A long time ago (well two years ago today), in a school far, far away (actually about a 30 minute drive), my students and I planned a school-wide Star Wars Day for May the 4th! Enjoy our photos and hopefully this will give you some ideas for your own classroom or school Star Wars Day! May the 4th be with you!
During my last year before retirement, while working as a GT Facilitator, my entire theme for my gifted and talented students was Growth Mindset. Check out this past blog on how I used this theme throughout the year. My students and I were all big Star Wars fans, so I led them through some project-based learning to plan and carry out a school-wide Star Wars Day! I gave the reins to the kids and had them meet with the principal to get permission, plan with the building engineer for what we would need for the day, and create presentations, a trivia game, and morning announcements promoting the event. Check out the slideshows below to see all we did! And a HUGE thank you to my former students who helped me plan and carry out this day!
“What one learns in a classroom is just a very small part of learning process . The real learning starts when one crosses borders and travels miles for the real knowledge.” – Vivek Sahni
One of my passions, besides teaching, is travel! I have always believed that the classroom is not the only place to learn; in fact, I’ve learned some of my most lasting lessons while traveling. Back in my classrooms days, I brought back my experiences and lessons to my students so they could experience more of their world as well. I did this in a number of ways: through slideshows, displays of souvenirs and photos, and research activities on people and places. While working as a GT facilitator, I would post photos of my travels on Edmodo or Google Classroom and give the students challenges where they had to find out information about whatever was in the photo. I offered digital badges to those students who would complete the challenge first. I am still doing this with my tutoring students; when my husband and I took a two week trip to Italy in 2017, I left all of my students with some reading, writing and research activities on Italy.
Last week, I finally made it to Washington D.C.! I can’t believe that someone who loves traveling and history, and has gotten to be this old and has never been there! I was also passionate about teaching my students American history and government! We were headed there to attend my stepson’s army reenlistment ceremony; it was going to be held at the National Archives Museum in the rotunda (more on that in my next blog!). I began planning in earnest to visit the places that my students (and my own daughters) and I had read about or seen in photos and movies. I have provided photos and links below that you help your students learn about these places and people. In addition, my visit has inspired me to create some learning activities for my tutoring students, and you will be able to use these activities with your students a well (more at the bottom of the blog)! Off we go to our nation’s capital. (All photos are by me unless otherwise credited.)
First, some general resources for you and your students on Washington D.C.
Our first day was spent on the National Mall. We unfortunately chose to go there on not just a Saturday, but on a day when the cherry blossoms were in full bloom! The crowds and traffic were insane, and to get anywhere on the mall, you had to walk quite a bit. But we managed to see several sites and loved learning about them with an audio tour from Atlantis Audio Tours. Here’s what we saw on the mall, with links for you and your students:
Washington Monument: The Monument was closed for repairs…but I didn’t mind…just seeing it was amazing!
A lesson from the National Park Service in which students can see and analyze primary sources, as well as learn about the qualities of a leader and why George Washington was chosen to have a monument built in his name, as well as design their own monument for a leader of their choice.
World War II Memorial: Another amazing place to visit! In the audio tour we learned about the features of the memorials and the significance of the bronze wreaths and rope connecting all the state and territory columns. In addition, there are famous quotes, engraved on the walls, from Franklin Roosevelt and others about this war.
Five lesson plans from The Friends of the National WWII Memorial, featuring “a culminating activity called, “World War II at the Memorial” connecting the lesson directly to features of the National World War II Memorial addressed in the lesson.
Lincoln Memorial: We arrived here with tired feet after starting at the Washington Monument, and slowly climbed the crowded steps. But it was all worth it when we turned around to view the iconic view toward the Washington Monument, the same one Martin Luther King, Jr. saw during the “I Have a Dream” speech.
On this interactive site, you and your students can view panoramic views as well as videos that discuss Lincoln and his memorial.
The Jefferson Pier: I know, you’re saying…”The what?!” But this is actually quite interesting and we would not have known about it except for our audio tour. This little nondescript marker (almost looks like a “mini” Washington Monument!) once had great ambitions of marking the prime meridian of the United States…if Thomas Jefferson had had his way! From the website Adventures in DC website: “He (Jefferson) had it located on the southern bank of Tiber Creek due south from the center of the White House and due west from the center of the U.S. Capitol. The creek no longer runs through the National Mall, but the stone remains.” Boats used to dock near this marker (the Potomac at that time came up near this point) to unload materials for building the Washington Monument. This poor little marker never became the U.S. Prime Meridian as our country chose to use the more standard Greenwich Meridian.
There were several memorials we were not able to get to, either due to time or exhaustion…but here are some teaching resources for them:
National Monument and Memorial Challenge: I wonder how many of our students across the country, who have not been to the DC area before, know about all the memorials for famous Americans…not just those on the National Mall, but many more located around our country. I created a visual challenge in Google Slides for my students to see how many they could identify, and if they knew who that famous person was. In this presentation, you have a photo that shows the monument with no label, and then one with the label. At the end of the presentation are photos of some famous Americans who do NOT have one. I am having some of my students choose one of these persons, research them and then write a persuasive piece about WHY this person deserves a memorial. The students will then have a chance to design the memorial using whatever medium they would like. This ideas is based on a lesson idea from the National Park Service.
This National Monument product is ON SALE on Teachers Pay Teachers, Here’s the LINK! If you like these materials, please let me know in the comments or in TpT reviews.
The loss of our beautiful grandson has made me reflect on the lessons he can give to classroom teachers who have special needs students in their classrooms.
I’ve been off the grid with my tutoring, consulting and blogging the past few weeks as our family suffered an unimaginable, sudden tragedy…the loss of our six year old grandson, Vincent. Within a week, he went from his usual winter cold to serious issues, strokes and surgeries. He passed away a few days later with his parents at his side. But from the moment he was born and diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome, this boy began teaching his lessons…lessons that I wish I had known when many years ago when I had a student with Down Syndrome in my class. Back then I did not know much, if anything, about how to help and teach these children. While I did have help and support from the wonderful special education staff at my school, I wish I had known more and had done more to establish a relationship and teach her. Now because of Vincent, I know. I would like to share with you some lessons that may help not only teachers, but any caregivers who work with special needs children.
Encourage a love of books with ALL students: As a retired teacher, of course I had hundreds of children’s books in my home and tried to encourage all three of our grandchildren to enjoy being read to as well as reading on their own. But it was Vincent who truly developed a passion for books. At first he would grab a book and bring it a family member to have them read aloud. However, he lost patience with that and began choosing books to either look at on his own or read. He especially loved interactive books and books that made noise! He would “read aloud” the book with a great deal of expression, while turning pages and looking up at his listeners to see their reaction. He obviously had been watching his caregivers and teachers closely as they read aloud and wanted to emulate their enthusiasm.
Vincent’s Lesson: If you have special needs students in your classroom, make sure they have access to many books are given opportunities to hear books read aloud and let them read to other students. Have the students in your class also work with them on the alphabet, phonemic awareness and phonics skills. Help them discover a love of words!
Celebrate the joy of music with your students! Besides books, nothing made Vincent happier than music and dancing. When he was at our house, we turned on the party songs and he would rock out; Such a joy to watch him! But he especially loved singing with microphones. We have our own karaoke setup at our house and during karaoke parties, he would go up to the person singing, grab the second mike and start singing along. His teacher at Turman Elementary in Colorado Springs shared an adorable video of him at school picking up laminated models of coins and singing the money poem/song. Once the song was over, Vincent wasn’t…he kept picking up more coins and singing away!
Vincent’s Lesson: Make sure your students, no matter the if they are special needs or not, are given opportunities to sing, dance and listen to music (and sing into microphones!). There are so many ways to integrate music into lessons and activities!
Love unconditionally: Of course we teachers care about all of our students. However, every teacher knows that there are some children that are much more challenging than others. Life was not always easy with Vincent; he had to be constantly supervised and kept busy and occupied. It’s important to set rules and expectations with special needs students, and have consequences for inappropriate behavior, but every student must know that you care unconditionally for him or her and will help and support them no matter what. I know Vincent felt that from his family, teachers, and friends, and we all felt that from Vincent. Vincent loved everyone…his parents and brother, his dog, all of his grandparents, his cousins, his relatives, his parents’ friends, his teachers and other caregivers, our friends, my family…everyone. Vincent loved life and emulated joy and happiness.
Vincent’s Lesson: Special Needs students need to have teachers who love them unconditionally and share their joy and happiness in life and learning!
Learn from your students: Vincent’s mother began teaching him sign language at an early age to help him communicate with the family and others. When he began schools, she shared this strategy with his teachers and after care staff to help them communicate with him as well. Last year he received an award from the after school program; he had been their first Down Syndrome child in their program and as the Director of the program stated in her comments at his service; he demanded they do more, be more and learn more (sounds like our Vincent!) The award he received was an American Sign Language award to thank him for opening their minds to learning sign language. Here is a LINK to more information on using sign language with Down Syndrome children.
Vincent’s Lesson: The adult teachers are not the only ones who can teach others. Watch for opportunities to learn from your students and have them share their knowledge and skills with others.
Finally, I would like to thank the teachers and staff of Turman Elementary School and the Deerfield Community Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Besides his incredible teachers and para in his SSN classroom at Turman, he had an incredible caregiving staff at Deerfield’s After Care program. They not only took are of him after school every day, but on his off-track time. Their love for Vincent was apparent when so many of them came to the hospital to support Vincent and his family during that last difficult week. They shared so many priceless stories, photos and videos with us! Even more staff from both places attended his service. As teachers, our students and their families are very special to us and that was apparent the past few weeks. Vincent touched so many lives!
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.
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 HEREfor a blank copy!
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
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!
This 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!
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.
In 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!
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.
Shared 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.)
Guided 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 Clayand 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 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 conductingindividual 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-aloudto 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.
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.
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 (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!
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!
Photo Credits: Featured Image: Pixabay All other photos, unless otherwise noted, from my personal photo files
New literacy resources for teachers…apps, websites, assessment tools, reading comprehension tools, and penguin belly sliding??!!!
Whew! Another holiday season is done! Were they as crazy for you as for me? As I look back on my teaching days while raising kids, I don’t know how I survived the holidays. Even though I am retired with my own business, I still found myself going crazy, probably because I’m older… In my first blog of 2019, I am excited to share some new literacy resources with you!
Have you done these with your students? I had seen a few on Instagram but didn’t realize it was a popular (required?) activity in the AVIDprogram. The other week my student, who is in the 7th-grade AVID program at her school, brought this assignment to me for help. She had a page of requirements for what needed to be included and how to design. I was immediately intrigued and wish I had known about this while working with my GT students a few years ago. I love the creativity and thinking that goes into this! Here is the definition of this activity from the AVID website:“A One-Pager is a creative response to your learning experience. It allows you to respond imaginatively while being brief and concise in making connections between words and images. We think about what we see and read differently when we are asked to do something with what we have seen or read. We learn best when we create our own ideas. Your personal thinking about what you have experienced should be understood by the audience that views the One-Pager.” The link also has the requirements for the activity to hand out to students. Do you use these in your classroom? I would love to see any photos of one-pagers that your students have done!
Wow – just discovered this…again, because my tutoring student needed help on her assignment on Go Formative. Once logged in to the website, she had to read a story (“Harrison Bergeron”) that was in her assignments, then answer questions about the story. The questions were right next to the story so she could answer them as she read. She was even able to draw some of her answers, which for this particular student, is sometimes easier than writing. Of course, I had to get my own account, and I’ve added some activities that others have made, but I am anxious to upload and create my own activities for tutoring students! Stay tuned!
Reading Comprehension App by Peekaboo Studios LLC
I have plenty of phonics and fluency apps on my iPad, but it seems as if reading comprehension ones are not as plentiful unless you want to pay a lot of money! I found one, called simply Reading Comprehension, that can initially be used for free, and then if you want, you can purchase more passages/tests; there are reading passages for grades 1-5, and if you work with struggling readers, you can use the most appropriate grade level for the students. I immediately realized the potential for using this app for comprehension progress monitoring (I have also had trouble finding short passages that could give a quick update on comprehension!) I tried the app with my 3rd-grade tutoring student who has struggled with both comprehension and fluency, and she LOVED it! She read a story about Bats and then took the assessment; receiving a perfect score (I helped her a bit…). I plan to use this with other students to monitor their comprehension.
Reading a-z Comprehension Passages
I have used this incredible, wonderful, fantastic, fabulouswebsite for years with both my RtI students in schools and my tutoring students. But in the last few months, I discovered that they have reading passages specifically for all of the reading comprehension strategies! The passages come with lesson plans, a model passage, and practice passage. In addition, there are ways to extend the lesson.
For those teachers new to teaching reading, this is a fail-safe way to ensure that all of the reading strategies are being taught and covered. With my tutoring students, I extend the strategies taught with these comprehension passages when we are reading other articles/passages. At left is a photo of a Main Idea passage used with my 3rd-grade student. She was so into this topic of Penguins, that she had to draw pictures (great way to check comprehension, by the way!) and even did a demonstration of the belly sliding on her tiled floor!
So that’s it for the first blog of the year! Please comment on if you already use or plan to use these resources! For more teaching resources, be sure to check out my TpT store, as well as my Instagram!
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 exposuresto 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!
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:
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.
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!”