Archive | October, 2013

Strong Nouns and Verbs

19 Oct

Jeff Anderson talks about an activity you can do with the book, An Island Grows, to teach kids about powerful two word sentences.

The book chronicles how an island is created, from earthquakes and volcanoes all the way to animals populating the island and settlers coming, in a series of two words sentences with strong language.


Stone breaks.

Water quakes.

Magma glows.

Volcano blows.

Lava flows

and flows

and flows.

An island grows.

After reading the story and discussing how the author used specific nouns and verbs to form images in our mind, we created our own story.  A sport is an easy subject for most students to write about.  Lots of small moments happen, from sweat dripping to crowds cheering, and students have all experienced some kind of physical exertion.

We settled on running, and first created a column with all of the nouns–people, places, things, or ideas–that we could think of when running.

Then we thought of actions that went with each of those nouns.  Some, like feet, could have more than one, like “pound,” or “ache.”

Finally, we put them together, trying to recreate the race in chronological order, from the beginning to the end.

photo 4

It was nice to see our environments science unit come into play!

It was nice to see our environments science unit come into play!


Rhythmic Gymnastics

Rhythmic Gymnastics


It was an easy activity for all students to engage in, because they could pick any topic they new well (one picked “sleeping” 🙂 ) and it clearly showed the level of language the class was capable of.  Some students who weren’t sure what to do mentored off of our class running piece, which was a good way for them to start incorporating more specific, sophisticated language into their writing.

Strategies for Organizing Notes

12 Oct

There are a lot of ways to organize your thinking.

  • notes on file cards
  • facts on sticky note that can be moved around
  • facts on pages with different headings
  • notes you can cut up and reorganize

Earlier this year, we used different colored highlighters to help students visually see how to cluster their information.  We were creating brochures on the regions of California.  Students took notes on each region separately–desert, mountains, valley, coast–but I wanted them to try organizing their information within their brochure.  This was our first project of the year, and it wasn’t a major one, so we went for a system that was engaging and fast.  I have never met a kid who didn’t love a highlighter, and it’s a nice visual way to show them how to organize notes.

First, we looked at an example/non-example of an organized paragraph.  We read each paragraph, and highlighted the similar sections together: geography, living factors, resources and activities, and voice.  (I wasn’t going to harp on author’s craft, but I wanted the students ready to put some life into their brochures to go ahead and do it.)

photo 1 (1)

With my first class, I let them then organize their notes using whatever colors they wanted, but that wasn’t supported enough.  For the second class, we came up with colors and categories together, so everyone was on the same page.

photo 2 copy

Students then began to highlight their notes.  It was messy, and we had a lot of negotiating to do as we figured out where facts that didn’t quite fit any category should go, but students were engaged during the 1 photo 2

Then they were ready to write!  The final products generally showed facts clustered together (or better yet, combined into one or two more complex sentences) and they gave me a good sense of where students needed to go next.

photo 3    photo 4


Transition words, here we come :).

TCRWP Ideas for Teaching Into Higher Level Comprehension

5 Oct

Poking around the TCRWP site I found this collection of videos aimed at helping teachers work on higher level comprehension.

They’re all worth investigating, but the last video, of Mary Ehrenworth presenting to school leaders, gives ideas after idea for how teachers can address the Common Core reading standards that focus on higher level comprehension.  I struggle sometimes to figure out how to break down some of these complex standards for students, and teach them in a concrete way, and the way Mary presents each cluster of standards using current books kids are reading (like The Lightening Thief and Twilight) brings them to life.

Some ideas she shared that resonated were:

  • Look at themes from books and think, what other books have these themes?  For example, in Because of Winn Dixie, we see that one child can change a town and community.  Read that book in conjunction with a book like Freedom Summer or Wringer, or Hoot.  Tease apart how the characters and themes are similar, and different.
  • Around minute 20 she begins to address literary traditions.  The idea that Harry Potter connects to Narnia, which connects to Lord of the Rings.   Or that Twilight is really a modern, vampire-influenced Romeo and Juliet.  Children can look at a book as being a part of a literary tradition and again compare and contrast how the book carries on traditional themes and plots, and how it subverts them.
  • Series, especially series at around a 5th and above reading level, allow readers to synthesize over hundreds of pages and see characters change.  Artemis Fowl is a fantastic fantasy series for seeing a character develop.  Katniss approaches the second Hunger Games differently than the first.
  • Finally, at the end, Mary puts all the ways of thinking about books together to analyze Brave Irene with the group.  It’s always fun to see how you can do this kind of deep thinking work with picture books that every student can access!

Predicting Based on Characters’ Past Actions

5 Oct

By fourth grade, students are often proficient at making predictions about what will happen at the end of a book-general thoughts like, “the hero will defeat the bad guy,” or “she’ll make the team and help win the game,” based on how books usually go.  That is, they understand that their characters will go through hardships and triumph in the end.  What they aren’t as used to is making small predictions–close predictions–thinking about  how a character might respond to the next big event or interaction based on how that character has responded in the past.

The BBC’s Teaching English channel has a lesson that uses Mr. Bean to teach prediction that can help launch this kind of thinking.  Mr. Bean is a great character to use for prediction work, because he has a very clear M.O.  He tries to solve his problems in ways that fix the immediate issues, but miss the main point.  For example, in the short clip, “Packing for a Holiday,” Mr. Bean manages to fit everything in a suitcase, but he does so by making the items useless, like packing only half a shoe.

We watched about half of the clip, and then we began to stop to predict how Mr. Bean would solve his next problem.  After watching him squirt out half his toothpaste and pack just one shoe, students were eager to predict how he would ruin his pants to fit them.  “He’ll cut just one leg off, to match his one shoe!” some offered, while others thought he’d cut them off at the knees.  Everyone agreed he wouldn’t choose to just fold them.

When we got to the moment where he thinks about his teddy bear, we had a new twist.  A surprising number of a students (about a third) were familiar with Mr. Bean already.  They offered the insight that he really loved his teddy bear–he thought of it as a friend and person.  So we posed the question: if Mr. Bean tends to ruin things when packing them, but he really loves his bear, how will he handle packing the bear?  Now we had two pieces of information to take into account when predicting what he would do next.

“He’ll cut the bear open, take out the stuffing like surgery, and then later sew him back together,” offered one student.

Another suggested, “I think he’ll keep just the head, because that’s what’s important.”

“He’ll stuff the bear under his shirt instead of packing it so he can keep the whole bear, but it will look silly,” said a third.

Mr. Bean eventually chooses to just pack his whole bear, but we stopped to think about the idea that sometimes you have multiple sources of information about a character that you have to take into account when making a prediction–not just past actions, but past thoughts and feelings.

We ended with the idea that just like they used everything they learned about Mr. Bean to make predictions about what he would do next, as readers we constantly used everything we knew about characters–their past actions, thoughts and feelings–to predict how they might react to the next event or problem in their story.

There’s actually an entire channel devoted to Mr. Bean on YouTube, and I can imagine a lot of gems for teaching tucked away in the clips!



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