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!
Harry & Gloria's Big Trip_Page_1
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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Travel and Teaching: Washington D.C. Part 2

IMG_1087Here’s the second post in my Travel and Teaching series (check out the FIRST one) about how teachers can bring their own travels back to their classrooms and enrich global and cultural awareness in their students. In a blog by Kay K. from Educational Tours, she writes “…[travel] promotes cultural understanding and encourages open-mindedness during key formative years.” Even if your students can’t travel, or have not traveled much, they can learn so much about other places if their teachers share their own experiences.

My first visit to the Washington D.C. area was an incredible learning experience for me! While there, I kept wishing I had a class full of students I could share all of this with, as I did in the past. Fortunately, I have been able to use my experiences on this trip to create some learning activities for my tutoring students and readers of this blog!

Arlington Cemetery

Arlington Cemetery…WOW! When I asked my elementary and high school tutoring students if they had heard about this place, most said no and none had visited there. So wrong! All students need to know about this beautiful, historic cemetery and the sacrifices our American soldiers have made for us over the last few hundred years. We were able to see the Kennedy gravesites, the gorgeous cherry trees in full blossom and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Below I shared a professional video of the Changing of the Guard as we were on the wrong end of the viewing area to get a good video. The one thing that impressed me the most about seeing this ceremony was the incredible respect and silence the hundreds of tourists had while watching this…even the children. Very amazing and moving! While walking through the cemetery I tried to read as many gravestones as I could; these people deserve to be remembered and I’m sure many Americans have ancestors buried here.  Below are some teaching resources for your students; feel free to use my photos as well (I have captions on all of them so you can explain them to your students).

Arlington Resources:
My Photos of Arlington
Kiddle Info on Arlington
Ben’s Guide Info on Arlington
Ducksters Info on Arlington
Kiddle Info on Robert F. Kennedy
Info on Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Info on the Kennedy gravesite at Arlington
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Facts for kids: Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Video of the Changing of the Guard

IMG_0077National Archives Museum

We were so fortunate to be able to visit this incredible museum before hours and with just a few people! My stepson was re-enlisting in the army and this time, his ceremony was held in the rotunda of this beautiful place. Along with our family, and his wives’ family, there was just one other soldier re-enlisting, his family and the commanding officers of the two soldiers. This was an extremely moving ceremony to watch, especially as the soldiers vowed to uphold the Constitution right in FRONT of the actual document! We also had a tour guide who told us about all the documents on display, as well as the beautiful murals above them. We were not allowed to take photos, but they had an official army photographer who took pictures of my husband and me in front of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights! Needless to say, this teacher/history geek was in heaven!

Mount Vernon

Another exciting first for me…visiting the home of our first President! We had not planned this trip in advance and we would have had to wait three hours for the tour inside the home, so we will plan to do that on the next visit. However, we still able to walk around the home, see the recreated gardens and farm buildings, visit the slave quarters and the museum. I think one of the hardest things to teach our students is why our founding fathers had slaves, especially since they espousing freedom for all. Here’s a resource to help with that topic,  another and one more.  My favorite area of Mount Vernon was the front porch with the gorgeous views of the Potomac River. Thankfully, this view has been protected with no hotels, restaurants or other commercial buildings in sight. I found out later that this protected view took a great deal of effort and contributions!  I can just imagine George, Martha and their family and visitors sitting on the porch and enjoying this vista.

My Photos
Mount Vernon Official Website
Info and resources for teachers
Info and resources for students
Primary Sources
Dusksters Bio on George Washington
Ducksters Info on Martha Washington
Kiddle Info on Mount Vernon

Miscellaneous Washington D.C.

Sadly on this visit, we didn’t get into the White House or the Capitol Building…but for sure on the next visit! But here are some teaching resources for you and your students!

IMG_0146White House
(Can you see the sharpshooters on top of the White House? The security is crazy there!)

Kiddle Info on the White House
Fact Monster: The White House
American History for Kids: The White House
The White House history
The White House history in photos
Secret Service facts for kids

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The U.S. Capitol Building
U.S. Capitol Building
Kiddle Info for kids
Education resources for teachers and students

 

 

 

That’s it for this blog…until next time! Please post any comments or questions below!

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Game on! What’s Your Word?

Freebie TpT Product coming up at the end…just for readers of my blog!

IMG_2069As I stated in my blog post on Word Walls, I love words. I have been surrounded by words my entire life, first in books, magazines, and newspapers, and then the internet and apps. I will admit that I am a Words with Friends junkie…I have played this game for nine years now and show no signs up stopping anytime soon. (Username: Jan119 – send me a game request!) In addition to words, I love playing games, so imagine my excitement when I first realized that there were games totally devoted to WORDS!

Last year, I discovered Words with Friends Edu and jumped on it as a fun activity for my tutoring students. However, several months ago, the company discontinued the Edu version online. However, I still think that Words with Friends, Scrabble or other word building games are a great resource for students to learn and study new words.  While playing WWF, I have learned many new words that I had no idea existed until either I or an opponent used them in the game. While I don’t believe in students learning strange words they will never use, I do want them to learn and be able to use some of the more common words played in the game that they will see in books, textbooks, and the internet.  One of the best features of the WWF Edu website were the many lesson plans to use in conjunction with the game; fortunately, I saved all the lesson plans in my Google Drive so you can access there HERE!

In an article posted on Edutopia about building vocabulary with games, it states that “Developing students’ vocabulary doesn’t have to be a chore. Given a creative mindset and some openness to exploring, we can find opportunities to educate and stretch students’ understanding with play. Far from being wasted time, these exchanges can help motivate students to realize that playing with language can be enjoyable”.

Furthermore, the website Reading Rockets published an article on using technology tools to promote vocabulary instruction and had this to say about having fun with words: Whether directly teaching vocabulary and word learning strategies, or increasing students’ volume of reading, an important research-based principle that applies across the board is to promote a lively interest in words through student expression and participation in a learning community that enjoys playing with words, builds on individual interests as well as curriculum needs, and emphasizes self-efficacy in word learning (Beck et al., 2008; Graves & Watts- Taffe, 2008).

My Favorite Word Games for Students

Word Monkeys – I have to say this is my top choice; I have used it with both struggling readers and gifted students, both in schools and during tutoring. The concept is simple; players take turns making words with the seven cards in their hand and the top card on the draw pile. The longer and more complex the words are, the more points they receive!  I remember pleading with my RtI reading group to play on Fridays, even though some were tired of the game!

 

IMG_7481Word Shark – Another fun game that has players building words with mats. The game can be easier for younger students (mats already have the rime/word family on the mat, and the player just has to provide the beginning consonant). For advanced or older students, you can use the blank word mat where players draw both vowels and consonants and build their own words.

My Word – A fast-paced game with the dealer continuously placing vowel, consonant, digraphs and suffix cards on the table while the other players watch for words they can create out of the cards. When they see one, they have to grab it and make it…the more words they can spot and build, the more points. I found I had to make some adjustments for younger students, such as pausing in my dealing so they could have a chance to look over the cards and not get overwhelmed.

fullsizeoutput_626cWord Connect – I only recently learned about this app from a tutoring student…a fun app that displays letters and the boxes for the words; the player has to put the letters in the correct order to make the words. It sounds easy, but I was surprised at how many words you can make from just three letters; it’s all about putting the letters in the correct order. The levels are easy at first but gradually become more difficult as they pass the beginning levels.

Word Ladders – This is not really a game, but it’s so much fun that I’m including it on my list. Students start at the bottom with a word, then have to add or remove letters based on the clues as they “climb” the ladder. I would put together packets of these for both RtI and tutoring students as it’s a great warm-up for a group or tutoring session. The link takes you to the Daily Word Ladders book you can buy, but you can also find others word ladder sheets online: here and here, as well as many other websites.

Bananagramst3T1nWfbTC++6f1%2gxRig – I only recently discovered this game, but it’s already a favorite! The banana-shaped pouch contains Scrabble-type letter tiles, and players race each other to build words! I recently played this with two sisters I tutor; 5th-grade sister did fine on her own, but I had to help the 3rd-grade sister…she didn’t understand the all words had to connect; she wanted to just build isolated words from her tiles (although that could be an option at first with younger kids). Another option is that there is a version especially for young kids, My First Bananagrams!

Okay, so playing these games is fun…but what about the LEARNING aspect?

Of course, these games can help foster phonics, spelling and vocabulary skills, as well as a love and knowledge of words.  But all of that is nebulous and hard to measure…so I took it a step further.  As the games were played, I had students write down the words they built or played. After the game,  I had them choose 2-3 words they either did not know the meaning of, or just “kind of knew it” (have you ever asked your student if he/she knows what a word means and they answer yes, but then can’t give you the definition? That’s “kind of knowing it”). I had them record words on this sheet, find out the meaning…either with my help, other students’ help, or the internet, and then write the definition and use in a sentence. I then add these words to lists in either Vocabulary/Spelling City (for younger kids) or Quizlet (for older kids). I have the students return to these words over the weeks by using them in a variety of vocabulary and spelling activities. Even after they have “passed” their tests on the words on Vocab/Spelling City or Quizlet, I still have them use and review the words during the year….that’s what ensures retention of words.fullsizeoutput_6184

My latest Teachers Pay Teachers product is all about Word Games, and the activities for practicing and retaining the words! There are several fun vocabulary and spelling ideas that incorporate social media and popular culture. However…YOU, the reader of this blog, can have a copy for free, by clicking on the link below! 

Please use the comment section to tell me about any other word games and word study activities you use in your classroom!

LINK to Google Drive version (make a copy and edit any way you want)!flat-2126879_640

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