Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Lorax and Analyzing Images

We are taking a pause in our study of Lewis and Clark to get ready for Read Across America Day!  In the upper grades, we celebrate by sending our students to read to the littler kids.  They will practice all week to read the books they've chosen fluently.  It's so cute!

We started sharing The Lorax by Dr.Seuss today.  We actually only read a very small part of the text this morning because we focused on analyzing imagesI made this chart for recording their observations about what they saw on the cover and what they saw on the Street of the Lifted Lorax.  Those weird things around "The Lorax" are supposed to be truffula trees.  LOL!  I tried!

This was a great opportunity to get the students to think from the perspective of the author and illustrator and really dig deep into how images impact a text (Hello, Common Core!).  And may I confess that while prepping for this lesson, it was the first time I really REALLY spent time looking at the pictures. For instance, I never really noticed the connection between the cover and the second page "if you look deep enough you can still see, today, where the Lorax once stood just as long as it could." 

Some key questions:
* What feeling do you get by looking at the cover?
* How does the Street of the Lifted Lorax compare to the cover image?
* What do you think the author wants you to look at on this page?
* How does the image relate to the words on the page? {This was a differentiated question to allow my newest English speakers the chance to participate.}
* Who is telling this story so far? How can you tell?  {The narration is in third person until the Once-Ler begins telling his tale.}

We only read the first few pages! I don't usually stop so frequently for questioning, but I thought it was important to discuss each new image.
This is our chart from the end of our (mini) read aloud.  I'm really happy with the beginning of our analysis!  I was able to introduce my kids to the words dreary and desolate and the kids wrote some great responses about the mood along the Street of the Lifted Lorax.  By the end of the week, we will add onto our chart by analyzing images of the Once-Ler's arrival and images of the Once-Ler's factory.

Of course, I don't think you can read this book without discussing the impact of the Once-Ler's actions on the environment and questioning whether he has a right to "biggering and biggering" his company, so we will do a bit of on demand writing to tackle these topics.  These conversations will lead us to understanding Dr.Seuss's point of view, something my kids are still struggling to identify.

I'm also planning to work with a small group to complete a cause and effect organizer that I made....click below to grab your own copy :-)

So tell me: what do you have planned for Read Across America Week? 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Teaching and Tapas Giveaway!

I've linked up with Teaching and Tapas' amazing giveaway!  She's giving away 100 products and there are lots of ways to enter :-)

I'm giving away my Common Core and Commas.  I had really great success teaching my students how to use commas with this product!  The students learned to use commas and semi-colons to separate items in a list, to offset yes or no, direct addresses, introductory phrases and tag questions.

Be sure to head over to Teaching and Tapas to enter! You have until March 3rd to enter!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Purpose of Prepositions {FREEBIE}

We spent a lot of time this week working on prepositions.  This is an area of difficulty for many English Language Learners.  I often have students who misuse the words "for" and "so."  And it's difficult teaching the purpose of so many "little" words.  But this week, I tried to break it down by sorting prepositions into two groups: when and where.

I started by briefly defining the role of  a preposition and then having the students identify the prepositions they were using in their sentences to describe the what they saw in this picture:

 They said that the net was ABOVE the girl, the ball bounced ON the floor, she will shoot the ball THROUGH the air, etc. Verbally, they did a great job!  So we moved onto a very quick worksheet I made.  The students used the words in the word bank to complete the sentences with prepositions that show where.  Here we ran into a little trouble.

A few of my students had difficulty with sentences such as "The barbeque was ___ my uncle's house."  I read more than a few "on my uncle's house." We talked about what that would look like {although, in this city, it's not necessarily impossible for a barbeque to be ON someone's home!}.

On the bottom of the sheet, the students wrote a sentence using a preposition to show where.

The next day, we talked about prepositions that tell when.  This one seemed much easier for the students to understand, although we did talk a lot about the word "by."

They worked on another set of sentences and then wrote their own sentences to tell when.  From this student, I can see that she is able to complete the sentences, but she is still showing some confusion about using the word "in" to show when.  {She wrote "the book City of Ember is in my desk."}

On the third day of working with prepositions, I had my students sort sentences with prepositions that show when and where.  Each student received a sentence and collaborated with a partner to find the preposition and then tape it to the correct poster.

This was another great opportunity for a quick assessment.  By glancing at the posters, I was able to identify two partnerships that had difficulty with  either identifying the preposition or determining how it functions in the sentence.

For homework, I gave the students a blank card and asked them to write a sentence with a preposition that shows when or where, their choice.  On Monday, I'll tape the words around the room and they will walk around the room and write the sentences on a T-Chart!  I also plan to extend their learning to prepositional phrases and prepositions that show a relationship.

While I'm not done with the entire package, I'd like to offer the sentences to sort as a freebie.  Click HERE to download the sentence headers and 12 sentences to sort from my TpT store!


Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Power of Stickers

You can really tell it's the middle of the year.  Some of our routines are falling apart a bit, patience seems to be pretty limited and everyone is stressed.  We are in the midst of a ton of mid-year assessments, and even the kids are feeling the stress.

To combat this pressure, I've been returning to some beginning of year ideas and revamping our reward systems.  My favorite reward is praise, so it's been my goal to praise effort in every lesson.  It's probably number one in most teachers' toolboxes, but when we are under stress, I tend to forget about some of those little tricks that work so well!  Consistently praising effort has really made our room feel more pleasant and I'd like to share what we've been doing :-) 

Like lots of classes, we've been working on Close Reading.  I give the students a "meaty" passage for them to read, annotate and then discuss.  In the first few pictures, the students were reading a super engaging short story called Best Friends, in which the author realizes that her "best friend" isn't really a good friend at all.

I praised this student for interpreting the text on the side of the passage.
"Best friends shouldn't bribe each other."

 I praised this student for reading with her pencil in her hand.  And wouldn't you know it?  Suddenly lots of readers had pencils in their hands!

I praised this reader for summarizing text on the side of the passage.  (Like his tie? It was Valentine's Day!)

After a few days of really consistent praise, I had a room full of students reading with their pencils in their hands, underlining and annotating text with their ideas.  My only problem was that I felt so guilty interrupting their reading!

 Enter the stickers.  Rather than interrupt their reading with "I just love the way J underlines in his passage" or "I'm so proud of V for reading with her pencil," I just put a happy little sticker on their papers.

When students saw their table mates receive little stickers for annotating their text, they went back into the passages to respond.  And voila! Close reading!  Well, maybe not quite, but we are getting there!

Are you doing Close Readings in your classroom?  Any tips would be appreciated!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Book Share: Sounder

I'm linking up with Sunny Days in Second Grade to share one of my FAVORITE books, Sounder by William H. Armstrong. 


If you've never read it, its the story of a young African American boy and his family living in a post slavery South.  The family, a mother, father, older boy, younger children and a dog named Sounder, is very poor and has difficulty making ends meet.  During the winter, the father takes Sounder out for hunting.  The author pours love into his description of the dog's voice and ability to hunt.  One evening, while the dog is in the hills hunting, the police come to the cabin to arrest the father.  The father is accused of stealing food and is arrested in a brutal, difficult to read scene.  While being taken away, one of the sheriff's men shoots Sounder, who has returned and is attempting to protect his master.  The mother ushers her oldest son back into the house even though he is desperate to tend to his wounded dog.  The reader is left to worry about Sounder and the father for many chapters.  The remainder of the story follows the older boy's life as he must grow up rather quickly.

I have a love/sorrow relationship with Sounder.  One the one hand, it's exquisitely crafted.; a perfect piece of literature to use for author's craft. The story is developed through rich description, has a great deal of foreshadowing and contains many biblical allegories.  On the other hand, the scene in which Sounder is shot and the subsequent description of his wounds just hurts my heart.  I always warn my students about the contents of the book before we begin our guided reading.

Another word of warning, while the sheriff and his men are arresting the father, they call him the most deplorable, degrading word possible.  Before we read, I tell the students they are going to read a word that is very unusual in books for young people and that they will know the word when they find it.  I ask the students to pause and write their response to the scene and the man who used the word on a sticky note.  We've had excellent discussions about this portion of the book.  Anticipating a long conversation about the father's arrest, I always plan for a very short reading time and and a very LOOOOOONG discussion.

If I had one difficulty with teaching this book, it's that the chapters are quite long and there are few clean breaks, especially when the students are only reading 10-15 minutes of text at a time.  The minimal dialogue makes the reader really have to work to build the story.  Although Fountas and Pinell call this book a level T, I've had more success and better conversation reading this book with higher level readers.

If you enjoy this book, you might want to check out this very thorough {and FREE} literature guide published by McGraw Hill: Sounder Literature Guide

Have you taught this book?  What is your favorite book to teach?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Reading Multiple Texts on One Topic

In my state, fifth graders study Westward Expansion and in particular, the Lewis and Clark expedition.  I really enjoy teaching this part of American history! To align our curriculum with Common Core Standards, I've used our Read Aloud and Shared Reading time to read and discuss nonfiction, while our ESL teacher used the Social Studies periods to help build background knowledge by looking at maps and viewing videos about the American West.

To launch our reading, I displayed several books from our library about Lewis and Clark.  I modeled my thinking about the size of the font and the number of pictures and pages.  I showed my students a book that was almost all pictures and thought aloud about how I probably knew a lot of these details because of the videos shown by our ESL teacher.  Then I picked up a much longer text with almost no pictures and thought aloud about how I probably would understand this better if I had more prior knowledge.  Then I showed my students a book that had a lot of images but also nice, meaty captions and thought aloud that those images would help me understand what I was reading!

We started reading this book:
We read the first six pages to gather information about the Louisiana Purchase and how Lewis and Clark prepared for their journey.  With this book, we had our first experience "chunking" the text. I modeled for my readers how I make decisions about how to read a page that has paragraphs, images, captions, maps and sidebars.  

I scanned the pages and used my SMARTboard to draw boxes around paragraphs under one subheading and draw boxes around images and their captions.  This book, with lots of page breaks and images, worked really well for my struggling readers.  By chunking the text, and reading together, my students were able to answer questions such as "Why was the port of New Orleans important to the U.S.?" and "What did Lewis and Clark do to prepare for their expedition?" My readers also learned a great new word by looking at the image of a medicine chest and reading the caption: remedies!  I was SO impressed to find that word in their on demand writing.

After we had built up our prior knowledge, we moved on to a more difficult text.  As we read a few pages from this text, we noted some of the details the author left out, assuming the reader already knew about Lewis and Clark.

And now, we are reading In Their Own Words: Lewis and Clark by George Sullivan.  I introduced this text by discussing primary sources and secondary sources.  I shifted gears for a little bit to have 'my kids sort primary sources and secondary sources for the Titanic.  It's amazing how much kids love learning about the Titanic! 

Lucky for me, my school purchased a class set of this book for us, so the kids are able to really dig into the text.  I've been posing text dependent questions and asking the students to quote the text to support their ideas.

Some questions we've explored so far:
How do we know so much about Lewis and Clark and their expedition?  
Why did Thomas Jefferson want to explore the West?
Why did Lewis and Clark make a good team?
What three items did Lewis and Clark pack?  Explain their importance.

I found so many kids wanting to "show off" their prior knowledge when answering these questions that they didn't stick to what was written in our text.  Some students wanted to write about the remedies Lewis and Clark packed, but our current text didn't mention the medicine chest.  This was a great teachable moment to remind students that in a testing situation, they have to use the details from the text they are reading and not something they read or heard elsewhere! {Obviously it's AWESOME that they are able to integrate information in their response, but they have to refer to the text at hand when they take their big tests in April.}

I'm so eager to continue reading this text after our mini break!  What are you working on in reading?

Monday, February 11, 2013

A quick introduction and literacy centers in the upper grades!

Well, hello!  Welcome to my brand new blog!  I decided to take the plunge into teaching blogs after having been a running blogger for the last few years.  Like most teachers, transitioning into Common Core has eaten up a lot of my free time and so I've decided to move my running blog to the bottom of my priority list (not running itself though.  I'm still in {love} with running!) You might think that starting a second blog would not be the smartest move, but I'm hoping to connect with some other fifth grade/upper elementary teachers to improve  my practice for next year!

So who am I? I'm in my eleventh year of teaching.  I work in a big city, many stops away from all the fun tourist hot spots.  ;-)  I taught fourth grade for a few years before moving up with one of my classes and becoming a fifth grade teacher.  For the last two years, I've taught the ELL class.  It was an eye opening adjustment, but I really love working with ELLs!

When working with a group of English Language Learners, you will have an incredibly diverse classroom in terms of prior knowledge and abilities.  In September, I had students with reading levels from E to Z!  I've found literacy centers to be really important in my classroom in order to meet everyone's needs.  I'm actually really fortunate that in my school we have several pull out programs during the morning literacy block.  Some of my students go to Intervention and others go to ESL, leaving me with a nice small group of 13!  {And don't I wish that was my class size all day!!!}

I use my lovely SMARTboard to help students find their center assignment for the first rotation.  Ideally, I'd like everyone to read during Guided Reading, but instead, I use part of that time for students to work on spelling, vocabulary, grammar and writing.

I drag their names to their center so they can see where they need to go.  I love that it doesn't take up any wall space, and I can clone the page over and over so I have a record of where I've sent them!

Here are my four favorite centers that I think work really well for kids who struggle in the upper grades:

1.)  Contraction Cupcakes - There are many versions on TpT.  I made my own based on some worksheets I found on education.com.  My students liked the Contraction Shrink Ray Sheets and with the cupcakes, they were able to self check their work.  Students self checking = less work for me!

2.) Working with prefixes, suffixes and root words- I make up cards for the students to use with dictionaries.  It isn't the most thrilling work, but I've actually found the kids to be really engaged with working dictionaries because the words sound very sophisticated to them.  The best part about this center is that they can visit it several times before they really finish all of the work.

3.) Sorting Activities - We've sorted types of sentences, simple/compound/complex sentences and verb tenses.  The first step in this center is to sort the cards, then the students have sentence practice worksheets.  As long as the cards are cute, the kids are productive!  Funny, isn't it?

This student is sorting verbs by tense.  After she completes the chart, she will have some sentences to write and a paragraph to edit.  Don't you love her neat and organized little piles!

4.) Making Words - I get the words from Month by Month Phonics and I changed the name to Magic Word.  If you aren't familiar, it's one longer word scrambled and the kids write three letter, four letter, five letter and six+ letter words.  They can sort the words they've written into groups that rhyme.  If they figure out the scrambled word, then they've figured out the magic word!
The kids love this activity, so I use it as an incentive to finish the less fun center work first.

So that's my little introduction into my classroom!  If you read through all this, please say hi!  And tell me about centers in your classroom :-)