Distance and Home Learning: Writing Ideas and Resources

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So what’s a retired teacher to do when she is quarantined, can’t see her students in person, and only do a bit of virtual tutoring? She organizes her thousands of teaching, presenting, and tutoring photos in order to make it easier to share in these blogs and social media. In the process, she finds photos of the amazing writing activities her students have done over the years!

Right now, I am both grateful and NOT grateful to be retired from teaching. I wish I were out there with all of you figuring out how to do distance/remote teaching (and I’m gathering photos and info on all the amazing remote teaching from my teacher friends to share in an upcoming blog!). But, since I am temporarily a full-time caregiver for my Dad, who is 88, dealing with a painful knee injury AND at high risk for COVID-19, I am grateful to be available for him.

So here’s another blog with some writing resources that teachers can use for distance learning and parents can use for homeschooling!

Storyjumper

Story Jumper

I discovered Storyjumper while tutoring a few years ago. The student I worked with needed help with writing, both expository and narrative. We did plenty of essays using prompts given by her writing teacher, but to give her a break from essays, I had her use this wonderful website to create her own picture book. It was around Thanksgiving, so she created a book about a turkey invited to dinner with a farmer, who was a supplier of turkeys to grocery stores. The turkey was understandably nervous, but when she arrived, the farmer had a surprise, but welcome announcement…he would no longer be killing any turkeys! ūüôā Before I had her use this website, I created my own picture book so I would be able to guide her through hers. My book stars one of my cats, Princess Leia, and you can check it out HERE!

Rory’s Story Cubes

Love, love this app; I’ve been using it for years and it’s such a great way to launch a writing piece for kids! I first discovered it while working as a literacy specialist at Mammoth Heights Elementary in Parker, Colorado. Since I did not have a class of my own students, only pulling groups of kids literacy support, I was the go-to person to cover classes when a sub didn’t show up. THIS was my emergency tool. I would bring the app, put it under the document camera, and have a student come up to “shake” the cubes. Once they landed and were organized, we discussed what the image on each cube might mean; however, I stressed to the students that they did not have to use the consensus of the majority of the class, they could choose to interpret the cubes in any way they chose. Next, I had them create a writing piece (fiction or non-fiction) around the cubes. I eventually created a planning sheet for the students to plan out their pieces.

I have used this many times during tutoring. Sometimes it’s a quick begin or end of session challenge; we “shake” the cubes and they have to quickly come up with a paragraph using all the cube image ideas (see photo above on the left). Other times it’s a mini-project we work on; roll the cubes, have the student decide on the meaning, and then plan out a narrative story, fill out character profiles and find photos on the internet of what their characters might look like (see photo above on the right).¬† Here’s something I haven’t tried yet, but I want to: use the cubes with your students or own kids to develop oral storytelling skills. Shake the cubes, and create an oral story to tell!

You can buy the actual cubes from the link above, or on Amazon, or download the app on either Google Play or iTunes. If you’d like the Story Cube planning documents, comment below with your email address!

 Biblionasium

Book reviews

During this quarantine,¬† I know that many teachers and parents are having their students read, read, read…and that’s wonderful!¬† Once they finish a book, have them practice their expository writing skills by writing a book review on Biblionasium, a wonderful website where kids can write and read book reviews. The review can be a great tool for having them practice editing and revising skills when done!

KidPub

Kid PubHaving your students or your own kids write stories or poems? Or do they do this on their own…perhaps they are budding novelists or poets? Set up a free account on KidPub and have them share their writing with others and READ what other kids have written. There are categories for all types of genres, including fan fiction, and all submissions are vetted to make sure they are appropriate. I’ve had students find other kids’ stories to read, then review it tell me how they would revise it….a great critical thinking activity!

I will stop there for now…but if YOU have some great resources that work well for distance and home school learning, let me know in the comments below.

Be sure to check out my other blogs on resources for remote/distance/home learning:
Reading Resources
Project-Based Learning. Resources
Math Resources, Part 1
Math Resources Part 2

Remote Writing Resources

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!

 

 

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? ūüôā

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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

 

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! ūüôā 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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