Monday, July 30, 2012

Summarizing and the Common Core: Grades 2-4

Summarizing is very important in the Common Core. What do students need to be able to do? How can we prepare them for these demands? It can be helpful to look at the requirements grade by grade.

Grade 2, RI 2: Identify the main topic of a multiparagraph text as well as the focus of specific paragraphs within the text.

Looking at topics is a very important first step to summarizing. I tell students that a topic can describe a text in one or two words. Often, kids will overgeneralize with topics. For example, consider this book about tigers. Try showing students a page from the text without the heading. What is the topic? Many of them will go right back to the topic of the entire book--tigers. But each page in this book has a more specific topic. Can kids find this more specific topic? An easy way to have kids work with this is to cover up the headings with sticky notes and have kids try to write their own headings for each page. (By the way, my own almost-second grader loves the National Geographic kids book--I think we own just about every single one! They are well-written, widely available, and inexpensive.)

Grade 3, RI 2: Determine the main idea of a text, recount the key details and explain how they support the main idea.

Hmm..."recount the key details" sounds a great deal like retelling, doesn't it? As students progress to longer informational texts in third grade, it is important that they continue to practice retelling so that they can work on remembering important information from a text. This activity helps students to practice retelling.

I wrote this Finding Topics and Main Ideas presentation several years ago. This presentation is an easy way to help students find those main ideas and key details in text.

Explaining how details support a main idea can be trickier for third grade students, especially those who are not yet thinking abstractly. After all, the whole idea of details "supporting" a main idea is figurative. Working with opinion paragraphs (especially paragraphs that they find disagreeable!) can help them to understand how this process works. For more ideas, you can look at Main Ideas and Details in Nonfiction Text, which includes paragraphs for practice, a center activity, and a PowerPoint that clearly explains how details can support a main idea.

In third grade, students should also be expected to choose the best summary from several choices. This is a fairly easy activity to add to regular instruction. Watching which summary students choose can help you to learn about their reading processes.

Grade 4: Determine the main idea of a text and explain how it is supported by key details; summarize the text.

At fourth grade, formal summarizing begins. One mistake that I have made in the past is acting as if summarizing is difficult or unpleasant. ("Oh, we'll skip writing a summary this time--you've worked so hard today!") Summarizing needs to become a routine, something that students are used to doing frequently.

This lesson can help students learn the basics.

But just talking about the rules isn't enough to help students write successful summaries. They also need more experiences with choosing the best summary, critiquing summaries, and deciding which details need to go into a summary. For texts and activities to help students become more successful, you can look at Paraphrasing and Summarizing Lessons for Nonfiction Reading.

Next time, I'll write about increasing summarizing difficulty in grades 5-7. :)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Text Structure: Description

I have to admit that description has always been my least favorite text structure. It doesn't have the drama of cause and effect. It doesn't have the happy ending of problem and solution. For a writer, it doesn't offer the challenge of compare and contrast. Description

But several people asked if I was going to create a unit for description text structure, just as I've done for cause and effect, chronological order, problem/solution, and compare and contrast. When I looked around at my files, I realized that I really did already have some texts that fit the text structure.

And I enjoyed revisiting them. I found that the text structure of description can be interesting to write, and (hopefully!) to read. As I worked on "A Ferry to Cross the Water", I entertained family members with new and exciting facts about ferryboats. We don't have many ferries around here, so we all found the idea of a cruiseferry pretty interesting.

Revisiting "Schoolhouses of Long Ago" was a pleasure. This was one of the first longer texts that I tried to write, and I was pleased to work with it again. To add some complex text, I plumbed the depths of Google Books and found a book from 1832--with an author who had definite opinions about the state of America's schools. (Whatever problems my school may have, at least we are not subject to the "depredations of stray cattle" as described in the old book!)

You can find the resources for teaching description text here. I hope that you find them useful!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Common Themes

Last spring, I made a formatted set of themes mini-posters. This year, I'm going to use them to create a bulletin board in my classroom. After we read a text, we'll put the title of the book on an index card and post it under the theme.

Here are the mini-posters on Slideshare:

Common themes formatted
View more presentations from Emily Kissner

Other theme posts:
Troubleshooting theme

Teaching theme


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Reading Intervention Ready! (Again)

The Reading Intervention that I talked about in the last post is active again and ready to download. I'll have it up for free until at least the end of the week--maybe later if I forget about it. :)

We spent the past week at the beach. My sons learned how to use the field guide and grew quite adept at telling the differences between the various kinds of egrets that we saw. Watching them look back and forth between the field guides convinced me that I must put up some bird feeders outside my classroom window this year. It was just fascinating to hear them talk--"Look here, it's a kind of egret"--and "I've never seen that one before, maybe it's a kind of heron?"

We also had a chance to see tiny ghost crabs up close, as well as the sika deer of Assateague. The sika deer are introduced species that I look forward to writing about. But best of all for my youngest? Right in the middle of Ocean City--a very built-up, commercial area--we could look down from our balcony and see foxes playing in the dunes!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Reading Intervention for Academic Vocabulary and Fluency

This year, our school went to an intervention block. Our fourth grade block was right after lunch. It was wonderful to have time to address issues with fluency and word work. But what would we teach?

At the end of the year, I had an interesting group of readers. Looking at our fluency data, we pulled together a group that was on the brink of reaching benchmark for the end of the year. I knew that I wanted to create something to help these readers become more automatic with reading.

Kids loved reading about poison ivy!
On the other hand, however, I didn't want to give any of these fourth graders the impression that reading is just a speed race. I needed to create something that carefully balanced working toward speed and accuracy with a focus on reading for meaning.

 Over the next few weeks, I wrote a series of short, nonfiction texts. All of these texts related to science and nature. (Not surprising!) For each text, I created a short PowerPoint to highlight and teach the academic vocabulary words. I also created a before reading activity and a graphic organizer to help students pay attention to the structural aspects of each text. All together, I created six texts, which allowed for six weeks of instruction.

I tried to make these texts as "natural" as possible, letting the topic and the vocabulary dictate the article. Therefore, the texts vary from fourth to sixth grade level with different readability formulas. For intermediate readers, this is just what happens with real world texts. They need to be able to move within a band of complexity throughout the school day.

If you teach fourth grade, this would be an excellent supplement for at and above grade level readers--perfect for enrichment during an intervention period.  Fifth grade readers who are slightly below grade level would benefit from this, as would ELLs in grades 5 and above. Struggling readers in grades 6 and up would find this beneficial as well.

To screen students and monitor progress, it's best to use a commercial program. But you can also use the short versions of the texts included within the unit to monitor progress across repeated readings of one text.

I loved teaching this, so I worked to put it together as a product on TeachersPayTeachers. I happily put together the 40 files and compressed the folder...only to find that it was a whopping 114 MB! I didn't want to cut out any of the gorgeous images from the PowerPoints, so I split it in four.

You can find all four parts over on TeachersPayTeachers. They will be free until July 15, after which I will change the pricing.  Please download and review! And do drop a comment or follow the blog.