September 25, 2016

Introducing and Reinforcing Read to Self

No matter how many other tasks I'm required to do the first week of school, I make introducing Read to Self a priority. I want to get the process started early and begin establishing expectations. Plus, those kids need to get reading! I use end of year testing data to get a sense of each students' reading level and prior to the start of school I phone each of my new families to find out what sort of books those kids like. Using all that info, I become a personal librarian and populate each student's book bin with books I feel will be a good fit. Building stamina begins on day 1!

I have yet to find a better explanation outside of the Daily 5 book to introduce Read to Self. I follow The Sisters process closely. My kids' favorite part is being a "star" in the example/non-example process! I make an anchor chart and put it on the wall. Prior to each session we go over expectations. Many kids have not had so much freedom selecting where and what they'll read. What a treat to watch kids get excited about choosing a book and finding the perfect spot!

This year I have a room full of wiggle worms, therefore I'm spending a bit more time than I have in the past actively monitoring the group while they build stamina. Although it has delayed starting one-on-one conferencing, I feel this is time well spent. Nipping issues and bad habits now will help the rest of the year will go smoothly.

The second week of school I brought out the Read to Self Habit Sort for Lower Elementary (I actually printed out a couple of the Upper Elementary version too for differentiation.) I recently revamped it and am excited about the improvements and additional pieces. In addition to a new font, it also includes a second page with the same habits but in a larger font for wall anchor charts or on a whiteboard. I expect my students to recreate the sort in their Reader's Notebook after we do it whole group. As each element is introduced we do the other sorts included in this BUNDLE

The third week I copied and send home Read to Self Routine Homework! I do love this. The half page includes specific questions for an adult to ask the child about Read to Self. Students get to become the experts at home, further reinforcing expectations. The notes I get back from parents range from "Jace understands what to do." to "Kaelyn has never been so excited about reading before! Thank you!" to "It's good to get a glimpse into the class." The sheets include homework for the other Daily 5 elements as well.

The fourth week things run pretty smoothly. It is at that point I get out my camera and start taking photos of the kids who are doing exactly what I expect. I print the photos and post them around our Read to Self anchor chart. This keeps it fresh and kids are always hoping to have their picture added throughout the year. It's such a simple way to reinforce the habits and recognize children at any reading level loving books. One piece of advice - kids start to ham it up when they see a camera. If a child suddenly changes what they were doing to smile, I whisper "I take photos of kids who are working hard." then circle back.

Ironically, one of the favorite photos I've taken for this purpose was of a girl with a furrowed brow and a down-turned mouth. She was leaning her head in her hand, her book just inches from her face. When I posted that one, the girl called out, "That is a terrible picture of me!"
"What book are you reading now?"
"Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes"
"What was going on in the story when we did Read to Self today?"
"Sadako is very sick. They had to put her in the hospital."
"Did you know I took this photo?"
She shook her head no.
"That is why I wanted to show it. Your worry for the main character is on your face. You know how scared you are by the way you hold your head. You didn't know I was right next to you because you were so focused on Sadako's story. This is what being lost in a book looks like! I LOVE this picture!"
I just about started to cry when all the other kids cheered for her.....

September 18, 2016

Popcorn Fun!

Due to a miscommunication I found myself with 40 minutes of unscheduled time the other day. Opps! I pulled out one of my favorite cross-curricular activities, Popcorn Fun: A Hands-on, Integrated Learning Activity, and saved the day! I've used this resource for years and it's always a hit with the elementary crowd. I make copies to have on hand at the beginning of the year for occasions such as this.
In order to be prepared I keep a 99 cent bag of popcorn in my cupboard. I'd be scared to tally up how many times the popcorn in that bag has been handled, drawn and counted by my students.
There are several reasons why this unit is a hit with kids. First, everyone has an opinion about popcorn - and most kids like it. Second, there are no wrong answers. Third, kids get excited to learn new facts about something they are really familiar with from both book and video resources. Teachers like this unit too! Kids are actively engaged and and there is a lot of sneaky learning that goes on -- how to take notes, generating parts of speech, non-fiction text features and math. Popcorn Fun can be completed in an afternoon (fine for older kids) or divided into smaller chunks (better for younger kids). Each year is a little different but this is how the lesson went this year...

Day 1 1:00 - Panic!! The art teacher left early. I've got the kids for 40 mins. What am I going to do? Deep breath. Calm. Get out Popcorn Fun papers.
1:05 - Gather in a group and discuss the variety of ways to prepare popcorn. Make a list of background knowledge facts. Students record their own background knowledge on the paper.
1:15 - Pass out popcorn kernels in cups. Draw diagram. What a great time to discuss labels!
1:30 - Make popcorn kernel predictions. Watch kids count the actual number of kernels in the cup is always fun to watch. Since I do not give instructions on how to do it those kids come up with a variety of problem solving solutions.
1:45 - Back to the regularly scheduled program
Day 2
2:00 Read book about popcorn - as a whole group, we remember new facts we learn from the book. I project a word document to record the facts, modeling note taking skills.
Show video about popcorn - as a whole group, add additional facts to the word document
2:30 - Teach kids how to cite their sources
2:35 - Students choose the facts they find most interesting to write on their paper. Differentiate as needed.

Day 3 - In small groups, complete the popcorn parts of speech sections.
Later in the day, eat Kettle Korn - using the included recipe. Yum!
Popcorn Fun: A Hands-on, Integrated Learning Activity puts many skills and strategies into motion with an authentic experience. Fellow teachers have used this a regular back to school activity and is great for observations. Happy popping!

September 11, 2016

Books about India for your Elementary Classroom

A quick look at four books I love when sharing India with elementary students. Not only do these texts share facts and information, they are ideal for teaching literacy concepts in context. All four are good for quick mini lessons!
Look What Came from India
Kids will be familiar with many of the items. Great for making text to self and text to world connections. Also ideal recognizing and discussing text features.
I is for India
Beautiful photographs, many featuring elementary age children. Great for reinforcing main idea and key details.
Ruler of the Courtyard
This realistic fiction includes great word choice and is a good review of story elements. It also integrates nicely with identifying theme.
Same,Same but Different
A story told through pen pal letters, this books is great to highlight the letter writing format and ideal for compare and contrast.

Looking for more elementary lessons on India? Check out India's Taj Mahal - Reading Passage and How to Drawing. Looking for other ways to teach key skills in context? Grammar and Writing Mechanics in Context.
Note: I do not get any financial incentive to promote these books. I use them. I want to share them with you.

September 5, 2016

A Simple and Meaningful Constitution Day Celebration

Constitution Day is coming up. I used to get a bit anxious since my lower elementary kids never seemed to "get" it. The concepts and ideals are abstract for a kid. Over the years, however, I've come to accept that although students may have limited reference to what our Founding Fathers wrote, it remains a valuable experience to discuss the main ideas and the KEY is putting it into kid-friendly terms. Below are the main pieces of our Constitution Day event. They are simple, meaningful and easy to implement. Plus, you'll get lots of credit from parents because they love short presentations when their child gets to preform.

We make hats. It's just a basic tri-corner hat made from construction paper. Tracing and cutting a template is easy and students create it themselves. Sometimes they're lopsided and that is part of the charm so it's not an issue. Our art teacher helps transform them into amazing patriotic accessories! We keep them safe in our cubbies until it's art day.

We practice and put on a performance. Some years we have done it in the classroom. Other years we have been part of a whole school assembly. Regardless, kids love performing and the adults love to watch their cutie up on stage.
Our performance has two pieces and while it does take some advance planning, it doesn't disrupt our days. There is no scenery or drama. The hats are the only costume. One involves students learning about and sharing information about the Constitution in kid-friendly terms. We use the Constitution Day Classroom Performance. It lasts just a couple of minutes and it's really easy to put into place. All kids participate and it has built in flexibility. The lines vary in length and complexity allowing
for differentiation based on student need. There are 24 lines total - the exact number in my class this year. That doesn't always work out so perfectly. In the past when I've had fewer students, I assign two lines to a couple of kids. When I have more students I ask a student to write an introduction. Some kids insist on memorizing their line while others hold on to their line for security, while others read directly from it. Whichever they choose is fine.
I copy two sets of the the Constitution Day Classroom Performance - one set is on white paper which I glue in my student's planner. Notice the homework is written. "Practice constitution line."
I make a second set on a bright card stock to use for practice in the classroom. It takes a few days to perfect where I want each student to stand, how to stand patiently and how to project our voices. I like to serve as their coach, kneeling on the floor in front. Pointing from one student to the next in the order the lines should be read helps keep everything running smoothly.

We also sing the Preamble to the Constitution.
Oh how I love good ol' Schoolhouse Rock! Youtube has both the original and a karaoke version. We listen to the original several times. The cartoon graphics help explain the basic concepts in context. Often I'll turn the volume off and we discuss just the graphics! Once when have the tune down, we move to the karakoe version. I serve as the 'bouncing ball' following the lyrics, yet the kids get it down pretty quickly. For practice we sing during most of our transitions.
I use the Preamble to the Constitution: Posters and Activities to Support Learning as well. I glue a small version in student planners, post a larger version to hang on the wall and the Fill in the Box with word bank and Puzzle is good during some down time. I've also found that some years the kids have a tough time memorizing the words. In that case I pull down the larger, wall version and hold it up while kneeling on the floor. It helps with their confidence.
The last step is creating the invitation for the event. After establishing what sort of information should be included (literacy in context!) kids decorate the cover with American symbols. Oh when the kids wear their hats and perform for their parents you'll be smiling - and so will they!
Happy Constitution Day!