Monday, March 30, 2015


Homework.  It is definitely a love-hate relationship that I have with that word.  On the one hand, I think the practice time is incredibly valuable for the students.  On the other, I know that with after school activities and the fact that the kids spend 6 + hours at school, they need a break.  With this in mind, I have formulated a homework plan in my room that is quick, to the point, easy to follow, and, most importantly, useful.

For me, as I am sure is the case with many of you, homework consists of pages that I *would* assign during class if time allowed.  It is not busy work.  It is useful items that I believe provide consistent and necessary practice of skills that we are learning in class. 

So what do I assign?

Nightly, the students have the following.

Read for 20 minutes.
Complete a reading log response for the reading.
Math Review Page
Paragraph of the Week
Root Words

I know...looks like a lot.  But it actually isn't all that much.  Let me break it all down for you. (25 minutes a night)

My students read for 20 minutes each night.  They can read anything they wish, as long as it is something they enjoy.  Then, they have to fill out a reading log response.  This isn't a simple fill in the title and mom sign it log.  The kids have to actually respond to their reading.  There are 5 different response to choose from each week, asking the kids to use their comprehension skills and strategies to respond in a meaningful way.
Math (10 minutes a night)

I have written about my Spiral Math Homework many, many times.  This is a 10 problem, cumulative spiral math review that I have written for my students.  They practice a problem or two from the lesson that day, but more importantly, they practice everything else that they have learned over the course of the quarter/year.  It is truly something I am passionate about.  I believe with the whole of my being that my students outperform others on state tests because of this homework.  No matter what grade I teach, it is this homework that carries me through.  Math is just better because of this constant review.  

Comprehension (10 minutes a night)

I have the students practice the test taking strategies we learn on this page nightly.  I pull from many different sources, but lately I am really loving  The passages are free and are based upon skills and strategies that the kids need.
Paragraph of the Week (5 - 10 minutes a night)

I assign one page a night to the students.   The pages progress each day of the week to create a clear, cohesive paragraph by Friday.  Each day, we go over various strategies that they can use to make their paragraphs better.  The sheer repetition of it all has made my kids better writers.
Root Words (5 minutes a night)

We start a section of this trifold in class each day.  The kids then finish it at home.  We review the next day.  It is an easy, fast way to get the kids thinking about the roots and word structure of vocabulary words.

What is KEY about all of this is that in class EVERY.SINGLE.DAY we review the work.  It is worked in to my schedule that we go over the homework.  That way, if students don't understand something, we will have a chance to review it.  They also then see that homework is an important part of our school day, since I am making it a part of our school day.  It isn't just busy work that will never be looked at again.  Kids know that it is necessary for our daily routine and class structure.

What does your homework assignment look like?  How do you incorporate it into your day?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

I Read to Write

Analyzing nonfiction text is something that we have been focusing on this year with the full implementation of CCSS.  I am always on the look out for new resources to help me with this, and when Zaner-Bloser contacted me to review their new "I Read to Write Kits", I jumped on the opportunity. 

Disclaimer:  Zaner-Bloser sent me a class set of these kits in exchange for an honest review.  Though they did send them to me, the thoughts on the program below are my own and not influenced in any way by this.

The I Read to Write kits are consumable workbooks for the students to use to dive into text.  There are three units in the 5th grade level, one about Space Exploration, one about the American Revolution, and another about Sports that use math.  Each of the stories are highly engaging and very relevant to what my students are interested in (and what I am interested in as a teacher....hello American Revolution!!) 

I have been using these with my class to get them to read closer in the text.  We annotate the text, writing purpose questions, underlining key details to support main idea, answer text dependent questions, and construct short answers about the text.  There is also a writing portion that has the kids writing either a narrative, opinion piece, or informational text based on the three reading passages in the unit.

Here are the pros to this program:
*  The Teacher's Guide is included.  This is really, really awesome.  While I was still able to teach them my own strategies (ie: writing the purpose of the reading and finding main idea each time), the TG gave me additional strategies specific to the story that I could incorporate.

*  They are consumable.  The students could write directly on the book.  The pages are in full color, making text features easy to see and gave the close reading a sort of novelty for the kids.

*  They are aligned to common core standards.  With the CCSS being so new for everyone, having something that hits multiple standards, as well as helps get them test-ready is very welcome in my classroom.

Here are the cons to the program:
*  They are consumable.  While I really do love this feature, that means that I can only use them with one class of students.  As a teacher, that could get very costly for me if I am purchasing a class set on my own.    

*  The writing portion is a bit unscaffolded for me.  There are writing organizers, but I would have loved if there was some help getting the kids to actually show text evidence in their writing.  This could definitely be a personal preference issue, but I would like a bit more help here in this area with my students.

Overall, I am so very happy to have had this program to use with my students.  I feel like it was very beneficial and truly did help my kids to have another set of texts to use to dig into.  I liked the text dependent questions and the fact that the kids had to write short answers as well as answer multiple choice questions.  I feel that these books have been a good resource to have in my room and have added to my repertoire of what I can use with my students. 

The Kits are $29.95 for a set of 5, or a class set for $175.  You can also request a FREE SAMPLE HERE!
If you would like more information about the I Read to Write kits, which are available in grades 2-6,  you can find visit their website here

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Culminating Response to Literature Ideas

Culminating tasks for novels and other fiction stories are always something I am looking for, so I thought that you, reader, might also be in search of some.   We have finished reading our novel study of Tuck Everlasting last week, so this week, we have been responding to the story as a whole class.  I wanted to share with you two of the culminating responses we have done.  Both of these can be done with ANY piece of literature, not just Tuck (though, I have to say, both my students and I really found ourselves immersed in the story!)

The question is from Got To Teach's Pack for Tuck!
First, I had my students answer some higher level, deeper thinking questions about the story.  To do this, we did a Graffiti Wall style poster.  Basically, I took 6 questions that were text dependent upon Tuck Everlasting and wrote each one on a separate piece of 17" x 17" paper (I used those dimensions because the window pane glass is that large and I wanted to display them can use any size poster you wish.)  Then, I asked the students to get into groups of 5, with a few groups of 6 since I have 33 students.  Each group gathered around a poster and SILENTLY answered the question.  The students all were writing on the poster at the same time.  So while they were all sitting together answering the same question, this was NOT a collaborative project.  It was each kid answering the question on his own.  After about 4 minutes, the groups switched papers.  They worked for 4 minutes each time, rotating the paper between the groups as time was called.  The paper rotated 6 times so that each student had a chance to answer each question.

What is great about this Graffiti Wall is that all of the students get a chance to write their thoughts without having to feel the pressure to fill an entire page themselves.  What's more, it makes a great display of their learning from the book!
You can see that the writing is upside-down, sideways, and generally, all over the place.  That adds to the "graffiti" aspect of it!

A second response that we did with this novel was using my Story Element Task Cards.  I can't tell you how much I love these things.  Serious love. 

There are about 24 different cards, of which I made 3 copies of each.  The cards are sorted by number.  So there are 4 different plot cards, all with a different number 1-4.  Each of the story elements is this way.  The kids pick one card, say a Theme of the #3.  They respond to that theme question in the #3 section on their recording sheet.  Then, they have to choose another card, but this time from a different number set AND different element (such as setting or character or point of view.)  What I love is that the kids are choosing these open ended cards themselves, so they naturally have a little more buy in.  Since they have to pick one from each of the numbered sections, the kids can't only pick easy drawing ones either.  There is built in rigor and differentiation....and each project looks different!  Did I mention I love these things??

Well, there you have it.  Two different ways to bring closure to your novel studies in class.  What is something you have done in the past?  I am always looking to add to my repertoire! 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Character and Inference

We revisited character traits and combined it with a lesson on inferring this past week. 

Our class novel, Tuck Everlasting , is filled with vivid descriptions of the various characters that lend themselves to deep inferences.  So I asked the students to think about a character that they connected with, and list 10 character traits that could be used to describe the character.  (They used this chart that we had previously glued into our journals from Read, Write, Think)

Once they had the list of character traits, the students had to list text evidence from the novel that supported their character trait inference, AND their own schema that led them to the inference.

After the list was complete, the students did two things.  First, they wrote a paragraph describing the character from the story using the character traits and the inferences.  I had them use this form (which is from my Character Traits in 5 Days pack, but you can download for free here) to help them really keep organized.  They also had to work to reference the text, direct quote, and list the schema to create a cohesive paragraph that adequately described the character.

Then, each student was given a little man cut out.  On it, they had to write the character trait in big letters.  Under that, the direct quote and the background knowledge schema was written.  This formed a visual representation of the paragraph.....that the kids really enjoyed making!

The final product was pretty neat looking, and made a nice, standards-based bulletin board!

How have you taught/reviewed character traits and inferring?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Text Features in Our Own Writing

We have been diving into nonfiction over the past few weeks with a unit on colonial America.  One of the key things we have been looking at are how various text structures contribute to the reader's overall understanding of the text.

Each time we read a nonfiction text, whether it be in the social studies book or out of a trade book or periodical, we stopped for a second to acknowledge the text features and make note of what they were helping us, as a reader, understand.

As a whole, the class decided that pictures with captions and headings were the most helpful in giving us information that we would make the text a bit clearer.  So, when the students were in the process of writing an informational article about one of the colonial regions, we decided to include those two text features.

First, the students researched one of the three colonial regions found in the early days of English settlement.  They used multiple sources and created several prewriting organizers to gather all of the information. 

After all of the drafting was done, the students added the two text features to their final drafts.  To put the picture on, I just cut an index card in half for each student and they used that little card to create the picture box. The picture they drew then had to represent an idea in the paragraph they wrote, as well as include a summarizing caption for that picture.  The heading needed to summarize the paragraph itself.

Adding these text features to the articles the kids wrote was an easy way to connect several of the units of study we have engaged in over the past few weeks.  What have you done to get your kids to connect text features, nonfiction, and writing?