Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Chronological Order Texts for Teaching Text Structure

One of the hardest parts of teaching nonfiction is the constant scrounging for text. Finding text with the right level, the right topic, the right text features--it takes time and effort.

For the past few years, I've been working on creating sets of texts for teachers to use. I do have a set of "Text Structure Resources" that I send to teachers at their request. Over the summer, I posted Cause and Effect Texts and Activities, followed by Compare and Contrast and Problem and Solution. All of these files include multiple texts that show the text structure, along with activities and teaching tips. The goal is to minimize the effort of scrounging for text.

But why no chronological order? Even though this is the text structure that I usually start with for teaching text structure, it's taken me time to put together resources for it. Part of the reason is that chronological order can take so many different forms. Procedural text, animal life cycle texts, biographies, historical accounts--all of them are organized in chronological order. If I was to put together a set of chronological texts, I'd have to include examples of all of these.

This was a daunting task! This fall, I started to write. And write. And write. I started out with "Whoopie Wars". When I began the research, I firmly believed that the whoopie pie was a Pennsylvania Dutch treat. I even looked in the old Pennsylvania Dutch cookbooks myself (what a wealth of knowledge is available from Google Books!), hoping to find something that others had missed. Alas, no documentation for whoopie pies in Pennsylvania--but a good story. I needed to do some firsthand research so that I could take photos of whoopie pies, so my husband and I spent a Saturday baking whoopie pies with our sons. Research has never been so delicious.

I knew that I would write about monarch butterflies and wood frogs, because I had great photos of both creatures over their lifespans. These articles were easy to write. I look forward to sharing the wood frog article with my students this March, when we bring in some wood frog tadpoles into the classroom.

The biographies, however, proved a little harder. I had originally written "Anthony Wayne" when I was doing an in-service presentation for teachers in Waynesboro.  I decided to do some deeper research and spent a few weekends reading letters to and from Anthony Wayne. This gave me the confidence I needed to write "Dolley Madison", which was considerably more difficult--especially because many of Dolley's documented recollections from later in her life were found to be questionable. Writing this short piece took hours of research from multiple sources to make sure that I was including only the best information. I couldn't get the readability on Dolley Madison low enough, so I went ahead and finished out the set with "Lafayette", a text which my husband already plans to use with his third graders.

The finished product, "Chronological Order Texts for Teaching Text Structure" includes 10 texts, 8 with before, during, and after reading activities and multiple choice questions. It costs three dollars, and hopefully will save you from hours of scrounging for texts. Enjoy, and let me know what you think!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Text Structures: Compare/Contrast and Cause/Effect

This week, I've found two online texts to complement what I'm teaching in the classroom.

Compare and contrast: We are currently reading about Antarctica as we explore nonfiction texts. I have the MV FRAM Expedition Blog in my Google Reader, and I share it with students. It is well-written and interesting, and the kids are enjoying tracking the progress of each trip to Antarctica.

This post is a nice compare and contrast piece. The picture tells the story, and the text uses parallel structure and longer sentences to explain how the two days were so different. I like having quick little texts to show students as we transition from guided reading to core instruction, or to share during bus time and all of those extra minutes through the day.

Cause and Effect: We've been studying ecosystems in science. Last week, we studied how ecosystems change by reading A Place for Butterflies by Melissa Stewart. Then, we played the Project WILD game "Oh Deer!" to look at how a population can change.

Apparently, 2011 was a bad year for acorns. A lack of acorns will lead to changes in the populations of mice, squirrels, and deer, but may have other effects up the food chain.  I happened to come across this article a few weeks ago, and it turned out to be perfect for a discussion of cause and effect. It's a little difficult for my students, so I projected the printable view and summarized it. We made a chart to show the causes and effects

This is a nice counterpoint to the zoo mystery article from a few months ago. In that article, we had known effects, but questionable causes; in this one, we have a known cause, but anticipated effects.

I made a little debriefing sheet to talk about it with my students. Here it is on Slideshare.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Problem and Solution Text Structure Lesson

This week, we've been looking at how ecosystems change. Some of these changes are natural, while others happen because of humans. We talked about how these changes to the ecosystem can impact the animals that live there.

Melissa Stewart's book A Place for Butterflies was a perfect addition to this lesson--and a great way to share the problem/solution text structure. On each page, this book explains a problem that butterflies face, and then shows a way that people have helped to solve this problem.

We started by reviewing how ecosystems can change. I showed students the book, and explained that the author explains problems and solutions in the ecosystem.

Then students made their own problem and solution charts. I modeled on the chart paper, and then students created their own by folding a sheet of notebook paper.

I read aloud the first pages and explained how to find the problem and solution. We worked with the main text at first, skipping over the insets for the time being. While there aren't any traditional problem and solution cue words, the text follows a pattern. The problem is presented on the left hand page, with the solution on the right.

As I shared the first few pages, I also showed students that there are more butterflies and caterpillars of each species hidden throughout the illustrations. I have a very artistic class this year, and they loved this little touch.

Group Work
We purchased 7 books over the summer, so students could work in groups of 3-4 to read the rest of the book. Because it's available in paperback, this is a very affordable addition to our science library.

Students quickly scattered throughout the room to work in their small groups. They continued reading and finding problems and solutions. Although this text is listed as an easier book, with some recommending it for K-3, my fourth graders found it the perfect challenge.

As they worked, I went around the room and listened to them. Many groups had problems with the idea that letting natural wildfires burn could be helpful for butterflies! We had talked about natural and human-caused forest fires. Living where we do, though, they had no experience with beneficial forest fires.

Some groups also didn't know what "cattle" were. I coached them to use the supportive illustrations to figure it out.

I chose one group to sit next to the easel to continue the chart that I had started. Of course, this was a highly coveted position!

My students work at vastly different speeds. This book was perfect for us. After they finished the main text, groups could go back and read the insets or find the butterflies and caterpillars hidden on each page. Many chose to go back to the natural wildfires page, because it was so puzzling for them. (I'll have to find more resources for this, since they find it so interesting.)

Discussion and Debriefing
These questions helped to frame our discussion after reading. You'll notice that they are a mix of reading questions and science questions.

-Why was the text structure of problem and solution a good fit for this book?
-Which set of problems and solutions surprised you? Which confirmed what you have learned before?
-How did the illustrations add to the text?
-Which of the solutions have we tried? Which could we try in our area?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Watching "The Nutcracker"

I love "The Nutcracker"! When I was in seventh and eighth grades, I even got to perform in a community production as a Snowflake and a Flower. The experience was amazing. Even now I remember the magic of waiting in the wings as I listened to the introduction to "Waltz of the Snowflakes."

When my oldest son was just 3, I convinced my husband that we had to go see The Nutcracker. Over the next few years, we went to various local performances. My husband, who had never seen the ballet before, was intrigued by hearing me talk on and on about different Claras and watching for the expressions on the faces of the dancers to see who is jealous of whom and how each production is a little different. He started to enjoy our yearly trips as much as I did.

Although he had never seen the ballet as a child, my husband decided to show "The Nutcracker" to his third graders. It's a great holiday activity that builds background knowledge about performances and the theatre. Over the past few years, I've put together some materials for him--a story, activities, and a guidebook. He's added to the magic by creating a real theatre experience in his classroom, right down to giving the students tickets to attend and having a real intermission with refreshments.

There are some wonderful DVD versions of the ballet out there. My favorites are the San Francisco Ballet's and the London Royal Ballet.

I've posted the items that we put together over on TeachersPayTeachers. It's free for now. I'd love to hear if you try it out and enjoy it!

Nutcracker Activities

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Before, During, and After Reading: Before

Over the past few years, I've come to a comfortable pattern for planning reading experiences. The pattern is simple--before, during, and after. When I have all of this planned and worked out, my task as a teacher is so much easier. Here is how I frame texts to share with my students.

Before Reading
This is a harder list of words from "The Adventures of Isabel"
What will students do before they read the text? I like to make a table with key words from the text. This makes a quick and easy speed drill that we can read together before students encounter the words in the text. I like to read the words aloud to students, and then have them say the word back to me. I change my voice for each word and make it really dramatic, so kids find this enjoyable. As we come back to the text over multiple days, we return to the speed drill each day. (Cute story: We were working on The Adventures of Isabel on Friday. I accidentally called a student by the wrong name, and he looked at me and said,  jokingly, "I am really cross with you."

I also use this opportunity to talk with kids about the words. This isn't a full-blown vocabulary lesson, but a quick discussion of the words. Sometimes we act them out; sometimes I draw a picture; sometimes I show kids how a derived word relates to a base word. In the case of the word cross, I drew their attention to the fact that it is a multiple meaning word.

I've learned that it's best to limit these words to 15-20. I look for words that are important to the content of the text, as well as words that may be difficult for students. Sometimes, these difficult words are short, like "scarce"; sometimes, they are longer words that are related to words they already know, like "professionally".

After we look at vocabulary, I ask kids to use the words to make a prediction. This may take different forms. In fiction, I often have kids sort words according to story elements--which words will relate to the characters? The setting? The conflict? In nonfiction, we often write 3 prediction sentences, with at least one of the practiced words in each one. Sometimes we ask questions--for example, in a recent text, kids were intrigued to find out how the word "powerful" would relate to a text about Antarctica. And sometimes we draw pictures, doing a sketch-to-stretch kind of activity.

The goal in all of these activities is to equip kids with as much as possible before they enter the text. When I have it all planned and copied for kids, we can all immerse ourselves in our preparations for reading. I project it on the board, kids can make notes and predictions on their own copies, and we work together to get ready to read.

Free texts and activities
Adventures of Isabel: Activities to go along with the classic poem. It's a challenge for kids, but they absolutely love it, and it's a perfect choice for repeated readings. You can find the poem online.

Animal Adaptations: Science text and activities suitable for grades 4-5.

Decomposers Article and Activity: I loved reading this with kids. It worked so well to change their ideas of what decomposers are. This text includes an anticipation guide, another of my favorite before-reading activities. Good for grades 3-5.

The Acorn Mystery: I wrote this based on a real experience! It shows how these ideas can be used with fiction stories for younger readers. Good for grades 2-3.

Retelling Nonfiction: This includes a text about how painted turtles survive the winter, with directions for retelling nonfiction.