s okay to browse. In addition, there need to be guidelines for when students are using the library…here are some ideas:
        • how to respect books
        • how to shelve books back in the correct place
        • the use of quiet voices in the library and the importance of respecting others’ reading time
        • And for even more ideas on guidelines, you can find so many ready-made posters on Teachers Pay Teachers!

  • Have you shown students how to find materials?  Are there signs to help them?
    • Just as modeling when teaching something new to your students, you will need to model and/or explain how to use and check out and return materials from the library. The younger the student, the more modeling is needed. For secondary classrooms, the procedures can be more relaxed, but I’m sure you still don’t want to lose everything in your library! Check out this teacher’s blog post on how she introduces her classroom library to her students!
  • How have you categorized and arranged the materials?  Does the organization promote the reading of different types of materials?

    • I love that Teachers Pay Teachers have sellers who offer book bin labels in all genres! And of course, you can always make your own!
    • I found several blogs and websites for ideas on how to organize your library. This blog discusses organizing the library by genre; Reading Rockets stresses that there is no right or wrong way to organize and they offer several suggestions, including the reminder to LABEL your books so they can find their way home if misplaced. Here’s a blog on Scholastic with more organization ideas.
  • Does your library invite browsing and using? Is there a comfortable area to read?
    • Check out these photos and decide for yourself! (Note that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to make it inviting and have comfortable seating…pillows, a rug, a lamp, beach chairs….just simple things will work!
  • Do many of the books have their covers facing out?
    • I had never even thought about having my books facing out (probably because I was an intermediate teacher coming from a high school teaching job) until I read the chapter in Jim Trelease’s book, The Read-Aloud Handbook, and learned about rain gutters in the classroom…wait, what? Rain gutters? YES! Trelease promoted the practice of hanging rain gutters on your classroom wall in order to house books with their covers facing out. Think about it…when you go to a book store next time, look around to see HOW many books are facing out so buyers will notice them.  So, the same thing in the classroom; books facing out will help the “buyers” in your classroom notice books easier. And while you are teaching a lesson, those students whose minds wander can study all the books and decide which one to check out sooner.
    • After I talked about this idea and showed photos at our district literacy training sessions, we suddenly had a rash of rain gutters popping up in classrooms! Eventually, when new schools were built, shelves specifically for this purpose were added. But even if you don’t have shelving like this, there are other ways to have your books facing out. Check out the photo gallery below.

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Oh, and last but not least…if you are a new teacher who does not have many books for your library, and you can’t necessarily afford a binge at Barnes and Noble…here are a few ideas for finding books:

  • Retiring teachers
  • Garage and estate sales
  • Library used book sales
  • Donors Choose
  • Ask parents for book donations
  • Use book club points
  • Craig’s List and eBay
  • Scholastic warehouse sales
  • Create an Amazon wish list and share with parents
  • Kids Need to Read donation application

A classroom library: If you build it, they will read.

– Jim Bailey, title of his Nerdy Book Club blog post

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Genre Study: Comic Books & Graphic Novels

The motivational quality of comic books constitutes an enticing appeal to reluctant readers that may serve to hook them on reading. If we can get students to read and enjoy reading, strategy instruction will become both meaningful and effective.

Melissa Barbee, ILA Literacy Daily

In my last post, I discussed how I used to teach literacy to my 5th and 6th graders through genre study… the best thing I ever did in teaching literacy! I also introduced my new Teachers Pay Teachers product, a complete genre study unit for both elementary and secondary teachers!

TpT Genre Study Unit Cover

One of my genre categories in the product is graphic novels and comic books. I was a HUGE fan of comics back in the 60s and 70s…my two favorites were the Archie comics and DC Illustrated Classics (two VERY different comic book genres!). I was already a passionate reader of regular books, so unlike other children, comics weren’t instrumental in me learning to read, but just another genre I loved!

However, for many of today’s children, who grow up surrounded by a plethora of visual media, comics can provide the perfect gateway into reading, as can graphic novels. While teaching my genre units back in the 90s, I did not even remotely think about using comics as a genre (I wish I could go back and yell at myself!), and graphic novels were not common yet. Today’s teachers have a wealth of resources in both of these areas to share with their students!

Back in May of this year, I attended the Denver Pop Culture Con, which is presented by Pop Culture Classroom, whose mission it is to “inspire a love of learning, increase literacy, celebrate diversity and build community through the tools of popular culture and the power of self-expression” (taken from the home page of their website). This organization provides a wealth of resources for teachers who want to introduce the genres of comic books and graphic novels into their classroom, as well as resources on how students can create their own comics!

I attended several sessions led by authors and artists of comics and graphic novels who shared some of the latest and greatest graphic novels out there; so many of them turn events and people in history into a comics format; others include more diversity in their characters.  I took plenty of photos of the books they were discussing…check them out below in the slideshow with my descriptions/thoughts!

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Back in my literacy coaching/training days (2006=2009), I learned about Comic Life and loved all the ways the teachers in my district were using these! I’m sure Comic Life is bigger and better now, so students can do so much more with this app! Take a peek at the slideshow:

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Of course, being a tech geek, I had to try it out as well, so I made a comic about my cat! But see how much fun your students could have both writing and reading through a comics medium?

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I plan to have several of my tutoring students explore this genre in the near future, and will share what they read and create. See below for all kinds of resources for you…and thanks for reading my blog!

Pop Culture Classroom:
Graphic Novels Teaching Guides
Educational Comix Series
Curricula Units
Lending Library (currently only for schools in the Denver Metro Area)
More Comics Resources

Other Resources:
Comic Life in Education
Copetoons: Comic resources for kids and educators from Mike Cope
Abdo Digital Bookshelf (Comic books that can be checked out digitally!)
My Google Drive Folder
Hoopla: Check out digital comic books with a library card
Comics Plus app: Another site where you can check out digital comics with a library card
My Pinterest board for elementary comic books and graphic novels, and my secondary board for the same genre

If you have or are currently using comic books and graphic novels in your classroom, please add your thoughts and ideas down in the comments!

Pinterest Poster: Comics & Graphic Novels
Image by InspiredImages from Pixabay

Teaching Literacy through Genres

..when students learn how to recognize and use genres, they are building the background they need to cope with new and unfamiliar texts. – Emily Kissler, ASCD

Growing up, I was a voracious reader, and all the books I read were from many different genres.  While raising my own daughters, I encouraged them to also read a wide variety of genres…and when I started teaching, I taught literacy through genres. No state standard, principal, or colleague told me I had to do it that way; it just made sense to me! By organizing my instruction around genres, I was able to meet both the state and district standards in both reading and writing. In addition, I was able to teach such skills and topics as reading strategies, as well as grammar, punctuation, and spelling throughout our work in the genres.

Here were the steps I used 25 years ago to teach each of the genres and how I think it should be done now:

  1. I would first introduce each genre, going over the defining characteristics of the genre. Now, I would have the kids read several short excerpts or passages from the chosen genre and have them come up with common elements for the genre.
  2. Students would then choose novels from the targeted genre, either from my classroom library or with the help of the school media specialist. One change I would make: in addition to their novel, I have them read several short reading passages in each of the genres, perhaps during guided reading groups. One book in the genre is not enough to expose a genre to the students.
  3. For some of the genres, I would have students write a story in that genre. For example, during our historical fiction unit, I combined literacy and social studies by having them choose a period in history, research that period, then write a short fiction story set during that time period. One year we had a “History Fair” where the students created a display board on that time period, gathered or made artifacts and other books, and shared their historical fiction story with parents and other students.  Here are a few photos from that event! Now in our technology era, students could now do a multimedia presentation on their historical period!

    After our Folk and Fairy Tale unit, I had students write their fractured Cinderella story. We had stories set on ranches where the Cinderella character lost her cowboy boot, and one in a bowling area where she lost her bowling shoe!
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  4. If I did not have students write a story in that genre, we would integrate the arts into the genre study…such as creating Medusa masks to go along with our Mythology unit, or performing fractured fairy tale skits! No updates; this stuff is STILL fun!

5. During our poetry genre unit, my students read, discussed and wrote many different types of poems: haikus, narrative, concrete, free verse, cinquain, diamante, etc. Each student then had their poems put together in a booklet. Later, while working with my GT students, I did the same thing but had them create their portfolio in Google Slides.

After retiring from the school district, I started my own tutoring business and still used the genre approach with many of my students. I found that struggling readers, in particular, have not been exposed to many genres and really need that exposure to them before secondary school. I created a Google Doc listing all the genres so the student could keep track of each genre read and answer questions about the genre.

Miah Genre Study_Page_1Riley Reading Genre Project_Page_1I also have my tutoring students write in some of the genres. Here a few examples of their writing!

Riley Gregory Fable draft
Fable!
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After reading mysteries, my student wrote her own mystery!
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Fractured Fairy Tale based on Hansel & Gretel

I also created a Quizlet so my students can test themselves on all of the reading genres; click HERE to access it!

I love teaching about and through genres so much that I had to put this entire unit together into a Teachers Pay Teachers product. This is a COMPLETE unit that can be accessed in Google Drive for both elementary and secondary teachers!  The unit includes:

  • Links to my Elementary Genre Study Pinterest board and Secondary Genre Study Pinterest board with hundreds of book choices for ALL genres! Oh, now YOU have the links! 🙂 Many picture books are included in addition to chapter books. These boards will continue to be updated as I find more books!
  • A link to my personal Google Drive folder with hundreds of reading passages, short stories and teacher resources in ALL genres! (Sorry, no link…it’s in the product, though!)
  • A Google Doc for students with activities based on Bloom’s Taxonomy for ALL genres!
  • A Google Doc with hundreds of links to teacher resources!

Here’s a sneak preview:

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Click HERE to check out my Genre Study unit on Teachers Pay Teachers!

And don’t forget to follow my 50 Pinterest boards JUST for teachers! Click HERE!

And as always, I welcome your questions and comments below! Thank you for reading this blog!

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A Back to School Unit: The I Am Journey

How do I show up in the world? How do I want to show up in the world? What do I want to give and receive out of life?”

Joy Thomas, on the Crixeo website

On the first day of school, and the first week and the first month…students and teachers are busy getting to know one another through a variety of activities. But it’s also important for students to get to know themselves! In this post, I will share with you a few ideas that will serve as both a way for you and other students to find about each other and for students to explore themselves as individuals, learners, and citizens of the world. I call of these activities the “I Am Journey.”

The first idea is a super fun activity I did with my 5th and 6th graders during the first week of school! I can’t remember where I got the idea from (this was 23 years ago!), but I found directions for you online on how to create these. Using butcher paper and markers, I had students help each other to trace their body outlines, and then cut it out. Next, they created a “Me Collage”, adding in words, designs, photos, and illustrations of who they were as a person, and as well as their favorite hobbies and passions. The students presented their Me Collages to the class, then we hung him in the hallway. Check out some of their creations below!

 

While working as a Gifted and Talented Facilitator, I used a poem format that I’m sure many of you are aware of…the I Am Poem! I chose this poem because my goal for the year was to help students develop a sense of identity and become self-regulated learners.  I then discovered a unit in the Autonomous Learner Model book by George Betts, called “Journey Into Self.”  The same publisher also has another unit called “Journey Into My World”. I decided to build my year-long theme around this concept and to launch the theme, I had students create visual I Am Poems!

To start with, I created an I Am Poem for myself to serve as a model for the students, then walked them through the creation of their own poem, using THIS template. You can find many variations of this same template online.  Here’s a sample poem that one of my students created. Next, I had students use copyright-free images they found online (that’s an entire lesson in and of itself!) to turn their poem into a visual I Am Poem. Most students used Google Slideshows, but some used other media such as a movie with music. Another student used Glogster to create her visual poem.  You can check out some of their presentations HERE; many had their photo on the initial slide and throughout the poem, so I had to delete those for student privacy. Below are some images from their presentations.

The classroom teacher for my 5th grade GT students wanted the students to create math goals in their Advanced Learning Plan, so I had them all create a math version of the I Am Poem.  Then, at the end of the year, I had all of my students complete an End of Year I Am Poem to reflect on their learning throughout the year. Many added in this update to their original Google Slide presentations. Here are some examples of what they added about their learning during the past year:

My younger students did something called an I Am Story.  Click HERE for an example by one of my students and HERE for the template.

And here’s an idea I always wanted to do, but never got around to it…creating an “I Am” Wall with the students’ names and the first line from their poem!

I Am Wall

I hope that you will use the “I Am” poem with your students! Let me know your thoughts or questions in the comments below!

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Copy of Copy of Teacher Resource Round-Up!

Sharing about Shared Reading: Part 1

Shared reading can be a powerful collaborative method to help students become proficient readers, and it can be used in all content areas!

Shared Reading is the second in a series of posts about Balanced Literacy elements in the classroom. In my last post, I wrote about Read Aloud with a Purpose, where the teacher reads aloud short pieces of text for a specific teaching purpose. Beside modeling reading behaviors, the teacher also thinks aloud about the text. Shared Reading is the next step; the teacher and class come together to read aloud and discuss text projected on a screen or chart paper. Shared reading is NOT the same as choral reading, which used to be common in classrooms, but now is most often used for fluency and expression practice.

In the gradual release of responsibility model, shared reading falls under “I do, you help” or “We do.” For struggling or reluctant readers, this is a powerful way to help them practice their reading skills without being singled out. The teacher’s voice leads the way, and the students join in. Depending on the text used, shared reading can be a powerful classroom community building opportunity.Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 8.31.32 PM

The Nuts and Bolts of Shared Reading

  • The text should be chosen in order to teach a specific reading strategy or lesson
  • The text should be enlarged via chart paper, document camera or laptop/projector
  • Students and teachers are reading together from the same piece of enlarged text; students should NOT have their own copy. Students can too easily drop out mentally from the lesson if looking at the text on their desks.
  • The text should be tracked by the teacher or the student, using either a pointer (if text is on a screen or chart paper) or with a pencil or finger (if under a doc camera).
  • The teacher’s voice support needs to be heard; this helps make the text accessible to all readers.
  • During and/or after the shared reading, the teacher and students can discuss the text and/or the reading strategy being used.

Also, the same piece of text can be used all week long for different teaching purposes. For example, on the first day students can respond to the text; the second day, a specific comprehension strategy can be discussed, and on another day, unfamiliar vocabulary can be addressed. The text is read aloud each day by teacher and students to assist with fluency skills.  Check out the sample week long plan below and click HERE for a blank copy!

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Texts to use in Shared Reading

  • Poems and song lyrics: These types of text are perfect for not only fluency practice, but for many lessons on theme, style, vocabulary and inferences. (Stay tuned for my next blog on shared reading lessons using song lyrics!)
  • Content area text from textbooks, journal, articles: Avoid using the entire piece as a shared read; instead, use carefully chosen excerpts to make a teaching point or to focus on a comprehension strategy.
  • Test and assignment directions: How many times do students start on something without bothering to read the directions? By doing a shared read, students cannot avoid these, and through discussion will have a good understanding of what they need to do.
  • Cartoon strips: Depending on the cartoon, many comprehension strategies, such as inferring and context clues can be taught after a shared reading.
  • Content area vocabulary words (each used in a sentence): This helps students understand how the words are actually pronounced and the meaning can be inferred via context clues.

Quotes: There are so many wonderful, meaningful quotes out there and they can foster some fantastic discussions! Using these as a shared read and discussion is a great way to start each day! Below are some of my favorites.

 

 

For students to become proficient readers, they need to participate in shared learning experiences with the teacher. Not all learning should be in isolation. Remember, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller

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Image by geralt on Pixabay

In my next post, I will focus more on using song lyrics for shared reading, and all the fun, learning…and singing you and your students can do in your own classroom!

P.S. Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, here’s a Teachers Pay Teachers freebie for you…a St. Patrick’s Day Roll-a-Math-Word Problem Story!

TpT St. Patrick's Day Math Roll-a-StoryThis is a sample from my full product, Year-Round Math Roll-a-Word Problem Stories! All you need is a pair of dice, and students can have fun rolling for their math operation, character, setting and problem. Students will use both math and writing skills by creating the word problem, solving it and then explaining their method for solving. Students can also create word problems,  exchange with others and solve! 

Click Here to Download!

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Read Aloud…with a Purpose!

Reading aloud in the classroom is not just a one time a day activity, and it is not only for elementary students. Teachers can use short, purposeful read alouds in all grades and all content areas!

The single most important activity for building the background knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.”

Becoming a Nation of Readers, 1985

Yes, that quote is over 30 years old…but it is STILL true! Reading aloud to kids…by parent, teachers and other adults in their lives is crucial to reading success!

In my post last week, I gave an overview of Balanced Literacy Elements and wrote about the problem of trying to fit all of these into your daily ELA block…but that’s impossible! In order to ensure our students are proficient readers and ready for the high amount of expository reading they will encounter in secondary school, we MUST be teaching and using reading and writing strategies in content areas. This first breakout post will help you understand Read Aloud with a Purpose (RAWAP) and how this can be used in not only the literacy part of your day but in the rest of your day as well!

Screen Shot 2019-02-25 at 1.46.29 PMRead Aloud with a Purpose is not the same as your scheduled “read aloud-for- pleasure” part of the day.  Of course, this IS always important to do in classrooms, especially primary, as it instills a love of reading and introduces genres and authors to kids.  However, Read Aloud with a Purpose is different; it’s used in short increments several times during the school day.  This time provides an opportunity for teachers to model many different reading behaviors and use of strategies.  In the gradual release of responsibility model, Read Aloud with a Purpose comes at the top…”I do, you watch/listen”.

The key points to this element are as follows:

  • A time for students to observe a proficient reader using a specific reading strategy
  • The teacher should state the name of the reading strategy being modeled, either before or after the read aloud
  • The students must hear the teacher’s thinking as they read through a piece of text
  • Short, strategic pieces of text are used…from any content area.

Here are some examples of how I have used Read Aloud with a Purpose in several content areas.

Ideas for Short, Purposeful Read Alouds…in ELA

Note that for all of these examples, I do NOT read aloud the entire book (If I do, I will wait for my traditional read-aloud time. What I have found is that if you choose books wisely to use for RAWAP, you will cause students to want to read the book on their own! I used to leave my RAWAP book on my whiteboard shelf and for a few days, it was being passed around like crazy! Below are four books I have used for RAWAP in either the classroom, small groups or tutoring.

Image-1-1 2I use The Stranger by Chris Van Allsburg all the time to teach my students about inferring. I would read aloud just a few passages and think aloud about who or what this stranger could be. I pointed out both evidence in the text and talked about how my background knowledge was helping me make some inferences.

Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems (and all of the other Pigeon books) are wonderful to use when teaching persuasion. I just used it last week with my 3rd-grade tutoring student; I read parts of the book to her and we discussed what words and ideas the pigeon used to persuade. Next, she will use these persuasion ideas in her own persuasive writing project on Antarctica!

Sunset at Camp
My grandparents’ former camp on the Big Dead River Basin in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

All the Places to Love by Patricia Maclachlan is perfect for teaching students about how words can invoke both feelings and senses. While training teachers on Modeling Writing (also called “Write Aloud), I read aloud the first few pages without showing them the illustrations. We then discussed what visuals they were seeing in their mind, and how the author invoked both feelings and senses by the word choice. I then shared the beautiful illustrations and we discussed further feelings gained from the images.  I then used these ideas to write and think aloud in front of the teachers about the place I loved the most…my grandparents’ camp in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Finally, to help a student learn about the main idea in expository books, chapters, and passages, I used an excellent non-fiction book from Scholastic’s A True Book series Animals Helping with Healing by Ann O. Squire.  I read aloud the first chapter, discussing sentences and details that were clues to determining the main idea. Next, I had the student read the next chapter and try to determine what the main idea was, and which details supported the idea.


You can also read excerpts from chapter books to focus on specific reading and writing strategies! Tuck Everlasting is one of my all-time favorite books, and I loved introducing it to students. I would read aloud the beginning of the book (the “August” paragraphs) for many reasons…to model inferring, predicting, vocabulary in context, or just for the sheer beauty of the words. I also loved to read aloud the beginning of  The Winter Room by Gary Paulsen for all the same purposes.  Here’s a link to a blog discussing favorite opening paragraphs in children’s/young adult novels.

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I discovered a wonderful website, Live.Read.Write by Erika Crowl, who has created something called Story Snippets; wonderful excerpts from children’s books that can be read aloud to help students understand how to show, not just tell. As you read, you need to be thinking aloud about how the words help the reader to understand the feeling without the author stating what it is. Currently, she has Snippets for several emotions: calm (at left), despair, sunshine, wind, and anticipation.

It’s also fun to read aloud the JUST the very first sentences of books to students for a variety of reasons: to help them with writer’s craft, to entice them to read new books for independent reading or to model word choice. Here are some classic first lines from Kim Hart on her website.

Ideas for Short, Purposeful Read Alouds in other content areas

Understanding test or assignment directions:

Directions

Directions 2

Take a look at the two different set of directions above…do you see the benefit of reading and discussing these out loud with students? So many times we just expect that students will magically understand all the words in the directions and what the directions are telling them to do!  I can’t tell you how many times I would hand out an assignment or test to my students, with VERY clear, bulleted directions, only to have several students coming to ask me questions on what do afterward! I finally started adding in secret messages into the directions, such as, “If you are reading these directions, write this sentence under the directions: “I read them!” and you will get five bonus points…” or something similar. It finally dawned on me that it would help if I projected the directions so all could see, then read aloud the directions and model my understanding of what I had to do to be successful in that particular assignment or test area. You could also have the students join you in a shared reading of the directions and a follow-up discussion.

Vocabulary in context:

To help students understand how to use context in reading to figure out an unfamiliar vocabulary word, I would choose a piece of text that I knew would have some difficult words. Let’s say I am teaching 5th-grade social studies unit on Explorers (been there, done that!). I plan to assign articles on explorers from Newsela to help with background knowledge on exploration and explorers, as well as reading skills. Before I have them work independently on this, I am going to read an excerpt from an article and think aloud about how I would use clues in the text to figure out the words “fleet”, “mutiny” and “vessels”.  I would also point out the proper name “Patagonia”; I can tell it’s a place, but I’d like to look on a map to help understand the location. Explorers Read Aloud

Textbook page

Textbook Fun!

Education Corner has this to say about textbook reading: “Textbooks can be boring, tedious, and full of detail. Jumping right into a textbook without having a general idea of the central themes and topics can make textbook reading that much more challenging.”  To help make this type of reading less intimidating, you can do a read/think-aloud while previewing a textbook chapter. Read and discuss the titles, the heading, any bold-faced words, picture captions, etc. Model reading aloud any chapter questions BEFORE reading and think aloud about how this will help find the answers while reading.

IMG_1150Math Word Problems: 

This is an area in which I have spent a great deal of time helping not only my tutoring students who struggle in reading or math but also my gifted and talented students! In my own past classrooms, I know I was guilty of just assuming if students could read, they could handle these problems easily.  Just look at the problem to the left; even skilled reading and math students can easily be intimidated by this! An excellent way to help with this is to provide a read/think aloud of a word problem. A teacher can do this in a whole group setting, or a small guided math group setting. The teacher reads the problem aloud, thinking aloud about what exactly needs to be solved, as well as clues given on how to solve it and any unnecessary information thrown into the problem. The teacher should also model annotating the text (highlighting, questions, thoughts). By providing this modeling, it could help many students be less intimidated by word problems! After modeling for my tutoring student, he was able to read, annotate and solve on his own!

There are so many more ways you can read aloud in content areas…just think about how much you expect kids to read silently in math, science, health, electives, etc. Now think about how much their comprehension can improve if you first MODEL proficient reading skills and THINK ALOUD about the strategies you are using. This can make a world of difference!

Let me know in the comment section below other lesson ideas or texts to use for Reading Aloud…with a Purpose! 

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