Teacher Tip Tuesday: Would You Rather…?

Today’s tip was once again inspired by Lisa Donohue from the Millersville Writing Institute…yep, I’m still blogging about the best grad class ever!

Quite simply it’s called Would You Rather?  And, do not fret, it is a completely acceptable approach to use with your youngsters.  Let’s get the technical gibberish out of the way and then let’s give it a try!

Today’s tip is going focus on comparing and contrasting  by examining  how story elements are similar (the comparing) and how they are different (the contrast).  With the Would You Rather?  technique we are going to be encouraging our students to make connections between texts or ideas and engage in critical thinking skills. This will in turn lead to a students gaining a deeper understanding of the text.  Meet our good friend the Venn Diagram because this will be the graphic organizer that spurs all that wonderful critical thinking:

Good Old Mr. Venn

The lessons are going to be focused on books that can be used during the Read Aloud block of instruction.  They can be used to promote discussion or they can be used as part of a Reader’s Response Notebook.  (By the way, be sure to click on the link for the Reader’s Response.  I think you will find some great ideas.)

Here is a brief overview of how the lesson will work:

  1. Choose book(s) that will promote critical thinking skills and analysis.
  2. Read the book(s) aloud.
  3. Share the Would You Rather? prompt.
  4. Organize thoughts on the Venn Diagram
  5. Respond in the Reader’s Notebook being sure to provide text support as to why.

Sample prompt to promote the analysis of the setting:

Would You Rather…live at Hogwarts or in the land of Narnia?

Harry Potter

Chronicles of Narnia

Sample prompt to promote the analysis of the plot line:

Would You Rather…go on an adventure with Eric, Julie, and Neal from the Secrets of Droon or go on an adventure with Jack and Annie from the Magic Tree House?

Secrets of Droon Series

Magic Tree House Series

Sample prompt to promote character analysis:

Would you rather… be Rose or Ben from the story Wonderstruck?

by Brian Selznick

Sample prompt to promote the theme (frinedship):

Would you rather…be best friends with August Pullman in Wonder or Jessica Feeney in Firegirl?

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Firegirl by Tony Abbott

Let’s not forget about nonfiction!  Here is a sample prompt the requires the analysis on content information:

Would you rather…live on Saturn or Neptune?

Saturn by Seymour Simon

Neptune by Seymour Simon

So, whatever Would You Rather? prompt you choose, it is sure to spark those critical thinking skills in your Langage Arts instruction.  I hope you give it a try, and I hope you let me know how you used it in your classroom!

Happy Reading!

Happy Writing!

Thanks for Visiting My Blog!

Teacher Tip Tuesday

After a brief hiatus last week, I am back on track for Teacher Tip Tuesday.The tip this week is going to focus on summarizing and identifying the theme.

Unless you are a teacher who has been living under a rock or hiding in a cave, I am sure there has been talk in your school about the Common Core.  Currently for part of my professional development, I am reading Pathways to the Common Core. The Common Core emphasizes that students cite textual evidence to explain what the text teaches.  The students will need to investigate language, explore themes, and analyze the meanings of the text.  So, let’s take a look at the Pennsylvania standards for Reading Literature that focuses on Key Ideas and Details/Theme.  Here are the standards for grades 4, 5 & 6:

Grade 4: Determine a theme of a text from details in the text; summarize the text.

Grade 5: Determine a theme of a text from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.

Grade 6: Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.

Whew, this seems like pretty heavy stuff for my little kiddos. However, the good news is that they can do it!  

I am a big advocate of using graphic organizers.  It seems that I create and recreate and recreate my graphic organizers all the time.  Below is the graphic organizer that I am currently using for summarizing a fictional story:

Summarizing & Identifying Theme

This organizer allows the students to identify the characters (who) and the setting (where & when).  It also has a place for students to list the key vocabulary words they want to use when they summarize.  In addition, it requires students to analyze the plot. The students need to think about the events in terms of what happened first, next, then, last and why the events happened and how the events happened. Lastly, there is a place for the students to jot down their ideas about the theme of the story.

During the Millersville Writing Institute, author Kate Messner shared this tip for writing a summary and including the theme.  It quite simply works like this:

This book is about…………  (write the summary here)

But underneath that this book is really about……. (include the theme here)

I think this would be a perfect journal entry after completing a whole class read aloud.  While I feel it easy for our students to regurgitate the events of the story, identifying the theme is definitely a challenge. I even find that some students do not understand what the word theme means.

In Aimee Buckner’s book Notebook Connections, she discusses how she helps students identify and understand the theme – the central message, concept, or lesson that is threaded throughout the book. Buckner states that she actually cheats a bit to assist the students by giving them the keyword before they read the book!  How brilliant is that?!

Notebook Connections

I am going to say that I do not cheat, but I guide my students in identifying the theme.  Enter the theme bank!  Recently I sat down with a dear colleague of mine and we created a theme bank.  This theme bank can be in a reader’s notebook and serve as a guide to help spur the theme thinking wheels.  Keep in mind that once the students identify the theme, they need to cite the evidence in the text that proves the theme. In no particular order, here are some of themes we identified:

  • Friendship
  • Respect
  • Being truthful vs. lying
  • Kindness
  • Generosity
  • Acceptance/Diversity
  • Perseverance/Achieving dreams/Trying your best
  • Sharing vs. greed
  • Adversity
  • Helping others
  • Self reliance /Believing in yourself
  • Overcoming hardships
  • Do what is right
  • Taking risks
  • Admitting your mistakes
  • Forgiveness

Hopefully some of the tips that were provided will help you meet the needs of the students in your classroom and embrace the Common Core.  It’s time for me to sign off, but let me leave you with this quote from John Dewey:

“If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.”

Teacher Tip Tuesday

It’s Teacher Tip Tuesday!  At the risk of sounding redundant, I am once again going to share yet another tip from the Millersville Writing Institute.  Remember to save the date for the Institute next year: August 5th-August 9th, 2013.

I had the privilege of hearing Lisa Donohue share her wisdom and knowledge as a teacher, author, and learner.  She shared numerous strategies during the presentation from her book The Write Voice.  Please visit Lisa at Stenhouse Publishers or visit her blog.  You can also follow her on Twitter.  She would love to hear from you.  Thank you, Lisa, for allowing me share via my blog!

Today’s strategy can be used as a prewriting activity to a persuasive writing piece.  It is called Four Corners. Let’s give it a try!

  • First you need a topic with four categories.  For this example I am going to use social networking. ***Please note: This topic would be appropriate for high school students, but  I am not recommending it for younger students. Quite simply I am using this as the sample because I want you, my favorite blog reader, to connect to the topic and I want to get you thinking!***

Facebook    Google +    Pinterest   Twitter

  • Show the four categories on the overhead and assign each category a corner of the room. Then you are ready to pose the question.  The question for this prompt is: Of the four types of social networking, which one is the best platform for social networking?
  • Now have the students move to that corner of the room and allow them to talk about why they made that particular choice. Which corner would you walk run to? Why would you walk run to that corner?  What would you discuss with your friends?
  • After the discussion has concluded have the students return to their seat and jot down in their writer’s notebook what they talked about with their group.  A quick list will serve as the prewriting part of the persuasive piece. Maybe you even want them to Write to the X.
  • The lesson can be extended to a second day by having the students mingle with someone who was not in their original group and take on a debating format.  Once again, after the discussion has concluded allow the students to add to their writer’s notebook.
  • Since the students have had a chance to discuss and prewrite, they can now visit ReadWriteThink.org and complete the graphic organizer for a persuasive piece with the following prompt:  Some people believe Facebook is the best form of social networking while others believe it is Twitter, Pinterest, or Google +.  Write a persuasive piece to convince the reader what is the best platform for social networking.

The sample Lisa used with us was: Who is the most influential person of the 21st century?  We had to choose from Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah Winfrey, or President Obama.  And let me tell you, I was walking running to the corner with the fans of Steve Jobs.  And, once we all arrived in our corner, we were so ecstatic to talk about Steve Jobs as we peered over at the Mark Zuckerberg group just shaking our heads.

So what are some topics with categories you might use with your students? How about…

  • What is the best fast food restaurant? Wendy’s, McDonalds, Subway, Burger King
  • What gaming system is the most popular? Xbox, Wii, Playstation, Sony PSP
  • What is the all-time favorite Nickelodeon show: Spongebob, Jimmy Neutron, iCarly, The Fairly Odd Parents

Whatever topic you choose, connect it to what is relevant to your students, keep it light, and keep it fun. Then when the hardcore writing prompts arrive during state testing the students will have experienced success and feel confident as a writer!

Food for Thought:

What other topics and categories would be fun to use with the Four Corners activity? Could you use this strategy in math, science, or social studies? How might you modify this lesson to meet the needs of your students?

Happy Writing!

Thanks for visiting my blog!

Teacher Tip Tuesday

Once again today’s teacher tip is a strategy that was shared by one of the facilitators from the Millersville Writing Institute.

It is called…

Writing to the “X”: Building Writing Stamina and Practicing the Art of Revision

Writing to the X is a simple strategy that leaves your student writers hungry to write while building stamina and working on revision.  So many times in the classroom there will be students who just cannot get into the flow of writing. Or, there are those students who are the “one and done” type of writer.  Quite simply, they write one piece and that is their final draft. No, no, no, we can’t have that! Enter Writing to the X!

How Writing to the X Works:

Day 1

  • Start with a blank sheet of paper and instruct the students to mark an X on the paper. As the teacher, you can decide where will be the best place for the students to mark the X.  Keep in mind, the students will not write past this line during the initial lesson.  I’m going to suggest that the students place the X halfway between the first hole and the second hole of the notebook paper and then draw a horizontal across the paper.

  • Show the photo prompt.

What does the writer see, hear, and feel when they view the photo?

What connections can the writer make with the photo?

  • Now have the students write.  The writing can take on any form, whether it is persuasive, informative, or narrative.  The student does not even need to write in complete sentences.  They can jot down a string of words, whatever flows when they see the illustration, but they are only writing to the X! Remember the goal of Writing to the X is to build writing stamina, practice the art of revision, and LEAVE THEM HUNGRY TO WRITE MORE!
  • Have the students share what they wrote.  This can be done with a partner or the students can use circulate the classroom and share with several classmates.  I like to call the latter style of sharing the Dinner Party because the students are actually mingling with their classmates.  The key during the sharing is the verbal interaction.  There should be no writing during the sharing.  After the sharing, the students should put their notebook away.  That’s it for today.  Remember, leave them hungry to write!

Day 2

  • Start with a blank piece of paper and place a new X on the paper. This time the X can be between the second and third hole of the notebook paper and then have the students draw a horizontal line.
  • The students will need their writing piece from day 1.  Show the photo again.  Now the students can think about the sharing from day 1 and steal some ideas or thoughts from the sharing of the previous lesson.  That’s right, they can steal ideas!  They should also work on revising and adding to the piece. But, they can only write to the X!
  • Share again.  No writing! Leave them hungry to write for the next lesson!

Day 3

  • Repeat the process, this time have the students fill up an entire blank sheet of paper.
  • Continue to work through the writing process to create a final draft.

Variation on this lesson:

  • Instead of writing to the X you might want to set a timer and have the students write for a specific amount of time.  Maybe three minutes the first day, six minutes the second day, and continue to increase the time accordingly! Most of all, be sure to leave them hungry to write more!
  • Writing to the X can be a sponge activity to fill up those odd gaps of time in the schedule.  Maybe you want to do two or three day 1 activities.  Then on the day 2 lesson the students will have a choice. They can choose which piece they want to continue to write and revise.  

Remember, good writers need to be reflective, observant, use their senses, and they need to read!!!

Great Readers=Great Writers

Great Writers=Great Readers

A Balanced Equation!

Food for Thought:

How might you use Writing to the X with your students?  How might you modify the lesson?  How might you enhance the lesson to meet the needs of your students?

Sneak Peak:

Next Tuesday’s Teacher Tip will be a prewriting activity for persuasive writing.  Thanks for visiting!

Teacher Tip Tuesday…on Wednesday!

Well, I had really, really good intentions of creating this post on Tuesday, but it just didn’t happen. You know what they say, “Better late than never!” so Teacher Tip Tuesday will actually happen today, on Wednesday. So here we go…

This summer I had the opportunity to attend the Millersville Writing Institute as part of my professional development.  The writing institute had to be one of the best graduate level classes that I have taken.  If you need to take a class for professional development or if you need to take a graduate class, I would highly recommend the Writing Institute at Millersville.  You can even save the date for the institute next year.  It will be held August 5th-9th, 2013. Today’s teacher tip comes from the Millersville Writing Institute.

Teacher Tip #1

This is a lesson in writing poetry.  I don’t know about you, but poetry is usually the last type of writing and/or reading that enjoy teaching.  It all comes down to the fear of the unknown.  I don’t consider myself a reader or a writer of poetry, therefore I find it difficult to teach.  However, I was able to run with lesson after it was presented at the institute.  The lesson is modeled after the book IF YOU WANT TO FIND GOLDEN by Eileen Spinelli.

In Spinelli’s book she presents a new poem on each page and it revolves around a color.  Here is just a sample of one poem from Spinelli’s book:

If you want to find green,

there’s a traffic light.

It says go!

Go to the greengrocer’s,

smell the green onions,

browse about the racks

of lettuce and spinach,

nibble on a sprig of cilantro,

if you want to find green.

The presenters at the institute put a spin on this and used the poems as introductions.  Hence, they created  poems about themselves.  It was such a clever way to share! Say good-bye to the I Am poem.  Then what I did was I created a poem about myself and modeled it on my blog on the About Me page.

How can you use this in your classroom?

If you can attain a copy of the book, first read the book aloud to the students.  I was fortunate enough to find a copy at our local library. Using the Gradual Release of Responsibility: I do, We do, You do, scaffold the instruction and guide the students through the process of creating a poem about themselves.

The poems can be shared at a morning meeting as a way for the students to get to know each other.  Or, after the students have been together for a week or so, the teacher can collect the poems and share one or two of them at a time at a morning meeting, but the teacher can leave the name of student out and have the other students try to guess which student the poem is about.  It would even be fun to bind the poems together and make a classroom book or display them in the hall for Back-to School Night.

Food for Thought:

How would you modify this lesson to make it meet the needs of your students?