Tuesday, December 4, 2012

OI and OY words

For word study this week we are learning the ways to spell the /oi/ sound. Here's a video clip to show the kids from Between the Lions. I am going to have them write down all the OI and OY words they spot in their word study notebooks.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Realistic Fiction Writing Unit

Monday marks our return to school from Thanksgiving break and it also marks the beginning of a new unit of writing...<drum roll please> realistic fiction! This is the unit my friends have been waiting for. They've been clamoring to write fiction since the start of school. So to my friends I say get those pencils ready! Here we go!

(Unit divider page in writer's notebook)

Now for a word of caution. Many of my friends believe that since we're writing fiction, anything goes. A frozen chicken nugget leading a group of frozen french fries on an adventure escaping the freezer, aliens landing on Earth, you name it and my friends have asked about writing it. Unfortunately that's not the type of fiction we're working on in this unit. We're working on realistic fiction. The goal is to write a short story featuring a true life character (somebody you could meet at the park, walking down the street, or in the checkout line at the grocery store) experiencing something that could really happen. The big question when thinking about writing in this unit is "Could it really happen?"

This unit is one that requires a great deal of planning. Kids often set out to write fiction without any concept of character development, plot or story structure and their pieces just ramble all over the place. The key to success in this unit is lots of noticing and naming, planning, thinking and talking by my friends before they ever set pencil to paper and begin to write.

Since we've had the last week off for Thanksgiving I've had some time to work in my own notebook. It is so vitally important to have your own writer's notebook to show the kids. It shows them that you are a writer also and you do the same writing work they do. I've been trying hard to keep my head above water lately with a lot of extracurricular commitments plus my two littles at home so my notebook has suffered some. But thanks to a few days off to rest and recharge I have my notebook ready for the next few lessons.

Here's the highlights from our first week or so of lessons. We'll launch in the unit by thinking about the characteristics of realistic fiction. Then we'll look for seed ideas by thinking about realistic fiction titles that we've read aloud and also by rereading our writer's notebooks. After that it's time to start building a character by thinking about their external and internal characteristics as well as struggles and motivations. We should end the week (or start next week) by drafting a scene that the character might experience.


Reviewing the characteristics of realistic fiction. This is essential. Kids have to know what they need to include in the realistic fiction genre. Taking time to do this now helps to reinforce expectations and avoid the potential frozen french fry escape story!

After brainstorming ideas for story topics, students take time to think about who the main character might be for each story. Quickly jot down what you think the main character might be like. After doing this in my notebook I knew quickly which of the three seeds had the most possibility for character development and a good storyline. 

Time to think about the main character. What are their external characteristics? I always describe these characteristics as things that would help you pick the character out of a crime scene line up. What are their internal characteristics? In the page above, the yellow box is supposed to be a picture frame. My friends will draw a picture of the character inside and then write external characteristics on the sides of the frame. Then they can write internal characteristics in the four bubbles around the frame. I didn't get this ready in advance because I want to think through it with the kids.

After thinking about internal and external characteristics, we will take some time to think about the motivations and struggles for the character they are developing. I made a chart with characters we've met in read alouds and columns for struggles/motivations and evidence to think through with the kids first to really help build the concept. Afterwards kids can make a concept web in their notebook to think about the struggles and motivations of their own characters. Again I set the page up in advance but didn't do the writing part because I want to do that together with the kids. I want them to see and hear my thinking as I jot things down.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Character Paper Bag Project

We are just about to wind up a reading unit on realistic fiction. This week we did a project featuring one of the characters we'd met during read alouds. Students chose a character and then completed a little project. I have pictures of my sample and then some student samples to share.

On the front students had to draw an accurate picture of their character, write the character's name, the title of their book, and the author. I just can't draw boy hair to save my life...poor Big Anthony!

On one side of the bag kids had to choose three internal characteristics that described their character and give specific evidence from the text to support their thinking.

On the back of the bag, students had to write about whether or not the character changed in the story. If the character didn't change, the student had to give evidence to support their thinking. If the character did change, the student had to tell how the character was different and what brought about the change.

We talked about making predictions about how a character would handle a situation. On this side of the bag students had to write what their character would do if they found a bag of money. Some of the student responses on this part were hilarious!

Inside the bag we had kids think about what material possessions their character might have with them. They had to identify the three items and explain their thinking and reasoning for including each item.

These projects turned out great and the kids really enjoyed working on them!
Here's a work product based on Miss Rumphius.





And another sample based on Mo Willems' Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed. We had a great discussion about the items Wilbur would have with him and I forgot to take a picture! The student included a bow tie, fancy watch, and other jewelry to help Wilbur complete his snazzy outfits.




Here's the last sample. This child chose the character Andrew from Eve Bunting's Fly Away Home. this is a serious story about a boy and his father living in an airport. The items the student thought Andrew would have as possessions included a tip from someone (coins), a cheap book, and a suitcase.







Monday, November 5, 2012

Characters We've Met

One of the goals in this unit of reading is to be able to describe characters and discuss how those characters have changed and why. We've been keeping a list of characters in the stories we've read during read aloud. This allows us to quickly come up with characters in our discussions during this unit.



Reading Unit 3 - Drawing Conclusions and Inferring About Fiction

We are in the middle of a unit on fiction reading. Here is a concept map that shows some of the work that students will be doing during this unit.


I'm trying to keep the kids focused on the big questions for this unit.
What happened in the story?
How did what happened affect the characters?
What are the characters like? 
How can you describe the characters?
Did the characters change?
What caused them to change?


Persuasive Writing Notebook Entries

Here are some of the entries we've done as we work our way through the persuasive writing genre.

After reading two samples of persuasive letters we made this concept web showing features of a persuasive letter. This helps our young writers know what they should include in their own persuasive letter.


When it was time to think of topics, we first discussed the difference between meaningful and "trite" topics. Meaningful topics make the world a better place for all of us. Writing a persuasive letter is your chance to make a difference in the world! We brainstormed possible topics in four different areas - changes you'd like to see in the world, at school, at home, and in your life.


Here is how we brainstormed reasons to support a position. The position is in the top bubble. The three reasons to support the position are written in the boxes below.


It is vitally important to think about your audience in persuasive writing. We talked about no matter how powerful your argument is, if you send the letter to the wrong person you've lost your chance to make a difference! In this we took four possible topics from our topic web and discussed who the best audience would be and why.

Writing Unit 3 - The Persuasive Genre


We are right in the middle of one of my favorite units of writing! Students are working in the persuasive writing genre. They will be taking a position, drafting a letter with reasons and support, publishing their letter using technology, and then mailing it off. This is one of my favorite units because kids can see that their words have power. Young children often feel like they don't have a voice in decisions, but this short unit lets them find out that they can be heard.

For the majority of our students persuasive writing is a genre that they aren't too familiar with. We spent last week looking at three short persuasive letters in detail to determine what a persuasive letter should include. This week we are taking a position and working on building a sound, solid argument from facts. We will also try out various styles of leads and endings. Next week we will wrap up our letter and type it up. For our writer's celebration we will address an envelope and stamp it as we put out letters in the mail.

At the beginning of each unit we make a concept web to show the students what will be taught and what kind of work they will do. It makes a great way to help kids know what to expect and gives them something to refer to as we progress through the unit. I'll post the new reading concept web in just a bit.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Peek at the Week for November 5 - 9, 2012

Can you believe we're almost to Thanksgiving? Time is flying by!
Let's have a great week!


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Peek at the Week for October 29 - November 2

Can you believe we are almost to the start of November? Time has flown by! Let's have a great week!


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Writing...so far

You know what? I love writing. I may not be great at it, I may not be the best at teaching it, but man do I love me some writing. Give me a pen and paper and I am happy as a clam.

I also love making charts. I'm not the greatest at that either, but I try my best. Here are a few writing charts I have up in the room right now.


This one came after a lesson on dialogue. We used the Mo Willems book "I Love My New Toy" from his Elephant and Piggie series because they are fun and the kids love them.  The Elephant and Piggie books are great for studying characters. We used them to practice punctuating dialogue correctly since the characters just use speech bubbles.


This was after the dialogue lesson also. We pretended to be Mo Willems' copy editors and rewrote some of the pages in his book so they followed the rules of punctuating dialogue. We couldn't have "Piggie said" or "Gerald said" on every page, so we brainstormed synonyms for said and used those instead.


This is where most of my writing charts go. The big blue paper is for vivid words we find in our reading that we'd like to use in our writing. It also has a chart above it for what I call the "A.D.D." of writing (action, dialogue, details). To the right are some icons that go along with the things writers do to get ideas.

Writing instruction doesn't have to be fancy or complicated really. Just give them paper and pencil and encourage them to see what they can get started. Feedback from you, praise, and conferences will keep them going.

Class Reading Log



I ask my students to keep a reading log in their reader's notebooks to track the reading they do during the day and a home reading log to track the 20 minutes they do each night for homework. I also keep a reading log for the titles I have read aloud to the class. Instead of writing it down like a list, I have been copying the covers of each book or magazine article that I read and then staple it up on the wall.

So instead of a reading log we have more of a reading timeline. It is a good visual and the kids are constantly looking up to reference what books we've shared. It comes in handy when kids are thinking about text to text connections or certain characters from a book. After I do my lesson plans for the next week I round up my read aloud books and copy the covers. Some of the books are oversized so I had to shrink the cover some, but the kids can still figure out what book it is. Once I have read the book aloud or used it during a lesson I staple the cover up on the wall. This is a handy tool that the kids have enjoyed using and it is easy to do.

Great Stories


This past week we have been working on thinking about and beyond the text. We are working on higher level thinking skills that involve more than simply going right back to the text to parrot back an answer, including inferring, synthesizing and critiquing. Text choice is so important when planning these lessons. You want to choose a book that has a good meaty story that most kids will identify with. At the same time, you want to choose a book that lends itself to the particular strategy you are focusing on. You have to choose a book that you personally enjoy also and can read with some emotion and thought.

These are three books that we really enjoyed this week and sparked some deep thinking. For each of these titles I had the children stop and jot their predictions or thoughts during the story in their reader's notebooks and use their writing as a basis for a longer entry when we finished the book.


  • The Memory Coat - A family emigrates from Russia to the United States but one member of the family may not make it. This particular book is long and we split the read aloud over two days. The kids were so upset at the end of day 1 because we would have to "tune in tomorrow" to find out what happens! This one sparked a good discussion about the main characters and inferring how they would have acted if a certain event happened.
  • The Memory Box - A young man goes on vacation with his grandparents to find out that Grandpa has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Together they must make a "memory box" to store important memories. This one is excellent for predicting and inferring! Many of the kids inferred that Grandpa was losing his hearing or his eyesight before the true cause was revealed. 
  • The Memory String - In this story a young girl begins to accept her stepmother. What a moving story! Again this is a long one so you may want to split it between days. This title led to some good text connections - all the books we read had something to do with memories, all the books had some tangible item to store memories, and all were really about the importance of family and loving another.

Reading Is Thinking

During this unit of reader's workshop we have been working to develop good habits in our students. A big focus in our instruction has been to help the kids really learn to think about what they are reading. Many of our kids simply plow through a book without much thinking and then move on to the next one. They aren't plugged in to what the author or the text is truly telling them. The goal for me as a third grade teacher is to help kids to slow down and think about what the words on the page are saying.

As a teacher my goal is to make this process as concrete as I can. As adults and advanced readers we do many of the things good readers do without thinking about it. But young readers need guidance in learning to think about their reading just like kids need training wheels to learn how to ride a bike. We have done a lot of read aloud, think aloud activities and guided entries in our reader's notebooks. The kids have been surprised at how much they have to say about a book when they slow down and really engage, focus and think on the text.

I have mini anchor charts with thinking stems posted in my room. These are great starters for conversations about books. The most important thing for me though is to support your thinking with evidence from the text. It all has to come back to the text.




  • Visualizing
    • What image do you see in your mind?
    • Can you picture yourself as a character in a movie based on the book?
    • What other sensory details (hearing, smelling, touching, feeling) can you associate with the text?
  • Questioning
    • What do you wonder?
    • Why do you think the author made the choices they did?
    • What do you understand? What do you not understand?
    • What if...?
  • Inferring
    • What do you think? 
    • What is your evidence that makes you think so?
  • Predicting
    • What do you think might happen? Why?
  • Making Connections
    • What does this text remind you of?
    • How does your connection help you understand the text?
    • Is your connection meaningful?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Book It!



This year third graders will have an opportunity to participate in Pizza Hut's Book It! Program. This is a reading incentive program that rewards students for reading at home. Each month students will have a reading goal. When that goal is met students will earn a certificate for a free personal pizza from Pizza Hut.

This is a terrific program and I speak from experience! I vividly remember participating in the Book It! program as a fifth grader in Ms. Elkin's reading class. There is no cost and students will enjoy the treat. Watch your child's take home folder for more information coming home this week!

Pizza Hut also has some great resources for parents at the Book It website: www.bookitprogram.com/parents. Stop by and take a look!



Saturday, October 6, 2012

Vowel Teams

In word work this week we will be looking at the different ways to spell vowel sounds, including vowel+consonant+e and vowel pairs. Many times (but not always) when two vowels are together, the first vowel is long (says its name) and the second vowel in the pair is silent. Here is a cute song from the PBS Kids show Between The Lions that reinforces the concept of vowel pairs.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Writing Unit 2 - Personal Narrative

Tomorrow we will launch into our second writing unit. This unit focuses on writing a personal narrative. At the end of five weeks, students will publish a picture book to tell their story. Goals for this unit include choosing a topic, narrowing the topic so it isn't so broad, writing a strong lead and satisfying ending, and adding details to the story to make it interesting.


The first two days of this unit are spent helping kids think of possible ideas for topics to write about. Day one is thinking of important people in your life and experiences you've shared with that person. It's important for kids to realize that they are the main character in this story. This isn't time to write about sister's birthday party or the time Uncle Johnny had car trouble. 

Day 1 - Important People In Your Life
Here's my notebook entries to use for the lesson on important people in my life. At first I made a web of important people in my life and thought of three or four big events that happened with that person. This was quick - maybe 5 minutes or less. That's why I didn't make it fancy. 



After that I decided on one item I wrote on my web to zoom in on and write more about. I decided to write about the day I finally got to bring my baby home from the hospital. I took some time to really think deep and brainstorm as many details as I could remember. I decided to record the details in some sort of graphic organizer, so I sort of borrowed the heart map idea and tweaked it.


Then after brainstorming I decided to write a little entry in my writer's notebook. Here's what I've got so far. Is it ready to draft? Absolutely not! But as I tell the kids, your writer's notebook is like a dressing room in a store - you go in, try things on, see how they work, and then make decisions. You aren't ready to wear things out in public yet. The same goes for your writer's notebook - you open it up, write things, try ideas out, and make decisions. It's not a place for finished items. I'm still "in the dressing room" so to speak on this one.



Day 2 - Important Places In Your Life
Here are my notebook entries to use for that lesson. It is important to do the same things you are asking kids to do - write in your writer's notebook and do what the kids will do. It gives you a lot of insight! Just like day 1, the focus is generating a lot of possible ideas to write about. Give the kids some time to think about important places or the setting for important moments in their lives. I made a graphic organizer in my notebook to help me keep my thoughts straight. Here it is.


After generating possible topics, have the kids choose on to zoom in on. Give them time to brainstorm details and organize their ideas. I decided to write about the time my dog got lost. This happened at my home, so thinking about things that happened at home gave me the spark for that idea. I want to make sure the kids include concrete details in their writing so I tried to remember as many sensory details as I could before I attempted to write the full entry in my notebook.

The top of the paw print is for sensory details. The big part of the print is for a timeline of events.




Reading is Thinking - Making Connections

As a first grade teacher the reading comprehension strategy I always hit the hardest was making connections. If the kids could relate to the book personally they would invest more time and energy into their book and comprehension would increase. The problem was that often their connections would not be the type to help their reading and instead would be superficial - "Henry has a dog and so do I" or "Junie B. doesn't like tuna fish and I don't either." I struggled with that all year long.

So now when we go over connections, I really focus on the idea that your connection should help you understand the book more. It should give you insight on how the character feels or what's happening. If your connection doesn't make you think more deeply about your book, it probably isn't a meaningful one.

I am using one videoclip for the lesson. This clip is from Toy Story 2 and is the song Sarah McLachlan sings while Jessie explains her background to Woody. It is a sad song but I chose it for several reasons: most kids have probably seen Toy Story 2 and will be likely to connect to it somehow; all kids have some sort of favorite or special toy; and most third graders are on the verge of growing up and getting rid of their toys. I think the opportunity for meaningful and not-so-meaningful connections is there.

I am going to play the video and then give the kids a few minutes just to jot 3 or 4 think notes with their connections on there. From that point we will talk about meaningful and not-meaningful (call them "distractors") connections and sort our own think notes. I'll post a picture of mine shortly.




If you're not the sad video type, here's the theme song from Toy Story. Again, it's one that kids can likely make a variety of connections to - both meaningful and distracting - and it's fun. :)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Reading is Thinking - Visualizing

This week in reader's workshop we will be looking at the things good readers do to help stay engaged or focused on the text. We will review several comprehension strategies - making connections, questioning, predicting and visualizing. The goal is to make each strategy as concrete as possible for the kids to help them grasp the concept and begin using it in their own independent reading.

On Monday we will launch into the comprehension strategies with visualizing. We are going to read the lyrics to John Denver's song Grandma's Feather Bed as well as listen to it and then the kids will sketch a picture of the image the song brings to their mind. We want the kids to understand that visualizing isn't simply just drawing a picture. When you visualize, you put yourself into the book - almost as if you become a character in the action. It's not only about what you see, but what you hear, smell, taste, touch, and feel. Use your senses!

When I use music and video in the classroom I try for things the kids haven't seen or heard yet. I think of songs and things from my childhood. Most of the kids these days have never heard the theme from the Brady Bunch! My mother was a huge fan of John Denver and still has many of his albums on vinyl.  Listening to these songs makes me feel like a kid again.

If you haven't ever heard John Denver sing Grandma's Feather Bed, you are in for a real treat! The song is very descriptive and downright fun. The kids have a great time with the song. Here's a clip of John Denver singing the song on the Muppet Show. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Knight Readers

One of the best things about teaching and learning at the Education Village is all of the many opportunities available to us that aren't always available at other schools. Because we are connected to a high school and intermediate school through a set of doors our opportunities for collaboration are sky high. The kids love walking to the high school or intermediate school and the "big kids" enjoy seeing the little friends on their campus.

This year we are beginning a new program. The varsity Knights football players have been paired up with classrooms at our school. On the days of home football games the players will come to our classrooms and participate in an activity. The same players will visit each time. This gives both sets of students (elementary and secondary) a chance to build relationships.

Our first visit was this Thursday and boy were my friends stoked for our visitors! The young men arrived dressed in their finest and took turns reading the book "Miss Nelson Has a Field Day." The kids enjoyed the story and then asked questions and wanted autographs! One friend pulled out a football he brought for recess and got our Knight Readers to sign it. I don't know who had more fun - our students or the boys.

We're looking forward to their next visit! They will be coming again this week and will read "By My Brother's Side" by Tiki and Ronde Barber. We are planning some fun decorations to help build up spirit for their visit.

It's a great day to be a Knight!