Wow, the last day of January AND the last day of week 21! Here are the highlights as we say hello to February! Food Drive, Review Quotes, Spreading Sunshine, Polar Vortex Closet Cleanout, Paleo Bread and Meatloaf. Plus a Bonus of Rocket & Ruffy!
1. Food Drive – Okay the BIG news this week is that it is our annual Middle School Food Drive for Hunger Task Force. Every year, we have a homeroom competition for 1 week to see who can bring in the most food. Each day, there is a special item worth double points (pasta, peanut butter, juice / water, canned fruits / vegetables), and on Friday, the special item is canned soup, worth 5 points. Lemme tell ya, the competition is palpable. Teachers and students alike are strategizing and scheming to win the coveted SOUPerbowl trophy on Friday. In fact, I can’t even tell you who won yet because I’m waiting with bated breath to find out! It is so touching to see how much the students really care about this project – I know it hits home for so many of them. Going without food is something you would never wish on another human being. This is especially poignant this time of year when cold weather and rising costs of electricity compound the problem for many families. So my students all happily participate in this project, and many get creative to raise funds and/or collect food. In my homeroom, I ask that even if we don’t win, we must have 100% participation. Everyone donates at least 1 can of food or some change so I can go out and buy food. Well so far my students have donated over $165! I took the money to Aldi to purchase soup for SOUPerbowl Friday, and that’s what you see above. $165 worth of soup! I sure do hope my kiddos win, but even if they don’t, they win a valuable lesson about empathy, values, and the joy of giving.
2. Review Quotes – We have begun our short story unit for Quarter 3. After each short story, I have my students write a “Review Quote.” They wind up writing about 10 of these, and they get very good at them through the process. It is a combination of creative and expository writing. They must be very selective about their word choice as they attempt to ‘sell’ the book, but they must also cover all the material required in a thorough review / critique. The image above is just a teaser of this mini unit, which I am working on getting up on TPT soon. It is currently 9 pages of ideas and instructions that the students find very helpful to guide them through the process. I get excited to see how much they grow through this unit! They carefully pick and choose their words, deliberating every detail. It’s a fun unit!
3. Spreading Sunshine – I had so much fun this week spreading ‘sunshine.’ Florida sunshine, that is! This is a crate of oranges imported directly from Florida. Before school, I went from classroom to classroom delivering oranges to our hardworking, deserving, and oh-so-exhausted teachers. I hope it made them smile!
4. Polar Vortex Project – We had 2 Cold Days this week, which meant I didn’t leave my home (or my pajamas!) on Monday or Tuesday. I got a little bit of cabin fever. What? I just don’t sit still well. Most teachers don’t – we like to keep moving. So I kept busy by cleaning out my entire closet and dresser. Now, it’s an organized masterpiece! The second picture is a pile of clothes I donated. Most of them went to my students who asked for or needed warm sweaters and other clothing. So I got a jump start on my Spring Cleaning!
5. Mmmmm – Another way I kept busy during the Polar Vortex Cold Days was baking and cooking! I made Against All Grain’s Paleo Bread and Nom Nom Paleo’s Super Porktastic Bacon-Topped Spinach Meatloaf. Y’all, these things CHANGED. MY. LIFE. Seriously. I can eat ‘bread’ again! It was so great to smear it with almond butter! And the meatloaf? I’m never NOT topping meatloaf with bacon ever again. Adding the spinach made the meatloaf so juicy and delicious. These women are geniuses, and I hope they make millions off of their cookbooks.
6. The boys got their hairs cut. They are so cute. I just love them so!
We are beginning our new fiction unit this week, which will take us through 3rd quarter. I always like to kick-start the unit by first watching WALL*E to identify elements of fiction and figurative language, then reading a favorite short story “Love” by William Maxwell.
The story is not a happy one, but rather bittersweet. The narrator reminisces about his 5th grade teacher who died at an early age of tuberculosis. He learns hard lessons about love and the ephemeral nature of life.
This is a perfect short story for introducing your students to figurative language and foreshadowing. First, we read the story as a class. Then, there are 8 comprehension questions that require some inferencing and evidence from the text, as well as analyzing quotes for imagery and mood. Finally, I have my students go back to the story and look for figurative language and foreshadowing of Miss Brown’s early departure from this world.
Oh to see the looks on their faces when they start finding all of the hidden clues. Honestly, they were having FUN. Yes, it was like a giant game of iSpy with words instead of pictures. It became a challenge of who could find the most clues.
Then, I project the story on the SMARTBoard and invite students up to the board to underline the examples of figurative language and foreshadowing, as well as explain the 2 layers of meaning for each phrase. All of my students can do this, and some even surprise themselves. Even though the story is a sad one, they are laughing and smiling with confidence as they realize that they can find complexity and meaning in a seemingly simple story.
If you’d like to purchase your own copy of this 2-day activity, click here!
Can you believe it’s almost February? I’ve seen Valentine’s Day items popping up at stores around town, and I suddenly realized it’s only one month away! I have 2 great Valentine’s Day reading activities to share with you.
First, I will share with you a close-reading activity on The History of Saint Valentine’s Day. This 10-page activity includes a 3-page handout about the mysterious history of St. Valentine the martyr, and the evolution of today’s Valentine’s Day holiday. It gives 2 different historical accounts of the Christian martyr’s life and death, plus an explanation of Pagan influence on this celebrated holiday. There is also an explanation of Valentine’s Day as it is celebrated today, and the symbols and traditions around this special day.
This is a close-reading or text-based reading activity because the text is divided into smaller, manageable chunks with follow-up questions after each section. The student must find evidence within the text to answer the questions (following Common Core Standards and language) by highlighting or underlining.
This would be an excellent activity to do with your entire class, or with an intervention group of struggling readers. It would easily align to your Language Arts / English, Social Studies / History, or Religious Studies curriculum as a cross-curricular lesson. You can use this text any time, not just for Valentine’s Day! If you would like to purchase this activity, you can click here.
The next activity I will share with you is Author’s Purpose Guided Practice for Grades 6-10 a FREE activity. In this activity, students will learn about PIE: Persuade, Inform, and Entertain. Then, they will read 3 sample texts and discuss how each is an example of persuasive, informative, or entertaining writing.
If you enjoy this FREE mini activity and want to purchase a full lesson plan on Author’s Purpose, I also have the Identifying Author’s Purpose full lesson plan.
The Identifying Author’s Purpose activity includes 15 writing samples that students will first identify as either persuasive, informative, or entertaining. Then, they will decide what the author is trying to convince them of (persuasion), inform them of (informative), or entertain them with (entertain). It includes a handout explaining the key features and genres of persuasive, informative, and entertaining (PIE) texts, model/sample writing for each category (3 total). Read and discuss as a class, and guided practice sample writing for each category (3 total). Students can read, discuss, and identify the sample texts in small groups, while they also engage in close reading to determine the type of writing (PIE) and the author’s specific goal.
I hope these activities can help you and your students to engage in some close reading strategies and techniques throughout February!
Have you read the novel Spite Fences? I didn’t think so. It is a wonderful novel for 8th through *9th graders, but it is so often overlooked! (*Note: Scholastic says that this novel is geared for 6-8th grade interest levels, but I disagree based on the content and figurative language). I have been teaching this novel unit for the past 7 years, and I always see a tremendous amount of growth in my students – I just love this unit, and it is the perfect way to end our 8th grade year! We find so many ways to make cross-curricular connections between Language Arts and Social Studies with this unit.
The novel is about a 13-year old girl named Maggie Pugh who lives in a small Georgian town in the 1960s. She is poor, white, and the victim of abuse from her mother and next-door neighbor. She is at the age where she begins to notice things – facilitated by the gift of a camera to help her ‘see the world’ – and she questions the segregation and customs in her town. Because this novel is historical fiction, it is filled with references to important Civil Rights Era people and events. Since Maggie is a very bright young girl, and also a bit of a tomboy, my students don’t view this as a ‘girl’ book – in fact, my boys really love it and demonstrate much growth in their critical evaluation skills while reading/discussing this novel.
The magic of this novel is that it is the perfect piece to help students begin to discover figurative language. Spite Fences is rife with challenging language and thought-provoking questions about morals and real-world conflicts. It investigates important themes of human rights, dignity, faith, coming of age, and staying true to one’s beliefs. My students become outraged by many of the events, and we have very lively classroom discussions. There are so many subtle hints and hidden treasures that only a discerning, critical reader will catch. When I point out that the ‘fence’ represents oh-so-much-more than just a wooden structure, and that it is 6 feet tall, made of pine (::cough:: casket ::cough::) the students are mesmerized by the layers of depth and meaning.
My only lament is that this novel is no longer in print, but can be purchased second-hand or as an ebook. I still have paperback copies that I plan to use until they fall apart!
I have posted this unit in my Teachers pay Teachers store to share, since I firmly believe it is the perfect novel to use with your 8th and 9th grade students to prepare them for more challenging contemporary literature. I’ve made the reading response worksheets so that a student could even guide themselves through the novel – it would be a great option for an independent reader or a homeschooler as well. The unit spans 2 months, which is an entire quarter in my curriculum. The unit includes a prior knowledge activity – a movie guide for the film “A Time for Justice.”
This powerful 1994 documentary brings the Civil Rights movement to life and helps set the stage for this historical fiction. The best part is – you can order this kit (DVD + Lesson Plans) for FREE!
The Spite Fences Unit also includes a chapter-by-chapter reading guide with questions that range in type and complexity from inference to critical thinking, multiple choice, true/false, fill-in-the-blank, matching, and open-ended short answer questions. This unit is great for end of the year test prep by providing students with a wide range of possible reading response questions. An answer key is included.
While reading the novel, my students also complete a fun reading response project. They create an Altered Book (or Scrapbook) that includes 9 ‘pages’ or installations. What we do is find some old hardcover books to repurpose by glueing or writing new things into the pages.
These Altered Book page assignments are designed to illicit deep thinking and writing that require students to find evidence and dig deeper into the topics and themes of the novel (following Common Core language for text-based discussion). Each ‘page’ has a pre-writing, brainstorming page to help students collect their thoughts. Here are some examples of their work:
This entire Spite Fences Unit includes:
* Welcome letter with lesson plan outline
* Enduring Understandings and Common Core State Standards
* “A Time for Justice” documentary movie guide with answer key to help build prior knowledge
* Reading Guide with answer key
* Altered Book Project with samples, rubric, and planning pages
If you are interested in purchasing this unit, click here!
I can’t wait for 4th quarter to start our final unit of the year – my favorite!
As semester 1 comes to a close, I am gearing up for a new intervention group. I will get a group of about 7 students who are below grade level in reading (based on the MAP Measures of Academic Progress score). I will work with them twice a week for a half hour. As a small group, we will focus on improving our reading strategies and skills, as well as confidence with reading (a key component, in my opinion).
We will begin by having a frank discussion of why we are meeting as an intervention group. I want to empower my students, not make them feel like they are being ‘punished’ for an extra hour per week. I let them know that they have many strengths and skills, but sometimes we may need to brush up on one skill in particular or practice a skill until it become easier or more automatic. I make them feel special like we are in a top secret testing research group trying to figure out all of the tricks of the standardized tests (we discuss test-taking language and strategies as well). It’s important to me that they feel like part of a team when we meet, and that everyone enjoys working together. Let’s just say there is a lot of candy and bribery involved in the beginning.
An analogy I like to use with my struggling readers is that becoming a strong reader is sometimes like baking cookies – you can have all the best ingredients, but if you are missing one tiny item (like salt), the cookies just won’t work. It’s my job to help them realize that they have all those wonderful ingredients ready to go, and I help them find the missing ‘salt’ so that everything comes together. We aren’t starting from scratch, we’re just identifying and filling a tiny gap here or there.
On our first day, I will introduce them to this awesome new website I came across called Newsela. Newsela is self-described as, “an innovative way for students to build reading comprehension with non-fiction that’s always relevant: daily news.” Essentially, it is a news website that allows you to change the reading level of an article at the click of a button. I can upload my class roster and assign readings to my students, complete with a comprehension quiz at the end! And since we have iPads, the students can even annotate or take notes as they read the articles. If you peruse the website, you will see that they are all very high-interest stories. We are beginning with “Making a robot that flies like a jellyfish swims.”
The Lexile levels of the articles range from 630 to 1130. Below is a Lexile to grade level conversion chart reported on the Lexile website.
I can assign any student a different Lexile level based on his/her individual needs. I am going to start all of my students at the 630 level as we build rapport, confidence, and momentum. My goal is to have them reading independently at the 800 level before they are dismissed from interventions.
First, we will activate any prior knowledge students might have about jellyfish and/or robots, and we try to predict what they might have in common. Next, I will pre-teach only one important vocabulary word: imitate. We will scan the article and notice that it is divided into sections. We will read it out loud together as a group, and then decide what the main idea or key idea of the entire article was.
The next part of the lesson combines text-based reading strategies and the SQ3R method. It involves 2 different highlighter colors, let’s say pink (color #1) and blue (color #2). First, I will have the students highlight in pink (color #1) any sentences that they believe supports our main idea of the paragraph – supporting details. If our main idea is, ‘scientists are trying to invent flying robots that imitate jellyfish,’ then we will highlight in color #1 any ideas that help to explain how and/or why scientists are planning to accomplish this.
Next, we will turn each of the subsection titles into a question. For example, instead of “Very Simple Creatures,” we might ask, “Why are jellyfish considered very simple creatures?” Students will use their second color to highlight any sentences or key details in that subsection that helps them answer the question. The key here is that they are always looking for evidence in the text – it’s not just pulled out of nowhere. This plan also helps students to visually chunk the text into smaller manageable parts – a strategy they can easy enact with all of their reading.
So that is our plan to tackle non-fiction for a few weeks. I will slowly increase the Lexile level to test the waters and see how students fair with less and less guided support from me. I want to see these skills of activating prior knowledge, chunking text, and looking for main ideas with supporting evidence FROM the text, to become automatic. I have high hopes for these students, and I can’t wait to report back with their progress!
Yesterday morning, I was asked to give a presentation to the staff at our monthly Morning Staff Meeting on Reading in the Content Areas (Science, Math, and Social Studies). Though I am a Language Arts teacher for 3 classes a day, I am also the part-time Reading Specialist for our school, so Professional Development is one of my honors and duties in that role.
For this Professional Development session on Reading, I decided to focus on Close Reading and Text-Based Reading Strategies, which I have been studying as part of my Reading Specialist coursework as well as my PhD in Language and Literacy. I created a 10-age handout on the top strategies that a classroom teacher can implement to modify a text for struggling readers.
I designed this handout by first selecting a short, 1-page text that might be used in a 6th through 8th grade classroom. Then, I described each of the strategies/modifications as well as modeled how I would use that strategy with the model text. This way, teachers will have plenty of examples right at their fingertips. I also offered to help teachers select, create, and implement these strategies in their classroom. The strategies include:
The great news was that my colleagues had heard of or had experience with each of these strategies at some point, but they were glad to have a resource that modeled how to use them as a refresher. It’s also a helpful idea to have this list of ideas in case you just need a reminder of another strategy to try.
If you would like to purchase this handout on Close Reading and Text-Based Reading, you can access it at my Teachers Pay Teachers Store by clicking the link or picture above. Thank you!
Wow, quarter 2 is flying by! It’s already time for progress reports. With only 2 weeks left until winter break, this week seemed to go by in a blink. Here are the highlights:
1. Choir Practice – Our 6th, 7th, and 8th grade choirs are rehearsing for their upcoming winter concert. Since my room is right across the hall from the gymnasium, I’ve been enjoying the beautiful music for the past couple of days. We have some very talented students! Post-Thanksgiving, I can’t get enough Christmas music 🙂
2. Catching Fire – I finally got to go see Hunger Games: Catching Fire! It was a very captivating, engaging movie. I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I found it (gulp)… better than the book. The second book had a very slow progression, and it become stale and boring at times; it was not my favorite of the 3 books. But the silver screen affords many opportunities for editing and pacing to help refocus and inject some action and excitement into the story. I felt it was still true to the book, while emphasizing important plot points and glossing over less essential information to engage viewers and keep the plot moving. It didn’t feel as gruesome or shocking as the onscreen action in the first Hunger Games movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it (but watch Hunger Games first, of course!).
3. The Paper Chain – I am really enjoying using my first self-published ebook with my students: The Paper Chain. I have sent them the book, chapter by chapter, on ebackpack (our school’s electronic file-sharing app). Having the ebook in digital form allows students to keep track of the file without misplacing it. They can manipulate the book themselves, adding annotation such as highlighting, images, text, and notes. The digital format has also allowed me to share color files with students, which has proven essential for engaging students and keeping them organized (I can simply say, “Look at the blue box.” or “Read the text in green.”). These iPads have really been a huge benefit for our Language Arts classroom, and I don’t think I could ever go back to pencil and paper!
4. Solutions – As part of our Argumentation Unit, students just completed a collaborative discussion on our class topic of Fast Food Restaurants. Half of the students represented stakeholders that oppose fast food, and half represented stakeholders that support fast food. Having wrapped up our verbal debate, students moved on to generating possible solutions / compromises – a topic which will be included in the conclusion of their Final Argument Paper. I was very proud of the great solutions they generated as a class! See the list above, and be proud of our future 🙂
5. Dembro Doggy Daycare – Yes, my sister is out of town on her penultimate dental school interview (8 of 9 interviews). The madness is almost over! We are watching her dog, Tyger, while she is away. Add that to the madness that is our house – incorporating a new dog, Ruffy, into the mix – and we have a bit of chaos. It’s a lot of barking, a lot of walks, pets, treats, belly rubs – a lot of everything! The dogs are very happy though, and isn’t that what it’s all about? Right now, they are all sleeping on the couch, very peacefully, so I’ll have to enjoy this brief moment of quiet before my husband comes home or a dog comes on the TV or some other catalyst for crazy.
Today, I had the privilege of attending the 26th annual Art of Writing Conference at the Milwaukee Art Museum. This is my 7th time returning. The Art of Writing Conference is a truly amazing experience where hundreds of young authors and artists, grades 1-12, come from across the state to meet at the Milwaukee Art Museum for a day of exploration and writing.
We begin the day by breaking up into small grade-level groups of about 10 students from different schools, and we tour the museum together. Our goal is to choose a few pieces of art and discuss the artist’s message while also looking for a way to connect personally to the piece. As a former docent and an Art History major, this is definitely my favorite part of the day. The students do some very deep reflecting and thinking on the art – oh you would be so proud! They have such profound and touching things to say. I never get tired of the museum tour because each group of students sees something different – even if it’s the same piece I’ve viewed with hundreds of students before them, I always hear something new.
Later in the afternoon, we gather for a silent hour of writing or sketching. The authors generate a first draft of their writing piece, which is a 500 word personal narrative inspired by a piece of artwork we viewed in the morning. We sit at a table in the middle of the gallery – what a gift to be able to write surrounded by world treasures! After a break for pizza in the Calatrava, we engage in Writing Workshop: peer revision, editing, and writing a final copy. Then, voila, their work is published in a few short months! We all return to the museum for a ‘Book Release Party,’ and the students get a copy of their published work.
I am very grateful for this opportunity to be inspired by the art, authors, and artists. I wish I could take all of my students every year, because it is such a unique opportunity.
By the way, there was a really cool surprise for me this year. They start the conference every year with a video about the conference and the writing process. It features video captured from previous conferences. Imagine my surprise when I saw myself up on the big screen in the auditorium! Here I am leading my group of 8th graders last fall. Of the hundreds of people there, it was neat to be in the spotlight!
This week, as we work on our Argumentative Writing Unit, we are currently preparing to locate evidence on the Internet. Before we can find appropriate evidence, we need to learn how to determine which websites are credible and reliable.
As a pretest, I gave all of my students a handout of Google search results screenshot. I asked them which links they would click on, given our specific topic and purpose. A large percentage of the students chose the first link simply because it was the first link – not considering that the 2nd or 3rd link were actually a better fit. Then, I sent my students to a website and asked them if it was a credible website. The majority of them wrote something like, “yes, because it has good information and facts.” It was then that I knew we needed a conversation on determining the credibility of websites.
Through our class discussion, I heard the same ideas over and over again – blogs and wikipedia are bad news. I fundamentally disagree with these statements, and I have been working on deconstructing this illogic and convincing my students otherwise. Wikipedia used to be considered a highly unreliable source. However, each page now has a list of references and self-appointed curators who monitor the page. While I would not use Wikipedia as a direct source in a paper, I would use it as a starting point to familiarize myself with a topic, then follow the source/links at the bottom for more direct information. Blogs can also be reliable, if written by an expert in the field and/or if it includes credible citations and resources. UN-teaching these Internet myths has been a real challenge with my students.
Below is a list of ideas we generated as a class to decide if a website is credible. There is never a clear black/white answer. It is best to consider all of these ideas together, then make an educated guess as to whether a site is trustworthy enough to include references in your writing.
If you’d like your own copy, you can download the FREE poster here. If you have any comments on this poster – ideas for improvement, or ideas we forgot – please add your thoughts in the comments! Thanks!
We have begun working on our Argumentation Unit – a Common Core aligned unit in which students investigate all sides of a topic, choose a side (or in my classroom, I assign stakeholders to make sure that all perspectives are represented), debate and discuss the topic as the stakeholder, come to a compromise or solution as a class, then write a final paper in which they use reasoning and evidence. This all follows the TELCon writing structure – Thesis/Topic, Evidence, Link, Concluding Sentence.
So far, we have begun by selecting 8 Controversial Topics to discuss as a class. (First, we had to even define ‘Controversial.’) For the past two days, we have been deciding which questions we might be interested in investigating as a class based on interest and researchability. We start by considering each question, one at a time. I have the students generate a ‘pro’ and ‘con’ list in their notebooks. Then, they took some time to dig around on the internet and see what kind of evidence they could locate to support either side.
The steroid question is definitely of high-interest amongst my students. However, there is an abundance of research and evidence for the ‘No’ side of the argument with very little supporting evidence on the ‘Yes’ side. For this reason, we decided to eliminate #4. My students are VERY interested in #8 (Fast-food restaurants) and #5 (Cloning). If they decided to go with the cloning topic, we will first have to define cloning and learn more about it before we can develop reasons and locate evidence.
Tomorrow, we are going to pick the one question we will pursue as a class. Then, we will generate a list of stakeholders in the argument – each student will be assigned a stakeholder role. Next, we will generate a list of questions we have about this topic as well as a list of information each stakeholder may need to locate.
I am taking them through this whole process of the Argumentation Unit using both my Argument Unit materials and The Paper Chain, an Argumentative Writing Instructional Workbook. It is very helpful to go step-by-step through this process with them. I will be sure to continue posting about our progress as a class. This is a very high-interest unit – I can’t wait for 2nd quarter to teach it every year!