Category Archives: Teaching Tips

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.

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

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

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