Saturday, October 29, 2011

Compare and Contrast Text Structure: Cats vs. Dogs

This neat little book came free with my last Scholastic book order. Now that I have read it approximately 14,000 times to my first grade son, I have come to appreciate how it could be used to teach the text structure of compare and contrast.

As I've written before, it's tough to find entire compare and contrast texts in the real world. Usually authors will use this structure in a paragraph or two to highlight similarities and differences. But it's difficult to sustain over a long text.

This book, however, uses compare and contrast in a contest format. It works pretty well. Questions set up sections of text, such as "Who's got an ear for everything?" Then, the questions are answered in several paragraphs, which usually show the clustered style of compare and contrast. Compare and contrast cue words such as but, too, both, and also are used on just about every page. I didn't find any use of however, which was probably left out in an attempt to keep the reading level down. And it is a fairly easy read--not easy enough for my first grader to read alone, but definitely comfortable for the reader in grades 2-3. For teaching text structure, I like to introduce the structures with easier texts, so this would be just right for my struggling fourth grade readers.

Each section is boiled down to a winner for that section. The book's conclusion deals cleverly with the overall winner--it's a tie! (Not to my son, however--he decided that it's clear that the cat is the winner.)

All in all, this is a very economical book to obtain to teach compare and contrast text structure. I'm looking forward to trying it out this year!

More on compare and contrast text structure
Text Structure Picture Books: Owen and Mzee (blog post)

Text Structure: Compare and Contrast (blog post)

Compare and Contrast (blog post)

Compare and Contrast Texts ($3.00, 7 short articles with activities)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Doing More with Less

What a great day we had at KSRA! Nicole and I presented on the topic of doing more with less. We enjoyed listening to everyone's ideas and sharing how to do more with less in the classroom. Here were our principles for doing more with less:

Use what you have
At the workshop, we looked at how we could re-purpose cheap and free items to make engaging literacy tasks.

Cup stacking: This idea came from the Third Grade Thinkers blog. Using transparent cups, we can build words with prefixes, suffixes, and base words. First grade teachers also talked about using these for onset and rime!

Cheap calendars: I pick these up for $1 at various stores...then use them all year long. Setting, description, dialogue...all for only $1! (And reluctant writers really love the cute puppy pictures!)

Advertisements: A certain bulls-eye retailer has sent out haiku coupons this fall. I can't bring myself to use them to get discounts--they're too neat. Haiku and persuasive writing, in one tidy mailer. One teacher suggested cutting them apart for students to try to re-assemble.

Any other ideas for doing more with less?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Plugging Away with Making Inferences!

Just like I wrote about last time, we're working on making inferences in reading class. It continues to be a challenge for my students, but they are so enthusiastic and upbeat that it is a joy to work with them.

I've expanded my search for interesting resources. This week, we sang along with the kids in this video:

To help students see how they make inferences all the time, I showed this commercial favorite. We talked about what was happening in the commercial. How could they tell? What clues could they use? This really got the boys in the class thinking and talking--they were so excited to share their background knowledge!

Other resources
I also realized that I have some items scattered all over the place. Here are some other resources that I've created that may be useful:

The Magic School (story, free)
This story presents embedded questions for students, so that they have to make inferences all through the story.
Using Schema to Make Inferences (Powerpoint, free)
I wrote this presentation to show students how important it is for them to activate their schema before they read, so that they can make inferences quickly and easily.
Character Traits and Emotions: Making Inferences (unit, $3.00)
This includes stories and activities to use to help students make inferences about character traits and emotions.
The Forest AND the Trees (book)
Doing the research for this book helped me to understand how important it is for students to pay attention to small details so that they can make inferences.
Teaching Visualizing (blog post)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Making Inferences

As I looked ahead at the story elements unit, I realized that I had to do some work on making inferences. After all, telling kids to make inferences about the setting of a story won't make much sense if students don't know how to infer!

But where to begin? With this group of readers, I want some quick success to build their confidence. I decided to start with text-based inferences, taught along with some visualizing. As I wrote about in The Forest and the Trees, text-based inferences are those that depend on a knowledge of how text works. Finding the speaker in dialogue, matching pronouns with antecedents, and using specific clues from a text are all examples of text-based inferences.

Visualizing, on the other hand, is a form of reader-based inference, which depends on a reader's background knowledge. Why is visualizing a form of inference? No author ever tells every detail about a passage. Instead, a reader needs to bring some background knowledge to the text in order to form a visual image.

Critical Facts and Rules
As I researched The Forest and the Trees, I came across an interesting journal article. This article, authored by Philip Winne, Lorraine Graham, and Leone Prock, explains how struggling readers learned to make text-based inferences with the help of some carefully written texts and immediate feedback. The study is on the older side (1993), but I couldn't help but see how the methods described could help my students. Readers don't need a whole lot of background knowledge to make these inferences. And the process forces them to look closely at the details in the text to explain how they make their inferences. Great stuff for my students!

Sadly, the journal article only included one example text. So I wrote a set of my own texts to use with students next week. I chose a spy theme, since the Jack Stalwart books are popular with my readers right now. (If you haven't read these books, they are lots of fun for transitional readers--great gadgets and action, all in a supportive text.)

The texts that I wrote (on a sunny Saturday, when I should have been doing math plans) set readers up to make text-based inferences. A rule is presented early in the text. Then, the character is faced with choices, along with a good deal of distracting information and a hidden critical fact. The reader needs to match the rule with the critical fact to make an inference.

I plan to teach Mission #1 on the whiteboard, showing students how to make the inference using the rule and the critical fact from the text. Then, they'll work on Missions 2 and 3 with a partner, with a lot of supervision. Finally, they'll work on Mission 4 on their own. 

This kind of inferencing is a great first step for transitional readers. Once students get good at finding these text-based inferences, they'll be ready for the next step into more open, reader-based inferences. And--hopefully--ready to have some brilliant discussions about finding the setting in a story!

If you try these mission files with your class, I'd love to hear how they work!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

More on Multiple Meaning Words

As I was planning for this week, I realized that I need to change my approach with multiple meaning words. In the past, I've looked at teaching multiple meaning words as teaching kids how to use the context of a text to figure out which meaning of a word is being used. In this way of teaching, I've assumed that the kids know the multiple meanings--what I'm teaching them is how to tell them apart.

With this year's students, however, I need to do more. These students really need work on understanding the different meanings of words. Just matching definitions to sentences isn't enough. I need to build their vocabularies by adding new words. To this end, I created this graphic organizer:

The idea is that I'll take a multiple meaning word that has an easy-to-visualize core meaning--for an easy example, run. The core meaning of run is to move quickly over the ground. Students will write this meaning and illustrate it. Then, I'll introduce 3 other meanings: run as in to compete in an election, run as in to flow over the ground, and run as in the name for a stream. Students will write sentences to show these different meanings.

My plan is to teach a new word each week. Words that I plan to use in the future include many words that cross our content areas:

If you're planning to try this with your students, make sure that you choose multiple meaning words that come from a common source. For example, the meanings of revolution are all related. However, the meanings of wind/wind are not. If you use an online dictionary, you can find the etymology to see if the different meanings come from the same source.

We'll see how it works! I'm looking forward to helping students to see how different meanings of words can be related.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Thoughts on Multiple Meaning Words

I've been working on multiple meaning words with my students. For struggling readers, multiple meaning words can be very difficult. I wish that I could just buy a book or show a Powerpoint and have it all make sense. (I have bought the book, and I have shown the Powerpoint.)

But confusions remain. I've realized that this is because understanding multiple meaning words goes deeper than just matching definitions. In fact, I'm beginning to realize that this problem with multiple meaning words is linked to why my readers are struggling in the first place.

What are multiple meaning words?
Multiple meaning words look the same, but have different meanings. Sometimes this occurs when 2 words enter the language from different paths. For example, the bat used in baseball comes from the Middle English bateren, which meant to hit. The word for the flying mammal bat, however, came from Scandinavia. These two words look the same, but have completely different meanings. Knowing one won't help you figure out the other.

Polysemous words, on the other hand, share a common core meaning. Take the word spring. Its core sense is an old, old word meaning "to leap". The other meanings of spring all relate to this core meaning--the season spring, the water spring, even the coiled piece of metal. Knowing one helps you to know them all.

Visualizing and multiple meaning words
When I ask students to do common tasks with multiple meaning words--match the way that a word is used in one sentence to another sentence, for example--they often resort to guessing. What's going on? For one thing, these activities often happen outside of a connected text. Readers who are used to sucking up information from pictures or previous pages have little to pull from. So these activities bring out a very real problem that these readers have with creating visual images.

When I changed my instruction to have students draw a picture of each sentence before they tried to do the matching task, I saw a huge improvement. The simple step of adding boxes spurred readers to visualize, which helped them to see how the words showed different meanings. Readers who are spontaneously visualizing probably don't need this step. However, this experience showed me that my readers are not spontaneously visualizing--definitely a useful piece of information! The problems with multiple meaning words only served to highlight a deeper reading issue.

Teaching Core Meanings
An interesting journal article by Marjolijn Verspoor and Wander Lowie found that L2 learners do better when they are taught the core meanings of words. One of the examples in the article is the word nugget. The core meaning is the kind of nugget as in a gold nugget. An understanding of this meaning helps a reader to understand the figurative uses of nugget as in a chicken nugget or a nugget of information.

Since I have many ELL students in my reading class, I found this very interesting. Now, I try to help students see how the core sense of a word relates to the other uses. How do the different meanings of wild relate? What about the multiple meanings of shop? Often, these students have trouble with the uses of a word that are within one part of speech, such as the meanings of bold.

It's a process! Hopefully, helping readers to visualize sentences and build their awareness of core senses of words will help them to better understand multiple meaning words.

Here's a funny story about Aidan and multiple meaning words.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

More Books for Teaching Text Structure

My youngest son, a first grader, loves big cats. I'm embarrassed to admit that, three years ago, I would have had trouble distinguishing a picture of a leopard from a picture of a cheetah. Well, no longer. After a year of watching Big Cat Diary every morning and reading book after book about big cats, I can now easily rattle off the differences between leopards and cheetahs.

Of course, I can't just read the books. I'm always looking for good examples of text structures! When I found Face to Face With Cheetahs, I knew that this book would be perfect to add to my classroom library. Like Face to Face With Lions, this book starts with a personal narrative. Each successive chapter shows a different text structure. "Fast Cats" shows the causes and effects of how a cheetah's body is built for speed--and how these features can have drawbacks. "Racing for Survival" shows the problems that cheetahs face, and how some scientists are working on solutions.

While the book has many text features, it isn't as busy as other nonfiction books. Best of all, the text is quite cohesive and hangs together well. I could see taking paragraphs out of the text to look at in more detail; working with different chapters to talk about how the different text structures can work together; or exploring how the text features add to the information in the text.

Other text structure posts and items
Picture Books for Teaching Text Structure: Blog post with link to a list of picture books that show different text structures
Text Structure in Primary Grades: Blog post
Cause and Effect Activity and Texts: Short texts and activities for looking at the cause and effect text structure.
Problem and Solution Texts for Teaching Text Structure: Short texts with the problem/solution text structure.
Compare and Contrast Texts for Teaching Text Structure: More short texts! These have the compare/contrast structure, the most difficult to find in whole texts.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Caterpillars, Summarizing, and Friendship

Here is a link to a blog post I wrote over at Teaching Tolerance:

This story happened two years ago, and it still makes me smile. I've kept the poster with all of the summaries and the pictures that students made. Definitely one of the best lessons that I've learned!

On a related note: We haven't seen many woolly bear caterpillars this year. Lots of buckeyes, but no woolly bears? Has anyone else noticed this?