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April 2, 2017

Drawing the Taj Mahal when Learning about India

Integrating elements of world cultures across the curriculum is fun, natural and fairly easy. Teaching an appreciation for different cultures early on will, I believe, have a positive impact in the future. We just finished a unit on India. You can find a list of books I use HERE and a great FREE mini poster to promote cultural appreciation HERE.
A favorite lesson is learning about, then drawing the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal Reading Passage and How to Drawing is engaging for middle elementary students. It has two pieces. First is a reading passage sharing the history of this world treasure presented in two formats. One is ideal for small group instruction and the other is for fluency practice. Some kids read into a whisper phone and others will do it with a partner. Either way this fluency piece promotes smooth, natural reading of a text.
Second, kids get to draw the Taj Mahal with step-by-step instructions. They love the process. I project a photo of the Taj Mahal and post the steps on the whiteboard near by. I model the process using our document camera then let them get started.
The end results show a lot of variety. Some kids add in lots of details, others.... not so much. A couple of kids insisted on using a ruler, which was fine.
I like to do this lesson after we're comfortable with text features. Using vocabulary lifted from the reading passage, kids labeled some of the architectural features - minaret, dome, arch - and eventually added a caption at the bottom. These looked great in the hall.
Drawing the Taj Mahal allows for a different sort of learning experience. It helps us notice and interpret details. It helps us remember stories. Everyone can produce a different end result - and everyone is correct.
If you like the idea of incorporating a literature piece with an art project check out these units as well.
Native American Buffalo "Hide" Craft Project and How To Reading
Famous Immigrant Biographies
Greek God/Goddess Bundle: Mini Biographies, How to Drawings and Crown


March 22, 2017

6 Steps to Writing Great Opinion Paragraphs

Teaching elementary kids to write an opinion paragraph is sort of tricky and supporting an opinion takes time and practice. I started with my kids back in the fall to instill the structure. Although Thanksgiving is long gone,  this writing project The Best Thing on the Thanksgiving Table: Opinion Writing was a great success. It was truly authentic writing and the kids were excited to get started- even my reluctant writers were jazzed to share. I easily met several standards and the skills were taught in context. These pieces got a lot of attention in the hall as well. We have a dedicated writing workshop chunk of time each day so it took us four days to from when I introduced the project to the final drafts  hanging in the hall.

Step 1: Get Ideas Flowing. During Morning Meeting we shared a favorite Thanksgiving food and why we liked it so much. I always choose tomato gravy, a sweet, crimson-colored sauce from my childhood. Most kids have never heard of it so it gives me lots of possibilities to model my thinking throughout the project.

Step 2: Model First. how to choose a food and the topic sentence/concluding sentence on a graphic organizer. I modeled tomato gravy knowing no one else would 'take' it and shared the graphic organizer. You can get an opinion organizer HERE and and opinion writing rubric HERE for general projects, but a tailored version is also included in The Best Thing on the Thanksgiving Table. I like to have kids come up with their topic and concluding sentence right after they have selected the food.  Introducing an opinion topic sentence needed a bit of work because key is to keep it general. As a group we generated possible topic and concluding sentences I could use on the board. Keep them up. They serve as student inspiration as well. Whenever working on topic/concluding sentences I ALWAYS use the hand-dandy whiteboard manipulatives included in this BUNDLE. Kids need a resource and they use this one! I put both out both sets for differentiation. Students then return to their seats to write their topic and concluding sentences. My heart sings when a child takes a word from the board, uses it at their seat, then returns it.

Step 3: Finish the Plan. The 'meat' of the writing are reasons supporting the opinion. First, we wrote a list of ideas on WHY a food could be a favorite. I'm sure we include how it tastes and what it looks like, but also take a step further tapping into family traditions or memories they have of the food. Look closely at the example to the left. This little friend, a reluctant writer, did an amazing job. Again, model your plan before letting kids complete their graphic organizer and differentiate as needed. Some may push themselves to write just two reasons while others 'dig deeper' and explaining their ideas more fully.

Step 4: Draft. I project my organizer then demonstrate how I used my plan to write an organized draft. We use plain lined notebook paper and skip lines. For this particular project I used the included Thanksgiving Word Bank to hold kids accountable for spelling. Depending on your grade level we read the list in unison before writing so everyone knows the words.

Step 5: Edit. Self edit. Peer edit. Teacher edit. 'Nuff said. We don't catch every single mistake prior to posting in the hall, however, the process is what is important.

Step 6. Final Draft. I like to have several versions of final draft paper for kids to choose from. Room for illustrations are a great touch.

Here are some other projects that get kids excited about writing!
Halloween Candy Opinion Writing
The Ultimate Birthday Party Description Writing
A Time I Got Hurt Personal Narrative
How to Make My Paper Snowflake
Book Recommendation

February 26, 2017

Student Guest Reader


Meet Sam. Sam was my Guest Reader last week. He read The Amazing Bone by William Steig to our class. He read it fluently, added in voices for the characters and did not stumble on some pretty sophisticated vocabulary.  My cuties were a fantastic audience and when Sam was done with the story they all clapped.
Several years ago Sam was MY student - and he really struggled with reading. He tried SO hard. I gave that boy extra time, lessons and attention. His parents worked with him every night. Although he wanted to unlock the reading magic so badly, it hadn't clicked for him - yet.
Sometimes kids simply need more time than others. Sam is now, several years later, a Harry Potter enthusiast, one of the top readers in his grade and a solid student. He stops by my room a couple of days a week before heading home to chat. He talks about the books he's reading and what's going on in his life. Isn't witnessing this kind of academic growth and making a real friendship connection with a child what teaching is all about?
Do you have guest readers? I always have. Usually it is a student's parent or grandparent who comes in at the end of the day and shares a book. Sam remembered this - and asked if HE could be a guest reader sometime. We picked out a book, he took it home, practiced on his younger sibling and the next day said he was ready. Why had I not thought of this before?? Inviting a student to guest read was a win-win experience.
It was a win for my class - Many recognized him from seeing him in the hall or when he dropped by before heading home and felt like a friend was reading to them. They got to watch a kid, not much older, be a great reader. It was new and different. It was a win for Sam - he took on a leadership role and walked away with a great sense of satisfaction. Recalling his struggle many years ago, I took a video and some pics and sent them to his mom. The smile on his face when he was finished was priceless. You may want to invite a student guest reader too!