Tiered Vocabulary Instruction – Properties of Matter

We are about half way through our focus on Matter in Science, and I am feeling pretty good about how things are going. I can tell that my students are beginning to understand the important concepts of the unit because they are using the key vocabulary in their speaking and writing, which means they “own” those words. As you know, if a student has a word for the concept, they likely also have the concept! In this blog post, I’m going to take you through some of the bends in the unit that have gotten my kiddos to this point.

What are the Three Tiers?

The three tiers are a way of thinking about the function of language as you choose vocabulary words to teach your students. Beck and McKeown outlined the tiers in their book “Bringing Words to Life”. For more in depth information on that, be sure to check out this blog post. One important thing to remember is that learning the vocabulary words involves learning to use the words, but not necessarily how to spell them. That is a different goal and different words should be chosen for spelling instruction.

Definition of each Tier

Tier One words are commonly found in oral language. They are typical words that most native speakers learn to understand easily. Because they are learned through spoken language, they might make great spelling words, but they should not be targets for vocabulary instruction for native speakers.

Tier Two words are generally not used in spoken language, but they are encountered in written language, so they are key for students to learn. These are the words that unlock comprehension, advance reading skills, and bring writing to life. Many content words fall into this category.  Because these words have the ability to be useful in many different contexts and domains, instruction on these words can have a huge impact.

Tier Three words are only used in a specific domain, and don’t cross into other content areas. They also might be very rare words. These are the words that students need to unlock key concepts in science and social studies, and should be explicitly taught.

Words to Teach

So, the bulk of vocabulary instruction should be Tier Two and Tier Three words, with the majority of time spent on Tier Two Words. The best time to teach Tier Three words is right before a student needs them. For example, if a word is going to be useful in a science lab or a non-fiction text, teach it that day, right before students need it. Word Cards are awesome for that! With our Matter unit, we spent two days on property of matter stations. Many of the target vocabulary words are Tier Three, so I put the Matter Word Cards on the whiteboard and introduced them and also put them at the property of matter stations. By the end of the two days, the kids were using the vocabulary pretty comfortably in their conversation and lab books.

Examples of Tier Two Words

You may be wondering which of the words in the pictures are Tier Two, and which ones are Tier Three. Because I was introducing lab stations, most of the words pictured are Tier Three. In the Matter unit, I am focusing on these Tier Two Words: solid, liquid, gas, states, property, flow, texture, matter, particle, dense, compress, conditions, material, substance, volume, mixture, contract, expand, capacity, sift, filter, and dilute. Interestingly, several of the Tier Two words fall into that category because they are used in cooking, making them more common, and increasing the likelihood that they will be found in a written text.

Tier Two Words: solid, liquid, gas, states, property, flow, texture, matter, particle, dense, , mineral, compress, conditions, material, substance, volume, mixture, contract, expand, capacity, sift, filter, dilute

Examples of Tier Three Words

In the Matter unit, I am focusing on these Tier Three Words: evaporate, buoyancy, condensation, melting point, boiling point, freezing point, plasma, atom, diffusion, concentration, molecule, insulate, conduct, reaction, dissolve, soluble, physical change, chemical change, solution, saturation, magnetism, precipitation. I’m sure you noticed that most of these words are specific to Science, and rarely found outside of a Science text. These words are essential for students to learn so that they can unlock key Science content. Direct vocabulary instruction is the way to teach these words.

Tier Three Words: evaporate, buoyancy, condensation, melting point, boiling point, freezing point, plasma, atom, diffusion, concentration, molecule, insulate, conduct, reaction, dissolve, soluble, physical change, chemical change, solution, saturation, magnetism, precipitation

Instructional Strategies

Now that we’ve defined the words to teach and categorized them, let’s dive into instructional strategies for helping students LEARN them! This part of the blog is going to focus on the ways I’ve been teaching Tier Two words because you’ve already seen how I weave Tier Three instruction into the Science labs, introducing the key vocabulary as the students need it.

First, I used some of the images from the Matter Word Cards to plant seeds of curiosity about the content and vocabulary with a Gallery Walk. This picture is one of the stations, involving several photos, some with text, and students responded with their Noticings and Wonderings. Some of the target vocabulary began to emerge, but not much, so this activity served an an informal assessment, helping me know that direct vocabulary instruction was going to be essential in helping students master the content of the unit.

Next, students read “Everything Matters”. This article contains the foundational knowledge about States of Matter that students should have learned in third grade. To make sure that the foundation is strong, we used a Close Reading Protocol. The directions for the Close Reading protocol are included in the resource, but I did add explicit vocabulary instruction after the first read. I asked students to find, and highlight, these words in the text: mass, volume, substance, molecules, material, conditions, exist, density, compressed, states. We then used the context to predict the meaning of each word. Finally, I showed the students the Word Cards with the definitions and images on them, and we compared the definition with their prediction. Students completed the Comic Strip Performance Task from the resource, which gave them a great opportunity to use some of the words authentically in their writing!

Another strategy I use frequently is making Flapbooks in their Science notebooks. Students fold a page of the notebook in half, and then cut to the fold, making a flap. On the front of the flap, they write the word. Then I ask them if they have heard it before. Next, I ask them to predict the part of speech. Finally, I show them the definition and picture on the Word Card. Students copy the definition inside the flap. Later, they will make their own drawing on the other side of the flap to show their understanding of the word.

Additional Practice Strategies

I hope this has given you some ideas to try in your own classroom. As students learn the words, it’s important that they continue to practice them in a variety of contexts. Games such as Vocabulary Dominoes or I Have, Who Has? are fun ways to practice the target vocabulary. Crossword Puzzles and Word Searches are also fun ways to engage students with target vocabulary. And whole class games like Hot Seat can be a fun way to focus students on vocabulary too (the directions for that are in the resource!). And of course, frequent opportunities to read the words, hear the words and use the words orally and in writing are key!

Resources You Will Love

Check out these resources to help your own students master Matter! Just click!

Be sure to check out these blog posts for more resources and insights to grow your Vocabulary instruction!

  1. Words, Words, Wonderful Words – The Three Tiers
  2. Words, Words, Wonderful Words – How Can We Teach Them All?
  3. Using Word Walls to Teach Tier Two Vocabulary
  4. Words, Words, Wonderful Words – What Does the CCSS Say?
  5. Wander Words

Twelve Fantastic Picture Books for Teaching Black History – Part 2

This is the second part of this post – I just couldn’t get it all to fit in one reasonable length post! It’s so wonderful to be part of the education world in a time when authors are really coming through with so many amazing picture books! Be sure to check out the first six books here!

The first post featured books that dealt with the beginning of slavery, the Civil War and into the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. This post will feature books that focus on the more recent past, from the 1930’s to the present day. This part of the list shifts from strict history to books that use the words of black authors to share black experiences with students. Let’s dive in!

The Dreamkeeper and Other Poems

by Langston Hughes

Rating: 5 out of 5.

There is a good reason this book has been in print since 1996 – it’s completely fabulous! Brian Pinkney chose a scratchboard technique for the illustrations that enhances the simplicity of Hughes’ poetry. If you don’t know Langston Hughes, here is the title poem from the book (it is in the public domain).

The Dream Keeper

Bring me all of your dreams,

You dreamers,

Bring me all of your

Heart melodies

That I may wrap them

In a blue cloud-cloth

Away from the too-rough fingers

Of the World.

by Langson Hughes

Teaching Points

As he does in this poem, Langston Hughes wrote repeatedly about the American Dream – it’s fragility and his longing to make that dream a reality for all people, regardless of color. He has a simple, approachable style that makes him perfect for intermediate students. Students in 4th – 6th grades will easily understand all of the vocabulary, making these perfect for teaching poetic techniques like symbolism, personification and metaphor.

Some of my students’ favorite poems from the book include:

  1. Mother to Son
  2. Youth
  3. The Dream Keeper
  4. Poem
  5. Shadow

These poems plus a biography of Hughes and tons of great instuctional materials and Students Sheets are included in Poetry Break – Langston Hughes. Check it out on TPT now! This video features a demonstration of the final lesson in the unit.

Rise! From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou

by Bethany Hegedus

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Even though this book was not written by Maya Angelou, you can hear her voice on every page. The book tells her story. If you’ve read her book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, you know the story is not a happy one. Hegedus handles the tragedies of Angelou’s life with compassion and nuance, making this an appropriate book for upper intermediate students – grades 5-7. The bold and colorful illustrations are also full of symbolism and nuance. This is a sophisticated picture book that is powerful for teaching deep analysis of text, illustrations, and mood. And the story is riveting.

Teaching Points

Upper grade Reading Standards call for students to analyze visual elements to understand meaning and tone, and this is a perfect book for that. This illustration found on pages 7-8 of the text is especially powerful. The author writes about the “seesaw of the south”, and the illustrator has chosen to make Maya’s Momma Henderson the balance point of the seesaw. And then we see Maya, alone, at the bottom of the seesaw, and a group of white girls in the bucket at the top – clearly defying the law of gravity. This is a powerful illustration of discrimination and of the delicate balancing act that it took for Momma Henderson, and thousands of others, to survive in the segregated south. The book is full of illustrations with a deeper, symbolic meaning that provide a great opportunity for students to practice deep analysis of a text.

For older grade students, it is really powerful to follow this up by having them read Maya Angleou’s poem, Still I Rise. The poem reads like an anthem, and will help students hear Maya’s voice. After reading this picture book of her life, they will easily understand the theme of the poem. One caution, there is a stanza that mentions sexiness. Angelou was a passionate advocate for women, so that is something that she celebrates. If you feel like that is not appropriate for your students, I suggest having students read the first three stanzas and the last two stanzas, and being careful to let them know that it is an excerpt of her longer, really wonderful poem. Here is the first stanza.

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Maya Angelou

This Is the Rope

by Jacqueline Woodson

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“This Is the Rope” is a simple and beautiful story about a rope that begins with a grandmother in South Carolina and ends with a grand-daughter in Brooklyn. The story has a lovely message about the memories that are carried in our things and also about new beginnings. The family leaves the south during the Great Migration when many black families went north looking for a better life. The rope is a jump rope, and then it ties their belongings to the top of the car. It plays a small role in many events, eventually ending up as a tattered jump rope once again. This is wonderful book for grades 2 – 4.

Teaching Points

I like to use this book to teach theme. The rope weaves in and out of the families’ everyday lives, always part of memories – big and small. Because the same idea is repeated, there is plenty of text evidence to support the idea that the author is talking about the importance of holding fast to memories while moving forward into new experiences. In the author’s note, Woodson writes, “The rope we brought to this ‘new country’ was Hope.” Once students realize that the rope symbolizes hope, they are usually able to infer the theme.

Lillian’s Right to Vote

by Jonah Winter and Shane W. Evans

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This is a moving tribute to all of the people who worked, across time, to ensure that a 100 year old woman could vote for the first black president of the United States. The title character was inspired by a real woman, but the author has used her walk up the hill to her polling place to symbolize the long journey towards the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Lillian is joined by the memories of her ancestors as their lives move from enslavement to freedom, from voting under the 15th Amendment to discrimination under Jim Crow. As she continues trudging up the hill, she remembers John Lewis, Jimmie Lee Jackson and Martin Luther King, Jr., and their march becomes her march. She “hears” Lyndon Johnson’s words as he signed the Voting Rights Act, and finally, finally, she votes.

Teaching Points

This is another book with powerful symbols in it. The entire book is an extended metaphor, exploring the challenges that Black Americans have faced in the voting booth. Throughout the book, Lillian climbs the hill and the struggle for voting rights unfolds.

“But as Lillian continues, and the hill gets steeper – my, but that hill is steep – she sees what happens just twenty years later: right here in Alabama, there’s her grandpa Isaac at the courthouse, being charged a poll tax to vote…”

from Lillian’s Right to Vote

This is a wonderful book for upper grade students, grades 5-7. It helps them understand the history of the Voting Rights Act, and its impact today, and its erosion. In addition to the great history, students will increase reading comprehension by exploring the literary device of extended metaphor. There is one illustration of a man begin sold without clothes, so if you think your students will be worried by that illustration, you might choose not to show that page when you read aloud. Or, you could have a mature conversation about the reality of being enslaved. The illustration is tasteful and not explicit, but it is something you will want to think about before reading this book aloud.

Brown Sugar Babe

by Charlotte Watson Sherman

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I wanted to end this blog post with two books that are pure celebrations! The first is Brown Sugar Babe. This book begs to be read aloud! It’s a poem to the beauty of all things brown. In the beginning, a little brown-skinned girl says, “I’m pink.” Her mama then spends the rest of the poem celebrating the beauty of brown all around us. This is a lovely book for students in grades 2-5. They will easily connect with the positive message and the love between the mother and the child.

Teaching Points

This book is chock-full of metaphors. “Brown is a plum spurting sweetness on our tongues.” “Brown tastes like pancakes and syrup and caramel and spice…” Almost every page has a metaphor on it, making this a perfect book for figurative language. I actually use this book as part of a poetry unit that I teach in the spring, not during Black History month. I read Hailstones and Halibut Bones to my students along with this book. That book also features poems written with metaphors and exploring our feelings about colors. My students then use their understanding of metaphors to write their own color poem. It’s a quick unit, only about a week or so, but helps students really understand figurative language and use it consistenly in their own writing.

The Undefeated

by Kwame Alexander

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The final book is Kwame Alexander’s celebration of spirit and grit and persistence. This is a powerful poem, especially if students have some background knowledge. Woven throughout the poem are references to people who have survived, and the art that helped them overcome. For example, one page reads, “This is for the unafraid, the audacious ones, who carried the red, white and Weary Blues on the battlefield to save an imperfect Union.” The line is wonderful on its face, but becomes more meaningful if students realize that Weary Blues was Langston Hughes’ first book of poetry. There are other references to Hughes, who must be an inspiration for Alexander. This poem certainly connects in many ways with Hughes’ themes of hope and the American Dream.

Teaching Points

I use this poem to teach prefixes and to practice compare and contrast. For me, the poem is a perfect follow up after I teach this Langston Hughes unit to my students. We compare and contrast Alexander’s poem with Mother to Son (scroll up to see the video for info on how I teach that poem). I read Alexander’s book out loud to the students and we discuss his theme of overcoming. Then I like to show this video of Alexander reading it to a group of school age teens. I love bringing in the author’s voice. After the students have heard the poem twice, I ask them to complete a Venn diagram to compare and contrast the two poems, and then use that Venn diagram to write a compare and contrast paragraph.

If your students are not familiar with Langston Hughes, there are still plenty of wonderful things you can teach with this book. Alexander ties the poem together with many words that begin with the prefix un (unafraid, undefeated, unforgettable, unflappable, undeniable…) Give students a copy of the text, or project it, and ask them to record all of the words with the prefix. I like to ask students to choose 3-5 words from our class list. They fold a piece of paper in half the hot dog way to create two columns. In one column, they write the word, and in the other, they illustrate it. Then, I have students fold the papers the other way, so the word faces them and the illustration faces outward. Then I give students a star sticky note and ask them to grab a pencil. Students move around the classroom, showing their illustrations ONLY to other students. The other student has to use the illustration to guess the word. If they guess correctly, both students mark a star on their stickies, and then move on to another student. This activity gives students lots of practice using target vocabulary and thinking about the meaning of the word. And, they think it’s fun!

I hope that you have found a book or three to add to your classroom library. 🙂 This is a theme that I have writing about for years, so, if you missed these blog posts, check them out now for more resources and insights to grow your teaching!

Happy teaching!

More blog posts to check out:

  1. Twelve Fantastic Picture Books to Teach Black History – Just in case you missed the first part of this two-part blog post!
  2. A Girl Like Me – This blog post features strageties for using this powerful, 7-minute film to help students understand the hidden cost of segregation.
  3. Satchel Paige – Striking Out Jim Crow – This blog post explores a powerful book for fans of graphic novels and sports. It’s great for 3-6 grade readers.
  4. Five Picture Books to Start the School Year Right! – This is my all-time favorite list of books, and includes another Jacqueline Woodson title – The Other Side.

Twelve Fantastic Picture Books for Teaching Black History – Part 1

With so many amazing picture books out there, it was hard to narrow it down to a manageable list! These are the first six books of the 12 that my students and I love every year. Check back in a few days for the rest of the list!

This list is roughly in chronological order, and I give suggestions for teaching points for each book. Reading the books in order would give students a solid understanding of Black History in America, but of course, some of the books connect to content, and might best be taught within a unit (for example, on the Revolutionary War). However you bring these books to your classroom, you will be glad that you did. Enjoy!

All links are to Amazon.

The 1619 Project: Born on the Water

The 1619 Project; Born on the Water

by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renee Watson

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This book was not at all what I expected. I loved The 1619 Project for adults, and I was expecting essays and history, like the adult book. Instead, I got informational poetry. Poetry! That fills my heart and my mind! The book is appropriate for students in grades 5-8.

The book opens with a girl who has been given a class assignment. In clear, easy-to-understand free verse, the authors set up a situation that any kids can connect with – how to complete a class assignment when you have no idea where to begin. Each poem builds on the previous ones, slowly telling the story of The First Africans, their kidnap, but also their culture and resistance throughout history. The illustrations add a depth to the poetry, and help students understand that the dark times of history can include joy, resilience and power by the people living them.

This non-fiction leveled text tells the history of the First African’s arrival in Jamestown, and makes a great companion to this picture book.

Teaching Points

This is a great book to use for teaching free verse, one of the most approachable forms of poetry. Throughout the book, you can find examples of imagery, symbolism and metaphors – key aspects of successful free verse. Towards the end of the book, the poem “Legacy” is a beautiful example of irony. The second and third stanzas are excellent examples, and will help your students understand and recognize irony in other poetry.

Your Legacy; A Bold Reclaiming of Our Enslaved History

by Schele Williams

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This story tells the history of Black Americans from their arrival in 1619 to the present. It highlights cultural, scientific and historic accomplishments from history, and awakens students’ interest in further research. The text is highly accessible and the book is appropriate for students in grades 2-6. The illustrations are bold and powerful, just like the text, and key character traits are highlighted throughout the book. When I read this book to my students, they applauded, and then had so many, many questions!

Teaching Points

This is a perfect book for teaching character traits. Words like “ingenuity”, “grace”, and “dignity” are reinforced several times throughout the book. After we read the book, I wrote the key words on the board, and we briefly discussed the meaning of each word and it’s part of speech (most are nouns). Then, students looked up a word of their choice in the dictionary to find the adjective form of the word. That formed the basis for a writing assignment about a Civil Rights Activist of their choice. For the texts that I gave students for their research on activists, click here.

The Untold Story of the Black Regiment: Fighting in the Revolutionary War (What You Didn't Know About the American Revolut...

The Untold Story of the Black Regiment; Fighting in the Revolutionary War

by Michael Burgan

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This book is a terrific way to introduce the Revolutionary War. It is a chapter book, but with only 59 pages, it is an easy read-aloud to get through in about 3 sessions. If you teach the Revolution in 4th or 5th grade, this is a great book to bring in at the beginning of your unit. The author has included a basic overview of the war, including key battles and causes of the Revolution. There are also all the great text features that you expect in a non-fiction book. I usually have the document camera on when I read this aloud so that students can see the illustrations, captions, headings and sidebars.

Teaching Points

In my classroom, I read this non-fiction book to my students at the end of our unit on Colonial America and right before we begin learning about the Revolution. It builds some important background knowledge and also gives an untold perspective on the war, raising the question, “If the founders valued their own freedom so deeply, why didn’t they free the slaves when they set up the new country?” That is a powerful lens to set up at the beginning of a unit on the Revolutionary War, and helps my students have a more nuanced view of the conflict. The book traces the entire war from the perspective of the black soldiers and patriots. I follow up by having my students read Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson. The two books together help students understand the Revolution from many angles.

My Name is James Madison Hemings

by Jonah Winter and Terry Widener

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is a beautiful book, and would work well with students in grades 2-6. The illustrations are gentle water colors and the text is poignant and moving. Told in first person from the perspective of an enslaved boy, the book weaves a story of a complicated father-son relationship. At the end, the narrator reveals that his father was Thomas Jefferson, writer of the Declaration of Independence and owner of slaves, including some he fathered. The story is true, and told in a matter of fact way that keeps the book approachable. Because the book is narrated in first person, the reader asks the same questions that James asks – questions like, “How can I be both his slave and his son?” As in life, the book does not have answers, so students must grapple with the contradiction of a man who brought freedom to many while enslaving his children. It’s a truth that we all have to face at some time, and this book is a perfect way to ease into that conversation with students.

Teaching Points

I like to use this story to teach point of view in narrative writing. There is a paragraph about half way through the book where James is watching the other slaves work and thinking about his father’s promise that some day he will be free. With my class, I first read that paragraph as it was written. Then, we rewrite the paragraph together in third person and read the new version. The students and I analyze both versions, side by side, to better understand how the choice of narrator can affect a narrative. It’s a powerful lesson and helps my students think about first and third person narrators in their own writing.

Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt

by Deborah Hopkinson

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is a beautiful book that tells the story of a determined young woman, Sweet Clara. She begins the story as a field hand, grueling work that only the strongest survive. At night she learns to sew, and eventually becomes a seamstress in the Big House. There, she learns about the Underground Railroad and begins to gather information about the route to the Ohio River, the beginning of the Underground Railroad. She pieces the information together into a quilt, and finally, she and her familiy make it to freedom.

Teaching Points

One of the things I love about the story is the voice. The author tells the story in first person, and the voice is all Sweet Clara’s. You get a sense of who she is – her intelligence, her strength, her point of view – just by the words the author puts in her mouth. If you are going to read this aloud, definitely practice. You will want to correct the grammar as you read but if you do, your will miss much of the voice. Through Sweet Clara’s voice, we really come to know her, making this is perfect book to teach character analysis.

The United States v. Jackie Robinson

by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Most sports fans, and students of history, know that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier to become the first black player in Major League Baseball. But this book tells the lesser known story of how Jackie Robinson took on segregation in the US Military – and won! The author has a factual, yet engaging style that makes this a really great read aloud. Students will also enjoy the colorful illustrations as they get to know Jackie as a person of dignity and integrity. This is a powerful book for students in grades 3-6.

Teaching Points

The book is well written and organized chronologically, so we first meet Jackie as a student and an outstanding athlete. The text organization makes this a perfect book to practice summarizing. Be sure to check out this resource for support with that! I also like to teach language with this, specifically, prepositional phrases. Situating grammar within a text helps students see how to use grammar to make their own writing more descriptive and/or powerful. In this text, there are many really great passages that illustrate how to effectively use prepositional phrases. Check out this power-packed sentence, which includes 6 prepositional phrases!

“Within moments of the bus arriving at Jack’s stop, a crowd of angry white people surrounded Jack, yelling at him to know his place, calling him names.”

The Unted States v. Jackie Robinson by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

This resource on TPT has Lesson Plans and Student Sheets to help students summarize and practice language skills. Check it out today!

Happy teaching!

More blog posts to check out:

  1. Twelve Fantastic Picture Books to Teach Black History – Part 2 of this blog post
  2. A Girl Like Me – This blog post features strageties for using this powerful, 7-minute film to help students understand the hidden cost of segregation.
  3. Satchel Paige – Striking Out Jim Crow – This blog post explores a powerful book for fans of graphic novels and sports. It’s great for 3-6 grade readers.
  4. Five Picture Books to Start the School Year Right! – This is my all-time favorite list of books, and includes another Jacqueline Woodson title – The Other Side.

Lesson Plan – Teaching the Civil Rights Movement

As we celebrate the holiday in honor of Dr. King and move into Black History month in February, I want to share one of my favorite resources for teaching the Civil Rights Movement with you. As an extra bonus, these BOOM Cards are digital, so you can use them no matter your teaching situation! Here is how I used these BOOM Cards this year in person, AND how I modified the lesson last year for remote learning. Whatever your teaching situation, I’ve got you covered!

In Person Instruction

Activate Background Knowledge:

I begin the lesson by asking students, “What are Civil Rights? Who has Civil Rights? Do you?” This question activates students’ background knowledge and also their curiosity. In truth, the phrase Civil Rights is used so frequently that it has kind of lost its meaning. So, we have a brief discussion about Civil Rights.

This year, one of my students gave a great example. He said that Civil Rights are the rights that people have but that he doesn’t have as many civil rights as adults because he is a child. He used driving as an example. My class had a great discussion about the rights, and responsibilities, of being a driver. We then talked about other examples of people who had, or did not have, Civil Rights. They mentioned voting rights, rights to an education, and the right to choose your own job.

Objective:

After we activate background knowledge and curiousity about Civil Rights, I give students the objective for the lesson. Along with this main objective, they will also have the opportunity to practice inferring and deepen their understanding of key vocabulary.

After completing these digital task cards, students will be able to summarize key events from the Civil Rights Movement and place them in order on a timeline.

Teaching the Content:

For this lesson, I ask each student to log into the BOOM Cards on their own computer, but sit in groups of three. As the lesson progresses, we will bounce back and forth from whole class to small group to independent work.

The task cards begin with the arrival of the first Africans on the White Lion. (If you want a more detailed resource about that, be sure to check out this resource – The First Africans; a leveled reading passage with comprehension questions.) I ask my students to read the text on the first task card to themselves. Then, in their group, I ask them to discuss what they see in the image on the Task Card. In this case, a picture really is worth a thousand words.

The next two Task Cards talk about the Emancipation Proclamation and Jim Crow laws. I teach students how to read Emancipation Proclamation, and then ask them to read the next two cards in their group. As a class, we discuss the mearning of the word segregation, and the students answer the question on the task card independently.

The next three task cards deal with desegregating the military, schools, and busses. Students read these task cards in their groups, and then we discuss boycotts. I begin the discussion by asking students, “Do you think a boycott can be successful at changing something in society?” It’s a good discussion because the text evidence is all about the Supreme Court making the changes, and so students are divided on whether or not they think the boycotts were effective.

-Lesson Break-

This is usually a good place to break the lesson up. One of the things I love about BOOM Cards is that they automatically save a student’s progress. I think it is more powerful to spread this content over two days than to cram it all into one day. The kids need time to process this information, and they usually come back on the second day even more eager to learn the next part of the story.

If you break the lesson up, begin the second day by projecting the task cards your students have already read. I gather the students on the rug WITHOUT their computers and we go through the first task cards together. This helps remind them of what they already know, and also gives ELLs and struggling readers a chance to revisit key vocabulary and ideas.

The next card teaches students about the sit-ins at the Woolworths counters. We discuss what it means to be denied service and then I ask, “Do you think a sit-in will be effective?” Just like with the boycotts, students are usually mixed on their views.

The next card is about the Children’s Crusade, and in my opinion, is the card that students have the strongest reaction too. For that reason, I always read that task card aloud to them. After I read the card, I turn to the next card and we analyze the photo of the Children’s Crusade as a class. Together, these two task cards really are the meat of the resource. Once we have discussed the photo, students usually have no trouble making an inference about the photographer’s purpose in taking the photo.

At this point in the lesson, it is time to release students to work independently on the rest of the task cards. I always try to gradually release responsibility to the students, and this is a good place to get them to work independently. They will answer a question about the March on Washington, organize key events on a timeline and fill in the blank to answer vocabulary questions.

Remote Learning

The basic flow of the lesson is the same, whether or not I teach in person or remotely. However, these digital tools help the lesson go better remotely.

Activate Background Knowledge:

I use a Jamboard for this. I asked each student to respond to one of the Jamboards. Engaging students remotely is very difficult. By giving them a choice (which question do you want to respond to?) and requiring their participation, I was able to hook the students. We then briefly discussed and organized their responses to group similar ideas.

Objective:

This doesn’t change for remote learning.

Teaching the Content:

For remote learning, I did not break the lesson up over two days. I began the lesson by reading the first 3 slides to the kids and working through them as a whole group. I then sent them to Breakout Rooms to work on the rest of the slides as a group of three – again, gradually releasing resposibility to the students. I checked in on the groups often to help keep them on track. And then I ask each student to complete, in addition to the BOOM Cards, a padlet answering the question, “Which event from the BOOM Cards do you think was most important in increasing Civil Rights for African Americans? Why was it important?”

I hope that this lesson plan helps you see ways to use these BOOM Cards in your classroom, no matter what your teaching situation is. If you have never used BOOM Cards, you can get a free trial here. Start with these FREE BOOM Cards about the Women’s Suffrage Movement from my TPT store, and if you love them, grab the Civil Rights Movement BOOM Cards. I think you will find that they are a versatile tool for your classroom, no matter your teaching situation.

Happy Teaching!

Making a Spiral Thinking Strip

Making a Spiral Thinking Strip is easy! This craftivity will make a small book with 16 pages. It’s perfect for summarizing a chapter book (see this blog post on using it to summarize Bridge to Terabithia for more info on that!)

Spiral Thinking Stips are also great for:

  1. Recording math fact families
  2. Sequencing
  3. Gathering text evidence
  4. Making words with prefixes or suffixes
  5. and many more ideas!

Make sure to scroll to the bottom of this post for a video demonstration of how to make the Spiral Thinking Strip!

Materials

To make a Spiral Thinking Strip, all you need is a piece of paper and a pair of scissors. In this example, I used a standard 8.5 x 11 piece of printer paper. You can use a larger size if you want, and the size of your “pages” will be larger. It is most helpful to use thin paper because of all the folding.

Directions

  1. Fold the piece of paper in half 4 times to make 16 sections.
  2. Open the paper completely. You should see four rows and four columns.
  3. Place your scissors at the fold which separates the final column from the third column. Cut on the fold until you have cut 3/4 of the paper. Do not cut past the fold that marks the top row.
  4. Turn your scissors. Cut down the fold between the top row and the second row. Stop when you get to the first column. Do not cut all the way to the edge!
  5. Turn your scissors. Continue cutting, creating a spiral by cutting each fold until you get one space away from the edge or a cut. Then turn and cut inward again.
  6. Once your have your spiral, fold back and forth, like a fan, until you reach the final rectangle. And now you have a Spiral Thinking Strip!

I have found these little “books” to be a versatile and fun foldable for students. Give it a try and leave a comment to let us know how you used it in your classroom!

How to Video

Summarizing with a Spiral Thinking Strip

Summarizing is so key for reading success. According to Hattie’s meta-analysis, summarizing has a .79 effect size on achievement, which is almost double the average! Clearly, summarizing is an important strategy to teach kids to improve their reading achievement!

What is summarizing?

Summarizing is the skill of giving a brief statement of the main points. An important part of summarizing is discerning what is important, and what is NOT! Sometimes students go on and on and on in their summaries. That’s actually a retelling, not a summary. Retelling is a much lower cognitive skill and basically involves short term memory. Summarizing is a much more difficult skill, and involves decision making about what should be included and what should be left out. A good summary should lead the reader to the theme of a fiction work. For more information about summarizing, I higly recommend Strategies at Work by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis.

Classroom Example – Bridge to Terabithia

Right now we are reading Bridge to Terabithia in my classroom. My students are really responding to the realism in the book, and they are connecting personally to the main characters, Jess and Leslie. It is a subtle book, and the main characters have a really complex friendship. So, that makes it a perfect book to practice summarizing with. As with most summaries, the difficult decision is what to leave out of the summary. Each chapter has several events that students connect with. For example, in chapter 1, we meet Jesse’s family. He is the only boy, and he is surrounded by difficult sisters. Most students identify with Jess, but for different reasons. Some identify with him because of his mean older sisters, others because he does an outsized share of the chores, and still others sympathize because May Belle follows him everywhere. In addition to meeting his difficult family, in the first chapter, students find out Jesse’s deepest ambition – to be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. Some students identify with that goal, or have the experience of working hard to achieve a goal themselves.

As with most summaries, the difficult decision is what to leave out of the summary.

Then, I tell students that we are going to write a one sentence summary of each chapter. One sentence! You can hear them gasp, can’t you?

This is where the power of summarizing lies. Students must first identify all of those important aspects of the first chapter. Then, they have to synthesize, or put them together. Finally, they have to craft a well written sentence. Together, we decided that a compound sentence was necessary. For the first part of the sentence, we synthesized all of the difficult aspects of Jesse’s home life to read “Jess, the protagonist, has a rough home life.” We then summarized his amibition with this sentence, “He dreams of being the fastest runner in fifth grade.”

Then, we connected the two sentences to create this compound sentence, which summarizes the main aspects of the chapter nicely. “Jess, the protagonist, has a rough home life, and he dreams of being the fastest runner in fifth grade.” Students record that sentences in their Spiral Thinking Strip, and then keep it to add on to each day.

In one lesson, students have practiced:

  1. Synthesizing events
  2. Identifying important events
  3. Writing Compound Sentences

And of course, many of them have fallen in love with a new book and a new author! Not bad for 20 minutes!

Why use a Spiral Thinking Strip?

Well, Spiral Thinking Strips are versatile and great for many reasons!

  1. They only take one piece of paper.
  2. Students think they are fun, and teachers do too!
  3. The small size of the “pages” limits students and helps them understand that summary statements need to pack a lot of information in a small space.
  4. When students finish, the “pages” are automatically sequenced, another key aspect of a strong summary.

This video shows the completed Spiral Thinking Strip from Bridge to Terabithia.

To learn how to make a Spiral Thinking Strip, check out this How-to blog post and video!

Spiral Thinking Strips are one instructional strategy that will help your students master the key strategy of summarizing. Give it a try in your classroom today, and leave a comment to let us know how it goes!

Writing S.M.A.R.T. Goals with Students

Goal setting is an important strategy for motivating students and raising their achievement. Done correctly, it will empower your students, giving them ownership and voice over their learning. For more on how I set goals with students, check out these blog posts:

Getting into Goals

Goal Setting

In this blog post, I will go into detail about how to write S.M.A.R.T. goals with students. S.M.A.R.T. goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-based. That simple recipe can result in very strong goals that will motivate your students!

First, feel free to download this free SMART Goal template from my TPT store. The template walks students through the acronym and gives a sample goal. Using the template for your first lesson makes setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals a piece of cake! And if you need Data Tracking and Goal Setting Sheets, check out this Student Data Binder, which includes more than 110 Students Sheets to bring goals and data tracking to your classroom!

S = Specific

The first part of the acronym stands for specific. I find that students often make goals like, “I want to be a better reader” or “I want to get a higher grade”. Neither of those goals are specific, and so, most likely, the student will fail. What, exactly, does a student need to do to improve in reading? Are they struggling to decode multi-syllabic words? Are they reading slowly and losing meaning? Do they need more practice with inferential thinking? To be effective, a goal should be very specific. That is the reason that I DON’T set goals in the first month of school. First, we have to gather data. Then, we use the data to pinpoint a Specific area for improvement.

M = Measurement

A goal must be measurable, or the student will not know if they’ve succeeded. Measurable does not always mean percentages, though. For example, in my classroom, students often set goals around reading new genre or a certain number of books. Those are very worthwhile goals, and likely to lead to improved reading achievement. And they are completely measurable, although not a percentage or a score. In Math, my students often set a goal around time spent practicing. For example, one student set a goal of doing Multiplication by Heart at least 20 times in the month of December. I can’t wait to get back to school and find out if she met her goal! If she did, she is sure to improve in her mastery of multiplication facts!

A = Achievable

I often find that students set really large, exciting goals. For example, this year one student said they wanted to read 100 chapter books. When I asked them how many books they read last year, they thought the number was 12 books. So, I asked them if they thought 100 was achievable. Together, we decided to see if they could read 10 books in October, and they did! The student felt excited, I felt excited, and in one month they read almost as many books as they had in an entire year. That is a win! By helping them find an achievable goal, I helped that student find success! (They went on to read 11 books in November!)

R = Relevant

A common mistake I see in this category is students making a goal around increasing their reading level. The truth is, that goal is not relevant to them. While you, the teacher, know that they need to increase their fluency and comprehension by practicing their inference skills in order to reach the next level, the student does not know that. Changing reading levels is a mystery to students (and probably to parents). As teachers, we go to college to learn that type of information, but the student does not have our advantage. So, the goal needs to be relevant to the student. This also ties into being Specific. Relevant goals for students center around discrete skills or tasks, like mastering the multiplication facts, using more dialogue in their narrative writing and reading more non-fiction texts.

T = Time-based

A goal has a start and stop time. Period. This is usually pretty easy for students to understand. In my classroom, we generally set monthly goals. I find that a month is a short enough time period that students will maintain their enthusiasm and focus on the goals. But, it is a long enough time period that students can see important growth. I think quarters or trimesters also work well for goal setting time periods.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals have been such a motivator for many of my students. Use the FREE Goal Setting Student Sheet and give them a try in your classroom. I think you’ll find that, when students set meaningful goals, they generally achieve them and learning happens!

This Student Data Binder includes over 110 Student Sheets for Data Tracking and Goal Setting!
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Practicing Vocabulary with Beat the Clock

One of my favorite strategies for practicing vocabulary is Beat the Clock. This is a simple game where students compete against the clock, and themselves, to complete vocabulary tasks. It is a versatile strategy that can be used with any content and in a variety of ways, and it’s great as a final review before a test. In this blog post I will detail two variations.

Beat the Clock – True/False

To prep for this version, create 15-20 True/False statements using the target vocabulary. This example comes from my Powers of Ten Prefix Unit.

I recommend trying it out and timing yourself to decide how much time to give the kids to complete the task. In this example, I was able to answer the questions in about 30 seconds, so I tripled that and gave the kids 90 seconds. Most kids are able to finish the task in that time, so they feel successful right away.

To play with students:

  1. Put students in pairs. One partner will try to “Beat the Clock” and the other will watch the timer.
  2. Partner A goes first, and completes the task. Partner B tells them how long it took to complete the task, and Partner A records their time in the upper corner.
  3. Then it’s Partner B’s turn to “Beat the Clock”. Once both partners have had a turn, show the class the correct answers. Then, the power of the strategy is in doing it all again!
  4. The second time around, I generally mix up the order of the statements or change the definitions slightly. Even so, students almost always improve their time or their accuracy on the second round.

Beat the Clock – Vocabulary Puzzles

To prep for this version of the activity, you need to create Vocabulary Puzzles, similar to these ones from my Powers of Ten Prefix Puzzle resource.

Again, before you give the task to students, time yourself doing the task. Then, double or triple your time for the kids.

  1. I like to do this one as a partner task as well, but this time, the partners are working together to complete the puzzles. There are 20 puzzles in this resource, and because the shapes help the students, it is not that difficult. I give my students 2 minutes to do this with their partner.
  2. Once the 2 minutes are up, I project the Answer Key, which is included in the resource. Then, I ask the kids to mix up their cards and pass their set on to another group. This ensures that the cards are mixed up. 🙂
  3. Once every group has a new set of prefix cards, we try again!

Beat the Clock is so effective because it’s simple to use and takes hardly any time! Your competitive kids will love it! Students who are less competitive generally don’t mind competing against the clock and themselves, so it can feel like a low risk to them.

Give Beat the Clock a try today – I think you, and your kiddos, will love it!

Five Great Ways to Use Task Cards

In my last post, I gave you some strategies for dusting off all those Google Slides you made/borrowed/bought during distance learning. Now that you are back in the classroom, they still have a place! But of course, being back in person means we have the opportunity to use Task Cards again, so this post will feature my favorite ways to use them.

Why use Task Cards?

Anytime you are planning to use a work sheet, ask yourself if you could use Task Cards instead. Task Cards give students the opportunity to move around the classroom, to collaborate, to spend time with a concept or breeze through more quickly. A worksheet is more static and less dynamic. So, if you can use Task Cards, you will most likely increase student engagement, and we all know that minds on means more learning!

I use Task Cards:

  1. To give students extra practice with a skill.
  2. To give students choice.
  3. To review before a test.
  4. To get kids using target vocabulary and communicating about Big Ideas!
  5. Anytime I want students to be engaged and on task!

So, here are some of the ways I like to use Task Cards in my classroom!

Walkabout

This is a simple way to use Task Cards and get kids moving. This strategy works great for math problems or vocabulary words. It’s perfect for these Wander Words Task Cards.

To use this strategy, simply tape the Task Cards around the room, and even out the door and down the hall. Space them a few feet apart. Then, give kids their Recording Sheet and set them loose. This strategy works great for collaboration. I often pair students up with two Recording Sheets and ask them to agree on the answers.

One thing that is great about this strategy is that the kids can go in any order, so there is no congestion. Another thing I love about this strategy is that there is built-in differentiation. I organize the Task Cards strategically, and then I start the students strategically. For example, I might put the Task Cards in order from simplest to most difficult. Then, I start students who are struggling with the first Task Card and more confident learners with the Task Cards in the middle. As students rotate, they are appropriately challenged.

Scavenger Hunt

A Scavenger Hunt can be a fun way to keep kids engaged. If the Task Cards don’t include a Scavenger Hunt, it is easy to add one. Simply find a riddle (check out a book in the library or the internet for TONS of riddles) and then put one letter of the answer on each Task Card. As students solve the problem, the answers to the questions spell out the answer to the riddle.

What’s great about this strategy is how fun it is – I love it when kids laugh in the classroom! Students do not need to solve the Task Cards in order, and it can be helpful to have them start at different places in the Scavenger Hunt so that they are not bottlenecked at one Task Card. This strategy works great with a partner, and it is self-checking! If students have the answer to the riddle, they have the correct solutions to the problems!

These Task Cards have a Scavenger Hunt all ready to use! You can get them as a printable, use them in EASEL, or grab the Google Slides version! Click to grab them on TPT.

Scoot

This is another fun way to get the kids to use the Task Cards.  Students feel like this is a game, and the Task Cards do the moving, which is fun for the kids. You will need to make several copies of the cards – enough so that each student will have one card. I really like Scoot as a test review the day before.

  1. Students sit in a large circle with their Recording Sheet on a clipboard.  You could also have them sit in table groups.
  2. They begin with one card and solve the problem. 
  3. Set a timer for two minutes.  At the end of the timer, the task card SCOOTS to the right, and students get two minutes to respond to a new challenge.
  4. This is a quick strategy, and sometimes students don’t finish in time, which can be frustrating for some students. Adjust the timer appropriately for your students and the task on the card.
  5. Students do not need to finish every card, so you can strategically arrange the cards to differentiate for your students.
  6. It is helpful to go over the correct answers so that students get immediate feedback.

These Task Cards give you a double whammy – learning important content and practicing prefixes at the same time! They work great for Scoot, or for your favorite Task Card strategy.

Relays

This is another great strategy for reviewing before the test. For this strategy, students work in pairs to solve problems. You will need enough copies of the Task Cards for each pair of students.

  1. Pair students, putting together one confident student and one that is still struggling to master the content. One student will be the coach and the other will be the “athlete”. The athlete has the pencil and the coach has the Task Card. The coach reads the Task Card to the athlete. The athlete has to solve the problem. The coach checks for accuracy, encourages the athlete and gives suggestions, but not the answer.
  2. Then, the athlete brings the problem to the teacher to check. If they have the right answer, the teacher gives them a new Task Card, and they become the coach for the other student. If they don’t have the right answer, the teacher asks them to to try again.
  3. Student keep switching back and forth until they’ve solved the problems and reviewed for the test.

These Task Cards also have a Scavenger Hunt, but they work great for a Relay! Students work together to solve word problems and tasks related to volume.

Small Group – Intervention and Extension

Task Cards work great when you are working with a small group. I used these Task Cards at the beginning of the year to review 4th grade place value concepts for my fifth graders. The 40 Task Cards provided plenty of variety and challenge for the different levels of my students.

If you have a good set of Task Cards with a good variety, you can easily use them for Small Groups. I sort the Task Cards in advance by challenge level. Then, I group my students according to their level. With some groups I use mostly the easier Task Cards, and with other groups I use the more difficult problems. A good set of Task Cards can easily give me a week’s worth of Small Group lesson plans!

These are my favorite ways to use Task Cards in my classroom. I hope you give one of these ideas a try and find that it helps engage your students and leads to learning!

Happy Teaching!

Susan

How to Use Google Slides in the Real Classroom

Google Slides are an extremely versatile tool, and probably saved my bacon during last year’s distance learning adventure. Maybe you feel the same, and now you are wondering, what do I do with all those Google Slides? The answer is, you use them, of course! You put blood, sweat, tears and money into creating or buying them, and they have a place in the Real Classroom! Here are four ways I am using them this year, with my real, live, in person students!

Task Cards

One thing teachers often forget is that you can print Google Slides and use them as Task Cards. And who doesn’t love a Task Card? It’s very easy to print. This 1-minute video walks you through it. I recommend using the Print Preview option so that you know what you are printing. Below the video, I’ve also included step-by step instructions.

Click here to grab the Holly-themed Volume Task Cards today!

Printing Google Slides as Task Cards

  1. Open your Google Slides.
  2. Click “File” and then “Print Settings and Preview”.
  3. Choose the print configuration you like. I prefer “Handout – 2 Slides Per Page” and “Portrait” orientation.
  4. Click “Print”.

Pass the Pencil

This is a fun game that you can play with the whole class. You will need one recording sheet for each pair of students, a timer and your computer and projector.

Prep Steps:

  • Copy one recording sheet for each pair of students.
  • Find a timer that you can set for 10-15 seconds. Choose a quicker time for multiple choice Task Cards or content that your students are comfortable with. Choose a longer time if there are steps to complete or the content is newer. For example, every year I use these Thanksgiving Order of Operations Cards with my students. Because they have to work out Order of Operations problems, I give them 15 seconds. This year, I may even give them 30 seconds since we are a little behind where we would usually be in November.
  • Put students in pairs. I group them strategically with one student who is confident in the content and one who is struggling.

Playing the Game

  1. Each pair of students has one recording sheet and one pencil, which they pass after each question. They are working together to get the highest team score possible.
  2. Project the first Task Card and read it to the students. Make sure you are in Present Mode so the students don’t see the thumbnails of the next problems. Then, start the timer.
  3. The pair of students work together to solve the first problem, but only ONE student gets to hold the pencil. The second student can “coach” them, but can’t write! Generally, the second student rereads the problem, gives pointers and hints and checks for accuracy.
  4. The first partner does the work and records the answer on the recording sheet. If a pair gets the correct answer in the time you have set, their team gets a point.
  5. Then, students “Pass the Pencil”. You project the second Task Card and read the problem to the students. Then, start the timer. Now the first partner is the “coach” and the second partner does the work.
  6. Play continues with each partner passing the pencil and doing half of the problems. The partnerships earn 1 point for each problem they solved correctly in the allotted time.
  7. At the end of the game, the team with the most points wins!

What makes the game so fun is the fast pace.  Both students have to look at the cards and solve the problems, even if only one of the partners writes the answer down.  This is a quick way to fit in some practice with a key concept or skill before lunch!

Using Google Slides with Menus

We all know that choice is an important motivator for kids, and grown up people too! Last year I discovered how easy it was to use Google Classroom to create digital Menus for students and I will never go back to paper! Some of the benefits of digital Menus:

  1. Motivation – They say variety is the spice of life, and menus give students plenty of variety! Students set goals and make choices, which is hugely motivating! Imagine a classroom where the kids ask for extra math time…. Yes, it does exist and Menus can help it be a reality in your classroom! (More on that in a future post!)
  2. Differentiation – You can easily put different leveled tasks and scaffolding when you go digital. For example, with my Gifted students I can offer a set of 6th Grade Google Slides, and for my struggling students, I can offer 4th Grade Google Slides. When I assign them using the Google Classroom, they don’t even have to know that there are different assignments.
  3. Fewer papers floating in the bottom of my teacher bag…. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about!

Small Groups – Intervention and Extension

We are all frantically trying to find ways to make up for missed instruction and learning time over the past two years. Google Slides can be a terrific way to help you differentiate your small group instruction to extend kids who are reading and intervene for kids who need more support. They are interactive and colorful, so there is built in engagement.

I often have my students join me for a small group with their Chromebook and a whiteboard. I assign the Google Slides to just that group of students in the Google Classroom. We use the whiteboards to work through the first few slides and then I leave them, in a group, to work together on the rest of the Google Slides. In 5-7 minutes I can get the group going and then leave them to practice while I move to the next group. That saves me time and still gives the students the practice they need to catch up!

Assigning Google Slides in Google Classroom

I buy and sell Google Slides on TPT, so these directions walk you through how to assign Google Slides you have purchased from TPT.

  1. Check out this blog post for step-by-step instructions and a video on assigning Google Forms in Google Classroom. The process is the same for Google Slides. 
  2. When you purchase Google Slides, TPT will automatically add it to a Google Drive folder called TPT Purchases.  Make sure you have logged in to TPT using the account where you want to save the resource.
  3. I recommend clicking on the Google Slides and Making a Copy.  Move the copy to the folder where you want it, and call it the Master Copy.  This will remind you NOT to delete slides from this copy.
  4. Then, make another copy, and feel free to delete slides to create the assignment you want.
  5. In the Google Classroom, Click “Create” and “Assignment”.

6. Fill in the details of the assignment, and then click the triangle icon in the bottom left corner. That will take you to your Google Drive and you can attach the slides.

Google Slides have so much utility and versatility! If you need to pick up a few, this link will take you to the Google Classroom page on my TPT site, and you can grab the resource highlighted in the video and other Google Slides and Forms.

Grab Google Slides and Forms here!

So, dust off those Google Slides and put them to use. I think you will find that they save you time and improve student learning.

Happy teaching!

Susan

Getting into Goals – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

Today, my students set their first reading goal of the year. I can hear your gasps. It’s October 15! One tenth of the year has gone by, goal-less! What were you thinking (I can hear you ask.)?

No, I did not fall and hit my head, nor was I abducted by aliens for the first month of school. One of the things I’ve learned over my many years of setting goals with kids is the importance of going slow to go fast. We have been very busy building reading stamina, getting to know each other as mathematicians and increasing our writing fluency. And we have gathered data. All of that work came together today to help my students write thoughtful, achievable and important goals in reading.

Here’s what happened in my classroom today. I hope that some of this vignette is useful to you, so I’ll be pretty detailed, and also let you in on my teacher moves.

As the kids came back from recess, I asked them to grab their data binders and a pencil and gather on the rug. During the first month of school we had already organized the tabs in the binders and students had tracked their reading with the Weekly Reading Record and their Quick Writes with the Writing Fluency Graph. Today, my goal was to have students look at the data they had already gathered and use that to inform their goal. Starting with the data helps students know their strengths and challenges, so they are more likely to write achievable and meaningful goals.

As the students gathered, I showed them a copy of the Book Shelf Recording form from my Student Data Binder resource (grab it on TPT today!) Immediately they connected it to the class bulletin board where we have been collecting book spines all month. Yippee! I’m always delighted when my students make connections. Makes me look like I know what I’m doing. 🙂 (I created our class bulletin board using the spines from this so-cute bulletin board resource by Lotts of Learning.)

I let the kids know that they were going to be creating their own personal Book Shelves to record their reading for the year, and I gave them copies, including the My Bookshelf Key. Then, the magic started to happen. Kids were moving around the room, checking the bulletin board, checking their reading logs on EPIC books, looking through their data binders at their Weekly Reading Records. Conversations sprung up.

“Is Ada Twist, Scientist a Science Fiction book?”

“What about Loser? It is Realistic Fiction?”

“Where would I put this book about Theodore Roosevelt?”

All the work we have done with genre was coming together in the focused buzz from every corner of the room and kids were talking about BOOKS!

Then I asked them to leave the data binders behind but bring their brain to the rug. And I said, “Has anyone ever talked to you about setting goals?” Of course, they all nodded and some kids piped up with examples from school and sports.

So, then I asked, “And, did the goals work? Did you improve?” This time the responses were mixed. Some kids said yes, and others said no.

Finally, I asked them what they knew about New Year’s Resolutions. One of my boys explained what they were, and then another boy blurted out, “But most people don’t keep them! My mom always says she is going to start going to the gym, and she never does!” I promise I didn’t ask him to say that, but it was too, too perfect!

“Well, they say a goal without a plan is just a wish,” I replied. “So, today, we are going to learn how to set meaningful goals and achieve them!” I then asked them what they thought might make a good goal area for Reading. They came up with this list:

  1. Number of books read in a year
  2. Speed
  3. Trying new Genre/Wide Reading
  4. Minutes spent reading

Not one kid said they thought they should make a goal about their reading level. Of course they didn’t! Reading levels are for teachers, not kids! (For more on that, be sure to check out this blog post.) Then we had a conversation about how many books they read last year. Five books seemed to be the general consensus. I told them that smart people who studied education had learned that about 40 books is the right number to help a student be ready for the next grade level. I was very clear. Thirty-five books is good, sixty is also good. And if they only read 5 last year, then 10 as also good! The goal should be based on their data, including number of books read last year and number of books read so far this year.

Next, we focused on genre. One girl said she thought she could read 5 books in each genre category. There are 15 categories, so we did some math and decided that was too much! She decided to read one book from each genre category, and then choose two favorite genre to read more widely. She then broke the goal down by month, and decided that in the month of October she would read at least three different genre.

Finally, we talked about a goal based on minutes. The kids agreed that would be easy to track on the Weekly Reading Record. As for fluency, no one wanted to set a goal around that because we decided that you might reach a maximum speed and not be able to go any faster, no matter how much you practiced. The last 15 minutes before lunch, you could have heard a pin drop in my classroom. Kids were moving their pencils, flipping the pages of their data binder and THINKING!

The students are really taking their goals seriously, and I couldn’t be more proud of them! I said at the beginning of this blog post that it’s important to go slow to go fast. We certainly have rolled out the goal setting slowly. Next week I will continue to move slowly through the data tracking process, and we will revisit the goals at least once a week. In November, my students will take their data binders home for their first student-led conference. It will probably be January before they are setting and tracking goals in all the academic areas. I have learned over many years of experimenting with goal setting that the slower I go in the beginning, the more ownership the kids develop and the faster they will go in the end.

I hope this post has helped you think about a few things to try in your classroom. Goal setting is so powerful, and if you roll it out carefully and thoughtfully, your kids will soar.

Happy teaching!

Using Digital Escape Rooms to Connect with Content

It’s Monday morning, and I spent a few minutes this morning mulling over my weekend reading. Saturday morning found me, coffee in hand, perusing the New York Times for the latest news. Saturday I also reviewed some websites about fixing a running toilet and finished a mystery I’ve been working on this week. Sunday I spent some time reading about how to fix florescent lights, started reading a book on life for Colonial Women, researched a fix for a problem with my Google Classroom, read some lesson plans on teaching language skills and read the first few pages of a new mystery. You may be noticing a trend – three fourths of my weekend reading was non-fiction. Take a minute and think about your own life as a reader. How much non-fiction do you typically read compared to fiction? Most adults read more non-fiction, so I suspect you will find that to be true for yourself as well.

When I was reading those websites about fixing things in my house, I used lots of essential skills like skimming and scanning that don’t work well in fiction but are essential for non-fiction reading. I don’t have time to read an entire blog post that won’t answer my questions, so I skimmed the headings, scanned the text and found my answers. (If you’re wondering, the toilet is fixed and the electrician will be here Wednesday!). I used the Table of Contents to help me find the lesson plans that my students need, and the captions and photos helped me digest and understand the news in the newspaper. The CCSS call for equal reading of fiction and non-fiction, and even if your standards don’t include that requirement, it’s important that intermediate grades step up with non-fiction to prepare our students for a successful adult life.

I’ve written about the importance in other posts. Be sure to check out Nab Some Non-fiction – a post about 5 essential non-fiction picture books to start with and also some of my reviews of other great non-fiction texts (Click the Biblio-files tab for all the links!) And this post from the ASCD website clearly explains why non-fiction matters. Non-fiction reading not only helps students prepare for their adult life, it improves their reading comprehension, builds vocabulary, and increases grades in science and social studies classes. And still, most of us struggle to bring in enough non-fiction. My district adopted reading program includes only about 10% non-fiction, nowhere near the 50% required my state standards.

So, how do we fill the gap? How do we get kids jazzed about non-fiction, and hook them on content? One strategy I’ve used to bring more non-fiction text to my classroom is Digital Escape Rooms!

Why Digital Escape Rooms?

Well, first and foremost, Escape Rooms are fun! But why digital, you ask? Kids are already spending too much time on screens. Shouldn’t we move away from that every chance we get?

Well, yes and no. The first Escape Room I tried was a paper and pencil format. It took me approximately 2 hours to copy, cut, stuff the envelopes, place them around the room, gather the boxes, locks, etc., and get things set up. For me, that time commitment is not practical, so I turned to digital Escape Rooms. Kids get all the fun of an Escape Room and you have no prep. That’s right, no prep! Just assign through your Google Classroom (click here for a blog post with step by step instructions) or other LMS and then watch the fun! And, you get automatic results if you use a Google Form Escape Room. The digital format makes this a more practical option, which means you’ll use it frequently. Your students will be doing a lot of reading, and they will also gain practice with the riddles and ciphers embedded in Escape Rooms, helping them be more successful!

The amount of non-fiction text in a digital Escape Room can vary, so if that is your goal, make sure you check it out carefully. This digital Escape Room about the States of Matter includes an embedded non-fiction text that teaches the science content and then asks students to answer questions about the text to unlock the doors. Click the image to check it out on TPT!

This Google Form Escape Room contains both fiction and non-fiction texts in addition the story that carries students through the adventure. One fiction text is a traditional Irish myth about the formation of the Giant’s Causeway and the other is a retelling of a traditional tale about a leprechaun. The non-fiction text is a biography of St. Patrick. All of the texts include comprehension questions that help students move to the next section of the adventure. Click the image to check it out on TPT!

Adventure in the Chocolate Factory contains text and video about the history of chocolate, and the chemistry behind the making of the world’s favorite flavor. Again, the focus is on comprehension, and the questions help students focus on content. Click the image to check it out on TPT!

Digital Escape Rooms are an easy way to bring more non-fiction text into your classroom. I hope that you give one a try. I think you’ll love it, and so will your students! I’m always creating more Escape Rooms, so be sure to follow me on TPT and check back frequently to see what I’ve been cooking up!

Happy teaching!

Miss Rumphius’ Writing Territories

Have your students ever said to you, “But, I don’t know what to write!” If you’ve been teaching for a more than a day, I imagine you’ve heard that. And then you have gone through the arduous, painful process of helping them find an idea. It might sound something like this.

Teacher: Well, what do you like to do?

Student: I don’t know.

Teacher: Did you do anything fun this weekend?

Student: No.

Teacher: Have you ever gone somewhere special?

Student: My grandma’s house.

Teacher: Great! Write about that!

And then you get a minimal piece of writing because the student really doesn’t feel excited about grandma’s house and has nothing they feel like saying about it. Or, you get a blank page.

Well, if you’ve ever been there, you need to start talking to your students about their Writing Territories. A Writing Territory is something the student knows a lot about and is passionate about. I introduce the idea every year by reading “Manfish” by Jennifer Berne. This blog post and FREE download have more details about that first lesson.

Today, I want to talk about where you go next. In the first lesson, our goal was to inspire writers, to help them see that they have many areas of expertise, just like Jacques Cousteau, and that what they have to tell the world is important. That same goal carries over into this lesson. We are going to continue inspiring writers and helping them find their voice by connecting to what they love.

For the second lesson, I begin by reading Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. This is a truly beautiful book about a woman who lives a life doing the things she loves. She travels, she makes friends, she lives by the sea… At the end of her life, she has one, unfulfilled goal – to make the world a more beautiful place. She isn’t sure how to do that until one day, inspiration strikes and she becomes the Lupine Lady.

The theme of the story will resonate with students differently than the the theme of Manfish. As I finish reading the book, I ask the students to consider how they make the world a more beautiful place. I tell them that I make the world beautiful by teaching , and I add that idea to my Writing Territories List. I also add in trips that I have taken and my favorite flower. Then, I ask students to return to their Writing Territory lists, and add to them.

It is important for students to revisit their Writing Territories lists often because they will learn and grow and develop new territories. It should be a messy, living document that you add to and elaborate frequently. One way to do that is to read a great book about someone who lives their passion, and then ask students to add to their lists. I often turn to books for inspiration in my own writing, and I want my students to do that same. (If you’d like a resource to help you do that, check out Make Friends with a Book Writing Prompts.)

Miss Rumphius is a beautiful book that I been reading to students for 20 years. It has inspired many great writing pieces for my students, and it will for yours too!

Happy teaching!

Susan

Five Ways to Use Poetry – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

Poetry is perfect for accomplishing many of your literacy goals. One of the great things about poetry is how short it is. You can accomplish a lot in a short amount of time! This blog post will feature 5 ways I use poetry in my classroom, with links to resources to help you do the same! (The FREEBIE is at the end, so read on!)

Close Reading

One good way to use poetry is for a close reading, especially if your students have not done them before. The purpose of a close reading is to teach students the skills they need to analyze a text deeply. Poetry is perfect for that because poems generally have a literal meaning that is readily apparent, but also a deeper meaning that emerges through close reading. Another reason poetry is terrific for a close reading is because the text is generally short, usually no more than a page. And finally, if a poem has rhythm and rhyme, it can make the text more accessible to students, and also more fun to reread. If your students hate the repeated readings required by close reading, try poetry!

In my classroom, I like to begin the year with poems about school, and our first close reading is of Mary Had a Little Lamb. We read the entire poem, not just the part that is generally known, and we also read a non-fiction text that tells the story of how the famous poem was written. Check out the Poetry Break – Poems about School Resource on TPT!

Vocabulary

Poetry is also perfect for teaching vocabulary. Many Tier 2 words (check out this blog post for more information) can be encountered in poetry. In this example from my Limericks Poetry Break, the context of the poetry helps students learn two Tier 2 words – brute and resembled.

Engagement

The rhythm and rhyme of poetry makes it perfect for getting students up and moving, which can be really important for engaging students who may not love the quiet sitting that often accompanies reading – especially boys. Poetry is meant to be read aloud, in fact, making it perfect for Task Cards like these, also from my Poetry Break – Limericks resource.

Loving Language

Finally, poetry can help your students fall in love with language. Similes, figurative language, hyperbole, alliteration, onomatopoeia…. These poetic devices help students find the beauty of English. And of course, these devices also show up in well written fiction and non-fiction, so learning to love the language and understand it through poetry increases student’s comprehension of other texts. For example, consider this poem, Sick by Shel Silverstein. This is a terrific example of hyperbole, and so fun for students. That poem is featured as a Poetry Break in Poems About School.

The alliteration and repetition in A Ring Upon her Finger by Christina Rossetti make this a great poem for easing in. If you, or your students, are nervous about poetry, give it a try with one of my print and teach units. These units include everything you need to help your student analyze poetry, write poetry, and learn to love poetry!

Poetry Breaks

I love fun and spontaneity in my classroom. One way I do that is with Poetry Breaks. A Poetry Break is exactly what is sounds like. I find a poem that I want to share with my students. Then, when they least expect it, I hold up the Poetry Break paddle, and read them a poem. We talk about it briefly, and then I reread the poem. Then, we return to our regularly scheduled lesson. Eventually, I give the paddle to a student and ask them to plan a Poetry Break. They LOVE it, and it gets them reading LOTS of poetry! Want to try it in your classroom? Download this FREEBIE which includes an overview of the strategy and a Poetry Break paddle of your own – everything you need to bring poetry to your classroom!

Take a Break for Poetry today! You’ll be glad you did!

Happy teaching

Susan

Goal-Setting – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

As I’m sure you know, goal setting and data tracking is an important strategy for raising student achievement. John Hattie found that student self efficacy (what I like to call ownership) resulted in a .92 change in achievement – well over the .4 hinge point that marks a successful educational initiative. And, goal setting leads directly to a feeling of self-efficacy, so it is well worth our time to teach students to write effective goals and to reflect on their growth. (For an overview of all of Hattie’s work, click here, and grab his book, Visible Learning, if you don’t have it already!)

In this blog post, we are going to focus on how to help students make meaningful goals in reading. We will discuss appropriate areas for goal setting, writing meaningful goals, how to track data, and how often to reflect and set new goals. If you want a resource that will help you do all of that, check out Student Data Binders. There are 110 Student Sheets in all the academic areas plus Leadership and Social Skills!

Grab this on TPT and get everything you need for ALL the academic and social areas!

Writing Meaningful Goals

The first word I want to focus on is meaningful. It has become quite a trend in education to have students track their reading level – AR, DRA, BAS…. Whichever system you use, you may be asking students to keep track of their reading level. You may have them set a goal around their reading level, you may have them make a beautiful graph of their growth….

If so, please STOP! Reading levels are not meaningful to students. When I was teaching 3rd grade in a building that was highly focused on data, we had a training on goal setting, and were encouraged to have our students set goals based on their reading levels. Something felt weird to me about it, but I believe in goal setting and I believe in using reading levels to drive instruction, so I went along with it and had all of my students set goals to improve their reading levels by at least 3 levels during the year.

My son went to kindergarten in the same district that year. I will never forget the day he came home with a paper from his teacher that said he was a Guiding Reading Level J. That is 2nd grade reading level, so I was understandably excited! He wasn’t. He was pretty disgusted by the whole thing because his teacher told him he could only read books out of a certain tub, which was mostly filled with Little Bear books. He was not a fan of Little Bear. He felt restricted by his reading level, and just wanted to read books about Cars (the movie, which he loved!)

As a teacher, I learned an important lesson that day. Reading levels are for teachers, not for kids, and not for parents. I finished the year with my 3rd grade students and their goals about reading levels. I bet you know what happened. Not much. Kids don’t know what it takes to move from a level M to a level N. So, the goals weren’t meaningful to the students, and little progress was made. My students certainly felt no ownership of their learning. It was almost like their goals were being done to them instead of with them – just like my son.

If you don’t believe me, trust the experts. Fountas and Pinnell have written and tweeted extensively on this in the Reading Teacher, EdWeek, their blog, and other places. They are pretty clear that reading levels are for teachers, not students or parents. The link to their blog includes some really helpful phrases to use with parents. Check it out!

So, that was a really long intro to goal setting. 🙂 If we aren’t having students set goals around reading level, what does that leave us? Well, what is meaningful to students and in their control? These are some areas that make meaningful goals for students.

  • Genre/Wide Reading
  • Number of books read
  • Fluency
  • Increasing reading stamina

As you get to know your students individually, you will probably find other areas, unique to each reader, that are meaningful and worthy of a goal. You, the teacher, bring your expertise and knowledge of what it takes for students to move to the next level. The student brings the interest and motivation. And in the space between, a meaningful goal will emerge.

“You, the teacher, bring your expertise and knowledge of what it takes for students to move to the next level. The student brings the interest and motivation. And in the space between, a meaningful goal will emerge.”

For example, you know that a student who cannot read a grade level text fluently is likely to struggle with decoding so significantly that they lose track of meaning and are unable to comprehend a text. You also know that strategies for increasing fluency include close reading practice decoding multi-syllabic words in context. So, together, you and the student might write a goal like this:

“By the end of October, I will increase my fluency from 84 words per minute on a fifth grade level text to 90 words per minute on a fifth grade level text. I will use my Menu time to complete the Multi-Syllable Words Task every week in October and I will reread our close readings one extra time each week.”

This goal is SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Based. And it is meaningful because it is entirely in the students’ control, and it will help them achieve. Just make sure that the idea comes from the student and that they feel excited to use their menu time to complete those tasks. If you impose the goal, you will find a far lower rate of growth than if the student chooses a goal that is important and fun for them. Choice is a key motivator, so give kids choices!

This Goal Setting Sheet is included in Student Data Binders, which you can grab on TPT!

Tracking Data

Once your students have meaningful goals, you will need to find a way for them to track their goals, and also the time for them to do that work. If students don’t reflect and track regularly, they will lose motivation and the goal will lose its power.

I have a weekly time on Fridays for students to reflect on their goals. Students grab their data binders and track their data from the week. These are some of the data tracking sheets that I use. One way I differentiate in my classroom is with student goals and data tracking. All students track their books read on either the Weekly or Monthly form (depending on which one helps them be successful). All students track projects and tests on the Standards-based form. The other forms are given to students only if they match their goals.

How often to change the goals

I have experimented with this a lot. Yearly goals are way too big for most students. They lose motivation and falter over time. Weekly goals take too much class time and are so small that they don’t result in much growth. Quarterly goals are not bad, but for me, monthly works the best.

First, a month is not a huge span of time. It’s long enough to create a lofty goal, but not so long that students lose motivation. Also, monthly goals can be seasonal. Frequently, students write goals in October around reading a certain number of spooky books. In February we talk a lot about kindness, students sometimes make goals around reading and recommending books to friends as an act of kindness. Monthly gives these fun options and helps keep the goals varied and interesting.

Second, if a student does not meet their goal, they get 10 chances each year to try again. When we set yearly goals, I found that students often realized in January that they could not meet their goal under any circumstances, and so they stopped trying. With monthly goals, students get a do-over every few weeks! That really fits the growth mindset that I try to help students build.

Finally, monthly goals give students lots of practice with goal setting and reflecting. By the end of the year, students will set 9 reading goals and 9 math goals in my classroom. They will set 8 writing goals and 8 leadership goals. And they will set 6 Science goals, 6 Vocabulary goals and 6 Social Studies goals. (As you probably noticed, I don’t have students set all the goals in the first month. We increase the number of goals as the year progresses.) My students will be pretty good at writing SMART goals by the end of fifth grade!

Goal setting and data tracking are important tools that help students take ownership in their learning and achieve at higher levels. I hope that this blog post has given you some ideas and that you bring goal setting to your classroom. My resource on TPT can be helpful, so grab that, or make your own, and give it a try!

Happy teaching!

Susan

SpeedWriting – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

You’ve heard of SpeedDating, right? Well, one day I thought to myself, why not try SpeedWriting? And my kids loved it! Here’s how it works.

The idea is that students are trying a variety of Writing Prompts to see which one(s) seem a good match for them. Once they’ve found a prompt that inspires them, they get to write about it!

I usually have 24 – 26 students, so I hang 12 Task Cards around the room. Each Task Card has a prompt on it for the students to write about. These are sample Task Cards from my Writing Prompt Resource – Make Friends with a Book. Grab them on TPT!

I separate the students so there are 2-3 students at each prompt. Each student has their Writing Notebook and a pencil. I start the timer for 1 minute if I have a class full of reluctant writers, and 2 minutes if they are more confident writers. The students write about the prompt until the timer goes off, and then they rotate to the next Task Card. The timer starts again and students write about a new prompt. Within a few minutes, students have rotated to 12 different Task Cards and written 12 different responses. After 12 minutes, I ask students to return to their seats and spend another 30 minutes writing. Sometimes these writing prompts turn into something that students work on over time, polish and publish, and sometimes it is just something they work on for a few minutes.

What is so great about this is students are exposed to lots of ideas at once, and almost always, there is one that really grabs them. In fact, they almost always find more than one prompt that they like to write about! Another benefit is that students build stamina and writing endurance, and they become more flexible writers and thinkers. Lots of great benefits! I use SpeedWriting once a month or so, and my kids look forward to it every time!

Please grab this free download to help you try SpeedWriting in your classroom. This one-pager walks through the steps, and it is included in 12 Book-Themed Writing Prompts on TPT. Check it out today!

QuickWrites – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

QuickWrites are a really easy strategy that gets kids writing and only take about 5 minutes a day! Interested? Read on!

Just as we want our students to become more fluent readers, we also want them to become more fluent writers. QuickWrites are an awesome way to make that happen. A QuickWrite is exactly what you think it is – something a student writes about for only a short amount of time. You give the students a prompt and set a timer. Their goal is to keep their pencil moving the entire time! Even if they are writing the same word over and over, that pencil keeps moving. Because they only write about the topic for one minute, it is more like a game than a long-term commitment. I’ve learned over the years that once students start the pencil, even if they write their name over and over and over again, eventually, the ideas will flow. This strategy will improve students’ ability to write on a topic and awaken their imagination and bring new ideas to their writing!

Because I know that choice is an important motivator for kids (well, for all humans, really….), I give my students one prompt, and one minute. Then, I give them another prompt, and another minute. Finally, I give them a third prompt, and one more minute. Within less than 5 minutes, my students have written something about three different prompts.

This is one of the prompts that I will give my students during our first QuickWrite of the year. (It’s part of my Make Friends with a Book Writing Prompt resource on TPT if you want to grab it.)

After my students work on three different QuickWrites, I ask them to go back and count how many words they wrote for each prompt during the one minute timing. They graph their highest number of words, and that is my writing lesson for the day. Students are free to continue writing on one, or more, of their QuickWrites or work on a writing project of their choosing for the rest of our writing time.

Download a FREE copy of my Writing Fluency Graph here! If you like it, be sure to check out my Student Data Binder resource on TPT for more goal setting, data tracking and student reflecting resources. There are over 110 Student sheets included, so something for everyone!

What I’ve learned is that using QuickWrites about once a week improves students’ ability to put pencil to paper and get the ideas flowing. Also, the QuickWrites are a bank of ideas. If a student gets stuck and can’t come up with an idea for an assignment, one thing I encourage them to do is return to their QuickWrites. Often, they find something there that they can adapt to meet the requirements of the assignment. And since they have already done some writing on that topic, it can feel easier for them to get started.

My QuickWrites resources include the prompts in 4 different formats so that you can use them with lined paper, primary paper, as a prompt that students glue into their journal (which is how I use them) and in a center. Another way to use the writing prompts is for SpeedWriting. This blog post gives you all the details and includes a free download to bring SpeedWriting to your classroom!

Check out Make Friends with a Book and my other Writing Prompts on TPT today and let’s launch a great writing year together! Happy teaching!

Using Word Walls for Explicit Vocabulary Instruction – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

If you’ve read any of my other blog posts, you probably know that I’ve spent a significant amount of my career teaching ELLs. You may also know that, even when I’m not teaching ELLs, explicit vocabulary instruction is always an important feature of my classroom. I try to spend just a few minutes a day on direct instruction of vocabulary. My goal is to teach 500 words a year – and even that is a small fraction of the words that I should be teaching. If you missed it, check out this post which summarizes the research on why direct vocabulary instruction is critical. This blog post will help you identify best practices for using Word Walls to improve vocabulary instruction in your classroom!

Getting Started

Word Walls are a key strategy in helping me meet that goal of 500 words a year. As you are setting up your Word Wall for the year, here are a few things I have learned over the years.

  1. The power of a Word Wall is in its interactivity. A pocket chart is the best way to ensure that. I’ve tried stapling words on the wall in the past, and I find that when I do, they just sit there. When I put them in a pocket chart, kids can grab the cards and use them, and so can I. So, to keep my Word Wall a living, interactive part of the classroom, I use a big pocket chart. For example, I recently taught a Science lab about Matter, and pulled these Word Wall cards out of the pocket chart as I introduced the lab. Then, students grabbed the Word Wall Cards and put them at the stations where they were testing for different properties of matter.
  2. Another benefit of the pocket chart is that I can add words that come up unexpectedly in class. I prepare Word Cards that I use intentionally, but I also seize the teachable moment and add words that we encounter in books, videos, conversation….
  3. Because I use a pocket chart, I can’t fit all of the words for the year at one time. So, students keep a personal Word Wall as part of their Writing Notebooks. Before I remove the Word Cards for a unit, I make sure the students have the words in their notebooks. I also store the previously learned Word Cards in an alphabetical accordion folder so that students can find them if they need them later on.
  4. Make sure you choose a spot that is easily visible and accessible. One year I put my Word Wall in the back of the classroom, and kids didn’t use it. Even though my students’ desks face all directions, there is something about the front of the classroom that communicates importance. Put your Word Wall in the front if you can.

What do you include on a Word Wall?

If you missed it, be sure to check out my blog post on Tier 2 words. That post explains the three tiers. What you need to know for today is that explicit instruction in Tier 2 words is a best practice for vocabulary instruction. My Word Wall is mostly Tier 2 words because they are the ones that my students need direct instruction with. I also include some Tier One words if I want my students to be sure to spell them correctly, and I add Tier 3 words when they come up.

If you don’t already have one, a COBUILD Dictionary is a great tool to explore. Besides all of the other things that a dictionary can do, COBUILD dictionaries tell us how frequently a word is used in written English. Very common words are Tier 1, and need little to no instruction. Very uncommon words are rare, and also need little to no instruction because, in all likelihood, the average reader will never encounter them. For example, abecedarian is a Tier 3 word. You may be an abecedarian when it comes to the COBUILD dictionary. But unless that word turns up as an important idea in a book or other context, I won’t spend direct instruction time on it in class.

As teachers, we want to put our energy into teaching our students the things they will likely need to know. For example, this link will take you to an online COBUILD dictionary where you will see that the entry for isthmus has two out of five dots colored. This tells you that isthmus is one of the 30,000 most frequently used words in English. So, some direct instruction is probably warranted.

Plateau, with three colored dots, is one of the 10,000 most frequently used words. And it is a word that students struggle to spell, so it is a perfect word to spend direct instruction time on, and should receive greater focus and deeper instruction.

This Word Wall set includes both of these words, plus 30 other landforms. Check it out today!

Adding Words to the Word Wall

There are many great ways to do this, so let your creative mind flow! But, if it’s late and your brain is tired, here are a few things I generally do as I introduce words.

For example, I use my Word Wall for my Landform vocabulary every year. If you need Landform Word Cards, check out this set on TPT. Each card has a photo of a landform in the US, so I double my impact by teaching important Science and Social Studies content!

This resource includes 32 terms. At the beginning of the unit, I choose the Tier 1 words that my students likely already know, and quickly add them to the Word Wall. It should take about 10 minutes of class time. The goal is to make students aware that the words are there, that they should know them, and that they are responsible for spelling them correctly, now and forever. I play a game I call Categories to introduce these words. It sounds like this.

Teacher: Class, today we are going to play Categories. I have 10 words. Our category is landforms. The first definition is “a piece of land that rises higher than everything around it.”

Student: Mountain?

Teacher: Good guess. This landform is smaller than a mountain.

Student: Hill?

Teacher: Right!

And then I place the Word Card under the document camera to show the students the word, definition and photo. Then it goes into the pocket chart and we move on to the next word. In this way I review 10 words that most of my students already know and I create a place in their brain to hold more words that fit the category of landforms.

The next day, I introduce a Mystery Word that fits in in our category. Mystery Words are always Tier 2 words, and I will spend the majority of my direct instruction time on these words. I choose a word that the students should encounter in reading or other context that day, and I remind them that it fits the category of landform. In the morning, I write the first letter on the board, and then blank lines for each letter (like the game of hangman). As the day progresses, I add a letter here and there until the students guess the word. Often, they guess the word when they encounter it in the text. Then, we look at the Word Card and add it to our Word Wall.

Finally, if there are Tier Three words that I want the students to learn, I present them in a quick, direct instruction. I simply tell the kids the word and the definition, and then use it in a sentence. Then, I challenge my students to work together to come up with a sentence of their own. Finally, we add the word to the Word Wall.

That’s a quick overview of how I use Word Walls in my classroom. Of course, the power is in the revisiting. More on that in future posts.

In the meantime, if it’s helpful, grab some of my Word Wall sets on TPT, or make your own. Here’s to a year filled with Words, Words, Wonderful Words!

Twelve Fantastic Picture Books for Teaching Black History – Part 1

With so many amazing picture books out there, it was hard to narrow it down to a manageable list! These are the first six books of the 12 that my students and I love every year. Check back in a few days for the rest of the list! This list is roughly in chronological order,

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Getting Pencils Moving on the Page – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

Yesterday’s blog post featured a somewhat unusual idea for launching Writer’s Workshop. After the initial flurry of writing about the crazy dancing teacher, some students struggle to find their next idea. That’s where today’s idea comes in handy.

Manfish, by Jennifer Berne is a marvelous picture book about Jacques Cousteau. He was a true Renaissance Man – inventor, environmentalist, explorer, cinematographer…. The book beautifully traces his life and his development of his many talents. It’s a perfect opening to inspire students to identify their own talents and interests.

This free lesson plan on TPT walks you through how to use the book to introduce the idea of Writing Territories to your students and then help them brainstorm to find their own writing territories. The detailed lesson plan includes a brainstorming sheet for students. I have students paste those in the front of their writing journals so they can easily revisit them throughout the year. The free download also includes a checklist that will help you keep track of student progress.

The real power of this lesson actually comes after the lesson. Once students have brainstormed their writing territories, the revisiting is key. The first revisit happens in a writing conference with me. During that conference I am working to get to know my students, so I do more listening than talking. I also often try to help the students narrow their topics down.

This is a copy of one of my student’s brainstorm after half of a year. She started with the first 5-6 ideas. As the year continued, we revisited this from time and she added to her brainstorm.

When I met with this girl during our first conference of the year, we started by looking at her Writing Territories sheet. I noticed that she had listed her family as one of her territories. That is a very general topic, so I asked her to be more specific. We discussed each member of her family and analyzed which ones she felt she could write about. She said that her little sister and her dog would both be funny to write about, so I had her add them to her list. By narrowing her topic down she had a better chance of writing a well organized story. Later in the year, she narrowed even further by identifying her Writing Territory as “11 year old girls with annoying little sisters”. Not long after she wrote a pretty funny story about her youngest sister. Narrowing the focus during a brainstorm can often set a story or essay on the right path, even before the writer begins.

This student also added ideas during the year. She loved Science, so she added the solar system, and then narrowed even further to Saturn. One of her best pieces of writing for the year was her informational piece about the journey of the Cassini spacecraft and its study of Saturn.

To help get students to add to their list, we try to make it a living document. I show mine and add to it frequently, and I ask the students to open their notebooks and begin a Workshop by reading their list. I also say things like, “Oh, what an interesting idea. Why don’t you go add that to your Writing Territories list?” Even if it’s math class, I try to encourage the students to find their own voices and their own ideas and add them to the list.

I hope this lesson helps you and your students find topics to write about. Grab the free lesson plan on TPT today!

Launching Writing Workshop – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

This idea is a guaranteed winner – I promise!

Every year, on the first day of school, my students come back from lunch to see a mysterious box, covered with a cloth. Then music starts to play. I usually use 2001, A Space Odyssey because it is SO dramatic! As the music crescendos, I whip the cloth off the box. It is wrapped, so I rip that off too! Of course, I’m not saying anything while the music plays, but I’m dancing around in a goofy, ridiculous way. All the kid’s eyes are glued to me and not a few jaws are dropped as I rip open the box and start throwing tissue paper around the room.

The Writing Journals are revealed!

Finally, at the most dramatic moment in the song, I reach in, my mouth wide with awe and delight, and I reveal – a writing journal!

I then proceed to bestow them upon the fortunate students in Room 205. After my craziness, as you might imagine, every student has something to write about. So, when the music dies and the hubbub quiets, we have our first writing session of the year.

For the first Writer’s Workshop, I keep it short. Kids have likely lost their writing stamina over the summer, and I’m interested in having them enjoy the time and get something on the page. We go through all the steps though.

  1. It is quiet when we write so that everyone can do their best thinking.
  2. You can write wherever you want to in the room. Just make sure you choose a good learning spot for yourself.
  3. When we finish one piece, we start another.
  4. Sharing is always encouraged, and always optional.

I like to begin our Writer’s Workshop together in this dramatic fashion for a few reasons.

  1. Kids always have a story to share with their families on the first day of school.
  2. I like to confound their expectations and surprise them as much as possible in the first week of school. Fifth grade is like no other class they’ve experienced.
  3. Writing is exciting to me, and I want it to be exciting to my students.
  4. It’s just fun, and fun is always a good thing!

If you are thinking of going digital this year, check out my Customizable, Digital Writing Journals. I use a notebook AND a digital journal in my classroom.

If you want a little taste of how this looks in my classroom, check out the video. I hope you find some inspiration to dress up your own Writer’s Workshop this year. You can do it, I know you can!

Happy teaching!

Twelve quotes to inspire students to make friends with a book

Books have been great friends of mine for my entire life. They have helped me through times of sorrow and grief, they have taught me the skills to master challenges, they have helped me escape to new worlds when this one was a little too much to take. Books are constant and continual friends for me.

So, it is probably not a surprise to you that I want my students to have books that are friends as well. When I first mention the idea, some of my students roll their eyes. They are fifth graders, after all, and eye rolling is a skill they excel at and practice often. But, as the year rolls on, I notice many students quietly making friends with a book. Activities like Bring-a-Book-to-School Day help, and so do Quote Marks.

Quote Marks are simply book marks with encouraging, and sometimes funny, sayings on them. I generally post the quotes in the Book Nook, sometimes sticking them in surprising places for students to find as they peruse the shelves (for example, the quote from Diane Duane goes on the wall behind her tub of books). I put the same quotes on book marks and let students choose the ones they like. I also use the quote posters as Quick Write prompts to really get kids thinking about the quote. Many of the quotes express the author’s view of books as friends, so they reinforce that I’m not the only one crazy enough to think that!

I’ve put together some of my favorite Quote Marks as a resource on TPT. Click here to grab it!

These are the quotes I’ve used in the resource in case you prefer to make your own.

“If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.”

J.K. Rowling

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

Groucho Marx

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

Neil Gaiman

“Reading one book is like eating one potato chip.”

Diane Duane

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.”

Lemony Snicket

“…books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.”

Roald Dahl

“It is well known that reading quickens the growth of a heart like nothing else.”

Catherynne M. Valente

“Think before you speak. Read before you think.”

Fran Leibowitz

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”

Charles W. Eliot

“That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.”

Jhumpa Lahiri

“Books are good company, in sad times and happy times, for books are people – people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.”

E.B. White

“You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend.”

Paul Sweeney

For more tips on how I use this in my classroom, check out this video. Thanks for stopping by today, and Happy Teaching!

Finding the Time – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

It’s mid-August and many of you are already back in school. We are not back yet, but yesterday I opened my planner for the first time. I love the feeling of that empty planner – so much potential! So much learning! So much time!

And yet, I know in January, I will be feeling just the opposite. I will wonder where the time has gone and if I have spent it well. So today’s post is not about a literacy strategy. It’s all about you, and the decisions you make that have a major impact on your student’s achievement. Today, we are going to talk about the schedule.

There are many things out of our control as teachers. For example, this year, my school is piloting a new math curriculum and a new SEL curriculum. I can’t control that. The PE and library schedule is out of my control. Recess scheduling and pull-out schedules are also out of my control. When you think about the time in the day, much of it is out of my control. But, always, I can find some time everyday when ALL (yes, all!) of my students are with me for Independent Reading. I found the time when I taught kindergarten and I find the time now that I’m teaching fifth grade. I made that decision twenty-one years ago when I first read Fountas and Pinnell’s Guiding Readers and Writers and I’ve never changed my mind. I’ve changed just about everything in my practice since then, so why is this a constant for me? Because it is the single most important thing I do to raise reading achievement, build critical thinking skills and provide emotional support for my students. Don’t believe me? Here is the research.

Raising Reading Achievement through…. Reading

It seems like a no-brainer. If you want to get better at something, you have to practice it. Just this afternoon I had a conversation with my daughter about strategies she can use to improve as a basketball player. We talked about dribbling and layups and reading books about basketball strategy. Not once did I suggest that she do a few worksheets about basketball. That would be a pretty ludicrous idea. And yet, how much time do students actually spend practicing reading each day?

Researchers have been asking that question for decades. Just how long should students read each day? Should they read in school or at home? Should the teacher read while they are reading? There are hundreds of studies that support the importance of daily reading. Here are links to just a few:

  • This study found that 15 minutes of daily reading had a positive effect on students’ reading comprehension ability, word recognition skills and fluency.
  • This study found that 15 minutes is the magic number to begin seeing accelerated reading growth due to independent, daily reading.
  • This study found a correlation between reading at school and improved comprehension, but no correlation between reading at home and improved comprehension.

So, enough research. There are hundreds of studies that you can Google if you want to know more. But I think it’s a good moment to unpack this with a real-life example.

One of the biggest influencers on my practice as a reading teacher was a young girl named Amy. Amy was 8 years old and spoke another language at home until she came to school at age 5. I was privileged to be her 3rd grade teacher. At the beginning of the year she was reading at a second grade level, which wasn’t bad considering she had only been speaking English for three years. She was in my lowest Guided Reading Group, reading books at levels J and K. Third graders typically read levels M, N, O and P. And I had a high reading group that was reading “The Whipping Boy” by Sid Fleischman, which is a level R. I noticed that Amy had chosen to sit really close to the Guided Reading table, and that she had checked out a copy of “The Whipping Boy” from our school library. After a few days, I could see that she was really interested in the book and our conversation, so I invited her to join us. I was convinced that she needed to be instructed at her Instructional level, though, so I asked her to continue in her low reading group AND participate in the higher level group. A few weeks after we finished “The Whipping Boy”, I assessed Amy’s reading level again. To my utter shock, she had grown from a level J to a level N! I couldn’t believe it, so I had a colleague re-assess her. Same thing! That’s when I realized Amy’s motivation and interest in the book had done what no amount of direct instruction could do – caused her ability to grow more than a year in a few weeks. And she never went backwards. For the rest of the year, she kept up with my gifted students in the higher reading group, and in fourth grade, she even surpassed some of them.

Obviously, Amy is a very special student. Few students have the motivation to do what she did. But Amy taught me that motivation is more important than home life, economic status, language skills or current reading ability. And I have seen that pattern emerge time and time again since Amy first helped me see it. When students become motivated to read, their achievement goes up.

And how do we increase motivation to read? By giving students time to read, and to be read to. But, there are some essential components that make the reading time more effective. First, students must be allowed to choose their own books. Choice is key in human motivation. But, teachers need to be ready to step in to help match students with books (see my posts about Book Ballots and Book Talks for strategies on how to do that!) Second, students should read a wide variety of texts. Build a classroom library that exposes students to newspapers, magazines, books, short stories, poetry, non-fiction, literary fiction…. When students read widely, they become more curious and hungry to read more. My Book Bingo can be a fun way to encourage choice and reading of different genre. Finally, students will be more motivated to read if they set goals around their reading. I like to have students set goals about how much reading they will do and what type of reading they will do. More on that in a future blog post.

Increasing Critical Thinking Skills through Reading

Back in 2004, I read Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement by Marzano. It’s a terrific read and I highly recommend it if you want to learn more. One of the key ideas in the book is that students today lack background knowledge about all sorts of things. They can’t find Mexico on a map; they don’t know when (or why) the War of 1812 was fought; they think that milk comes from cartons, not cows. If that was true in 2004, it is even more true now. According to a study cited in this blog, during the 2015-16 school year, a survey of 9.9 million students found that 54% of students read fewer than 15 minutes a day. Marzano found that the best way for students to build background knowledge was through wide reading. If students are reading less than 15 minutes a day, they are not building background knowledge. And background knowledge is key for critical thinking.

Take, for example, the critical thinking skill of formulating a hypothesis in science. In order to formulate a reasonable hypothesis, you have to have some background knowledge. Last year, I asked my students to formulate a hypothesis about fish dying in a lake in the Adirondacks. I gave them data on wind patterns and pollution from factories in Detroit. I assumed that they would know that pollution kills fish. So, I was surprised when one of my students hypothesized that the pollution was not causing the fish to die. Luckily, I pushed them to explain their thinking. This particular student had a freshwater fish tank and had observed algae-eating fish, and they hypothesized that the fish in the Adirondack lake would eat the pollution, just like the algae-eating fish. Their hypothesis was based on background knowledge from their small corner of the world. In this case, limited background knowledge really hindered their ability to formulate a reasonable hypothesis.

Providing Emotional Support through Reading

I learned what it meant to be a normal, teenage girl, growing up with the awareness that my life could end with any knock at the door by reading Anne Frank’s diaries. I experienced the thrill of saving my brother from death at the hands of the White Witch by reading “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”. I thrilled to the noise of the crowd as the Black Stallion surged across the finish line, and I felt as though the victory was mine. I felt less lonely during the pandemic by reading “The Pillars of the Earth”, an historical fiction book about plague times. Book have helped me become more empathetic, more courageous and more confident. Books have given me solace in times of trouble and eased my pain in moments of sorrow. This year more than ever, we need to tap into the healing power of books so that our students can emerge from these difficult times and find their own healing and their own voice.

And the research backs up my experience. There is a type of therapy called bibliotherapy that uses reading and books to help people heal. One study of 96 students with mild depression found that bibliotherapy was an effective strategy in treating their depression. Other studies have also found that reading is helpful in decreasing anxiety and depression. If you’ve ever experienced the calm of a classroom full of students, all on task, all quietly reading, you can easily understand how that experience helps people find inner peace.

But how do I find the time?

By now, I hope I’ve convinced you that quiet, choice reading time is an essential part of every classroom, everyday. And now, we find ourselves back at that schedule. Where do we find the time?

First, you have to ask yourself a hard question. “What can I take out of the schedule?” Here are a few suggestions that you might consider taking off your plate. Only you know what will work best for your students, but removing one or more of these might give you the time you need for effective reading practice every day.

  1. Worksheets – As I mentioned earlier, you wouldn’t have someone work on their basketball skills by completing worksheets. Why use them for reading improvement when you could simply have the kids read?
  2. Accelerated Reader or other test-based motivation program – When was the last time you read a book because you hoped to take a test on it? According to the What Works Clearinghouse, there are two valid studies about AR. One found a very small gain in comprehension. The other found no gain in comprehension. Neither found an improvement in fluency. So, if you use AR, it should be a very small part of your literacy block. It hasn’t been proven effective enough to take center stage.
  3. Weekly spelling lists – Again, there is ample research that weekly lists do not improve spelling ability. We DO need to teach how language works, but this approach is not effective.
  4. Rote language activities – Activities like copying definitions from the dictionary, coloring posters about idioms or figurative language, grammar packets…. Ask yourself if your students will grow more with time reading or time spent on rote tasks.
  5. Handwriting practice – How useful will this be to your students? I could make the case that students should be exposed to cursive, but I don’t think it merits a lot of instructional time. Where do you fall in this debate?

As you really start analyzing your schedule, you may find moments that you can grab for Independent Reading. If you commit to finding the time, you will find it. Start by finding 15 minutes a day, and stick with it. Don’t let anything interfere with it. Then, make it 20 minutes a day, and really commit. Before you know it, you will have found 30 minutes a day. That’s when you will start to see it really making a difference.

So, this year, once again, I figured out a schedule that includes our math pilot, our SEL pilot (during SS time

0 and at least 30 minutes of reading time each day. I am still agonizing over what to take off the plate and what to include. And in January, I will probably ask myself where the time has gone. If all goes well, by January I can tell myself that about 45 hours of the time went to purposeful, student-centered, choice reading. And then I’ll breathe a sigh of relief that something is going well, and I will dive back in. I wish the same to you, teacher friend!

This is my schedule for this coming school year.

Book Bingo – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

Let’s talk genre. What is it? Why should we teach it? How does it help kids read better anyway?

Genre is a French word that means a kind or category. The English word gender comes from the same root. The word genre (plural genres) is generally used for artistic works. Music has different genres, and so does literature.

That’s all pretty interesting, but why spend precious time teaching about different genres? Well, as a teacher, part of my job is to unlock the different academic disciplines for my students. I want them to think like historians and scientists and artists. Genres unlock the organizing principles of the discipline of literature. As students learn about genres, they come to a deeper understanding of how texts work. And that leads to deeper comprehension.

The first thing to teach is some basic vocabulary. All books fit into the main categories of fiction and non-fiction. Please don’t teach your students that fiction is stories and non-fiction is facts. Instead, teach them that fiction comes from the writer’s imagination, although it can be based in reality. Non-fiction is literature that focuses on real people and real events and reports them factually. However, a good non-fiction writer can weave a story into the facts that can make it just as compelling as the craziest fantasy story!

Fiction comes from the writer’s imagination. Non-fiction focuses on real people and real events and reports them factually.

I begin teaching genre on the first day of school. For more about that, read this blog post on how I get students engaged with books right away, and every day. Once students have some familiarity with genres, we play Book Bingo with the whole class. Feel free to use your own Book Bingo, or check out this one on TPT. The first time we play, I use the included Caller Cards to name the genre for students to mark. That builds familiarity with the different genres and helps students grow their vocabulary.

The second time we play Book Bingo with the whole class, I don’t use the Calling Cards. Instead, before we play, I go to my Book Nook and grab one book to represent each genre. As we play, I place the book under the document camera and students use clues from the cover, the blurb, and even the inside of the book to infer the genre. The resource on TPT includes this Recording Sheet so that you can keep track of the books you have shown your students and easily know if they have a Bingo!

The second version of the game has several benefits. First, students are using the characteristics of the genre to make inferences. That is great critical thinking! Second, you are introducing students to 25 books from your classroom library, and they often find one they want to read. After we finish playing, I leave the books on the chalk tray for a few days, and most of them disappear into the hands of my students!

It is great to have students identifying books by their genre, but it’s not enough. I also want students to read widely across different genre. Wide reading is essential for building background knowledge. So, the next activity I use is an Independent Book Bingo card. Each student has their own Bingo Card and Recording sheet, and their goal is to Read-a-Bingo. Once they have read a book, the record the title and genre and cross it off. Five in a row is a Bingo!

The first time I use the Bingo cards as an independent activity, I ask the students to read five picture books. That lowers the affective filter and helps all students feel successful. Reading five picture books across different genres is also a great way to introduce the genres to students. A high quality picture book is not a huge commitment, and is a great way to build background knowledge and also to expose students and help them learn which genre they really enjoy.

Book Bingo is a fun way to bring genre to life in your classroom. This video post gives you a few more tips on bringing it to your classroom. Happy teaching!

Book Pass – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a more Literate Classroom

Book Pass is a really simple idea to hook kids on books, and it’s perfect for launching your Book Clubs or for having kids do a Book Project. By the end of 15 minutes, every student in your class will have a book to read. But better than that, they will likely have one or two more that they would LIKE to read. And helping readers build a reading plan and live a reading life is one of our greatest privileges as teachers. Read on for the simple how-to!

For a Book Pass, all you need is one book per student and about 15 minutes. I use this strategy to launch Book Clubs, so I gather multiple copies of each title – usually I offer 5 choices for a Book Club. So, I need about 5 copies of each book. Arrange the books in a circle on the floor, putting the books in a repeating pattern. You want the books to be organized so that students will see each book but not preview a book more than once.

The students sit behind the books and begin by previewing the book in front of them. Remind them that good readers preview a book by looking at the cover, reading the blurb and opening the book and reading an excerpt. Set a timer for two minutes. In that two minutes the students are quietly perusing the book and asking themselves one question. “Is this a good book for me?”

Once the two minutes are up, students pass the book to their right. Then, they take their new book, and spend 2 minutes with it. Keep to a two minute timer. I’ve found that it is long enough for a student to get a good sense about a book but not so long that they get bored and start talking. 🙂

After 10 minutes, every student in your class has previewed 5 books. I then collect the books and pass out a sticky note to each student. On the sticky note they write their name and their top three choices, in order. Within a few minutes, I can sort through the sticky notes and most often can get a student their first or second choice of book. Just like that, we are ready to get started with Book Clubs!

If you would prefer to use a Book Pass to launch a Book Project, it works pretty much the same way. If you limit the choices for a Book Project and use a Book Pass to launch the projects, you get a couple of benefits.

  1. You don’t have to read 27 different books – just 5 or 6!
  2. Kids who are reading the same book can meet to talk and share ideas.
  3. Students will get excited about reading the books their friends are reading.

After the project or Book Club cycle has finished, I always make the copies available to the whole class. Intermediate students are a little like lemmings – if their friends are reading it, they are happy to go along and read it too.

Book Pass is a really simple strategy that helps your students find a book to read – you will hook them on at least one book, and maybe more! Try this strategy every month or so to expose your students to new books and keep them reading!

The Book Nook – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

Every year my students walk in on the first day of school and are confronted with piles of books on their tables. And empty tubs. I put my students to work organizing the Book Nook (what I call my classroom library) on the first day, and for several days after that. Here’s why:

  • If the students come up with an organizing system, they will understand how to find the type of book that they like.
  • If the students organize the books in the first few weeks of school, they will be able to maintain that organization for the rest of the year.
  • Giving this task to students helps them feel ownership in the classroom, and especially, in the books.
  • This task is one of the best ways I know to teach kids about genre – something that is a pretty bedrock literacy understanding. For more ideas about that, check out this blog post!
  • This is a great strategy for Getting Kids Thinking About Books and also for Selling them on books!

This literacy strategy takes about 30 minutes on the first day, and then 10 minutes a day until all of the books are organized. The first day, students walk into the classroom (usually after recess) to find approximately 20 books on each of their table groups. My group size is 4-5 students, so that’s 4-5 books for students.

First, we gather on the rug to talk about what we are going to do with the books. I tell the students that they are responsible for figuring out how to organize the books in a way that will make them easy to find and easy to keep organized all year. Then I ask them, “What ideas do you have about how we could organize the books?” Often, no one answers. Sometimes, someone volunteers a way they have seen another classroom library organized. If they do give me an idea, I respond, “What do you all think? Will that help you find books and keep them organized?” I don’t endorse any system of organization because I want this to belong to the kids. Using a question focuses them on the criteria for success and builds that sense of ownership.

After a few minutes of discussion, I send them to their tables. I have chosen the books for each table purposefully. In each stack, there are different connections that students can make, and some books that may not fit together at all. I am deliberate in the books that I give to each group because I want to foster discussion and critical analysis of the books. How do these books fit together? Which books don’t belong?

For instance, if students found this book stack on their tables, they would probably notice that “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “The Witches” are both by Roald Dahl, and suggest book tubs organized by author. They would also notice that this stack has a significant number of historical fiction books: “Sarah, Plain and Tall”, “Across Five Aprils”, “Sounder”, “Our Strange New Land”, “Sophia’s War”, and “Big, Bad Ironclad” could all fit in a tub labeled historical fiction. But, “Ghosts” and “Big, Bad Ironclad” are both graphic novels, so maybe that should be a tub too. Once they noticed that, I would ask them, “Where should you put the books so that you can find them and keep them organized? Which label will be more helpful? Is “Big, Bad Ironclad” mostly a graphic novel or mostly historical fiction?” That question causes kids to critically analyze themselves as readers AND the book!

Once a group has found several books that belong together, I give them an index card and a tub. Someone in the group is responsible for making the label for the tub, which I attach with clear Contact Paper or book rings, depending on the style of tub. I don’t expect them to finish the label in the 30 minutes because I want it to be high quality. The student just keeps the index card with them until it is finished, and then we attach it together.

Of course, there will be books on the table that the students don’t fit into any tub. Before we complete the work for the day, I ask the groups to leave the tubs on their tables, with any books that belong in the tubs. Books that don’t belong should be laying face up on the table. Then, one student from the group stays at the table to explain the group’s thinking to the other kids in the class. Groups rotate around the room. As they do, students start to notice that a book from one table might fit into a tub on another. In this example, “Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls” would fit nicely in the Adventure Tub on another table. When students make those connections, I encourage them to take the book and add it to a tub.

To finish up, students bring the books that are organized to the Book Nook, and place any books that are not yet organized in a tub by my desk. There are always several kids who discover a book that they would like to read, and of course, they can borrow that for Independent Reading! The next day, we continue the process. I have a lot of books in my classroom library, so this generally takes us about 3 weeks. On average, the kids organize about 100 books a day.

This strategy definitely is a bigger time investment than some of the other strategies we’ve been learning about, but it really gets kids Thinking (with a capital T) about books AND it hooks kids and builds motivation. It is well worth your time! Plus, you get the added benefit of gaining time back because you won’t have much work to do to keep your classroom library organized. The kids will do it because they know how!

For more easy-to-implement ideas, be sure to check out the other blog and video posts in 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom. Happy teaching!

Image by Annata78 on Deposit Photos.

Book Chats – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

Today I want to talk to you about a really fun idea for connecting readers. Book Chats is a perfect activity for Back to School, and I use it when I want to strengthen connections and make new ones – for example, in January after the long break. To make this a no prep activity, grab my Book Chat resource from TPT. Just print and go or use on Easel!

The idea is simple – two readers interview each other about their interests and reading preferences, and then they choose books for each other! This is a powerful literacy strategy because:

  • Students make connections and talk about books!
  • It builds the idea that students should help each other find books that they will love. I’ve noticed that, weeks later, some partners are still bringing each other books!
  • As students are choosing books for each other, they often find books for themselves.

You will want to give yourself a little more than 10 minutes for this idea (I know, but still, it’s pretty quick!). I do this over two days, about 15 minutes each day. Spreading it out helps keep my Book Nook from getting too congested and it helps me fit it into a quick moment during the day. Here are the steps. Feel free to click each step if you want to read practical tips for bringing this to your classroom.

Students interview each other.

I usually spread this over two days. So, Day One, the first person interviews their partner and then goes Book Shopping. They try to put two or three books in their “shopping cart” for their partner. They present the books to their partner and explain why they think it’s a suitable book for their partner. You can purchase my Book Chats resource on TPT and use my Student Sheets, or create your own!

Students use what they have learned about each to choose 2-3 books that their partner will enjoy.

This can be tricky for some students and easy for others. One pitfall is the student who wants recommend every book. That student is having trouble discerning, and they may need your help narrowing things down for their partner, and maybe for themselves as well. Lots of unmotivated readers actually suffer from reading too many of the wrong books.

The shopper presents the books to their partner and tells them why they think they are a good fit.

This is the heart of the activity. As students are presenting to each other, you will hear a buzz of excitement in the room. Kids are discovering new books and new friends, and it’s a good moment to be a teacher!

The shopper is responsible for putting away any books their partner does not want to read.

Be sure to have the shoppers do the re-shelving. In theory, they removed the books from the shelves and should put them back!

And that’s it! It should take about 30 minutes total for kids to connect over books, but the connections they make to each other will last far longer. With a small commitment of time, your students will make some new connections and find new books to love. Grab your copy today and use it tomorrow!

Watch the video for more tips and a clip of me modeling the strategy with a fifth grader.

Nab Some Non-Fiction – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

In yesterday’s post I reviewed five essential fiction picture books for starting the school year right. The CCSS calls for equal amounts of fiction and non-fiction in the intermediate grades, and that means picture books too. So today, we will dive into five essential non-fiction books for starting the year right. These are books that I have used multiple times and they each offer a different insight for the beginning of the school year. Again, the links are to Barnes and Noble or Amazon in case you need to add any to your classroom library.

Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau (Jacques Cousteau Book for Kids, Children's Ocean Book, Underwater Picture Book for Kids)

Manfish by Jennifer Berne

This is a truly marvelous book about an amazing pioneer. I read this story to students every year to launch my Writer’s Workshop. To get the FREE lesson plan, click here!

The book follows the life story of Jacques Cousteau. Not only was he an intrepid pioneer exploring the sea, he also had deep interest and knowledge in inventing, writing and film making. The writing is lyrical and the illustrations are vibrant. You will love this wonderful biography and your students will be inspired by him too.

The Mary Celeste: An Unsolved Mystery from History

The Mary Celeste by Jane Yolen

This book by the same author as Encounter is a beautifully written account of a true story – the disappearance of the Mary Celeste in 1872. The mystery has NEVER been solved, and students will have a blast keeping track of the clues and trying to solve the mystery. The last 2 pages of the book give 6 popular theories, but no one knows which one, if any, are correct.

When I read this book, I ask students to try to solve the mystery. It is an illuminating peek into their inference skills. Plus, it’s such a terrific read and it will fly off the shelves as students puzzle over the illustrations and continue to try and solve the mystery.

Your Fantastic Elastic Brain: Stretch It, Shape It

Your Fantastic, Elastic Brain by JoAnn Deak

This book is full of charming illustrations and amazing facts about the human brain. It clearly explains how the brain grows and changes over time, and how mistakes are an important part of that. This is a perfect book to launch a growth mindset classroom. Your students will be stretching their brains in no time!

A Second is a Hiccup by Hazel Hutchins

This is a delightful book about time and perfect for launching the beginning of your time together. The book begins with all the things that you can do in a second and continues through a minute, and hour and so on until you reach a full year. And, it rhymes! If any of your students are still working to sort out time, this is great for them. But I like to read it and then do a little dreaming together. After reading the book together, we work through the Hopes and Fears protocol as we think about the year we will spend together. I learn a lot about my students, they learn about each other, and most importantly, the students start to feel some ownership in our classroom.

Unstoppable by Art Coulson

This is a biography about Jim Thorpe, an unstoppable Native American athlete. This story will really grab your athletes, and all of your students will resonate with the story of the underdog defeating the favorite. Many students will also resonate with Jim Thorpe, a young man who didn’t find school engaging. As I read, I watch the body language and listen carefully during turn and talks. The book and our discussion often open a window into how my students are feeling about school. At the beginning of the year, that information helps me build relationships with my students.

There are so many amazing picture book biographies in addition to the two I’ve mentioned here. Bringing non-fiction picture books into your classroom will help you meet your standards and expose students to new content, different perspectives and interesting ideas. And, you can do it in about 10 minutes!

Five Fiction Picture Books to Start the School Year Right! – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

Why use picture books in the intermediate classroom? Won’t the kids think they are babyish? Well, that might have been true once (although I could make the case that it was NEVER true), but in recent years, authors have been putting out some amazing picture books aimed at older readers, and even for adults. A high quality picture book has sturdy paper, brilliantly colored illustrations and engaging text. I use picture books in my classroom all year long. Here is why:

  • I can read them in about 10 minutes!
  • They are easy to reread. I often read a picture book for one purpose, and then revisit it for another purpose.
  • The pictures help carry the meaning of the story and provide important scaffolding for ELLs and students with low language skills.
  • Students love to reread them. A picture book doesn’t feel like a major commitment. Even in fifth grade, some students feel overwhelmed by reading chapter book after chapter book. High quality picture books can fill a gap and give students a little rest while still keeping them reading!
  • Students need to be exposed to a wide range of non-fiction, and picture books are a great way to bring that into the classroom. Over the 25 years I’ve been an educator, content standards have narrowed considerably, and it is causing students to be less engaged in school. I don’t blame them! Picture books are a great way to widen their horizons and help them find topics and content that interests them. I meet required reading and writing standards AND engage students in interesting content at the same time.

Following is a list of my favorite fiction books for starting the school year. Be sure to check out tomorrow’s post to get the list of my favorite non-fiction picture books for back to school. I will read all of these books to my fifth graders in the first month of school. There is a lot of junk out there, but I promise, these will all be great reads in your classroom too! Links are to Barnes and Noble in case you need to add any to your classroom library.

Odd Velvet

Odd Velvet by Mary E. Whitcomb

This book was published in 1998, and I have probably read it to a group of students every year since it was published. There is plenty here for all ages.

The main character, Velvet, is odd. It’s not just her name, it’s everything about her. She doesn’t have fancy clothes or a big box of crayons, and she doesn’t even like talking dolls! Then, using just eight crayons, Velvet wins an art contest, and the kids begin to see her with new eyes.

This is a lovely story for the beginning of the year because it is a story of learning to accept those who are different from ourselves. As you are building your classroom community, it’s a terrific message to send.

I use this book to launch my Graffiti Wall every year because the language is so marvelous. Be sure to check out the blog post and video where I explain how to do that!

Enemy Pie (Reading Rainbow Book, Children's Book about Kindness, Kids Books about Learning)

Enemy Pie by Derek Munsun

It’s shaping up to be the worst summer ever. Jeremy Ross has just moved into the neighborhood, and he is public enemy number one! When the protagonist (who is not named) explains this to his dad, dad instantly gets it and helps hatch a plan – to invite Jeremy Ross over and feed him enemy pie. Dad makes the pie, and all the boy has to do is spend one day being nice to his enemy. As the boys spend a fun day on the trampoline and in the tree house, the protagonist realizes that Jeremy isn’t so bad after all, and he warns him not to eat the pie – the act of a true friend!

This is a wonderful book to share with kids at the beginning of the year and talk about friendship. What makes a good friend? How can making assumptions about someone stop us from noticing their good qualities? Your kids will love the fun illustrations (by the same illustrator as Odd Velvet!) and you will love the way the discussion moves your classroom community forward.

The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes

The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein

Chances are, you will have at least one perfectionist in your class this year – one student who is afraid to take risks because they might fail. Chances are, it will be one of your highest performing students. This book is for that student.

Beatrice Bottomwell is known far and wide for never making mistakes. She never forgets her homework, she always makes a perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the perfect amount of jelly, and she has won the city talent show three years in a row. She has fans waiting to greet her as she heads to school each morning. When she slips and falls carrying the eggs for a muffin recipe, she catches the eggs before they break. She is perfect! But she can’t stop thinking about her Almost Mistake. And she is so afraid of making a mistake that she won’t join her friends as they play on the frozen pond after school.

The night of the school talent show comes again, and everyone, including Beatrice, expects that she will win. But, her juggling act goes awry, and Beatrice finds herself standing on stage, covered in water, and trying to figure out how to handle the situation. That’s when the book becomes so perfect for the perfectionist. Beatrice laughs. And the audience laughs with her. What a wonderful way to handle utter humiliation!

This book is a really great model for handling life’s difficulties, whether students are perfectionists or not. Again, read this early in the year and have conversations about handling failure. If you make failure fine for your students, risk taking will be much more likely in your classroom.

The Other Side

The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson

This book is told in first person by a young, black girl. As you can see in the cover art, she lives on one side of a fence, and a little white girl lives on the other. Both girls are warned not to go on the other side of the fence because it is dangerous. Eventually, the girls realize that there is no rule about sitting on top of the fence, and in that middle ground, they meet and become friends.

Woodson has such a lovely way with words, so you could easily read this book just for the language. But, it is also a great book to read and discuss the artificial barriers that keep people apart. You can easily bridge to the artificial barriers that likely exist in your own classroom: race, class, language, economic status, cool kids… I have always found that bringing up those issues early in the year before too many problems arise is the best strategy for preventing them from sidetracking your classroom community. This book will help your students find their own middle ground.

Miss Malarkey Leaves No Reader Behind by Judy Finchler and Kevin O’Malley

This is the book I use to introduce my Reader’s Interest Survey. Be sure to check out the blog post about how I do that, and grab the Reader’s Interest Survey on TPT!

Miss Malarkey is determined to find each student a book they will love before the end of the year. The main character is pretty sure she will fail. After all, he hates reading. Maybe you’ve met a student like that….

One by one, his friends and classmates all get bit by the reading bug. But the main character remains completely unimpressed by books. Undeterred, Miss Malarkey keeps trying as he comes up with one reason after another to dislike her picks.

I think you can see why I love this book for the beginning of the year. I tell my students that I am just like Miss Malarkey. I am going to get to know them really well (starting with the Reader’s Interest Survey) and I am going to help them find books that they love. This book opens that door and starts to build our relationship around books.

As June rolls around, Miss Malarkey has gotten to know each of her students, especially the main character, very well. That knowledge of her students helps her find the perfect book for him. She gives him one, final book, hoping to hook him, and she does!

Using picture books in the intermediate classroom opens so many doors and helps you accomplish so many standards! I hope that these books, and the others that you will discover on your own, help you have a more literate classroom this year!

More Ways to Use Picture Books in YOUR Classroom!

  1. Satchel Paige – Striking Out Jim Crow – This blog post talks about how to use this book to hook fans of graphic novels and sports. It’s a great gateway book that leads to more reading!
  2. Twelve Fantastic Picture Books to Teach Black History – This blog post has so many teaching points, including a full video demonstration of one of the lessons, that I needed two posts to cover it all. Check out both parts here!
  3. Players in Pigtails – This is a marvelous historical fiction book about the All Women’s baseball league featured in the movie a League of Their Own. It’s a delightful picture book to share with students!

Graffiti Wall – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

Graffiti Walls are a fun way to connect readers and get them buzzing about books in writing! This is another idea that I’ve implemented from Donalyn Miller. If you haven’t read her books, I highly recommend “The Book Whisperer”. You will come away feeling like you’ve made a new teacher bestie!

The idea is simple. First, you have to decide if you want a physical Graffiti Wall or a digital one. If you have a physical bulletin board, make sure it is easily accessible to kids and that you can store Sharpie markers nearby. The benefit of a physical wall is kids love to use the special markers (and you have to make sure they understand the markers are ONLY for the Graffiti Wall!) It is also really good to have the wall right there where kids can see it every day and be inspired by their friends’ quotes. However, it is pretty easy to fill the Graffiti Wall up, and I have never been good at changing the paper, which means my students run out of room on the Wall and then the momentum slows down while they wait for me to put new butcher paper.

The benefit of a Digital Graffiti Wall is that you never have to change the background. I used a Google Slide last year, and this year I am considering going digital with Padlet. More on that later (and be sure to watch the video!) The down side of a digital Wall is that you have to project it each day or somehow remind students that it is there, so it can lose its spontaneity.

Once you have chosen digital or physical, launching it with your class is critical. If you just tell them it’s a Graffiti Wall, you are likely to get lots of junk – little drawings, quotes that don’t make sense, crossing out and a big mess!

I launch the Graffiti Wall slowly, over several short lessons. First, I read a picture book that I think my students will love. One of my favorite books for Back to School is Odd Velvet. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend that you grab it! It is a simple picture book, and takes just about 10 minutes to read. I have used it in classrooms from kindergarten to fifth grade, and students always understand the message – Be Yourself. It’s a great message to send at the beginning of the school year. What makes it perfect for launching a Graffiti Wall is that it is chock full of lovely language that makes great quotes.

“…my father told me that, on the day I was born, the sun was just rising over the mountains, and outside it looked as though the world had been covered with a blanket of smooth, soft, lavender velvet.”

Odd Velvet

“Sure enough, with just her eight crayons, Velvet had drawn the most beautiful apple the children had ever seen.”

Odd Velvet

“Velvet was different. But maybe she wasn’t so odd after all.”

Odd Velvet

After I read the book, I put these three quotes on the board and ask the students which quote they think would be the most powerful to write on the Graffiti Wall. The first quote is powerful because of the poetic language. The second quote is powerful because it is the turning point in the book. The final quote is powerful because it is the message of the book. We talk about why each quote is powerful. Then, I tell the kids that any of those quotes would be great on the Graffiti Wall. Any of those three are reasons why they might write a quote on the Graffiti Wall. Together, we choose one and I have a student write it on the wall.

The next day, we review the three reasons you might include a quote on the Wall.

  • Poetic language
  • An important moment in the book
  • A quote that tells the message/theme

For the second lesson, I ask the students to think of other reasons they might include a quote. They brainstorm a bit, and then I ask them to grab a partner and a picture book and see if they can find a good quote for the Wall. They usually come up with ideas like:

  • Amazing facts from non-fiction
  • Funny sayings or events
  • A quote that would convince another reader to pick up the book
  • Something surprising (that doesn’t give away the ending)

After a few minutes we usually have some quotes. But BEFORE I let anyone wrote a quote on the Wall, we have a class conversation about length. Some kids can’t narrow it down, and want to write half of the novel on the Wall. As a class, we set some limits – usually landing from 20 – 30 words. Then, I give a few kids some markers, and they write quotes from the picture books that they read on the Wall. After two days of about 10 minutes each, we usually have 5-7 quotes on the wall.

The next day, before Independent Reading, I give each student a sticky note. I ask them to write one quote (but not their name) from their Independent Reading book on the sticky note. At the end of class, I gather the notes and stick them under the document camera. Because I am displaying them publicly and we will discuss the quotes as a class, I let the kids be anonymous. The students read the quotes on the doc camera (and there will likely be 12 – 15 quotes). We classify each quote – one pile for the quotes with poetic language, another pile for quotes about surprising events, etc. Then, I give feedback on a few of the quotes. Generally, students forget to include the title of the book on the sticky note, so I give that feedback. I might also need to remind students that spelling and handwriting are important. If someone can’t read your quote, they are not likely to read the book! Finally, I leave the sticky notes on the document camera, but I let the kids know that, if they want to, they can grab their sticky note from the doc camera and copy it onto the Graffiti Wall. Most of the kids choose to do that.

So, in three days, about 10 minutes a day, you have launched a Graffiti Wall. To maintain it over the course of the year, be sure to revisit it as a class periodically. If you notice that you are not getting many new quotes, give everyone a sticky note and ask them to contribute. Sometimes, kids just need the reminder.

Book Carousel – 30 days, 10 minutes to a More Literate Classroom

Today I want to teach you about a simple way to get to know your readers AND to sell books! I call this the Book Carousel.

The goals of the Book Carousel are to get books into kids’ hands and to learn about your readers. As your students participate, you are watching and taking mental notes. Pay attention to which kid chooses the first book they encounter, and then follow up. Did they choose that book because it’s a good fit book for them? Or because they just wanted to get the activity over and done with? Or because they have no idea how to find a good fit book? The next day, follow up with those students and ask them if they are enjoying the book or abandoning it. Then, ask them why. Be curious about your readers, and never judgmental.

Other students will walk around and around and around, and never choose a book. Again, pay attention to that. You will learn the most about your outliers. If a student can’t commit to a book after 4-5 rounds, stop the music and have a chat. What is making this hard for them? How can you help? Ten minutes with this activity will give you LOTS of insights into your readers, and help you plan for instruction and match kids to books. Here’s how.

  1. Begin by choosing a few more books than you have readers. If I have 25 students, I generally choose about 30 books. Make sure you choose a wide variety of genre, reading level and length. Include non-fiction!
  2. Lay them in a large circle on the floor. This is the Carousel. Space the books a few inches apart.
  3. Get some music ready! (I usually stream Disney songs from Amazon Prime Music. I know they are clean!)

4. That is all you have to prep! I often use this as a transition, but it works well pretty much anytime you have 10 minutes. Ask the kids to stand in a circle around the books (you see that I put the books facing outward so that they can easily read the title and see the cover. BUT, they don’t get to touch the books YET!

5. Tell the kids this is a bit like Musical Chairs. When the music starts, they will rotate in a circle. When the music stops, they will grab a book next to them and spend one minute with it. Remind them that good readers look at the title and the cover, and also read the blurb on the back and open the book. In their one minute, they should take a thorough look and ask themselves this important question, “Is this a Good Fit book for me?” You have the freedom to define Good Fit in the way that works best for you. Some teachers ask kids to give themselves the five-finger test or check a reading level. I do not. I define a Good Fit book as one the the student feels interested in reading. That’s it. Once I read Shanahan’s research on reading levels, and I met Amy (who I will tell you about another day!), I knew that I needed to move away from reading levels. But, you may have other district expectations or ideas, and that is OK!

After students spent one minute with a book, they have a decision to make. Is this the book for me?

That’s it!

6. If the student decides that this a Good Fit book for them, they take the book, go to their seat and start to read. When they finish the book, they are responsible for returning it to its spot in the Book Nook. If the student decides a book is NOT for them, they carefully place it back in the circle. When the music begins again, they rotate to a new spot, peruse a new book, and hopefully find a Good Fit!

Generally, a few kids choose books on the first round. As I mentioned previously, these are kids to be curious about. Why did they choose a book so quickly? Was it really that easy?

Most kids go around 3-4 times before finding a book they want to read. Here are few issues to think through before you try this activity.

  1. How will you handle the student who comes to you after the third round, and asks to get the book they perused in the first round? This is especially tricky if another student has chosen the book in the meantime.
  2. What will you do with the few students who cannot, or won’t choose a book? There will be some, especially at the beginning of the year when you don’t know your readers well. How will you handle that after the 5th or 6th round?
  3. Will you require each student to walk away with a book?

I do require each student to walk away with a book. I ask them to make a 15 minute commitment to the book, and then to put it back in the Book Nook if they find they don’t like it. If a student asks me for a book that they perused in a previous round, I let them grab it if it is available. If not, I give them a sticky and ask them to write their name on the sticky note so that the current possessor of the book will know who to pass the book on to when they finish with it. However, they still have to choose another book today! Finally, if a student can’t, or won’t, choose a book, I try to be curious about that. They must choose a book, and sometimes, by asking open-ended questions, together we can find a book. Sometimes, as we chat, I realize that the fault is mine and I didn’t give them a choice they would like. So, we expand the search into the Book Nook until we find a book. But everyone MUST have a book!

So, that’s Book Carousel. I use this strategy once a month or so. It is a great way to get books into kids’ hands and keep them motivated to read. You also learn a ton about your readers, especially the kids on the edges who choose books quickly, or don’t choose! Doing this multiple times a year helps you notice changes in your readers and keep up to date! It takes 10 minutes and it feels kind of like a party because of the music. I hope you find this a helpful strategy. Happy teaching!

Using Reader and WRiter Interest Surveys – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

Today we are going to revisit an oldie, but goodie – Interest Surveys. You may be thinking, “Oh, sure. I can do that in a normal year. But this year? When there is so much learning to get done? I don’t really have time for that.” Or, maybe you are thinking, “Well, I have this curriculum that my district requires, so the kids don’t really choose books, so why waste time finding out what they like? They still have to read the required books, whether they like them or not!”

Well, both of those are fair points. This year, especially, with the disrupted learning due to Covid, we have so much catching up to do. And, if your district requires certain books, kids’ choices may not seem relevant.

My question back to you is this. “Is building relationships with your students important to you?” If you answered yes, read on! This is a great strategy for you! This strategy is a Getting to Know Your Readers strategy, and you will be amazed at how it moves the relationship with certain students. Just the fact that you want to get to know your kids as readers and writers will be important for some students. For some, that is not an identity that they own. For some students, this might be the first time anyone has given them that label – and that can be powerful. To say to a student, “I want to get to know you as a reader and writer,” is to give them that identity. What a gift!

If you have a curriculum that doesn’t allow student choice, you still need to know what your students enjoy reading and writing about. You can bring in read alouds that match their preferences, and buy new books for your classroom library according to their taste. You can tweak writing assignments to be more student friendly and to fit students’ writing territories (be sure to download this FREE lesson plan about discovering your students’ writing territories!) And you can bring in picture books and integrate with Science and Social Studies in ways that match your students’ interests.

I use the Readers’ and Writers’ Interest Surveys differently, so let’s start with Writing. For me, the purpose of the Writing Interest Survey is to get kids writing. My resource on TPT includes two versions of the survey. I generally give one about the second week of school. The first week of school kids usually have lots to write about because of the kooky way I give them their writing journals and because of the Writing Territories lesson. But, but Week 2, some kids have run out of ideas. That’s where the Interest Survey comes in.

As you can see in this portion of the Interest Survey, students simply connect with their emotions about different topics. There are two different surveys, and each includes 11 topics, so you find out what your students think about 22 different topics. When students connect with emotions, their writing becomes more powerful!

It takes students no more than 10 minutes to read through the topics and make their choices. But what you do next makes a huge difference! Don’t collect them. Instead, ask the students to put them in their writing binder or journal. When you have your first Writing Conference with your student, start by asking them to show you their Interest Survey and the writing they’ve been doing about the topics on the Survey. It will be the easiest conference you’ve ever had!

The second Writing Interest Survey is great to whip out mid-year, or whenever you notice that several students are running low on ides. Another great way I use these is to have students interview each other about each topic and find out what other students feel about specific topics. It can create some great connections and bonds in your classroom.

The last page of the Writer’s Survey is great for the end of the first week. I like to give these on Friday and spend the weekend reading through them. I get so much great information from these, and it helps me know my students’ strengths and weaknesses right away.

The Reader’s Interest Survey uses the same cute graphics to ask students to record their feelings about specific genre, and also asks students questions about their life as a reader. This is double-sided, and students generally need 15 – 20 minutes because of the fill-in-the-blank. But, the extra few minutes is worth it because of how well you will get to know your readers!

I collect the Readers’ Surveys and take them home to read through them. Then, I meet with each student to talk to them about their responses and learn more about them as readers. It is so much fun to spend that time with them in the beginning of the year. I start this the first week of school, and I usually conference with 4-5 students a day during those first few weeks.

So, there are two easy to use strategies that will help you Get to Know Your Readers. Be sure to check out the other blog posts in our series so far, and watch the video for more insights on using surveys in your classroom.

Happy teaching!

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Bring a Book to School Day – 30 Minutes, 10 Days to a More Literate Classroom, Part 3

You’ve heard of Bring-Your-Kid-To-Work-Day, right? Well, this is pretty much the same thing, but kids are bringing books to school. The idea is a really simple way to connect readers around books.

This idea builds on yesterday’s idea of using Book Talks, and this is usually the first time kids do a Book Talk in my classroom. I generally use this idea about the 3rd or 4th week of school, and then once or twice more throughout the year.

When I launch the activity, I bring in a picture book that I loved as a child, Miss Suzy. This book is one of the earliest I can remember loving, and I share with the students why I loved that book when I was a child. I chose this book on purpose. It is not a flashy new book, it’s pretty battered and old looking, and something that I have owned for years. By bringing a book like that, I make it OK for kids who don’t have the latest, greatest books, and maybe only own a few books. Any book that they have a story about is fine to bring in. Be sure to check out the sample parent letter that I send home to explain this to parents.

This book, published in the 60’s, was a favorite of mine when I was about 5.

So, what kinds of books do kids bring in?

  1. Books they loved as a child.
  2. Books they love now.
  3. The last, really good book they read.
  4. The last, really terrible book they read.
  5. A book they hate.
  6. A book that they connect to.
  7. A book they would like to read but haven’t gotten to yet.
  8. Any book!

The point of this is for students to share stories about a book and build connections with each other. I once had a student bring in a family photo album. I thought that was great. She did a quick Book Talk about making the album with her mom, and lots of kids wanted to borrow her book.

Once the kids have brought in their books, divide them into small groups. Try to give students some choices about the groups so that they end up with other kids that they trust and can be vulnerable with. Because I only have 10 minutes a day for this, we usually need 2 days for everyone to give their Book Talks. Readers gather in groups of about 4, and two kids give a Book Talk each day. For this first Book Talk, I ask them to share the title, author and why they brought the book. Then, they ask, “Does anyone want to borrow my book?” If someone in the group wants to borrow the book, they have to sign the contract promising to bring it back in good condition. Some kids do not feel comfortable loaning their books, and that is OK. As long as they bring in a book and share a story, they have met the requirements of the task. That alone is going to help them build bridges to other readers.

This simple strategy is another way I get kids buzzing about books in my classroom. And, the more they buzz with each other, the more they start selling each other books – kind of doing my job for me! I encourage you to bring this fun day to your classroom! To help you get started, check out the FREE parent letter and student sheet on TPT. And be sure to watch this video for more tips on how to bring this to your classroom!

Book Talks – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom, Part 2

What if you could spend 7 minutes a day to get your kids to read 150 books in a year? Seems worth it, doesn’t it? Well, you can! That strategy is Book Talks!

In just 7 minutes a day, you can introduce one new book to your class. If even one reader reads it, that 150 books in a year (assuming you have some field trips, sub days and assemblies thrown in!) If that sounds good to you, read on for the Nitty Gritty!

Book Talks are a strategy that work with any grade level. I’ve used them in K – 5 classrooms, and they are excellent at one thing – convincing kids to read the book you are Talking. The research is actually mixed on whether they impact overall reading motivation. In my experience, they do, and here’s why.

When I Talk a book, multiple kids get excited about reading that book. It almost becomes a competition, and the book passes from reader to reader, like an electrical current in your classroom. That builds excitement and connects readers. I suppose a researcher would look for causation, and I can’t prove that. But I know, absolutely know, that Book Talks are an essential component of building my literacy classroom, and that kids who read become motivated to read more. So, I know that they work.

This FREE ebook explains exactly what Book Talks ARE and what they AREN’T. It also gives step by step instructions for how I implement them in my classroom. Click here to download Book Talks from TPT today!

Key things to remember:

1. Consistency

2. Invitational

3. No grades!

If you really want to motivate your readers, keep these things in mind.

  1. Consistency – Use them consistently in your classroom. Try to do it everyday. I know it can be hard to read that many books. In a perfect world, you need to be ready to do about 100 Book Talks in a year because your kids will do some. But even that is a lot of books! Check out my Book Talk One-Pagers to help you meet that goal!
  2. Invitational – Find the hook that invites your readers into the book, and then write down the names of every student who is interested in the book. At the end of each Book Talk, I ask, “Who would like to read this book?” That’s the invitation! Generally, about 10 kids raise their hands, and I write down their names on a sticky note and put that note inside the front cover of the book. Then, I give the book to one of the interested students. When they finish reading the book, they cross their name off the sticky and pass the book on to another student.
  3. No Grades – I know it it is tempting to make Book Talks an assignment and gather some grades. If you do, students will consider it to be an assignment, and the purpose change. Instead of passing on an amazing book to another reader, the goal becomes getting a good grade and pleasing the teacher. I don’t assign Book Talks, and I don’t keep track of who gives them. Some students never Talk a Book to the class, and that is OK.

These one-page book guides can help you Talk a book that you haven’t read, or just remember the important details about one that you have read!

I hope that these digital supports will help you bring Book Talks to your classroom. For more about Book Talks, check out my Bringing Book Talks to Your Classroom video.

Book Talks are one of the simplest, most effective strategies I know for selling books to readers. Give them a try. Soon, you will be looking forward to that moment when you have your readers gathered around you and you ask, “Who wants to read this book?”

Book Ballots – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom Part 1

“Oh, it’s Book Ballots! Quick. She’s going to start the timer! You read the blurb for Artemis Fowl and I’ll read Al Capone. Then we’ll talk and figure out what to vote for.”

That is not a bad conversation to overhear as the students file back in from lunch. Book Ballots is one of those strategies that takes just a few minutes, focuses students’ minds on books instead of lunch and recess, and gives you a wealth of knowledge about your readers. This is a great strategy for “Getting to Know Your Readers”, one of our 10 themes for building a more literate classroom. It also helps you “Sell Books” and “Connect Readers”. I love it when a strategy meets several goals! Here’s how it works.

This is what students see as they file into the classroom after recess.

  1. This makes a great transition. While the kids are at lunch, grab two books that you think will appeal to most of your readers. Set them on the chalk tray and draw a t-chart with the question, “Which book do you prefer?” Boom! You’re done prepping!
  2. As the kids file into the classroom, have them gather around the chalk tray. Set a timer for 5 minutes. (The first time you do the strategy, don’t set the timer because you will explain as you go along. But after that, limit this to 5 minutes.)
  3. Tell the kids they need to vote for which book they would prefer to read. They have to vote, and they can’t put their name in the middle. They have to commit to one book or the other. Students will start buzzing about the books and you’ll start listening.
  4. Here’s where you get to know your readers. In a short few minutes, you are going to get answers to questions like:
    • Which readers have a definite preference right away.
    • Who makes book decisions based on the cover.
    • Who grabs the book and makes a more thoughtful decision based on the blurb or reading a sample of the book.
    • Which genres students in your classroom gravitate towards.
    • Who chooses books based on what their friends are reading.
    • Which students have no idea how to choose a book and hang back.
  5. You will get answers to those questions by observing your students. With such a short time to choose, they will have to rely on their go-to strategy. Over time, students will learn strategies for choosing books by watching each other. You will see new students reaching to grab the book, and knots of students gathered around, listening while one student reads the blurbs. You’ll hear quick comparisons between the books, and notice that students start to pay attention to author and genre as a strategy for choosing books.
  6. As you can see in the photo, I have magnets with my students’ names on them that I use for this strategy. The magnets are also used for attendance and lunch count in the morning, so they do double duty! If you don’t have magnets, you could also have your students write their names on sticky notes or on the whiteboard. You could even just have them line up on the side of the room next to the book they prefer.
  7. When the timer goes off (and I have to admit, if the conversation is awesome, I have been guilty of pausing the timer on my phone. 🙂 ) I make sure every student has voted. Then, I “randomly” choose one student for each book and ask, “Would you like to read this book, or gift this book?” My students understand that “gifting” a book means they pass the book to another student who reads it and then has the responsibility of returning it to the Book Nook.

This simple strategy accomplishes a lot in a few short minutes. Two students walk away with a new book to read during Independent Reading time. Other students walk away with a book to add to their Wish List. You walk away with knowledge about your readers that helps you choose read alouds, match books to kids for Guided Reading/Book Clubs, purchase must have books for your Book Nook, and help kids find great books for Independent Reading. It really is an easy way to Get To Know Your Readers.

I use this strategy several times a week during the first month or two of school. As we get into the school year, I taper off and bring in other strategies (more on that in future blog and video posts!) By the winter time, I probably use this strategy once every week or even once every two weeks. It’s a good strategy to bring back if:

  • You’ve gotten some new students in your class and you want to know how they think about books.
  • There are books in your Classroom Library that you think your readers will love, and they aren’t finding them.
  • You notice some students are not finding books easily and you want to learn why.

For more simple strategies to Get To Know Your Readers, check out these posts:

  • Reader’s and Writer’s Surveys
  • Reading Conferences
  • Quick Reads

And be sure to check out this video which gives you more information on using Book Ballots in your classroom!

30 Days, 10 Minutes to a more Literate Classroom

I am launching a new video/blog series which will feature 30 quick and easy strategies for creating a more literate classroom. Each strategy takes no more than 10 minutes of class time and no more (but probably less) than 10 minutes of prep time. The strategies are aimed at intermediate grades. If you teach grades 3 – 6, I hope some of these strategies help you transform your classroom! If you teach primary or upper grades, some of the ideas will be applicable with a few modifications.

The strategies are organized around 10 themes:

  • Get to Know Your Readers
  • Sell Books!
  • Bring in Picture Books
  • Connect Readers
  • Space and Time
  • Make Friends with a Book
  • Think About Books
  • Write!
  • Plan for Poetry
  • Scholarly Words

Each theme will have several strategies. If you are not already a follower, now is a great time to hit the follow button! You will get an email about each new strategy! Or, just click the hyperlinks to go directly to the blog post. The video posts are embedded in each video post, so one-stop-shopping!

As always, thanks for reading, and Happy Teaching!

Get to Know Your Readers

  1. Reader’s and Writer’s Interest Surveys
  2. Book Ballots Blog Post
  3. Reading Conferences
  4. The Book Carousel

Sell Books! (or, Channel Your Inner Gizmo Knife Guy!)

  1. Book Talks
  2. Infomercials
  3. Book Pass
  4. Shelf Talkers

Bring in Picture Books

  1. Book Bingo
  2. Fiction Picture Books to Start the Year Right
  3. Nab some Non-fiction!
  4. Five Fiction Picture Books to Start the Year Right

Connect Readers

  1. Graffiti Wall
  2. Book Chats
  3. Bring-a-Book-to-School-Day
  4. Author Trading Cards

Space and Time

  1. Schedule, Schmedule – Finding the Time
  2. Read-ins
  3. Creating a Book Nook
  4. Wise and Wacky Wordsmiths

Make Friends with a Book

  1. Quote-Marks
  2. Books on the Moon

Think About Books

  1. Thinking Strips
  2. Genre Sort
  3. Where Does This Book Go?

Write!

  1. Quick Writes
  2. A Writing Odyssey, 2021
  3. Writing Territories, Part 1
  4. Writing Territories, Part 2

Plan for Poetry

  1. Poetry Breaks
  2. Pause for Poetry

Scholarly Words

  1. Word Wanders
  2. Word Hunts

Players in Pigtails

Like the author, Shana Corey, I fell in love with the AAGPBL after watching the movie A League of Their Own. I was delighted to find this book and share that same intriguing story with my students! Now, I’m taking it down from the top shelf and dusting it off to share with you!

If you love this book as much as I do, grab this resource on TPT for two days of reading comprehension instruction.

The book centers on the fictional character, Katie Casey, who is baseball mad. If you know the song Take Me Out to Ballgame, you might recognize that as a riff of the first line. The song was originally written in 1908, and of course, girls did not play professional baseball at that time. Shana Corey took that song, married it to the true history of the All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League, and created a simple but effective story. This book makes a terrific interactive read aloud because there is so much to talk about!

Probably my favorite part of the book is the language. During your interactive read aloud, you will find plenty of opportunities to discuss alliteration, juxtaposition, idioms, and really strong descriptive language. Take a look at this quote from the book.

She preferred sliding to sewing, batting to baking, and home runs to homecoming.

quote from Players in Pigtails

In this sentence, Corey uses alliteration with the repeated sounds of the letters s, b and h. She juxtaposes two ideas (like sliding and sewing) to help students learn about the main character. I am in awe of her ability to pack a lot into a fairly short sentence! As you read the book, you will find many more examples that you will want to analyze with your readers and writers.

This book is also really great for teaching character analysis to 2nd and 3rd graders. Both the illustrations and the text give us a strong idea of who Katie is. During your interactive read aloud, I recommend showing the illustrations under your document camera so that students can easily see them. When I read this, I always give students a chance to use the magic paper to highlight aspects of the illustrations that help us understand Katie’s character. For example, on page 7, the illustrator shows us that Katie’s room is full of books about chemistry, signed photographs of baseball players and high top sneakers. The text gives us even more clues about Katie’s character, and again, Corey uses alliteration to draw attention to these important characteristics.

Her clothing was crumpled. Her knitting was knotted. Her dancing was a disaster.

quote from Players in Pigtails

The book is also a terrific springboard for discussion about gender stereotypes. The text frequently asks, “What good is baseball to a girl?”, and at one point in the book, the baseball players are sent to charm school to become more ladylike (this is a true historical fact)! Be sure to read the Author’s Note so that students learn that gender stereotypes eventually led to the discontinuation of the AAGPBL. There are so many opportunities for rich conversations about how things have changed since the 1940’s, and how they have not!

This is definitely a top shelf book for me. I have used it in classrooms from kindergarten to fifth grade, and found that it works well with all ages. By itself, the book is a terrific match for 2nd and 3rd grade standards. Check out Players in Pigtails Interactive Read Aloud Lesson Plan for everything you need for two days of meaningful instruction centered around this book. In my fifth grade classroom, this book is part of the mini-unit I teach on how baseball has been part of many important historical moments in American History. Another book featured in that unit is The United States v. Jackie Robinson. This blog post tells you more about that book, and this resource on TPT helps you bring another wonderful picture book to life in your classroom!

Using Google Forms Escape Rooms

In the past year and a half, I have grown to love Google Forms. They are so versatile – you can include text, videos, photos… There are tons of different ways to ask questions, and they save me time because they are self-grading. What’s not to love? I use them for all the time. For more information on how to use them, be sure to check out this blog post.

One of the things I most enjoy creating with Google Forms is Escape Rooms. I used paper Escape Rooms in my classroom before discovering the digital version, and I will never go back! Escape Rooms are so fun and engaging for kids – they forget they are learning! The key advantage of Google Form Escape Rooms is no prep. With the paper version, you have to print, cut, laminate, assemble, distribute…. You get the idea. Once a digital Escape Room is created, there is NO PREP! Just assign it through your Google Classroom, put the kids in groups, and away they go! For more about assigning Google Forms in Google Classroom, check out this blog post.

Of course, an Escape Room is only as good as its content. My bestseller, Escape from the Lab uses texts and videos to teach students about the states of matter and to increase their comprehension skills of non-fiction text. It is a straightforward Escape Room that includes all of the information that students need to escape. Each section has a new lock, and the answers to the questions give students the code. I labeled this Escape Room B for Beginner because students do not need to solve difficult riddles and crack codes to be successful. Use this type of Escape Room if you haven’t done them with your students before or if you want the focus to be only content, and not include the extra layer of codes and ciphers. If students get the right answers to the questions, they will also have the codes and solutions for the riddles. These Escape Rooms are a similar challenge level – the content is on grade level, the codes are simple and all the information is clearly presented to the students.

If your students are more experienced with Escape Rooms, I just finished creating Escape from Ireland, an adventure about the stories of Ireland. It’s perfect for St. Patrick’s day! The focus is on reading comprehension, so students read embedded texts and answer questions about them. The Escape Room includes a biography of St. Patrick that you can download for free on TPT! It also includes a retelling of the Legend of Finn MacCool, a fictional story about the Leprechaun King and 3 short descriptions of famous castles in Ireland. When you put those texts together with the storyline of the Escape Room, kids will be doing a lot of reading! The codes and riddles require some background knowledge, so this is rated I for Intermediate. I have filled this Escape Room with high quality photographs of Ireland, interesting texts and opportunities for critical thinking and problem solving. Plus, there are leprechauns and magic! What’s not to love!

Another type of Escape Room adventure is the choose your own adventure style. This is by far the most complicated type of Escape Room to create. It is not straightforward because the students make decisions during the activity, and each decision leads down a different path. These are incredibly engaging for for the kids, and I find that they play them over and over because they can have a different outcome each time! Escape from Plymouth Colony and Adventure in the Chocolate Factory are both this type of Escape Room.

Want to learn how to create Escape Rooms like these? Become a follower! I keep writing blog posts and videos about tech and ELA! In the meantime, check out this free YouTube video on using Google Slides Task Cards with Whiteboard.fi.

Assigning a Google Form in Google Classroom

Google Forms have become one of my go-to strategies for distance learning. I embed instructional videos in Google Forms for asynchronous instruction (for more on that, check out this blog post) and I use them for formative and summative assessments. I also use them to create digital Escape Rooms, which my students love! (Check out this blog post for more on that!) With the help of Google Forms, BOOM Cards, and Whiteboard.fi, I have a fairly good idea of what my students can and can’t do, which helps me plan instruction.

This blog post will walk you through how to assign a Google Form in your Google Classroom. We’ll start with a video tutorial, but read on for screenshots and additional tips. In the video, I am assigning Deiondre’s Homework, a Google Form about decomposing fractions. The resource can be purchased on my TPT store, and includes 3 Google Forms and an embedded instructional video.

I hope the video was helpful. You can find more tech videos for students and teachers on my YouTube Channel.

Now, let’s walk through the process of assigning a Google Form in Google Classroom one more time. This time, I am going to assign a Google Form on Equivalent Fractions. You can also purchase this at Ms. Cotton’s Corner on TPT. The resource includes 3 Google Forms, one of which includes an embedded video.

Step 1 – In the Classworks tab of your Google Classroom, click create and choose assignment. You can also choose Quiz assignment if you prefer.

Step 2 – Create the assignment. Give it a title and description and set the points and due date. Then, Click Add, and choose Google Drive. When you purchase the resource from TPT, they will automatically create a folder called TPT Purchases. It will be there unless you have saved it in another folder.

Step 3 – Choose the Form that you want to assign from your Google Drive. I always Toggle Grade importing to the “On” position. Then, once the students complete the work, all I have to do is import the grades with one click. Easy breezy!