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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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!

Shared Reading.ppt

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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You CAN Do it All! Juggling Balanced Literacy Elements in the Classroom

All balanced literacy elements defined! Stay tuned for more blog posts going more into depth on these elements and how they can be used in content area!

This past week I had the honor of presenting three sessions at the annual conference of the Colorado Council of the International Reading (CCIRA). It so happened that my three sessions were on the same day, so it made for a very LONG day, but in retrospect, it was probably better as that was my entire focus for the day.  This post will be the first of several covering the highlights of each of my presentations.

First up, balanced literacy! Depending on where you look, there are many different definitions of balanced literacy. Here are the ones I used in my presentation, and the ones I agree with based on my training and experiences.

fullsizeoutput_4d40In my district literacy training sessions for the Douglas County School District in Colorado, I trained hundreds of teachers on a total of TEN balanced literacy elements! WOW! The number one question I received… “How do you fit all of these into your daily literacy block?”  The answer…you DON’T! In order for all of the elements to receive the same amount of attention, teachers MUST use these elements in ALL parts of the day…every content area! This should continue into secondary schools with content area and elective teachers using literacy in their classes as well.  The importance of content area literacy cannot be stressed enough!

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In this first post, I’m going to define each of these elements for you…some, of course, you will be very familiar with, but others may be new to you.

ALL OF THE ELEMENTS BELOW WILL BE DISCUSSED IN FURTHER BLOG POSTS!

Read Aloud with a Purpose (I Do): This is a separate time from the “sit on the floor in front of the teacher and listen to her/him read a great children’s book”…which 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 used in short increments several times during the school day. It’s defined as:

  • The teacher chooses a read aloud based on a specific teaching purpose (strategy).
  • As the teacher reads aloud, she/he “thinks aloud” about the reading and offers explicit instruction on the strategy.
  • Students then will practice the modeled strategy in guided and independent reading.

Picture-2-1-225x300Shared Reading (We Do): In shared reading, the text is once again chosen by the teacher for a specific strategy. The students and teacher all look at a projected or enlarged piece of text together and read in unison. If this sounds like choral reading, it’s not, because again, the teacher is using that text for a specific teacher purpose and a lesson comes during or after the choral reading. The bonus is that students are practicing fluency skills and hearing a fluent reader read with them. Shared reading works especially well when the text is a bit more complex than the usual text students read. (Image from this website.)

IMG_0648-2Guided Reading (We Do): I’m sure readers of this blog have different understandings of what guided reading is…I am using the most common interpretation popularized by Marie Clay and Fountas and Pinell, among others.  Guided reading is a time for strategic teaching based on the needs of the students, ones who have been grouped together because they have similar strengths and weaknesses. There is a specific purpose for the lesson each day, and the teacher works with both the entire group, as well as individuals as needed. This is also an excellent time for teachers to observe reading behaviors in their students.

Book Club ScheduleBook Clubs (We Do/You Do):  Just as with adult book clubs, these are small groups reading and discussing works of literature that are appropriate for them. I’m torn between “we do” and “you do”.  Teachers do have to provide the initial guidelines and structure, but then he/she must be willing to step away and be a part of the book club, as both a participant and observer.  This is an excellent opportunity to just enjoy reading and discussion without specific teaching strategies, but the teacher can gain a great deal of information on both students’ reading behaviors, as well as comprehension and vocabulary skills.

Independent Reading (You Do): Most students should now be ready to take the skills and strategies learned in the previous elements and apply them to their own independent reading.  The teacher is either observing reading behaviors among his/her students or conducting individual reading conferences.

Modeled Writing (I Do): This is the teacher’s time to write in front of the students using a specific teaching purpose. The teacher uses a write-aloud to let the students know the process he/she is using. In addition to being a model for good writing, it’s also important that the students see mistakes and frustration from the teacher and how he/she works through that.

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Interactive Writing: (We Do): This is sometimes called Shared Writing. The teacher and students negotiate the wording in a planned piece of text and then share the pen to create the writing. Once again, the teacher has a goal and purpose with this element, although often when the students have the pen, many other teaching opportunities may arise.  This is an excellent way to create anchor charts of the classroom instead of the teacher creating one or purchasing one. The students have much more ownership and understanding of the chart if they are involved in the creation.

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Guided Writing (We Do): Just as in guided reading, the teacher has created groups of students that reflect strengths and weaknesses observed in students or obtained from data. The teacher has a specific teacher purpose and collaborates with the students on creating a piece of writing. Often this writing can be used as a model when the student continues independent writing on their own.

Independent Writing (I Do): The student takes all of the strategies and new learnings from the teacher modeling and group collaborative work and uses them in his/her own writing.  The teacher should use this time to do 1-1 writing conferences so he/she can observe the student’s writing behaviors, as well as provide support in difficult areas.

Interactive Editing

Interactive Editing (We Do:) This is probably the element that you are least familiar with, and it has nothing to do with the type of “editing” done in writing. In this element, the teacher guides students in using higher-level thinking, as well as creativity, in transforming a piece of text into another format, such as a summary, three column notes, a text, message, etc. This is an element that is already used in content areas!

Independent Centers or Independent Work: While the teacher is working in Guided Reading or Writing groups, the students can be engaged in independent work or centers…and the centers do not just have to be literacy-based; they can be based on any content areas!

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In future posts, I will share more ideas on how you can use all of these balanced literacy elements in not only reading but in all content areas!

 

 

25 Poppasome Tokens of Appreciation
Photos courtesy of @chelleslacks

Photo Credits:
Featured Image: Pixabay
All other photos, unless otherwise noted, from my personal photo files

 

 

Word Walls? Word Up!

I love words. Words in books, words online, words in games, words out in the world. This quote could have been written about me: “She had always wanted words, she loved them; grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape.
― Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

And another favorite quote…funny but also sadly, true…“Some people have a way with words, and other people…oh, uh, not have way.”
― Steve Martin

How can we ensure that our students have “a way with words”?  In my previous blog post, I gave an overview of the elements of a literacy-rich environment:  classroom materials, classroom design and layout, and reading and writing using authentic activities. I promised that I would go into more detail about each one, so the first topic will be WORD WALLS!

In this article from Questia.com, a word wall is defined as: “An ongoing, organized display of keywords that provides a visual reference for students throughout a unit of study.  The words are used continually by teachers and students during a variety of activities.”  However, when I first started presenting on word walls during my literacy training sessions, I discovered that many teachers had a narrow definition of which teachers and students should use word walls…namely primary teachers and students. But word walls are important for ALL students in ALL classrooms…pre-school to university! And (shocker!) they don’t have to be on a WALL!  

Here are the purposes of word “walls” (whatever format they are in!):

  • To focus students’ attention on important subject area words
  • To allow students to have multiple exposures to new vocabulary and anchor the words in their long-term memory
  • To foster connections between words
  • To enable the use of content/academic words in discussions, writing, and activities in your classroom

The purposes listed above are necessary for whatever grade, content, subject or topic you are teaching! Here are some different types of “word walls”:

“Those who do the work, do the learning!” – Anonymous
I think it’s great that there are so many Word Wall card products on Teachers Pay Teachers…teachers don’t have the time to be making all those cards! But…there is no need for YOU to be creating the words for the wall…students should! It is far more powerful for the students to write the words that will go on the wall!  Teachers just need to guide them in which/what words to include on the wall and make sure the handwriting is legible and the word spelled correctly.  Student-created word walls elicit far more excitement and ownership than a professionally created wall!

Okay, this is all great, but perhaps you don’t have a wall…or time to put stuff up…or your classroom changes all the time. No problem!  You can still have your students use word walls in these ways:

One of my favorite memories from my literacy training years was presenting our district’s balanced literacy program to our Specials teachers (art, music, PE, band, orchestra, etc.) and having some of them create word walls for their content areas! Check out the P.E. wall, and what a middle school teacher has done in her classroom!

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Photo taken by me many years ago; can’t remember what amazing teacher did this!
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Used with permission from Marsha Anema, Music – Sagewood Middle School, Parker, CO
Yellow Kid Print
All words are written by students! Photo by me
Laminated Word Chart
Laminated word wall for easily changing out new unit words. Photo by me
Felt Word Wall
Word Wall using a felt backdrop; perfect for teachers who track in & out of classrooms! – Photo by me
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More student written words – Photo by me
I love how eye-catching and colorful this wall is! – Used with permission from Abby Schmitz, 2nd grade at Ruth Hill Elementary in Lincoln NE
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I love this student-created science word wall with illustrations! Source: Middle Web Blog by Valentina Gonzalez
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I love how this Sped Classroom is so print-rich and has a writing word wall! Used with permission from Melissa Finch of  Autism Adventures Blog and TpT Store!

Okay, okay, so you now understand the importance and power of word walls…whether they are on a wall or not. Now…how do we get students to use them? Here are some ideas and resources for you!

Favorite Primary Grades Word Wall Activities:  This book has SO many great activities for primary students! Some of my faves are:Big Book of Word Walls

  • Word Wall Storytelling: A “traveling” story where one person begins with a word and then others continue with their own words…no repeating! The teacher needs to keep track of which words are used.
  • Morning Mystery Message: Write your morning message to kids as usual, but leave some blanks where word wall words should go! Have kids guess which words they are!
  • Dictionary Word Wall: This is similar to Balderdash…make sure to have the real definition AND fake ones ready!
  • Double Trouble:  Students guess the word using phonemic elements.
  • And not from the book…but check out this FREEBIE of word wall center activities from Mr. Giso’s Born to Read blog!
  • And here’s another FREEBIE from The Colorful Apple on TpT!

Favorite Intermediate/Secondary Word Wall Activities:

  • Word Sneak – this is a game based on Jimmy Fallon’s Word Sneak game on his show! I can’t wait to play this with one of my tutoring students!
  • So many GREAT ideas in THIS resource too…my faves are “Unfolding Five Words in a Story”, and also the drama and musical groups activities!
  • “Guess My Word”.  I found the “Guess My Word!” idea on Pinterest, but the website it links to has been discontinued, so I created my own version using Wheel Decide!

Check out my Pinterest board on a Literacy-Rich Environment for more information on types of word walls and activities!

So what do you DO for word walls in your classroom? Do you have other ideas for how to do word walls and activities to use with them? Let’s hear it in the comments! SHARE the great things you are doing with other teachers….and until next time, “WORD UP”!

“Word up everybody says
When you hear the call you’ve got to get it underway
Word up it’s the code word
No matter where you say it you know that you’ll be heard!”

Songwriters: Larry Blackmon / Tomi Jenkins
Word Up! lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group